Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Next 25

25 states done means 25 states left, and I have actually planned out a surprising number of them, as in, picked out which race I will do and maybe even which year. This seems like a good time to put out my list to see if any of the runners I know have any of the same races on their lists.

Alabama: First Light Marathon in Mobile, planning to do a back-to-back with Mississippi Blues in January 2017.

Alaska: I really, really want to do the Equinox Marathon in September. That is going to be a huge, expensive trip but... I want it. Probably it will be in my last year of marathons.

Arkansas: I think Hogeye in Fayetteville, in March. Even though Little Rock is way easier to get to, I am totally turned off by the medal, which is like the size of a dinner plate and would totally look out of place with my other medals. Haven't picked the year yet.

Connecticut: Hartford, this October, done as a back-to-back with Newport, Rhode Island.

Delaware: Leaning towards Rehoboth Beach in December, because it would be an "easy" drive and because there are hardly any other marathons in December so it is a good fit schedule-wise.

Florida: I have my heart set on the Southernmost Marathon in Key West, in October. Probably 2017 since there are too many other marathons I want to do in October before this one.

Georgia: Rock and Roll Savannah, in November. Maybe 2016?

Hawaii: Honolulu in December, no idea what year. Probably my last year of 50 states, which is looking like it will be 2018 if I keep up this pace.

Idaho: Already registered for Pocatello in September 2015.

Iowa: Des Moines in October. Hoping to double it with Kansas City, MO, in 2016 if my class schedule permits.

Kansas: Torn between the Eisenhower in April in Abilene and the Prairie Fire in Wichita in October. I have a soft spot for Abilene because I remember driving through it on my first cross-country drive to New York back in 1999. It was the first place I saw soda called "pop" on a menu, and also the first (and last) place I saw gas for under $1.00/gallon in my adult driving life. Prairie Fire seems to be more popular with the Marathon Maniacs crowd. I don't know; maybe I will skip Prairie Fire just because it's in October and there are too many other races in that month.

Kentucky: Hatfield-McCoy in June, hopefully 2016 but I think I might be in class then, so it might have to wait till 2017.

Maryland: Totally undecided, but it will probably be a last-minute sign-up to fill in a gap in my schedule, since Maryland is a drivable state.

Minnesota: Grandma's in June, but no idea what year. I want to say 2016, but, same as Kentucky, it all depends on when I'm in class.

Mississippi: Mississippi Blues back-to-back with First Light, January 2017.

Missouri: Kansas City 2016, doubling with Des Moines.

Nebraska: Don't know, haven't even begun to research it.

New Jersey: Really not sure. There aren't a lot of choices in New Jersey; it's pretty much either Atlantic City or the New Jersey Marathon in Oceanport. I wish they had one in Morristown but so far they don't.

North Carolina: Grandfather Mountain, July 2015. Not looking forward to this one since it will be hot and there are no hills here to train on.

North Dakota: Same as Nebraska, I'll probably let the calendar decide. Maybe Fargo, since it's in May when there aren't a lot of other marathons.

Oklahoma: It has to be Oklahoma City in April. I'm hoping to do this one in 2016.

Rhode Island: As mentioned above, it's going to be Newport in October 2015.

South Carolina: Myrtle Beach in February, hopefully 2016.

South Dakota: Deadwood, June 2015. Two weeks from now!

Wyoming: Haven't decided yet. I know this will be one of my most expensive marathons to get to and also one of the most difficult ones because of the elevation, so I haven't really been in a hurry to pick my Wyoming marathon.

All right, who wants to join me for any of those? Don't everyone volunteer at once!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Heat, Hills, and Humidity -- Shires of Vermont Marathon Race Report

State #25, Marathon #32, halfway there!

I started running in 2005, and it has taken me ten years to get to the halfway point. This year I've sped it up some. I've done three marathons already this year, and am registered for three more, and am planning to register for two more on top of that if I can bring myself to sign up for another back-to-back in October. Anyway, this one, Vermont, was not a planned marathon even two weeks ago. But I thought that maybe I could squeeze in another one between Nashville and Deadwood next month. My thinking was that 1) if I didn't do a marathon, I should probably do a longish run of 15-18 miles this weekend anyway, so might as well do the drive and add a few more miles and get credit for another state rather than doing another double Kensington or something else boring, 2) if I did Vermont, I could then have almost all of New England done, all but Connecticut and Rhode Island, which, coincidentally, have back-to-back marathons in October! If I do the back-to-backs, New England could be the first region of the U.S. that I finish. We all know it was inevitable that once I thought "Maybe I should add another marathon", I was going to. So I did.

Vermont is beautiful; everyone knows that. But I kind of don't get the whole existence of Vermont. I don't get how it can have so many perfectly adorable little towns whose economies appear to be based entirely on antique shops, artisan soap companies, and rustic furniture makers. I don't get how every single view in every direction looks like a postcard. I don't get how residents seem to automatically understand exactly how to make sure that their yards have natural-looking wildflowers but also perfect mowing jobs with diagonal stripes and everything. Vermont is almost too precious. (I like New Hampshire better. Same natural beauty but doesn't look like it's trying too hard to look like peoples' mental picture of perfect small New England towns.) Anyway, just because Vermont looks almost contrived sometimes doesn't mean I don't love it. It would almost be un-American not to love it!

The Shires of Vermont Marathon is a point-to-point course starting in North Bennington at Bennington College, and meandering through the back roads of North Bennington, Shaftsbury, Arlington, and  Sunderland before finishing in Manchester Center. This is a very well-run race. Every single thing about it was perfectly organized. I stayed in Bennington. There was no expo, but there was packet pickup the night before, at the 13.5-mile aid station on the course, which happened to be a church (naturally, a white church with a steeple). At packet pickup, the church was hosting a $10 all-you-can-eat pancake dinner with locally made maple syrup. I should have stayed but I didn't feel like being social. Marathon road trips to me are like my perfect time to just closet myself in my hotel room and read, read, read for hours, what I always want to do at home but never seem to have time for. So I just picked up my number and T-shirt and went straight back to my hotel.

On race morning you can park at either the start or the finish. If you park at the finish, there is a morning shuttle back to the start. This is what I did. This race has an 8:00 a.m. start time, which to me seems late and is really my only complaint about this race. A 7:00 a.m. race start seems like it would be so much better, considering the high temps usually experienced here. I drove to the finish at 5:00 a.m. through green mountains and a beautiful misty sunrise. I knew it was going to be hot because I was already warm even at 5:00 a.m. I didn't really mind because I like heat, but I definitely have not run in the heat at all this year. The marathon in Nashville had the highest temps I've experienced so far, but even that was only about 70, and had cloud cover the whole way. This one was supposed to be 80 with a mix of clouds and sun that turned out to be 100% sun.

On the shuttle to the start line was the famous Marathon Maniac Larry. His shirt said "1400 marathons" (though I am pretty sure he has more than that now). He's done the 50 States nine times and has or maybe at one time had the Guinness Record for most lifetime marathons. I am a Maniac too but as usual was incognito. I decided this is the last marathon I'm doing without Maniac gear. I like the Maniacs more and more the more marathons I do. (And trust me, 32 marathons may sound like a lot to readers of this blog but it is NOTHING in Maniac World, where hundreds of marathons is not uncommon.)

The start line at Bennington College was very laid-back. We were able to wait inside the VAPA (Visual and Performing Arts) building, which had not only bathrooms but also couches. I am getting spoiled by being able to wait inside for marathon starts since my last four marathons have all had this feature. Some day I will have to wait outside again and will not enjoy it. My Michigan Realtor, Andrea, was also doing this marathon, and, oh, wait, she was also doing three more marathons in a five-day stretch. The Shires of Vermont was the first marathon in a stretch of five New England races designed for 50 Staters. Not me, no, never, no thank you. Anyway, I met up with Andrea and we discussed the heat. I really wanted to take my sleeveless shirt off and just run in a sports bra, but it was see-through so I decided against it. I know science says you stay cooler if you cover up with more clothing, but I simply do not agree. I feel better with LESS clothing no matter what science says.

The whole race was pretty much hills, hills, hills from start to finish. I like hills, a lot, but not so much with the blazing sun in my face. I was really hot and sweaty just a couple miles in, and right in the beginning were some long sections with no shade at all. Luckily they didn't last long, and within a few miles we were on hard-packed gravel roads with a lush canopy of trees and plenty of shade. I did not like the gravel roads, not at all. I know I have said before that I am like the princess and the pea when it comes to running on rocks. The tiniest rock that I land on while running feels like a torture device stabbing my foot. Seriously, these eight or so miles of gravel roads made me wish for my Hokas. I was glad to see pavement again.

Earlier I said my only complaint about this race was the 8:00 a.m. start time, but I just realized that is not strictly true. My other complaint is that the course was open to traffic. I mean totally open. At a few points there were cones separating us from the cars, but most of the time there was nothing, even when we were running with traffic. Even though this is small town New England where all drivers are conscientious and pay attention, it still made me a little nervous. As the race goes on longer, my brain gets stupider and I stop thinking about stuff like cars. All it would take is one driver not paying attention and BOOM! runner down! That did not happen and has not ever happened, but still, it made me nervous.

I got to the half feeling basically okay aside from the heat, and even that wasn't bothering me too much. There was a really big hill between Mile 14 and Mile 15 that took me down a notch, even though there was a sweet covered bridge right in the middle of that hill (red with white trim). I walked a lot of that, the first time I walked in the whole race (but not the last!). Then there was a really nice downhill to make up for it. Then the course became totally exposed to the sun, and suddenly I was really, really hot.

I slowed to a walk, fanned myself with my shirt to try to get some air, wiped the salt crust off my face, and touched the bandanna on my head to find that it was, like, sizzling hot. I felt like I was on fire. Screw it! Shirt was coming off, see-through sports bra or not. I took it off and immediately felt better but still in danger of spontaneous combustion. The sun pounded down on me like I was back in Arizona, only with 95% humidity instead of single digits. It seemed like around every single bend in the road was another cheerful little brook running over a perfect gravel bed with perfect wildflowers all along the edges (did I also mention the course smelled like lilacs the whole way?). I wanted nothing more than to go lie down in every bit of running water we passed. It was like torture.

I had not looked at my watch the whole time, as usual. I always try to just run moderately hard no matter what pace I'm actually going. But just before I got to Mile 20, a volunteer at an aid station told me, "You're the third place woman! Second place is tired! Run, you can catch her!" Then I did look at my watch and saw that my time at almost 20 miles was 2:45, which was a crazy good time considering the difficulty of the course. Unfortunately for me, my race was pretty much done. My stomach was really bothering me even though I had stuck to my tried and true fueling plan (gel at 7, 13, 19, no Gatorade, just water). I'd even popped a salt tab at Mile 15 because of how much I was sweating. My legs felt pretty much okay but between my stomach, the sun, the fact that I knew the last 6 miles consisted of a long, gradual uphill, and my absolute lack of desire to try any harder, I decided I was going to take it easy. So I did. (You do the math: 2:45 just before 20 miles, finish time of 4:07. That is all.)

Pretty soon I wasn't the third place woman anymore as a few women passed me. I didn't care about that either. Most everyone was walking now, and bitching about the heat and the hills. I was actually tired of the scenery, no matter how beautiful it was, and just wanted this experience to be done. The temps were fine when I was walking. I managed a slow jog sometimes, but not often. The aid stations started handing out ice, so every time I passed one -- and there was one every mile after 20 -- I stuffed handfuls of ice down my bra at every station and it usually lasted almost till the next one, which was nice and kept the suffering to a minimum.

The finish line was inside some kind of community building in Hunter Park in Manchester Center. Naturally, this being Vermont, the medal was handmade by a local ceramics company. Of course it was! Finish line food was nothing short of spectacular. They had absolutely everything, from soup and chili and sandwiches to pizza, fruit, chips, bagels, chocolate milk, yogurt and granola, and every kind of beverage you can imagine. I wish my stomach hadn't been in such turmoil so I could've eaten more. Andrea finished shortly after me and we watched age group awards. Astonishingly, even with all that walking I still won my age group, something that has never happened at any marathon ever. I got a cool slate serving plate with the name and date of the race engraved on it. (Second and third place age group winners got local maple syrup, which I would have preferred to my plate but I figured it would be awkward to ask to do an exchange.)

I really thought this would be one of my favorite races, but I can't quite say that it was. The hills were okay, but along with the heat were a little much. I just can't figure out why the late start. I would say 7:00 is the normal start time for marathons, especially warm-weather marathons. The lack of separation from traffic was a little disturbing. And finally, when I read in the course description that the course went through five towns, I thought it meant, like, the center of all of those towns, but that really didn't happen. The great majority of the course was rural residential, and mostly looked the same. Even beautiful views can get boring after that many miles. So it was a good marathon and well-organized but I don't think I would do it again.

(This blog was written during a bout of post-marathon insomnia and fueled by mint Oreos and Diet Coke.)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

If You Like Rollers, This Race Is For You! -- St. Jude Country Music Marathon Race Report

I have had this race on my list FOREVER. I always knew it would be my Tennessee race. I love Nashville, I love country music, and I love Rock-N-Roll marathons, so it was a natural fit. It did not disappoint at all!

To start with, Nashville is the coolest of cities. It's pretty, there is tons of stuff to do, and it's alive. It was so nice to be in a city that was lively, not like dead Detroit. Their downtown is beautiful and jam-packed with people walking around. (Side note: The Seeing Eye actually started in Nashville because that was where Morris Frank lived. If the founders had not been such wimps and moved to New Jersey because they couldn't take the summer heat of Nashville, The Seeing Eye might still be in Nashville today. Wouldn't that be cool? I think so.)

The forecast for race day was BAD. 100% chance of rain for Saturday, with severe storms predicted including possible tornadoes. (The whole state was red on The Weather Channel, and the TorCon -- which I had never heard of but is apparently a tornado predictor -- was a 6, which means tornadoes very likely.) There was a lot of discussion on Facebook about whether the race would be cancelled, but ultimately they decided to go ahead and hold it, which was a relief. (The weather turned out to be fine -- 57 with no rain at the start line, no rain throughout the race -- plenty of sun and a little breeze instead -- and 70 at the finish, no tornadoes at all. The Illinois Marathon got cancelled halfway through for severe weather and the Louisville Marathon had rain the whole way, so Nashville just got lucky this time.)

I stayed in the Comfort Inn on Demonbreun, which was walking distance to everything -- the expo, the start line, and the finish line. That was nice. The expo was perfectly organized and huge, but I have to say -- what happened to all the free food? Was 5:30 p.m. on the day before the race just too late to arrive and still got food? Or is that a trend, that free food is disappearing? I am used to getting an entire meal from free samples at the expo, especially at a huge race like this with 30,000 runners, but I went through the whole expo and the only samples I got were a little cup with baby carrots and a minuscule dab of hummus, a cucumber on a toothpick with some spicy sauce on it, and another little bag of carrots with a container of onion-flavored Greek yogurt dip, which I tasted and threw away in disgust. Where were the Power Bars, the Clif Bars, the new drinks, the smoothies, the granola, and all the other stuff? Someone please tell me I was just too late and the good stuff was gone.

I may have mentioned that I am a huge fan of Rock-N-Roll races. I know some people love to hate them. "They're too big!" (People love them and want to participate in them, oh no!) "They cater to the half-marathoners!" (Well, there are like five times as many half-marathoners as there are marathoners, because that's a more attainable distance, so what?) "They're too commercial!" (Running is a business like any other. Would YOU put on a race if you weren't going to make money? I wouldn't.) "They're too expensive!" (That's because they're held in awesome urban areas and it takes money to create an awesome race experience for participants, which I personally am more than willing to pay.) In my opinion, R-N-R races have the best organization (aside from the 2010 San Diego finish line transportation debacle), the coolest courses, by far the best medals, and the best overall race experience, and therefore I am going to continue paying their relatively high entry fees. (By the way, registration for this marathon next year is only $55 right now, which is dirt cheap!) I am sad that in my 50 States quest I will probably only run two more R-N-R marathons -- St. Louis and Savannah -- unless I am forgetting one.

Anyway, there were 40 corrals at the start line. i was in #9. Oh, let me also mention that the First Baptist Church on Broadway, which is an enormous church, opened its facilities to runners. It was amazing that in a race of this size we were able to hang out inside a comfortable building and walk right into the bathroom with either no wait or else a very short wait (less than 5 minutes at 20 minutes to race start). Even though it wasn't raining, we all knew it could have been, and were profoundly appreciative of the church for letting us in. (What Would Jesus Do? Of course, open the church to the runners.)

The first part of the course went through downtown and Music Row. There were hills from the beginning -- constantly. I swear there is no part of this city that is flat. I enjoy rolling hills; they break up the monotony, and the good thing is that there were no too-lomg or too-steep hills. (That one at Mile 16-18 or so seemed a little too long, but then again it was a sweet downhill to the finish line at Mile 25!)  Most of the hills were the kind you could charge up and then coast down the other side, the kind I liked. It was also cool to run past the recording studios. A lot of them had banners out front with big pictures of the famous country singers on their labels.

We ran around Belmont University, where I am pretty sure I worked with a Seeing Eye client like ten years ago. It was a beautiful neighborhood, with huge, pretty houses and the entire neighborhood out to  cheer on the runners. We ran past one big front lawn party after another. After several small marathons in a row, it was a lot of fun to see a place where the city residents were actually proud of their marathon and supportive of it.

(I have a habit of noticing what dog breeds race spectators have with them. In Nashville the overwhelmingly most popular dog breed on the course was the golden retriever, followed by golden doodles, followed by Labs, then boxers, then I lost count. I only saw three shepherds, and none of them looked happy to be there. I didn't see a single Cavalier -- how sad! I did see two Bernese Mountain Dogs and two Australian Cattle Dogs, though. Yes, I am a geek about dog breeds and admit it. So what. Whatever gets me through the marathon, I say.)

Around Mile Ten we ran back into the downtown area, and then the marathon split away from the half-marathon for a tedious out-and-back. I can't remember the name of the road but it was the same one we exited the freeway on yesterday. I hate long out-and-backs, at least on the out part. I do not mind the back part because I get to run past all those people who have longer to go than I do, whereas on the out part I am being passed by people who have less to go than I do, which is depressing. Now, in many past R-N-R Marathons -- like, all of them -- one thing that has been a pain is that they like to split the marathon and the half-marathon but then rejoin them later at a point where fast marathoners meet slow half-marathoners. In this marathon, the marathoners left the half-marathoners around Mile Eleven, ran the out-and-back, and rejoined the half-marathoners at Mile Sixteen, which was still Mile Eleven for the half-marathoners, which meant that 9:00 pace marathoners were joining up with like 12:30 pace half-marathoners, which has created a clusterf*ck in the past. But this time, they had gates separating the marathoners from the half-marathoners, so we were alongside them, but not with them. Brilliant! I was glad once we left the half-marathoners entirely and ran across the Cumberland River. I always want to kill all of them for the crime of being almost done while I still have miles of torture ahead of me.

Miles Seventeen through almost Twenty went uphill, but it was a gradual uphill that didn't hurt. Still, I walked around Mile Nineteen for a few minutes. I hadn't looked at my watch at all, and the clocks at the mile markers didn't really give me any information because the wave start meant that I hadn't started till well after gun time, but I hadn't paid attention to how much after gun time. I had a feeling that I was doing okay -- just the absence of needing to walk, the feeling that I was able to sprint up hills, the number of people I was passing, the fact that I hadn't been passed by a pace group… I wasn't aiming for any particular time though I was certainly hoping to beat my moderately crappy 4:25 from last month's marathon. I saw a lot of people who looked worse than me, and, as usual, that gave me more energy. As a runner, I feel like I am some kind of parasite who feeds off the weakness of other runners. That is not one of my better qualities as a human being, but nevertheless it does come in handy in the later miles of marathons.

Miles Twenty-One through Twenty-four were another out-and-back. This one led us into a park and on a long loop around a lake. Around Twenty-three I saw a guy who was screaming in pain from leg cramps. I asked him if he wanted a salt tab. (I have been carrying them around since I moved to Michigan but have never used them out here.) He said he did. I asked if he wanted one or two, and he said two. I think you're only supposed to take one at a time but my brain was fuzzy and I am pretty sure he was operating on the principle "If one is good, more is better!" I also operate on this principle at this stage in marathons, which leads to me doing things like eating ten Tums instead of four when I'm having stomach issues, so I totally understand. I gave him the salt tabs -- actually put them in his mouth because he didn't seem to be able to lift his hands to do it himself. He took them and I ran off, with new energy because at least I wasn't that guy.

It was really warm by now and I saw several casualties of the heat in the last few miles. The med tent guys were busy. I myself felt basically fine. Oh, I had a blister and I didn't want to run anymore and my legs felt like they wanted to cramp if I kept going much farther, but my stomach was fine and I really had no reason that I had to stop. I wanted to walk anyway but I finally looked at my watch and saw that as long as I kept up 11:00 pace I would finish under four hours. So I grudgingly dug up a little more energy and made it up that bitch of a hill between Twenty-Five and Twenty-Six (short, but nasty) and into the finish chute at 3:58:20 and having run 26.45 miles according to my Garmin.

Two last things that Rock-N-Roll is THE BEST at -- medals, always sparkly and heavy with the date on them, and finish line festivals. There is always a beer garden, which I have no interest in, live music, and tons of free food. I grabbed a banana, a cup of peaches, a mint Power Bar, a Gatorade, two waters, and a chocolate milk as I wandered out of the finish area, and would have grabbed more except I ran out of hands. My stomach was fine and I had eaten about half of what I picked up by the time I got out of the finish area and walked back to my hotel.

The concert tonight is Martina McBride but I am not going because I would rather just walk around Nashville (assuming I can stand when I quit typing this -- I haven't really tried standing after my two-hour nap and am not sure how that's going to feel). State #24 and Marathon #31 in the books! My next planned marathon is Deadwood in June but if anyone twists my arm I might be up for a May one too, to get me to the halfway point sooner.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Bike Path and Mud -- Trailbreaker Marathon Race Report

State #23 (Wisconsin), Marathon #30. (I could've sworn my last marathon was State #23, but no, I checked Marathon Maniacs and this one is definitely 23. Bummer! Still so many states to go!)

I signed up for this race at almost the last possible moment -- online registration closed at midnight March 25, and I clicked "Confirm Registration" at 10:02 p.m. I am in no way in marathon shape. I did a 20-miler in early February, but between that and last weekend's 15, I haven't done anything more than 10, plus lots of cross-training at the gym. It seemed like a waste to not do a marathon in driving distance this weekend, though, since I had Friday off.

Wisconsin is a state that not only had I never run a marathon in, I also had not ever visited. I don't know why; I've lived practically next door to it for two years now, and every guide dog school I've worked for has had grads there. I just never made it until now. The race was in Waukesha, which is a suburb of Milwaukee. It's a 6-hour drive from my house. It didn't look like anything spectacular race-wise; its chief appeal was proximity and cost (only $65 for the marathon, even at the last minute, with lots of cheap motels around).

My mindset going into this race was that I would use it as a supported training run. And it's a good thing that was my plan, because that was totally what it was. It was very small, just over a hundred people in the marathon, and while it had everything it needed, it didn't have one single extra thing. Fine with me -- I'd rather have it affordable and not fancy. If I want fancy I will stick to RNR marathons.

This race was so small it didn't even have an expo. Packet pickup was race morning. It was in the town's rec center, which also meant we had the luxury of hanging out indoors where it was heated and using real bathrooms with no lines. The "heated" was a good thing -- the forecasted low of 27 actually turned out to be 14, and 27 was more like the high. Brrrr. But there was so much sun that I never really felt cold during the whole run, even though I was only wearing one layer.

The first three miles of the race went around town -- along the Fox River and then through the downtown area, which was pretty cool. Then it switched to the Glacial Drum Trail -- which was actually a bike path. A long, long, boring bike path, albeit with some pretty views of farm country. This could've been the Macomb-Orchard Trail here or the American River bike path in Sacramento or really any long, straight bike path anywhere. It was totally flat, straight, and boring. I could usually see one or two runners ahead of me somewhere, but really there were as many runners coming towards me on training runs as there were people in the race. Aside from the boredom, I felt pretty good. I was purposely going slow so I wasn't uncomfortable at all. The colors of this race were blue (the sky), grey (the asphalt), and brown (everything else -- the naked trees, the farm fields, the cattails, the river water). It was a monotonous color scheme that didn't change at all throughout the whole race.

Shortly after the 11-mile mark (8+ miles of bike path), the course crossed the highway onto the Ice Age Trail. The website promised that this part of the race was "extremely rugged". For the first half-mile or so on this trail, I thought that claim was ridiculous. It was a gently rolling forest trail, and my feet were very happy to leave the bike path even if there were a good number of tree roots to watch out for. But then the mud appeared, and stayed. The trail became a giant mud pit where even walking was slightly risky, as evidenced by the number of slide marks in the mud and the number of runners coming the other way with mud smears all over them. I HATE MUD! I walked, and didn't feel bad about it, for two miles to the turn-around.

The turn-around was a lookout tower, reached by a long flight of wooden steps. Then, once we got to the tower, we had to climb six more flights of steps up to the top of it and ring a little bell. This was the highest point in the county and I got a brief impression of a dazzlingly beautiful view of lakes and farm country for what looked like a hundred miles, in every direction, with Milwaukee off in the distance. I'm afraid of heights and the view actually turned my legs to jelly so that when I turned around to come down I had to hold on to the splintery rail with both hands. I still have not decided whether having to climb the tower was cool or annoying. I think a little of both.

In my head I was thinking the run back to the bike path was going to be easy because of the downhill. This was, of course, wrong. It was much more slippery than before, both because gravity was working against my balance and because the trail had now been churned up more by all the runners behind me. What a mess. I walked more. I was never so happy to see boring bike path.

There's not much to say about the rest of the race. Again, on the way back I saw hardly any other runners, at least not runners in the marathon. There were plenty of recreational runners, cyclists, and dog walkers, but zero spectators and at most one other marathon runner in sight, often not even one. I ran most of the way, though not fast.

I was relieved to get back into town for the last mile and a half, but there were still no spectators. There were lots of turns going through the downtown area, but thankfully they were all well-marked and had race volunteers stationed at each one. (This race has gotten negative reviews in the past for confusing, badly-marked course; thankfully they seem to have rectified that problem.) I hadn't looked at my watch the whole time and was shocked to see 4:25 on the finish line clock. I mean, I knew the trail miles had slowed me down but I had felt like I was moving pretty good on the bike path. Later when I checked my watch I saw that I didn't do any miles under 9:00, sort of the opposite of how I felt on my last training run in Detroit when I was BQ pace the whole way while thinking I was running slow. That was kind of disappointing, but at least I didn't feel like puking and I'm not horrendously sore this morning.

Overall this was an okay marathon as long as you aren't expecting scenery, smooth trail, or spectators. I was forewarned of all those things so thought it was acceptable, though certainly not exciting. I sort of wish I'd held out for Milwaukee or Madison, but on the other hand, it would've been a shame to waste a free day off, and now I've got another state done. So it's all good.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Welcome 2015!

Here's hoping that 2015 will be a better year, running-wise, than 2014!

I was really off my game in a big way in 2014. I only did two marathons, both squeezed in at the end of the year, and I had big chunks of the year where I didn't work out at all for a week or two weeks at a time. I also ate like a Midwesterner pretty much all year long. Surprisingly, that didn't make me obese (not quite), not even the fattest I've ever been (though close). But it does make me feel lumpy and not myself. Although, this time of year, who can tell underneath all the layers? All Michiganders are fat in winter, whether they really are or not. Anyway, starting at Thanksgiving and continuing steadily all the way through Christmas, I ate so much garbage -- so many empty carbs, sugar by the pound -- that I actually don't even want to eat garbage anymore. During my trip home from California, I got a salad in the L.A. airport. It was one of the best salads I've ever had, all green and fresh. I fell on that thing like I hadn't eaten a week, and gorged myself on lettuce and didn't even want anything else. My body was like, THANK YOU!! (And I paused to think how sad it was that an airport salad in L.A. was better than any salad I've had in Michigan the whole time I've been here, not counting the amazing ones the kitchen at Leader serves. Salads in Michigan seem to be an afterthought; it's like wilted iceberg lettuce is nothing for a restaurant to be ashamed of.)

I am already registered for two marathons, Nashville and Deadwood, so that is an improvement over last year when I didn't sign up for anything but the Corktown 5k all year long. I'm still planning on the back-to-back Connecticut/Rhode Island in October, but that's a little too far out to sign up for now. I really should squeeze in a fifth marathon somewhere. If I want to finish my 50 states goal doing four marathons a year, I won't be done until 2020. I think five a year is doable both financially and training-wise, but we'll see.

I miss Tucson more and more all the time. I have always thought about Tucson every day, but often it feels like I think about it all day every day. The way I miss Tucson is like waves on the beach -- the feeling of missing Tucson rolls in, and then rolls out briefly, and then comes right back in again. I miss things I thought I would never miss, like running up the 36th Street hill by my house (a quarter-mile long, always a headwind) and running at Reid Park (which I thought I was thoroughly sick of a few years ago), and even that feeling in July and August and September like I was running through a blast furnace. I remember when I lived in Tucson I had random moments all the time when I would be stopped at a traffic light and look up at the mountains and feel certain that I would never leave and nothing that would require me to leave was ever even a possibility to be considered. I remember how I always felt just a little not-quite-right leaving the city limits for any reason, and the profound feeling of relief when I got back home afterwards. Tucson was the place I recognized as home the first time I saw it (in my headlights at 3 a.m. in January of 1997) and spent much of my adult life trying to get to. Without the running group in Tucson, I would never have tried trail running, let alone done the Pikes Peak Marathon twice or any ultras at all. And I certainly never would have qualified for Boston. I can't tell you how much I think about WOG and ComeRun and wish I was able to go on the runs I hear about on Facebook and on the list.

Okay, but even as much as I miss Tucson, I don't hate Michigan. Michigan is... all right. I don't dislike it as much as I disliked New York and New Jersey. People are nice here and it's cheap to live and I have everything I need. And the other big thing is that, the way I miss Tucson now? I missed this job -- being a guide dog instructor -- when I was living in Tucson EXACTLY THE SAME WAY. It was exactly the same feeling of waves coming in on a beach -- I thought about it constantly and it never let up. Eventually it was strong enough to pull me out of Tucson. I wonder if some day the missing-Tucson will be strong enough to pull me back? The feeling of rightness I had in Tucson every time I walked in the cactus forest or looked up at a sunset or looked down at the city from up in the Catalinas is the same feeling I get almost every day in the middle of some random thing like correcting a work error a dog made or explaining to a client how to fix a situation or talking to a puppy raiser about how their dog is doing in training. I just don't think that feeling is going to let up soon, or ever. I don't think life is going to let me leave Michigan for a while, possibly not ever. Anyway, there is nothing in Tucson that I can do that wouldn't leave me with that soul-sucking feeling I had at the V.A., like I was wasting my life and not doing what I was supposed to be doing. (And the V.A. was a job that I LIKED; I mean, helping blind veterans? What's not to like about that? I liked my coworkers and the government treated me well. It just wasn't the right thing for me to do, because training guide dogs is the right thing for me to do.)

Anyway, I don't even know what the point of all this is. Maybe that in a roundabout way I was trying to blame my lack of commitment to running on missing Tucson? Who knows. I am going to do better this year and get back on track. I am lucky that I have a super-gym right across the road from work that I love going to, even after a year and a half (the eucalyptus steam room; the hot tub; the beautiful people; the unlimited towels!), and as much as I miss the running community in Tucson, I know that the one out here is top-notch, too. I know this from the limited number of times I've run with those people -- both the Rochester running group and the triathlon group -- they are great and I fit in with them fine. I think I just need to make more of an effort to adjust my schedule so that I can run with them more often. Maybe I just need to stop bitching about how I miss mountains and focus on enjoying running by rivers and lakes, and make myself as proud of being tough in the cold as I was proud of being tough in the heat. (Side note: I know the weather was probably the biggest thing I dreaded when I came to Michigan, but surprisingly it is not that much of a factor in missing Tucson as I thought it would be, and not just because we've had a mild December. I have come to love Michigan Grey, which is perfect writing weather -- I even found myself wishing it wasn't quite so relentlessly sunny when I was in California for Christmas -- and I even enjoy the crisp bite of cold winter air when I step outside, and for some reason it makes me happy to see snow falling. I would still choose heat over cold if I had the choice, but the cold has its own severe beauty that I never really got the chance to appreciate before coming here. And I work outside; this is not a theoretical appreciation of cold but an actual appreciation based on experience.)

So, here's to a 2015 with a little bit more focus on running and a little bit more appreciation of the running resources Michigan has to offer. Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

What's Next?

I don't know what's next, but I feel so much more like myself now that I am actually running long distances again. I don't know how I let that year go by; I really don't. Anyway, I am thinking about my race schedule for next year. I seriously want to get this 50 States thing done. I started in 2005 and I think I can finish in 2019 or 2020, realistically. I mean I could finish sooner if I had unlimited money and vacation time, but, sadly, I do not. So here are the races I want to do next year, and if anyone wants to join me for any of them, please do!

Nashville Country Music Marathon in April. Maybe it is a little bit overly optimistic of me to think I will actually train over the winter to be ready for an April marathon, but I am going to try for it. One of the few states with a marathon I am excited about running. (I also want to do Oklahoma City in April, but not quite as much as I want to do Nashville, so I will put OK City off till next April.)

Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon in South Dakota, June 1. I've never even been to South Dakota, always wanted to go, and I'm just tired of waiting.

Hatfield-McCoy is June 13, so just two weeks after Deadwood. On the one hand, that would be crazy. On the other hand, I did Marshall U two weeks after Indianapolis and had a good run, and wasn't too sore. So it is a possibility. (By the way, the Hatfield-McCoy course runs through both West Virginia and Kentucky. 50 States rules say that when a marathon is like that, you can count it for either state you want. Of course I would count it for Kentucky since I already have West Virginia, which means I wouldn't ever do the Kentucky Derby Marathon, which is kind of a bummer, but… oh well.)

And last, I am planning to attempt another set of back-to-back marathons, Hartford/Newport, R.I., in October. I vaguely remember the total suckiness of the last back-to-back marathons I did, but am going to try it again anyway. It's been long enough since New Hampshire-Maine that the details of how much it sucked have kind of faded away, and I'm not going to go back and read my blog entries to remind myself. That would just be dumb.

Here is some news that is a bit of a bummer. I went to fill in my states on a marathon map, and found out I actually only have 22, when I have been claiming 23 all this time. I didn't really think it was possible to lose count, but I did. My total marathon count is 29. Why didn't someone stop me from running extra marathons in California and Arizona? (Not Colorado. Pikes Peak deserved to be run twice. It deserves to be run every year but I will not attempt it again until I live somewhere where I can get above 1000' elevation.)

That is about all the running news from here. Other than the fact that I am considering squeezing in one more this year, the Rehoboth Beach Marathon in Delaware December 6. When I was inside the stadium after the Marshall U Marathon, I ran into this girl I know casually from the Rochester running club. I had no idea she would be there since I haven't spent any time with the running group at all this whole year. She's a 50 States person too and had just qualified for Boston for the first time and was very excited about it. She also said she was doing Rehoboth Beach. That put it on my radar. It's expensive, probably cold, not my favorite kind of course, but still, it would be nice to actually be at 23 states by the end of this year if I can swing it. We will see.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

I Like Two-Loop Courses, Surprise! Marshall University Marathon Race Report

Let me be honest about something. I had written the first line of this race report in my head before I even got to Huntington, and it went like this in its original form: "This was the fourth in a row of mediocre small-town marathons -- nice for the community, logistically adequate, but totally lacking in any excitement for me as a runner." Then I actually did the marathon, and, wow! It is a really nice little marathon in every way.

I signed up for this race at the last possible minute, since I still wasn't sure whether there would be lingering effects from the Indianapolis Marathon two weeks ago. By last weekend I felt okay, so I went ahead and signed up, but not with very high expectations. The race reviews were generally good, but then again they almost always are, because (my theory) most people who write reviews pick their races based on the type of course they like, and they know the type of course the race is from reading previous reviews, so they are almost predisposed to like the races they enter. I, on the other hand, pick my races based on what's available at the last minute, how much money I can spend on travel, and which states I haven't done yet. So sometimes I end up in races that are not my type. I was pretty sure this would be one too.

I have to also say that I have never really liked West Virginia. (Sorry, Joan, I'm sure where you live is beautiful, but I've never been to that part.) I've been to four or five different places in West Virginia, and aside from the tourist part of Harpers Ferry, I have never found any part of it that didn't look exactly like what people outside the rural south thinks the rural south looks like. To me, West Virginia is one of those places, like the U.S./Mexico border, where stuff looks different the second you drive over a state line. Fences are rusty and sagging, sidewalks and streets are full of holes, porches have sofas on them and yard dogs are mean and the rednecks look like the dangerous kind. Huntington is kind of in the corner of West Virginia where it meets Ohio and Kentucky, and it didn't look any better than any other part of West Virginia I'd ever seen on the first pass. I was surprised by how big Marshall University was -- it looked like a real academic institution, which in my mind did not belong in West Virginia at all. Oh well, I was there to check off a state and not to look for a place to live.

It was cold, really cold, the night before, in the 30's with an icy cold wind blowing. Forecast was for sun on race day, but cold temps, low of 29. Luckily the forecast was wrong and it was 38 at the start line. There was plenty of free parking at the start, and we had access to the bathrooms inside the stadium, which was a total plus because they were heated. That is a serious luxury at a marathon start line. (Although it did mean I couldn't employ my usual technique for choosing a Portajohn line, which is to choose, not the shortest line, but the one where the last person in line is the most attractive guy who appears to be there by himself. Worst case scenario, you have a good view while you're standing there waiting; best case, you make a new friend!) The race started exactly at 7 (and let me say, it was nice having that extra hour this morning; the sun was actually up at race start).

This course was kind of like a figure 8 that the marathon loops twice. Well, kind of like a figure 8 except that the first part of the 8 was about 2.5 miles and the second part was 10.5. So, a grossly out-of-proportion figure 8. I had never done a double loop course and assumed I would not like it. I totally liked it, and wish all my other marathons could be double loops. The first part of the loop was strip malls and crappy houses close to the U. Huntington's roads are just like Michigan's, so watch your step. Once we passed the stadium again, we ran down to and through a park on the Ohio River. That part was very pretty, but then we got spit out into a 3-mile stretch of ugly industrial buildings. At least it was slightly downhill, although very slightly. The marathon is accurately advertised as flat -- amazing, considering the hills that surround it on every side. After that 3-mile stretch, we ran through "Central City" (which I am assuming is like Old Town Huntington) and then into another park. We were in this park, Ritter Park, for about 3 miles. The footing through the park was crushed limestone -- very compacted and such a relief for my feet! The park was pretty, with the path running right alongside a little creek (really more of a ditch) along the base of a really steep, wild hill, but it sort of had a scary, isolated feeling to it, like it would be the place where a local would dump a body. I wasn't worried about any body dumping today, though; there were too many people.

Once out of that park, we ran back up to Marshall U, with the slight uphill more than outweighed by a nice tailwind, and split off from the half-marathoners to run through the center of campus. It is a really pretty campus and actually reminded me a little of U of A, just because it was so pretty. The beauty took my mind off the fact that the half-marathoners were done while we were all going back for round two.

I had been feeling pretty good this whole time. My feet felt springy and nothing was hurting and the temperature was just right and I wasn't swallowing too much air this time. I figured the good feeling wouldn't last forever so I would just enjoy it as long as I could, but, surprise, it pretty much did end up lasting forever. I think that knowing exactly what was coming up helped a lot. None of the stretches were that long, so I knew I would feel like I was making good progress, unlike that horrible 6-mile out-and-back at Indianapolis. I did start to feel some blisters around Mile 21, but made up my mind to ignore them. I was wearing heavy winter socks and knew they were probably just bunched up and rubbing in the wrong places and would soon be rubbing again if I stopped and adjusted them, so I decided I would just let them rub.

I should have pushed harder to finish under 4 hours, but I just didn't feel like it, and got lazy in the last mile. I was thinking I was going to be about a half hour better than last marathon, and that was good enough and the actual number didn't matter. I did run the last half mile at a decent pace. The coolest thing about this race was probably the finish. As we ran into the stadium, volunteers handed us a football 100 yards from the finish, and we got to finish with a touchdown. That was admittedly cheesy, but also pretty cool. Ann Arbor's marathon finished in the stadium but there was definitely no football involved.

I felt fine afterwards. There was pretty amazing finish line food, chocolate milk and grilled hamburgers and hot dogs in addition to all the usual post-race food. I'm really not sore at all, except for some really random armpit chafing, which I have never had before. I guess it was the absence of hills or maybe I just had a good day. Maybe the secret of marathon training is to run them a couple times a month with only minimal exercise in between? Or possibly extended binging on Halloween candy? I don't know, but whatever the case, I highly recommend Marshall U. Marathon for any 50 Staters who haven't done West Virginia yet.