Sunday, January 31, 2016

One Last Look At My Life as a Rider

I've decided it's I will be taking down all of my IBA certificates - 15 of them - to make room for more running-related awards and medals. Passions change and life moves on.

Certificates framed and hanging in home office
Certificates framed and hanging in my home office.

As I take down all of my IBA ride certificates, remove them from their frames, and get ready to store them in a file folder, memories are flooding back to me, each ride presenting its own unique challenge. Thanks to Steve Maxwell and his idea to scan the certificates in first, and then post a bit about each one on the IBA Facebook page (excellent suggestion, Steve). I've copied those posts here into a blog entry.

Certificate #1
IBA certificate #1, my first: My very first SS1000 was a ride-in to the JAX IBA party in 2006. The only faces I recognized were those of a handful of fellow MTF members. I stood in the lobby of the hotel with fellow MTF member, the late Braz Braziel, while he identified IBA members as they walked past me, introducing me to many folks that night. It's where, tired and hungry at the end of my Saddlesore, I wandered into the hotel restaurant just as they were getting ready to close, and met Kevin Healey and his entourage. They took me under their wing and plied me with food and beer until I had to cry "Uncle." I'd been awake for 36 hours by that point. To this day, Kevin enjoys telling that story, about meeting me, the tired, "deer in the headlights" new IBA member. He remains one of my most cherished friends. 

Certificate #2
IBA certificate #2: My IBA memories include this, my second IBA certificate for doing my first of five National Park Tours in 2005-2006. To successfully complete this endurance ride, one must visit at least 50 National Parks in at least 25 states in less than 12 months. A "national park" is any federal property listed at the website and can include national monuments, national historic sites, national battlefields, and so forth. I'd actually started this tour the summer before doing my first SS1000. I had a brand new BMW and immediately set out on a four-day tour of western Texas to break in the new bike and collect some of my first National Park stamps. While I'd taken a couple of solo trips before - one of them to the Florida Panhandle - this W. Texas trip represented a new level of adventure for me. There's not much out there, and much of my riding was on secondary little ranch and FM roads with nothing around for miles. It was liberating!

Nearly all of this National Park Tour was worked in around other trips I already had planned...BMW national rallies, MTF events, RTEs around the country. I gained tremendous planning and routing experience by doing this first of several National Park Tours. And I learned so much! What do we think of when we hear the words National Park? Yellowstone, Yosemite... until I did this National Park Tour, I had no idea of the breadth and scope of our National Park System!

Certificate #3
IBA certificate #3: Not willing to give up on collecting National Parks after completing my first National Park Tour and second IBA certificate in 2006, I immediately started my second National Park Tour before the ink was even dry on my first NPT submission to the IBA. I was determined to make this one a National Park Tour Silver, which would follow the same rules (50 national parks in at least 25 states) but it also must include the four corner states of WA, ME, FL, and CA. 

Looking at my ride calendar for the next twelve months, I realized I was in the perfect position to complete this. An MTF event brought me to the Northwest corner of the U.S. (Lolo, MT get-together) stamping through some of the most spectacular national parks along the way. From there, a fellow rider and I rode together from Lolo to Ft. Spokane so that I could get that WA state. My son's wedding in California? Bingo! Several parks collected in that state. A stamping trip through OH, upstate NY, and on into New England brought me ultimately to Acadia National Park. And of course, the annual trek to the IBA party in JAX gets that final corner of the country. And in between those four corners? Lots of new parks and experiences, including following wagon trails and tracing George Washington Carver's life, from Missouri to Alabama to Georgia. So in August 2007, I earned my 3rd IBA certificate, my 2nd National Park Tour and 1st National Park Tour Silver. I'm so much richer for having done these IBA National Park Tours.

Certificate #4
IBA certificate #4: My fourth IBA certificate was to be a 50CC ride-in to the 2008 IBA Jax party. I rode out to San Diego, visiting some national parks along the way and then meeting up with the others for dinner. I had a tire issue along the way and had to get towed to the BMW dealer in San Diego to deal with it.I really didn't need that stress just before doing this challenging ride! I took off the next morning just a few minutes behind the others, and was doing just fine until the sun set, just as I was riding east out of El Paso. Before leaving for this trip, I'd put PIAA lights on my bike, all the better to see with. All these lights succeeded in doing was lighting up the dozens and dozens of deer along the shoulder and median of I-10. My throttle hand became paralyzed and I could barely bring myself to go faster than 45-50 mph. The pack of coyote trotting along the shoulder at one point didn't help. I made it to Ozona around midnight, mentally exhausted from the stress of all those deer. Disappointed in my first day's performance and knowing of the really bad weather that lay ahead of me, I made the "executive" decision the next morning to continue to Houston, end the on-the-clock ride there, just a few miles shy of a BB1500, and call it good. Weather was looking dangerously nasty in the FL panhandle anyway with tornado watches and strong thunderstorm warnings lighting up the doppler weather map. So my 50CC became a second SS1000 and fourth IBA certificate.

Certificate #5
IBA certificate #5: Undeterred by my failure to successfully complete that 50CC in 2008, I stuck with my original plans to complete a BBG (1500 miles in less than 24 hours) two weeks later. I'd already mapped out the route, planned the gas stops, and been watching the weather. I had the bike serviced and was ready to get it done. When you fall off that horse, there's only one thing to do...
This was a confirming experience for me back then. I'd gotten a new Bill Mayer saddle and a heated jacket liner in preparation for the 50CC. These served me well on that attempt and then again on the BBG. It was wet and cold for much of the day during that BBG. I remember dreading having to stop for gas and the bathroom because it would mean unplugging the liner and freezing until I could get plugged back in and back on the road. I was pleased with my planning and preparations, and it validated my ability to stick with the plan. Earning this BBG certificate, the first of two, changed my riding forever. I learned that I did indeed know how to stay in the saddle, that my marathon fitness translated well into long distance riding endurance, and that I could sustain good riding 'form' for 23 hours, living off of peanut butter sandwiches and Gatorade. I was very proud of myself when I pulled into my own garage at the end of this ride. My 5th IBA certificate and first BBG.

Certificate #6
IBA certificate #6: Once again, the IBA had ride-ins for the 2009 IBA JAX party in March. Fellow IBA member Greg Rice had something truly epic planned as his ride-in - a BBG Trifecta - and I offered to go out to Van Horn, stay for two days, and be his start/end witness for his BBG's. Then I had the bright idea to do a SS1000 to get out there. Being a part of Greg's ride was truly humbling. As I made my way west on I-10 toward my turnaround point in Deming before getting to Van Horn to await Greg, I just couldn't imagine doing what he was doing. He called me from the gas station at the end of his first of three BBG's and I stood out front of the motel to greet him. I signed the ending form for his first BBG and he signed my ending form for my SS1000. The next day I got an 8 mile run in then took a ride out to Guadalupe National Park to get the park stamp for my 3rd National Park Tour. Greg arrived at the hotel a little later, looking a little more tired, and I signed his ending witness form for his second BBG and his starting form for his last of the three BBG's. We said good night and our parting words were, "See you in JAX!" My sixth IBA certificate and 3rd SS1000.

Certificate #7
IBA certificate #7. I was in Van Horn at the motel after having served as Greg Rice's witness to his BBG Trifecta. He'd already left the hotel a couple of hours earlier. Now it was my turn to start my IBA JAX ride-in, this a SS2000. The best part of doing this SS2000? I got to sleep in my own bed at the end of that first day! I rode almost 1200 miles the first day which made the second day easy at less than 900 miles. The one thing I'd learned from riding out in west Texas on I-10 so many times is that wind can be the enemy of gas mileage. I knew I'd be cutting it close, but wanted to make it to Junction before stopping for gas. About 30 miles out, my BMW gas gauge came perilously close to empty and the mileage countdown on the digital display, showing my reserve status, began. As it got closer and closer to reading "zero" I began to calculate how far I was from the exit, and making contingency plans it case I ran out of gas. I had my running shoes on the bike. Heck, I thought, as I drew to within 5 or 6 miles of the exit. I could jog to the exit to get gas if I had to. But thankfully I didn't have to. When I filled up the gas tank, the pump read 5.3 gallons. Her published tank capacity was 5.4 gallons.
The rest of the ride was uneventful. My own bed felt wonderful, and I got up early and rode the last 871 miles to the JAX hotel. Friend Claye Curtis had done her own ride-in and we arrived at about the same time. We had a late dinner at the Steak & Shake to celebrate. I'd done it! 3,000 miles and two IBA certificates in 4 days, My first multi-day IBA certificate, a SS2000, and my 7th IBA certificate.

Certificate #8
Certificate #9
IBA certificates #8 and #9: National Park Tours, one started in April 2008 and completed in April 2009; the other started in April 2009 and completed in February 2010. National Park Tours #3 and #4 for me, both made possible by my attendance at various MTF and IBA events as well as BMW MOA and BMW RA national rallies that had me riding solo all over the country. What made these National Park Tours so special - well, they're all special - was the continued discovery of new parks I had no idea existed, and of the continued historic connections among the various parks, the threads of continuity between seemingly dissimilar parks. Yet the hand of fate and happenstance continued to touch parks and bind them together in ways I simply could not have imagined. I continued to trace wagon trails through the unthinkable wilds of central plains states. I started accumulating books from the park bookstores and read voraciously about these trails and about the pioneers who forged them and the men who protected them. I continued to be awed by my tiny footprint on this vast country.

Certificate #10
IBA certificate #10: Another SS1000, my 4th SS1000, and this time on that other bike that was sharing the garage with my BMW. My 600cc, in-line four, chain-driven sport bike...was she up to the task? The annual MTF Founder's Feast, being held in southern Indiana, seemed the perfect opportunity to test this little bike with a big heart. The weather all the way up to Indiana was perfect until the sun went down. Then it started to rain. Hard. I was on a dark, two-lane windy road in those last 50 miles of the ride, and visibility was close to zero. I was creeping along. Every time a car passed me going the other way, I was nearly blinded. I couldn't see the painted stripes on the road. My helmet face shield was fogging up so badly that I had to ride with it open. As soon as I tried to close it, it would immediately fog up. So I had to ride with the rain hitting my face like sharp needles. Good thing I had my glasses on! It was the longest, slowest 50 miles in the dark in the rain that I can remember. The lights of the lodge, nestled deep within an Indiana State Park, greeted me, as did the small group of folks who were waiting for my arrival. My little 600cc sport bike did just fine! She earned herself her first IBA SS1000 certificate and my 10th certificate and 4th SS1000.

Certificate #11
Legends Autograph sheet-served as our SS1k documentation
IBA Certificate #11: Who knew what the IBA had up their sleeves for the 2010 IBA JAX party?? I can't remember for sure, but this may have been the first year that the IBA put on themed SS1000 rides in conjunction with the JAX party. In any case, it was a big hit with me. No receipts, no logs, just show up at the required check points and it was done! This was the coolest ride I'd ever done! Our "proof" of the ride was an autograph sheet. At each designated checkpoint, a LEGEND of the LD riding community was there to greet us and autograph our sheet. We were all star-struck!
Bob Higdon, Dave McQueeney, Ardys Kellerman, Jim Owen, Shane Smith, Marty Leir, Ross and Jean Copas. Jean was so excited upon seeing me. I was the first female rider to arrive at their checkpoint, which was the last one before the finish.
I remember being passed along I-10 near Tallahassee by an older yellow BMW GS. When I rode through Marianna, that same bike passed me again as it came up the entrance ramp from what was no doubt a gas stop.
We stayed together all the way to the next checkpoint in Pensacola, where Marty Leir was waiting for us.This was the turnaround point and the yellow GS and I were still together as we left that stop and started our long ride on I-10 to the next checkpoint in Tallahassee. When we made that turnaround in Pensacola and as we rode East, we saw many other ride participants heading west. It was fun seeing them, as we all gave each other giant arm waves of acknowledgement.
As I left that last checkpoint in Tallahassee, I fell in with Steve Short and we rode pretty much together all the way to the finish at the hotel in JAX. It was so cold, even with my heated gear on, that I was shivering uncontrollably as I got off the bike to retrieve my paperwork and hand it to the IBA staff for validation. Steve and I went next door to the Steak and Shake and wrapped our freezing hands around cups of hot cocoa while we waited for our food to arrive. It was truly a memorable and "Legendary" SS1000! My 5th SS1000 and 11th IBA certificate.

Certificate #12
IBA Certificate #12: My sweet little 600cc sport bike had already successfully completed a SS1000. Can she do a Bun Burner Gold (1500 miles in less than 24 hours)? I was about to find out. It was 2010 and the IBA biannual meet in Denver was offering ride-ins for certificates. This was going to be my chance to prove that this ride can be done on a stock 600cc sport bike with no fuel cell. Her only concession to comfort was a Bill Mayer Saddle and her only concession to practicality was a set of Givi side cases and top case. My original BBG route to Denver was going to be up I-45 to I-35 to I-70. But weather forecasts were for 100+ degree temperatures in the country's heartland that week. It was actually going to be cooler weather if I stayed further south and went west on I-10 and then north on I-25 out of Las Cruces.
The bike's chain and sprockets still looked very good with 26,000 miles on them, but I thought it prudent to go ahead and change them out and put new tires on as well. I was ready. She was ready.
The ride to Las Cruces went smoothly until just over the state line in NM. Traffic was at a standstill on the interstate and I was starting to fry from the heat coming up off the tarmac and off my bike's radiator. We crept along and finally made it to an exit where we were being diverted onto a local road that ran parallel to the interstate. About 2 miles up the road, I could see the problem...a car fire. I was thanking my lucky stars that I wasn't among those cars stuck in that 2 mile stretch beyond that exit ramp. My BBG would have been over had that happened.
It was getting dark as neared Colorado. The sun setting behind the foothills along the interstate in New Mexico was stunning! The ride across Raton Pass in the dark and in the cold was nerve-wracking as the warning signs grew more ominous by the for deer, watch for ice, watch for elk, watch for bears, watch for falling rocks.
At the final gas station, just on the other side of the interstate from the hotel, I was elated. I'd done this on my little 600cc sport bike! She performed flawlessly. The gas station was closed but the pumps were open. It was pitch black and I was totally unable to find the side stand with my toe to deploy it. I struggled with it for a few minutes, then just sat there and laughed at myself. After riding 1500 miles through the desert and through the mountains, in the heat and then in the cold, if this was the hardest thing I had to do all day, then I was in trouble. I finally snagged it with my toe, got it deployed, got my gas, and rode the short mile to the hotel. Done!! My second BBG and 12th IBA certificate. And on a 600cc sport bike!

Certificate #13
IBA certificate #13: My fifth National Park Tour and second at Silver level, started June 2010 and completed May 2011. When I completed this tour, I decided it would be my last. But I'd truly enjoyed the challenge that is the IBA National Parks Tour, and knew that I would miss doing them...researching the parks, planning the trips and the routes, working the states and the parks into my travel plans for other motorcycle-related events such as BMW rallies and MTF events. I tried not to duplicate parks that I'd obtained for my previous NPT certificates where possible, but some duplication was inevitable, and a couple of park properties became a traditional inclusion for me. This meant that over the course of doing five National Park Tours, I'd visited well over 200 different national parks. I made a point of watching the video if one was available. always visited the bookstore and always asked the volunteer, "If there was one book about this park that you would recommend, what would that be?" And I would buy that book. I took the tours if they were available, I rode the interpretive in-park roads and stopped often to read the plaques and take photos. I made a point of not doing hit-and-run stamping. Today, even though I no longer travel on two wheels, if there is a national park property within striking distance of where I am, I will make a point of visiting that park. When I look back at all of the things that I did in my life, doing these National Park Tours is among my most valued and memorable endeavors.

Certificate #14
IBA certificate #14: My most beloved SS1000 certificate. It was a sad day for those of us who had the pleasure of knowing Jack Shoalmire. He was in the process of completing a SS1000 in all fifty states - was only a few states shy of completing that goal - when he passed away unexpectedly and too soon. Some of his closest friends organized a Memorial SS1000 Day in memory of Jack. Those friends sought riders in every state - all 50 states - and succeeded in doing so. So on October 15, 2011, SS1000 rides were completed in all 50 states in Jack's memory. I carried a photo with me as I did this ride. It's one I took of him when we were down in the Big Bend valley together, attending an MTF event just months earlier, in February. Jack, we will never forget you.

Certificate #15: my last IBA ride certificate
IBA certificate #15: The ill-fated "Waffle House" SS2000. In 2012, a rider in the IBA community came up with the cool idea of a Waffle House Tour, which included doing a Waffle House IBA ride of our choosing. I decided to do a SS2000 to the IBA JAX party in March and to do it on my 600cc sport bike. The first leg was an out-and-back 1,000 miles from my home. I would sleep in my own bed, then get up early the next morning and do another 1,000 miles to JAX, picking up Waffle House photos with my Waffle House flag along the way. The route was planned and entered into my GPS, and I headed out early the next morning and got the required start receipt at a nearby Waffle House.
After about 800 miles of that first leg, my knees started to ache, being folded up in that sport bike position. I usually didn't have the problem at all, in fact I found that riding position to be more comfortable for me than any other position, but here's the problem. I had begun to really step up my running, adding more miles and doing more half marathons. And I had just run a half marathon in Little Rock, AR the weekend before. So when I got home after that first 1,000 mile leg, I had to decide if I was up for the second 1,000 mile leg on that bike. I could always change bikes, doing the second leg on my BMW. But then it wouldn't be a SS2000, but would be two separate SS1000's. I already had plenty of those hanging on my wall. So my decision was made. I would forgo doing the second leg, and just submit this on my own, not as a Waffle House ride, but as a plain and simple SS1000, my 7th SS1000 and 15th IBA certificate.
As it turned out, it was to be the last IBA ride of my riding career. I had scheduled and made plans for other subsequent IBA rides but things always seemed to get in the way and I'd have to cancel my plans. Ultimately my long distance running began to really take over my free time and spare money, so that resources originally spent on Long Distance riding were now being diverted to travel to run fun and interesting destination marathons around the country.
I have wonderful memories attached to each of these 15 IBA ride certificates and have made some really wonderful friends along the way.

Mile Eater Certificate

The other certificates are now taken down, removed from their frames and safely filed away. Thank you for following along as I reminisced about each of these certificates. The only IBA certificate that will remain on the wall: My Mile Eater Bronze certificate. Mike Kneebone included the line on the certificate: "No other rider has completed more National Park tours - Five - than Barbara Smith."
I'll always keep this one certificate hanging. It summarizes my IBA resume. I was only 3 easy SS1000 rides away from earning the Mile Eater Gold - I already had all of the extreme rides needed for that Mile Eater level and had even considered cranking out those last three SS1000's just to qualify - but in the end, decided my IBA riding career was complete as is.
It's funny how our minds can rationalize things. I reasoned that the money I'd spend doing those last three SS1000 rides, an amount equal to about $300 when gas and certificate applications are factored in, would pay for three good marathons. See? There is life after IBA rides!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

One Race Closer to Legacy Status

My next relatively short-term goal: Attain Legacy Status with the Chevron Houston/Aramco Half Marathon.

It's an honor bestowed on runners who are loyal to this wonderful Houston event, and it's recognized by the race directors in several ways. First and foremost, the legacy runners are guaranteed entry into the event, no matter what. Even if the race goes back to lottery system. Even if the race is sold out. Nice benefit!

Legacy runners' names are listed at their website and in the program book published each year and placed in the race packets. And Legacy runners are given special race bibs to recognize their status on race day, making it a nice race souvenir to keep afterward. Ten finishes earns that status.

This year's Aramco Half Marathon will be my ninth. My full marathons don't count; Legacy status is for either the Half or the Full and no mix-and-match allowed. Of course, if I hadn't skipped Houston that one year in order to run the Louisiana Half Marathon, I'd be qualifying for Legacy status with this year's event.

So here we go....Aramco Houston Half Marathon #9!

Welcome sign for the expo

Packet pick-up at the Houston expo is always exciting. It is one of the biggest race expo's in the country, Lots of vendors selling running clothes, shoes, and related gear. Representatives from lots of other races there to promote their upcoming events. Some of our iconic local food companies, like Mahatma Rice and H.E.B. Grocery Stores there giving out free food samples. It all puts me into visual and aural overload!

No lines at packet pickup. Timing is everything

Friday afternoon I drove into downtown, parked easily in one of the $10 surface lots and walked the short two blocks to the expo. The packet pickup area was nearly empty, as I knew it would be on mid-afternoon on the first day. There is always an initial crush of people standing in line for the 11 AM start of the expo - folks trying to get it done on their lunch hour - and then the crowd dissipates mid-afternoon and picks back up again after 4 PM as folks leave work early to get their packets late afternoon and early evening.
Very cool mural made up of runner names

Cool Houston Skyline mural, made using the names of all the runners in this year's event.

The mural of runner names, sponsored by Dick's Sporting Goods

Within an hour I was ready to leave for home.


The next afternoon I packed a small bag with my running gear and my knitting and headed back downtown, stopping first at Subway sandwich shop and picking up a sandwich and snacks for dinner that evening. I checked into my favorite hotel within very easy walking distance of the start and finish, and settled in for the evening with my dinner in front of football games on TV.

The next morning - race day morning - was cold, colder than usual for this event.  Temps were in the high 30's with "feels like" temps in the low 30's. As I've aged and as I've become a slower runner, I feel the cold much more than ever. I wore two long sleeve shirts plus a singlet over that, thinking that three lightweight layers were better than two heavier layers. And if I got too warm, I reasoned, I could removed the outer long sleeve shirt and tie it around my waist.

Waiting in my corral for the race to start...very cold at the start

I was never too warm. The combo of three lightweight layers was perfect.  I removed my gloves around mile 6 or 7 but was otherwise comfortable for the entire distance of 13.1 miles.

I love this event! I have stuck with it since 2002 through its ups and downs, its corporate sponsor changes, its low period when participation was dropping, through it's lottery entry period when the event surged in popularity after Chevron took it over, instituted purse money and began attracting the truly international elite runners. The lottery entry requirement was dropped a year ago and the entire Houston running community rejoiced. The event still sells out, but not in minutes like it used to, prior to instituting the lottery system. In the last few years, the number of events that runners can choose from has soared, and runners have more choices which is no doubt easing the crush to register for Houston's well-established race event.

This race is one of my top favorites for so many reasons. It's so well-organized and supported in the community. The route, now that it's been changed to include a start which much better handles the number of runners, includes a much better first few miles from a runner and spectator point of view.

Thousands of spectators the entire way, dozens of portapotties at every mile and with no waiting lines, more than sufficient water and sports drink served by enthusiastic volunteers, and more music along the route than that for-profit racing franchise that touts having rock and roll music along the race course.

The half marathon route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

I love how the route now takes us down Washington St, then to Montrose, then down W. Gray which is lined with cheering hordes. Then through the lovely River Oaks district, down Shepherd, and then down Bissonnet through Rice University district and the Museum District and around the beautiful Mecom fountain. Gorgeous!

Somewhere along the route

The miles went by quickly and soon I found myself turning onto Allen Parkway at mile 11 with crowds cheering and the gorgeous Houston skyline ahead of me. These last 2 miles of the race are like no other race I've ever done.  Boston is like this, probably NYC, maybe Chicago, but Houston has every other race I've ever done beat by a mile when it comes to crowd support along this stretch of the race course. Running clubs set up their canopies along this route, and it's packed with cheering supporters! Hash House Harriers are always there and this year, for the first time, I actually took a cup of beer from them!

Then I was across the finish line and receiving my finisher's medal. Another perfect race day!

This is the only race event that I participate in that gives every entrant an event shirt with their race bib but then also gives them a very high quality (no sponsor graffiti on it) finisher shirt after crossing the finish line.  And the post-race food is to die for! Hot breakfast served by volunteers, including eggs, pancakes, waffles, sausage, bacon, pastries, fruit, yogurt. So much food!! Even better, a sit-down area with tables and chairs is provided for the runners, a real rarity indeed!


As I walked out of the convention center and headed toward my hotel to grab my bag and check out, I heard my name and turned to see a long-time running friend from my early days with the Clear Lake Fit running club. She had also just finished and was also walking back to the same hotel with her husband. We had a nice chat as we walked along. It was so good to see her again!

Houston Aramco Half Marathon #9 is now done. Just one more year and I'll attain Legacy status. And I'm already registered for next year!

Friday, January 15, 2016

A Goal Was Set....and Met!

When I think back to my early days of running, of my first or second or third full marathon, I can't help but smile.  Way back then, every runner I knew lived for doing that one marathon a year.  Only the kooks would even consider doing more than one in a year.

2002 - after finishing my first full marathon

But then, years later, when I stopped doing full marathons in favor of the shorter half marathon distance, something happened.  I saw a race in the state of Ohio that I wanted to run, the Flying Pig Marathon/Half Marathon event.  It was less than 4 months after I had run the Houston half marathon. Was that too soon after doing a race to do another?
In my orange shirt, nearing the finish line in my first Flying Pig Half Marathon

I ran it, I survived, even set a PR on that extremely hilly course in Cincinnati. Over the next couple of years I got braver.  I ran three half marathons in a year.  And I didn't die.  My legs didn't fall off. The ground didn't open up and swallow me whole. Then I discovered the Half Fanatics running club and realized that I had already qualified to join because I'd run three half marathons within a three-month period.

For the next several years I was content to stay with that half marathon distance, traveling around the country and combining interesting races with sightseeing in some of this country's most spectacular regions.

But in the back of my head, a little voice was taunting me, telling me to do what it takes to qualify for the sister club to the Half Fanatics, The Marathon Maniacs.  That little voice dared me to qualify before I turned 70 years old, before it was too late.  It's a little voice I tried to ignore and tried to drown out with thoughts of other goals and objectives. It wasn't working.

So when I turned 67 years old this past June, I gave in to that little voice.  It was now or never.  And 2016 was going to be the year of "now."

I registered for the Texas Metalsaw Marathon to be held on New Year's day. It would be a test for myself, see if I could prepare for and then successfully complete a full marathon after a 12 year hiatus from that 26.2 mile distance.

If I succeeded in finishing that marathon, my plan was to meet the Marathon Maniacs qualifications by doing two marathons within 16 days.  I picked out two marathons, one here in the Houston area in latter half of March, and a really cool destination marathon overseas in early April, and then signed up.

But then I learned that the early April marathon was being rescheduled for one week later due to conflicts within the city.  Not good! This moved it too far away from the March marathon to qualify me for Maniac membership.  So it was on to plan B, which was to do three marathons in three months and still be able to qualify.  Another marathon, one in late February, was added to my race calendar so that I'd have those three marathons: one in January, one in February, and one in March.

Ugh! The thought of dragging this out over three months, mixed in with other half marathons I'd wanted to do, got me thinking and more closely studying the long list of possible races. There was a race in Mobile AL the second weekend in January, a race which I'd signed up for last year but at the last minute was unable to do.  If I signed up for it again this year, doing the full marathon instead of the half, it could be combined with my planned race on New Year's Day and qualify me for Maniac status.

The only downside was that because it was one week after the New Year's day race, there wasn't a lot of time to recover in between. But I knew that if I didn't do it this way, it would most likely never get done.

Fast forward several months.  On New Year's day I successfully completed the first of two marathons needed to meet my goal. Now, a week later, I was up at 5:30 AM and on the road Saturday morning, heading for Mobile AL and my second of the two marathons.

A couple of major road closures - Beltway 8 Ship Channel Bridge and a stretch of I-10 through Baytown didn't slow me down, as I took 288 up to 610 to 225 to 146 instead of the Beltway.  No time lost here at all.

The major traffic delay on I-10 just west of Baton Rouge did slow me down a bit but thankfully I had my GPS and was able to bail out and work my way up to US-190 going around the north side of Baton Rouge to 110 south to rejoin I-10.  I learned, once I rejoined I-10 and could see what was happening, that the major backup and delay was due to an 18-wheeler whose trailer had collapsed as he was making the curve on the on-ramp where I-10 and 110 join.  I hate this stretch on a good day.  It's only one lane that bears right after crossing the Mississippi River bridge and merges with the bottom end of 110 and it's always backed up for a mile on the bridge.

Semi trailer collapse had this ramp shut down and traffic backed up for miles.

But this wasn't a good traffic day for Baton Rouge. As a result of this 18-wheeler issue, traffic was backed up for miles on I-10, as all vehicles were being diverted onto Rte 1 north to US-190 to 110.  I had the foresight to bail one exit earlier.  I was still delayed working my way to that exit ramp, but I was in much better shape than those who didn't know to take that exit. No doubt it took them an hour or longer to work their way along the two or so miles to the Rte 1 exit.

Traffic backed up for miles.  The green dotted line was my bail-out route.  The
red dotted line was the detour route for everyone else, who didn't bail out at the earlier exit.
I saved a tremendous amount of time by getting off one exit earlier than everyone else.
Hooray for GPS's!!

That mess now behind me, it was smooth sailing the rest of the way to Mobile.  I arrived around 2:30, got checked into the lovely Renaissance Hotel, and then walked the short 3 blocks to the Government Plaza building to get my race packet. Packet pickup was set in the very nice atrium of this building.

The pretty atrium of Government Plaze, packet pickup.

Four lovely young southern belles.  They were at the start line, as well.

I ordered room service, laid out the things I'd need for the next morning's marathon, and then settled in for an afternoon and evening of football. I ordered some additional items to have in the room for the next day: a fruit platter and a blueberry muffin.

Race day morning!  It was going to be chilly for the the race...winds 15 mph out of the north, mostly cloudy in the morning hours, early morning temps in the 40's.  It's so hard to dress for these weather conditions. The wind out of the north was the biggest factor in comfort for me. I wore gloves, a bandana around my neck in addition to long-sleeved shirt, lightweight fleece over that, and my oversized bright orange windbreaker.

I got down to the start line, just four short blocks from the hotel, just as they were singing the national anthem.  It was clearly a very small race, probably fewer than 1,000 participants, with more than 75% of those doing the half marathon. I positioned myself toward the rear of the start corral, maybe 30-40 feet ahead of the "balloon ladies," who are the course "sweepers" and maintain a 16 min/mile pace. As long as I can stay ahead of them, I'll be good. Fall behind them, and I risk not getting an official finish time, something I need in order to submit my qualifications to Marathon Maniacs.

The start gun popped and we were off!  Within a couple of blocks I spotted a woman just ahead of me wearing a 50-States Half Marathon club jacket.  I ran to catch up with her and we stayed together all the way to the 8-mile marker, which was the split off point for the full marathoners.

Now I was alone.  There was no one visible ahead of me, and I could see only one woman about 100 yards behind me.  This was going to be a long, lonely next 18 miles for sure!

That woman ultimately passed me at about mile 10, and then another woman passed me at around mile 12, and then a man overtook me at around mile 13.  Depending on the lay of the road, I could see these three ahead of me for much of the next 7 or 8 miles.  It was enough to keep me motivated.

Some serious hills in the second half of the marathon. Elevation data
from my Garmin GPS watch.

The middle miles of the marathon course - miles 11-20 - were very hilly and I could definitely feel it in my thighs.  A one week recovery is definitely not enough for a full marathon and I was paying the price for having done that full marathon the previous weekend.  But I knew I had to finish what I'd started. No wimping out allowed!

The marathon route, data from my Garmin GPS watch.

The route after the half marathon split was quite nice, as it took us through the very pretty U. Southern Alabama campus, past a large and beautiful golf course and mansion-like homes, through Mobile Botanical Gardens, and then through the campus of Springhill College.

The worst of it were the last few tedious and boring miles straight down Dauphin Street back into downtown Mobile.  At least the course was now flat. But I could feel the pressure from behind, as the rear "sweep" was slowly gaining on me, even though I was maintaining a sub-time cut-off pace.

Once I got into the downtown area, could see and hear the finish line ahead, I knew I'd done it! As I crossed the finish line, the volunteers were all cheering and applauding for me.  The race director was there to greet me and said, with a big smile, "We kept the light on for you."  Sweet!

Finisher medal, hand made by L'Arche residents.
 I collected my finisher medal and headed straight for Royal Street and to the most excellent little coffee shop, where I ordered myself a large hot coffee and then took it the short 1/2 block to the hotel.

Sitting down never felt so good!  Sipping on a good, hot coffee...even better!  I did it!!  It was sinking in.  I'd completed two full marathons just 8 days apart, something I never thought I'd ever do until now. So it's official!  I qualified for The Marathon Maniacs and to be a Double Agent (member of both the Fanatics and the Maniacs)!!

I took a nice warm shower, put on comfy warm clothes and then ordered room service:  Two bottles of beer and a nice bacon cheeseburger with fries.  Then settled in to watch the Green Bay Packers football game!
Recovery food! Beer and bacon cheese burger.  The fries were excellent!

Once the race staff could get the results posted at their website, I was able to check them and see that I'd come in 3rd place in my age group!  Cool! That made it all the sweeter!

I placed 3rd in my age group!
My third place age group award plaque, handmade by L'Arche Mobile Community Center residents. Very special!

Coming up next: Aramco Houston Half Marathon the next weekend.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

26.2 Miles....A Long-Lost Friend

Has it really been that long? Twelve long years since I last ran a full marathon - 26.2 miles. Somewhere along the way in my running "career," I had decided that it was becoming too hard to train for and do full marathons so I switched to doing half marathons. It's a much more manageable distance, those 13.1 miles, especially when work, then retirement, gets in the way of the arduous training requirements.

But here I am, twelve years and 85 half marathons later, wondering what it would be like to do a full marathon again. A few years ago I qualified for and joined Half Fanatics, an organization specifically for half marathon runners who have met the minimum requirements to join. Those requirements entail doing a certain number of half marathons within so many weeks.

Its sister organization, Marathon Maniacs, seemed out of reach for me, since I was no longer doing that race distance.  But then the club founders instituted Double Agent status for those runners who qualify for and join both the Maniacs and the Fanatics. Well, crud.  That would be kinda cool to be a Double Agent.   I knew that some full marathons had been relaxing their completion time limits a bit and other new full marathons were popping up with extremely relaxed rules including "no runner left behind."

So I had to ask myself: Is becoming a Maniac and Double Agent a new goal?

A race just up the road in Kingwood is one of several races that have very relaxed completion time limits. It's a very laid-back, small race event and would be the perfect venue to test my mettle, see if I have it in me to complete a full marathon again after all these years and to begin qualifying for Maniac status. It's the Texas Metalsaw Marathon and it's held on New Year's Day.

To prepare, I added 3 miles to my distance when I did the Route 66 Half Marathon in November and 6 miles to my distance when I did the Rock and Roll San Antonio Half Marathon in early December. The mileage bump-ups fell perfectly on the training calendar for an early January full marathon. But they would be the only two distances I would have covered that were greater than 13.1 miles in over 12 years. Will it be enough?

I learned that a running friend of mine was coming in from Florida to do this little race so I offered to host her at my house, pick her up and drop her off at the airport, and get her to the race venue with me. She made her travel plans and on Wednesday before New Years Day, I picked her up at the airport. I put a pot roast in the crockpot earlier that day, and made sure I had a stocked fridge with fruit, vegetables, snack foods, and makings for breakfasts.

We both got up at 5 AM on New Year's Day - race day - and were out of the house by 6:30 AM to make the 40 minute drive up to Kingwood to the race. We still had to pick up our race packets and there were several others from our 50 States running club who were there as well and wanted to get a group photo before the race started.

Several fellow 50 States club members

It was cold, windy and overcast, and threat of rain in the first couple of hours of the race was fairly high.  The race organizers had cordoned off an area near the start line where we could place drop bags, easily accessible from the race course as we do our turn-around for each of the four 6.5 mile loops. I packed an extra pair of socks, a pullover fleece, headband (in case my ears got cold), and sandals and long pants to put on after the race. I also had extra race gels, granola bars, a banana, and some Glide in case my feet got wet and started to chafe.

I was dressed for all possible contingencies:  long sleeve shirt, half-zip fleece pullover, windbreaker. My thinking was that I could shed either or both layers as weather dictated. I was ready!

This is the race I helped another running friend do last year. I was her support person, getting her at the airport, driving her to the race, hanging around while she ran the full marathon, and doing the last 6.5 mile loop with her to keep her motivated. So I knew what to expect this year. It may be a small race - 700 runner cap - but it's a very well-done event. Lots of attention to detail. Excellent out-and-back four loop route, very-well-placed support stations with enthusiastic volunteers. We were given a very good quality duffel bag, a nice long-sleeve shirt, nice technical fabric hat and the promise of one of the largest, if not the largest, finisher medals on the race circuit. All this plus a cute squeezy toy. This year's squeezy toy is a cute little bug-eyed frog.

I knew I'd have no trouble with the first two loops, equivalent to a half marathon. I do at least one, often two of these a month. I was somewhat sure I wouldn't have much of a problem with the third 6.5 mile loop either. It was the last loop I was worried about.

As we were turned loose onto the concrete paved trails that wind through the woods, past waterways and large homes, the mood was fun and light, like it is on group training runs. I was near the back of the pack and congestion was an issue until I could work my way past some of the slower folks.

When I got near to the end of the second loop, I had to fight a strong desire to quit and take the half marathon finish. I was surprised at this reaction.  Here I was, worrying about the end of the third loop at 19.5 miles, and did not even see this psychological reaction coming at 13.1 miles. As I worked to overcome this urge, I reminded myself about the goal ahead: Marathon Maniac status.

Somewhere along the race route.  Photo taken by the
race photographer
Once I made the turnaround and set out on that third 6.5 mile loop I was able to further analyze where that desire to stop at 13.1 was coming from. My subconscious was thinking about doing that 3rd loop, getting to 19.5 miles, and then being unable to continue to finish the full 26.2. It would have been devastating if that had happened. All that work for nothing. But I seemed to get a second wind as I got halfway through that 3rd loop. I slowed down to conserve energy and tried to find a "zone" mentally and stay there. As the faster runners finished, the trail became less crowded and it was easier to zone out a bit and put my body on autopilot.

Making that last turnaround to start the 4th and last loop instilled new resolve. I had slowed down quite a bit by this time, but I didn't care. I knew at that point that I was going to succeed at this. And when I made that last turnaround at the farthest point and was now on that three mile home stretch, I was euphoric. I knew that I had it at this point.  23 miles down, three more miles to go. I visualized this distance in my mind, thinking about the three mile loop I do at home all the time and where I'd be on that loop in one mile, two miles, three miles and turning onto my own street. This made those last three miles go by more easily.

Four out-and-back loops.  Data from my Garmin GPS watch.

As my Garmin watch vibrated, letting me know I'd passed the 26 mile mark, I could hear the people at the finish line, though it was still out of sight. Then I rounded a curve on the trail and could see it, could see the people, see the timing mats, see my friend waiting for me. And then it was over.
Crossing the finish line

A long-ago friend from our running club was handing me my finisher medal and my squeezy toy with my finisher place written on it, and my Florida friend, who'd finished the race a full hour ahead of me, was congratulating me and taking my photo. It was all a blur.
Receiving my finisher medal and squeezy frog from long-ago
running club friend Robbie Sabban

I was hungry but the pizza provided at the finish line didn't interest me. I was thirsty but my stomach was already revolting from all the water and Gatorade consumed on the course. I just wanted to gather my duffel bag and walk to the car so that I could sit down, take off my running shoes, put on my sandals.

It was done. The first of two full marathons I'd need to complete in less than 16 days to qualify for Maniacs. For me, that qualifying second marathon will be nine days later on Sunday, January 10 at First Light Marathon in Mobile, AL.

Boy, oh boy did it feel good to sit down in the car, turn on the heat, turn on the heated seats, head for home and a hot shower.  My shoulders hurt, my calves were tightening up, I was cold.  But I was happy!
Enormous finisher medal and very happy finisher

Close-up of the finisher medal.  It weighs 3.3 pounds!!

We had leftovers and celebratory beers in the fridge, hot showers waiting for us, but first...a 40 mile drive to get there.

Showered, relaxed, leftovers heated up, time to veg out in front of football on TV!

My goal: to qualify for Marathon Maniacs after First Light Marathon

Next week: drive to Mobile AL for First Light Marathon, where I hope to display this sign with pride.