Monday, October 31, 2016

A Fine Celebration in St. Louis

It seems like only yesterday I was celebrating my own 50 States Half Marathon milestone. It was July 2015 in Portland ME, and there was a nice little turn out of fellow 50 States club members to help me celebrate.

Fast forward to October 2016 and a running couple, Jann and Mike, were both completing their 50th state at the St. Louis Rock 'n' Roll half marathon. I decided that I would absolutely be there to help them celebrate!

So I registered for the race, reserved a room at the Hilton Ball Park, and booked my flight with United Airlines. I made plans to arrive on Friday in time to get my race packet at the convention center, and then run both the 5K race on Saturday and the half marathon on Sunday.

The flight went without a hitch and the cab ride from the airport to the hotel was efficient and quick. The Hilton was perfect and my room was very nice, with a view of the Mississippi River, the Old Courthouse, and the iconic Gateway Arch. Very nice, indeed!

View of the Old Courthouse from my hotel room

View of Gateway Arch and the river beyond, from my hotel room

I dropped my bags in my room and then walked to the convention center to get my race packet at the race expo. On the way back to the hotel, I stopped at a Starbucks for a very much needed shot of energy.  Dinner that night was room service from the hotel, as I laid my things out for the 5K race on Saturday morning.

Fitness Expo at the convention center

It was a surprisingly smallish crowd of runners assembled for the start of the 5K race. I learned afterward that it was the first year they held this event in conjunction with the half marathon. Running both the 5K and the half marathon earns a third finisher medal, the Remix Medal. It was perfect weather for the 5K and I found that I was able to run most of the distance, only walking up the two uphill sections of the race course.

5K finisher medal

Afterward, I got showered and changed and headed out on foot to find lunch. My research showed a sushi restaurant a few blocks from the hotel.  Well worth the walk, as the sushi was very good, and service was efficient. I returned to the hotel, stopped at the Starbucks in the lobby, and brought my coffee up to my room to watch football game on TV.

Some very good sushi, washed down with a Kirin beer

Most of the others in our running club were not arriving until Saturday, in time for our Saturday night pre-race group dinner at a very good Italian restaurant in the city. I took a cab ride to the restaurant, getting there a little early, so I stepped up to the bar and ordered a glass of wine. Soon the others started to arrive, and we claimed our group tables and had a wonderful dinner, getting caught up and making new friends.

Pre-race dinner Saturday night at Lombardo's

I usually don't make it to the group photo on race day mornings, preferring to use that time to sleep in a little bit and get ready for the race. I choose races with hotels within walking distance for that reason, so getting out there an hour early just for a group photo seems counterproductive to me.

Kimberley, Jann, me, Donna at the start line

Nice group before the start of the half marathon

But I did get to the start line about 15 minutes before race start so was able to catch up with some of the others. Jann and Mike were standing there with a couple of club members who kept their attendance at this race a complete secret from everyone. They had just run a marathon the day before in Brooklyn, and no one expected them to be there. And then there was another surprise for Jann and Mike....when the singer started to sing the National Anthem, one of the gals turned to Jann and said, "Recognize that voice?"

It was another of our club members, Jim, who'd also run the Brooklyn marathon the previous day and totally surprised Jann by arranging to be the vocalist for the national anthem at this race. He has a beautiful voice, has done small roles on Broadway in New York, and has been gaining a well-deserved reputation as a good vocalist (link to video) on the marathon circuit, getting the chance to sing at more and more races. Click the link to hear his beautiful voice.

Jann was overwhelmed by this last surprise! It was so sweet to witness! Soon our corral was moving toward the start line and then we were off and running. The route for this race was not particularly scenic, aside from some very nice residential neighborhoods, and was surprisingly hilly.

The race route, data from my Garmin GPS watch


Being among the slowest in our group, I was surprised then to see most of them still there at the finish line when I got there. It was nice to be able to congratulate Jann and Mike for finished their 50th and to be a part of their finish line celebration.

Me, Jim, and Jann at the finish line

Me and Jann

We made plans to all meet for a late lunch at the nearby Hooter's. I walked through the finish line party area to the tent where I could collect my Remix Medal, and then walked back to the hotel, stopping first at the Starbucks off the lobby to get a cappuccino to take back to my room.

Remix medal (for doing both 5K and Half) and
Half Marathon finisher medal

At 2:00 PM, I headed out for the short walk to Hooters, and soon the others began to arrive. We had a great lunch and visit with everyone, before some had to leave for the airport.

Me and Jann at Hooter's. She did it...finished her 50th state!

That evening I had a light room service dinner and started packing for my next day's departure. In the morning I walked to the Starbucks near the convention center, just to give my legs a stretch post-race and before getting onto an airplane.

An uneventful ride to the airport and an uneventful flight and I was back to Houston, back to my car, back to the house by 6:30 PM. It was a great trip and so wonderful to see my running friends again to to help Jann and Mike celebrate their accomplishment.

Next on the calendar: my much-anticipated trip to Vancouver for another half marathon and to complete a race in another Canadian Province.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Run With the Amish Half Marathon

There I was on September 23, in Maysville KY, getting ready for a very early morning start the next day to run another half marathon. I didn't meet with the others for the pasta dinner this evening but I did get a private message from one of the participants, letting me know that there will be an early start for those who need a little extra time.

So instead of planning for an 8:00 AM start, I planned for a 6:30 AM start but still giving myself permission to blow off the earlier start if I just can't get moving early enough in the morning. I set my cell phone alarm for 5:00 AM and laid out everything I'd need for the race. Since it is a 40 minute drive on a dark, unlit, narrow and curvy road, I would need to get on the road no later than 5:30 AM in order to get to the race venue, get parked, make one last potty stop, and line up for the 6:30 AM start.

When I woke up the next morning, I desperately wanted to stay in bed, and in fact tried to talk myself into doing the 8:00 AM start. But I knew it was going to be a scorching hot day once the sun was up, so I pushed myself to get out of bed and get ready. I didn't take a shower - didn't even brush my teeth. I just pulled on all of my running clothes, grabbed my Ziploc bag of Cheerios and a banana, and headed to the parking lot and my car.

It was 6:15 AM when I arrived at the start line, the volunteers waving their flashlights to direct me into the field to park. It was very dark out here! It's the middle of Amish country after all! I immediately spotted a couple of my running friends as I pulled into the field. In my rush to get out of the car and make a quick trip to the porta-potty before the start, I remembered to grab my bottle of water but forgot to grab my cell phone and the tissues I always carry with me to wipe sweat and/or use in case there's no T.P. in the porta-potties. So at the very last minute I raced back to the small bank of porta-potties and grabbed a wad of toilet paper to use as a sweat-wipe along the course.

I just made it to the start line as the small group of early starters were starting to move. It was dark and only a couple of runners thought to bring flashlights. We settled into several small pace groups. I was in the second group and fell into step with a man who appeared to be about my age. I asked if I could stay with him, and we stayed together the entire race, getting to know each other and ultimately sharing email addresses with each other before the race was over.

Our race route through Amish country

The race route was beautiful!! As the sun started to come up, we were treated to some really lovely vistas across Wheat Ridge, on which much of the race course followed. It was a very hilly course, one of the hilliest I've ever done. The difference out here in the country is that the roads follow the "nap of the land" just as the horse carriages did 100 years ago. As paths gave way to paved roads, the roadbeds were not graded, just paved. So we had some very steep hills and reciprocating downhills throughout the 13 mile distance.
Sunrise over Wheat Ridge...along our race route. This and the next two photos
taken by fellow running friend Colleen, who DID remember her cell phone.

Lots of these....and horses....along the race route

Water stations with not only water but sport drink, treats, watermelon were every mile. A couple of them were positioned in front of Amish school houses, the beneficiaries of the race proceeds, and were staffed by Amish children and teens. They were so polite, but clearly shy in the presence of people from the "outside world."
When we made the turn at around mile 8, I could see an Amish cart with single driver, being pulled by a fabulous Tennessee Walker horse, its coat jet black and glossy, head held high, front legs lifting high, and its mane and tail silky and gorgeous, floating out behind it. What a sight!! About a mile later, another cart passed us being pulled by a large brown harness horse. Both of these horses were very tall, very stately, and quite gorgeous. I suspect, since they were single-passenger carts, being driven by young men, they were out there for our benefit. Really a spectacular sight!

Having a race partner to talk with, the miles flew by! Before we knew it, we were within a mile of the finish line. My new friend was doing the full marathon so as we neared the finish line area, we gave each other a hug, I wished him a good second half to his marathon, and he turned and headed back out to do the second loop. By this time it had gotten very warm and I didn't envy him his second leg of the race.

I collected my finisher medal, wandered over to the little shed where Amish teens were replenishing a table filled with home-baked goodies, ice-filled tubs of sports drink and chocolate milk. I knew that some of my friends needed to get on the road to Chicago to run another race the next day, so I assumed they had already hit the road. Because of my early start, I would not know if I placed in my age group until the normal-start runners were across the finish line. This could be an up to 1.5 hour wait. I wasn't sure I wanted to hang around that long, since there was no one there I knew at the finish line and there was nowhere to sit in the shade to wait.  So I wandered over to my car, but not before asking a gal in the car next to mine if she'd take my picture.


Such original and different finisher medals! They're handmade by the Amish in this community, and they put their names, ages, and mailing addresses on the back, in hopes they'll get a pen pal or two.

Delightful and different finisher medal

Later that afternoon I received an email from my race partner, letting me know how much he enjoyed doing the race together and to also let me know that when he got to the turn at mile 16, he turned around and headed back. He was so close! But he got credit for doing the half marathon, even though he did put in another 6 miles beyond the 13 miles.

When I got back to the hotel, I took a shower and walked over to the Southwest Grill and had a really tasty grilled pork chop with mashed potatoes and a beer to wash it all down. That really hit the spot!!

That evening, I walked over to the Burger King for a grilled hot dog and french fries, craving the salt that these tasty foods would provide. French fries are my favorite race recovery food. If I've driven to a race, I'll often find a McDonald's on my route home, just for the french fries! It was a long day and I was tired!
Windy Corner Market, Lexington KY

My plans to get home included meeting my friend from Bowling Green at a really great little place that she recommended outside of Lexington called Windy Corner Market. We met and had a wonderful late breakfast - fluffy Belgian waffle with berries for me, country ham biscuit for her - then visited for a bit, and then I got on the road for my long drive back home. I stopped in Lonoke for the night then got a very early start the next morning and made it home by early afternoon.

That night at the hotel, I logged into the race website and there it was! I'd come in second place in my age group! Too bad I didn't stick around at the finish line to claim my award: a handwoven basket.

Time to recover and start getting ready for our next stage production, assembling sound effects and creating the Play Bill for the event.