Monday, August 4, 2014

Minnesota Half Marathon Race Day

When I woke up race day morning I could see the haze hanging in the hills across the river.  Weather forecasts earlier in the week were calling for morning temperatures in the low 60's, but it had been much warmer than that the last two mornings so the hazy skies were my clue that today was going to be a "scorcher" as far as race days go.

A group from our 50-States running club met in the hotel lobby at 7:15 AM and we walked across the street to a bridge spanning the Mississippi River for a group photo before continuing on to the start line down on Shepard Blvd along the river.

Fellow members of the 50 States Half Marathon Club

We got to the start line area just in time to see the in-line skaters queue up and then start their half marathon.  Now there's the perfect way to do a race!  I bet that would be tons of fun!  They let the elite skaters start first, then a couple of minutes later they started the rest of the skater pack.  Because the route headed east before turning around at the 2 mile marker and continuing back west, the lead pack of skaters passed right by us where we stood, waiting for the wave of runners to start.  They were fast!  Like watching the speed ice skaters in the winter olympics!

By the time we were turned loose on the race course, it was close to 8:00 AM and the sun was getting high in the sky.  The route took us northeast on Shepard, along the Mississippi River, then turned us back the other way a little past mile 2.  We ran past the start line and then continued along Shepard going southwest.

Race route... data from my Garmin GPS watch

There was no shade on the course and once we passed the start line area going the other way, our view of the river disappeared behind trees and small hills and buildings.  There were a few hills along the way, and the outbound leg seemed to have a net increase in elevation but of course that gave us a reciprocating net decrease as we headed toward the finish line.

By mile 9, which was the turnaround point, it was truly getting very hot with not a wisp of a breeze, and the sun shining down on us was relentless!  I couldn't recall running a race hotter than this one was.  I was mostly walking at this point but did manage to muster short stretches of running on the downhill sections which kept my overall pace faster than it would have been had I been only walking.

The water stations, thankfully, were about a mile apart along this stretch, and they were very welcomed!  I drank more water and Gatorade than usual during a race and I thanked all of the volunteers for being out there for us!

The finish line was nearly deserted, save for the gals giving out the medals and the finisher's chute was very long, probably for the skaters to decelerate, but it meant a very long walk to get to where the water and snacks were.  When I got to the end of the chute, I was disappointed to see that volunteers were already dismantling the finisher's food tent even though there was still more than 45 minutes remaining on the race clock.  Very tacky!  I knew there were still quite a few runners/walkers still out on the course.

But I was able to grab a banana and a bag of chips before walking back toward my hotel.  A big group of us got stopped by a very long, very slow train and were unable to get across the railroad tracks for a few minutes, only to then be faced with a huge set of stairs - several tiers - to get up to the Kellogg Street level.  Ugh!

Overall, it was a mediocre race, efficiently organized but not memorable and not one I'd return to, but it did get me the state of Minnesota and nice finisher medal:

After the race, I stopped at the Starbucks in the hotel lobby, grabbed a cappuccino, and then headed for my room to rest, cool off, eat a snack.  At 3:30 that afternoon, I was being picked up by a good friend and his family to go out for some good BBQ and Famous Dave's.  We had a great meal, and some other folks who live in the area showed up as well, people I know from the motorcycling community.

After dinner my friend took me for a quick driving tour of the city, since he grew up in St. Paul.  He showed me some of the beautiful old neighborhoods up on the hill, the cathedral, the capitol building, and had many stories to tell about growing up in this area.  It was very pleasant and relaxing to let him drive and talk about the city.

They dropped me off at the hotel but before going to my room, I ducked into the bar to have a celebratory glass of wine by myself.  It's become a bit of a little tradition for me.  I just sit and sip and relive the race in my mind, review the high points of the day, and think about how fortunate I am to be able to do this, to run and travel, and see so much of our country.

I know that I am one lucky old lady to still have my health when so many men and women my age struggle with serious health issues.

Here's what the 50 States map looks like now:

Next up:  A drive to Casper WY for another half marathon, and then a few days spent with some of my fellow IBA members at the Biannual IBA Meet in Denver!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Minnesota, Don't Cha Know!

I'm here in St. Paul to run the Minnesota Half Marathon.  Yesterday morning I drove to the airport in Houston to board a noontime flight to Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport.  It was an Embraer and I love those planes!  I like the single seats on the left side of the plane, love that I can leave my carry-on at the plane door knowing it will be there for me moments after I get off the plane at our destination.

I took a cab to my hotel - Crown Plaza hotel downtown - and then got out and took a walk, heading generally in the direction of Lund's, a very nice grocery store about 10 blocks away.  Some bananas, a bottle of sparkling water, a 1/2 lb container of tortellini salad for dinner, and some M&M cookies.

Before heading to my room to eat my goodies, I stopped in the hotel lounge and treated myself to a glass of wine.  The bar was completely empty except for me and the bartender and we struck up a conversation, he first asking me what brought me to St. Paul and then talking about the upcoming race, things to do in town, and being intrigued about the race and knowing I might want to carbo-load, he made a couple of recommendations for places to eat nearby.  I was pretty tired from a hectic week leading up to this trip, and crashed pretty early Thursday night.


6:00 AM Friday morning and I was awake, though still groggy and feeling a bit headache-y. I lolled in bed for a couple of hours, trying to fall back asleep but that wasn't happening.  Cheerios and a banana for breakfast, then I got showered and dressed and left the hotel to walk along the river on my way to Union Depot where packet pickup for the race was being held.  I took my time, stopping at the Starbucks counter in the hotel lobby and picking up a cappuccino to sip on as I walked through the downtown.

Mississippi River

The city sits up on a bluff giving a great view down to the river.  The skies are milky with weak sunshine warming up the day.  Fires many miles away in Canada have created a smoky haze about the hills surrounding the city, similar to how the fires in Washington and Oregon states made the skies smoky over Missoula when I was there a few weeks ago.

I walked a couple of blocks through a park area that overlooks the river until the park ended and I was diverted to the sidewalk again.  A few blocks later I arrived at Union Depot.  It's an unusual place to hold packet pickup but a little research revealed that it's a totally restored old train depot, as its name implies, and that the great hall is used for private parties and events, Its domed ceiling with skylights and marble expanse of floor create a beautiful airy and open space.  I can imagine how delightful it would be to hold a reception in this space.

There were just a few people waiting in line to get their packets and I didn't have a very long wait.  Bib in hand, then over to the t-shirt pick-up table to get my shirt and I paused long enough to take a few photos before I headed back out to explore the city a bit more.

I love the event fits really well and the slogan on the back can't be beat!  I also love how there isn't a long list of race sponsors on the back of the shirt.

The downtown area  of St. Paul is small and compact and easy to navigate, with short blocks and streets numbered from the river outward.   As I left Union Depot, I walked toward Mears Park, just to see what it looked like.  It dates back to the beginnings of this town, when it was originally referred to as Baptist Hill for the small chapel that was built near this location in the early days of settlement.  The hill has since been flattened and this park developed at the location.

I got to the park and began walking through it, admiring the gorgeous landscaping and care taken to ensure beautiful seating areas and plentiful shade.  It was then that I noticed the food trucks parked along the curb on the far side of the park.  And it's lunchtime.  Perfect!

I browsed the truck menus and settled on the melting pot cuisine of the Asian food truck:  Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese dishes on the menu all sounded great!  I chose the sesame chicken with rice, waited for my food to be prepared, then found a shady spot in the park to enjoy my lunch.

As I wandered about after lunch I came upon a small little pocket park, a children's playground really, and paused to admire its design.  It was very clever, with trains and other structures for the kids to play on.  A boat sat in an area painted blue to resemble water, and on the wall behind it, a large "waterfall" flowed out of a window making a very clever illusion.  As I walked a little further I realized that this playground was right next to the PBS station for the Twin Cities.  I was very impressed with their creative use of this little space!

A bit more wandering about the downtown area, and then I walked back to the hotel to get a cold drink and regroup.

When it was close to dinner time, I took that bartender's advice and walked the one block to Sakura for some sushi to go.  Excellent!  Had a glass of wine while I waited for them to prepare my meal, then brought it back to my room to enjoy.

Tomorrow morning:  Minnesota Half Marathon.