The 2017 Tunnel to Towers 5k in North Carolina and Why it Sucked

Sometimes you just need to vent after a race. I’ve never written a post like this before, about a race I didn’t even run. My daughter ran this race last weekend and there were so many things about it that just rubbed me the wrong way I felt the need to get some things off my chest. I hope you all don’t mind if I vent.

I signed my daughter up for this race because she recently decided to switch from swimming year-round on a swim team to focusing her time and energy on running instead. She can’t try out for her school track team until February. I knew giving her a goal race would keep her motivated to get through the last of the summer heat. She was doing great in her training and I had a feeling she would do very well at the race.

A few days before the race, I emailed the contact on the website to ask about a course map. Two days later, I got some kind of response that was like, “In order to ensure the best possible race for the runners, we are still working on the logistics of the race course.” In other words, there was no set race course yet. That was when my first alarm bell went off.

At packet pickup (which consisted of getting a t-shirt and bib) there was still no race map. The day of the race, still no map. When I asked a volunteer if there were any course maps, I was told there were only a few print-outs available but volunteers had them. OK. So I told my daughter to just pay attention on the course and hopefully it would be well-marked. Note, I did later find out the Facebook page had posted a course map the day before the race, but I was unaware since I didn’t follow the Fb page.

Promptly at 9:45 am, the runners were off. Here’s another reason why I didn’t like this race. 9:45 is too late to start a race in central North Carolina in September. The sun was blazing hot and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Just pushing up the start to 7:45 am would have made a huge difference.

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Toeing the line at the start

Fifteen minutes into the race, I decided to walk up to where the runners would be coming back through towards the finish line. Two volunteers were questioning the position of cones, which were there at the start so runners wouldn’t make a wrong turn. It turns out the cones should have been moved, because the runners were supposed to go down that road to the finish. Unfortunately, the mistake wasn’t realized until after the first three finishers had already gone through, adding at least a tenth of a mile on, if not more. This was yet another case of poor organization.

I saw my daughter coming through and cheered her on to the finish. She looked hot, sweaty, and tired, but strong. She told me there was some confusion about where to go on the course, because it wasn’t well-marked and had some strange turns. There was also a big hill at the end they had to run up. It wasn’t the most scenic course and there’s certainly nothing memorable about the area, but I don’t necessarily fault the race director for that although the overall course organization could have been better.

There were no medals given out to finishers but there was water, well until they ran out of water. This race only had about 250 runners and walkers and they still managed to run out of water. The problems with this race just kept piling on.

We decided to wait around for the awards ceremony, thinking my daughter may have finished in the top three for her age group. But first, they retired the flags, the insurance commissioner of North Carolina spoke, a woman sang “America the Beautiful,” and the announcer spoke for a while. Did I mention it was blazing hot? I fully understand the race is being held for a cause and they really wanted to drive that point home, but I felt it could have been organized better.

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Many firefighters ran in full gear, like this woman shown here who jumped into the race after snapping a few photos

Finally they began the awards ceremony. A group of firefighters were given a really nice trophy for the fastest group of “Heroes” on the course. They called up the top male finisher overall, the top male finisher for ages 10-14, and the top male finisher for ages 15-19. Then they called the top female finisher (who had already gone home) and concluded the awards ceremony. Wait a minute. What about the rest of the females?

Everyone started going towards their cars, and by now, I was so angry I was shaking. I went up to the race director and asked, “What about the rest of the females? Why weren’t they recognized?” The race director actually told me, “The males got awards because they were the fastest to finish.” WHAT? Did she seriously just say that? I told her at every single other race I’ve been to where awards were given, both males and females were recognized, not just the males. There was another parent of a young girl who had ran, backing me up.

The race director told me that Fleet Feet, who had done timing for the race, would have the official results and the top three finishers in all age groups could pick up their awards at the store. I told the director part of winning an award at a race was the recognition. After several minutes, the race director made an announcement that they had made a mistake, and awards would be given out for the top females. By this point, there was literally only maybe 20 people still there.

Need I tell you I was furious by this point? Never before had I been so thoroughly upset with the poor organization of a race. They did announce my daughter’s age-group win, and gave her a medal (medals were only given out to age-group winners). I didn’t even see it, because I was at the timing tent, looking up her finish time, as I was told to do by the director.

It turns out she finished first in her age group. I should have been excited, but at that point, all I felt was angry. Angry that the race director was so clueless that what should have been a momentous occasion for my daughter was ruined. It all left a bad taste in my mouth.

Although we hadn’t planned on going there the day of the race, we drove to Fleet Feet since it was in another city from where we live and we wouldn’t normally shop there with my daughter. After another 20-30 minutes of waiting while the person working at the store was on the phone with the race director trying to figure out what the gift certificate amounts would even be for the age group winners, we were finally told it would be $15. Why on earth the race director hadn’t already worked this out with Fleet Feet is beyond me. I also don’t know why the gift certificates weren’t on-hand at the race and given out to age group winners. I guess that just goes along with the rest of the poor planning and poor communication with this race.

What gets me is this race is part of a series held in several cities. We were told the one in New York City has 30,000 runners. I would have expected more out of a series that’s been going on for at least a few years now and is in several cities to be better organized. Maybe it’s just this one, and the others are great. Who knows. All I know is, we won’t be doing this race again, which is a shame because I do think it’s for a good cause.

Tunnel to Towers 5k

What are some of the worst-organized races you all have participated in?

 

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Racing (Running) Mishaps

So far I’ve ran 42 half marathons, one marathon, two 5k’s, one 10k, one 10-miler, and one 15k, all over a roughly 20 year span. Mishaps are bound to come up if you run enough races. Over the years, I’ve been pretty lucky, though. There really haven’t been that many mishaps come up.

One of the biggest racing mishaps to happen to me was just before the Allstate New York 13.1 Half Marathon. I was staying within a short cab ride in Queens from the start of the race, but my taxi driver couldn’t seem to find the race start at the National Tennis Center, even though I told him where it was. Hello, Google Maps? At the time I didn’t run with my phone and my husband didn’t have his on him, so we couldn’t just punch it in and tell the driver. After about 10 minutes of the driver circling the park, I just got out and ran toward the start, completely in a panic. I managed to make it to the start in time, and all was well in the end.

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I thought I wasn’t going to make it to the start of this race in New York in time!

Another thing that happened that was almost a racing mishap was I didn’t pack running pants or even capris for my the Missoula Half Marathon in Montana, and a cold front moved in, making it much cooler than the predicted weather I had checked before flying out. I thought I would freeze if I wore the running shorts I had packed. I tried to find running pants but was unable to do so, not surprisingly since it was July. One running store had one pair of capris that was really a size too small for me, but I squeezed into them, and was glad I had them when it was in the low 40’s at race start.

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Finish area of the race in Missoula

I hadn’t planned on running the McKenzie River Half Marathon in Oregon until a few weeks prior. In fact, I had planned on running a completely different half marathon for my one in Oregon. This is a big deal because I don’t live anywhere near Oregon so I would be flying cross-country with my family to get to this race. Knowing it was a small half marathon, I didn’t feel pressured to sign up early and there were no breaks in price so I had planned on waiting until a few weeks out to sign up. I had already made hotel and flight reservations and I thought I was all ready to go, until I emailed the race director with a question before I signed up, only to find out the race had been cancelled. Luckily she suggested another half marathon in Eugene, only instead of being the Saturday I had planned on running, it was the next day on Sunday. That was almost a huge racing mishap!

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I was glad I made it to the McKenzie River Half Marathon in Oregon

Can you believe I’ve only had three mishaps out of almost 50 races? I can’t! The best part is everything worked out in all three cases before the half marathons took place so my races weren’t even effected. I’ve heard of people go to races only to realize they’ve forgotten their watches, shoes, or other running gear. There’s the famous Seinfeld episode where the guy flew in from another country and overslept before the New York City Marathon. That would be the worst!

What kind of running/racing mishaps have you all had or almost had?

My Age Adjusted Half Marathon Times

After reading Runner’s World Train Smart Run Forever by Bill Pierce and Scott Murr (see my review here), I wanted to see how my age adjusted half marathon times looked. One of the main takeaways from the book is that although your race times will inevitably increase as you get older, particularly beginning in your 40’s, your age adjusted times should actually remain the same or decrease if you’re lucky.

Warning: this blog post is full of data and probably only for true data geeks. If it puts you to sleep, don’t say I didn’t warn you. For those of you that are into this kind of thing, you’re in for a treat!

First I plotted all of my half marathons from the very first one in North Carolina to the  one I ran in Utah. I did not include my last race in New Jersey, however. This includes half marathons I ran over an almost 20 year span with 41 half marathons in 39 states, so there are a lot of variables here besides just age to consider. For instance, the terrain and weather varied greatly from one race to the next. Beyond that, I was anemic for a period of years, so there is a spike in my times due to that until I was fully recovered.

You’ll see my race times are in red and my age adjusted times are in black. Initially, the age adjusted times are the exact same as the race times, so you’ll only see a black square for the first few races. Only around my mid-30’s do you even start to see a separation between the red circles and black squares.

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There is also a spike in my times for the race in Colorado. Running at a high elevation really took it out of me so this was definitely one of my slowest finish times. I decided to take out the times when I was anemic and the points from Colorado, since I thought they were outliers from the rest of the data.

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OK. So now I’ve removed the points from when I was anemic and my race in Colorado. With these two graphs, I can get a better idea of the “big picture” of my running.  The obvious outlier in the first one is my first race ever. Even with that point included, however, the general trend for my age adjusted times are decreasing, as shown by the linear fit shown by the blue line. When I throw out my first race time, the trends are more consistent. My race times have averaged around 2 hours and a couple of minutes over the years and have slightly increased. However, and here is the main point of the whole thing, my age adjusted times, again, as shown by the blue line, have definitely decreased over time, which is what I wanted to see.

Another interesting thing is the very large degree of separation between my race times and age adjusted times in my 40’s. For my half marathon in Utah, the difference between these two times is almost 10 minutes!

My plots aren’t anywhere near as “pretty” as the ones in the book, but I think maybe a big reason for that is the author’s age spans over a much longer time than mine do. Perhaps when I’m in my 70’s (as one of the authors is) and I plot my race times versus my age adjusted times, I’ll see something even more linear, rather than what I see. Hopefully even though my race times will (inevitably) increase, my age adjusted times will continue to decrease linearly.

Here’s the link to the Runner’s World website where you can plug in your numbers to see your age-graded race times.

Superhero Half Marathon, New Jersey- 40th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. New Jersey was my 40th state.

When I arrived in Morristown, New Jersey three days before the half marathon, the highs were in the low 90’s, not exactly running weather. Fortunately the weather gods came through and at 8:00 the morning of the race, it was 54 degrees, more like my idea of good racing weather for a May race.

Packet pickup was as simple as it comes, simply pick up a short-sleeve technical shirt and bib at the local running store, Morristown Running Company. There were two days plus race day morning for packet pickup, which was very generous.

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My flat runner

Honestly, this race kicked my butt. The course description states there are rolling hills for “the first three miles but the last 10 are relatively flat.” I guess the term “rolling hills” and “relatively flat” can be subjective. In my opinion there are pretty continuous big hills for the first four miles then you get a little break before the hills begin again, and these are not “rolling hills” but steep, seemingly never-ending hills. I drove the course the day before the race so I knew it was going to be a tough race but even still I underestimated just how hard it would be.

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Quick- how many superheroes can you pick out?

The best part about the course, in my opinion, is when it goes through Loantaka Park. Although it’s a bike path, by the time you reach this portion of the race the crowds have thinned out enough that it doesn’t seem too crowded. This portion of the course is shaded pretty heavily, mostly flat, and scenic. Unfortunately the course only briefly goes through the park. The rest of the course takes you past many nice homes in what I’m sure are extremely expensive neighborhoods, but as beautiful as some of the homes are, it’s not nearly enough to provide a diversion from all of those hills.

So what do you get for your registration money? This year anyway, the first 3000 registrants got a bright yellow wicking t-shirt in addition to the medal, water and aid stations every 1.75 miles, personalized bibs, and photos at the finish (although I didn’t hear about this until after the race so I didn’t get one). Food at the finish was bagels, bananas, cereal bars, and water (alas, no chocolate milk).

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This shirt should be good for visibility when I’m running on the roads!

I did enjoy seeing other people’s superhero costumes even though I didn’t dress up myself. There were many Wonder Women and Supermen on the course. Some of the more original included Poison Ivy (from Batman) and Dr. Octopus.

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Captain America just barely beat Dr. Octopus

The only thing I can say to explain my slow slog to the finish is the hills just were too much for me. Even though I did my long runs on a hilly route, and even had a breakthrough  before the race, it wasn’t enough to prepare me for the hills of this race. My legs felt tired after the first two miles, and that was just when the hills were really getting going. I was doing great following the 2 hour pacer until the hills started getting intense, then the group got so far away from me I knew there was no way that was going to happen for me in this race. Usually I can make up some time in the last 5k of a half marathon, but by then I was so exhausted all I wanted to do was just to finish.

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My sad stats are as follows:

Chip time: 2:13:46

Gender place: 337/667

Age Group place: 36/82

All I can say is, these women from New Jersey are FAST!

If you enjoy hilly half marathons that are pretty low frill, this one would be for you. There is also a relay option for the half marathon.

Superhero Half Marathon

Also, just in time for the summer heat, I have a discount code for Nuun: hydratefriends2017 for 25% off your order. The code is good through June 23.

Nuun link

Call for Suggestions for a Half Marathon

For those of you that don’t already know, I’m running a half marathon in all 50 US states. My last one was in Utah, state number 39, which of course means I have 11 more to go. Yay!

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I have the following states to go:  New Jersey and West Virginia, both of which I’ve already got races picked out, so disregard them. That leaves Iowa, Minnesota, Arkansas, Delaware, Alaska, Wyoming, Idaho (I’m thinking one in Coeur d’Alene just because it looks amazing there), Nebraska, and New Mexico. So I ask all of you reading this, do you have any suggestions for half marathons in these states?  I’m not repeating a state, so if it’s one I’ve already done, thanks anyway.

I’ll take suggestions either way, too. If you loved or hated a race, let me know which one it was and why you loved or hated it.

Even if you haven’t personally ran a half marathon in any of these states but you have a good friend or relative who did and they raved or ranted about it, please pass those my way! I’ll take any and all suggestions I can get.

People often ask me how I choose which races I’m going to run. For many of my races, I’ve had a particular race in mind then something happens and for some reason I can’t run the race I had picked out months or even years in advance, and I’d end up running another race entirely. Usually it’s ended up well, but in the case of Tybee Island, Georgia and Run the Reagan Half Marathon, that wasn’t the best decision. Honestly, since my daughter started school, most of the races I’ve chosen have fit around her school breaks (which haven’t always been during a traditional school year).

Since I’m down to these final states it’s going to take some planning on my part to make sure I reach my goal. I don’t think I’ll be able to just randomly choose a race without thoroughly thinking the logistics through. For example, while there are some half marathons during the winter in Minnesota, you can be sure I won’t be running in any of them. That’s one state I think I have to run in the summer or early (very early) fall.

Now that I have a blog and have connected with many other runners online, I thought I’d send out a call for suggestions here. I know many of you run primarily marathons or other distances than half marathons, but I also know if you’re a part of a running community, you often hear other runners talk about races and I was hoping to gain some of that insight.

However, I realize some of these states aren’t exactly in “hot spots” where people are dying to run a race, like Disney, New York, Chicago, etc. so if I don’t get any suggestions I’ll understand. Personally, I can’t wait to go to most of these states but I don’t think they’re high on most runners’ lists of places where they want to run, with possibly the exception of Alaska.

You never know unless you ask, right? Anyone? Anything?

 

 

I Volunteered at a Race and All I Got Was This T-shirt

How many of you remember the t-shirts that were popular beginning in the late-70’s and peaked sometime in the 80’s, with the saying, “My parents went to Florida and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”? There were many others as well, not just Florida. Choose a place and insert it in place of Florida. Here’s an example:

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Well, I volunteered at a 5k and 10k race recently and I got a t-shirt, but I also received so much more in intangible rewards.

It had been a while since I had volunteered, and I felt like I was due to “give back” for all of the races I’ve ran. This time, my daughter who has recently started running 5k’s also went with me. She very wisely said, “I think all runners should volunteer at a race to see what all goes on and how much work the volunteers do.” I agree 100%.

My daughter and I volunteered at the race-day registration portion, which meant we had to check-in at 6:30 a.m. Ouch! The sun wasn’t even up when my alarm went off. The 10k started at 8:30 and the 5k started at 9:45, and for whatever reason it was mostly people running the 10k that were doing race-day registration. I noticed several things while we were there that might be a bit surprising and thought I’d share them here.

Out of about 20 volunteers that were at this particular station (registration) only two of us (my daughter and myself) said that we were runners when the person in charge asked. No one else there was even a runner, and yet here they were spending their way-too-early Saturday morning in the cold volunteering at a race. I found that a bit surprising. I’m sure there were at least a couple of other runners volunteering out there somewhere, maybe at an aid station or handing out bananas at the finish, but the point is, the majority of people volunteering at this race weren’t even runners.

My daughter was also surprised at just how many volunteers there were. This was a fairly small race (I later heard there were about 750 runners total for the 5k and 10k and 75 people doing the 1 mile fun run), so there wasn’t a need for huge numbers of volunteers, but even so, we were by the volunteer check-in station so we saw all of the people who came by, and it was a lot. I think runners sometimes forget or simply aren’t aware just how many volunteers are required to help support a race. There are volunteers first of all that help with planning the race before it even begins, then on race day at the check-in station for volunteers, more at registration, t-shirt pick-up, timing, water stations, course directors (to show you the way at turns), parking attendants, passing out food at the finish, handing out medals at the finish, police directing traffic, and the list goes on.

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Runners signing up at the race-day registration tables
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Post-race aid tents

I was also surprised at how big of a time commitment many of the volunteers are asked to put in. As I said, I was at the race-day registration station so I was asked to be there by 6:30 that morning. We were asked to stay until right up until the 5k began in case there were last-minute stragglers (there actually were a couple of people who registered for the 10k with maybe 5 minutes until the start). This means we were there from 6:30 until 9:45. That’s a pretty big chunk of time, and we weren’t even there as long as some other volunteers were. I saw volunteers cutting up oranges and bananas when we got there around 6:30 and they were still there passing them out to runners who had finished racing the 5k when we left at 9:45.

Before I registered online to volunteer for this race, I had tried to volunteer at other races in the area but was surprised to find that they seemingly didn’t need any more volunteers. One of the bigger races had a link on their website to volunteer, so I clicked it and every single slot for volunteers was full. I tried another race website and found the same thing- no more space for volunteers. I emailed a race director for another race to ask if I could volunteer and received no response. I understand these people are busy because most of them have full-time jobs on top of organizing a race so I’m not faulting them for not getting back to me. I just didn’t expect it to be so difficult to find a local race where I could volunteer. I’d like to volunteer again for another race or two this year and hopefully it won’t be so difficult to find some that would like my help!

The next time you run a race, don’t forget to thank a volunteer! It definitely takes a village to put on a race and the bigger the race, the more people it requires. I know I have more appreciation for volunteers at races after being a volunteer myself.

 

Why My Race Finish Times Don’t Mean Much to Me

I won’t go so far as to say my race times don’t mean anything, but over the years I’ve learned they don’t really mean a whole lot. I’m primarily talking about half marathons here, because that’s primarily what I run. I also don’t mean to disparage anyone and their time goals. Let me explain.

I ran my first half marathon when I was 28 years old. I finished in 2:20:04. I recently completed my 41st half marathon in my 39th state, Utah (2:06:24) and over the years my finish times have been all over the place. Well, sort of. Let’s take a closer look at that.

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Start of the Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon

My fastest finish was 1:55:28 at Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, South Dakota- 34th state. Prior to that, my fastest finish was 1:56:16 at Evansville Half Marathon, Indiana-13th state. So many years had passed since the race in Indiana that I thought there was no way I would ever beat that time, but sure enough I did thanks to the downhill course in South Dakota. Of note, I didn’t win any age-group awards at either of these races.

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This was a long, slow lap for me at the Arbuckles to Ardmore Race for Mercy Half Marathon

On the flip side, my slowest finish was 2:35:42 at Arbuckles to Ardmore Race for Mercy Half Marathon, Oklahoma-21st state which was right around when I was diagnosed with anemia. I really struggled to get my times back down after my diagnosis and it took years until I felt like I was back to my pre-anemia running self. I hovered around the 2:05 mark until I finally broke sub-2 hours again at the Frederick Half Marathon, Maryland- 33rd state with a finish of  1:59:48. This was a well-organized, fun race and I think that all contributed to my finish time.

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The finish of the Frederick Half Marathon

I managed to finish first in my age group at the Roller Coaster Half Marathon, Missouri- 32nd state, but the funny thing about that is it wasn’t even one of my fastest times (2:04). When I finished second in my age group at the Dixville Half Marathon, New Hampshire- 35th state (1:57) that was my third fastest finish time ever but my time at the McKenzie River Half Marathon, Oregon- 36th state (2:02:32) was one of several race times around 2:02 and I finished third in my age group. The difference in these races was the conditions and the courses. As I said in my post about the race in Oregon, it was one of the toughest courses I’ve ever ran, so I was really happy with my finish time, regardless of what the clock said.

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Over the years, I’ve learned how weather, hills, and wind are all huge contributing factors in race times. For whatever reason, I seem to have chosen a lot of hilly courses, so my times have been slower than if I would have chosen flatter or downhill courses. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment because I’m really not a big fan of uphill courses. I’ll admit I’ve often been mislead by the posted courses on race websites and have been surprised to see the course in person. One thing I have learned is that when a race is described as “scenic,” that means there will be hills and often really big hills.

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Finishing the Dixville Half Marathon in New Hampshire

Another factor in all of these finish times is my age. My racing career has spanned almost 20 years and other than when I was anemic or otherwise injured or sick, I’ve somehow managed to keep my times fairly consistently around 2 hours. I’m waiting for the shoe to drop, so to speak, and for my times to increase as I get older. I’ve learned to not stress out during a race if I get tired or am in pain and let goal times slip by. It’s OK if I don’t run a sub-2 hour anymore. I’ve done it and if I do it again, great, but if not, that’s OK with me. Really.

Just like the saying, “Age is only a number,” I feel like my race times are only a number. I think that’s the biggest take-away here. I’m OK with my finish times, no matter what they are. For every single race I’ve ever ran, I’ve put my all into it and done my best, and that’s all that really matters to me. Not a “fast” finish time. But I’ll take one when I can get it!

Also, here’s a discount code for everyone that buys Nuun.  It’s good through the end of March. Sorry for the late notice!

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