Saturday, October 31, 2015

Golden CO - Awards Night and a Tough Race

All it takes is time and money.  That's what I say in response to the congratulatory comments.  Just time and money, that's all.

51 half in each of all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  That and annual dues to the 50 States Half Marathon Club earned me a finisher plaque as award for that effort.

Actually, I've run many more than 51 half marathons, repeating my favorite half marathons several times, and doing other races in states I'd already checked off my list.  But it was the planning and logistics needed to pull off this 50 States quest in just 2.5 years that made this challenge fun.

I got the last state - Maine - done in July, in plenty of time before the annual club awards banquet.  This year's banquet was being held in Golden, CO.  It's always held in conjunction with a half marathon somewhere in the country.  Last year it was in Omaha NE.  So when details about the weekend event were announced, I made my air and hotel reservations and then eagerly waited for October to arrive.

My flight to Denver was painless as was collecting my rental car and getting to the fitness center where I could pick up my race packet.  As luck would have it, there was a big grocery store in the same strip mall as the fitness center so I was able to pick up some fresh fruit and snacks for my room. Then I met a friend for lunch and we both headed to the hotel in Golden and hung out until it was time to go into the little downtown area and meet some of the others at a brewpub for a little socializing.  Four of us then walked the town until we found a great place to have dinner.

Friday evening meet-up at Barrels & Bottles Brewery

The next day I slept in a little, walked to a nearby fast food restaurant for lunch and then met my friend for an afternoon outing up to Lookout Mountain and the Buffalo Bill museum.  It was a pleasant afternoon spent enjoying the views and the museum. I had ordered an Edible Arrangement for our club president to thank her for all of her hard work and we stopped by their store to pick it up before heading back to the hotel to get ready for the banquet that evening.

Buffalo Bill Museum

Buffalo Bill Museum

View looking southeast from Lookout Mountain.  Downtown Denver
can be seen just to right of center, partially obstructed by
hill in front.

View looking northwest atop Lookout Mountain near Golden CO
Some snow-capped mountains just barely visible in background.

The banquet was held at Table Mountain Inn in downtown Golden.  We had a great turnout and it was nice to see so many receive awards for achieving either 50 States or 100 Half Marathons or both.

Downtown Golden, Colorado

One of the club members makes fun goofy sunglasses for any member who achieves one of the club goals.  She made a bunch for all of us finishers....we wore them with pride!

Receiving my award from Nicole, the club president

My award and my fun glasses!
All of the 2015 award winners:  50 States, or 100 Half Marathons, or both

Awards banquet - all of us wearing our "special" glasses, made for
us by Ali Levering (second from left in photo)

The next morning was the Kooky Spooky Half Marathon.  The evening before, I was seriously considering blowing it off, seriously concerned about the elevation.  Well, that plus I really didn't need to run it. But ever the over-achiever, I talked myself back into doing it the next morning. When my friend arrived at the hotel to pick me up, I was ready and raring to go.

The elevation of Golden CO is about 5400 ft.  The course started at an athletic complex north of town and took us east on beautiful paved trails along a river, the first mile losing some altitude on a long gradual downhill stretch before flattening out for the next four miles.  At around mile 5.5 we did a u-turn and continued back along that trail but rather than return back to the athletic complex the way we came, it took us up to the top of a bluff and along the northern edge of a reservoir.  We gained about 600 ft elevation over about 3 miles, some of it on a switchback trail that was very demoralizing.

Data from my Garmin GPS watch.  Lots of elevation change on this route!

Runners ahead of us looked like tiny specs as they zig-zagged back and forth up this switchback trail. The trail straightened out but still continued to climb until we got to about mile 10.  Then it plummeted back down on a switchback trail that lost most of that 600 feet over the course of a mile.

Close-up of miles 8-11 of the route.  Switch-backs climbing up miles 8-10,
and switch-back in mile 11 losing all of that elevation.  Then steady uphill
to the finish line.
The last two miles were a relentless steady uphill climb to the finish line.   I felt as if I'd never be able to breathe normally again.  It was so relentless! I had to really dig deep to keep pushing my pace.

Very glad to be crossing the finish line.  Breathing optional. LOL!

But finally I could see the finish line ahead of me.  What a feeling of exhaustion, relief, and...yes...satisfaction.

The route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

By far the hardest half marathon I've ever done and the longest distance I've ever completed doing a sustained uphill elevation change.  Big Cottonwood started at 7400 feet and finished at 5200 feet, but that was all downhill.  It is done.  My first thoughts were, "I'm never doing another half marathon at high elevation, ever again."

Some of us at the finish line

Fellow 50 State Half Marathon club members at the finish line

Those of us still in town Sunday evening got together again for a group dinner in town before we all went our own way for the night.

Very nice finisher medal.

My flight the next day was not until late afternoon so I spent the late morning at Colorado Railroad Museum before heading toward the airport.

Small collection of rolling stock.  Not nearly the quantity or quality as the
rolling stock at the National Park in Scranton or the museum in Cheyenne, but still enjoyable.

Fantastic HO layout in the basement of the museum.  Some of the best detail I've
ever seen.  A couple of quarter slots activated some of the layout, including
an amusement park and one train around the perimeter of the layout.

I lingered at the very nice travel center near the airport, topping off the rental car gas tank and having lunch.  A Subway sandwich followed by a very good Dunkin Donuts cappuccino and pumpkin cheesecake tart.  Then it was on to the rental car drop-off and into the terminal to wait for my flight home.

Coming up:  Revisiting the Big Sur Half Marathon and spending the weekend having a "girls' weekend" with my daughter-in-law in Monterey.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Missouri and Kansas

Two different states, two different trips.  

My original plan was to drive up to St. Charles, MO to run the MO' Cow Bell Half Marathon, then spend a few days in Missouri before continuing on to Wichita, KS to run the Prairie Fire Half Marathon.  I rethought that plan, deciding I really wanted to spend those days at home.  With gas prices so low these days, it would be cheaper to just drive home after the St. Charles race and then drive up to Wichita the following weekend to run the Prairie Fire race.  

Plans finalized, I left home on Thursday, waiting until after morning rush hour, and drove up to Searcy, AR for the night.  The next morning I continued on to the St. Charles, MO area, stopping at the fitness expo on the campus of a local college in nearby Cottleville to attend the race expo and pick up my race packet. 

Packet pickup for the MO' Cow Bell half marathon.  

I met friend Colleen at the expo and we went off in search of lunch afterward.  She took me to a totally unique concept restaurant called Tom & Chee, serving a wide variety of grilled cheese sandwiches and several different versions of tomato soup.  So good....and so hearty!!  This place gives a whole new meaning to "grilled cheese sandwich."  Oh, my!!

Meeting Colleen at the MO' Cow Bell expo

Another gal was flying in from Florida the next day and we had plans to do some wine tasting that afternoon.  I found a Starbucks about a mile from my hotel so that morning I took a little walk, checked out the downtown area of St. Charles, near where the race will start and finish, and then picked up a cappuccino and then stopped at a Subway and grabbed a sandwich for lunch.

Friend Colleen came by the hotel where I was staying and picked me up, and then we all headed off toward wine country along the Missouri River west of St. Louis.  Beautiful countryside along the river, the road winding and climbing up and down the hills and bluffs near the river.  We passed several wineries before arriving at the Colleen's choice, Montell Winery.  It sat high up on top of a hill, commanding a fabulous view of the river valley below.  The parking lot was full to overflowing, but the place had enormous outdoor decks on the backside, taking full advantage of those gorgeous views.  It was a little chilly, but once we got settled in, it wasn't too bad.  And did I say that the views were fabulous?!  

I was dropped back at my hotel late that afternoon and I walked the easy block to Subway and grabbed a sandwich for my dinner, then returned to my room, laid out my things for the next morning's race, and settled in for the evening with dinner and football.

It was a little chilly the next morning - race day - but the 1.5 mile walk to the race start warmed me up in a hurry.  By the time the race started, it was warm enough for me to remove my jacket and tie it around my waist.  Colleen and I stayed together for the entire race, which took us out of the little downtown area and through some somewhat rural areas.  We went past a large pumpkin patch - the real kind, with pumpkins still on the vines in the fields!   Then it took us through a planned community called New Town.  While this is a common development style down here in Texas, it's a foreign concept apparently to Missourians.  Both Colleen and a friend who joined us for lunch afterward used the words "eerie" and "weird" to describe it.  But I really liked New Town and could easily see myself living there.  Everything was pristine and spotless, with planned community pocket parks, enough retail to keep me happy, including a little market, a coffee house, a pizza shop, a cafe.  It was really cute!

MO' Cow Bell race route, data from my GPS watch

The miles flew by, having someone to talk to along the way.  Next thing I knew, we were back in town, along the main street, then a left down a steep hill toward the river, and another last mile to the finish line.  I love the finisher's medal!

I walked the 1.5 miles back to the hotel, but not before stopping at the Starbuck's along the way.   The plan was to meet with a small group at Schlafly's Brewpub in Morgantown at 1:00 for lunch.  A friend who lives in nearby St. Peters made plans to meet us there.  She plays guitar and knew that this brewpub has a bluegrass pickup band every Sunday, so she was excited to join us.  

Friend Kay joining in with the bluegrass group.  They sounded great!

Our running group...all finishers!
With my plans rearranged to go home first before going to Wichita, I packed up the next morning and got on the road early.  I had made plans to stop for the night in Texarkana, but promised myself that if I was feeling good when I got to that point on the route, I would keep going to home.  So when I got to Texarkana it was, first of all, much too early to stop for the night - about 3:00 PM - plus I was feeling good and knew I could practically drive those last 300 miles in my sleep.  I pressed on and made it to my own doorstep by 8:45 PM.  I was so glad that I had gotten an early start in St. Charles and that I chose to continue straight through - all 820 miles - to home in one day.

Now I have four wonderful days at home, saving myself hotel and food money for only the cost of 38 gallons of gas.  Good decision!!

Then, at 6:00 AM on Friday morning, I climbed back into the car and headed north toward Wichita, KS.  A long, boring 635 miles, but it got me to the Hyatt in downtown Wichita by 4:00 PM.  I got checked in and then headed downstairs to the lobby lounge area and ordered a light snack and cup of coffee.

The expo and packet pickup were at the convention center next door to the Hyatt, so after breakfast, I walked over there, got my packet, then returned to the hotel and ordered a cappuccino from the lobby coffee bar.  I had no plans for the day, but had to be honest with myself and admit that I really didn't feel like doing much of anything.  I considered going for a walk along the pretty paved walking trails by the river, but sanity won out and I walked to the McDonald's a few blocks away instead and got lunch then returned to the hotel and watched football for the afternoon.  I'd forgotten that I signed up for the pasta dinner that evening and was a bit disappointed in this, since a group of our running club members were going to meet for dinner at a brewpub in the historic district.  But I'd paid for it and couldn't justify blowing it off. was right here at the hotel, so I could grab a plate of pasta, be polite to my table mates for 10-15 minutes while I ate, then return to my room.

It's so nice to be able to roll out the front door of the hotel and be right at the race start line!  Even better that the finish line is also right outside that same hotel.  I got down to the start line just a few minutes before the race started, and then soon we were turned loose to cross the start line.

This is a fairly large race, more than 5,000 runners in the half and full marathons.  I like larger races because it means there will always be other runners near me throughout the race.  Nothing's worse than being out there on the last few miles of a race course pretty much all alone.

It's one of the better race routes I've run, and that's one of the reasons I returned to do this race again 3 years later.  Another is the fact that the finishers are given a finisher shirt.  Only a small handful of races do this.  Chevron Houston Marathon is another race that gives out finisher shirts.  It's nice to have a high quality running shirt and to wear it knowing that it was earned, not bought.

Nearing the finish line

Finisher medal and finisher shirt

Prairie Fire race route, data from my GPS watch a couple of mid-west races done and I must decide if these represent the start of another 50 States-50 Half Marathons quest.  We'll see...

Next:  A couple of weeks at home to get caught up, then a trip to Golden CO to attend the annual 50 States club banquet and to receive my award for completing my 50 States-50 Half Marathons.  Oh yeah, and there just happens to be a race there that weekend, too!  The club president couldn't have us all coming out there and not have a race to run while there.