I first heard about this book on the Marathon Training Academy Podcast. One of the hosts, Angie, is an avid reader and recommended this book, so I thought I’d give it a go. I’ll fully admit that it took me a little while to warm up to this book, but once I got into it, I really enjoyed it.
This book is written primarily about some people that influenced the sport of running, primarily long-distance running. Some people are well-known, like runners Meb Keflezighi and Deena Kastor, coaches Bob Larsen and Joe Vigil, but some of the characters are lesser-known (at least to me) like Terry Cotton and Ed Mendoza. The real reason for Futterman writing the books seems to be a group of guys who called themselves the Jamul (pronounced “HA-mool”) Toads, whose coach was Bob Larsen.
Futterman goes all the way back to the 1950’s to develop the story behind Coach Bob Larsen as a young boy and runner. He tells of the injuries that Larsen and his teammates had in high school. Larsen begins questioning the workouts of runners when he’s a young boy and that continues into young adulthood. While he’s enrolled in San Diego’s kinesiology department, he meets Frederick William Kasch, a recent PhD recepient who is developing a fitness program for adults to test theories about exercise, muscles, and the heart. At the time, it was commonly believed that one might die from a heart attack if you exercised vigorously after the age of thirty-five.
This is also during the time when Arthur Lydiard was becoming an advocate for running as exercise. Lydiard believed in putting in the miles and his runners routinely ran 100 miles per week. Bill Bowerman, the founder of Nike, also met with Lydiard during this time and returned home to Oregon to spread the word about “jogging.” When Larsen graduates in 1961 from San Diego, he decides to stay there and enrolls in graduate school in kinesiology and physical education and takes on the role of coaching distance runners on the SDSU track team. The book then takes us through a brief history of cross country teams of the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Here is where Coach Bob begins his tinkering and experimenting with what works and what doesn’t work with his athletes. One thing he firmly believes from the beginning is that runners should train with a group. The idea is if you run by yourself, it’s too easy to slack off but if you’re with a group, that forces you to dig a little deeper. He also firmly believes when you think you’ve reached your limit, push a little harder. You want to find that fine line where you push your mind and body just to the edge, without falling off (hence the title of the book).
The evolution of the tempo run, which is largely credited to Larsen is discussed, as are the stories of the many other runners that Bob Larsen coached, including Dale Fleet, Dave Harper, Kirk Pfeffer, Mike Breen, and Ed Mendoza and Terry Cotton as mentioned earlier. Around mid-way through the book, the Toads have grown to a group of about 30 guys. The book follows the runners through the 1970’s, including their ups and downs. Everything seems to be going great for Larsen. He expects the rest of the world to start following his way of running to the edge. But then it doesn’t happen. Runners start looking for a different way to train. Bob Larsen’s ways seem to fall to the way-side for the next several years.
Part 2 of the book fast-forwards to 1993, and catches us up. Larsen joined UCLA’s men’s track and field program in 1979, where his runners went on to win first place in the NCAA championship in 1987. His team is considered one of the best college teams in any sport in 1988. His focus is now on shorter distance runners, until he meets Meb Keflezighi, when everything changes again for Coach Bob. Larsen decides to offer Keflezighi a full scholarship to UCLA after watching him run and talking to his family afterwards, and this begins Meb’s relationship with Coach Bob that ended up lasting well into Meb’s 30’s.
The second part of the book also develops the story behind how Coach Bob set up a training ground at altitude for Meb and other runners like Deena Kastor who joined them over the years. Although Larsen knew the significance of training at altitude based on what he had seen with African runners who regularly run at altitude, this was fairly new territory for Americans at the time. Basically until they saw the payoff in the form of wins for Meb and Deena, they didn’t really know if all of their hard work was working. Part 2 of the book goes through the many wins but also losses for Meb and Deena over more recent years, such as at the Beijing and Athens Olympics, several New York City, Chicago, London, and Boston Marathons, among other races. The book ultimately ends with Meb’s win at the 2014 Boston Marathon, a fitting place to end the story.
I had heard some of these stories before like the ones about Deena Kastor’s training in Colorado and her running and ultimately winning bronze in the marathon in the Olympics in Athens but most of this was new to me, especially the stories about the Toads. I found this book interesting although perhaps a bit slow in parts. Typically I enjoy reading about the history behind running and runners who were involved in the evolution of long-distance running as we know it today. If you also enjoy reading about the history of running and runners, you might also enjoy this book.
Have you read this book or have it on your list of one you want to read? If you’ve read it, what did you think of it?
Although I feel like I’ve been a runner since I was a young child and I was on my school’s track team in elementary school, I just ran for fun mostly until after I had finished graduate school in my mid-20’s. I didn’t run on my high school’s track or cross country team nor did I run other than for fun during college. I ran my first 5k race when I was 28 years old. Looking back on it now, while I did know a little bit about running, I knew absolutely nothing about racing.
My first 5k race was under hot, humid conditions on the 4th of July but it sparked something in me and I wanted to race longer distances. You might think after the 5k I would gradually work up to longer distances like the 10k or a 10-miler or even a 15k, maybe eventually running a half marathon. But you would be wrong. I went straight from my very first 5k to signing up for a half marathon four months after that.
My first half marathon kicked my butt as I was woefully under-trained and under-prepared in many ways. I could barely lift my arms above my head after the race (my arms were too weak, which told me I needed to start doing some weight training) but one of the first things I said when I crossed that finish line was that I could do better than that and I wanted to sign up for the same race again the following year. It’s the only half marathon I’ve ever run more than once. True to my word, though, I finished the same half marathon the following year almost 16 minutes faster than I had the previous year. I was hooked on half marathons.
I eventually did run a 10k, 10-mile race, and 15k, but I mostly focused on half marathons. While still in my 20’s, I ran a total of three half marathons including one that’s still one of my favorites, the Kona Half Marathon in Hawaii. I don’t even remember why I signed up for this race to be honest. If I recall, I was planning a trip there for a vacation and happened to see there would be this half marathon going on while I was there and I thought, “Why not?” and signed up. It turned out to be a great decision and I have fond memories of that race. I still remember watching the sunrise on race day, running up some steep hills and running past houses who had their sprinklers going to help cool us runners off on that hot day in June.
Just one month after turning 30, I ran the Gold Rush Half Marathon in North Carolina, one of the hardest half marathons I’ve ever run to date. It was hot, hilly, and humid, which I’ve since then dubbed “The 3 deadly H’s.” This race taught me to do a little more research into race locales and race courses instead of just picking a race and signing up for it. Had I known how hilly the race was and given that it was held during the summer, I most likely wouldn’t have run it. This was before I had the goal to run a half marathon in all 50 states, and it was my third half marathon in North Carolina.
Truth be told, my 30’s were when I really “grew up” as a runner. I ran a whole slew of half marathons in my 30’s, especially once I decided I wanted to run a half marathon in all 50 states. My daughter was born when I was in my 30’s and this was the longest hiatus I ever took from running half marathons after she was born. I actually ran a half marathon, Valley of the Sun Half Marathon in Arizona when I was just barely pregnant. My doctor said I should be fine since I had already run several half marathons and to just take the race easy. When my daughter was little, she used to love to hear the story about how she “ran” a half marathon in mommy’s tummy before she was even born.
During my 30’s, I began to discover all things “proper” when it comes to running, such as proper running attire and shoes. When I was in college, I would just wear whatever athletic shoes I happened to have when I would go out for a run. A bad case of shin splints in college taught me that wasn’t a smart idea but I still didn’t really educate myself about running shoes until I was in my 30’s. I also began to invest in shirts and shorts made of technical fabrics and socks made specifically for running rather than those made of cotton. I wasn’t yet aware of Nuun hydration products but I began to buy Gatorade and drink that on long runs although not consistently. I began to experiment with different Gu’s, Gels, bloks, and Powerbars.
I also ran a marathon in my 30’s, the Long Beach Marathon in California. What should have been cooler, comfortable weather for a marathon turned out to be a nightmare. The temperature on that October morning quickly rose into the 80’s and the red flags were out on the course although the course was still officially open. All around me runners were literally passing out from the heat. I began to experience tunnel vision, where I had no peripheral vision, presumably from heat exhaustion. My husband was waiting for me at the finish, and I called him sometime during the race to let him know I wouldn’t be finishing until much later than I had originally anticipated. I alternated between walking and a slow jog but no matter what, I knew I had to keep moving forward for as long as I physically could. If I stopped for even a second, I knew that would be the end of the race for me. People around me kept asking me if I was OK, so I assume I must have looked really bad, but I just told them I was fine. As soon as I crossed the finish line and saw my husband, the first words I told him were that I never wanted to do that again. It was my one and only marathon.
My 30’s were also when I first experienced anemia. Prior to this, I had never experienced anemia so I didn’t know what to look for. All I knew was I had slowed down considerably when I tried to run and I was becoming more and more out of breath even during simple everyday activities like walking up a flight of stairs. Finally, I went to my doctor, was diagnosed with anemia, and began taking supplements with high doses of iron along with folic acid and Vitamin C. In hindsight, I most likely was anemic for some time before I went to the doctor, and it took several months before I truly felt like myself again and even longer until my running times fell.
In my 40’s, I feel like I finally became an educated runner. I discovered Nuun hydration and Honey Stinger fueling products. After trying so many different hydration products, Nuun was such a revelation for me. I love how it’s low in sugar and has all natural ingredients. I have a picky stomach and have had trouble with so many different things I would try to eat on long runs but with Honey Stinger products, I’ve never had any issues and am so happy to have discovered their waffles, bars, and chews.
Anemia reared its ugly head once again in my 40’s but this time I was more aware of the signs and symptoms and caught it earlier than I did when I was in my 30’s. Despite going to multiple doctors, I never got a straight answer about the cause of my anemia. I had an endoscopy to rule out anything major and some other tests were done but nothing definitive was ever determined. I suspect mine is from foot strike hemolysis (you can read about that here) combined with the fact that I was not diligent about taking a daily supplement with iron. After round two with anemia, you’d better bet I take a multivitamin with iron every day now!
One unexpected thing that happened in my 40’s is I set a PR (personal record) at a half marathon. Most people think they’re well-beyond a PR in their 40’s and I was no different, especially given the fact that I’m not new to running. However, at the Star Valley Half Marathon in Thayne, Wyoming, all of the stars were aligned perfectly for me on that day and I ended up finishing the fastest ever at a half marathon. Needless to say, I absolutely loved this race and highly recommend it to anyone that wants to run a fast half marathon in a small town with the beautiful mountains of Wyoming around you.
You may be wondering about other things like cross-training and how that’s changed over the years. When I was in my late 20’s and early 30’s I would ride my bike quite a bit, but after my daughter was born, I found myself on the bike less and less. In my mid-40’s I began to ride my bike once again and remembered how much I enjoyed going for a bike ride. I didn’t do much strength training in my 20’s but I definitely made that a priority in my 30’s and have continued that into my 40’s. I discovered standup paddle boarding in my late 40’s and have been loving that as a form of cross training. Yoga has always been a high priority for me and I’ve been faithfully going to one yoga class or another since my late 20’s.
I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t had that many running injuries considering how long I’ve been running. Sure, I had shin splints in my 20’s, iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) in my 30’s, and minor things here and there but nothing major. I’ve been diligent about listening to my body over the years. When I’m running, I do a mental body scan to see if there are any aches or pains. If I have a sharp pain that doesn’t go away on its own, I’ll end the run and try to figure out the root cause. For me, often a knot in a muscle will cause pain and if I can work it out either by myself or with the help of a massage therapist, the pain will go away. Just about the only time I’ve had to take extended time off from running because of running injuries is when I didn’t stop running when I should have, early on when I began experiencing pain.
So now I’m looking forward to the next decade of running in my 50’s and beyond. I hope to be one of those people who’s still running as long as I live!
What about you? How has your running changed over the decades or are you a relatively new runner?
I recently heard an ad for a marathon and half marathon in Miami in February. They said something about how great it would be to run in beautiful Miami in February to get a break from winter weather and I started thinking about that. I’ve run several half marathons in the winter months including Kiawah Island Half Marathon (South Carolina) in December, Naples Daily News Half Marathon (Florida) in January, Run the Reagan (Georgia) in February, Ole Man River (Louisiana) in December, Dogtown Half Marathon (Utah) in February, and several half marathons in early to mid-March, on the verge of spring but still technically winter.
While I’ll agree that it was definitely nice to have a break from cold weather when I was in Florida, I still had to go back home obviously so it was just a few days of warmer weather. None of the other states were noticeably warmer than my home state of North Carolina, even though Georgia, South Carolina, and Louisiana are all south of where I live so one might expect it to be warmer (I did). I remember it being chilly and rainy in Louisiana and Georgia and very windy and cool in South Carolina. When I finished all three of those races, I was ready to just go back to my hotel room to take a hot shower and warm up. That being said, Kiawah Island Marathon and Half Marathon is a great race and I still recommend it.
So does that just leave Florida if you want to run a marathon or half marathon in the winter and have a greater chance of warm, sunny weather? First off remember, Florida is a big state and the weather varies considerably from the northern part to the southern part. I was in Naples, in the southern part of the state and the weather was nice enough that we still went to the beach in January. If we would have been in say, Jacksonville, it’s not nearly as warm there as it is in Naples in January but still may be warmer than where you live. Besides southern Florida, you would also have warm weather in the winter in southern Texas, southern California, Hawaii, Las Vegas, and Arizona. All of that being said, if you live in a state in the northeast or another state where it snows a lot and is bitter cold during the winter, it would seem considerably warmer if you ran a race in a state like North Carolina or Georgia. It’s all relative.
However, that’s not necessarily as great as it sounds, especially if you live in a far northern state. Let’s say you live in Michigan and it starts snowing in October, like it normally does there, and by November you’ve acclimated to the cold weather. If you were training for a marathon in Florida in January or February but lived in Michigan, that would mean you would have to run through some pretty rough weather, only to show up in sunny southern Florida, where it may be upwards of 75 degrees for the high on race day. You would not be anywhere near acclimated to that kind of temperature and it would probably feel like you were running in an inferno.
There are also the holidays to consider. If you’re running a half marathon or marathon in February, that means you need to get your training runs in for the weeks surrounding Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. I’ve done that and it’s not something that was easy to do. Everyone is already busy around the holidays, with the extra shopping, gift wrapping, parties, putting up decorations, extra cooking and/or baking, visiting family members, and all of the other extra things that happen that time of year. When you have to run for 12 miles on Saturday, you’re probably not going to feel like driving 4 hours to see Grandma after that, plus you’ll likely have to figure out where to run and how to squeeze in another run while you’re at Grandma’s house for the weekend.
It’s not all bad, though. It is pretty nice to get a break from cold, dreary winter weather, even if it is just for a few days or a bit more if you’re lucky enough to spend some time there after the race. Sure, you do have to go back home to crappy weather, but you may appreciate the warm weather a bit more while you’re there and have maybe a bit more fun because of it. Plus, it gives you something to look forward to when you’re outside training in the cold, drab winter weather. If you live somewhere that you just love cold weather and snow, you probably wouldn’t enjoy a “break” from the cold weather and all of this would be lost upon you, so I don’t recommend a winter race for you in one of the states I mentioned in the winter.
I think as long as you come prepared and know what you’re getting into before you sign up for a winter race somewhere that it will be considerably warmer than where you live, it will be fine. In fact, it could turn out to be something you absolutely love and end up doing it year after year. My theory is always, “You’ll never know until you try!”
Have you run a race in a southern state in the winter? If so, what was your experience like? Do you want to run a winter race in a southern state?
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you probably know I’m not a huge New Year’s Resolutions kind of gal. Last year I had a single running resolution for 2019, which you can read the full post on here. If you don’t feel like reading that post, I’ll make it easy on you and let you know that my only running resolution for 2019 was to finish in the top three for my age group in a half marathon. I just ran three races, so I only had a one in three shot at doing that, but I did it. I finished second in my age group at the Seashore Classic Half Marathon, Lewes, Delaware- 45th state.
For 2020, I also only have a single resolution or goal. I want to enjoy this year perhaps a bit more than last year (not that I didn’t enjoy last year, because all of the races I ran were fabulous). I want to savor every moment. Why, you may ask? And don’t I always at least try to savor every moment? Well, yes, I do but this year is different because it’s my last year (hopefully) that I will have the goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states. As long as all goes well, I will run a half marathon in my 50th state this year and I want to enjoy every moment of my final states, which btw are New Mexico, Minnesota, and Iowa.
I don’t have any goals of finishing with a PR or placing in my age group or pretty much any time-related goals at all. As long as I remain healthy and finish my final three half marathons this year, that’s all I really want. Of course I’m going to race these final three half marathons, so that’s not to say I plan on taking it easy and not pushing myself hard during training and at the actual races. But I’m giving myself full relief from any pressure from PRs or times.
From as long as I can remember, my ultimate goal for a half marathon has been to finish under 2 hours, which I’ve done a dozen times. This year, I honestly don’t care if I don’t finish under 2 hours. I always try my hardest at races, and I know this year won’t be any different. Of course I will go into the races with the intention of running my best for the conditions of the race that day. If that means I finish just over 2 hours or just under 2 hours, so be it either way. Or if things go terrible and I finish well over 2 hours, that’s fine too.
For many years, I struggled with undiagnosed anemia. My race times had gotten slower and slower over the years and I couldn’t figure out why. When I finally figured out I was anemic, it was such a relief. I had begun to think (and in fact someone had even told me) that perhaps this was just part of getting older and this was the inevitable slow-down we all face as we get older. I was so happy to be diagnosed with anemia because that meant I could fix the problem!
2011 was a low-point for me when it comes to running. I remember barely being able to run a mile without getting out of breath then. After finally getting diagnosed and treating my anemia, I began to gradually get my strength back. I started chipping away at my race times and eventually they came back down to finish times I was happier with.
Finally sometime around the end of 2017 I began to make some major changes to my life when it came to running. I changed my running shoes drastically; I went from only wearing Asics Nimbus running shoes to wearing running shoes in brands I’d never heard of. I changed my running routes from only running in a couple of different places to having a dozen different running routes and always on the lookout for new ones. I started running on trails every so often. More importantly, I changed my half marathon training plan from one where I ran three days a week to one where I ran five days a week.
All of these changes paid off when I ran my half marathons in 2018 and even more so for the half marathons in 2019. I ended up running my fastest half marathon to date in 2019, a fact that I still can’t fully comprehend. Never would I have thought I was capable of a PR at my age. So when I say I just want to enjoy the races in 2020, I mean it. I’ve already had some phenomenal races and if I never PR again, that would be OK with me. I know at some point I will reach the point where I start to slow down. That’s not to say I’m done with trying to run fast because I will continue to do so as long as I physically can do so. But this year, I just want to enjoy the ride!
I’m also happy to say I’ve been chosen as an ambassador again for Nuun, Honey Stinger, and Zensah. When I get discount codes that I can pass along, I usually do so on Instagram and Twitter but also here when I can.
What about you- what are your running resolutions for 2020? What are you looking forward to when it comes to running in 2020?
When you finish a hard run, do you immediately immerse your lower body into an ice bath, cringing but nonetheless telling yourself you’ll feel better afterwards? Or do you chug a protein shake after a long run to help you recover? Are you a big fan of sports compression clothing? Have you ever wondered if any of the multitude of recovery products and services really “work” meaning they truly help your body recover faster or more efficiently? If so, you might enjoy reading Christie Aschwanden’s book, “Good To Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn From the Strange Science of Recovery.”
As the saying goes, Christie Aschwanden wears many hats. In addition to being an author and contributing writer for dozens of publications, frequent speaker at writer’s workshops and journalism conferences, she is an athlete who has competed on the Team Rossignol Nordic ski racing squad, in addition to being a runner and cyclist. I think her scientific background along with being an athlete herself gives her a distinct advantage in writing a book like this and doing it so thoroughly and completely.
Recovery (from athletic activity) has become a huge buzz word in recent years, as Aschwanden points out in her book. There are entire centers devoted solely to athlete recovery now across the country. I did a quick search for my area and two places came up; one was an orthopedic “performance” center that offers things like myofascial cupping, dry needling, NormaTec recovery boots among others and the other was a place that called itself a recovery center but offered other services like posture work and pain relief in addition to cryotherapy wraps and NormaTec recovery boots.
But let me back up and start at the beginning of the book. Aschwanden begins by explaining how the book came to be and how and why she wanted to find out all she could about recovery and the science behind it. She makes it clear that many scientific studies on athletes are flawed. As you may already be aware, many athletic studies are based on small groups of men and as such may not be relevant to women or even other men in general. I like how exercise physiologist and author of many scientific publications and the book, “Roar: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Unique Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life” Stacy Sims puts it: “Women are not small men. Stop eating and training like one.”
Next, Aschwanden tells the story behind Gatorade and discusses hydration and how the balance has shifted to one where athletes are so worried about being dehydrated that they are dying of hyponatremia, which is when you drink too much water and your electrolytes become unbalanced. In perfect succession, she tells the story of how PowerBar came to be and how so many other companies followed suit and the industry exploded with recovery drinks, bars, and other high-protein concoctions. The bottom line that Aschwanden arrives at for both hydration and nutrition is that we’re over-complicating matters. We should be drinking to thirst and have a meal with real food (!) that’s a mix of mostly carbohydrates and protein after a workout. Our bodies will adjust and rebound on their own unless you’re in a multi-day event like the Tour de France and you have a tough race the following day.
The next chapters are on ice baths and cryotherapy, infrared saunas, massage therapy, foam rollers, and compression gear including compression boots. Ice baths seem to be a bit complicated in that they may not be a good idea after strength training or if you’re in a building phase of training, but if you’re only interested in short-term benefits, then go for it. There’s evidence that icing may inhibit an athlete’s body’s ability to adapt long-term on its own but other research shows by reducing pain and soreness, icing may allow an athlete to train again sooner, so there are somewhat mixed findings at this point. Once again, Aschwanden concludes that perhaps we’re over-thinking these recovery aids as well since all we really need to do is gentle exercise to naturally promote blood flow through tired muscles and speed up the flow of by-products of intense exercise.
Perhaps the most important chapter in the book is chapter 7 titled “The Rest Cure.” I’ll cut to the chase here and put it simply. The single most important thing you can do for yourself to help with recovery is get adequate and restful sleep. She gives many examples of professional athletes and how they’ve come to realize how important sleep is and have made it a priority in their lives. You can be doing a half a dozen different things to aid in recovery but if you’re not getting enough sleep, nothing else matters. Your body needs sleep to repair and re-build muscles and if you’re not getting enough time for that to happen, your performance will eventually suffer.
Aschwanden discusses the multi-billion dollar supplement industry, largely lead by protein powders. Not only are most of these supplements completely unnecessary for most average athletes, they can cost hundreds of dollars in a single month, and even worse many are laced with heavy metals like arsenic and lead. Sure, you can look them up on websites that verify some supplements (although not all of them on the market by a long shot), but there’s still no guarantee that you’re getting what you think you are or that it will do what you think it’s supposed to. We all want to believe drinking a protein shake after a workout will give us that boost to help us be stronger or recovery faster, but the truth is, it’s all such a marketing scam, it’s difficult to know what to trust as solid, scientifically-based information rather than hearsay from a coach, trainer, or other athlete often with little to no scientific background.
The book ends with a discussion on the placebo effect and what a powerful thing this can be. For example, in scientific studies on ice baths, it’s pretty much impossible to fake an ice bath, so obviously everyone in the study that gets an ice bath knows it and the people in the study that aren’t getting the ice bath also know it. However, if you feel in your heart that ice baths have always “worked” for you, whether that means it makes you feel like you’re not as sore the next day or you can work out harder or more intensely the next day following an ice bath, that will effect your judgement and lead you to be biased if you’re in a study on ice baths. She concludes at the end of the book that soothing your muscles and body in a way that makes you feel better emotionally “even if nothing is actually changing in a physiological sense” provides a ritual for taking care of yourself and being proactive in your health, and helps you focus on rest.
Her bottom line seems to be as long as a recovery tool isn’t causing actual harm or costing you large sums of money, who really cares if it’s not doing much for your body in a way that’s been scientifically proven. So if you love to get massages regularly, use compression tights after a tough run, and sit in an infrared sauna once a month, go for it. The mind is truly a powerful thing and often if we think something makes us feel better, then in the end, that’s probably all that matters. I love the quote by Camille Herron who set a world record when she ran her first 100-mile run, who says she recovers by feel and keeps it simple. She said, “I am really in tune with my body, and I pay attention to what I’m feeling.” If she craves a cheeseburger after a marathon or ultra, that’s what she eats. Keep it simple.
I’d like to continue my tradition of re-capping my travels for the year and note all of the things I learned while I was traveling. As great as my travels were in 2018, I think they were topped in 2019. It was a truly wonderful year for travel for me, for which I am so grateful to have experienced. My family and I visited so many incredible places in just one year and it was a wild ride! Let’s begin! Grab a coffee or glass of wine first, because this one is going to take a while.
In February, we visited two islands in Hawaii, Kauai and Oahu. I had been to Kauai before but I still learned some things there. I learned how drastically different vacations to the same place can be given a person’s circumstances. When my family and I last went to Kauai, my daughter was not quite two years old. Our days were spent lazing around the pool and beaches with our daughter and my in-laws. My husband and I went hiking a couple of times while our daughter stayed back in the room with my in-laws.
Fast-forward to this year, where it was my husband and I along with our 13-year-old daughter and it was quite a different experience for all of us. We went zip-lining, snorkeling, and the three of us went hiking several times together. This was a much more active vacation and I saw a different side of Kauai than the previous one I saw 11 years ago. I also discovered shave ice for the first time, thanks for my daughter asking for it. Holy crap is that stuff good! I thought it would just be regular snow cones before I bit into it, but it was nothing like that. We learned to ask for our shave ice with sweet cream over and macadamia nut ice cream under. So, so good! My post on Kauai is here.
I also learned a few things on the island of Oahu. Previously, I hadn’t wanted to go to Oahu because I had heard how crowded Waikiki and Honolulu are. When I pictured Oahu, all I could see was the big city of Honolulu and crowded beaches of Waikiki. A co-worker of mine has been to Oahu several times and has always raved about it, so I decided to give it a try. Yes, Oahu has some definite crowded places, like Diamond Head State Monument and of course Honolulu is crowded, but Oahu is so much more than those places. By the way, I recommend still going to Diamond Head State Monument despite the crowds because you get some tremendous views of the area from the top.
We stayed on the east side of Oahu on a bay and it was absolutely perfect. Not only was it not crowded like other parts of Oahu, it was close enough that we could drive to most places within a reasonable drive. This was a valuable thing to learn about Oahu: you don’t have to stay in the crowded parts of the island. I also learned how to standup paddle board for the first time at the gorgeous Airbnb property where we stayed in Oahu. I learned I’m actually pretty good at SUP and since that vacation I have had so much fun paddle boarding at other places on our travels like Hilton Head Island and Wyoming but also back home on a lake near where I live. It’s become one of my favorite activities along with running, cycling, and hiking. You can find all of the details about my time in Oahu here.
In May, we took a short vacation to Delaware. This was my first time visiting Delaware and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had been to states all around Delaware but honestly didn’t know much about Delaware. We were in the Rehoboth Beach area and I learned that it is so much cheaper to visit this area in May than during the summer months, plus it’s much less crowded. Although it wasn’t warm enough to get in the ocean, it was nice enough to walk along the beaches and also walk the trails at Cape Henlopen State Park. I learned there are several great restaurants and shopping in this area. Lewes, the first town in the first state in the United States, has some unique shops and restaurants as well.
While I was in Delaware, I also discovered a float tank a.k.a. sensory deprivation tank, which I used for the first time ever, and you can read all about here. I learned that I absolutely loved how I felt afterwards and it wasn’t nearly as claustrophobic or strange as I thought it might be. While I was in Delaware, I told myself I would look for float tanks when I travel again because even though there’s a place with float tanks sort of close to where I live, it wouldn’t be convenient for me to go there, but I haven’t followed through with that. I really need to get better about that because I felt like my recovery time from my half marathon in Delaware was quicker and I just felt great all over afterwards.
Later in May, I went to Peru and had one of the best vacations of my life. Our vacation started in Lima, where we flew into and took a taxi from the airport to a hotel for the night and spent a few hours walking around until we had to head back to the hotel for our quick flight to Cusco. That all worked out well, but I learned that one’s experiences in Lima (and really any city) can vary vastly depending on one single person- your taxi driver. So we flew from Lima to Cusco then Cusco to Arequipa and back to Lima (over a couple of week’s time). On our return to Lima the second time, our plan was to take a taxi from the airport to the Miraflores section, which is where we spent the night upon arrival in Peru, and by the way I had read this was the “best” and “safest” part of Lima. Our plan was to spend a few hours in this area having dinner and walking around the shops and neighborhood before we took another taxi back to the airport and fly back home. However, our taxi driver was a dishonest man and told us several lies during that drive to Miraflores. Long story short (you can read the full story here), the taxi driver tried to mislead us into paying him more money than what we had agreed to before getting into his cab (yep, no meters here) and at one point I was starting to fear for my life and wonder if we were going to have to jump out of the car before he kidnapped us.
Fortunately, the rest of Peru was amazing. I learned some things when we were in Cusco, the first of which is that when everyone says to allow a few days for your body to acclimatize to the higher altitude, you really need to listen and do that. I had planned on just taking it easy for our first 2 or 3 days in Cusco and didn’t plan anything for us to do those days. This turned out to be perfect for us and by the third day we were feeling so good we decided to go for a hike to the ruins of Sacsayhuaman and the nearby Statue of Christ. Cusco is a city where you can easily just hang out and take in the sights and not overly exert yourself. That being said, I learned Cusco is crazy hilly and if you stay up at the top of the hill like we did, you’ll get out of breath just walking up the hill and going up all of those what feel like a million steps! It’s definitely easier to stay at the bottom of the hill, where the main square is, but it’s also more crowded and noisier down there. Pick which you’d rather have, peace and quiet or easier physically.
Another thing I learned in Cusco is taking a day trip to Rainbow Mountain is worth it and although it’s not quite a picture-perfect as some of the photos online, it’s still a colorful, unique area. This is a place where it pays to have acclimatized to the altitude first before coming here since the peak is at 17,060 feet. I also learned it’s a good idea to pay the extra admission to the adjacent Red Valley, which is every bit as beautiful as Rainbow Mountain but not as crowded.
More things I learned about Cusco: the heating systems aren’t like what we’re used to in the United States. The hotels and hostels may claim to have heated rooms, but I read online hotel reviews over and over about how the rooms were cold, especially at night, and we experienced this ourselves as well. We did at least have hot water, so that was extra nice. Also, there are a crazy amount of not just good but GREAT restaurants in Cusco. Before going there, I didn’t know Peru is such a foodie country, but at least in Lima, Cusco, and Arequipa, we came upon so many restaurants with not only some of the best-tasting food but also such beautiful presentations of the food! A final thing I discovered on our last day in Cusco was Avenida el Sol, a part of Cusco that I absolutely loved and wished I had known about sooner. It was full of cute shops, restaurants, and hotels and seemed like a place I would have liked to have stayed in. My post on Cusco is here.
From Cusco, we took a trek with Alpaca Expeditions and some of their incredible staff along with a family of four from Connecticut, where we camped in tents and ultimately ended up at Machu Picchu on the fourth day. Along the way, we met with and talked to some local families and school children, went to a local market, got to walk around the Salinas salt ponds, soaked in the Lares Hot Springs, saw alpacas and llamas up-close, and saw some of the most amazing scenery I’ve ever seen in my life. This trek really emphasized to me that sometimes the journey is more important than the destination. OK, maybe not “more important,” but certainly as important in this case. You can read about my Lares Trek to Machu Picchu here: Day One, Day Two and Day Three.
That’s not to imply that Machu Picchu wasn’t every bit as wonderful and awe-inspiring as you might think it is if you’ve never been, because it was every bit that and more. I learned that Machu Picchu is pretty much exactly what I had in my head as to what it would look like. What I was surprised by is Huayna Picchu, the mountain that towers behind the ruins of Machu Picchu. We had decided to pay a little extra to climb up Huayna Picchu, and I was terrified going into it, to be perfectly honest. I had read that some of the stairs are crumbling and parts of it aren’t safe to climb, which is perhaps true. What I learned first hand, however, is there are cables to hold onto for some parts of the climb, which makes it a bit easier, BUT these cables stop just where you really need them in my opinion, at the very last part of the climb. I had to channel my inner strength for this part of the climb in particular to help overcome my intense fear of heights, and I learned that some of the stuff I had learned about overcoming fears really does work, like focusing on the task at hand. Let me tell you, I focused on climbing those steps up Huayna Picchu like nothing I’ve ever focused on before and I was able to get to the top without breaking down or just giving up (which has happened before to me when hiking in the mountains). I was so proud of myself and going back down seemed like a piece of cake after going through what I did to reach the top. My post on Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu is here.
When we went to Arequipa after we left Cusco, I learned an important lesson. If you have a limited amount of time in a place and have your heart set on doing a specific trek or visiting a specific place, make reservations in advance. I thought it would be best to wait to make reservations for Colca Canyon, the big reason why many people visit Arequipa in the first place, until we got there, but due to multiple reasons, we were unable to visit Colca Canyon. Of course I was disappointed, but we found plenty of other things to do in Arequipa and it ended up being even better than I thought it could have been. Still, I wish I had pre-booked the overnight trek to Colca Canyon. You can read all about Arequipa here.
Some final thoughts on Peru in general: traffic in Peru is some of the most insane I’ve ever seen anywhere. Don’t even think about renting a car here. I wouldn’t recommend renting a motorbike or scooter either because the traffic is so crazy. Dress in layers as the temperatures can and do vary throughout the day. Learn some Spanish before you go and I mean learn as much as you possibly can because many people don’t speak English at all and you may not have cellular coverage or Wi-fi to use Google translate.
In July, we went to Wyoming, starting in Thayne where I ran a half marathon and moved on to Jackson for a few days and eventually to Yellowstone National Park, where we spent several days. One thing I learned is that the Jackson Hole area is worth spending more than just a couple of days or especially just a day trip from Yellowstone like some people do. Grand Teton National Park is NOT part of Yellowstone National Park but in fact a separate entity and should be treated as such. I learned you really should take at least 3-4 days to enjoy Grand Teton National Park, and 4-5 would be even better if you like to hike. I also learned that it’s worth renting a paddle board to do stand up paddle boarding on String Lake and Jenny Lake in the park for the day if you’re into SUP like me. My post on Grand Teton National Park is here and water activities (including rafting down the river, which I highly recommend) here.
I learned there’s no possible way to see all of Yellowstone National Park if you’re only going to be there a week or less, so you might as well not even try. It’s an enormous park so the best way to see it is to choose a part of the park for a day and focus your time there, then choose another part of the park and spend a day there, and so on, otherwise you’ll spend half of your day driving from one part to the next. I learned Yellowstone gets crowded during the summer months so it’s best to get an early start in the morning to see the geysers, hot springs, pools, and canyon. It’s also best to make reservations for a hotel within the park as early in advance as you possibly can, because the rooms fill up months out. I also learned it’s possible to get away from the crowds, just by going on some of the trails that are a bit farther from the most popular areas like Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic. I have two posts on Yellowstone, one on general info and learning your way around and another with more specific tips.
In August, I visited Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, which was a return visit for me but I still learned some things. As I mentioned with Hawaii how it was a return visit but we had very different experiences because our daughter was so young the first time, Hilton Head Island was the same for us. The first time we went, our daughter was young, so we mostly hung out at the beaches, did some shopping, and went to the lighthouse. However, this time when we went, we rented bikes and rode them all over the island, my daughter and I ran, my husband and I rented stand up paddle boards, and we still visited the white sand beaches of course. I learned that Hilton Head Island is another place where you can have anything from a relaxing, laid-back vacation to a more active vacation, depending on your current lifestyle and choices. You can read about my family’s adventures in Hilton Head Island here.
Our final vacation of the year was in a place I had heard good things about from a couple of people I know but it’s far from what I’d call a popular vacation spot, Omaha, Nebraska. I chose to run the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon in Omaha for my half marathon in Nebraska, which was in October. This turned out to be a fantastic time of year to visit the area because of the autumn leaves and it was still warm enough (most of the time anyway) to comfortably walk around and visit the cute shopping/restaurant area called Old Market. I learned Omaha, Nebraska has a surprisingly large number of good restaurants and unique shops, along with some fun museums and a great botanical garden. We especially liked the Durham Museum, the Joselyn Art Museum, and Lauritzen Gardens, which you can read all about plus much more here. I learned that Nebraska may be listed as a “flyover” state, and while I can only speak from my experience in Omaha, it’s a place I would definitely return to, given the opportunity.
So, this has been my longest blog post yet, but it was undoubtedly one of the most action-packed travel years for me to date. Honestly, 2020 will pale in comparison, but I know every year can’t be like this one. Besides, it’s not like a contest where we have to go to “bigger” and “better” destinations to top the previous ones. We just happened to have a year crammed full of some amazing destinations. As I stated earlier, I’m so grateful to have been able to go to these places with my husband and daughter. I feel like I learned so much from our travels in 2019 and that is truly priceless.
Where did you travel to this year? What were some of your favorite places? Tell me about them!
If you aren’t already aware, I’m on a quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states and as such I currently only run three half marathons a year. I know that’s a paltry amount of races compared to some of you but since I travel to my races and make a race cation out of them, I have to limit my races. In 2019 the three half marathons I ran were in the states of Delaware, Wyoming, and Nebraska and the three races plus our race cations couldn’t have been any more different from one another.
As you can read in my post Running Resolutions for 2019 pretty much my only resolution or running goal for this year was to finish in the top three in my age group at one of the half marathons I was going to run in 2019. I thought I would have a good chance at doing that at the Seashore Classic Half Marathon in Delaware because it was a small race. As you can read all about here, Seashore Classic Half Marathon, Lewes, Delaware- 45th state I did indeed finish second in my age group and won a nice trophy.
The race in Delaware was a nice start to my races in 2019 and bode well for me. I pretty much didn’t have much time off from running between the race in Delaware until my next race in Wyoming in July. Well, I was supposed to run when I was in Peru but once I got there I quickly found out that wasn’t going to work given the altitude and the terrain. Even though I wasn’t running, I was hiking at high altitude and I think that helped prepare me for the race in Wyoming, which was around 6,000 feet.
Despite an especially hot and humid summer (aren’t they all, though) I managed to push through and get in my training runs outside. I believe between my two week altitude training in Peru and training in the heat they both definitely helped prepare me for the Star Valley Half Marathon, Thayne, Wyoming- 46th state. I surprised myself and finished in my fastest time ever for a half marathon, at 1:54:00. Honestly, I was shocked given the altitude and how much slower I was at the Boulder Rez Half Marathon in Colorado even though the race in Colorado was slightly lower in altitude than the race in Wyoming. I absolutely loved the Star Valley Half Marathon and this was a running high point for me, not just for 2019.
For the next week after the half marathon in Wyoming, I hiked all over Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Just one week later, it was again time to dive back into half marathon training for my next race in October. As if it wasn’t hot and humid enough where I live, we took a vacation at the beach in Hilton Head Island in South Carolina and I ran several times while we were there. However, despite the truly sweltering heat, I enjoyed running on the various running paths and boardwalks in Hilton Head. I’m always up for a run in a new place because I notice things I don’t otherwise if I’m just driving by in a car.
I didn’t feel like it cooled off much where I live until sometime in October, but I wouldn’t say running through the heat was a low point for me. As I’ve mentioned before (My Running Super Power and Kryptonite), I can deal with the heat better than most people and on the flip side, I struggle with cold weather. Breathing in cold air is often painful and makes me cough so when I’m running I’ll have to make sure I breathe through my Buff to pre-warm the air. Even then, I don’t exactly enjoy running in cold weather.
Finally, what I would call ideal running weather came to my neck of the woods and I got a couple of weeks of running in perfect weather in October. I also love all of the colorful leaves on the trees in the autumn and I enjoyed that immensely while out on my training runs. I felt like my training cycle for the half marathon in October went well and I went into the race feeling prepared and ready.
As you can read about here, the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon in Omaha, Nebraska, my 47th state was also a fun and scenic race, like my previous ones this year. A cold front moved into Omaha the day before the race and race day was completely overcast with a quite cold wind but the temperature remained amenable for racing. I had a glitch happen on the course which I will always question whether that cost me third place finish in my age group, but still, I happily took fourth place in my age group, for my second-fastest finish time for a half marathon. EVER. This wasn’t even a downhill course like in Wyoming but in fact had some pretty decent hills going up, including ones at the end, which normally would take so much out of me I can’t finish strong. Out of the 49 half marathons in 47 states I’ve run, this one was my second-fastest. Let’s think about that for a second.
I started running half marathons when I was in my 20’s and I’m now in my 40’s. I ran both of my two fastest half marathons in 2019. The Star Valley Half Marathon was a fast course with a net downhill so that one seems understandable to me, even though it is at altitude, which makes it harder for a person who lives at low elevation like me. However, the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon wasn’t a net downhill course and had some decent climbs. How is this possible?
The only thing I can say is my training plan must be the reason why I’m suddenly seeing such big strides in my race times. As I’ve mentioned before, I switched a couple of years ago from a three-day a week training plan with only hard runs on those three days and cross-training on other days to a five-day a week training plan with a couple of easier runs along with hard runs and cross-training on other days plus one over-lap day where I’m running and lifting weights. There’s no doubt it’s made me stronger. Like a friend of mine mentioned, who knows the gains I might have seen with this plan had I started it years ago. Regardless, it’s working for me now and I’m definitely going to stick with it.
So honestly I can’t think of any running low points in 2019. I feel like I had a pretty amazing year for running and am truly in shock about it all. Never would I have believed I was capable of pulling out a PR at a half marathon in my late 40’s. There goes the idea that you hear about runners hitting their peak 10 years after they start running. I’m way beyond that point and am still going strong! Bring on 2020!
How did your running go in 2019? Tell me about some of your running highs and lows!
I’ll admit I stole borrowed the idea for this post from a fellow blogger who wrote on the subject several months ago, which you can read here if you’d like. In response to her post, I wrote that my superhero power was the ability to judge distances when I’m running (I’ll have a number in my head and check my watch to see if I’m right, like a game when I’m running) and my kryptonite was my weak stomach especially before running races.
For those of you that might not be Superman fans, this is from the superhero character “Superman,” who has superhuman strength and other abilities, but he also has a serious weakness. He is from the planet Krypton and when a rock from his homeland comes anywhere near him, Superman is cripplingly weakened. If someone asks you what your “kryptonite” is, they mean what’s your weakness.
Anyway, I was intrigued by that blog post and thought it would be a good prompt for a post of my own. I filed the thought away and then promptly forgot about it until I was out on a run recently. While I am pretty good at judging distances when I’m running, I think I have an even better answer for a superhero power, my ability to adapt to the heat.
This past summer seemed hot and humid as usual but I noticed pretty quickly into the early weeks of “official” summer that I wasn’t struggling so much when I would run outside. This is nothing new to me; I feel like I’ve always been better at adapting to warm or hot weather than cold weather. I’ve often joked to others around me if I’m hot, it must really be hot outside or in a room.
Being able to adapt quickly to hot weather is a definite advantage when you live in the South like I do and often have days in the 80’s and many days in the 90’s as well during the summer. Of course the flip side of those hot days means the winters are mild and we usually only see snow once or twice each winter. Sometimes the snow just melts as soon as it hits the ground so there’s not even any accumulation. I absolutely despise cold weather so no or little snow is a great thing in my book!
If you’re going to run a fall race, like so many people do, that means running through at least part of the summer. The better you are at adapting to hot weather, the easier time you will have making your goal times for speed sessions and for just being able to put in the miles. As much as the treadmill is better than not running at all, there simply is no substitute for running outside, either.
Are there ways to help your body adapt to hot weather? Sure, the usual like gradually increase your time spent outside (it takes about two weeks to acclimate to hot weather), drink cool water and/or electrolytes before you go out and bring some with you if you’re going for an intense or long run, and wear hot weather appropriate clothing. Some people also put ice cubes in their hats or sports bra before they run. Honestly, though, some people’s bodies are just better at adapting to hot weather and they may never be able to completely change that. Some people are also more efficient at sweating, which helps cool you off.
So, yes, if I was a running superhero, my power would be the ability to withstand extremely hot weather. The downside is I have a weakness toward cold weather and especially cold, dry air but that’s not my true kryptonite when it comes to running. My true kryptonite is my weak stomach before races.
I’ve been known to throw up before many a half marathon. You would think after running 49 half marathons plus a marathon and random other distances to round off to around 56 or so races, I would be over the nervous stomach before a race. Nope. I still get at least a little nauseous before each and every single race and sometimes I go from the verge of almost throwing up to the full point of actually throwing up.
Sure, I’ve tried all of the mind tricks before a race like telling myself how much fun I’m going to have. No pressure! Just have fun! I still feel sick. I visualize the course after actually driving the course the day before. I practice other imagery like me crossing the finish line or just running on the course. I’m still sick. I practice meditation. I make sure only positive thoughts cross my mind and I dismiss any negative thoughts. I’ve tried not eating solid foods before a race, just drink my calories. Nope, nope, nope. Nothing works, so now I just know that I’m going to feel nauseous and that’s OK. That’s actually normal for me. I embrace the nausea.
What about you guys? What is your running superhero power and kryptonite?
This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Nebraska was my 47th state.
When I was looking at half marathons in Nebraska, I only found a couple that interested me, to be honest. Once I had run half marathons in around 40 or so states and had gotten the list down to my last several states, of which Nebraska belonged, I thought I would run the Feast and Feathers Trail Half Marathon in Omaha on Thanksgiving weekend. But then a few months before the race I started thinking about all of that and then I started overthinking everything.
I had never run a trail race before. Ever. That’s one strike. Omaha weather over Thanksgiving weekend can be pretty cold and I don’t run well in the cold. That’s two strikes. I started to question if that was really the best race for me given those two big factors. Then I saw an ad for the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon in Omaha and that race suddenly seemed much more appealing.
Not only would it be warmer because the race was a month earlier than the other race the end of November, it wasn’t a trail race and part of the course was around a lake so it should be at least fairly scenic and hopefully flat. It was for a good cause, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, too. Plus there would be hot cider and caramel apples at the finish! Even better, you get a finisher mug and pullover! That’s way more pros for the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon than for the Feast and Feathers Trail Half Marathon. I’m in!
Packet pickup was on Saturday, October 26 at Fleet Feet Omaha from 10 am to 5 pm. There was the option of race-day packet pickup, but that was “not suggested” according to the race website. Finally, you could also have your packet mailed to you for $12.99. The only thing in my packet was the aforementioned pullover and race bib in a reusable tote bag. There were no other vendors presumably because it was in a somewhat small store so there wasn’t room for much else.
I did have a bit of a panic attack the night before the race when I happened to click on something on Google Maps on my phone and it said the race was at 8:10 am. I thought the race started at 8:30, so I went through my emails and the race website and everything else I could find to clarify. The confirmation email I had said the race start was 8:30, but the race website and everywhere else said it was 8:10. I figured it would be safer to go with the earlier time and if I was early that would be fine. It turns out the race start was indeed 8:10 am. Also, it was chip-timed, so even if I would have shown up at the race 20 minutes later than I did, it would have been fine, but I would have been in a total panic and wondered (wrongly) why the race started early.
A cold front moved into Omaha on Saturday evening and by Sunday morning, there was a frigid wind that had come down from Canada with gusts up to 18 mph, and to top it off, the sky was completely overcast. The temperature was in the low 40’s, which would have been fine for running a half marathon, but with the wind and lack of sun, it was so cold my feet were numb for the first three miles of the race.
The race start/finish was at a local high school, Skutt Catholic. Although there were plenty of parking spaces, many were already full by the time we got there around 7:40, but we were still able to find a spot. I made my way to the port-o-johns, reluctantly handed over my warm coat to my husband (who wasn’t running), and lined up at the start. The half marathon started promptly at 8:10 and included a 5k that also started at the same time. This caused quite a bit of congestion for the first couple of miles until the 5k runners split off from the half marathoners.
The vast majority of the race was around Lake Zorinsky, criss-crossing, looping, and zig-zagging around the paths that went around the lake and through the park. Lake Zorinsky has an interesting background story that you can read about here, which goes to show the power of the running community. Overall I would say the course was scenic and there were plenty of water views.
All was going pretty well for me until I noticed somewhere between miles 4 and 5 that my left shoelace had become undone, despite double-knotting it. I took off my gloves, tied my shoe, put my gloves back on, and continued on my way. Later, those 20-something seconds that took it to do all of that would come back to bite me.
Most of the course was relatively flat with short, moderate hills until we reached mile 7, and that was uphill pretty much for about a mile, but then we got to go downhill for a while to make up for it. We had to run uphill again in the 10th and 11th miles, but thankfully we got to run downhill for the last section until the course leveled off at the finish. There was almost no crowd support but there were these two women who were cheering everyone on at the first part of the race, around mile 5 and again towards the end, around mile 13. They were shouting things like, “You’re beautiful! You’re strong!” and for me because I was wearing a purple shirt, “Go purple! You’ve got this!” I love people at races like that. At races where it’s freezing cold like this one, people like that are appreciated even more by me.
There were plenty of aid stations along the course, with water and Gatorade handed out at five places along the course. I don’t remember seeing port-o-johns along the course, but perhaps I missed them if they were there. There are bathrooms at the park, though, so that would have been an option for runners.
My goal for this race was to finish under 2 hours, preferably under 1:55, and I finished in 1:54. Given the weather and the fact that I run far better when it’s warm than when it’s cold, I was happy with my finish time. Now for the DOH! moment. I checked finish times that were posted as they came in and the woman that finished third in my age group finished 23 seconds ahead of me. Of course all I could think about was, “Had I not stopped to tie my shoe, I would have finished in third place.” BUT I don’t live my life by what-if’s, so I happily took my fourth place in age group finish along with a time that’s my second-fastest ever for a half marathon.
Now for the fun stuff- the swag! When I crossed the finish line, a volunteer handed me a mug that had a medal, bottle of water, and small bag of trail mix in it. The mug was of good quality; for some reason I expected a small, metal mug but this was a nice-sized ceramic mug with the Hot Cider Hustle logo and year on it. There was another table full of caramel apples, some with nuts, some without. I can attest that the caramel apple I got was absolutely delicious! Finally, the name-sake of the race, the hot cider. There was a table with big containers to dispense the hot cider either into your own mug or paper cups. A nice and friendly volunteer happily poured a cup for me when she saw my hands weren’t working properly after the race. This was delicious, steamy hot cider, as it should be, not lukewarm or watered-down in the least. I ended up getting two cups because it was so good and warmed me up.
Would I recommend this race? Yes, despite the frigid wind and hills on the latter part of the course. I realize weather can vary from year-to-year, especially in October in Omaha. Besides, the temperature itself was reasonable for a half marathon, it was just the wind that got me, and maybe next year it wouldn’t be so windy. The hills at the end weren’t exactly fun, but they were short enough that I didn’t hate the race director either, and I did at least get to run downhill afterwards, straight to the finish line. The race was well-organized and had plenty of volunteers from pre-race to finish. Finally, this race coincided perfectly with peak fall foliage in Omaha, so it was absolutely beautiful seeing all of the yellow and orange leaves on the trees everywhere (not much red, for some reason, but a little).
Have you ever thought about what you would do if you were a race director? I started thinking about how I would design my dream half marathon if I could be the race director and also add in some things that probably would never happen in reality, but hey, it’s fun to just think “What if?” sometimes. I’ve experienced quite the variety of races over the years in states all over the United States ranging from big cities to small towns. Some of the races offered things that I thought were a great idea and other races were so poorly ran I thought surely no one on the team for the race could be a runner because no runner would ever do something like that in a race.
So how would I design a race if I was in charge of absolutely everything including location, weather, and had an unlimited budget and a surplus of volunteers to help me pull it off? Well, for starters I would offer a half marathon because that’s my favorite distance. We could have a marathon the day after the half in case anyone wanted to run both races and of course give the runners a total of three medals, one for each race ran and one for completing both races.
Packet pick-up would be at a school or other place big enough to have a variety of vendors giving out free samples. Nuun and Honey Stinger would both be there, letting people try their products. Zensah would be there selling their compression socks and other running gear that I love but at a discounted price for runners. If you’re running both the half marathon and full marathon you’d get an even bigger discount on anything you bought at the expo.
There would be a pasta dinner the day before the race with Kara Goucher speaking and offering a short (one hour) running clinic and motivational talk. This pasta dinner would be sponsored by the best Italian restaurant in the state and everyone would rave about how good the food was. Family members of the runners would be encouraged to attend both the pasta dinner and running clinic, which would be offered at an amazing low price thanks to the generosity of sponsors.
There would be many, many port-o-johns at the start of the race and there would be small bonfires attended by volunteers for safety to help keep the runners warm. Hot coffee and tea would also be at the race start. Bart Yasso would be at the race start and after saying some motivational and funny words, the runners would be off. Mr. Yasso would be staying for the duration of the race to call out each runner’s name as they crossed the finish line.
The course would start at the top of a canyon in the mountains (but only maybe up to 3,000 feet in elevation at the peak) and wind its way down through the canyon alongside a river. You could see a beautiful bridge in the distance as you ran. Traffic would be closed off for the race so runners wouldn’t have to worry about cars. You would also be able to watch the sun rise from the start of the race but it would be a cool, cloudy day for the rest of the race.
There would be homeowners out along the course cheering runners on, with adorable well-behaved dogs and cute kids holding funny posters, to help keep those smiles coming from runners along the course. Volunteer aid stations would have Nuun and water and Honey Stinger gels and chews. All along the course there would be a wide array of music being played, with local musicians playing classical music, guitarists playing rock music, drummers, a piano player, and more. The volunteer aid stations would all be told to come up with a fun theme and the team with the most votes by runners would win a small prize.
As the course wound its way through the canyon, traveling slightly downhill but not so much to trash your quads, you would pass some waterfalls and see a snow-capped mountain in the distance. There would be a couple of small (very small) hills just to mix things up a bit with your legs along the course. Every mile would be marked with a mile marker sign and include a countdown since the race started (you never know when you may have watch trouble or forget your watch for a race so this would be for those people). There would be pacers on the course who would be following their pace times phenomenally well and were chatty, funny individuals.
You would know when you were getting close to the finish because the last mile would be clearly marked, with a clear shot of the finish line. After entering a football stadium, you would run the last 50 yards of the race on the football field, where you would be handed a small football at the finish line, along with your medal (don’t even bother asking me about logistics of having both a clear shot of the finish line and entering a football stadium). As I mentioned earlier, Bart Yasso would call out each runner’s name as they were crossing the finish.
Beer from a local brewery, chocolate milk, ice cold water, smoothies, and Nuun would be all of your free beverage choices post-race. There would be pizza, soft pretzels, watermelon slices, bananas, a variety of soups, chocolate chip cookies, and Noosa yogurt at the finish for all runners. Musicians would be playing for the rest of the day at the park near the race finish. Kids could play at the playground while their parents hung out and chatted with other runners. A local swim facility, hotel, or YMCA or something like that within walking distance would offer free post-race showers to all runners.
Awards would be given out to the first three male and female finishers as well as first three finishers in 5-year increments of age groups. Cash would be awarded to the first three male and female finishers and trophies to everyone else. Photographers would be along the course and at the finish and runners would have the option to print out their own photos for free with the link sent out after the race.
Now your turn- what would your dream race look like? What things would you be sure to include? Do you like how I’ve designed my dream race? Remind me what I’ve left off!