February 27, 2013

One-day tour of Birmingham

Last week we got to see our town through tourist lenses when our relatives came to visit. Amory and I are both from pretty big families, so having a lot of people in the house is always a welcomed distraction from our regular (i.e. crazy-house) routine. By big families, I mean that he is the ninth of ten kids, and I'm the sixth of six, or seven if you count our uncle who grew up with us. 

Amory's family about 5 years ago (parents, siblings, spouses, and kids included)

This visit was from his older sister Tassie and her family, who are taking a four-month tour of the US via friends' and families' cities. We were the third stop or so on their way down from Maine, and from here, they're headed west to Texas. With this mega road trip, their goals are to grow closer as a family, get to know (historically) the places they visit, bond with extended family (like us!), and avoid Maine's winter. There may be more goals, but this is what I gathered from talking with them about their road trip extravaganza. 

That whole avoiding Maine's winter would be pretty high on my list. If you live in a cold climate, how do you do it every year? And still run outside?! Pretty much, you're rockstars. I would have wimped out long ago.

Back to our visitors. They have three kids who are still living at home, and they coordinated with their school in Maine to finish out this year with homeschooling. Doesn't this sound really cool? They're pretty much living my dream life right now. Giant road trip with the family all over the United States. Yes, please. Some of my best (and worst) childhood memories are from road trips, so I'm always game for stuffing my kids and an extra set of clothes in the car and hitting the open road. 

If you're ever in Birmingham for a race (like Mercedes!), the following list will give you an idea of what you have time to visit in a quick weekend. All but the hike we accomplished in one day of touring. 

Tourist highlights of Birmingham, Alabama: 

1. Hikes. You can choose from some of the larger parks like Ruffner Mountain, Red Mountain, Moss Creek, or Oak Mountain, but we picked a smaller trail called Boulder Canyon Nature Trail that's located just behind Vestavia Hills Library in the Forest. It's an easy hike for adults, yet slightly challenging for short kid legs. The trails aren't terribly long, so you can cover the circle if you have an hour for slower hiking. 

There are a few obstacles to keep it interesting, like creeks to cross and fallen trees to climb over. Plus, you get to hike around some waterfalls, which are very easy to access so that you can stand relatively safely right at the top of the falls. 

Cool idea: my nieces each have a walking stick for hiking that they are decorating with medallions from the state parks and historical sites they are visiting. Very cool tradition that I want to start with my own kids.

2. The Vulcan. Go here for the history of the Vulcan. This can be a quick stop on a one-day tour of the city. Even if you don't visit the museum or top of the statue, it's fun to walk around the park and laugh about the statue not wearing underwear, at least that's what our kids love to do. Plus, there's a nice overlook of the city to enjoy if you're not too busy staring at the Vulcan's uncovered rear.

3. Kelly Ingram Park. Go here for more history of Kelly Ingram Park. The park is located right across from the Civil Rights Institute and the 16th Street Baptist Church. If you're visiting Birmingham, these are must-visit sites to learn about the history of racism in the South and the long fight against the institutionalized racism that was pervasive in Alabama and other states. 

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy." MLK, Jr. 

Martin Luther King, Jr., statue at Kelly Ingram Park

4. Birmingham Museum of Art. Go here for more information about BMoA. Admission and parking for the museum are free. The exhibits themselves are not the most young-child friendly, but they have a few nice areas for little people to hang. Like the sleeping dog couch -- sitters welcome. 

Plus two hands-on rooms for kids to experiment with their own art. 

These were my favorite paintings at the museum. I love the contrasts in the one below. 

Plus I'm always a fan of bright, poppy graffiti art. 

The BMoA also provides these chairs for you to take and place in front of paintings so you can stare at them as long as your eyeballs can handle it.

6. Birmingham Zoo. Go here for more zoo information. There is a zoo entrance fee, but our family and our visiting family both have annual zoo passes. For our family of six, it pays for itself in less than two visits.

Highlights of this visit were seeing the gorilla out and moving. He usually likes to hide in a cave.

And the orangutan mom and baby were out, and we rarely see more than a glimpse of their fur from their shadowy hiding spot. The mom and baby had a five-minute interaction between the two that was really special because of how seldom we see them. Plus the baby orangutan, who was born last year, is the cutest animal alive.

Thanks to our extended family for visiting and helping us revisit some of our favorite spots in Birmingham. And thanks for planting the seed in my brain for a summer family road trip. 

How often do you take a tour of your own hometown? Not often enough. We are fairly into our routine places, which include lots of playgrounds and libraries. 

Love or hate family road trips? Love, but I hated when my brother tried to cross the invisible line we drew to divide the backseat. 

Which are cuter: baby orangutans or baby gorillas? Too close to call.

February 25, 2013

Definitely don't do that

Today I do nothing. That is my goal. I will be walking to the kitchen many times to refill my food supply, and I will fold some clothes to make room for more lounging on my bed. Do you ever throw laundry on your bed to guarantee that you will fold it, only to shove it to the side so you can squish into a now laundry-lumpy bed? No? Me either (twiddles thumbs).

Since my seriously-insane-person month of racing is now over, I have a few seconds to reflect on it. 

1. I definitely don't recommend this much racing to anyone. The time spent carb loading alone was exhausting. I'm being serious with that one. Sometimes carb loading is exciting, but to do it three weeks in a row is just a huge pain. I stuck with it because I really felt like it was helping my legs at the end of races, preventing cramping and hitting the wall. I carb loaded all three weeks starting three days before the race, following the same plan I described here. Even though I was exhausted in all of my races, I never felt like I hit the wall in any of them. Especially amazing in the 50K where I was expecting to face a blow up or wall at any second. 

2. My coach did not recommend this to me. My original plan with my coach was to race the first of these three and run the next two at easy, fun paces. Well that was before my 12-second upset during MS River Marathon. Two days after that race, I told my husband that I had an epiphany that I was going to try and race again at Mercedes, and he laughed and said, "That's not an epiphany. I knew that you were going to as soon as you didn't make it in Mississippi." I guess I am absolutely transparent to my husband. 

When my coach heard me whispering at our pre-race carb party that I might try again at Mercedes, he shook his head in disapproval. He wasn't going to force me to stop, but clearly, he thought it would not be a smart move. It turns out that it worked for me, but it could very easily have gone the other way. I don't know what the magic formula is, but normally, I think the general rule is that racing two marathons two weeks in a row is quite dumb.

Somehow I got lucky with this particular scenario, but I definitely don't want to push that luck and try that again anytime soon. 

3. So glad the never-ending taper is over too. You know how taper week makes you a crazy person, and you just don't know what to do with yourself half of the time. That's what the entire month of February has been for me. My blog got the major shaft because I didn't really want to talk about anything that was going on in my race-prep brain for irrational fear that it might somehow jinx any plans that I had made. I am a superstitious weirdo. If talking about BQing didn't work for me one time, then it would probably jinx it if I did it again. Right? Totally right. 

4. After the Mt. Cheaha 50K, I am more excited about trail running now than I've ever been. Also, I'm more ready than ever to just run for fun. Which may be just a repeat of the first sentence. Some things I want to happen soon: run more with my brother, pound dirt instead of asphalt, and throw my Garmin in the trash (then dig it right out again because that junk is not cheap).  

5. Thank you to everyone for all of your cheers and support after I finally made my goal at Mercedes! Now I promise to try and stop being so dramatic about it like the world revolves around that one moment in my life. It kind of felt like that for a couple of months, but I am going to attempt to move on and live a more balanced life. I haven't even told a poop story in at least a month, and that is just totally unacceptable. 

6. If you haven't laughed at someone else's awkwardness today, this video could change that for you. It is our attempt at an impromptu Harlem Shake at the beginning of Mt. Cheaha. Listen, we're low budget and don't know how to dance, so it's a little bit like watching a train wreck. But the pole dancers on the left got pretty fierce. 

Awkward moments, brought to you by trail racing. 

To sum this up, you all rock. 

Have you ever raced multiple weekends in a row? How did it turn out? 

Do you find carb-loading exhausting or fun? 

Have you ever made your own Harlem Shake video? Did it remind you that you can't/shouldn't dance?

February 24, 2013

Mount Cheaha 50K results

Mission complete! Three weekends of tough racing culminated with the Mount Cheaha 50K (pronounced chee-haw), a race to the top of Alabama and my first 50K. Of all the races, I was looking forward to this the most -- as a break from the monotony of the roads with some gorgeous Alabama nature. 

Thanks to my Alabama Outdoors teammate Michael for sticking with me during this race and helping me through with his positive attitude. This was his final "easy" run to prep for the Double Top 100 next week. 

Final time: 6:25, 53rd overall. Feeling throughout the race: awe and amazement. Some highlights were the waist-deep water crossing (and many more knee-deep water crossings) and the straight-up (as in that's the direction you had to move against gravity) climb through a boulder zone. If you are interested in running a 50K in Alabama, definitely add this to the list. 

I'll be back with the full report and pictures next week. 

February 22, 2013

Mercedes Marathon, February 17, 2013

Mercedes is my hometown race, and I have to say that every year I run it, I'm increasingly convinced that there is a lot more to why I love it than sleeping in my own bed. But sleeping in my own bed automatically ranks this at the top of my must-run list. Warning: I am biased towards races that allow me to use my own toilet on race morning. Sorry, port-o-lets, you lose.

Expo: I went to the expo Friday night about an hour before closing. All of the retailers and booths were still in full swing.

The Birmingham Track Club reeled me in with their 1200 Mile Club gear and free Hammer gel samples. Oh my freaky deaky, the apple cinnamon flavor is amazing. Not a flavor I thought I would like, but I have since purchased a drawer full.

Lisa, Jennifer (BTC prez), Stacey

I also finally got to try some Simple Bites, made by my local runner friend Erica. Yum!

Erica with the Sweaty Moms Running Club ladies

The Swiftwick crew was in town for the event too. At this point, my Swifty compression socks were already washed and hanging on the drying rack, just waiting to boost my legs for a marathon. Spoiler: they worked.

Lisa, Hunter, Sam

After picking up my packet, I made one last stop to register for the Team 413 Get There and Share Half Marathon, which I prefer to call the Jesus Half (because it's much shorter) or My Birthday (because it is). They offered $15 off to register at the expo, and I knew that my birthday would be awesome if I was out running a race. So done and done.

If you add up (monetarily) all those expo stops, you will know why my husband wants me to take a race break after this month. He says he's worried about my legs, but, well, ya know.

At least I didn't cave to every cool thing available to my debit card. Like this shirt I really wanted.

But I would have preferred it if they spelled it "motha." 

Travel: On race morning, we arrived downtown about 6:25. Parking was limited on the east side of Linn Park, but we found a spot near the library on 7th Ave. N and 22nd St. N. I'm pretty sure on a normal day I would have gotten a ticket for parking there (no meter and a no parking sign nearby), but my brother swears that downtown Birmingham does not issue parking tickets on the weekend. He's lived here forever, so I trusted him. We didn't get a ticket, but I was pretty nervous. If you want a good legit spot, go earlier. Or maybe try the west side of Linn Park.

Weather: High of 50 and low of 23 with no rain or wind. Basically my perfect running weather. Because I had overdone it the week before with running tights, I opted to wear shorts, compression socks, a tank, arm warmers, gloves, and an ear warmer. I figured that when I got hot I could toss the gloves and ear warmer. I wore the ear warmer for over half of the race, and I think my gloves came off somewhere around mile 23. The clothing choices worked! My legs were kind of numb feeling during the first half, but I think it helped to keep them perky. Overall much better than my legs being too hot in tights.

Pre-race: The Boutwell Auditorium is open for people to warm up in before the race. The only problem is that the thousands of people running the race all think that is a superb idea, so it gets pretty crowded. Surprisingly the bathroom line that snaked far into the lobby moved pretty quickly. I picked a designated meeting spot for me and my bro for after the toilet break, and from there, we pushed our way through the crowds to the bag drop. To walk through that crowd and stay together took some serious concentration and a thousand excuse mes, but bag drop was quick and painless.

Lisa and Jimmy

Because the crowds on the auditorium side were ridiculous, we decided to cross the street in front of the start line to get to the Linn Park side. Still not uncrowded, but much easier to find a way into the start corral, which seemed impossible on the Boutwell side. We ended up right behind the 7:00/min.-mile pace sign, but we couldn't move forwards or backwards. So we stayed put, which worked out just fine as far as our pacing went. Smooth start.

In front of us 
Behind us. About to start a camera war with that dude.

Course: This is a double loop course, so you know just what you are getting into the second time around. Except that you also know it will be more painful during that second loop.

It also includes a fun set of rolling hills that honestly don't feel too bad on the first loop, but I did start to question when it would end on the second loop. The hills definitely felt more significant on loop two, and somehow I could have sworn that the final two downhill miles were slightly uphill.

There are three official GU stops and lots more water stops. Plus, there were several unofficial stops set up by people who were just coming out to cheer people on. One stop near the finish had pickle juice and gummy bears, and I'm pretty sure the Hash House Harriers were out with their cups of beer again this year. I insta-gag just thinking about drinking beer while running. People who do this, feel free to explain how it is possible.

And a special shout out to the random group of people out cheering and dancing with awesome music in the Highlands. Galvanize was on as I came through on my second round, and that pretty much made that whole segment possible for me. Were they runner angels? It seems like it in my hazy marathon memory.

The only cruddy thing about the double loop is that a lot of the race cheerleaders take off after the first loop, so you really have to have your mental game ready for the second loop. The water stops stay strong and amped for the entire ride, but the extra spectators disappear.

My race: I never really intended to run the full marathon here. Blue Cross Blue Shield was giving out free race entries at the end of January (as they did last year), and the half marathon free entries filled up. So I did what any totally crazy person would do, signed up for the full with a marathon already on the calendar for the week before and a 50K the week after. Knowing that I had races the week before and after, I decided that Mercedes was going to be my fun run, but when I missed my goal time by 12 seconds at MS River Marathon, I changed plans. I decided to race this with the intention that if I ever started to feel something go wrong (like dislocating a hip from too much running), I would back off. But nothing ever happened. I just kept running and running and running.

Right as the starting horn blew, I realized that I had not synced my watch. Syncing ended up taking somewhere around half a mile, but for the rest of the race, I was never really sure what my mileage was. I could see my splits after that, but I think it helped only having a vague knowledge of my total time and distance so that I couldn't psych myself out. I just knew that I needed to keep running as fast as I could.

As usual, having my brother run with me helped tremendously. He was having a contest to see who could be the nicest person alive, and I officially nominate him the winner, forever. He knew about 99% of the people lining the course and was in constant hello-and-good-to-see-you mode for the first half of the race. On top of that, he wasted a lot of energy keeping the conversation rolling with me, as I could only do random grunts or two-word replies.

He even sacrificed getting a picture with the rector at South Highland Presbyterian because I, the party pooper, refused to stop. So I made him one later.

Original photo by Marathon Runs. Crappy photoshop by yours truly.

I also loved that this year there were a lot more familiar-to-me faces along the course. Shout out to Greg from Fleet Feet for hanging with me until around the halfway point. And to the many people who waved to me, talked to me, or smiled and danced for me (we had some awesome water stops), I thank all of you. It was a huge boost to see so many encouraging and familiar faces during this race.

My family, the most encouraging faces of all, came out to cheer me along the course too. They brought me my energy drink at mile 18, which I think really helped give me a boost for round two with the hills. This is my first time using this during a race. I usually only take one right before the start of a race.

We all make sacrifices. His was pants.

I also took Hammer gel at miles 5, 10, 15, 20, and 23. Three with caffeine and two without, alternating. I lined them up in order in my SPIbelt the night before the race. At each fluid stop, I drank water, except for one of the last ones, where I took the Powerade to try and make my legs move faster.

I used my music for miles 18-23, but somehow it started to skip songs erratically (still not sure what happened). So for the last few miles, I heard every song for about three seconds. It kind of matched my mind's ability to focus at that point anyway. 

My goal was to keep my pace from 8:00 to 8:20, but on some of the downhills I was able to bank time, getting in some sub-8 miles. On the flat course the previous week, I knew I needed to keep my pace even, but with the hilly course at Mercedes, I figured that I should push when I felt like I could push. Turns out, I could push up until mile 24.

I felt really lucky to have my brother with me on those last two miles because I was in the struggle zone, barely able to eek out 9-min. miles. According to the last clock I had seen at mile 22, I thought I had it as long as I kept moving forward, but I knew I couldn't trust my mental race math.

At mile 25, I thought the clock said 3:33, and my heart sank. I knew that my legs were absolutely spent, and I was positive that I couldn't run 1.2 miles in 7 minutes. But as I got closer, I realized that it read 3:23. That was the moment I knew. Holy crap, if I could just keep moving forward, I was going to make it. 

My brother kept saying, "Um, I think we're running kind of slow." He doesn't wear a watch to know, but instead of me being able to explain what I had just seen on the clock, all I could do was a kind of rude, "Shhh!" And give him the talk-to-the-hand hand. Between the exhaustion and not being able to breath, I couldn't manage any words, but I figured I'd explain later. He's a good brother, so I hoped he'd understand. 

According to all of the race photos I was asleep during those miles anyway.   

Very happily asleep. But my eyes were open long enough to see a 3:35:xx on the clock as I crossed the finish line. I didn't even need to wait until my official results came through to know for sure I had made it. 

I could not believe it. I did it. The feeling of joy and relief is hard to describe. One week after failing by 12 seconds on a flat course. Two months after a miserable and vomiting 4:37 BQ attempt. Three months after missing it by 2 seconds at Savannah. And a little over two years after my running journey began. 

"If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard." (from Wizard of Oz -- thanks, Kristie!) This race taught me to never underestimate the power of home. With friends and family surrounding you, hard things become a little bit easier to bear. Or to be exact, 5 minutes and 30 seconds easier to bear. 

My final time was 3:34:42, 8th in my age group, 30th woman, and 165th overall. 

Post-race party: As always, Mercedes knows how to throw down. At the finish line, you get your medal, a space blanket, snacks and a finisher's cap.  

This is also where I got to meet Michelle who I e-met through this blog. Her husband had finished the marathon that morning too. She was the first person I got to tell that I made my BQ time, and she probably thought I was crazy for crying about it to her. She covered for my awkwardness by being super nice. 

Michelle and me

My first post-race text was to my coach. Most giant shout out of all to Coach Alex for adjusting my training plans to match the crazy plans I made. And for putting race mantras out there all the time for me to latch on to. I must have told myself to dig deep 480 times during this race.

When I got into Boutwell, I cried and told the story 100 more times. Plus I got to hear a bunch of other success stories for the day, like how my friend Lara got a 25-minute PR in the half marathon. 

Lisa and Lara

Oh, and we ate. With your bib, they give you a post-race meal ticket for a barbecue sandwich, chips, and fruit. Lots of drinks are on tap, and they set up plenty of tables and chairs for wobbly post-race legs. Plus there are tons more seats at the top of the auditorium. 

More than any race I've been to, people love to stick around after this race. They have a band and masseuses on hand (about whom I always forget until it's time to go -- dang it!). Every year, I feel like I'm dragging myself away from the party, even though we've been there for hours. This year we stayed two hours after the race, and the place was still packed tight as we headed out. 

When I finally made it home, I found this giant poster plastered on my front window along with a congrats banner homemade by my daughter. I cried. Again. Thanks, family!

And my awesome runner friend capped the night by making supper for all of her friends running Mercedes. Seriously, this town rocks. 

Swag: For this race, the full marathoners get a long sleeve shirt (halfers get short sleeve) and a larger medal. 

There was also a Talladega 2100 koozie and a Marathon bar sample in the race packet. I ended up swapping out my women's v-neck shirt for a men's because they were out of my size in women's at the time of my online registration. For some reason, the women's shirts they provide always seem to run a bit short. I'm a short person anyway, so if it's too short on me, it's too short for about everyone on the planet. The men's version was good for me, except the sleeves were long. I opted not to just get it in my husband's size this time because I really wanted to wear this one. 

New favorite idea: Putting Skin Sake (or other ointment) on marathon rash BEFORE getting into the post-marathon shower. Try this! Unfortunately I thought of this after I was already in intense pain in the shower. Got out and Skin Saked up the chafed spots, and it was much more pleasant on the return shower trip.

Second favorite new idea: If you like storing stuff in your bra for runs, wear two. Then you can protect your skin by putting items between the two bras. I haven't been able to break the habit of putting my phone in my bra. I use the SPIbelt for all my fuel, but I just want that phone where I can grab it fast if I need to take a picture. My chest still had unhealed chafing from last week's marathon, so I tried the two bras at Mercedes. No new chafing! I think I'm going to use this at all marathons from now on. Unless it's really hot. Another reader showed me this North Face bra that is the same idea with less hassle.

Overall: Whether you are an Alabama resident or not, you should add this race to your list. It's festive with great swag. Unfortunately the marathon is not as exciting (translation: much fewer spectators) on the second loop, so be prepared for that mentally. I train in Birmingham, so the hills don't feel terrible to me, but if you are from a flat area, make sure to add hill training to prep for this race. And if you're an Alabama resident, like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama on Facebook so that you can see when their free race entry promotion pops up at the end of January.

February 21, 2013

Mercedes Kids Marathon, February 16, 2013

My kids begged to run the Mercedes Kids Marathon again this after having so much fun and, most importantly, getting a medal last year. 

Organized chaos -- that's the best way I can describe the kids marathon. Maybe if you only have one kid to throw in the mix, things are less hectic on race day. This year, I managed two kids on race day by myself. That means that I dropped off and picked up two kids and saw zero percent of them running. It's just too hard to push through people to get anywhere you can see the course in the small window of time you have before dropping off again. I met another parent who had three kids running, which instantly earned my respect. Just considering the logistics of that much dropping off and picking up in the massive crowds is giving me a headache.

My daughter wanted to meet her best friend before the race, but we were behind schedule and didn't have time to meet them before the start. 

We were happily surprised to find them afterwards (a small miracle in the huge crowds) so that we could get a picture of them together. 

Then Mercedes sent me a link to my daughter's race pics. See any familiar faces in there? What are the chances?! Somehow they were running right beside each other without seeing each other. 

After we rushed to drop my daughter off, we waited in the packed crowds for my son's wave to start. 

He also didn't spot his BFF until after the race. 

Things we love about this race: 
  • The medals! They are exactly like the marathon medals, just smaller. So they're heavy with a solid ribbon. Some people at our house can't take them off. 

  • Some of their teachers volunteer to stand at the finish line. The kids love seeing those familiar faces at the finish. 
  • The security at the end. You have to hand over your coordinating tag number to pick up your child. Even though there are a zillion kids in one square block, it is surprisingly easy to find your child for pickup. 
  • The cost isn't too bad for a program that involves months of involvement/activity from your child. $20 pays for race day shirts and a medal, and with my kids, their school tracks the mileage for them leading up to the race.  

Things I'd love to see improve: 

  • Food for the kids at the end of the race. They get a coupon for a free meal at Jim n Nicks, but we had an issue redeeming ours this year. I went alone with both kids to redeem the coupon, and they said I had to buy two adult meals (even though it does not state that adults have to purchase anything on the coupon, just that you have to accompany your child). So if you're a single parent with two kids in the race, those coupons are no good for you. It would be easier for parents if they just set up something simple for the kids after the race, and then you wouldn't have to get tangled in coupon phraseology. 
  • Easier drop-off. The pickup is easy and organized, but the drop-off feels like chaos exploded. Where to stand and wait is slightly confusing, and it's just plain crazy crowded. If I had a smidge more claustrophobia than I already do, those crowds would not be working out for me. 

Will we be doing this race again next year? Absolutely. The kids love being involved in something about which a lot of other people at school are excited too, and I love that my son wears his medals (plural because he includes the one from last year's race) everywhere we go for a full week afterwards. Admittedly, I'm kind of wanting to do the same thing with my Mercedes medal too. So blingy.

Do your kids race? What distances? I think my daughter might be ready to go for a 5K, but I would probably cap her distances there. This race is only a mile on race day, but they log the other 25.2 at school throughout the year leading up to the race.

What's the youngest kid you've ever seen racing a half or full marathon? I met a young guy (12 or 13) running with his dad at the start of Mercedes this weekend.

February 17, 2013

Mercedes Marathon results

Today was the day for my hometown just-for-fun marathon. Turns out that being in your hometown (and possibly built-up annoyance from my two recent less-than-15-second misses on BQing) puts a fire under your legs.

It was definitely my day out there. Finally!!! 

Special thanks to my brother for tugging me along to the finish! Love ya, bro! And thanks to my hometown and the amazing running community here for being an inspiration to me as a newbie runner when I first moved here. Birmingham was where my runner birth happened, so it feels fitting that I finally hit my BQ on my home turf. 

Around mile 24 with my big brother Jimmy. Are we in the same season?

Final results: 3:34:42 and 9th in my age group. 

I cried for about 20 minutes after I crossed the finish line. Every stranger I talked to got to hear about my personal miracle that happened today. Thanks for acting interested, strangers! 

And thanks to all of you who encouraged me when my misses were near (MS River and Savannah) and far (Rocket City). You lifted me when I was down. 

More specifics to come with the race report. 

February 16, 2013

Mississippi River Marathon, February 9, 2013

Let's start off by revealing that I knew nothing about Greenville, MS, before I went there for this race. And there's a reason for that. It's a tiny town. Smaller than the small town I grew up in, and thanks to wikipedia, I now know that Greenville's population is 35K.

Travel: Driving in from Birmingham was easy, with not much traffic at all. We left around 2 p.m. on Friday, and arrived about 7:30 p.m., just in time for the expo. The drive took a little longer than we anticipated because the main road leading into Greenville had lots of small towns with stoplights. So although there wasn't much traffic, the stop-and-go of the road made it slower than the GPS first estimated. 

When making my reservations, about three weeks before the race, I found out many of the hotels had sold out early. Yup, should have done that sooner, but I knew it was a small race. I just didn't realize how small the town was. We finally found a non-smoking room (a couple of places still had smoking rooms, blah) at the Days Inn. They gave us about five bucks off the price because we were there for the race, and the total after taxes was $62. I was excited that it was cheap, but we got exactly what we paid for. Kind of sketchy on the cleanliness and brown water that I refused to brush my teeth with. I'm not sure if that is just normal for the water system, but it came out brown every time I turned it on. We were rationing our tiny little spring water bottles like they were gold. It got the job done of housing our family through the night though. 

Sketchy face/hair/photo to match the sketchy room.

On our way back home we wanted to visit some spots along the Natchez Trace, so we found Stinkin' Jim's horse farm that rents out cabins. For 40 bucks, we got two double beds, fresh air, and less funk than the Days Inn. We were happy campers. Put this on your places-in-Mississippi-to-visit list. 

One last tip for traveling in Mississippi, carry cash! Many of the small towns we stopped to eat in did not take debit/credit cards at their restaurants. In one town, we went to three restaurants that did not take cards before we finally just found an ATM so we could eat. I'm sure the fast food chains take them, but the local restaurants we went to did not. And Stinkin' Jim's only takes cash too. 

Expo: I slipped into the expo about 30 minutes before they closed up shop. The expo was in Greenville's mall. Do not expect to also eat there, like I did, because there is no food court. They have a couple of sit-down restaurants attached, but no serve-and-go places. 

The expo itself was pretty tiny. The booths on the left were either always empty or had already cleared out. There were about three active booths on the right along with packet pickup in the back. I bought some more Hammer gels (loving those right now!) and scored some free cow bells for the kids. 

My favorite part of the expo was this map on which the runners could star their hometown. It was fun to see where people came from. 

So now I want to know who the two other people from Birmingham are. If you are one of them reading this, please tell me!

Weather: The day of the race brought perfect temps, low of 31 and high of 57. I wore compression tights under my shorts, which I think was a little bit of overkill. Should have just worn shorts and compression socks. Live and learn. My gloves came off about mile 3 and got stuffed into my tights for the next 23 miles. The most unanticipated (for me) negative weather effect was how hard those winds would be along the stretch of highway we ran for about 14 miles. There were just no trees or anything to block the blasts. Brutal. I hate to admit this right now, but I would take hills over wind. Don't tell that to the monster hill right in front of my house. 

Race-day transportation: We had gotten lots of emails from the race the week prior, detailing things we would need to know for the race. This was a point-to-point race starting in Arkansas, crossing the Mississippi River, and finishing in Greenville, MS. At one point, they gave us the option of taking the provided buses to the start or driving ourselves, but we got an email the week of the race telling us that we all needed to take the bus to prevent traffic issues. I was planning to do that anyway, so no big deal for me. 

We had to meet the bus by 6:30 for a race start time of 8 a.m. Buses were not coming back and forth, so if you missed it, you missed it. They had plenty of space on the buses. I got there about 6:25 and boarded with no problem. 

Buses pulling up to the start line in Arkansas.

Once we started off on the bus, and I realized we were taking our marathon route, I got a little nervous. There was a lot of running along a long, boring road. It was flat, but you could see so far ahead of you that it might feel like it was never going to end. 

Start line: We pulled up to the start-line camp, which was some port-o-potties and a couple of bonfires in the middle of a field. Watching the sun come up beside the grain bins was pretty cool. It felt very Arkansas, and I loved it. 

The start was just up the country road. 

I also got to meet my blog friend, Scott. Shout out to my fellow Alabamian. Having someone to talk to at the start took away some of the nervous pre-race jitters. 

Course: The course was marketed as one of the flattest in the southeast, and I concur. That hill that looks like a Swiss Alp in the middle is just a bridge, not very steep. If you look at the scale, it's only about an 80-ft. climb. 

On the first half of the course, there was a crop duster plane that kept swooping over the highway to dust the crops. In a visual way, super cool, but in an I-love-to-breath way, I was nervous about inhaling pesticides. The other cruddy part of running highway was exhaust fumes. Plus, there were some spots where we were limited to the gravelly shoulder of the road. The bottoms of my feet felt bruised in spots after the race, and I'm pretty sure that was the only thing that would have caused that. 

I loved running beside the lake in the beginning. Gorgeous to the max. I felt sorry for the half marathoners who missed out on this part of the course. They started at the bridge at the halfway point and finished on the same course as us. The lake and the bridge were the most scenic parts of this course. The rest of it was just really flat and boring. 

Beautiful lake with Cypress trees.

Happy at the bridge.

Here is an example of how the course went on forever with no end in site.

My family's view of the course while they waited for me. Snooze fest.

Finally a curve in the road. I was so happy!

There were plenty of water/Gatorade stops along the course. At least one stop that I saw in the first half was handing out GU. I don't remember seeing another one, but I was pretty focused on just getting my water and going. The longest stretch without water was the bridge (probably too dangerous too add a water stop), which covered about a two-mile span. Basically, you will not get thirsty on this course.

Starting at the first mile marker, my Garmin read the course was long. I was pretty close to the start line (not a ton of marathoners), so I don't think starting my watch early was the problem. At the finish, my Garmin read 26.59. For a fairly straight course with few turns, this seems like an excessive amount of overage.

The miles were clearly marked throughout the race, but somehow (maybe I overlooked it maybe it wasn't there) I missed any sign telling me that I was on the last mile. There was a very long stretch of straight road that led to the finish line. So I could see the finish banner but had no idea how far away it was. Because my watch was over on mileage, I was positive that I was going to make it under 3:40 (spoiler: I didn't), but the road just kept going and going and going. Please add more markers along this finishing stretch to let runners know how far away that finish line is!

One thing they could have used more of was police support or cones. About two minutes before I came through this lane, my husband saw a car hit a runner. This was at the end of the race heading into downtown, just before the finish line. 

And here is the same spot looking the other direction. You can see that the cones are far apart and traffic is all around. The car pulled out from a side street or parking lot and pulled into the runners' lane, hitting the runner and knocking him down. The runner got up and kicked the car and yelled at the driver. When my daughter said that didn't seem very nice of the runner to do that, my husband told her that he wouldn't have even been that nice. 

The course could either use more cones or more people standing around in bright vests directing traffic to not go in the coned lanes. At the end of a marathon, my thinking skills are not the best, and I'm not sure if a car pulled into the runners' lane if I'd be able to react fast enough to get out of the way. That's kind of why I love races -- because you usually don't have to think about any of that. 

My race: As I mentioned above, I started noticing that the miles were running long from the first mile. I heard someone in front of me joke that this first half was the half of the marathon with the long miles, but they never got shorter, or even on, for me. I would blame it on the wind blowing me backwards, which it felt like it was doing, but it started before the major wind kicked in. 

My toes were numb for the first three miles or so, but everything was feeling great. I had my sites set on making it to the bridge and then starting on my new playlist. At mile 10, I caved to the music. The wind was fierce and not letting up, and I just needed something to push through. I tried eavesdropping on conversations to make the time go faster (thank you, random talking strangers), but I eventually got to a point where people were either too far away or too blasted to talk anymore. 

The music was perfect the entire time. The only songs that just weren't very motivating for this race were Rocket Man (too slow! originally added it because it reminds me of the twins -- they love it!) and What Makes You Beautiful (which reminds me of my daughter and car dancing). Sorry, kids, but they have to go for round two tomorrow at Mercedes Marathon.

I first saw my family at about mile 17, where they handed off some coconut water. I was trying to avoid Gatorade during the race, and the coconut water worked really well as a substitute.

I took four Hammer gels, one every five miles, and then I ate half a pack of Honey Stinger gummies at mile 23. Next time I want to bring all gels, and I didn't like the chocolate Hammer gel. It was just too thick, and I felt like I was choking on it. 

My family was a great support crew after mile 17. I saw them about five more times before the finish, and my kids even decided to run me to the finish. Remember that start line that was deceivingly far away? Well, they were fooled too. They thought they would run it in with me, but they quit before the finish. It looked so close you could taste it or at least hit it. 

I have a surprisingly large number of things stuffed into the back of my shorts.

Right after they left my side, I pulled out my ugliest faces to sprint to the finish under 3:40. At least I know I wasn't wasting any time smiling or looking cool at the end.

I was faster in the first half of the race than the second half, but none of my miles read 9:xx. They were all in the 8:xx region, which I'm super happy about, and I never stopped at any water stops (or at all). So there was no regret there. Basically, I ran faster than at Savannah, but with the extra mileage, I still fell short at 3:40:12. Just 12 seconds short of Boston. Can it get any stupider than that?!

They print out these little stat cards for you at the finish. I must have wadded mine up in BQ-attempt anger. I was originally 5th in my age group, but it turns out we were the fastest age group. The top three women bumped up to top three overall, which left me in second place for my age group. Thanks, speedy ladies. 

After party: This was by far my favorite part of this race. The after party was fully stocked with pizza, moon pies, bananas, beans and rice, chocolate milk, and chips. Then if you walked further down, local vendors were selling tamales and crab etouffee (yes, I did have to look up how to spell that). 

Plus my family was there to make me feel better. Can I get a fake smile with that failed BQ attempt? 

I loved this station where you could type in your race number and print out the paper result. 

The bestest best part was the local blues band that hit the stage. Not pictured: very awkward post-running dances by me. The stanky leg is pretty great recovery exercise. 

My husband told me that they were having an additional party at 5 p.m. Huh? That's just how they do it in Greenville, I guess. Don't stop, can't stop. The awards were also not going to be presented until 3 p.m. A loooong wait, so I got mine to go.

Here it is testing out the front door. Too much? 

Swag: There wasn't much to the swag bags for this race. The plastic disposable bags came with your long-sleeve shirt, bib, some ads, and a little pack of GU chomps.

My only complaint here is that the shirts were unisex. Guess what, y'all. Unisex is not unisex, it's men's. And in case you needed additional evidence, here is the tag on the shirt we received. 

Using the word "unisex" to describe these shirts is my new biggest pet peeve. Just say that you are providing men's shirts. I swapped mine out for a larger size so my husband could wear it. Whenever I get men's shirts, I just end up not wearing them because the sleeves are way too long.

I like the medal artwork and the nice thick ribbons. 

Overall: I can handle a lot of things during a race, but a long course is quite irritating. I told some of the race workers about it, and they just shrugged it off and said that the course was certified. I'm sure people complain a lot about that kind of thing in marathons, but this overage seemed excessive to me.

On a less windy day, this course might have been ideal in terms of elements -- flat, perfect temperature, but it was pretty boring for about 14 miles in the middle. If you can handle that, you're golden.

Entry for the full marathon was $100 (not sure what it was before the price increase), and staying in Greenville is relatively inexpensive. This was the inaugural year for the race, so it will most likely keep getting better.

In case they want my unsolicited advice on how to do that, here are the things I would recommend: more cones or law enforcement out to protect the runners, gender specific shirts, figure out why the course is running so long, and more markers at the end to know just how far away that finish line is.

Things to keep: the fantastic after party, runner discounts at local establishments (thanks!), and the start by the grain bins in the middle of a field.

My favorite quote: "The world is my urinal," said the random stranger exiting the bus at the start line.

My new favorite idea: If you don't have gloves that are touch-screen friendly, just cut a hole in the tip of one of the fingers. Genius! Tip shared by Scott (pictured above at the race start).