Catching Fireflies 5k- My First Night Race!

First I have to give a little background info. Even though I’ve run somewhere around 60 races in the past 22 years, the Catching Fireflies 5k was only my fourth 5k, and two of those were with my daughter so this was only the second 5k I ran by myself. Of those two 5ks that I ran by myself, they were 22 years apart and this race in 2022 was 2 minutes faster than my first 5k. Granted, the first 5k was the first race I ever ran as an adult but still, I was happy that I haven’t slowed down, despite the fact that I’m now in a much older age group than when I ran that first race. Anyway, on to the race report!

The Catching Fireflies 5k in Raleigh, North Carolina caught my eye when I saw it advertised a few months ago. Start time was slated for 8:25 pm on Friday, May 20. The charity for the race was the Cancer Shucks group, https://www.cancershucksfoundation.org/. Luminaries could be purchased in honor of a loved one who was effected by cancer and their name would be written on the luminary. The race course was lined with what must have been hundreds of luminaries.

Photo from the race Facebook page

Packet pickup was from 5 to 8 pm at Wakefield High School in Raleigh on race day (no option to pick up earlier). We got cotton t-shirts, our bibs, and glow sticks to wear while we were running. It was great to have real bathrooms to use before the race and not have to walk far to get to the race start since we all parked in the school parking lot. My 16-year-old daughter was also running the race so we hung out for a little while inside the school since it was so hot out. The high for the day was a record high for the year- 99 degrees!!!

Fortunately when the sun started to set it began to feel noticeably cooler, but it was still pretty humid. By the time the race started it was around 86 degrees, still hot but at least it wasn’t in the 90’s any longer. We all kept saying how it was just too hot too soon but there was nothing to do about it. Surprisingly, there were around 650 runners and walkers that night, according to the announcer.

Everyone started lining up around 8:10 and the race started promptly at 8:25 after the national anthem was sung. The beginning of the race was a terrible mess with walkers at the front, mixed in with people with strollers and small children scattered everywhere. I expected that might be the case and planned on staying toward the edge but even that wasn’t enough so as soon as I could I jumped onto a sidewalk until I could get around a big group of people.

Also from the race Facebook page

Fairly quickly, the course thinned out and I was finally free of the mob of people. The race was entirely though a neighborhood, Wakefield Plantation, one of those super-nice neighborhoods with a country club and golf course and enormous houses. As I said earlier, the course was lined throughout with luminaries. I wasn’t sure how dark it would get so I brought a clip-on light but didn’t really need it except for one tiny little stretch where there no street lights for a bit.

This neighborhood is also hilly, which I had been told ahead of time. The course began downhill, so of course I knew that meant we would be running uphill on the way back. I tried to take advantage of that fact by running the first mile a bit faster than I normally would, but still being a bit conservative since I wasn’t sure how the heat and humidity would effect me. My first mile was at an 8:20 mile pace.

When I was about halfway through the race, I felt like I should slow down or I wouldn’t have enough left to get me up the hills at the end. My second mile was at an 8:44 mile pace, which is around what I thought I would run the entire race at, prior to the race. There weren’t many spectators on the course and I didn’t see anyone cheering on runners from their front yards or anything like that. Water was on the course but there weren’t any porta johns, at least not that I saw.

I really didn’t have any finish time goal in mind before the race, other than trying to finish in the top three in my age group, whatever that meant. With only a mile to go, I had to really push myself mentally to not walk up the final hills. I saw people walking all around me and it was tempting to walk along with them but I didn’t and told myself even if I was running slow I was still going faster than if I walked. My final mile was at an 8:42 mile pace, with the final sprint to the finish (the 0.1 mile) at a 7:57 mile pace. My finish time was 26:53.

Immediately after the race- I was so hot and sweaty!

There were children handing out medals at the finish and a big container full of warm bottles of water (WARM water after a HOT 5k is just wrong!). Bananas, pretzels, and cereal bars were further down on a table. I did find a table with cups of cold water being dispensed from those big orange Gatorade containers you see at races and cross country meets and I greedily gulped some down.

The awards ceremony was supposed to be at 9:10 but the announcer kept talking about the music being played and other random things. Finally around 9:25 they began the awards ceremony. I thought my daughter might have a chance of cracking the top three in her age group but she was fourth. I was first in my age group and collected a gift card to a restaurant near the race. The day after the race I checked the official finish times and saw that I was only three seconds behind the third place overall masters female. But then I looked again and actually I was three seconds ahead of her. There was a mistake. I should have won third place overall masters. This had never happened to me, finishing in the top three overall masters.

I sent an email to the race director and he replied back within a couple of hours, which surprised me since it was a Sunday. He said they go by gun time for overall awards and chip time for age group awards. I had always thought chip time would be more accurate so awards would always be based on that, but I guess you live and learn.

I’ll admit, I was a little bitter; after all it was only three seconds. I could have easily moved up closer to the front at the start, had I been able to somehow predict this and have known then what I know now. Or if the race director would have put that information in the awards section on the race website. But then it just gave me a bit of fuel for my fire for my next 5k (no, I haven’t signed up for any at the moment). Knowing how little training I did (basically no speed work) before this race, it gave me hope of what I’m capable of if I truly train for a 5k.

I never thought I’d be saying it but I’m actually looking forward to training hard for a 5k now and seeing what I can do. Now I just have to find a race! That’s going to be difficult since we’re also heating up quickly here so races always thin out this time of year.

Would I recommend this race? Yes. It truly is a unique race, in that it’s at night and has luminaries lining the course. It was much hotter than it normally is the end of May so I would hope the weather was just a fluke and next year would be back to normal temperatures. The hills aren’t going to go away, but they really weren’t as bad as I thought they’d be. I would have rather had something other than a cotton t-shirt, like socks or a hat but it was a cute shirt and I’ll wear it to the gym. The medals were cute too. And like I said earlier, best of all, it’s for a great cause.

https://fsseries.com/event/catching-fireflies-5k/

Have you ever run a night race? If so, care to share your experience?

Happy running!

Donna

Upcoming Races- A Surprise and a Disappointment with Donuts and Cherry Blossoms

In a previous post, (Running Resolutions and My Word for 2022) I wrote about an upcoming race I was supposed to run in February, The Krispy Kreme Challenge. You run 2.5 miles to a Krispy Kreme donut store, eat a dozen glazed donuts, and run back to where you started. Many people think this sounds utterly disgusting but I’ve been intrigued by it since I first learned about it several years ago.

The charity this race supports is UNC Children’s Hospital, which recently became personally important to me when my daughter was hospitalized there. I felt I should support this race since it is for such a great cause so I signed up for it back in October of 2021. In fact, it was the same day I ran the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon and I was still in a sort of runner’s high from that phenomenal race.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Pexels.com

A while back I got an email stating they had made the decision to make the Krispy Kreme Challenge a virtual race this year. All registered runners could still pick up their shirts, medals, and a voucher for a dozen donuts from Krispy Kreme. Seriously? I thought. Who’s going to actually run 2.5 miles on their own, eat a dozen donuts, and run another 2.5 miles? Certainly not me. I can understand their reasoning, with rising COVID cases due to the Omicron variant at the time of their decision, but still. Some races just can’t be done virtually, at least in my opinion, like the New York City Marathon, or any of the world majors in fact, or any races in Hawaii. I’m sorry if you disagree but it’s just not the same for me to run in North Carolina as it would be to run in Tokyo, for example.

Then I read the email closer and saw at the very bottom an option to defer to 2023. I quickly clicked on the link that took me to a form to fill out to transfer my registration to 2023. Guess I’m running that race next February instead of this year. I’m disappointed but as I said, I understand their reasoning. If it was just a “normal” race it would be one thing but the added factor of people eating during a race just isn’t a good idea right now.

Around the same time I found out about the Krispy Kreme Challenge being postponed I also got an email with the subject line saying I wasn’t selected for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. Then I got another email shortly after that with the subject line saying I was in fact selected. However, the body of both emails said I was selected. Just to be 100% sure, I checked their website where they had a list of everyone who had registered and sure enough I was selected. Yay!

I immediately went on to find a hotel room near the race and work on logistics like how I was going to get from North Carolina to Washington, D.C. I had four options: drive my car there which would take about 4 1/2 hours if there magically wasn’t any traffic but realistically more like 5 or even 5 1/2 hours (on a good day), fly a direct one-hour flight, take a train that would take about 6 hours, or take a bus that would take about the same time as the train.

Surprisingly, the train was about the same cost as the plane but considering I have a ton of frequent flier miles that I could use for this flight, it would only cost $11 if I used miles and I would get there in about a fourth the time it would otherwise take even with getting to the airport early. I decided to book the flight and save the time, which was especially important since I’m only going for a long weekend and prefer to spend the maximum time in D.C. rather than in a car/train/bus. Plus, if I drove I would have to pay parking fees in the city which are notoriously high. AND traffic is an absolute nightmare in that area. Decision made.

I should mention the Cherry Blossom 10-miler is so popular there is a lottery for registration because it coincides with the peak bloom of cherry blossoms in the area. We have some cherry trees where I live and I absolutely love when they’re in bloom. I’m sure Washington, D.C. is beautiful with all of the cherry trees in bloom and the monuments and water views in the background. There’s also a parade and some other festivities for about a month starting in March and going through part of April but since I’m just going for the weekend of the race I’ll miss most of the other events. You can check out their website if you’re interested: https://nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/.

I’m also registered for a local night race in May, or I should say an evening race since it starts at 8:30 pm. There are luminaries that line the course and runners are given glow sticks to run with. The race supports cancer research so it’s for a good cause and should be fun as well. As for Canadian races, I’m still waiting to see how things go with covid and all of the other issues they’ve been having there. The first race I was looking at in Canada isn’t until June so there’s still time to figure it out. More importantly, my daughter isn’t in good health and will likely have to have some serious procedures done over the summer so I have to see how that goes.

What about you? What races do you have coming up that you’re looking forward to? Have you been to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. or have you run the Cherry Blossom 10-miler?

Happy running!

Donna

Answers to Ask Me Anything

Thank you so much to everyone that asked questions in response to my post Ask Me Anything! It was a success and you all asked some thought-provoking questions. If you missed that post, I thought it would be fun to have people ask me questions related to my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, which I just finished in November 2021.

I’ll type the questions in the order received and put my answers after. Here goes!

Q: When you first set your 50 state goal how long did you think it would take?

A: Although I ran my first half marathon in 2000, I didn’t set my goal to run a half marathon in all 50 states until some time after that. I believe it was somewhere around state number 3, when I ran the Philadelphia Distance Run in 2004 when the idea to run a half marathon in all 50 states began forming in my mind. That same year I ran the Kiawah Island Half Marathon in South Carolina and had signed up to run the Valley of the Sun Half Marathon in Arizona when I found out I was pregnant. Since I had been running half marathons for a few years and had no underlying health conditions my doctor said it was fine to run the race in Arizona, plus I was only about two months pregnant then. I didn’t run another half marathon until 13 months later when I ran the Columbus Distance Run in April 2006 but at this point I definitely had the goal to run all 50 states. Knowing I could run 3 or 4 half marathons a year (but most years it was 3), I knew it would take several years for me to finish and I was fine with that. At that point I estimated it would take another 14 years to finish, which would have put me finishing in 2020. Then the pandemic hit and that pushed back all of my races a year so I ran my last race in 2021, 21 years after I ran my first half marathon.

Q: Did you set aside some time to actually see something of all the states? What was your favorite non-running find?

A: From the beginning, I always wanted to incorporate as much time as possible into seeing some of the states I was running a race in. I knew that would mean I wouldn’t be able to run as many states a year but it was important to me to not just check off the boxes. For most states I tried to spend a week in the area, preferably after the race and sometimes I spent more than a week in the state. I was lucky enough to spend an entire three weeks in San Diego when I ran the half marathon there, which is the most I spent in one place when I went there for a race.

My favorite non-running find is a tough one. There were so many little towns I went to that I never would have discovered if not for the races I ran there. I absolutely loved Woodstock and Quechee in Vermont but also Newport, Rhode Island and the nearby little towns, and tiny little Thayne, Wyoming not to mention Spearfish Canyon in South Dakota. I guess I’d have to choose Rhode Island. It’s the smallest of the United States but is filled with such beauty and is an undiscovered gem in my mind, although I hear the summers are filled with New Englanders. Still, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who told me they were going on vacation in Rhode Island unless they had family there, which is a shame given what a cool place it is and so many people have never been there.

One of the mansions in Newport, Rhode Island

Q: What resources did you use to pick the races?

A: Over the years I’ve used many websites to pick the races I ran. Ones that I found myself returning to over and over include: Running in the USA https://www.runningintheusa.com/, Halfmarathons.net https://www.halfmarathons.net/race-calendar/, Race Raves https://raceraves.com/, Half Marathon Search https://www.halfmarathonsearch.com/half-marathon-calendar and Bibrave including the Bibrave 100 https://www.bibrave.com/thebibrave100/2020.

I also ran some races after speaking to people I knew who ran them or reading blog posts on them. Those that come to mind are the Shamrock Half in Virginia Beach, Kiawah Island in South Carolina, Missoula Half in Montana, and Bayshore Half Marathon in Michigan. These all lived up to the hype and were indeed great races (plus cool towns which made them perfect racecations).

The huge Poseidon statue near the finish of the Shamrock Marathon and Half Marathon

Q: How did you train for the different conditions (ex: hills, races at altitude, humidity)?

A: Living in central North Carolina gives me some variety when it comes to weather and running conditions. We have hills, heat, humidity, and even ice in January when we inevitably get freezing rain. The only thing we don’t have that was mentioned above is altitude.

One of the first things I would do when deciding on a race was check the course. If there were going to be substantial hills I made sure to incorporate hill repeats in my training. If there were going to be rolling hills I would run my long run where there were rolling hills. I ran several races during summer months where it was hot and humid. Since the heat really kicks in here in May, for those summer races I had been running in the heat for long enough for me to have acclimatized for those races (typically it takes a couple of weeks to acclimatize to the heat). I personally feel like I never really get used to the humidity and the only thing I can do to prepare for that is to make sure I run with fluids and am fully hydrated in the hours before I even step out the door to run.

When I was choosing half marathons in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming or any other state with high mountains one of the first things I looked up was the elevation in the cities where the races were. I purposefully chose races that were in cities with some of the lowest elevations in those states. I also read that it takes most people at least a few days to acclimatize to high elevation so I would fly into those states a few days before the race.

Almost as soon as I landed I started drinking water like my life depended on it since water helps with getting used to high elevation. One of the hardest half marathons I ran was in Boulder, Colorado even though it didn’t even have the highest altitude (around 5400 feet vs. around 6000 feet in Thayne, Wyoming). I think the difference was the course in Boulder was around a reservoir and was relatively flat compared to the course in Wyoming that had a fast downhill start for the first few miles and leveled off after that.

After the finish at the Star Valley Half Marathon in Thayne, Wyoming (right beside Afton, WY)

Q: How did you balance being a mom, working, having a social life, et cetera with a regular training plan over so many years? How did you keep up your motivation to train even when you felt too busy or tired?

A: Ah, the old life/balance question. I’ve always had a full-time job since I graduated from college and I’ve been a mom since my early-30’s so there was only a brief period where I didn’t also have to work and take care of my child in addition to getting my training runs in. Honestly, I don’t think most people can achieve a perfect 50/50 balance if you’re pursuing a huge goal. The best that most people can hope for is to have what I’ve heard referred to by others as “seasons” in life. For most people it means you have periods where you focus on your goal and other periods when you cut back on your goal a bit and focus on family and work. For me this literally meant spring, summer, fall, and winter where I would be training for and then traveling to a race during the spring, summer, and fall months then I would take most or much of winter off to rest, recover, and catch up.

All of this doesn’t mean I just ignored my work and family obligations because I was training for a half marathon but I did make running a priority in my life or it never would have happened. From the start I made it clear to my boyfriend who later became my husband that running wasn’t just something I would do occasionally but it was a huge part of my life. If he would have had a problem with me going for a run, we never would have lasted more than a week.

Likewise with my daughter, she grew up watching Mom go for a run and it was just “normal” life for her. She also traveled to the majority of my races with me, even when she was a baby, so that also became “normal” for her. She thought all moms traveled all over the United States for half marathons and ran for an hour or two on the weekends with other runs throughout the week. I know this because when she was in grade school, she told me all that. She said she had recently realized most moms didn’t do this and most moms she knew weren’t like her mom when it came to running and travel. When she was old enough she began running races too, working up from the 5k to the half marathon.

My daughter and me after the Circle of Life Half Marathon in Lake City, Minnesota

Like I mentioned earlier, by making running and specifically running a half marathon in all 50 states a priority in my life, I always had the motivation to train even when I felt too busy or tired. It helped that I also knew how much running helps my mental state and I’ve always come back from a run feeling better than when I started, even if I was tired when I started. Finally, I’ve always given myself some grace when it comes to running. If I had to miss a 40 minute run because I had to take my daughter to the doctor or I had to work late at work and was exhausted I knew in the grand scheme of things, it would be fine to not run and I wouldn’t suddenly lose all of my fitness. If it would have ever happened where I was consistently missing runs (that never happened), I would have had to take a good look at what was going on in my life and re-evaluate if training for that race was truly a good idea or maybe I should push it back to another time.

Q: What made you choose the half marathon distance vs any other distance?

A: I’ve always felt like the half marathon is the perfect distance for me. It’s just long enough that it’s a challenge and keeps me in good shape but not so long that I am utterly destroyed afterwards like with the marathon. Plus training for a half marathon is much more manageable than for a marathon. I’m also not a big fan of 5k races because if I’m going to truly race them, they’re HARD! I do like the 10 mile distance even though I’ve only run one 10-miler but I am signed up for another 10-miler this spring.

Q: Did you do specific training when you planned for races in western states with higher elevation?

A: No. As far as I could tell when I looked around online about this there really is no way to prepare yourself for running at higher elevation unless you can spring for a hyperbaric tent to sleep in beforehand. I would arrive at the races a few days before the race and drink tons of water, like I mentioned above. I also should have mentioned I lowered my expectations of any finish times for those races and was pleasantly surprised when I finished much faster than I would have predicted at some of them.

Q: Did you ever miss a flight?

A: Yes, but since I always worked in at least one extra day before a race it always worked out. I remember when I flew to one race (I forget which but it was a western state), there were severe thunderstorms that caused major airline delays and cancellations. I was supposed to have a layover in Denver and arrive at my destination that evening but all flights out of Denver were cancelled that evening so I had to stay in a hotel and fly out the next morning. Because of my buffer, I still made it to the packet pickup on time and everything was fine, other than missing some time in my destination.

Q: Does your work have an unlimited vacation time policy?

A: Not unlimited but it is generous. I’ve been at my job for 21 years and I now get 5 weeks of vacation. After I hit 15 years I got bumped up from 4 weeks to 5 so I’ve always had plenty of vacation days. Plus I get 11 days off for holidays that I can use as flex time. On top of all of that, I can roll over something like 30 days of unused vacation time by the end of December to the next year. With all of that being said, I’ve always eventually used every single day of my vacation time and not lost it at the end of the year even during the beginning of the pandemic when I wasn’t traveling, thanks to being able to roll over time to the next year.

That’s all of the questions I received. Thanks again to everyone who submitted questions. That was interesting for me and hopefully to you all as well!

Did anyone forget to ask a question you’d like to ask now or did you miss my first post? Feel free to ask here.

Happy running and travels!

Donna

Ask Me Anything

I realize this could go one of two ways, either fun and interesting or poorly, so I’m depending on all of you who read this (no pressure) for it to go the former way. My idea is this: everyone who regularly follows my blog knows I just finished my quest of running a half marathon in all 50 states, with my last race in Albuquerque, New Mexico in November of 2021. If anyone is new to my blog, now you know too. Many of you regulars, especially the long-timers (and a HUGE thank you if that’s you) probably already know or think you know many other things about my quest. However, I’m guessing there are still some unanswered questions out there that you may be curious about.

This is your chance to ask me absolutely anything and everything you ever wondered about what it was like for me to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Really, nothing is off-limits, too nosy, too trivial, or too silly. If you’re wondering something, someone else may also be wondering the same thing, and even if you’re the only person in the world with the question, it’s still a valid question.

What I would like is for everyone to ask some questions below and if all goes well, I’ll write up a post to answer the questions, rather than just answer them below; that way I can expand on anything that might need more than just a sentence or two to answer. If someone else has already asked your question but yours has a slightly different spin on it, ask it again in your words. That will also clue me in on the more popular questions that need more explanation than others.

Your questions can be broad such as running-related or more specific like half marathon-related, or they can be travel-related, logistics questions, race bling questions, traveling with kids or family, state-related, specific race-related, etc. These are just some examples but certainly not meant to limit you just to these. Questions like favorite/best/worst/most scenic are all fine as well. Creative questions are highly encouraged.

OK. Let’s see how this goes! Thank you to everyone who asks questions! If you never see a follow-up post with the answers, well, we all know what that means, but I’m confident that won’t happen.

Happy running!

Donna

IMT Des Moines Half Marathon, Des Moines, Iowa- 49th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Iowa was my 49th state.

Before COVID and the pandemic, I was supposed to run a half marathon in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in September 2020. At that point I would have already run a half marathon in New Mexico in April of that year, followed by Minnesota in June, and the race in Cedar Rapids would have been my 50th state. All three of those races got shifted or cancelled completely so now in 2021, I still have not run a half marathon in New Mexico but I ran Circle of Life Half Marathon, Lake City, Minnesota for my 48th state in June of this year. Confused? Blame it on COVID.

When I saw the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon was scheduled for an in-person race October 17, 2021 and the race director promised regular communication leading up to the race plus he would do everything in his power to make sure the race took place in person, I signed up immediately. True to his word, the race director sent out weekly emails with information about the race. Unfortunately since the race was in October, that meant my teenage daughter would not be running with me since she didn’t want to miss school. No one else would be going with me either, which means this was my first real solo vacation and first time traveling to a race by myself (no sherpa but that was OK; there was a gear check).

Packet pickup was at the Iowa Events Center both Friday and Saturday and included something I hadn’t seen in a while, an actual in-person expo with several vendors and booths set up. You could buy shirts, shoes, gels and other running-related supplies or talk to people about products and local running events. There were also speakers like Jeff Galloway, the famous Olympian who has since coached millions on the run/walk method. I picked up my goodie bag and race bib and was surprised to see a long-sleeve quarter-zip shirt personalized with the race name on the front and 13.1 on the back included in the bag.

Social distancing? Nope. Masks? Nah. Good thing I’m vaccinated.

A cold front had moved into Des Moines bringing with it a frigid wind in the days preceding the race. I went on a 30 minute shakeout run on Friday morning and it was 50 degrees, which was fine to run in what I had brought for the race (short-sleeve top and running skirt). However, the temperature was supposed to drop to 40 degrees at night starting Friday and by 8 am on Sunday, race morning, it was only supposed to be 41 degrees. On top of that, it was supposed to increase by 10 degrees in just a couple of hours. I was not happy with the weather prediction for race morning. Welcome to the Midwest, right?

After obsessively checking the weather like a crazy person and also obsessing about what I was going to wear for the race, I decided to stick with my original plan of my short-sleeve shirt, running skirt, knee-high compression socks, beanie, Buff on my neck, and my beloved Turtle mittens. I wore a fleece jacket to the start then threw it in the gear check bag and made my way to the start. It turns out it was a few degrees warmer than they had predicted the night before so at 8 am at race start it was 44 degrees and sunny.

There were around 5000 people running the marathon and half marathon, which both started together and we were crammed-in together tightly (and no one was wearing a mask). It would not have been a good scene for anyone worried about COVID, but that’s not me since I’m vaccinated and don’t have any health complications so it didn’t bother me. My plan was to run around 8:45 minute miles which would mean my finish time would be around 1:54.

The race start was right in the heart of downtown Des Moines and the half marathoners split off from the marathoners around mile 3. The course went by Water Works Park and Grays Lake Park, past the Pappajohn Sculpture Park and ran along the Des Moines River for the last part. It was scenic and pancake flat with the exception of one very minor hill around mile 11. There were bands, first aid stations, and Gatorade/water at multiple points along the course. At one point there were even volunteers holding out tissue boxes with tissues for runners. I’ve never seen that before but thought it was a great idea because it’s common to get a runny nose from cold air when running. Spectators were also out in full force, many with funny posters; one of my favorites was: “On a scale of 1-10, you’re a 13.1.”

I went back later to take some photos of the Pappajohn Sculpture Park

I felt so good right from the beginning that I ended up going faster than I expected. My split times were 8:26, 8:24, 8:21, 8:18, 8:28, 8:21, 8:17, 8:20, 8:23, 8:24, 8:28, 8:33, 8:29, and 8:20 for the final 0.25 miles. Strava had me at 13.25 miles with a finish of 1:50 at 13.1 miles but my official time was 1:51:20, which was a PR for me! I’m still astounded that I PR’d for my 51st half marathon! I finished 12th in my age group out of 110 women. This is a FAST course!

At the finish, we got our medals along with snack boxes filled with pretzels, peanuts, sunflower seeds, an oatmeal bar, fruit snacks, and animal crackers; there was also water and Gatorade plus a chocolate Gatorade protein recovery drink that tasted like chocolate milk. AND there were BBQ sandwiches, oranges, bananas, cookies, and Truly hard seltzer. There was an area set up in a big field with really talented bands playing and cornhole boards and bleachers to sit on. Finally, there were big posters with the race logo for photo ops.

I truly loved this race. Who would have thought my race in Des Moines, Iowa, state number 49 would be so outstanding? The race director and the volunteers did an excellent job putting on this race and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a well-organized, flat (unless you’re running the marathon; believe it or not, Iowa actually has some hills and the marathon is hilly, I’ve been told), and most of all FUN race.

Have any of you run this race or know anyone who has? Anyone interested in taking a trip to Iowa to check it out?

Happy running!

Donna

Book Review- Running Outside the Comfort Zone: An Explorer’s Guide to the Edges of Running by Susan Lacke

If you’re a runner long enough, you’ll find yourself bored and stuck in a rut. Races that you run every year and you used to get excited about can become ones that you dread. One way to deal with this is by signing up for a race doing something you normally don’t do, like an obstacle race if you normally run road races. Or a marathon if you’ve never run a marathon before. Or how about the Empire State Building Run-Up, where you race up all 102 stories of this skyscraper? How about signing up for an entire year’s worth of crazy races that completely put you out of your comfort zone?

That’s what author Susan Lacke did. One night after realizing her boredom with running despite just scoring a 9 minute PR at the Huntsville Marathon in Utah, she signed up for races around the world that would get her out of her comfort zone. She signed up a wide variety of races from the Pony Express Trail 50 where you have to carry absolutely everything with you including your own waste to the Coffin Race where you run with a team to carry a makeshift coffin with another person in it to Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll in England where runners chase a wheel of cheese down a steep, treacherous hill.

In the book, she starts with some background information about herself including some from her childhood. Lacke is a writer of endurance sports, professor, and author of the book Life’s Too Short to Go So F*cking Slow. She also happens to be deaf and she weaves this element of her life into the story naturally.

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To begin her journey, Lacke ran the Huntsville Marathon in September and after that she ran the Red Bull 400 later that month. If you’re not familiar with the Red Bull 400, it’s a race where you run (climb, really) 400 meters up a ski jump in Park City, Utah built for the 2002 Winter Olympics. She had my respect as a runner when I read that she ran a marathon in the same month as running the Red Bull 400. But she didn’t stop there.

Every month except November (why nothing was scheduled for November is a question I have for Ms. Lacke) for the proceeding year, she ran in what I would call an extreme running event. Some months she ran in multiple events, like in May when she ran Bay to Breakers in San Francisco, Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll, and Caliente Bare Dare 5K. Just running one of most of these events would scare the hell out of most of us runners, but to run in all of these events in one year is truly astounding.

Throughout the book, she has a chapter for each running event which she describes in perfect detail from beginning to end. Lacke has a real knack for storytelling and the crazy events she participated in make for even more interesting stories. She also writes about how she started running and about her best friend that got her interested in running who has since passed away.

If you can’t tell by now, I absolutely loved this book and found myself not wanting to put it down when it was time for me to go to sleep. The short chapters make for a quick and easy read. If you enjoy reading about running adventures, I believe you will also enjoy this book. I haven’t even described all of the races she ran, not to give it all away, but there are even more, some of which you may find yourself actually wanting to run them after you finish reading about them, as I did.

The book is 242 pages and you can find it at your local bookstore, library, or Amazon.

Susan Lacke’s website

Have you read either of Susan Lacke’s books? I haven’t read her first book but after reading this one, it’s now on my list to read. What’s the craziest race you’ve ever run or want to run?

Happy running!

Donna

 

What to Do If You Get Sick the Week of Your Race

I swear I wrote up this post before COVID-19 was even a thing. I had planned all along to put up this post around this date, but it seems perhaps even a little more apropos with all of the recent news. Anyway, what I’m about to get into has absolutely nothing to do with Coronavirus. If you have that, you absolutely shouldn’t be running in a race or even leaving your house for that matter. That’s all I have to say about that. Now onto my original post.

We’ve all been there. It’s four days before your big race and you come down with a cold. Now what? There are some things you can do to help you feel better. But first, should you even still run? I’m not a doctor but everything I’ve ever read and heard about this subject says if your cold is in your head such as your sinuses, it’s OK to still run but if it’s in your chest or you have a fever or have aches in your muscles like what comes with the flu, you shouldn’t run. My knowledge is based on my scientific background including the pre-pharmacy classes I took before I decided pharmacy school wasn’t for me and switched my major to biology plus all of the immunology, physiology, and microbiology classes I had and scientific journals I’ve read over the years on this subject as a scientist. In other words, although I’m not a medical doctor, I have at least a decent amount of knowledge on health and illnesses.

Of course there are the over-the-counter (OTC) medications that don’t really make you “better” but merely treat your symptoms and sometimes help you feel a little better. However, sometimes using these medications can actually backfire and make you feel worse after using them for a few days. Some people don’t realize this but you will actually get over your cold quicker if you can wait it out and not use harsh over-the-counter treatments. The worst are nasal sprays like Afrin that can cause tissue damage over time. Other OTC medications can exacerbate your cold and lead to a sinus infection.

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Before my half marathon in Alabama. You’d never know from this photo how bad I was feeling (with a cold) but I ran anyway!

All of that being said, treating your cold with some good old fashioned remedies won’t hurt and some may actually help you feel better. Chicken soup has been recommended for people with colds for so many years for good reason. Consuming more liquids helps your body clear the infection easier and chicken broth is easy on the stomach as well. You can also flush out your sinuses with a saline spray or neti pot if you have congestion in your sinuses. Just make sure you use bottled water that has been distilled or sterilized if you choose to make your own saline solution. I’m also a fan of Nuun Immunity tablets, which have turmeric, elderberry extract, Echinacea, ginger, vitamin C, and other ingredients that will give your immune system a boost and help hydrate you. Wetting a washcloth and warming it in the microwave then putting that over your sinuses also helps temporarily relieve sinus pressure.

Honestly, the most important thing you can do if you get sick to help your body get better quicker is rest. Rest is so hugely important and effects literally everything we do in life, yet I feel like it’s often the first to be neglected when people get busy with life. If that means you have to skip a 40 minute run that you were supposed to do at 5 in the morning, but you’ve got a cold and your race is next week, you would be better off to skip that run and get some extra sleep instead.

What if you’ve gotten extra rest and hydration but you’re still sick and it’s race day? Like I said earlier, as long as you don’t have a fever and your cold is in your sinuses and not your chest and you don’t have body aches, you can go ahead and run. Just stuff some tissues in a pocket and realize it’s not going to be a PR for you, but try to make the best of it! I’ve run races with a cold before and while they weren’t exactly some of my most fun races ever, I was able to get through them and finish with a smile on my face.

Finally, you can do what Olympic athlete Clarence DeMar said and “Run like hell and get the agony over with.”

Have you run a race while sick? How did that go? Was it a bad decision or fine in the end?

Happy running!

Donna

 

Some Things to Consider Before You Sign Up for a Winter Race in the South

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.

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I was so happy to see the finish line at Run the Reagan in Georgia!

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.

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It was fun getting to hang out at the beach with this little cutie after the race in Naples, Florida in January

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?

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Happy running!

Donna

 

 

My Dream Half Marathon

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.

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Some pretty nice views from a race start like this would be good. This was the Dogtown Half Marathon in Utah.

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.

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Water views like this along the course? Yes, please!

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.

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Bart Yasso at the finish of the Skinny Raven Half Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska

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!

Happy running!

Donna

 

Race Medals and What to Do With Them

Race medals didn’t use to be a thing when I started running races, way back in 2000 and I ran my first 5k. In fact, I didn’t even get a medal for running my first, second, third, or even fourth half marathon. My first race medal was at the Philadelphia Distance Run in 2004 and since then I received medals at most of the races after that, although there was the occasional race that didn’t include medals in the early 2000’s.

Now it seems like everyone who finishes everything from a 5k to a marathon and every distance in-between gets a medal. Until more recently medals were only given to marathon and sometimes half marathon finishers, but now it’s not uncommon to receive a medal after a 5k, especially if it’s a large event. Small, local 5k’s may or may not give medals to all finishers. Sometimes a medal will be given to age-group winners only at small races.

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My largest medal- it’s bigger than my palm spread out!

I’ve seen all kinds and sizes of medals over the years. I even have a medal that seems to be made of some type of foam material that I got at the Color Vibe 5k, a “fun run” that I ran more for the experience than anything because it was my first run of this type. The most interesting medal I have is the one from Shamrock Half Marathon in Virginia Beach, Virginia. It’s a functioning bottle-opener so it’s not only cute but it’s useful too (well it would be if I actually used it).

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My “Bright & Bold” medal from the Color Vibe 5k

Although I’ve only run on average 3-4 races a year, I have been running races since 2000 as I mentioned before (with a lapse between 2001 and 2004), so I have a decent accumulation of race medals by now. I know many runners run more like 7 or 8 races a year (or more), which means they accumulate a whole lot more medals in a year than I ever did. In just a few years’ time, this could mean dozens of race medals. I only have 45 race medals so it’s not an issue of what to do with them but I could see it being a real issue for other people who may have hundreds of medals.

Some people have display racks. My daughter started running when she was in grade school and has accumulated quite a stack of medals by now (she’ll be starting high school this fall), and she has a display rack that’s already over-filled with her medals from races. You can buy these at local art supply stores or easily make your own.

Others give their medals away. Medals 4 Mettle accepts medals earned by runners and triathletes and gives them to “children and adults for the mettle and courage they demonstrate battling cancer, chronic illness, trauma and other life challenges.” All you have to do is remove the ribbon from your race medal and mail it to them and they will take care of the rest. According to their website, over 55,000 medals have been awarded since 2005.

I’ve heard of other people repurposing their medals into coasters, Christmas ornaments, and magnets. All of these things would be pretty easy to do, especially to make magnets and ornaments. This way your medals actually have a use other than sitting in a drawer or on a shelf.

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I have to admit, all of my medals are on a bookshelf in my office at home. I have a collection of books that I was saving for my daughter to read someday and/or re-read them myself, and the medals are on this bookshelf. I also have some other race-related things on the bookshelf, like the trophies I’ve won at races and the printed photo I got at the Missoula Half Marathon in Montana. They’re a nice reminder of all of the races I’ve run over the years.

What about you all? What have you done with all of the medals you’ve received over the years?

Happy running!

Donna

 

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