Brother on the Run: A Year of Races

A Year of Races – First Quarter

The race season in Michigan really gets going in May and June but never really stops.  Sure, the races get few and far between during the cold months of winter, but there are still races every month of the year.  That got me thinking – why not run a race in Michigan every month of 2016?  I couldn’t think of a reason not to sign up for races and get in a few miles even with snow on the ground.  We might be on fifth or sixth winter but that is not enough reason to stay indoors.

January – Freeze Your Fanny 5K

There is a whole series of races in the winter that take place in Bay City, MI.  Starting in December with the Ugly Sweater 5K and continuing into January with the Freeze Your Fanny 5K.  I signed up for the Ugly Sweater run with some friends and co-workers and despite chilly temperatures had a good run.  The Freeze Your Fanny takes place in the exact same location and seemed like a good recovery run following the Disney Marathon (just the week before).

This is a straight out and back, no frills, small race.  It was a very cold morning in January and while the snow wasn’t falling, there was enough on the ground including some localized ice patches.  I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who came out for the run – more than I would have thought based on the temperature.  Most people huddled inside for warmth until the last moment before the gun start but once the gun went off, people flew down the course.

I started out fast and probably a little too ambitious given that my knee (remember my Disney comments from the week before) started to hurt about three quarters of a mile into the race. Once I turned down my pace some and decided to take it easy, everything went really well.  I even placed in my age group (there were very few of us really) and got a medal for my efforts.  I had a good time, but this was about as small a race as you can find.

February – Mardi Gras 5K

The third in the winter running series is the same course and set-up as the Freeze Your Fanny.  I was able to convince my wife to come out for this one and even bring the jogging stroller along.  We lucked out on weather and had a nice and sunny day.  The temperature may not have peaked over freezing but it felt much warmer once you got going.

The race was again well put on and attended by more people than you might think would come out for a chilly winter morning run on the water edge.  There were even other jogging strollers and people with their dogs.  We ran into (almost literally) some high school friends of mine and were able to catch up quickly before the award ceremony.  I again placed in my age group (I swear there must only be three of us going to these things) but really was just happy to be out with my family.

For completing all three winter races, I got a special ‘award’.  In my mind I was picturing a hat, gloves, or even coffee mug.  I was wrong.  Each person completing all three events received a wine glass.  Maybe not my first choice but having since put that wine glass to good use, I cannot complain at all.

These races may not have been anything amazing or special but it is a great excuse to get out and do something in winter.  Spending too long indoors is obviously not good but neither is spending all winter running with nothing but snow drifts to keep you company.  To see so many people come up in the cold and get a run in reminds you that it is a community.

March – BARC St. Patrick’s Day Road Races

March was an odd month.  The weather was 60-65F the week before the BARC St. Patrick’s Day Races; it was maybe 35F the morning of the race.  This was my second year running the event and while I think there was more snow last year, I think this year was much colder.

This year 5,000 people had signed up to run the event making it one of the larger (if not largest) in the area – especially for the time of year.  You can never predict Michigan weather in March and this year was just plain cold.  Despite the frigid temperature, thousands of green and orange clad runners came to downtown Bay City in the early Sunday morning for a run.  The event offers an 8K, 5K, and Irish Double (running both races back to back).  I had done the Irish Double last year and set a 5K PR that held for about 9 months, so there was no chance of missing it this year.  With registration limited, I signed up early to reserve my place.

This was also very well put on race.  The streets are closed well in advance and a huge starting corral is set up for the participants.  Fences running the length of a block allow for plenty of spectators to cheer on their friends and family.  There are food vendors and stores are open to support the event.  The community comes together for the race and the parade that follows.

I took off in a mad dash with a co-worker for the 8K but had to fall off pace about half way through.  I really wasn’t worried about it though.  It allowed me more time to enjoy the architecture and old homes that stretch up and down the race course.  I really do like the course which is good because an hour after finishing the 8K, I was lined back up at the start for the 5K with my sister-in-law.  We did a run-walk through the 5K and had a really good time.  Seeing friends, co-workers, and more than one spectator enjoying a morning beer always makes for a good race.  We finished to cheers and our names being announced on the PA before scooping up some refreshments.  Along with the normal water and banana, there were sports drinks and sandwich cookies to enjoy.  We didn’t stay for the parade but instead took our high quality finisher medals and headed for somewhere warm.

So far, so good.  Three months into the year and three Michigan races underway.  I am not sure the temperature was above freezing for any of them but it was still a good excuse to get out and enjoy running.

Brother on the Run: Disney Marathon Weekend

It has been a very long time since I did any writing on running, so I had to look back on the blog to see my last guest post. The last thing I posted on was the Detroit Marathon in October. Life has been hectic since then and I guess it slipped my mind. While my running has not been spectacular, I have done a number of races big and small. As an annual favorite, I once again ran the Walt Disney World Marathon with Dr.Rachel.

The Experience

Disney is always an experience and this year would be no exception. My wife and I like to arrive early to settle into the resort and start getting used to the warmer weather. Having done all my training in the Michigan winter, the heat and humidity of Florida can hit me like a wall at first. This year was even more of an experience when we brought our daughter for her first trip to Disney! I will say that getting through the Disney Marathon Weekend Expo with a wee tiny person was a bit more challenging than I would have thought. Thankfully we went early and were well versed with where to go from having gone in years past.

The expo and grounds were laid out well and we had no issues getting to registration. Lines were short and we were through and shopping for run gear in no time. I always end up picking up a few small things from the expo but this year I was a bit disappointed. The entire slate of official race merchandise did not seem to match the race shirts at all. When I compare the shirts, medals, and pins from 2016 and 2015, it seems like the designs got crossed. It was a little disappointing, but way too much of a first world problem to get hung up on.

Spectator – Half Marathon

I got to sleep in on the first race day this year and instead of running, I watched and cheered for my wife as she and Dr.Rachel completed the half marathon. I really enjoyed the spectator portion of my trip. It was incredibly easy to get around thanks to the wonderful Disney transportation services. I was able to make it to the finish line in plenty of time to see our two runners come down the final stretch and to the finish. Standing there, I started to get a little jealous…..

Runner – Marathon

The big morning came early and thankfully with better weather than 2015. Dr.Rachel and I went as characters from Inside Out this year. I had to dress as Anger and had a lot of fun with the costuming. As we marched our way to corrals, we met up with other Inside Out characters and saw other ingenious costumes. Thanks to another year of running, I was able to start in a higher up corral this year and get going sooner. Waiting around for an hour to start your run is no fun but waiting two hours is even worse.

As we peeled off from the start, I had grand ideas about speed and time. Those ideas were abandoned quickly. It had rained non-stop the day before and the resulting combination of heat and humidity was something I had no way to prepare for. After realizing that it would be better to enjoy the marathon and try not to shrivel up and die in the heat, things became more fun. We stopped for pictures. We talked to people. We checked out the sites. We had a good time. In years past, I have always felt under pressure to race through and get to the finish in the allotted time or to meet some internal marker for time. This year, we instead had more fun with it and ended up with some great pictures. Don’t get me wrong, we still ran hard.

During my last long run, I hurt my knee. I don’t know the technical name for the ligament or muscle that was bothering me but it was a pain and I cursed from mile 19 to 26. The ever helpful medical staff where there with much needed pain medication and when that wasn’t cutting it, some walking breaks helped. Despite the pain, Epcot was great. I really love running through Epcot in the morning and find it to be the highlight of the whole marathon. This year was no exception and turning the corner to see the choir group and know the finish was one bend around was just joyous. My knee even stopped hurting for a bit.

Crossing into the finish, I think I felt the best of all three marathons I have ever run. Sure there was discomfort from the long hot day and the lousy knee, but I have felt a lot worse after a run. We met up with our family and had a good laugh while devouring our snacks. If I had been slightly jealous to see my wife run the half marathon, I entered full ‘medal envy’ status looking at all the runners with Dopey and Goofy completion medals. Just a year ago that had been me and now, sitting with just one medal and a juice box. I wanted more. Needed more.

Brain Worms – Crazy Thoughts

I don’t know about Dopey again; the time commitment and early mornings are a challenge especially with a young family. Goofy. I could run Goofy. Sign me up for 2017!

Race Review: Detroit Free Press Marathon

Last week, my brother and I ran the Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon. We had a great time! I paced the marathon for MarathonPacing.com and he ran his first marathon as a father. Here’s his take on the fun:

Detroit International Marathon Review

Last weekend, I completed my second marathon; once again running with Dr. Rachel.  A few months back,we had signed up to run the Detroit (International) Marathon – it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The Expo

While Dr. Rachel worked a shift at the Pacer Booth, I had plenty of time to explore the expo.  The expo was pretty straight forward and the check in was well organized and fast.  I only waited a few moments before receiving my bib and gear check bag, which was very nice.  I spent the rest of the time wandering the different booths and scooping up bargains on new gear that I had been looking at for a couple weeks.  The highlight was the official marathon gear – the t-shirts, hoodies, and knit caps were fantastic.  Each came in a variety of colors to represent local professional and collegiate sports teams.  I spent more than I had intended but was happy.  The very end of the Expo had a massive TV wall showing a virtual tour of the race course.  I appreciated the chance to see the course before running it and got to meet some of the people behind Run Detroit.

The Race

It was cold.  Snow fell.

We showed up a bit early to the race to get into our corral and wait for the start gun; most people had the good sense to wait to the last moment to line up in order to stay warmer.  The corrals almost seemed more a suggestion than an absolute as people simply milled about and even some spectators were in the corral area.  While a little confusing, this really did not cause an issue and within 20 min of the first wave we were released for the long run ahead.

The start of the race was great and a lot of spectators had braved the cold to cheer on the runners as we made our way along the streets of Detroit.  Fairly early on, we came to the Ambassador Bridge and the first major uphill I had run in probably a year.  The pace slowed and the course narrowed making things a little compact for my liking but running across the bridge and into Canada was awesome.

Detroit Marathon Ambassador Bridge

As we crossed into Canada, we were greeted by cheering fans and clever signs.  Before the race, I had been told the Canadian fans were great and they really were – best sign: “Only one more country to go!”.  After a few miles in Canada, we took the tunnel back to Michigan.  Described as the world’s only underwater mile, the tunnel was a good change of pace and fun.

The rest of the course works its way through Detroit and across Belle Isle.  The International Half had started with the Full marathon and at mile 12.5 or so they split.  It was incredibly odd to go from running in a crowd to being one of ten people on the road.  Based on the race results, we had started with roughly 15,500 people but at the split only 3800 marathoners remained.  After running alone (I had fallen off pace and was left behind as Dr. Rachel continued on for her perfect pacing) for some time, the US only half marathoners started to catch up as we hit Belle Isle.  Belle Isle was tough, but this was mile 20-22.  Exhaustion was setting in, the pavement was tough, and the wind had picked up making the two mile stretch a real challenge.

The course finished along the Riverwalk area and was very nice.  After a few more bends, it was back to the combined start/finish line and a new full marathon PR (5:22)!  The post-race snack selection was not great but they had Mylar blankets and water ready for everyone handed out by smiling and happy volunteers.  I hadn’t mentioned them until now but the marathon volunteers were great.  This was a cold and cloudy day, but I did not pass a single person who seemed anything other than excited to be there to cheer on the runners.  These volunteers manned 18 water stations on the course meaning there was no need to carry a water bottle which was fantastic.

While the race was tough and I did not make my pace goal, I had a great time running Detroit.

Detroit Marathon Medal

The only thing better was the post-race Coney dog and fountain Vernor’s ginger ale.

Race Review: Peaks Island 5 Miler

Last weekend, a running friend and I went on a great running getaway! We built a little escape around the Peaks Island 5 Mile Race, a race held on a tiny island in Maine. We planned to drive up to Maine, stay near Freeport, then run the race and enjoy some time on the island. Our planning hit a little block, though, when it came to the race. There was precious little information available about the race and the logistics of the race. Luckily, we are an easygoing pair, so we were able to adapt. This review is going to be some review, and some information sharing. I hope that sharing my experience will help others who might encounter similar confusion.

First, you’ll need to take a ferry over from Portland for the race. There is parking right at the Casco Bay Lines terminal, but it’s significantly more expensive than local parking lots. Find a parking lot that offers all day parking for a flat rate. We did, and walked two short blocks to the terminal.

Cacso Bay Lines

Runners do need to pay for passage on the ferry, less than $10 each (and getting off the island is free). You’ll get tickets at the terminal, then wait in a little lobby for the ferry. We took the 8:30am ferry, a special ferry for the race. It would have been fine to take a later ferry, but we wanted some time to look around. The race starts at 10:30, so a 9:15 ferry would be fine. The ferry ride was lovely, breezy and full of gorgeous views. It lasted about 20 minutes.

Casco Ferry

We got to the race location, a local Lions Club. The Lions Club has a large, grassy area, and a small building with bathrooms and a stage. Packed pick up was efficient, with three staff to assist about 10 runners. We easily got our numbers and then explored. There is no gear check, but people bring their stuff and leave it on the Lions Club property. We saw people with coolers, blankets, and many belongings. No one seemed to mind leaving their things, so we did, too. The picnic table spots went early, but many people sat on the grass or brought their own chairs. It’s worth note that the website says no dogs are allowed, but we saw many people with dogs and dogs are welcomed on the ferry.

Peaks Island Lions Club

A short kids’ race immediately preceded the 5 mile race, so we watched the kid and warmed up. We took in the gorgeous bay views and generally had a great time before our 5 mile race started.

Casco Bay View

The Peaks Island 5 Mile Race course runs around the island itself. It includes lovely sea views, a section through a woodsy area, and several miles through neighborhoods on the island. The course map wasn’t available before the race, save for this little picture at the Lions Club, so the whole race was an adventure. I didn’t know what to expect, but was treated to classic Maine.

Peaks Island Road Race Course Map

Peaks Island Road Race Course Map

The organizers, the Maine Track Club, say that the race is flat, but it’s really more New England flat with just a bit of variation.

Peaks Island 5 Mile Race Elevation

Peaks Island 5 Mile Race Elevation

Overall, the course was nicely laid out, well marked, and mostly free of traffic despite the roads being open. The finish line was no-fuss, with just a small table and timing mats. Immediately after the race, finishers were treated to a cook out (extra charge, purchased ahead of time). Runners made advance purchase of tickets to the cook out and were able to enjoy lobster, chicken, or vegetarian meal options. We got the chicken, which was par-boiled, then soaked in BBQ sauce and grilled.

IMG_0024 IMG_0025 IMG_0026

Awards were given out to top finishers. It was a speedy race, with lots of fast times. Following the race, my friend and I toured the island and enjoyed the small stretch of sandy beach for beach glass hunting.

Peaks Island

Overall, we had a lovely time at the Peaks Island 5 Mile Race. The communication before the event was lacking and the website was nonexistent, but the race itself was well done, well organized, and a great family event. I would recommend this race as a fun destination race for a weekend getaway. We will be back!

Race Review: Mystic Half Marathon

Here’s the latest from my brother on the run, his take on a recent half marathon.

Race Review – Mystic Half Marathon: The Spectator Version

It has been a long time since I have put together an update for Dr.Rachel and this is in part due to my running dropping off some.  I had been skipping runs and avoiding working out for the better part of a month.  After setting a new 10K record in May, I had stopped running to let a sore foot heal and get some work done in the garden.

The closest I came to running was attending the Mystic (CT) Half Marathon as a spectator.

Mystic Half Marathon

After an exciting ride to the race event, complete with 911 call for a vehicle accident that happened in front of us, we arrived at the Mystic Village just in time for check-in.  The freeway exit to the parking lot was crowded and a bit chaotic.  The traffic split in a Y only to circle the parking lots and reach the same end destination.  While the parking could have been easier, we were able to get a great spot and unload.  Dr.Rachel bolted off to check in for pacing while my wife and I wandered Mystic.  There was a small expo set up with a decent amount of people milling about and enjoying the pleasant morning weather.  Announcements were easily heard and when the runners started to line up, the wife and I found a hill to watch the event.

I really though the launch worked well – racers split on two sides of a median and then combined at the start line.  From our 100 ft view, it seemed like the race start went off without a hitch and was well organized.  We had joined a number spectators across the road and had a great view.  Afterwards, we treated ourselves to breakfast and coffee because, hell, we weren’t running.

Having thought ahead, we had taken a camera phone picture of the race course.  This helped us to locate a few locations to watch the event unfold.  After breakfast, we wandered through the rest of Mystic and to the 6.5-7 mile markers.  This was hard to find actually and several of the crossing guards couldn’t direct us to the right intersection.  Luckily, a race volunteer was able to help us reach the 7 mile marker as the first male was coming through.  This was a great viewing spot for us and there was a decent crowd to cheer on the runners.

After watching Dr.Rachel pass by, we headed directly to the finish line.  This was a quarter mile walk for us and 6 mile run for the racers.  We win again!  With our chairs and snacks, we watched as the runners crossed the finish line – again, this was set up well and we had no trouble finding a location to sit.

The star of the day was a race volunteer at the finish line.  We lost count of how many runners he helped. Whenever a runner was struggling, he ran out to them, grabbed their hand, and then ran through the finish line with them.  It was incredible and he continued to do this until the very last runner finished the race.  In all, he probably ran farther that day than any of the race registrants but never lost his energy or enthusiasm for helping the racers.  It was truly awesome to watch.

The post-race events were a mild celebration and again seemed to be well done.  While I cannot speak to the medals or course, this race was a lot of fun for spectators.  My wife and I enjoyed our time at Mystic and would come back to watch the race again.

Race Review: BARC St. Patrick’s Day Road Races

Race season has come to Michigan! Here’s a great race review from my brother on the run. Now that he’s conquered 26.2, he’s keeping his training going with several short races. Here’s his take on the BARC St. Patrick’s Day Road Races:

There are a number of early season races near to my home in MI that somehow are able to draw a crowd despite the chance for cold weather.  This year, I signed up for the Bay Area Runner’s Club St. Patrick’s day races held in Bay City, MI.  The race featured a 5K, 8K, and Irish Double – participants in the Irish Double ran the 8K and then 5K.  This was my first race following Disney. So, I did the logical thing and signed up to run the Irish Double.

March weather can be unpredictable in MI, with the 2014 race being about 14F (I am told).  Luck was on our side though and the day turned out to be relatively nice.  Credit must be given to the nearly 5000 people who showed up Sunday morning to run while their neighbors started grills and drank beer – yes, we saw multiple people with cases of Miller Light.  There is a parade that follows the races so most people are not there to watch the runners but to prepare for the parade.

The packet pick-up offered prizes to the first 750 in line and sure enough, the line was out the YMCA door and down the road when we showed up.  The volunteers and YMCA staff did a great job of leading people through the building to the packet location (and minor expo).  The only slight here is that some of the announcements were not loud enough or repeated frequently enough.  The expo featured only a couple of vendors, but had plenty of information and stands on upcoming races – we grabbed a pamphlet for everything.

Sunday morning weather was on the cold side, but we still headed out for the 9:00 AM race start time.  The course starts in Bay City, near the waterfront gathering on a street corner.  Parking was a free for all.  I had asked at the expo where to park and was more or less told that it was anywhere I could find a spot.  This is a pet peeve of mine – parking should be clearly marked and easy to access.  Had we only been running the 5K, I would have been worried about finding a parking place.  Going so early, we found something close to the race start/finish and piled out.  The race corrals were easy to find and plenty big to hold the 8K runners.

The race itself goes through the historic district of Bay City and features some impressive houses.  The course is flat, fast, and with very few turns – perfect for setting a PR.  Two highway lanes are provided so at no time did I ever feel crowded or have to dash through a crowd of people.  Water was provided and there were plenty of volunteers directing and cheering.  I think the course and set up was great and the volunteers seemed genuinely happy to be there.  My only complaint – there was road kill on the course.  Someone should have checked the path and taken care of this before we started the race (let alone clean up before the start of the 5K as there was plenty of time).  The finish area was great and staffed by more than enough people to direct, hand out food, and hand out medals.

The 5K followed a shorter version of the same path and was broken into a run and a walk division.  With my pregnant wife by my side, we started at the back of the runners and immediately before the walkers.  We both enjoyed the 5K course (save for road kill) and were pleased to see even more people showing up and cheering.  I was surprised when we reached the finish at the sheer number of people who had shown up – though the weather was about 15F warmer at that point.

Everyone who finished got a medal and those of us who did the Irish Double received two.  The medals are of high quality and look great.  The race t-shirts are made of impossibly soft cotton and while simple in design, were well thought out.  The swag for this race was great and with a relatively low entrance fee made for a great day.

Overall, I had a great time on this race and would probably run it again – staying afterwards for a beer with friends while watching the parade if situations allow (they did not this year).  It probably doesn’t hurt that I set a new 5K PR during the 8K run.  It was a great way to start the race season.

 

Wine, Dine, and Rain

I love all things Disney. I especially love runDisney events – each event is unique, and super fun. This year, I decided to try an event I had never done, the Wine and Dine Half Marathon. Mom and I signed up to do the half marathon months in advance and eagerly anticipated race day. Before I knew it, summer was over and Wine and Dine was coming up fast. Unfortunately, mom had been having some foot trouble – first with plantar fasciitis, then with a hell spur (poor mom!) so her training wasn’t quite as strong as she had hoped. Determined to persevere, mom made the decision to do the race despite her less-than-perfect training. I’m in the middle of my marathon season, so I was planning to use Wine and Dine as a training run where nice people happened to hand me water. Both of us were ready to have fun and enjoy a few miles around the parks.

As race day neared, the forecast grew more and more depressing. First a chance of rain. Then rain and cold. Then, 100% chance of rain, cold, and all of it starting around 10pm. Sigh. If you’re going to get rained on, at least let it be as Disney.

A night race is a strange thing. Mom and I got our gear together and took pictures of our flat runners.

#Flatrunner

Then we waited. And waited. I read a terrible book from the lending library at my mom’s golf course clubhouse. Mom took a disco nap. Finally it was time to leave for Epcot, where we would park, and get ready for the race. We drove up to Epcot, parked easily (and without any waiting at all), and hopped on a bus bound for ESPN’s Wide World of Sports. We got to the staging area with about two hours to spare. Mom likes to be prompt. 🙂

In the staging area, a DJ was playing dance music and teaching popular line dances. Photographers were taking pictures. Characters were available for photos. Generally, everyone was upbeat and milling around in a big field. We took a few pictures.

Wine and Dine waiting

We did some dancing. We sat on the ground and watched people. I was delighted it wasn’t raining. Mom and I had grabbed cheap, flimsy ponchos at the local dollar store, so we were prepared just in case. About an hour before the race started, we made our ways to the corrals and found a curb to sit on. We eagerly awaited the start of the race, scheduled for 10pm. At about 9:45pm it started raining. Then it started pouring. By the time our corral started at 10:30pm, we were wet, cold, and ready to see the finish line.

The course for Wine and Dine isn’t my favorite runDisney course. It begins at Wide World of Sports and follows Osceloa Parkway (the Highway to Hell, in my family’s lingo) for three miles to the main gates of Animal Kingdom. Once in Animal Kingdom, the course winds around and past the beautiful sights of Everest and the tree of life. Seeing the attractions lit up is a true highlight of the race. All throughout Animal Kingdom, the rain poured and the temperature dropped. Mom and I made time and hustled along – both to stay warm and to get to the finish faster.

After Animal Kingdom, the race course goes back out on Osceola Parkway and along toward Hollywood Studios. Finally the rain eased up and we were able to take our ponchos off and enjoy the run. It was cold, way too cold for my shorts and tank ensemble, but I was having a great time.  I didn’t know it, but Hollywood Studios had already decorated for the holidays and it was gorgeous. We ran through a road all lined in lights!

Hollywood Studios during Wine and Dine

Onward we ran, stopping to take pictures with our favorite family, the Incredibles.

Incredibles

Just after we exited Hollywood Studios bound for Epcot and the race finish, it started pouring again. I had stupidly tossed my poncho in a trash bin miles earlier, so I trudged along, soaking wet and really cold. We ran along the Boardwalk and around the Beach and Yacht Club hotel area. Amazingly, the volunteers all along the course cheered. They were amazing, and totally undeterred by the cold and rain. I am so grateful to them all for the cheers, smiles, and support those last few miles.

Finally, blessedly, we made it to Epcot and to the finish line under Spaceship Earth. I have never been happier to see that shiny ball in my life. We got our medals, mylar blankets (best. thing. ever.), and food boxes. Mom and I were smart and had stashed clothes and towels in our car, so we headed directly there, cranked the heat, and changed into dry clothes. After warming up, we made our way back to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival. We had a small gift card to spend there and planned to use it. We enjoyed a bratwurst on pretzel bun, some nachos, and guacamole before the park shut down at 4am. We closed the party down!

Back at home, I took the best hot shower ever and crawled into bed at 5am. It had been a crazy day, but the most fun. There’s nothing like a runDisney event for a little bit of running magic!

Race Review: Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon

This spring I had the great opportunity to go to the RRCA national convention. In addition to the useful seminars and fun social runs, there was a silent auction benefitting the RRCA programs. I enjoy silent auctions, so I was happy to participate. A new girlfriend and I teamed up to bid on and monitor a few key items. There were a couple marathon entries I had my eye on and was actively bidding on and so did my friend. Right next to one of my friend’s bidding projects was an entry to the Shipyard Old Port half marathon. No one had bid on it. A half marathon in coastal Maine in the end of July didn’t seem to prompt much in terms of vigorous bidding. The race wasn’t too far from me, and I didn’t have anything on the calendar. I bid on the race. Why not, I thought. Thirty minutes later when the bidding ended, I had won two entries into the Shipyard Old Port half marathon.

A few months later, the Shipyard Old Port half rolled around. The friend who had wanted to join me couldn’t make it, so my husband agreed to ride up to Maine with me for a little road trip. We left at a ridiculously early time to head up to the race. The drive was easy and went by quickly. We got to the port area and were able to easily find a parking spot thanks to the parking maps that were emailed in advance of the race. The maps were clearly marked and made it super easy to navigate to a free parking lot and from the lot to the race staging area.

Race morning packet pick up was smooth and easy. I walked right up -no waiting – and got my gear. I love the race shirt. It’s a pale blue with a lovely multicolor logo design. It even fit! I knew it was one that I would wear often. Thanks to my winning entry in the auction, I got a commemorative hat and a mug. Both had the fun logo and were nicely done. I use my mug often and wore my hat this morning on my run. The hat is a nice sweat wicking hat in a comfortable fabric. The gear was nice looking and useful.

About 45 minutes before race start, I headed for the corals and the porta potties. The lines for the bathroom were epic. I cannot recall a time when I saw longer lines for the bathroom. Worse, the lines snaked out into the driving lane of one of the biggest free parking areas. Cars were dodging runners, runners were in the traffic lane. Volunteers had lost control. There were simply too few porta potties for the number of people. Probably about half as many as were required. The lines were just ridiculous. I waited 42 minutes. Then I race around the bend, down a long hallway, and into the corral. Thank goodness I wasn’t really racing – I barely made it to the corral by the time the race was to start.

Shipyard start

The start got off without a hitch, with runners racing down a huge cement dock and onto the Main Street. Inexplicably, the course went down the middle of the street, kith backed up traffic on either side. The Main Street looked nice (or at least what I could see over the tops of the cars). Very shortly, the course headed into some lovely neighborhoods. The homes were tidy and the gardens attractive. The course was fairly free of traffic and I enjoyed running in the shady neighborhood streets. It was awfully crowded, so I wound my way past other runners and through the masses.

After the first few miles in the neighborhoods, we went back down the Main Street and along the water. As we passed the fish packaging plant for the second time (horrifying and what I once thought was the worst possible smell ever), things started to unravel. I had skipped a too-crowded first water stop and the second water stop didn’t have any water poured, so I passed that, too. By the time I got to the fish plant water stop for the second time, they had no water prepared. Instead, they had a pile of cups and a hose. Runners were told to grab a cup and a volunteer aimed a hose at us. I got soaked and got about three sips of water in my cup. Undeterred, I headed along down the Main Street and up a giant hill. The top of the hill treated runners to an amazing view of the water.

The water and park views were lovely and featured Classic Maine views of boats and rocks and quiet harbors. Following the hill summit, runners headed into a park. In the park, the water stops began to be a disaster. The first water stop in the park was out of water. The second water stop had volunteers bailing water (without gloves) from big coolers. The first cup I took off the table had a dead spider in it. Literally a dead daddy long legs. I dumped it and the second cup had grass in it. Unwilling to waste more time, I picked the grass out and drank the water that was visibly dirty.

Runners then went further into the park, around a tidal marsh. The marsh was not the best. It wasn’t scenic since it was low tide and the crushed shell/sand path was extremely dusty and very hot. Dust billowed up and swirled around. The sun shone down and made the sand so hot I could feel it through my shoes. The next water stop I came to had volunteers bailing water without gloves. Again, the water was dirty. The next water stop was out of water. The next was passing out dirty water. Having no gloves on and giving out water that was *visibly dirty* was totally unacceptable.

I trudged around the marsh on the path for what seemed like ages. Finally, mercifully, it ended and we exited on to a paved bike path. For a few moments, I was so happy. We had left the marsh! Sadly, eye headed past a water treatment plant. Water treatment plants aren’t so bad. Except for when they’re churning the beds. This day, the huge water treatment plant was churning. The smell was indescribable. Truly horrific. I plugged my nose and hustled by. I passed four people vomiting. Everyone was gagging. I’ve never smelled anything so horrible in all my days. Mercifully, I passed the treatment plant and was treated to the best thing ever – a water stop. With clean, cool water. It even had music and misters. It was like an oasis. A spot of beauty. I wanted to just stop there and stay in the cool oasis, drinking my water.

I overcame the urge to stop in the oasis and continued on along the bike path. It was a nice path, smooth and level. Finally, I rounded the bend into the finish area. There were cheering spectators, race announcers, and finishers coming in. I crossed the finish line and was delighted to have finished. It was hot, I was dirty, and I couldn’t wait to find some food and water. The only problem was that I couldn’t find water. A volunteer handed me a tiny six ounce cup. I asked for another and was told that I couldn’t have one because the finish line was running out of water. The finish line had long ago run out of water bottles and was short on water. I knew I had water in the car, so I pressed on. The finish line area was total chaos. There was no organized finish chute and runners lined up in individual lines at various tables for food. I selected a table randomly – I couldn’t see what it was because the line was so long. It was a line for chocolate. I don’t eat chocolate. Next line was for pizza. I lined up, waited several minutes, and was handed one slice of pizza. I had noticed while waiting that every male runner was handed two slices of pizza. Every female I saw was handed one slice of pizza. I got my one slice and was nearly trampled by people in line. I didn’t have the patience to wait in more totally chaotic lines, so I gave up.

Shipyard chaos

My husband and I hopped into the car and went to the first gas statio no we saw for some water. Finally. The ocean views at a nearby scenic spot didn’t hurt.

Shipyard after race

All in all, I was very disappointed by the Shipyard Old Port half marathon. The gear was great. The course was interesting. But to me, there is no excuse for the lack of organization at the water stops and finish line. It is completely unacceptable to have volunteers bailing with bare hands. It is completely unacceptable to have visibly dirty water handed to runners. It is unacceptable to run out of water at the finish line. In talking to other runners, I learned that this is a persistent problem with this race. Other runners were pretty vocal on Facebook about a problem with a miscue on the course or the disgusting smell at the water treatment plant. Still others complained about the finish area chaos. I will forgive a lot of things as a runner, but not a dead spider in my water. Pass on this race.

Race Recap: The Coach Kelly Races

Why run one race in Michigan when you can run two?! Because my siblings and I are all a little crazy (well, me, mostly) about running, we decided to run a second race the day after our big Volkslaufe event. We searched some of our favorite race sites and came up with the Coach Kelly Races. I knew nothing about the event, only that there was a 5k that my brother had signed me up to run.

The Coach Kelly Races are named after St. Louis cross country coach Steve Kelly and the race was started in 2006 with a 5k. The race is now an annual tradition in St. Louis, Michigan and is held July 4th weekend. This year was the 9th running of the 5k. The races also feature a 10k and a kids’ mile.

Race morning, my siblings and I headed to St. Louis, a tiny town in the middle of Michigan. The weather was perfect – 55 degrees and sunny.

Coach Kelly Races

It was a super low key event. There wasn’t a line for packet pick up, and packet pick up was hosted by the race director, his wife, and his young daughter. We got a really nice, bright green technical race shirt. I was impressed by the quality of the shirt and will actually wear it again. Most people seemed to know one another. The race start and finish were at the tiny town square. With time to spare, we warmed up, waited around, and watched the kids’ mile (adorable!). We lined up at the start of the 5k with some serious runners, some runners who looked like they were there for fun, and a large group of walkers. The course was perfect small town Michigan. It was well marked and staffed by plenty of volunteers. The course went over a bridge, along a small river, and through quiet neighborhoods. A quick tour past a school and we were back on Main Street and headed for the finish line. The course was hillier than I expected for the area, meaning it had one little tiny hill, but a great 5k course.

Coach Kelly 5k Elevation

At the finish line, there was professional timing, complete with all the amenities typical of a much larger race, including chip timing, a big clock, and a well-marked finish area. Runners were treated to Powerade, cookies, banana, and granola bars. Runners gathered for the results and awaited the last place finisher, an amazing older man who was a true inspiration. Though he wasn’t moving fast, he completed the whole 5k with a cane and a pronounced limp. Everyone cheered as he crossed the finish line.

Coach Kelly 5k last place

When the results were read, we were all thrilled to find out that my brother and sister-in-law placed in their age groups!

Coach Kelly Races 5k

With a small field, and fairly fast times for a local race, both of them had raced well. Overall, the Coach Kelly Races was a great event. I was impressed with the attention to detail, the organization, and the overall high quality of the event. The races had the perks of a big city race, but without all the hassle. The small town atmosphere was charming and the course was great. I would definitely run the Coach Kelly Races again.

Pure Michigan Running

Over the Fourth of July, I headed to my home state, Michigan, for a quick visit. While in town, I couldn’t resist a few races. First up was the Volkslaufe. Volkslaufe (German for “the people’s race” is one of my favorite Fourth of July traditions. What started as a small, hometown race has grown over the years. This year, the race was featured in Runners World Magazine. What I love about the Volkslaufe is that, despite its growth, it hasn’t lost the hometown charm. For example, a giant tractor greeted runners at packet pick up, held in a local event hall.

Volkslaufe packet pick up

My siblings and I were able to easily pick up our packets without waiting in line, and quickly made our way through the tiny expo. The Volkslaufe includes 4 races, a 20k, 10k, 5k, and 2k children’s race. The races are all held on July 4th every year.

This year I chose the 20k, with a course that winds through some of the best Michigan farmland. The weather was perfect, about 75 degrees and sunny. I had on my Fourth of July best, and was ready to run with my sister-in-law (who raced her way to a HUGE PR, by the way).

Volkslaufe

Runners exit town almost immediately and head out past corn fields, soybean fields, and pretty much every other crop Michigan has to offer. The views are stunning and the farmhouses are well-maintained. I loved running through the countryside. The breeze was blowing, the birds were chirping, and the course was smooth. The course began to loop back towards town, over a gorgeous old bridge and along a short dirt road. About 10 miles into the 20k, the course heads back in towards town and through lovely, mature neighborhoods. Spectators were few and far between, but those that were out were enthusiastic. Running behind the classic restaurant, Zehnder’s, the course geared up for its big finish. The last mile or so is run along the Cass River, over a classic, wooden covered bridge, and into Heritage Park. The course is one of my favorites and this year was no exception. The weather was perfect, the course was pretty, and the small-town hospitality was in full effect. It was a great day for a run!

Volkslaufe 20k Elevation

Volkslaufe 20k Elevation