Race Recap: Worcester Running Festival

My running mom came to my house for my birthday. It was a great week, and we decided the best way to finish the week was with a half marathon. After doing a little research, we found the Worcester Running Festival. I communicated with the race director and determined that walkers were welcome and ensured that mom and I could finish well within the time cut off. We signed up and were looking forward to the opportunity to do a half marathon in a new area.

Race morning we got an early start to head up to Worcester. We were using the map provided by the race organizers and got to Worcester easily. Once we got to Worcester, finding parking was another story. We randomly drove around the city. The parking map didn’t include addresses for the parking lots, so we couldn’t GPS the parking lots and the map wasn’t to scale, so it was very difficult to find the parking. Add to that the massive construction zone around the race start area, closed streets, and streets with different names than the map and it was chaos. Luckily, we drove past a parking garage. We pulled in and didn’t care that we would have to pay. We had been driving for 20 minutes and hadn’t managed to find any of the free lots suggested by the organizers. Our parking garage was just feet from the race start, so it seemed like a perfect parking spot.

Wrocester Finish Line

We headed to the race start area to pick up our packets and use the bathrooms (it was a long drive). Upon arriving, we saw that the porta potty line was already ridiculously long. We were there more than an hour before race start – the volunteers were still setting up the finish line – but the line for the porta potty was wrapped around the block. There were way too few potties for the number of people. The line got long and stayed long.

Wrocester bathroom line

After waiting about a half hour, it was nearly time for the race to start. We hustled to the start to get in line. At start time, the bathroom line was still around the block. Nothing happened. Five minutes after the start, someone announced that the race would be starting in five more minutes. Ten minutes later, nothing had happened. Finally, 15 minutes after the scheduled start, announcements began. The race got underway about 20 minutes late. It wasn’t terrible considering that the temperature was good and the sun was shining, but I would have been irritated had I been warmed up and planning to race.

The race course exited Worcester proper pretty quickly and entered an area of neighborhoods with historic homes. It was lovely. The course had some rolling hills and was generally shady and quiet.

Photo credit: Cynthia T

Photo credit: Cynthia T

There were a number of walkers and we were in good company at the back of the pack. The course wound through neighborhoods and past several interesting parts of Worcester. I had not heard the most flattering things about Worcester, so I was pleasantly surprised. Mom and I enjoyed seeing the homes and parks. The volunteers were supportive and cheered wildly when we passed. After the neighborhoods, the course went out into the far reaches of the city and took a T up and down what looked like a minor highway. Though the scenery wasn’t particularly interesting, the road was mostly flat and passed a nice reservoir. We headed back into the neighborhoods, heading toward race finish. Back in town, the course went through the main part of Worcester. This was the Worcester I had heard about. Trash blew around our feet. Broken glass littered the sidewalk and houses had broken porches, bars on the windows, and long grass. Several individuals were drinking from paper bags while sitting on the streets. We drew comments from a few such individuals and hurried along. There was a lot of traffic on the main road, so we were eager for a turn off the street. It finally came, and we headed into the deserted business area. Soon, the finish line was upon us. It was well marked and the finish line announcers were upbeat and fun.

Worcester Running Festival Elevation

Worcester Running Festival Elevation

We next headed over to the main square for some food and water. The water was warm and the food selection was less than appetizing – pizza that had been sitting out for hours and warm yogurt. We passed on the food, took our water, and headed for home.

Mom had raced well and the real disappointment came when results were posted. She wasn’t listed in the results. According to the results, she didn’t cross the finish line or the start line. I immediately emailed the timing company and provided the verification – mom was in the start line video crossing the start right next to me, wearing her number, and in the finish line photos right next to me. Three days later I got an email back that said the problem I reported had been corrected. Mom still wasn’t in the results. I emailed again, and emailed the race organizers. I haven’t heard back and mom still isn’t listed in the results.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this race. The race itself was ok – the course was well-marked and the volunteers were nice. Unfortunately, the course wasn’t pretty. The start wasn’t well organized, amenities were lacking. The shirt was hideous, and medal a bit on the cheap side. And, there was nothing edible at the finish line. It wasn’t the best. I’m glad mom and I had fun together, but I won’t be back.

Race Recap: Runners World Heartbreak Hill Half Festival

Mom and I always do something fun for my birthday and this year was no exception. We decided to participate in the Runners World Heartbreak Hill Half Marathon Festival (HHHalf for short). We signed up ages ago, thinking that with Runners World magazine and DMSE as hosts, it would be a great weekend. Unfortunately, like many other back-of-the-pack athletes, we didn’t have the most wonderful experience.

The pre-race communication was excellent. Mom and I were sure we had all the details and were ready to go come race day. We had booked a nice hotel on the Charles River and decided to spend the whole weekend. We got to our hotel easily and from there navigated the few short miles to Boston College, where packet pick up was held. At the pickup, we easily found our numbers and headed to the bib and shirt pick up area. There, we encountered our first problem of the weekend. I was handed two shirts, a hat, socks, a bib, four safety pins, and a race information booklet. And no bag. We were told that the bags would be handed out at gear check in the morning. That was a fine strategy, but there was no way for me to carry my goodies. Had I known, I would have brought something larger than my purse. Luckily, my hat made a handy bag and I shoved everything in as best I could. Later review of the race information booklet would note that for gear check I should use the bag I was given during packet pick up. Hmmm. We made our way around the expo, but didn’t spend much time there thanks to a tuna vendor. Both mom and I can’t stand to be around fish and the tuna smell was wafting around. We made our way to one of the suggested dinner locations – Lee’s Burgers. It was delightful.

Newton burgers

Lee’s is a tiny cafe with all the burger basics. Mom and I enjoyed our burgers, walked around Newton a bit, and headed back to the hotel for an early bed time.

Bright and early Saturday morning, mom and I prepared for the 5k. We would have the 10k later that day. We knew that we would pay for parking, but we didn’t know that there would be no re-admittance. That meant that if we wanted to stay for any speakers or other fun events, we had to wait on campus all day, without food. While we had wanted to see the speakers, that didn’t seem like fun, so we parked and planning to head back to the car after racing was over for the day. Parking was close to the race start, and we made our way to the start and got lined up. The race was mass-start, but people generally seemed to have lined up well and it went smoothly. The 5k course was well marked and wound around a nice little lake. The hills were small and the views were lovely, so we were happy. As soon as the 5k was over, we grabbed a water and bagel (no yogurt for us and the bananas were gone) and lined back up for the 10k. The 10k was a big disappointment. Mom was planning to do her first race with hills. Being from Florida, she has only ever raced flat courses. The 10k had a posted cutoff of 15 minute miles – no problem for mom. I had inquired early in the registration process about the 15 minute miles time cut off and was told that there would be a mass start and 15 minute miles counted from the gun. The printed material also noted that the 15 minutes would be counted from the gun. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a mass start. There was a wave start and the 15 minutes was counted from the start of the first wave, not the last. We started 11 minutes after the gun, effectively making the cut off 12 minute miles – and we weren’t the last wave. We were shocked. There was no way mom could do 12 minute miles with the hills. It was disappointing and unexpected. We are very careful about the races we choose and this one, given its advertised openness to back of the packers seemed like a good option. Soon enough, we were asked to move on to the sidewalk. That was fine, but what really bothered me was that the race officials were cleaning up. There wasn’t much assistance at water stops and all the signs were either gone or being removed. The course wasn’t well marked – luckily it’s pretty easy to go out and back on Commerce Avenue.

HHHalf 10k Elevation

HHHalf 10k Elevation

The course had the famous hills and was an enjoyable course. I liked that much of it was on the shady path and I liked seeing the famous Newton scenery. Overall, it was a great race – just one detail that impacted our enjoyment. At the end of the race, we got a water and a bagel. We were offered a bag of chips and a yogurt, but took neither. Both of us were hot and hungry, so we went to a local restaurant for lunch. Not wanting to pay to park again, we went back to the hotel to rest.

The next day, I ran in the HHHalf half marathon and mom cheered. I was in the midst of a major allergy attack and had taken a massive quantity of allergy medicine, so I wasn’t the happiest of runners. I felt lethargic and hot. And, that whole bit about allergy medicine plus running equals heart palpitations – totally true. Luckily, I found a nice lady from Kentucky, who I ran with most of the race. The course headed out into Newton, through some lovely neighborhoods, and up several of the famous Newton hills. When I signed up what I hadn’t thought about was that I would go OUT via the hills AND back via the hills. It was crazy hilly! It was pretty hot, so I ran a conservative pace and had a great time. I chatted with folks around me and enjoyed the camaraderie of the group of runners. It was a fun race.

HHHalf Elevation

As a long time runner, the joy of seeing all the famous Boston Marathon landmarks. I enjoyed the race and found the course well-marked and the volunteers mostly helpful. At the end, I was once again treated to a bagel, water, chips, and yogurt. As hungry as I usually am after a long run, I headed straight for BoLoco Burritos. I had seen their restaurant and recognized it from Ragnar, so we treated ourselves to a huge burrito and headed home.

All in all, it was a fun weekend. As far as the races, they were less wonderful than expected, but still a great experience.

HHHalf

Race Recap: Round the Lake 5k

I love small races and, living in a rural area, I get an opportunity to run a lot of small races. Just a week post marathon, I was barely back into running when a friend suggested a local 5k with a “interesting” course. I wasn’t doing anything else and the weather was expected to be wonderful, so I committed to the race. The race in question was the Marlborough Lions Club Round the Lake 5k. Honestly, had my friend not told me about the race, I might never have found it. They don’t have the best website presence and what’s there leaves a lot to be desired in terms of information (Was there race-day registration? If sure hoped so!). The race application wasn’t much more helpful. I had no idea how much the race was and wether I might even be able to register, but I knew where the starting line was and crossed my fingers on the rest.

Race day was clear and bright and I headed over to the park at Lake Terramuggus for the 5k. There were a few people mingling around, runners on the road warming up, and no lines to speak of. I didn’t wait at all to register and walked right up to the table. There was indeed race day registration and it was a bargain price of $20. I gathered my number, my much too big tshirt, and some pins and set off to warm up. The setting was lovely for a spring race – the start and finish line were on the road in front of a small park on a lake.

Blish Park

It was a lovely view, and I kept my warm up to a minimum so I could spend more time enjoying the weather and the view. This would later turn out to be a mistake, but I wasn’t planning to race a week after a marathon.

I lined up with a few hundred others on the country road near the park for the race start. It was perfect weather – 68 degrees, sunny, and breezy. The race began and immediately runners were greeted by a hill. the course featured a significant hill in the first quarter mile. Not great for those of us who hadn’t really warmed up, but excellent for the hill runners in the group. Several speedy folks shot to the top of the hill. The course leveled out and wound through the countryside. It was well marked, but sparsely populated. There were plenty of runners, but few spectators. The road was either closed to traffic or such a small country road that no traffic needed to pass by during the race. In mile two, the course started a small descent and I picked up speed. I was running well, but getting quite hot in the warm air and sun. Volunteers called out mile splits and the course went on. Near the middle of the second mile, the course turned into town and began a long, steady climb up one of the gradual hills in town. At this point, the road was open to traffic and it got a little tricky thanks to sidewalk construction in the area.

5k construction

Despite some cars and bumpy footing, the runners made their way down the road and back towards the park. The views along the way were lovely, classic New England. I enjoyed looking at the lake and the small salt box cottages. There was one small, not that well organized race stop at mile 2.6, where a nice older couple passed out water in tiny paper cups (the kind my grandmother kept in her bathroom). I did take the water, a few sips worth, and it was warm and clumsily passed. Had there been a few more volunteers, the water stop might have been more effective. The race finished on a bit of an uphill on the road. There was chip timing, so there were timing mats and a small finish line area, but nothing else. Runners had to head back down the hill to get a bottle of water and a few orange slices.

There were few amenities at this race. Runners got a bottle of water and sliced oranges. What the race lacked in post-race food, it made up for in the view. A friend and I sat on the beach until it was time for the awards. It wasn’t a particularly fast race and my slow, post-marathon legs carried me to third place in my age group.

Round the Lake Prize

Overall, I would recommend the Round the Lake 5k for the runner looking for a no-frills, low key, local race. It was a fairly ordinary 5k with a nice lake view finish, but little else in terms of race support or amenities.

Race Recap: Run for the Red Pocono Marathon

One of my greatest joys as a runner is pacing for races with MarathonPacing.com. I love helping others achieve their goals and pacing is a great way to see runners doing amazing things. This spring, I was selected to pace the 4:45 group at the Run for the Red Pocono Marathon. I was delighted to prepare for a new marathon.

The race wound through a number of Pocono towns, ending in Stroudsburg, PA. Packet pick up was at a local school. I met up with my fellow pacers at the expo. We greeted runners, handed out pace band temporary tattoos, and talked running with eager runners. It was great!

Run for Red expo

Race day was bright and clear with perfect running weather.

Run for Red flat runner

The day started cool and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I got lined up in my starting area and met my pace team. I had some great runners. Mostly new marathoners, a woman running her first marathon in anticipation of a milestone age, and brothers who had trained together. We got started running in Pocono Summit, PA along rural roads. The course began flat and roads were wide and free of traffic. The water stops were well-staffed and organized. After the first few miles, the course started to decline – as in the elevation. The course itself has a significant downhill trajectory and that started in the early miles. My pace team and I were feeling great and loving the downhills.

Run for the Red elevation profile

The roads were lovely – well paved, wide, and free of debris. The scenery was gorgeous. We ran past pine forests, deep woods, and across wooden bridges. I loved the beautiful countryside. Halfway through, the course began to roll. The hills were minor, but challenging for legs tired from the downhills. My team was great! We had fun telling stories, cheering for our fellow runners, and exploring the Pocono area. The course finally made its was into Stroudsburg and along neighborhood streets with cheering spectators. We made our way through the historic downtown and on to the school grounds. The race finished in the track stadium at the local high school.

Photo credit: Elaine Acosta, the awesome 4:30 pacer

Photo credit: Elaine Acosta, the awesome 4:30 pacer

I loved the race and would highly recommend the Run for the Red Pocono Marathon. The course was well designed, scenic, well-marked, and staffed by a great group of volunteers and staff. The race overall was well organized and supported by a strong race committee.

 

Ragnar Cape Cod 2014

No one loves an overnight relay more than this girl, so I jumped at the opportunity to run Ragnar Cape Cod this year. Most of my team from last year was back, and we were ready for fun! This year, there were some changes to the course, including a super long “Wicked Hahd” leg that I was set to run. To make things even more interesting, our team was running short a few runners, so we each had 25 miles or more to run.

We got the van packed up at our rental house and we got to decorating.

Ragnar decoratingI was in a van with three boys and lots of food. We were ready. Since we were Van 2, we had a nice leisurely morning, then got running. I had the “Wicked Hahd” leg, a 12.8 miles jaunt on the worst road ever. The first 7 miles of the leg were on sand. Not sand as in this is a sandy beach, but sand that had been pushed to the side after being used in the winter on the road. It was rocky, loose sand. My poor calves were killing me. Then, we headed uphill. The last four miles of this crazy leg went uphill. And, to make it more interesting, nearly all of it was on a very busy highway. It wasn’t my favorite leg ever. In appreciation of my efforts, the nice Ragnar people gave me a medal.

After our first runs we ate a nice dinner and prepared ourselves for our night runs. I love night runs and was thrilled with my quick, four miles that I had planned.

Night run

My night run was over quickly and we were off to the rental house for a rest. I got three luxurious hours of sleep. It was wonderful. In no time at all it was time for our third run. I was scheduled to run two legs, running through the exchange. Luckily, my runs were partly through the Cape Cod National Seashore. I was treated to gorgeous views.

Cape Cod views

At the end of my runs, I found myself on the most wonderful beach. We were almost to P-Town!

Cape Cod finish

I was having a great time. I loved being in Van 2 and loved my runs. Even though we were missing a few runners, I found the mileage manageable. Our last runner was out and we were tired, hungry, and ready to see the finish line. We pulled up to Provincetown and found our way to the finish.

Ragnar Cape Cod finish

The energy was great. There’s nothing like a Ragnar finish line – the spectators, the teams, the fun atmosphere. It’s great! We finished as a team and had a great time at the finish line party. Overall, it was another great Ragnar. I love Cape Cod and this year was no exception.

 

RRCA Annual Convention

A few weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to participate in the RRCA Annual Convention. Each year, the Road Runners Club of America hosts the convention in a different city. The convention is an opportunity for running professionals to gather, share information, and contribute to the running community. The convention features workshops on best practices, running coach continuing education, the RRCA Annual Meeting of the Membership, the National Running Awards Banquet, and super fun social networking events. I was lucky enough to be selected for a RRCA Leadership Scholarship to attend the convention. 

This year’s convention was in Spokane, Washington. I had never been to Spokane so the whole event was a new adventure. I got to Spokane on a Thursday and the festivities kicked off with a welcome reception. I enjoyed meeting fellow runners, particularly Bernard Legat! He was kind and welcoming and even posed for a photo with me.

BL photo

There were several social receptions, each with interesting people from clubs across the country. Each morning the day started with a run hosted by the Bloomsday Road Runners running club. Given that this was a running convention, there were large groups.

RRCA morning run

The first morning, we ran through a local park, across several bridges, and up some hills with great views.

RRCA bridges

Other morning runs featured Spokane sights, including Gonzaga University.

RRCA run Gonzaga

I learned a lot in education sessions related to club leadership and organization. I met leaders from other clubs who were more advanced in their process than I am as a club president and got to learn how they had made their clubs a success. The convention was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about my role as a club leader. I also took in a session of continuing education for running coaches to learn more about developing training programs. I enjoyed the educational sessions.

The highlight of the conference was the Bloomsday Road Race. The 37th running of the Lilac Bloomsday Road Race happened the Sunday after the convention and convention attendees had an opportunity to participate. This great 12k runs through the streets and parks of Spokane. The highlight of the run is the Doomsday Hill, an epic, mile long climb up the biggest hill in Spokane. It was such a worthy hill that there was a buzzard at the top waiting for those of us who were struggling.

Doomsday race

I chose a leisurely running strategy and interacted with the amazing spectators along the route. I accepted all the food offered to me, including donuts…

Bloomsday donut

Otter pops…

Bloomsday otter pop

And many other tasty treats. The spectator support was wonderful and the whole city seemed to come out to support the Bloomsday runners. I loved the course and enjoyed the opportunity to see Spokane. At the end, I got my official finisher shirt and hustled off to the airport.

Bloomsday finisher

Overall, I enjoyed the RRCA Annual Convention and the Bloomsday Road Race. Next year the events kick off April 22-26 in Des Moines and feature the Drake Relays and Hy-Vee Road Races.

Race Recap: First Watch Sarasota

Now that mom’s a half marathoner, we’ve been on a quest to find interesting races that we can to together. Given that mom is a walker (granted, a fast one, but a walker), we are always searching for races that advertise as being walker-friendly, or that have a good cut off time suitable for walkers in interesting locations. In our quest to find interesting races that fit the criteria, we identified the FirstWatch Sarasota Half Marathon as a contender. Once we leaded about the area, we signed up immediately. A run over a bridge, on a key, and through stately homes, all ocean-front? Yes, please!

Mom and I decided that the best plan was to stay overnight in a hotel in Sarasota (terrible, I know) and enjoy the area before the half marathon. We found our place easily and set off to check out the area. It’s gorgeous. For those of you who haven’t been to Sarasota, look it up on a map. The whole city is right on the water, with keys along the coast. It’s amazing. The city also seems to enjoy art, as evidenced by the amazing art installations all along the city sidewalks.

art

After enjoying some time in the city, admiring the enormous statue of the kissing sailor, it was time for our early bed time. Race morning dawned early, with clear skies and crisp air. It was approximately 68 degrees at race start, perfect racing conditions. Mom and I snapped a few quick pictures, then set off.

Before Sarasota

The course went along Route 41, the waterfront main drag and immediately headed out toward the Ringling Bridge. The view over the bridge was amazing – stately homes, bobbing boats, and water as far as the eye could see. Next, the course wound through St. Armand’s Circle, the little shopping area and center of St. Armand’s Key. It was lovely, old Florida style. Next, it was back up and over the bridge. By this time the sun was up and the day was bright and clear. The course continued back along the main drag, past several well-staffed aid stations, and right past the Ringling art museum. It’s a funny pink building nestled in the midst of a small neighborhood. The neighborhood was an eclectic mix of beach cottages, vacation homes, and lovely waterfront mansions, complete with their associated compound behind firmly closed gates. Each section of the neighborhood had its own little park, all of them water front. As we wound through the homes and past the parks, we were treated to great views and friendly spectators. About halfway through the neighborhood, we passed a fabulous art deco school. Sadly, I wasn’t fast enough to snap a picture, but it was a great piece of Florida architecture. The neighborhood section was calm, quiet, and shady. All along the way we encountered great characters – only in Florida does a race marshall bring his own parrot.

Parrot

Once out of the neighborhood, it was just another mile or two to the finish line. Both mom and I loved the course. It was perhaps the best designed course I’ve ever run. It was just perfect. The hills were manageable, even for Floridians, the views spectacular, and the shady neighborhood positioned at just the right spot. There were cheering fans, great water stops, and friendly people all along the way.

At the finish line, volunteers greeted us with our medals (a lovely abstract dolphin) and water. There was a huge finish line party with a live band and tents on the water’s edge. Perhaps the only thing not wonderful about the First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon was the post-race food. It was not good at all. There were bagels (plain and raisin), a few muffins that looked like they wilted in the heat, and a disgusting-looking melted yogurt parfait. There were lots of parfaits left over. The yogurt was warm and runny and even these starving half marathoners couldn’t bring ourselves to eat it.

It’s worth note that the race really was walker friendly. Mom and I were far from the last walkers and the spectators and water stop volunteers were cheerful, plentiful, and happy to see us. We enjoyed all the same amenities as runners. I felt welcomed and encouraged as a walker.

Overall, I loved the First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon. Not only would I do it again, I would recommend it to anyone looking for a well designed course with great views. And though it’s hilly for Florida, anyone who conquers the bridge is rewarded with a great view.

Sarasota Half Marathon Elevation

Sarasota Half Marathon Elevation

Sarasota Half Marathon Course

Sarasota Half Marathon Course

 

Disney Marathon Weekend 2014 – Expo Madness

There really isn’t a good way to capture the spirit of Disney Marathon Weekend in a blog post. It’s such a wonderful experience from start to finish that there is almost too much to say. Again this year, the happiest race on earth didn’t disappoint. In an effort to capture all the fun, I’m going to break up my race recap into a few segments. First, the expo and my quest to buy the commemorative shoes

I arrived in Florida on the Tuesday before the race, with plans to go to the expo Wednesday. I was determined to get a pair of the special limited edition Cinderella-themed runDisney New Balance shoes and thought that my best chance for success would be on Wednesday. I watched the videos and read online information about securing my special shoes. I was ready to follow the shoe signs and get my pair without waiting too long in a line, as promised. Wednesday morning came and my mom and I got to the expo just as it was starting. We immediately got into an already long New Balance line. The line was barely moving. It wrapped around and into the Champion Stadium, past vendors, and back outside. As the line moved along at a glacial place, mom and I began to take turns looking around. We visited a few vendor booths. We talked to cast members and found out that they had to stop the line from growing twenty minutes after the expo opened. It was madness. People were everywhere and starting to get hungry. Two full hours later, we got to the head of the line. Sadly, it was just the line to put our information into one of four (four, seriously!) iPads to be contacted when it was our turn to shop. We were told the wait was four hours. Four more hours. And, we had to respond to the text message within twenty minutes, so we were stuck at the expo. The Wide World of Sports complex is so far away from everything else, we had to stay put.

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Later, we would learn that this information wasn’t totally true, but it was repeated by three separate NB employees. We began what would be a long day of waiting. Mom and I visited every single booth at the expo. We entered drawings. We tried products. We killed two hours. With two more to go, we simply sat down and waited. We ate in the little cafe. We took lots of commemorative photos.

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Four hours after we put in our data we still didn’t have a call from NB. We decided to investigate. We went to the entrance and saw that there was a large display listing the current numbers being seen (like at a deli). Sadly, there were still more than 200 people in front of us. We talked to a nice young man from NB and he told us they were able to serve less than 100 people an hour and that things were moving much more slowly than expected. Dejectedly, mom and I wandered away. By this time, I was exhausted. I had been at the expo from 10am to 4:30pm. My legs were starting to hurt, so I got a new pair of my favorite Zensah calf sleeves. They helped.

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Finally, seven hours after we began our quest, we were called and it was our turn. I got my precious Cinderella shoes. And a Minnie pair just to be safe. It was totally worth it.

To be sure, the wait was worth the outcome, but I didn’t find it to be an improvement over last year’s strategy nor did I find it a pleasing process. The wait was ridiculous and the NB staff outside the store not as helpful or kind as expected. Mom and I found out in the store that we could have come back any time after our call time, something that would have been life changing a little earlier. Spending an entire day at the expo was not what I had in mind. New Balance and Disney could do a much better job of entertaining those of us who waited all day, or further limiting purchases (runners only first? An express lane for long time NB customers who know their size?). It would have helped to have had the correct information sooner and for the process described in the online information to have had more details. It would also have been nice to have had more iPads. Had I not waited two hours in the freezing cold just to put my data in an iPad, I might have been more cheerful. I wouldn’t have minded waiting at home for the five hours had I just gotten correct information. Despite all the hassle, I’m delighted with my shoes and am wearing them with a smile on my face.

Race Recap: Harrisburg Marathon

Recently, my running friend and I were discussing marathons. Both of us were craving another marathon. We discovered our schedules were similar and started to look at marathons we might run together. I found the Harrisburg Marathon and we  immediately signed up and started planning our trip to Harrisburg.

I knew that the trip to Harrisburg would be a quick one. I would be nearing the end of my crazy travel and running extravaganza. In fact, I would leave directly from the airport following my trip to San Antonio and head right to Harrisburg. Luckily, a last minute change in my flight schedule let us get an early start to Harrisburg. It was a pleasant drive through lovely countryside. We got to Harrisburg around dinner time, checked in to our amazing hotel, and headed to dinner. We stayed at the Raddison Harrisburg. For anyone planning a trip to Harrisburg, consider the Raddison. The staff were wonderfully kind, the hotel was clean, the beds were comfy, and they hotel staff offered to let us stay as late as we liked on Sunday after the marathon. We couldn’t ask for a better hotel. After dinner, we decided to ride down to the race start to get a sense of parking and race-day organization.

Harrisburg night

It was gorgeous. The race start was at the foot of a pedestrian bridge that lead from City Island to city center. The capitol was lit up for the night and the whole scene was lovely.

Race day morning dawned bight and early. It was clear, sunny, and really hilly at 35 degrees. Packet pick up was in a large building on City Island. Thankfully, the building was heated by huge heat fans. Food and drinks were plentiful and the volunteers were friendly.

Harrisburg Marathon check in

The race was small and runners gathered inside awaiting the start of the race. Professional pacing was provided by MarathonPacing.com.

The race began on City Island and moved across the bridge to the city center. The course wound briefly through the city center, through a small park (a half mile or so were on a gravel trail) and paved trail along the river. Then, the course went across the Market Street Bridge back to City Island. The early miles of the course were lovely. The bridges are charming and the sun was shining. The course was well-marked.

Harrisburg bridges

The weather was fall weather at its finest. Unfortunately, the bliss of the early miles would fade. A few miles later, the course would curve along the river and the weather would turn. The sky clouded, the light darkened, and the wind picked up. What was pleasant, 45 degree running weather quickly turned into 35 degrees and cloudy with a significant windchill. The course went along the river for a while and then into a neighborhood. The residents seemed a bit perplexed as to why we were running through their neighborhood, but volunteers were on hand to direct traffic and help the runners move smoothly through the course. I had been running along well, hanging with a friend who was pacing for the race. We had a nice time chatting, and I enjoyed her group.

Unfortunately, things started to deteriorate around mile 15. Near the end of the neighborhood section, I had to visit the port-a-pottie. Not good. I wasn’t feeling the best and slowed my pace a bit. Around mile 16, the course moved into an industrial area. The industrial area was unpleasant at best. The road was bumpy, the scenery was terrible (distribution centers, barbed wire, and tractor trailers as far as the eye could see), and I struggled mentally. I knew some late hills were coming, so I conserved my energy and moved along at a steady pace. The course then passed into a community college parking lot. This part of the course was inexplicable. I don’t know why it was necessary to run through such an unpleasant area. Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, we turned into a park. I was delighted. A park! Sadly, the joy was short lived. At mile 18, the hills began. And they were hills. With hills at the worst possible time, I struggled. I was freezing cold, mentally spent, and physically exhausted. The hills seemed relentless. Finally, at mile 21, we left the park and headed back to the neighborhood. I was done. Mentally, I was worn out. Finishing the rest of the race was a struggle. It was a lesson in the importance of

As we turned back along the river and the steady wind blew me around, I tried to stay positive. I was running a marathon and enjoying a fun trip with a friend. The course was challenging. Those hills just ate me up. It was difficult mentally. All in all, I struggled in this marathon. I enjoyed it, but it was difficult.

Overall, the race was well done. The organizers sent multiple emails before the race, outlining aspects of the race that are critical to runners. The pre-race food was nice, check in was organized, and bag check was easy to use. The course was well marked and the aid stations were well stocked. At the finish line, cheering fans greeted the runners. Each finisher got an attractive finishers’ medal and a mylar blanket (best blanket ever!) and was ushered into the warm building. In the post-race building, there was ample food and drink. There were sandwiches, chips, fruit, and candy. It was a nice spread.

With the excellent organization and big-race amenities and a small race field, the Harrisburg Marathon was a nice event. The course was challenging and I’m not sure I would run it again. I would have loved to have some of the race run through Harrisburg itself. It looked like a cute city with friendly people and clean streets.

Harrisburg

Mom’s First Half Marathon

This weekend, my mom completed her first half marathon. I couldn’t be happier for her! What’s even better is that I got to complete the whole thing with her. Being together every step of the way for her first 5k, then her first 15k, and now her first half marathon has been one of my greatest running joys.

More than my own PRs, seeing my mom finish her half marathon and cross that item off her bucket list has made me proud to be a runner. It all started a few months ago. While at the Gasparilla Distance Classic race festival, we saw a little booth for the Frankenfooter races put on by Big Dawg Runnin’. My mom was instantly interested in the medals (seriously, they’re cool) and confessed to me that a half marathon was on her bucket list. We walked by the booth and mom admired the medals. We walked on by. At the end of the row of booths, we turned back. Mom wanted to do the Frankenfooter but was worried that, as a race walker, she might be too slow for the race cutoff times. The race director was at the booth and said she would be sitting at the finish line until the last runner crossed – no matter how long it took. That’s all we needed to hear. Mom said that if she survived the 15k that we would do the Frankenfooter. The next day my mom crossed the finish line of the 15k at Gasparilla feeling strong. We signed up for the Frankenfooter the next day.

I always love a good race festival. Why do just one race when you can do multiple races in one weekend? Mom agreed and we signed up for the Living Dead 16.2 Challenge – a 5k Saturday night and the half marathon Sunday morning. Mom started on her training plan and I counted down the days until another Florida trip (shameless plug – if you want me to coach you as your train for your first half marathon, check out my “coaching” page).

Race weekend, we headed over to New Port Richey. Packet pick up was at a small marina on a little river that connected to the Gulf of Mexico. Packet pick up was no-frills – just one person sitting behind a desk, the race director next to her, and a few bags full of shirts. No line. No fuss.

The Bride of Frankenfooter 5k course wove through a local park and down the city streets in Port Richey. As one might expect in a costal area, the course was completely flat. The course left the park, went along a back street, then along a little spit of land stuck out in the Gulf of Mexico. It was gorgeous. Never ones to pass on an opportunity to run in costume, mom and I went as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (complete with spinning propellor hats).

Frankenfooter 5k

We had fun at the 5k and headed back to the hotel early to rest up for the big day in the morning. Race morning dawned cool and clear, with temperatures in the 60s to start. Race day temperatures were expected to be around 80 degrees, so we dressed for a warm race and headed to the start line.

Frankenfooter half marathon

After a delay and some lengthy course instructions (honestly, it seemed we were all waiting for the timing company to get set up), we were off. The completely flat course ran along back roads in Port Richey. The race course was really what I consider “old Florida” – older homes, some not-so-great areas, but lots and lots of Gulf views.

Gulf View

Mom and I walked along at a good clip as the course looped around a park, then back the way it came, past the start/finish and then on to the 5k course from the night before. Mom and I had fun, talking and enjoying the view the whole way. We saw a cool historic site – one of many mounds across Florida – and I took lots of pictures.

Mound

Around mile 8, mom started to feel the effects of the race. I don’t know about all of you, but I remember mile 8-9 of my first half marathon vividly. I was in a lot of pain and swore the suffering would never end. Mom might have been in pain, but she persevered. Around mile 11, poor mom had terrible calf cramps. It had been hotter and sunnier than we expected, so I don’t think either of us took in enough fluid. Despite the cramps, mom soldiered on. She was completely amazing!

Mom wearing Lock Laces

We crossed the finish line together. Mom is a half marathoner! We found the nearest chair, a padded deck chair (and possibly the best chair in the history of chairs) and mom had a few cups of Gatorade (the best drink in the history of drinks) and we went to the finish line party. There was food, music, super interesting awards, and really cool medals.

Frankenfooter Awards

Frankenfooter medals

Overall, we had a great time at the Frankenfooter. In the interest of full disclosure, there were some things about the race that could be improved. First, the wait at the starting line for both races was frustrating. Both races started about 10 minutes late. It isn’t too much of a problem in Florida, but could be improved. I know some Floridians were freezing in the 60 degree temperatures. I did not like running past the finish line at mile 9. With my mom, we passed the finish line at a time when lots of people were finishing. To be in pain, with 4 miles left to go, passing the finish line was not ideal. Finally, the traffic was a problem. I don’t usually mind open roads during a race when I’m expecting it. I realize that smaller races just don’t have the resources to close roads and that’s ok. What bothered me at this race was that the traffic was NOT runner-friendly. One car actually swerved toward us, with the driver laughing. A couple cars honked at us to get off the road and one driver gave me the finger. During a race. The local community just didn’t seem supportive of the race and that makes for a difficult situation, safety-wise. The parts of the race that had police support were much better. I would suggest that the race director arrange for more police presence to keep some of the jerks in check.

Despite a few snags, this was a well-run, nicely organized race. The perks were excellent – races got a great shirt and a really cool medal, and the post-race food and drink was tasty. There was plenty of food and plenty of space and no line for anything. I could tell the race director is a runner herself and she certainly thought of all the details important to runners. Overall, a nicely done race that I would definitely recommend for someone looking for a flat, fast course with a small-race atmosphere.

Details for Rachel’s (and mom’s since we match) outfits, above:

Note mom’s awesome Lock Laces. Want to win some? Check out my giveaway here. 

Tweedle Dee: Tweedle Dee shirt from Raw Threads (love them!), Brooks Visor, Tifosi sunglasses.

Cat: Lululemon Run: Swiftly Short Sleeve in pop orange, Lululemon Groovy Run Short in black.