I Love To Trot

That’s right. I confess. I love Turkey Trots. And Santa Shuffles, Reindeer Runs, Resolution Runs, and Fair 5ks. I love every possible iteration of holiday running event. If it has a cutesy name, all the better. I love a theme race, and a race that involves a costume contest, turkey calling competition, or watermelon seed spitting. The kookier the better. What I love most about these special holiday races is that they always seem to bring out the best of the running community. If it’s done right, a holiday race will have great competition for speedier runners, fun for kids of all ages, and opportunities for new runners and walkers to participate.

Today, I ran in the Seniors First Turkey Trot in Orlando, Florida. It had everything a great holiday race should have – great cause (including a donation drive), costume contest, turkey calling competition, and a division for walkers. It even had an interesting course – weaving through downtown Orlando and along Lake Eola. I wore my turkey hat.

Here’s what I love about holiday races – you see the good in people and get to witness people experiencing the joy of running. I saw people finishing their first 5k, hugging and giving high fives. I saw a woman who had clearly lost a great deal of weight cry when she crossed the finish line. I saw a runner in a head scarf, wearing a sign that said she finished chemo yesterday. I saw hundreds of families, many running hand in hand. Adorable moms and dads were cheering for and encouraging their children, who positively glowed with pride wearing their new 5k t-shirts. I saw runners encouraging other runners. I saw a fit man in his 30s pushing a man who must have been his grandfather in a regular, not racing, wheelchair. Grandpa was wearing a race number and had his hands held high in triumph as he crossed the finish line. There’s something wonderful about the way everyone comes together and supports one another and instant friendships are formed. And, today, all these people are runners. Runners who got to experience the joy of accomplishing something special. It’s that joy that makes running special. Today, I am thankful for running and for all the joy that running has brought to my life.

Feelin’ Hot Hot Hot

I’m in Florida for Thanksgiving and, dang, it’s hot down here. Ok, I admit, it’s really a totally normal temperature for Florida in November, but it feels hot.

Mae, my non-running chihuahua and I arrived in Orlando late Sunday night, drove to my parents’ house, and went straight to bed. We are in town to take care of my mom’s pets and house while she and dad are away. Monday was a grey day, dreary and cool. I did a few things around the house, walked the dog, and took a rest day.

This morning, I woke up ready to run. By the time I fed all the pets, walked the dog, and got myself ready, the sun was above the trees and shining down. What great weather!, I thought, I can’t wait to run. About a half mile into the run, I started sweating. A lot. It was hot! Hot hot. Like center of the sun, middle of summer hot. I trudged along, feeling hotter and hotter. I began cursing my short sleeve shirt. Why didn’t I wear a tank? When it’s this hot, shorts and a tank is the only way to go. Silly me. For a while I considered taking my shirt off, but it’s a nice community with lots of elderly folks and I’ve never seen anyone running in just a sport bra here, even in the middle of summer. So, I soldiered on. I couldn’t get over how fast the day was heating up. That’s when I started passing people. Nice, happy Floridians. Every single one was wearing long pants and long sleeves. One lady I passed had on a light jacket. An older man on a cruiser bike had on a sweater (Thanksgiving-themed). A young man walking a bulldog had on a knit cap. They all looked at me in bewilderment. What’s wrong with that poor, scantily clad girl, they must have been thinking. I trotted around for about 5 miles, cooking the whole time. It was hot!

At the end of my run I looked at my mom’s thermometer. I wanted to be sure that I knew the exact temperature so that I could report to my husband at home how super hot it was in Florida. It was 63 degrees. And that’s when I realized – I’m a Northerner – and all these Real Floridians must think I’m a crazy person. Wait until they see me on tomorrow’s run…in my pale green tank top and shorts. It’s supposed to be 55.

A little Florida friend.

Lite Brite

I love a good contest, particularly a costume contest. I like the challenge of coming up with something truly creative. I also love to see what other people come up with for costumes – and what people are willing to run in for the sake of a contest. Nothing is more fun that a group run that involves a costume contest. So, you can imagine my joy when Fleet Feet West Hartford announced a Light Up Your Run contest with Brooks Running. The premise was that winter running requires not only warm gear, but reflective clothing and safety equipment. The contest was designed to encourage runners to sport their brightest gear. I got to work on my costume idea right away. Once I had my idea I tried it on. It was blinding. Perfect.

I hate to give away all my secrets, but let’s just say my super fun outfit involved running with huge battery packs to power my lights. I ran past an older man on the fun run who told me my outfit scared his dog. A running friend called me Lite Brite (which was a wonderful toy!). But, it was all worth it when I won. That’s right. I won! I was delighted to have won even before I heard about the prize. This lucky girl won a whole Brooks outfit, including the new Pure Flow shoes.

I’ve been meaning to try the new Pure Project shoes now that Brooks changed the upper to a boot that didn’t have a seam right where my baby toe sits. I ran in my Pure Flows for the first time today. I love these shoes! The fit is comfortable, slightly snug through the midfoot, and cushy. I love that Flows are a lower profile shoe, with a moderate heel to toe drop, but they feel super cushioned. My feet were very happy.

Race Recap: Monson Memorial Classic

On November 11, 2012, several members of my running club and I ran in the Monson Memorial Classic. The Monson Memorial Classic features three events – a half marathon, a 5k run, and a 2 mile walk. Monson Mass. was devastated by a huge tornado a few years ago and since then it’s become a popular running spot thanks to several benefit races. The Memorial Classic benefits a number of cancer awareness causes.

This wasn’t my first time running Monson, but several teammates were there for the first time. It was great fun to run the races as a team. Six members of our crew ran the half marathon and five members of our crew (plus one junior member) ran the 5k. I ran the half marathon last year, and decided this was the year to try the 5k. This review will focus on the 5k, but I’ve included some tidbits about the half marathon since I ran that last year and had some spies who could report on this year’s event.

The race begins and ends near the town hall, a lovely historic building. Race day was warm, about 60 degrees, and partly cloudy. The race got off to a rocky start. Packet pick up began just an hour before the race, and race day registration was available. A combination of a late start, plus no discernible organization to the check in/packet pick up area led to really long, disorganized lines.

After waiting about 10 minutes in line, someone came out and began trying to convince 5k runners to go inside. We went inside and found more people. I would say that there were lines, but it was really more a gathering of people standing in an area. No one seemed to know what was going on. We persevered and got packets. There was nice race swag. Everyone got a long sleeve technical t-shirt and a water bottle. Half marathoners got a pint glass with the race logo. In a somewhat odd move, the race organizers passed out finishers’ medals for the half marathon at race check in. I thought it was very strange (and anti-climactic) to get the finishers’ medal at the same time as the race number. It wouldn’t have taken much extra work to pass the medals out at the finish line and I’m sorry that the race organizers didn’t do this. The large crowds at check in were encouraging. I like seeing lots of runners come out for charity races, particularly challenging ones. I really had the sense that the organizers were surprised by the number of registrants.

Due to the chaos of packet pick up, the race started about 20 minutes late. At start time, a bagpiping duo led runners to the half marathon start in the middle of route 32. Traffic was temporarily suspended. The half marathon got started and the remaining runners voyaged to the nearby start of the 5k run and 2 mile walk. Several minutes later, traffic was held and the 5k began.

The 5k course starts on Route 32, the main roadway in the area, and proceeds about 1 mile up Route 32. Then, the race turned right on Route 32, and took another right onto a back road. It was a relief to be on the back road. Traffic was not stopped, there were no cones, and there were no race marshals or volunteers, so traffic was zipping by the runners. Given that Route 32 is a main road, there were a lot of cars. The back roads were lovely, slightly hilly, and scenic. One of the roads was in the path of the tornado that devastated the town a couple years ago, and it was nice to see the rebuilding in progress.

At mile 2, there was what I assume was meant to be a water stop. It was a folding table with several cups of water on it. It was totally unattended and on the opposite side of the road from the race. I wish the race organizers had secured a volunteer to hand out the water, or at least put the table on the right side of the road so runners actually passed it. By the time I realize that it was actually a water stop, I was past it. But, for a 5k, water isn’t essential for me so I didn’t mind.

Unfortunately, the 5k race course is not well marked, nor are there volunteers on course. There are no marshals, and very few signs. The signs that do exist are small pink papers attached to the odd pole. I counted just 4 signs. The course was overall very poorly identified and marked. Two members of my team got lost on the course, adding on a quarter of a mile. There were no marshals to direct them and they were lucky to have found their way back to the course. The making of the course could really be improved and marshals to help ensure the safety of runners and help with directions would have been helpful.

At the finish, there was professional timing and a small crowd. Runners were treated to a wonderful buffet post-race.

The food is really a highlight of this race. The Women’s Auxillary creates an amazing spread of all home cooked food. There were several gluten free and vegetarian options, and, what can only be described as the best minestrone soup ever. Ever. I got the recipe from the nice woman who makes it (that’s her in the blue shirt on the right). It’s that good. They also have a huge selection of drinks, both hot and cold, bagels and donuts, ice cream, apples, and the best non-pasteurized apple cider ever. Seriously. The food is amazing. It’s worth running just to get the cider. Despite the number of runners exceeding what was anticipated, there was plenty of food and portions were large. Complimentary post-race sports massage was available and a blue grass/folk band entertained everyone in the town hall.

Overall, Monson is a decent little race. The RD could make some small, simple improvements that would dramatically improve the overall quality of the race. But, the race experience is saved by the great food, nice amenities, and good race environment.

A few notes on the half marathon – my spies reported that the course was the same as last year, VERY hilly, scenic, and shaded. The first 8 miles are uphill and the race has a somewhat unpleasant finish. The last 3.5 miles are run on Route 32 and there is no effort to  control traffic. The shoulder is very, very slim and non-existant in some areas. Runners who are up to the challenge of the hills should use caution in the final miles as cars are definitely present. Despite this, I like the half marathon course. It goes through some lovely countryside. And, what runner doesn’t like a challenge? My spies also reported that there were water stops every mile and a half or so (though some were unattended) and had nice, full cups of water. Chip timing was a huge improvement to the half marathon this year, and made times reliable. Overall, everyone who ran the half marathon reported that they had a good experience. And everyone enjoyed the post-race massage.

Friday Favorite: Sweet Potato Chips

Loyal readers will know that I love Mexican food of all kinds. A while back, I was looking for an alternative to traditional tortilla chips. I tried all kinds of different chips and a number of different brands. When I took my first taste of Food Should Taste Good sweet potato chips, I knew I had found my new favorite chip.

 

The sweet potato chips are just one variety in their line of interesting chips, including kettle cooked sweet potato chips. I’ve tried several varieties, including the blue corn (yum!), lime, and multigrain, but the sweet potato chips are the best. I love these chips. The chips are all natural, light, crisp, and delicious. They have the slightly nutty flavor of sweet potatoes, but with just a hint of cane sugar and salt. Delicious!

The chips are sturdy, a great size for dipping, and delicious with nearly any topping. I love them with Mexican food and by themselves as a cracker. I love chips, and the Food Should Taste Good sweet potato chips have just enough nutritional value to make me feel completely justified eating chips every day. All Food Should Taste Good chip varieties are gluten free, cholesterol free, have zero grams trans fats, and are certified Kosher.  Plus, all varieties are enrolled in the non-GMO project and many varieties are certified vegan. What’s not to love?!

Looking for the perfect healthy black bean soup to eat with your chips? Try my favorite crock pot recipe (hint – no soaking the beans). Check it out on Fitness-Love.

Connecticut Race Report: November 2012

It’s November in Connecticut and, as if we didn’t notice the colder temperatures and blustery weather, we got a Nor’easter last night that dumped inches of snow on the area. Yuck!

 

November is also the end of the busy fall racing season in Connecticut. Races will be few and far between until spring, but there are some options for the hardy few who want to get out there and race.

Monson Memorial Classic, Monson, MA, Sunday, November 11, 2012 – The Monson Memorial Classic features three events: a half marathon, a 5k, and a 2 mile fun walk. The half starts at noon, the 5k at 12:15 and the fun walk immediately after the 5k. The Monson Memorial Classic road race was started in 1996, shortly after the deaths of Kelly Waldron and Kathy Waldron Perry. These sisters died eight months apart from different types of cancer. This race is in their memory, and proceeds to Griffin’s Friends and Melanoma Education Foundation. I’ve run Monson before and it’s a fun, challenging race. Both the 5k and the half marathon have largely uphill courses. The first 7-8 miles of the half marathon have an overall uphill profile. But, the course is lovely, run on back roads and country lanes. Be forewarned that traffic is not blocked from the race course, including the final two miles of the half marathon and the finish line on Route 32. There will be cars on 32, and caution is merited. This year, there will be chip timing, free massage after the race, and prize money for individuals and teams. As an added bonus, this race has wonderful, home cooked food post-race. I thought the apple cider and chili were fantastic! I enjoy this race and recommend it if you’re looking for a challenge. Fees are $55 for the half marathon and $35 for the 5k. For reference, here’s the elevation profile for the half marathon.

Freedom RunFreedom Run, Hartford, CT, Sunday November 11, 2012 at 10:00 am – This popular 5k is a production of HYPE (a great organization) and the MetroHartford Alliance. It’s a measured 5k course that’s run on well maintained park trails. The course starts in front of The Riverfront Boathouse and runs north through the Riverside Park trail system. The course is a loop and ends back at the Boathouse. This event is run to honor the men and women who serve our country. Registration is $25 in advance, $30 race day. There is a discount for students and children. There will be professional timing and runners will get a t-shirt.
8K Cross Country Challenge8k Cross Country Challenge, West Hartford, CT, Saturday November 17, 2012 at 10:00 am – Sponsored by the Hartford Track Club, this trail race features a rolling course with gravel, trails, fields, and minor asphalt. It’s a unique distance, perfect for a PR. The race is also a bargain at $10 in advance and $15 race day. There will be few amenities, but expect a well organized event.
Finally, no race report would be complete without mention of the Manchester Road Race. This great race needs almost no introduction. It’s on Thanksgiving Day, in downtown Manchester, and is a wonderful, spirited race. Learn more about the race and its storied history on their website.

Race Recap: Danze Half Marathon

On November 4, 2012, I ran the Danze Half Marathon, a great little race put on by Ocean State Multisport. I’ve featured Ocean State Multisport events on the blog before, as part of my upcoming events series, but never participated in one. That changed when, in the midst of Hurricane Sandy, I won a Facebook contest and got a free entry into the Danze Half Marathon. Here’s how it happened. I had lost power due to the hurricane and was updating my Facebook status accordingly. Because, really, did anything happen if it wasn’t recorded on social media. As I was refreshing my feed, Gary popped up with a little Ocean State Multisport contest. I love contests, though I rarely win, so I entered. And, I won! Yay. I was super sick, but I would not be deterred. I was going to run in the Danze Half Marathon.

Half marathon day dawned clear, cool, and sunny. It was great racing weather, albeit a little cool. At race time it was about 34 degrees and sunny. It warmed up to just about 40 during the course of the race. Having never run an Ocean State Multisport event before, I had no idea what to expect. Race check in and packet pick up was at the YMCA in Seekonk, MA, just over the border from Providence.

The race was a very low key affair. There were only about 50 people registered and most of them were found milling around in the (heated!) gym at the Y, waiting for the race to start. There was plenty of room to warm up, stretch, and lounge in the heated gym, and a full locker room available for use. Gary, the director of Ocean State Multisport gathered everyone and ushered us out to the start line, a little spray painted mark on the sidewalk next to the YMCA. He welcomed everyone to the race, explained the course, and sent us on our way.

The course was a lovely, rural and suburban course. It began running through what I imagine is downtown Seekonk, if there is such a thing. There were a number of homes and subdivisions. Then, the race turned into a wooded, rural, residential area and the course wound past a lovely subdivision with huge, stately homes. Next, the race course headed out into the country. We ran along rural roads, past cow pastures, fields, and great New England scenery. The roads were not closed to traffic, but drivers were kind, waving and honking. Drivers seemed to be driving safely and obeying the speed limit. There were uniformed police officers with cruisers at ever turn and volunteers with flags on each corner. The course was extremely well marked. Gary had spray painted markings on the road and large black and white signs on telephone poles. The uniformed officers marked every major intersection and turn. It would have been very difficult to get lost. I was very impressed with the course and the clarity of the course markings. I was also pleased to see so many police officers and felt comforted by the police presence. I have run many much larger races and not had such a strong police presence. It was wonderful.

The course was relatively flat, with just a few small hills. It was what I generally refer to as “New England flat” (though the elevation chart doesn’t look like it – there wasn’t much elevation change so the little changes look large) with a nice downhill finish.

Water stations were well marked, and just where Gary said they would be. Each water stop was staffed with a few friendly volunteers.

At the finish line, Gary himself greeted each runner. He was cheering and friendly. There were snacks – oranges, bananas, and an amazing tray of sweets from a local bakery. Finish line amenities also included complimentary massage.

Overall, I loved this race. I liked Gary, and I was impressed with Ocean State Multisport. Though the race had only 50 or so participants, there were perks that I often don’t even see at much larger races. Every finisher got a medal, a t-shirt, wonderful food, and free massage. The traffic was well controlled and the local police had a strong presence. The course was well marked, scenic, and fun to run. It ‘s worth note that the race also seemed to attract a fast field – many of the finish times were below 2 hours. Not me, of course, as I had spent the whole week sick. It wasn’t my finest finish, but it was a finish.

I will definitely make plans to participate in another Ocean State Multisport event.