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

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: 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.

 

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 – Dr Rachel Goes Goofy

What’s a girl to do when one Disney race just isn’t enough? The Goofy Challenge. This year, I decided to run the Goofy Challenge during the 2014 Disney Marathon Weekend. If you’ve been reading, I already recapped my fun at the expo and in the half marathon.

Sunday was marathon day and the day started very early, much to my dismay. When the alarm clock went off at 2:45am, it took all my energy to move. My legs felt fresh, but my head, throat, chest, and even my eyebrows hurt. The cold/flu that I had been fighting had won. I was sick. Sick sick. And I had 26.2 miles to go to get my Goofy medal. I dragged my sorry self out of bed, complained a lot, and got on with getting into my costume and getting to the starting line.

Disney Marathon 2014 start

I warned my family it might not go well. I might DNF. Of course, they could barely hear me since I had completely lost my voice. I hauled my bedraggled self to the starting corrals. Honestly, the rest of the race is a bit of a blur, thanks to my feverish and sickly state. Here’s what I remember (some of which was triggered by a quick post-race review of the pictures I took).

Mile 3 – I couldn’t take my Goofy vest flopping in the wind. I left it along the way.

Mile 5ish – My parents were waiting for me at Cinderella’s Castle. I took a quick picture, assured them that I wasn’t dying, and told them I wanted to finish. I had tested a walking pace and I knew I could walk a 15-minute mile without feeling horrible. I would finish or I would be picked up by the golf cart. Either way, I wasn’t giving up.

Mile 6 – On the back side of the Castle, I took a great picture (my favorite from the whole weekend) right before things got bad.

Disney Marathon 2014 castle

Mile 8 – The wheels fall off. I’m mostly walking. I’m the crazy lady you see hunched over on the side of the road, resting. That banana was a really terrible idea. It will be a while before I can eat bananas again. It was the low point of the race.

Mile 10 – I had decided early on I wouldn’t go farther than 10 if I were going to DNF. I had a decision to make. I stopped on the side of the road near the waste water treatment plant. I thought about all the training. I thought about my poor, sore siblings and friend willing to take a bus to Wide World of Sports to cheer for me. I thought about how much my mom would worry and how hard she had worked to fight through cramps in her first half. I continued on. I texted my family to tell them I would finish. I was doing it.

Mile 11 – Apparently I took a picture with an owl. I don’t remember this. I’m surprised I didn’t trip over my own two feet. I hate running.

Disney 2014 owl

Mile 12 – Things start to look up. For no discernible reason, I start to feel better. And, then, the best thing ever happened. Expedition Everest was open. I could ride my most favorite ride.

Disney 2014 Expedition Everest

Mile 13 – Buoyed by my ride on the best ride ever, I trotted along. The next several miles went by quickly and I found my self on Osceola Parkway, or, as I call it “The Highway to Hell”. I hate Osceola Parkway. It seems to go on forever. I can probably thank my sickness for this, but this year, I wasn’t bothered by it. I trotted along happily. No doubt I looked a little like Dory from Finding Nemo – randomly talking to myself and getting overly excited about the little things I passed (dude with a Stick! Joy! Random lady with animal crackers! Outstanding! A palm tree! etc.).

Disney 2014 Osceola

Mile A lot – My family! Yay! My brother and sister-in-law were waiting for me in Wide World of Sports with a sign. Joy! Then my other sister-in-law and my friend in Champion Stadium.

More running…

Mile 20 – Finally! I made it to 20. I knew I would finish. I can’t begin to describe how happy I was. I wasn’t as sick, was running well, and felt strong. I loved Disney, the marathon, my fellow runners, everything.

Disney 2014 Mile 20

Before I knew it, I was entering Hollywood Studios, where one of my wonderful Twitter friends had made a sweet sign.

Disney 2014 HS

And then it was over. I floating along on a cloud of running love for the last three miles and it was over. I have the pictures. I ran through Epcot. I waved at cameras. I think I saw my dad. Maybe my poor addled brain had just given up. It’s all a vague blur of people and color and the lagoon at Epcot. When I crossed the finish line, I had one clear thought. I love Disney. And I can’t wait to do it again next year.

Disney Marathon Weekend 2014 – Half Marathon

What an adventure! I’m back from my whirlwind tour of all things Disney and I can’t wait to relive the fun by sharing it with all of you!

It all started out with a crazy suggestion. A running friend and I were talking about running Disney races together – her family lives in the Inland Empire near Disney Land. My family lives in central Florida near Disney World. We talked about running each other’s “home” races. One thing lead to another and we decided 2014 would be our year to complete the Disney Coast to Coast Challenge – and not just complete it, but to do the Disney Marathon Weekend and Tinkerbell, running both coasts in one week.

And, because I’m a little crazy, I thought why run just one marathon when I could run a crazy-lady challenge. It was settled. I was going to run Goofy. Side note – a lot of people have asked me why I didn’t run the inaugural Dopey Challenge. I didn’t want to get up at 2:45am four days in a row and Epcot is my least favorite park. The idea of getting up crazy early to run around Wide World of Sports and Epcot didn’t appeal to me. I wanted to spend more time with my family, and, honestly, sleeping.

Once I started talking about my intention to run Disney like a crazy person, more crazy things started happening. My two sisters-in-law and my brother decided Disney would be their first half marathon. Suddenly, we had a team of five people, all running the half marathon. We were all training for races and sharing the experience – it was so exciting.

I had a great time running the Disney Marathon in 2013, but I did it injured. I was hoping 2014 would be my year. I got to Florida well ahead of the races, ready to finish my taper and relax with family. Sadly, as soon as I got to Florida, I felt the first symptoms of impending illness. Wednesday my mom and I went to the expo and Thursday my California friend arrived. By Friday, I was sick and my family was arriving from out of town. I wouldn’t let a little sickness slow me down. We were all staying at the new Art of Animation. It was wonderful. Being true Disney lovers, we were thrilled with our Little Mermaid themed room.

 

Friday evening we held a team meeting and set the plan for the half marathon on Saturday.  My brother and his wife would start together, with him planning to speed up after the first few miles. My other sister in law and I would run together. She had an ambitious time goal and wanted me to help pace her to achieve that goal. My friend, having suffered several mishaps during training, would take her time and have fun along the way. We were ready.

Race morning dawned dark and early. We all got up, got into costumes, and took lots and lots of pictures.

Disney 2014 start

The bus ride to the start was quick and easy. We visited the port-a-potties and before we knew it, it was time to head to the start. I had warned my family about the long walk through the woods, so we quickly made our way to the starting corrals. It was cool, about 68 degrees, cloudy, and humid. Nearly perfect running weather. The race started with a flourish and we were off!

Disney 2014 Castle

My parents were waiting for us at Cinderella’s Castle and we made it to them right on pace. My sister-in-law was running well and feeling strong. I, on the other hand, was fading fast. My fever, headache, and general malaise were starting to get the best of me. I was determined to be a good pacer, so she and I ran on, through Magic Kingdom, and back out the gates.

The day stayed pleasantly overcast and the race course was the usual Disney fun. I enjoyed the on-course entertainment and loved seeing the characters out and about. We kept a strong pace right through mile 10, when things started to go downhill for me. I suppose, in retrospect, running with some sort of horrible cold/flu wasn’t my most brilliant idea, but I was at Disney. My sister-in-law was holding a strong pace and feeling confident. I was seeing black spots and feeling nauseous. Around mile 11 we passed my friend and I let my sister go. I fell in pace with my friend and we hobbled along together – her with sore ankles and me just trying to stay upright.

Disney 2014 half

Before I knew it, we were in Epcot and closing in on the finish line. It was a great feeling. We hustled across the finish line, though the self-treatment medical area for some ice for her legs, and over to the official meeting place to wait for my siblings. One after the other they came in sight, and finished triumphantly. Everyone had achieved their goals for the race. We were a happy group.

Disney 2014 after the race

After sharing stories, we headed back to the hotel. I suggested a rest by the pool and we all settled in for some well-deserved relaxation.

 

And, for those of you who were wondering – yes. I ran with my hair and my Pascal for 13.1 miles. I wouldn’t do it any other way.

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.