Monday, January 9, 2017

Supposed to Be #2 of a Back-to-Back, Ended Up Being Just Another Marathon -- First Light Marathon Race Report

That first hour on the road between Jackson and Mobile was terrifying, but once I was a little further south, the ice and snow were all gone, the sun was out, and it was a beautiful, if cold, day in the South. The ice and snow were just a memory. By the time I parked outside the expo in downtown Mobile, I could almost forget it was January except for the harsh wind that slapped me in the face as soon as I got out of the car. Oh well. I do not like wind, at all; I consider it one of the most demoralizing weather conditions to run in, but I would take it if it meant I got to take home at least one medal this weekend.

I had never been to Mobile. Forgive me for saying that I expect mid-size southern cities to be crappy – poor, ugly, not well-maintained, et cetera. This does NOT include Atlanta, which is fast becoming one of my favorite cities, or Nashville. I’m talking about the Birminghams and Little Rocks and Jacksonvilles and Montgomeries, and yes, I know there are awesome parts of every one of those cities but that does not keep my overall impression from being “crappy”. I expected Mobile to be this way too, because why wouldn’t it be? But no. It was clean, cute, historic, and had a downtown that would have been highly walkable if not for the frigid temperatures.

The First Light Marathon benefits the L’Arche charity in Mobile, an organization that provides services to adults with developmental disabilities. The medals are handmade by L’Arche clients. This is generally considered to be something that makes this race special. Marathonguide and other race review sites are loaded with comments about how these handmade medals are so much more meaningful than other races’ medals. I am an asshole because I don’t want my medal to be handmade by anyone, but especially not by an adult with a developmental disability. I cannot believe the number of people who could put a handmade medal side-by-side with, say, a Rock and Roll medal and say that the handmade one is superior. So I was not excited about the medal, but did not, of course, say so to anyone at the expo. They had also handmade a canvas… thing, I guess a plaque of some kind, with canvas stretched tight over a frame and painted in tie dye colors, for all Back 2 Back finishers. On the back of the plaque was a biography of the L’Arche client that had made that plaque. I felt like even more of an asshole for not going, “Awwwww,” about the plaque, but I did smile and say “Thank you.”

I was staying at the Holiday Inn downtown, which was one of the host hotels and was a block from the start line and like eight blocks from the finish line. I sat in the lobby and wrote my blog about yesterday’s race that didn’t happen while the hotel steadily filled up with runners. Lots of them were wearing the Mississippi Blues jacket, as was I. Hey, it is a nice, warm jacket and every time another guest came into the lobby, an icy blast of wind entered with them, so I needed the warmth.

Downtown Mobile had lots of restaurants that looked awesome, but I decided to eat in the Holiday Inn restaurant because I was too cold to go out. The night before in Jackson, I had eaten at the best marathon restaurant I’d ever eaten at, and last night in the Holiday Inn, I ate at the worst one. I ordered chicken alfredo, which should have been safe. They brought out a giant pile of linguini smothered in lumpy, room temperature cheese sauce with two thin, floppy chicken breasts the exact size of tilapia fillets perched on top. The whole mess was sprinkled with some kind of orange seasoning. I was dismayed to see that the chicken wasn’t cut up – you’d think for $17 they would have. I cut it up with resignation. My steak knife had a lot of trouble getting through the chicken. That was because it was the consistency of a rubber dog toy. Not a Kong, but the kind that costs $1 at the dollar store, the kind that no responsible dog owner would give their dog. If you had handed me a frozen chicken breast and said, “Cook this to the texture of rubber,” I would not have had the faintest idea how to proceed. The linguini was edible, barely. The chicken, no way. The waitress was so nice and overly helpful I did not have the heart to tell her how awful it was. I just asked for a box, trashed it on the way out, and dined on Sun Chips, Snackwells, and microwave popcorn from the machine for my pre-race dinner.

The morning was chilly, 24, with a 10 mph wind blowing but I had the clothes for it so I was okay. There are so many good things about having a hotel right by the start line! I got to relax in my 79-degree bedroom and read and drink coffee and use my own bathroom rather than a stinking, freezing, dark Porta pottie. The race was supposed to start at 7:30. I went down to the lobby at 7:15, and out to the start line at 7:25. Somewhere in there, I realized two things: 1) I hate winter races, and 2) I was so relieved that I was not starting the race on dead legs from the B2B, that I was GLAD the Blues was cancelled yesterday. Actively glad, not just accepting-the-cancellation-because-it-was-the-right-thing-to-do. Furthermore, I am not going to do any more B2B’s. I have a good job, I have disposable income, and I am almost done with the states, and I don’t have to do B2B’s! That’s it. No more. I stood and shivered on the start line and thought about how I didn’t want to do this race, but I did want the medal. I knew I was going to do it, but I wasn’t going to enjoy it.

The first part of the course went through some beautiful historic neighborhoods, with old, grand houses and giant, moss-covered oak trees. Then we went out onto a main road. There is a big gap in my memory as to what was between the main road and the I-65 overpass at Mile 10 or so. The course was flat until the overpass. Then we got to a couple of hills in a row that climbed around a park and golf course. The scenery was beautiful and I welcomed the hills to stretch out my legs. Despite the beautiful route, I was so not into the whole thing. I was stressed about a lot of things: whether I would finish in time to shower at my hotel (they wouldn’t give me a later checkout time than noon, which I think is pretty crappy for a host hotel), whether I would feel sick during the 4.5-hour drive to Atlanta, whether my flight would be delayed and I would have to worry about the dogs being stuck at home alone since Will left to go to California. My foot hurt but no more than it always hurts just walking around. Mostly I just didn’t want to be outside in the cold. It wasn’t even that cold, relatively speaking, high 20’s; I was just cranky because it was January and I knew that the next week temps would be in the 70’s every day down here and it just wasn’t fair. I could not imagine how bad I would have felt if I had run a marathon the previous day, especially one in weather as shitty as it was in Jackson.

After the golf course, the course went through the University of South Alabama, which was gorgeous and totally, 100% empty. Not a single person was moving around outside other than race volunteers and runners. Then came The Hill at Mile 18. This one was steep enough that it was referred to as The Hill or the big hill on most of the race reviews. Right before it was an aid station serving chicken broth. Oh yeah! Is chicken broth not the perfect winter marathon aid station food? Warm, salty, bland, totally balances out the viscous GU. I would like to say the chicken broth gave me wings and I was able to fly up that hill, but that would be a lie. I ran some and walked some just like everyone else.

There was lots and lots of downhill after The Hill, but I didn’t even enjoy that. My foot hurt, my IT band was twinging, and my guts hurt, like I’d been brutally beaten instead of just run 20 miles. Something definitely felt biomechanically off. I was running on old, pretty dead shoes because the orthotics in the new ones I bought last week didn’t feel quite right, so maybe that was it. No matter what the reason, when I got to Mile 20 I started really thinking about time. I was at 2:55, which meant sub-4:00 should be easily attainable. All I had to do was keep 10-minute/mile pace. But I was sore and now my stomach was sort of bothering me too. I always say I don’t care what my finish time is, but lately I have been caring, and really wanting to always be under four hours. There is a thing called 50 Sub-4:00, which is running a sub-4:00 marathon in all 50 states. I’m not saying that I’m taking that on after I finish my 50 states, but I’m also not saying I’m not. (Not that I’m counting, but I have sub-4:00 finishes in 20 of the 39 states I’ve completed so far. That means 19 I would have to repeat.  If I was going to do that.) I always say it’s not worth it to me to get a good time if it means I will feel bad afterwards, especially not today with a 5-hour drive right after the race.  But I wanted that sub-4:00 and so I kept going. The last few miles of the course were a repeat of a section we had already done, one of the most boring sections of the course, so it was even more difficult to stay motivated, but I managed.

As I got into the downtown area, I saw that it was going to be close. When I most wanted to slow down, I had to speed up. Well, okay, I did, and squeaked in with a time of 3:58:51. Totally unimpressive, but at least I was under 4:00. I got my medal, which did not look handmade (and I mean that as a compliment), and also my back-to-back medal even though I didn’t do the back-to-back. Now THAT is a nice medal, a shiny blue and yellow spinner medal with Alabama on one side and Mississippi on the other.  Too bad I didn’t really earn it!

This race is supposed to have great post-race food. I guess the people who say that like red beans and rice more than I do. All I ever want post-race is chocolate milk and they did not have any. Hot chocolate is not the same. I took a corn muffin and jogged back to my hotel in an effort to get a shower before they kicked me out at 12:00. The corn muffin crumbled apart in my hand but I didn’t really care because I didn’t want it anyway. I got into my hotel at 11:41, in the shower at 11:44, and walked out my door at 11:58. Housekeeping was lurking outside my door like they were ready to knock at exactly 12:00. I was more proud of my record-breaking shower than I was of my race time.

The 4.5-hour drive back to Atlanta took 6.5 hours because I had painful, nauseating hiccups the entire way, and had to take several breaks to put my seat back and my feet up. Reclining made the hiccups go away, but they came back as soon as I sat up again. I hope that the next time I think about saving a couple hundred bucks by getting a cheap plane ticket that requires several hours of post-race driving, I remember how much fun that drive from Mobile to Atlanta was not.

This was supposed to be States #39 and 40 and Marathons #48 and 49, but it only turned out to be State #39 and Marathon #48. For some reason, missing out on Mississippi has fueled a reckless, budget-ignoring passion to do MORE races this year. All of the states! Not really; Hawaii and New Jersey for sure and most likely Mississippi, Florida, and Kansas are going to have to wait, but I want to knock all the rest out this year. The next one I’m for sure doing is Fargo on May 20, but I am pretty sure I’m going to find a way to do both Little Rock in March and Oklahoma City in April. Why is it that finishing one marathon only makes me want to do another one more, even when I do not actually enjoy either the marathon or its aftermath? That is one of the great mysteries of running.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Marathon That Didn't Happen (AKA Mississippi Blues Non-Marathon Report)

Races get cancelled because of weather, and runners start races and do not finish them. But in nearly 50 marathons, I have never had either one of those things happen to me... until today.

I was supposed to do a back-to-back -- Mississippi Blues in Jackson, Mississippi, on Saturday, and First Light in Mobile, Alabama, on Sunday. The forecast was for extreme cold both days, with some precipitation for Saturday's race. Maybe snow, maybe ice, no one seemed to know. As race day got closer, the forecast got more dismal -- colder, windier, more inclined toward ice and sleet than snow or rain. Still, the thought of the race being cancelled never seriously crossed my mind.

I flew to Atlanta and drove to Jackson. It was supposed to be a 5.5 hour drive. I love driving long distances, so it was a no-brainer to me to fly to and from Atlanta and save myself almost $300 on the plane fare. It's always cheap to go to Atlanta. The road was fine almost all the way to Jackson, although there was a general sense of impending panic on the roadways, with dramatic freeway signs warning "STORM PREDICTED! SNOW LIKELY! LIMIT DRIVING AND USE CAUTION! BEGINNING 4:00 PM FRIDAY AND CONTINUING THROUGH 1:00 PM SATURDAY!" When I stopped at Kroger to get peanut butter and bananas, the store was packed with parka-wearing Southerners loading up their carts with milk and bread like they might not be able to get to the store for weeks after this (even though temps will be back in the 60's in a few days). There was literally only ONE banana left, and I bought it.

A wintery mix started coming down somewhere around the Mississippi/Georgia state line, but the roads were utterly unaffected. As I got closer to Jackson, the roads finally got a bit slick. Sleet was pounding on the windshield so loud I couldn't hear my audio book. I still wasn't worried even though the last 20 miles took me an hour. By the time I got to the expo downtown, the ground was carpeted with an inch or so of slush. My feet were soaked as soon as I got out of the car, and I slipped three times walking across the street from the car to the expo. There was a cop stopping traffic so runners could cross the street, and he was so cold he got back into his car between runners to warm up. For the first time I had a flash of doubt. It was impossible to walk without slipping. This inch-thick layer of slush was on everything, and the temperature was supposed to plummet to around 20 degrees overnight. What was going to happen to this slush? Why, of course, it would freeze, creating an inch-thick layer of ice. And what would be done about the frozen slush in the 12 hours between then and race start? It would be a huge logistics challenge for a northern city that is used to snow and ice, but what would a southern city do?

The atmosphere in the expo was subdued. The race officials behind the tables had to answer the same question over and over: "Is the race going to be cancelled?" There had been an email sent out earlier that day saying the race was still going on as planned and we would be informed of any changes in plans as they happened, and they were telling people the same thing at the expo. There was one guy playing the blues and he was amazingly good. I don't even like music and I wanted to sit down and listen to him, but I didn't, because I more wanted to get to my hotel and then get something to eat.

The sidewalk and road had gotten even more slippery during the fifteen minutes I'd been in the expo, and they had closed the main entrance because the floor had gotten too slick, and were directing people around the side of the building to use a carpeted entrance instead. The roads were pretty much deserted as I drove to my hotel. (The hotel looked very familiar, and when I parked my car and got out, I realized it was exactly where I had filmed a Leader Dog client's application video almost two years ago. Random! Never would have guessed I would be back here in this same exact spot, in an ice storm, getting ready to run a marathon.)

Still no word about cancellation. I wished I had brought my DueNorth traction aids with me -- I could've used them in the hotel parking lot! I googled, trying to find a place in Jackson where I could buy DueNorths. Nothing; the closest place was in Georgia. Same with Yak Traks. I tried to imagine some circumstances under which it would be remotely safe to run any part of tomorrow's marathon when it was totally unsafe to walk anywhere at all right now and it was only going to get colder. I knew there was no way running the race was a good idea. I also knew that I was stupid and stubborn and would do the race if it was not cancelled. Even if I broke my head open or broke my leg and put my job in jeopardy and wouldn't run another marathon all year, or ever. There was no chance I would fail to be on that starting line if the race went on, no matter what, and that was when I began earnestly hoping for cancellation.

I went out to dinner at the Iron Horse Grill. This was the very best restaurant I have ever eaten at before a race. Oh my God, it was so good I can still taste the roll and the chicken I had right now if I think about it. I don't really like Jackson but I want to go back just for that restaurant. By the time I left the restaurant, every surface including the parking lot and my car was covered with a pebbly glaze of ice, the texture I imagine a Gila monster's beaded skin would be if I could touch it. I was stalking Facebook like a madwoman, hoping for that cancellation so bad. Still no word, although there were plenty of posts from people stuck here and there along the way or stranded at airports because of the weather. Oh, God, this thing was going to go on. Resigned, I laid out my clothes for the next day, pinned my race number on my shirt, took a long, hot shower, and set my alarm for 4:30 a.m. I checked Facebook one more time and there it was -- officially cancelled. Oh, what a profound relief. I didn't have to break my neck. I could sleep in without hating myself for bailing on a race. Yes, yes, it's a bummer I won't get to color in Mississippi on my map or get to pat myself on the back for being a bad-ass back-to-backer AGAIN, for the fourth time, but I can live with all that.

The general sentiment on social media seems to be that it was the right decision, but there are always a few people who like to bitch about stuff. Specifically, I heard the following:

1) They should have told us earlier! So I wouldn't have had to (choose one) fly here to Jackson or drive 12 hours through snow to get here or take off work on Friday. But the thing is, no one knew exactly how bad it would turn out to be. Imagine if they had cancelled it 24 hours in advance and then there had been no accumulation of any kind and running conditions would have been fine. You think people wouldn't get pissed then? Oh yes they would! They cancelled it at the point that it became apparent that there was no way conditions would be acceptable.

2) We should get a free race entry next year instead of just a discount! Right, because the companies that supplied the medals, jackets, expo expenses, porta-potties, Gatorade, and all the other marathon necessities will just give the money back to the race director in exchange for their stuff back. Or else they will supply it all for free next year because they feel bad about this year. Nope, our registration fees paid for that stuff this year and will again next year. It's great that they are going to give us a discount for next year and I am going to take advantage of it, but I wouldn't even think of asking for anything more.

3) We should have been able to choose whether we can run or not! Now, listen, I am a pretty selfish person. But even I know that a marathon is not just about the runners. What about the volunteers manning the aid stations? 20 degrees with 10-15 mph winds is cold for runners, but doable. But can you imagine being stuck at an aid station for 6-7 hours, pouring Gatorade or water, standing still, spilling liquids on yourself, worrying about spilled liquid freezing? Or can you imagine getting up at 5 a.m. and driving over the (practically impassable) ice highways just to go do something for which you are not going to get paid and are not going to get the satisfaction of crossing off a state? I know that if I were a volunteer, I would not do that under any circumstances because that level of misery and danger is something to which I would not expose myself for any reason!

4) It's just ice, I live in Michigan/Minnesota/Canada and we run in that all the time, it's no big deal, just put on some traction aids or put screws in your shoes and go! Well, okay, but again, this is a SOUTHERN race and for many or maybe most of the people involved, this weather is not something they ever have to deal with. Jackson has no sand, no salt, no plows, no experience functioning in these conditions. It seems like people just don't go out on the rare occasions this happens. They stay home and wait for it to melt, which it always does. Also, our northern winters may be brutal, but I can say that I have never felt as imperiled by weather as I did during this brief little stay in Jackson. I have never felt so little confidence in my own abilities to stay upright and stay on the road, and I run outside in virtually all conditions, work outside all day almost every day, and have never once been unable to drive somewhere because of weather in all of my four years in Michigan and seven in New York/New Jersey, so don't talk to me about winter weather!

5) Just start the race a couple hours later, let it warm up a little! What, from 20 to 25? Race logistics, especially in a city, can't just be changed on a whim. Also, how do you communicate those changes to everyone? Also, the biggest reason of all, that ice wasn't going anywhere! It was still horrible hours later. It might still be horrible now for all I know.

In case you haven't figured it out, I am as sure as can be that that race director made the right choice. I think the majority of other runners think so too, especially those who made it into Jackson and saw how bad it was. I can't imagine how it must have felt to be the guy who had to make the call. Actually, I can. I have a vivid imagination. I can imagine all of it -- the hoping that it wouldn't be as bad as predicted, the denial as it got worse, the communications with law enforcement who were no doubt unanimously in favor of calling it off, the thought of all the months of training that people had put in for this, the thought of the expense that people had incurred buying plane tickets, the thought of all the people who struggled to get to Jackson and risked their necks on dangerous roads who would now find out that it would all be for nothing, the despair at the flood of incoming emails saying  Is it cancelled? Please don't cancel it!, the worry that the stellar reputation of this race would take a hit -- but deep down, the growing certainty that there was NO WAY I could justify the risk to the volunteers and runners, and the knowledge that if one person, volunteer or runner, was killed by a car sliding through an intersection, or by losing control of their own car driving to the race, I would see that person's face in my mind every day of my life and know I could have prevented that. I can imagine the moment when he (or maybe she, I don't know the race director) accepted the inevitable and put the word out. If I was him, I would probably sat down and looked at all the beautiful shiny medals and classy jackets that people hadn't been able to pick up and cried. So much work went into setting up this event, and now it's all for nothing. (Except it isn't. The race organizers did the right thing, and they know it, and I think 95% or more of the runners know it too, and the ones that don't know it right now because of disappointment will eventually accept it.)

This morning I had planned to sleep in, but I decided to leave Jackson earlier than planned because I thought the road probably was not going to get any better throughout the day, and I thought that probably it would be smarter to try to get on the road before it was too crowded. So at 8:00 I was on the interstate. I was literally the least intelligent person in Jackson at 8:00 this morning. Every single other person was smart enough to know the interstate was not drivable. I was the only person on it. Every overpass and bridge was iced over. Not just a little ice, but an unbroken sheet of ice. I crept over them one at a time at 5 mph, knowing I had essentially no control over my little Kia. As I drove up over yet another five-lane-wide bridge, it opened up in front of me looking like an iced-over football field. I felt a little slip under my front wheels. I couldn't go any slower than I was going, but I knew enough not to touch the brakes or try to correct the slip with the steering wheel. Somehow the slip got worse and my little car was fishtailing from one side to the other. I was looking at the guardrails from entirely the wrong angle and my car was facing the wrong way. I have almost-wrecked a car three times in my life, and every time it's like time slows down. I had time for all of these very conscious thoughts: This shit is out of my hands. Guess I should've gotten the insurance on this car. At least I'm not going to die; not going fast enough and no other cars on this road. Will I freeze while I wait for help though? Or should I walk for help? I am so, so dumb for trying to drive. What a dumb ass. Guess I won't be able to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail next year; I'll be paying off this crappy little Kia forever. Then my car miraculously righted itself and the slide stopped. My pulse was 159 (thank you, Apple watch!), pretty close to Zone 5, which I cannot hit even when I try during workouts. I am totally counting my drive out of Jackson as a cardio workout. After that terrifying episode, I decided that's it, I'm getting off the road. Only there was no exit right away. And when I got to a place where there was an exit, there was nowhere to go off the exit, no Waffle House or coffee shop, just a deserted industrial area where the road was even worse than the interstate. And then I reached the highway that I would take to Mobile, and it was slightly better than the interstate because at least there were tire tracks laid down in the ice that I could follow. I just had to straddle the ice line in the middle. And then after a few very slow miles on that highway, the tire tracks got wider and the ice thinned out. And then the ice disappeared and it was a cold, but very beautiful, day, and the memory of that terror on the bridge faded. (But it's never going to go away entirely, just like the memory of my other two near-wrecks, in 1994 and 2006, have not. You tend to remember moments when it could've all gone south quick.)

I've made it to Mobile and it is bitter cold outside, but there is no ice and I'm running that race tomorrow. If I'm bummed about only being able to color in one state on my map, I will try to balance that out by being happy that I'm still alive despite my stupidity and that I don't have to spend the next few years paying for a totaled rental car.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Done With 2016, On To 2017!

I really don't think about whether the year was good or bad at the end of the year, but I always enjoy the feeling of closing the door on each year and setting out on a new year. (Kind of the same way I feel about relationships... even when they were good and I'm sad they're over, the sadness is never QUITE as strong as the feeling of freedom and looking ahead to the future.)

Anyway, I am mostly done planning my 2017 race schedule. This is what I have so far:

*January: Mississippi/Alabama back-to-backs, Mississippi Blues and First Light. This one is a sure thing because I've already registered for them and bought my plane ticket. (Although that alone does not really make it a sure thing, not with these races. I have actually registered for them TWICE and bailed on them both times. Once because of injury, once because of lack of money right after the holidays.) I went back and forth between this double and the other choice for the Mississippi/Alabama double in February, Mississippi River and Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham. It was a tough choice; part of me wanted to do the Miami Marathon January 29 and then the double in February. But the thing that made my decision was the plane fare to Miami. It was really, really high. In the end I couldn't justify spending all the money on Miami and then, three weeks later, doing another expensive trip down South for the double. Also, if I didn't do Miami and just did the February double, then I would be going over two months without a marathon, and probably without many (or any) long runs here in Michigan, which is not the best way to do a double. One more reason is that I really should save a marathon in the South for January/February of 2018, and Florida seems like a good choice for that. So, Jackson/Mobile it is despite the fact that I dread another back-to-back and I still think the Mississippi Blues medal is hideous and ostentatious. (I know, I am in the minority here since the Mississippi Blues medal is consistently rated one of the top marathon medals in the country. But so is Little Rock's, and everyone knows how I feel about that one.)

*April: Oklahoma City, last weekend of April. It's this one or Tulsa (Route 66) for Oklahoma, and I always planned on doing this one if I could get the logistics right.

*May: Fargo Marathon. There really is no other marathon for North Dakota, and also North Dakota is one of only two U.S. states I've never visited (the other one being Hawaii). Time to cross this one off my list.

*September: Equinox Marathon in Fairbanks, Alaska. This is going to be a full-on vacation, me and Will, touring sled dog kennels, all of that. (It has to be, because I never plan on going back to Alaska after this.) I'm just waiting for registration to open, or even just to hear for sure what the dates are. No word on the website yet, but this race has happened every year since 1962 so I'm pretty sure it will happen again in 2017.

*October: Baltimore for sure. The only race worth doing in Maryland. I'm crossing my fingers that I can be a pacer for this one but won't find out till next year some time. Regardless, I'm definitely doing it.

You may have noticed what's missing from this list -- Boston. I'm registered for Boston but have had zero enthusiasm for it this whole year. It is the complete opposite of last year when I got a thrill just from looking at my confirmation card. I really never expected to not be excited about Boston, but I'm not. Therefore, I am not going to do it. It's expensive and complicated and this year butts right up against the family vacation in Vegas for my brother's wedding. I really don't want to have to do Boston and then fly across the country to a wedding. (Even though I am now going to fly across the country for a wedding and then come back home and go down to Oklahoma for a marathon.) But, Christie, what if you never qualify for Boston again and regret not doing it? Well, then I guess I will have to live with that regret. But honestly, I don't worry about it because I am pretty sure I am incapable of regret. With a lifetime full of questionable decisions, I have yet to regret any of them, leading me to believe I am constitutionally incapable of regret, which is not something I'm complaining about!

So, I have six races planned for next year. If I do all of them as planned, that will leave me with the following states for 2018:

*Arkansas: Sigh, I'm going to do Little Rock, hideous medal notwithstanding. That's in March, and I'm not 100% sure I won't squeeze it in this year if time and money allow.

*Florida: Lots of choices here -- Miami, A1A in February, Southernmost in October, lots of others I don't even know about. Leaning towards A1A right now, but in the end it will probably come down to what fits my calendar best.

*Hawaii: Gonna' be Honolulu in December 2018.

*Kansas: Not sure which one here... maybe Garmin in April 2018, or maybe Prairie Fire in October 2018, or maybe some other random one I don't know about yet.

*New Jersey: I decided I want New Jersey to be my #50, and because I can't do Honolulu till December 2018, I can't finish till May of 2019 with the New Jersey Marathon. Why finish in New Jersey? Well, for one thing, because no one else does. There is nothing special about New Jersey, but finishing in Hawaii is such a cliche. The other reason is because I started running when I lived in New Jersey, but never actually ran a marathon in New Jersey. Also, I am sort of attached to New Jersey even though every single thing about it except The Seeing Eye sucks.

*Wyoming: Still haven't picked my Wyoming marathon either, and am not 100% sure I won't try to sneak it in this year either. All my choices are between May and September, and there are no easy races in Wyoming. So we'll see.

In the meantime, here's a picture of 2016 in marathon medals. Happy 2017, everyone!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Running Through A Resort -- Kiawah Island Race Report

State #38, Marathon #47. (Geez, I am suddenly very close to 50 marathons! How did that happen?) This one was not on my race calendar originally. I decided to do it because I was discussing it with my running friend Dennis. Both of us had passing interest in doing Kiawah even though I had pretty much decided my South Carolina race would be Myrtle Beach next year. And this is how races are impulsively signed up for, with two people agreeing with each other that, yeah, that one might be fun. Next thing you know, BOOM! Out come the credit cards and another trip is being planned, and THAT, my friends, is why running friends are dangerous. But I digress.

I flew to Atlanta because Dennis lives there and because flights to Atlanta are always cheap, so I could ride with him to Kiawah. It was about a five-hour drive, which is nothing to a Marathon Maniac. (I consider "driving distance" to be anything within 12 hours of my house, approximately, though I can be flexible on that when needed.) South Carolina is one of only three U.S. states I have never visited, the other two being North Dakota and Hawaii. I was excited, but really it just looked like Georgia, and by the time we got anywhere near the beach, it was too dark to see anything.

Kiawah Island is a very fancy golf resort. It is way, way too fancy for me. We had to have a pass just to get onto Kiawah Island, which is about half an hour from Charleston. If you felt like spending a lot of money, you could stay "on-island" in a rental. Our kind stays "off-island" in a Best Western. Once we got to Charleston, we still had to drive half an hour to pick up our packets on the island. There was a very fancy pre-race dinner going on, which at $35 a person we skipped. (We ate at Jimmy John's.) The menu included all of the following: organic local greens, fresh local vegetables, oak smoked free range chicken truffle lemon butter, baked ziti bolognese, aged sharp provolone, Burden Creek goats milk cheese, honey basil brined roast pork steamship, red wine pepper glaze, fresh local collards, Ambrose Farms fresh local harvest vegetables, bacon braised lentils with garlic roasted local potatoes, and baked macaroni and cheese. Yeah, WAY too fancy for me. My friend John from Tucson was also at this race, but because he was pacing it, he got to stay on-island for free. Pacing this race is the way to go. I had planned to find John at packet pick-up, but we were only there for about five minutes and then were so hungry we had to leave. By the time he texted me back we were walking to the car and too hungry to change course. I decided I would just see him in the morning.

The bummer about staying off-island is that the line of cars to get on-island on race morning is a pain in the ass. We left Charleston at 5:45 for an 8:00 race start 22 miles away, and it took us over an hour to get parked in the off-island lot, where we caught a shuttle to the island. It was cold, but not nearly as cold as Michigan. The wait to get into the parking lot was totally compensated for by the complete absence of Porta-Pottie lines. I have never been at any race with more adequate bathroom facilities, and this was a moderately large race with 3800 runners between the half and the full. The other awesome thing about this start line was that there were plenty of heated buildings to hang out in. One of them was a market that was serving much better food than McDonalds. I ate my bacon and cheese sandwich with about 15 minutes till start time, and was thankful for my (usually) strong stomach.

We left the building at 10 minutes before start time. I found John, who was leading the 3:35 pace group, and had just time to tap him on the shoulder and say hi before I headed back to the 4:00 pace group. I had no special time goal, just hoping to break four hours as usual.

This is a meandering course. At first it is really, really pretty. It goes through forests of big oak trees draped in Spanish moss and past beautiful rich people's vacation houses. And then, it does more of those things, and then more. After about eight or nine miles, the beauty turned monotonous. (It reminds me of that saying, that there's no woman so beautiful that some man isn't tired of sleeping with her.) The weather was chilly, high 30's at the start, but it was comfortable by Mile Three, and then a little warm. The hat got stuffed into my bra at Mile Two, the gloves got stuffed into my waistband by Mile Three, my long sleeves were rolled up by Mile Five, and I was wishing I'd opted for shorts instead of tights by Mile Eight. The perfection of the island started to annoy me. All the roads had "perfect" names -- Summer Duck Way and Sea Forest Drive and Summer Tanager and Bulfinch and et cetera. No Main Street, I guess. Also, with all of those huge, beautiful houses, there were hardly any signs of life. I know, it was cold and who would want to be outside if they didn't have to? Also, I know there are a lot of vacation homes that aren't always occupied. But still... creepy. Every once in a while we ran out of the oak forests and into sunny, open areas with views of salt marshes or the Atlantic Ocean. I wish there had been more of that and less oak tree/house scenery, but I have to admit that this is not a bad course if you're just talking about running it. There are enough turns to keep it interesting, and it is very flat. There were lots of good times run on this course, and a lot of people love it, it just wasn't my type. ("It's not you, Kiawah Island, it's me.")

I felt mostly fine through the course other than persistent mental whining that I didn't like the scenery and I was bored and wanted to be done so I could hang out with John and Dennis and eat and drink. My foot hurt a little, the plantar fasciitis foot, but just enough to nag, not enough to slow me down. My stomach was mildly unsettled, but not nearly as bad as that poor dude I saw at Mile Eighteen or so. Well, I didn't see him so much as hear him. I was running with one ear bud in, and I heard a crashing in the bushes ahead that sounded bigger than a squirrel. I glanced off to the side and saw an orange T-shirt. and then I heard some noises that I really wished I hadn't heard, noises you should really only hear in a bathroom, noises that made me wish I had both ear buds in. Someone was having a worse race than I was! (And there was a Porta-Pottie not a tenth of a mile past where he had jumped into the woods... if only he had known.)

I had broken away from the 4:00 pace group before the half and was still in front of them. I knew I would be under four hours unless something went disastrously wrong. Nothing did. I finished in a middling 3:53-something (Apple watch said one thing, Garmin another, chip time yet another) but was glad to be under 4:00. This race is supposed to have great post-race food but it didn't, unless I missed it. It had standard fare plus brownies and hot bean soup. The soup was really good, or maybe I just appreciated that it was hot. The one thing this race did have was seriously unlimited beer. The volunteers were just standing behind the table pouring and replacing cups as fast as people were grabbing them. There didn't even appear to be any checking of wristbands or even numbers. (I had a sweatshirt covering my bib and no one ever asked to see it.) So if you want free beer, do this race.

One of the perks of knowing a pacer is that we had a really, really nice place to hang out and shower after the race. We ended up spending the whole rest of the evening there before driving back to Charleston for the night. The experience reminded me again that there's really only two groups of people I almost always enjoy hanging out with -- marathoners, and guide dog instructors. The rest of the world can go fly a kite.

All in all, I would say this is a well-organized race with a nice medal and nice T-shirt. You know if you are the type of person who would enjoy hanging out on a golf resort or not -- if you are, you'd probably enjoy this race; if not, you probably wouldn't. All things being equal, I would choose Myrtle Beach over this one if I had the choice to make again, but only if John and Dennis also came to Myrtle Beach.

This is my last marathon of 2016. I'm in the final stages of planning my race calendar for next year and will post that as soon I've got it solidified. Now it's time to sit back, relax, and get ready for the holiday eating!

Monday, October 17, 2016

It's October, Back-to-Back Marathon Time! (Kansas City/Des Moines Race Reports)

In October of 2011, I did New Hampshire and Maine back-to-back. It was a miserable experience that left me unwilling to run at all for a good two months afterwards. Four long years went by before I summoned the strength to do another back-to-back in October 2015, Saturday Hartford/Sunday Rhode Island. That one wasn't bad. I won't say painless, but not terrible, and I was under four hours both days. The I-35 Challenge has been on my list for a long time. You do Kansas City on Saturday, and then drive three hours straight up I-35 to Des Moines and do it on Sunday. I wasn't sure right up until three weeks ago that it was even worth trying after my summer of plantar fasciitis, but once I got through Monument without any foot problems, I decided it was worth a shot and signed up.

It was almost a 12-hour drive to Kansas City, a place I went to once for work but never really visited. There was light frost on my car when I left Michigan, but temps got warmer and warmer the further south I went. Once I got to Kansas City, it was almost hot. Forecast for race day was mid-60's at the start line and low 80's at the finish, definitely a little on the warm side, but on the other hand, it would be nice to not be freezing at the start line. Kansas City is a big city, bigger and cooler than I had thought. And HILLIER. I knew the course was hilly, but I didn't realize quite how hilly until I drove part if it. There were some gentle rollers and some long, steep monsters. Oh well. The nice thing about back-to-backs is that no one expects you to do a fast time on either of them. I had plenty of excuses to go slow -- my foot, the high temps and humidity, the hills, the fact that I had to do another marathon the next day -- so I was set!

Race morning was warm. Even at 5:30 a.m. I was perfectly comfortable in shorts and a T-shirt. I drove from my airbnb rental downtown and saw streetwalking prostitutes -- not one, not two, but THREE -- for only the third time in my life. (Once in Tucson on 29th Street, once here in Michigan at Woodward and 7-mile, and now in Kansas City on Troost.) There was plenty of free parking by the start line, and the Crown Center mall was open with plenty of bathrooms and seating for runners to hang out. I did hang out there for a while, but then went back outside and wandered down to the start line since it was so warm.

I decided to stick with the 4:00 pace group and absolutely not allow myself to go any faster than 4:00 pace. That way if I still felt okay at the end, I could speed up at the finish and finish just under four hours, just in case I ever seriously decide to pursue 50 Sub-4. There were two pace leaders. I can't remember their real names, but they introduced themselves as Pacer Bad-Ass and Pacer Fuck Yeah. (Nope, not making that up.) One of them was pacing this race for the tenth year in a row. I would not have wanted to pace this one -- too many hills. But this guy knew the course really well and was able to tell us exactly what was coming up around every corner. There's hardly a flat spot in Kansas City; the hills were relentless, and we only got a break when they turned to rollers briefly. They were pretty steep hills, both up and down, which didn't really bode well for my legs the next day in Des Moines, but I felt pretty much okay all through Kansas City. Even though I ran it only 48 hours ago, I have already forgotten most of the details except for the following: lots of downtown including a downtown start and finish, lots of really beautiful neighborhoods, a great tour of the city with an absence of any ugly areas except for the last mile or so, a lot of time spent on the Paseo (a road that manages to look exactly like a big, beautiful park along its entire length), and tons of spectators (more than any recent race other than maybe Boston).

I was with the pace group almost the whole way but gradually pulled ahead of them at Mile 24 and stayed ahead of them all the way to the finish. I had never looked at my watch the whole time but assumed I would be under 4:00 since I had started behind the pace group and finished in front of them. So I was shocked to see that my time was 4:01:01. What happened?? I don't know. Pacers making a mistake is not something that I have any experience with. I still can't quite believe that that is what happened although I also can't come up with any other explanation. (I tried to look up the pacers' names in the results, but there was no listing for Pacer Bad Ass or Pacer Fuck Yeah. So I still don't know.) Oh well. I have plenty of over-4:00 finishes so I told myself I did not care and got out of there. I didn't feel great. My stomach was iffy, my throat was scratchy, and my legs were more sore than I would have liked. Supposedly there is great food at the finish line of this marathon but I never saw it; all I had was two cartons of chocolate milk. The medal is big and heavy with some seriously sharp edges. You could brain someone with this thing, no problem. Not that I wanted to, but if someone had attempted to mug me while I was getting gas, I'm pretty sure I could've stopped him with this medal.

It was a dreary, rainy drive up to Des Moines. My stomach definitely didn't feel so good, and my plantar fasciitis foot was in agony in the car although I had barely felt it in the race. My recovery food was white cheddar Cheezits and a Diet Coke. I also learned that eating ice kept me from getting the really bad stomach problems where I have to pull over and recline my seat. Good to know! One ice cube at a time all the way up to Des Moines, and when I got there, I felt okay.

I walked to the expo and picked up my shirt and then got sucked into a Marathon Maniacs meeting. I've been a Maniac since 2011 but never been to one of their reunion meetings. It was kind of fun. I ended up sitting next to a guy from Lake Orion, go figure! Two Michigan residents in the room of about 100 people and we randomly ended up sitting up next to each other. The Main Maniacs were there -- the founders, Marathon Maniacs 1, 2, and 3 (I'm #4295, for perspective, and new members right now have numbers in the 13,000's) -- and they were pretty funny. I have to say that in most places, if I say I ran a marathon yesterday and I'm running another one tomorrow, I get a lot of reactions, ranging from awe to disbelief to adulation. But here, there were lots of people who had also just run Kansas City and were also running Des Moines the next day. Nothing remarkable about that at all. So, in a weird way, these are my people, I guess.

After the Maniacs meeting, I went to my motel, where I finally showered off my Kansas City sweat, and then stuffed myself at the Perkins next door. It was raining and the forecast for race day was for warm temps and high humidity but no rain.

The race started at 8:00 a.m., which on the one hand was annoyingly late but on the other gave me another desperately needed hour of sleep. I woke up feeling like I wanted to stay in bed, not run another race. I took inventory of my body while getting dressed. My legs were sore but not terribly sore considering the hills. I had a little blister on my toe, some sports bra chafing, and a stuffy head, but all of those things were pretty minor (although all had potential to blow up into something major on the course; you never know). I headed downtown where, again, there was tons of free parking. One of the nicest things about this race was that the Maniacs had somehow commandeered the entire Civic Center, along with its inside bathrooms, for our use. That was so nice! (The day before, in a Porta Pottie in Kansas City, I had first ended up in one with no toilet paper -- thank goodness, I had my empty McDonalds coffee cup and a gum wrapper -- and then dropped my bandanna in a puddle of something on the floor -- bye bye, bandanna.) I hung out in the Civic Center with 100+ other Maniacs until five minutes to race time and then headed to the start line feeling cranky.

This is a nice marathon, and it's not the race organizers' fault that I was cranky from the moment I toed the line. It was 64 degrees with 100% humidity. I was damp and sticky the entire time, and so glad that no one else could hear the uncharitable thoughts running through my head. I decided to stick with a pace group again just to keep from going out too fast, but that was totally unnecessary as there was NO chance of me going out too fast, or fast at all. The race started out with several nasty hills. I was annoyed with the pace group leader for no reason other than that she had enough breath to chat on these hills whereas I was sucking wind immediately. Also, did she have to be so chipper and perky talking about her work with needy children and how they inspired her to run? I usually run with only one earbud in just in case I feel like talking to someone, but this time I quickly put in my other earbud so I didn't have to listen. It was clear from the start that this day would be about survival and pushing through suffering, and that there was not going to be a lot of enjoyment. I was annoyed with everyone from the pace group leader to the little kids holding out their hands for high-fives (like I'm going to leave my line and bend down for that? Do you know how hard it is to bend??) to the spectators holding signs saying things like "I worked hard to make this sign, the least you can do is SMILE!" (YOU smile after running a marathon yesterday and running another one today!) to the guy yelling, "You're almost there! Almost to Mile One, that is, ha ha!" (Sooooo not funny, dude, not ever! Oldest not-funny marathon joke there is!). I was uselessly wiping sweat off my face and arms every tenth of a mile or so, and hacking up phlegm about that often. My legs were tired, but I was also sleepy, like I wanted to be in bed sleeping. I entertained thoughts of quitting while at the same time knowing I would not do that; I was going home with that Iowa medal, damn it.

The first six or seven miles went through residential neighborhoods of really nice houses. The good people of Iowa were out in force to cheer on runners despite the gross, steamy weather. At Mile Seven or so we ran onto the Drake campus, and one of the two highlights of the race, a lap around their track, the Blue Oval. That soft, springy surface was paradise for my sore feet, but unfortunately it made me think about how I still had 18 miles of concrete and asphalt to go. Seeing myself on the Jumbo Tron was cool, but I couldn't help but notice that either the picture was distorted like a funhouse mirror or else I was really, really fat. Then we were off the track with nothing cool to look forward to for a long time.

We ran back through the residential neighborhood and then onto a multi-use path that ran alongside a river. It was pretty but I was dragging. The 4-hour pace group passed me at the halfway mark and I noticed with satisfaction that the formerly really big group was now down to only two people. No surprise; there were a lot of people besides me not having their best day today.

Miles 16-19 were around a lake. That was kind of cool, but I was suffering and slow jogging the whole time. Also, I was drinking like crazy. I drank at every aid station and was still thirsty all the time. I even drank lots of Gatorade, even though I knew I might pay the price later. (I never did, amazingly. My stomach was surprisingly okay.) We headed back towards downtown and I saw the capitol in the distance. I knew that running around the capitol was one of the last things we did, so in my mind I told myself I just needed to get there and then I would be almost done.

At Mile 24 we came around a corner and looked up a hill steep enough that I heard a few people around me say the F-word out loud. It was a good thing there was something cool at the top of that hill -- the capitol. I managed to jog up it and around it, powered mostly by the thought of being able to stop running soon. There was a nice downhill back to the finish, but by this point my legs were so beat-up and tired that downhill hurt almost as much as uphill. It all hurt, and really I just wanted to be done moving. We passed one guy being loaded into an ambulance at Mile 25, and I got a boost of energy from thinking at least my race was not as bad as his. (Yes, that's what I thought. Not "I hope he's okay," although, in hindsight, of course I hope he's okay. I am a terrible person.)

I finished in an unimpressive though not-horrible 4:13:33. Could've been worse. At least I could eat at the finish line, although the pizza and BBQ sliders were a little more than I could handle. The BEST food, and my new finish line favorite (well, besides chocolate milk) was the chicken noodle soup. It was so warm, bland, and salty that I felt miraculously restored to near-normalcy after drinking it. Note to all race directors: PLEASE! Warm chicken broth at the finish. It's cheap!

The saddest moment of the day: at the finish line, I saw a guy walking in front of me, in the same direction as I was heading, with a Cavalier on leash. I saw that perky white tail wagging and wanted to pet that Cavalier so bad. I followed the guy but my legs refused to allow me to catch up. He was walking quickly and I wanted to yell, "Wait! Please let me pet your Cavalier!" but he was already too far away. My legs would not do it and I had to admit defeat and watch the happy little Cavalier disappear into the distance.

I felt so bad all during Des Moines that I was planning on changing my Marathon Maniacs nickname to Christie "No More Back to Backs" Bane, but of course during the drive home, looking at my two medals, checking two more states off my list, I already started planning my next double. It's going to be Mississippi-Alabama, but I don't know if it will be the January MS/AL or the February MS/AL. Stay tuned for an update. In the meantime, here's a picture of my loot from the weekend. Two super-nice long-sleeved tech shirts, and the Kansas City one even has a hood!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sun, Cornfields, and Bluffs... Monument Marathon Race Report

Aaaaaaaah, I love to do that first fall marathon in the West. After a long, muggy eastern summer, there are just so many good things about the West. Chilly morning start lines, ability to breathe comfortably, sunglasses that don't fog up, clothes that you don't have to wring out after running.

The Monument Marathon in Gering, Nebraska, was State #35, Marathon #44 for me. Nebraska had never been a state I was excited about doing because I thought my only options were Lincoln and Omaha, and I wasn't excited about either one of those. Then someone told me about how awesome Monument was, and when I found out it took place in a part of the country famous for Oregon Trail history and bluffs that look like the Badlands of South Dakota, I was THERE. I love that landscape. Besides southern Arizona, I think it is the most beautiful scenery in the country. (As I pause for a moment of sadness at having to return to Michigan scenery, which is the dullest and least dramatic scenery anywhere except maybe Indiana and Ohio. Oh well.)

I flew into Denver and drove the three hours to Gering. It was a beautiful drive east across the plains of eastern Colorado and then north into the panhandle of Nebraska. I will never understand how anyone can not think the plains are beautiful. You can see forever. There are some trees, but not too many, just the right number. (Trees make me feel claustrophobic. One or two around a house are okay, and they are also okay lining riverbanks, but when they obscure the horizon and make it impossible to see the contours of the landscape, I don't like them, which is why I always feel relief every time I go anywhere in the western U.S. I feel like I can breathe again.)

Gering is a small town, and Scotts Bluff National Monument is just a couple miles from downtown. I picked up my packet at the tiny expo where everyone was so friendly it made me nervous. The T-shirt is just okay, but I don't really care about T-shirts. The goodie bag didn't have any food (except for a bag of beans). I didn't spend any time at all at the expo because there were hardly any runners there and all the vendors at the booths looked so hopeful that I would talk to them that I didn't want to disappoint them, so I just grabbed my bag and left again to drive the marathon course.

The course looked moderately challenging at most. It started with a 6-mile descent from the Wildcat Hills Visitor Center. This part was along the shoulder of a highway, but with beautiful views the whole way. At Mile 6 we turned off the highway for six miles of cornfields on county roads. Then we crossed back over the highway around Mile 12 and went into the Monument. It was a beautiful drive through the Monument, with the giant bluffs towering over the road and the life-size replicas of oxen-drawn covered wagons. (For history nerds: Scotts Bluff [or Scottsbluff; historically it was two words as often as it was one word] was the second-most referred-to landmark on the Oregon Trail, with the first being Chimney Rock, that's how significant it was to the pioneers.) There was also an epic thunderstorm brewing with dark clouds, lightning worthy of Tucson, and strong winds gusting. I was glad that the forecast for race day was for good weather, because as awesome as the storm was from the car, it was the kind of storm that gets races cancelled because of lightning danger.

The five or so miles in the Monument were rolling hills starting with a climb of about two miles. It wasn't steep, but it was noticeable even in the car and I was sure it would be more noticeable on foot. I just hoped that the scenery would make up for the climb.

After Mile 17 or so, the course left the Monument and turned almost immediately onto a dirt road paralleling the irrigation ditch. I couldn't drive on that road, so just headed back to town and the pasta feed for dinner. I wasn't really excited about the pasta feed, but it was better than McDonald's or any other local restaurant, which I was sure would be full of overly friendly people who felt bad because I was sitting alone and would try to talk to me. If I had to talk to people, I would rather talk to other runners. Luckily I didn't have to talk to many of those either since there was hardly anyone at the pasta feed. It's a really small race, only 300 runners total with over 200 of those doing the half or 5k.

Race morning was clear and cold, in the 40's. I was glad that I saved the throwaway windbreaker they gave us at the finish line of the Georgia Marathon, because it was perfect for a cool morning. I parked at the Five Rocks Amphitheater and took a shuttle to Wildcat Hills, about 8 miles from the Amphitheater. It was colder up there, but at least we got to wait inside a building. We were supposed to be able to wait inside the Visitors Center, but because it was under construction, we were in an outbuilding instead. They bussed us from the outbuilding up to the Visitors Center for the race start, a distance of MAYBE 1/10th of a mile at the most, and let us wait on the heated bus till right before the start, which is just one more way that this race was awesome and made a point of taking care of its runners. I totally understand how this race got the excellent reputation that it has!

Start was at 7:30. The 6-mile descent was beautiful. I was warm by Mile 2 and dumped my throwaway jacket at the first aid station. The question of the day, of course, was how would my plantar fasciitis foot hold up? I really didn't know, but the further I got into the race without pain, the more confident I felt that nothing disastrous would happen. (Like, say, a DNF and having to go home without my Nebraska medal. Ouch, that would've hurt.) I purposely went out easy. I could feel little twinges from the bad foot the whole way, but it twinges even while I'm doing nothing, and it hurt like hell during the drive from Denver to Gering for no particular reason, or possibly a psychological reason. Twinges I can live with.

At Mile 6 we turned into the cornfields. I was feeling no pain and was actually enjoying the run, which is something that hardly ever happens. I usually spend at least 75% of any workout desperately wishing I could stop. The first two or three miles of this stretch were fine and then it got slightly monotonous, but as soon as it started getting monotonous, we turned back towards town, and I could see the bluffs in the Monument getting closer and closer.

The road into the Monument was a climb, no surprise since I had seen it the day before in the car, and we also had a headwind, but, as I had hoped, the scenery made up for it. I ran the whole way and honestly barely noticed the climb; I was too busy looking up at those awesome bluffs and imagining what it would have been like to be riding in a wagon and following the ruts of a thousand other wagons.

This course has a fair amount of climbing but is also generous with its downhills. Every uphill has a downhill. (For all the hills, I am surprisingly not very sore at all today. Usually hilly course = sore.) We ran downhill out of the Monument and then turned onto the dirt road. We had been warned that it would be muddy because of last night's storm, and it was a little muddy but not bad. The next five miles or so were my favorite of the course. Some of it was gravel road, some was more like trail, though still almost as wide as a road. I wish I had more time to explore the trails. It was the kind of place where every bend in the trail gave you a different view of the bluffs, all of them magnificent. There was a lot of sun, but luckily it wasn't hot, only in the 60's. Still, I was sweating a lot and not drinking nearly enough, so I was covered with a salt crust. Better than being coated in slime like I have been in Michigan for the last month because it's been too humid for sweat to evaporate.

Around Mile 21 I looked at my watch for the first time on the whole course and saw that I had just hit three hours. My foot wasn't really sore and I felt okay, but I also didn't feel like pushing to get a BQ although I'm pretty sure I could have. One of my goals for this marathon was to see if two in a row was feasible if I took it easy on Day One. I could see by my time that I had not really been taking it easy even though it felt like I had. Also, I was, of course, a little tired. So I decided to relax for the rest of the run and enjoy myself, and run just fast enough to finish under four hours.

That's what I did. At Mile 23 we were back on town roads, mostly in the neighborhoods. There were a surprising number of climbs in those last few miles, though none of them were steep. The last mile went through a cemetery, then there was a little downhill followed by a turn to an uphill finish. The race was so small that there were no other finishers in sight, behind or in front of me, and every finisher got a personalized announcement.

I felt pretty good -- not sick, not sore, kind of hungry for the pizza they had for finishers. The medal was great, one of my favorites. As I was admiring my medal and heading for the food tent, this girl said to me, "You held on to second, huh?" I said, "Second what?" and she said, "Second woman." I had no idea at all. I had had a vague impression that I was mid-pack somewhere, but I was actually the twelfth finisher overall, first in my age group, and second-place woman. There were only 65 finishers and 19 women, so this was not really that big of an accomplishment, but I still stayed for the awards because I thought maybe I would get something cool. And I did -- $250! I was shocked when they called me up and handed me an envelope with "$250" written on it. I thought maybe it was a mistake and they meant "$25", which would still have been awesome, but no! It was really two $100 bills and a $50 bill. That was one of my best marathon moments ever, along with my first BQ and the time I qualified for Boston in Boston. (They also gave me a print of wildflowers in the Monument, which is a great souvenir of a really beautiful place.)

This was an absolutely great race experience all the way around. It was a few firsts for me -- the first time I really loved a small race, the first time I won money in a race (and no doubt the last), and the first time I finished a race with more Gu gels than I started with (started with three, finished with five because they offered five on the course and I took every one they offered). I am so glad I did this race and not Lincoln or Omaha, and I am going to take my winnings and spend them on registration fees for Kansas City and Des Moines next month!

I seriously cannot recommend this race highly enough for anyone who likes small town races and beautiful scenery. Here is a course video although it does not even come close to doing it justice:

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Hopefully The Long Blog Silence Is Over...

Ever since June, I've been unable to run because of a stubborn, painful problem with plantar fasciitis. No one is interested in the details of other people's foot problems, so I will spare you other than to say that fortunately I was still able to do spin class and elliptical, so I have been doing hard time in the gym since the end of June, haven't gained any weight, and am still in decent cardio shape. The plantar fasciitis has gotten a little bit better in the past few weeks to the point where I'm able to run through it and the pain goes away pretty quickly afterwards. (I'm still doing everything I can to keep it at bay -- stretching religiously, wearing my inserts, rolling my foot on a frozen lacrosse ball three times a day, and wearing that godawful night splint to bed every night. I even changed from my beloved Mizunos to Brooks. Anything to prevent me from being unable to finish my 50 States quest.)

I have been hoping that I would be sufficiently healed by September to do another state. Specifically, I wanted to do the Monument Marathon in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. There are two reasons I want to do that one: one, I read a book about a guy who took a mule-drawn covered wagon from the start of the Oregon Trail to the finish, and he wrote about Scottsbluff and it sounded cool, and two, the scenery is like the Badlands of South Dakota, which is the prettiest country I've ever seen aside from Arizona. I was okay for the 10-mile Detroit run last week -- not as fast as I used to be, and not pain-free, but not in agony either. A good test for my feet showed up right on time -- the RunDetroit 18-mile Course Preview Run for the Detroit Marathon, which happens in October. For $10, you get a supported run that includes Miles 10-26 of the marathon course, and then ends with Miles 1 and 2.

That sounded like a good deal to me. The weather this weekend was hot and muggy and I knew the odds of making myself do a long training run solo were minimal to zero. With a group, though, and with water stops to look forward to every four miles, this might be doable. Plus, I have no idea when I'll ever get to do this marathon because it is the same weekend as about 50% of the marathons I want to do in my remaining 16 states. It won't be till 2019 at the earliest, so I figured I may as well just check out the course now.

This seemed like a fine plan, and then Wednesday happened. Wednesday started with a swim before work. So technically I did not even need to work out after work. But I decided to do an easy three because I ate a cookie at work, or something, and I was obsessing about being over calories. I was just going to run down Rochester Road a short way and then turn around and run back. But as I was running down that stretch between Avon and Hamlin with no sidewalk, where the little singletrack footpath through the grass is, a place I have run dozens of times without incident, I went from cruising along to going down like a horse in a Western who puts its foot into a gopher hole on accident. One second everything was fine, the next second I was marveling at how exquisite the pain was. It really was, blinding and pure. I pulled myself up as fast as I went down because I didn't want any drivers to try to pull over to help in that place where there is nowhere for drivers to pull over. Here's what went through my head: Can't possibly walk back. I'll have to call Will. No, don't call Will, call Uber. Maybe I can walk back, it's only about half a mile. Let me try taking a couple steps. Oh, man, it hurts. No, maybe I can walk on it. If I can walk on it, what about a slow slow jog? Okay, this is doable. What if I just keep going forward instead of back to my car? Seems to be okay. Really, seems to be okay! Whew, seriously thought I broke something there. And I went on to finish the three miles at 8:11 pace in the heat and humidity, and my foot felt fine.

Well, at the end of the run it felt fine. By the time I got home, I was in agony. I iced it for an hour and it puffed up and turned all kinds of colors. It was painful at work the next day, but it's not like I couldn't walk on it. I knew I couldn't have broken it, because I couldn't have run two and a half miles painfree on a busted foot. By the next day, my foot hurt less but my calf on that same leg hurt more. Apparently I had also done something to my calf when I fell. I considered bailing on the 18-mile run but really, really did not want to. By this morning both calf and foot were slightly painful, but no more than slightly. (Although the foot is UGLY. Check it out. BTW, there is no angle at which a foot selfie is flattering.)

The run this morning started at Green Dot Stables on West Lafayette. This is not actually a stable, but a restaurant that looks really, really cool. I would've stayed afterwards if my stomach wasn't churned up from the run, but I definitely want to go back. (I have since googled it and found no trustworthy explanation of the horse theme, but I did find out that it has lots of fancy sliders and is open late. Who wants to go with me? Like, tonight maybe?) I sprayed Bio-freeze on my foot and calf and hoped for the best.

While I waited for the start, I looked at the course map. For some reason, I had thought it was straightforward. Nope, lots of little turns, especially in the first half. We were assured that there were pink arrows everywhere, but I have some experience with trying to follow arrows and I know it is not one of my particular talents. Half of the time I'm looking somewhere else when I pass one, and the other half of the time I'm on the wrong side of the street. I figured I would be able to see people most of the time -- I've been in marathons with fewer runners than this event had -- but I couldn't guarantee it. So I ran to my car, got a pen, and did this:

I wrote directions till I ran out of hand surface and figured the second half was more straightforward than the first so I would probably be okay, as long as I didn't sweat too much. Ha. (Dew point was 71 and temperature at the start was 76. It was going to be a long, steamy morning.)

The run started out going through some residential streets that I had never seen before, but, man, were they ever cute. I wonder how many tucked-away little neighborhoods like those there are in Detroit? Probably hundreds. Then we headed towards downtown on Michigan. We zig-zagged around downtown for a while and then headed out of town on Lafayette towards Indian Village. This was a long stretch, but there was plenty of shade and much better sidewalks than I was expecting. Most places I run in Detroit it's sort of dangerous to raise your eyes from the sidewalk because it seems to jump up and pull you down if you don't keep a close watch. We had to run around a few piles of human shit but, what the hell, it's Sunday morning. Otherwise the run was very nice. Neither foot was hurting and I was running way too fast, about 8:20 pace, but I felt fine and was even able to talk to people.

We turned on Seminole and ran for almost a mile on that road, which has magnificent old trees keeping everything cool and one beautiful old house after another. Then we turned and headed back towards the river again. After the second water stop around Mile 8, the party slowly began to be over. I felt a dull ache in my plantar fasciitis foot (the colorful one was still feeling no pain), and I knew what was coming -- Belle Isle. I love Belle Isle -- sometimes. But I have had my fair share of shitty runs there too. In fact, that's where the plantar fasciitis showed up for real a few months ago. I wasn't looking forward to the bridge and I didn't know exactly where I was going. I knew we weren't looping the whole island but were cutting over somewhere in the middle. The crowd had thinned out by now, and there were as many recreational runners out there as there were runners from my group, and I didn't know who was who, and it would be a lousy place to miss an arrow, is what I'm saying. Also, it was sizzling hot by now, and despite my bragging earlier to two hot guys that I liked the heat (and then proceeding to chick them effortlessly), I was now hot and uncomfortable. I stopped to walk on the bridge. I looked down at the sailboats in the Detroit River and wished I was on one, even though I hate boats and would be violently ill in minutes if I was actually on one. I took off my shirt, which was as wet as if I had dipped it in the river. I debated skipping Belle Isle entirely and walking back to my car, or perhaps calling Uber. But then I told myself, "NO!" The point of this day was not to see if my foot would hurt. I KNEW my foot would hurt. The point was to see if I could persist through the pain and justify registering for Monument! So I kept going.

Belle Isle was pretty much as miserable as I had expected. (I did not, however, miss the arrow telling me where to cut across it.) I shuffled around Belle Isle in a funk, feeling only slightly better as I realized every single other runner I saw out there was also in a funk and shuffling. I was glad it wasn't 95 and humid, but 83 and humid with full sun was still plenty miserable. I remembered seeing the looks of misery on the marathoners' faces as they came off Belle Isle back in October when I was spectating. Belle Isle is beautiful and interesting, so why is it such an energy sucker like 9 times out of 10 that I run it? It is one of the great mysteries of life.

Once off Belle Isle, we headed back downtown. There was a stretch on the riverfront, where three other runners and I all forgot that the riverfront does not stretch seamlessly from Cobo to Belle Isle. There are a few pointless little interruptions where you have to leave the water and go back on the road. We ran into a locked gate and realized we had to backtrack. Only like a block, but that was enough to bring everyone down. We made sad faces and walked the backtrack. Then we were on Atwater for a while. After the last aid station, we turned right on Rivard and headed back up to Larned, where we zig-zagged through town again and ended up on Fort for the last two miles of the run, which are actually the FIRST two miles of the marathon, the part where the marathoners head up to the Ambassador Bridge.

This is, without doubt, the ugliest part of the course, an industrial wasteland much better suited for the start of the course than the finish. I remember last October, standing out here in my winter jacket well before sunrise, waving a sign for John's 3:45 pace group and squinting through snowflakes. Today the weather was the opposite. We sizzled like ants under a magnifying glass as we dragged ourselves up Fort to wherever the last turn was. (16th, or 18th, one of those.)

My time was lousy (2:50, just barely squeaking in under 10:00 pace), and my stomach was a disaster (I will spare you details), and I didn't drink even close to enough water, but I'm still happy with the run. Okay, my time sucked, but it was my first long run since May, and in pretty gross weather. Also, I ran the whole way except for that tiny little bit on the bridge. My foot hurt, but it wasn't debilitating, and I could have run another eight miles if necessary. It seems like this plantar fasciitis is kind of like that annoying tendonitis -- it makes running unpleasant, but not impossible. So I am going to go ahead and register for Monument, and the next thing to do will be to start worrying about my October race. I have been planning for over a year to do the I-35 Challenge, back-to-back Kansas City and Des Moines, but I'm not sure that's going to be doable. As much as it pains me to say it, I may just have to bump that double to next year and do Baltimore this October. (Baltimore is LITERALLY the only marathon worth doing in Maryland. I have looked at all of them and that is my conclusion.) I will wait till Monument and see if running another marathon the day after the first one is even a possibility with my feet in their current condition. (I've done back-to-backs twice, but this foot thing really has the potential to mess with my plans.)

In the meantime, I sort of wish I was doing Detroit. It's got everything I like -- gritty areas, beautiful neighborhoods, lots of downtown, a downtown finish, pretty flat, breaks down into manageable chunks easily, and really gives you a good luck at the city. Well, quest first, pleasure later; the marathon will still be here in 2019.