Category Archives: Running

Ragnar Bourbon Chase Ultra 2018 Race Recap

200 hilly gorgeous Kentucky miles. 6 runners. 1 van. This was the challenge that was pitched to me this spring. My immediate reply was an emphatic “no”. I had completed the Tennessee Ragnar Relay 3 times in the past with a full team of 12 runners. Those races had been challenging enough. However my BRF (best running friend) was team captain and with some slight nudging I found myself 4 months later on a brisk October morning standing at the Bourbon Chase starting line, with only 5 other runners with me. I zipped up my sweatshirt to ward off the chill and watched the fog drift over the Jim Bean Distillery as our runner 1 took off with the distinct smell of sweet mash filling the air. I still couldn’t really believe I was about to run 33 miles in the next 24 hours.

Team “I Thought You Said Michelob Ultra” at the start of the Bourbon Chase 2018. Mike, me, Abby, Jim, Ben (driver), Eric and Jeff

Abby and I had trained hard. We knew the steep terrain, sleep deprivation and long miles were going to be a new level of challenge for us. She came up with a training plan that was a morphing of Hanson Marathon method with Ragnar training. It incorporated lots of hill work and then in the last month added in a day each week that included multiple runs a day.  Every other week she had us doing hill sprints BEFORE our tempo run. This was one of the most evil running workouts I’ve ever tried, but I think it was super helpful to build the level of fitness we needed for this race.

We drove up the night before the race so that we could be well rested for the start. However, between traffic, stopping for dinner and the time change we didn’t get to bed until after 11.  We were up early for breakfast, coffee and the starting line. As we headed to the van, we could see our breath and immediately realized that the weatherman was liar. It was much colder than anticipated (i.e. packed for), so we dug out our sweat pants and ear warmers and drove to the Jim Bean Distillery where runner 1 took off at 8:30 a.m.

 

With a 12 person Ragnar team each person runs 3 “legs” of the race.  The course is broken up into 36 segments. Where the runners hand off the baton (which is actually a slap bracelet with a chip in it) is called an exchange. With a 6 person “ultra” team, you can divide the legs however you want, we decided for logistic purposes to each run two legs at a time, so still running 3 times, but with longer segments.

Challenge 1: Eating

During Bourbon Chase we were all eating and running around the clock, so I had to eat strategically. We needed our normal amount of calories, plus calories to refuel from our runs (which varied from 8-16 miles) while making sure we had time to “digest” before our next leg. We were all running at different times, so we couldn’t really stop at restaurants. All food had to be taken with us in the van. We all had different plans. Abby had analyzed her caloric needs with the precision of a NASA scientist and planned accordingly.  Mike brought no food and gambled on gas station cuisine. Myself I ate a combination of peanut butter sandwiches, bananas and protein bars.

Run 1 ( legs  7/8)

Pulling into Maker’s Mark Distillery was like arriving at a giant party. White Vans were lined up as far as you could as you could see and hip hop music floated across the shamrock green fields. This was a major exchange. If we had been a sane normal team on 12, this exchange is where the two vans would hand off; so there are twice as many people/ vans/ craziness at the major exchanges.

One of my favorite vans had a “working” still on the top.

I took in the sites and enjoyed ‘real’ bathrooms at Maker’s Mark as I waited for Eric to finish his leg. I was filled with nervous energy after a week of tapering and carb loading and 6 hours of watching my teammates run. Eric was all smiles when he rounded the corner. He finished with strong strides as he slapped me with the bracelet. I bolted off through through the property at Maker’s Mark and then out the country roads that surrounded it.  Despite my best effort I did start out faster than planned, but the hills kept me humble. The course took me past farmland and country churches; up steep hills and winding roads. This leg was only 9 miles, so I didn’t bring water, but instead instructed my van to bring it me at the next exchange. Even though we didn’t change runners at every exchange, the van would meet up and check on the runner to make sure they were ok… at least this was the plan. As I neared exchange 8, I was feeling the heat and looking forward to my Gatorade; however, my van had taken a wrong turn and was MIA. I sent them a “gentle reminder text” that I would be needing fuel and headed on to exchange 9.

One of my favorite parts of running an ultra was the “in between” exchanges. When you are running 2 legs in a row, you simply pass through the first chute and say ” Ultra team” so the person working the booth doesn’t try to find your team mate. As I passed through the chute the other runners would whisper in awe “look it’s an Ultra runner”, while cheering you on and shaking their heads in disbelief at your craziness (and/or they were checking their phones). It was completely beast mode*.

My team caught up with me around mile 8 and I was able to get some much needed nutrition.  The route was challenging, but the views gorgeous and reminded me of the back roads of Oregon County, Missouri where I am originally from.

View from my first leg

While not all the routes where overly scenic (Jeff had to run 16 miles along a major 4 lane road), everyone’s first legs went well. A couple of wrong turns (we also missed Jim at his exchange) and some forgotten glide, but overall everyone’s first legs were successful.

Eric coming into the exchange.

Run 2 (legs 19/20)

Run 2 was my night run. This is where the whole Ragnar thing gets a little tricky . It’s all fun and exciting when you are running at 2 in the afternoon through beautiful farmlands, but 10 miles at 2 am…. that is its own challenge. In Ragnar’s past I have found myself on rural country roads, where it was simply me, my head lamp and the moon.  When the shadows start playing tricks on you and the car coming toward you starts to swerve a bit; it becomes a complete mental game not to lose your cool. This year’s night run was not remote, but its challenge (in addition to the exhaustion and dark) was cold pouring rain, even though the weather man had not mentioned precipitation in the 2 million times I had checked the weather the week before. As I waited for my teammate in the chute, shivering in the rain, I began doubting my running choices for the first time this race. When I finally took off, the pelting rain and wind were completely miserable, but after a few miles I warmed up. The feeling slowly returned to my frozen hands and I fell into the familiar cadence of my run. The route was beside a major highway, so another challenge was dodging roadkill (I’ve never seen so many dead raccoons in my life). This leg was physically and mentally exhausting, but I stuck with the mantra of “only run the mile you are in”, so after 10 “individual miles” I gladly passed the bracelet to Jeff, changed into warm clothes and curled up in the van.

Challenge 2: Exhaustion

After my night run I drifted in and out of sleep. After my legs, the rest of the night exchanges were a blur. Each time the my body finally relaxed enough to drift to sleep, we would stop and the slamming of doors and rush of cold air would would once again startle me awake.

At the Four Roses Distillery exchange, I awoke to the beautiful smell of my teammates eating hot fresh donuts. Jeff and I had slept through their initial exit of the van, but they kept remarking on the magnificence of their pastry creations, so Jeff and I decided we had to have some as well. The (free!) donuts were being made in a food truck that was a 10 minute walk up a hill, which feels like quite the trek at 4 am and on tired legs. But alas, we made it and grabbed some soul warming hot chocolate as we waited in line and debated which donut delicacy we would order (bourbon bacon perhaps?). As we approached the window to order, the line stalled out. We soon discovered much to our rumbling tummy’s dismay, they had run out of donuts and would have to make some more. There is no level of disappointment akin to that of an exhausted runner denied a donut at 4 am after already running 19 miles. But alas, somehow I dug deep and was able to overcome this adversity, because that’s just the sort of strong woman that I am.

Night run complete

I have run the Tennessee Ragnar 3 times and it was always an awesome experience, but the towns of Kentucky embraced the Bourbon Chase and its runner with a level of hospitality that was truly amazing. The people of Stanford, Kentucky opened up a couple town down shops at midnight to let the frozen, exhausted runners use their bathrooms. After 16 hours of using porta potties, there are few things as beautiful as sparking clean, flushing, real porcelain toilets. They also gave out FREE homemade baked goods, coffee and cocoa. Thank you to the volunteers who stayed up all night feeding tired stinky runners. Your kindness was appreciated.

Eric brought a camp stove so we could have (hot!) coffee at 3 a.m. It was the most delicious instant coffee I’ve ever tasted.

I think everyone struggled a bit on the night runs, but no one complained. We all fought the demons of exhaustion, tired legs and fear to come out victorious. Sure we may have lost one runner (so sorry Jeff about exchange 23!) but we ran all the miles and survived the night.

Challenge 3: the STANK

One big difference between running with women and men is the smell. When women finish their run, they quickly clean up (I used epic wipes) and change into fresh clean clothes immediately. Then they carefully secure their sweaty clothes in a large ziplock bag complete with a fabric softener for further odor control. Men sometimes change out of their sweaty shirts in a couple hours and then toss them on the floor (only slight exaggeration involved).  Luckily, I do not have a very keen sense of smell, because our van had had quite the STANK.

Another difference between running with men and women… glide is a MUST.

 

Run 3 (legs 31/32)

Abby’s last leg

On minimal sleep, lots of coffee and tired legs I set off on my last and longest run. I started out in a suburban setting, but quickly found myself running through the rolling hills and million dollar horse farms that make Kentucky famous. The first several miles of road were lined with stone fences and antebellum trees. The weather was cool and overcast, not great for photos, but perfect for running. I marveled at the massive barns that resembled mansions (one looked exactly like Brentwood Baptist Church) The horses pranced on perfectly manicured pastures sometimes coming to the fence, curious of the strange slow creatures who only ran on two feet.

The Last Mile!

My IT band began to hurt on and off around mile 7, not enough to stop, but enough to slow me down a bit, especially on the vicious hills. By mile 10 I was ready to be done, no amount of scenery could soothe the ache in my leg. I ran with another runner the last 2 miles which helped distract me from my overall misery and when I saw my final “one mile left” sign I was ecstatic. As if to pour salt on my already aching wound, the final half mile was straight up one last ridiculous hill. I gave that last mile all I had left and with jubilation I slapped that bracelet on Jeff’s wrist and I WAS DONE.

We approached Lexington and finished the race together 31 hours after we started. Downtown Lexington was blocked off for the after party. After sampling some free bourbon, we ate our weight in pizza; took the world’s longest, hottest shower and slept the best sleep of our lives.

The beautiful finish line

The Bourbon Chase volunteers were top notch and the race felt extremely well organized.  Our captain Abby was also an amazing leader, organizer and overall wonderful person and without her it would not have been such a great experience. It was also extremely helpful to have a driver so that when we weren’t running, we could a whiff of rest. Ben was so generous stay up all night driving us around in a stinky van (although he did get donuts and I didn’t… not that I’m still bitter about that or anything). Seriously, Ben we can not thank you enough.

Looking back on the entire Bourbon Chase Ultra experience it was definitely the most physically challenging race I have ever done, but also the most rewarding. The training and the race required hard work, but so do most of the best parts of life. There is just something about pushing your body to its limits and coming out victorious. We chose the “Van less traveled by**” and that my running friends, has made all the difference.

*beast mode refers to a state of performing something, especially difficult activities, with extreme power, skill, or determination. Also, an obnoxious term used by middle aged suburban athletes to make them feel better about their athletic ability.

**only 12 of the 400 teams were ultra teams

Swag

Jim at one of the many picturesque exchanges.

Jim Bean

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Indy Mini Marathon Race Recap

My husband, who grew up in a racing family, watched the Indy 500 every year of his youth, some years on TV but many times from the stands at turn 1. When I read that the Indy Mini Half Marathon included a lap around the famous speedway, I knew that I had a chance to finally convince my non-runner hubs to do a half marathon. He had always joked that the only half he would do would be the “Maui Half” but I dangled the carrot of Indy and he took the bait. We had begun seriously talking about a trip to Hawaii in the next few years, and realistically I knew that after his first half, he would much rather lay in bed and rest than hike volcanoes. Indianapolis seemed a better bet.

He followed Hal Higdon’s beginner half training plan as close as he could. Around week 3 of training he hurt his back and needed a week to recover, but managed to get right back on track. His knees began to hurt with increased mileage, but he switched to HOKA running shoes, added some core work and tried knee braces and was able to push on through.

His baseline was barely running 2 miles a couple times a week on the treadmill. At the beginning of the process he shook his head incredulously at the training plan questioning how it it was possible to ever run so far. I encouraged him to trust the process as each week we added another mile to the long run. When we hit 8 miles for our long run, he found his pace. He realized after 4 miles it all feels the same. The running zone.

Race Weekend

We dropped the kids at school Friday morning then headed up 65 for an easy 5 hour drive to Indy. It had been almost a year since we had gotten away together as a couple, so a big part of the fun of the weekend was simply enjoying each other’s company. I don’t love road trips, but I also have become jaded by years of traveling with small screaming children. Five hours with a cute, witty companion was actually quite lovely.

In my travel calculations, I forgot to consider the time change and stopping for lunch, so we got to the expo a little later than I planned. I was hoping to make it in time for the Meb Keflezighi meet and greet, but that didn’t happen. The expo was was huge even though this race was only a half. There were 20,000 runners, so the swag stands were in full swing.

Expo!

As we walked into the expo we were greeted by the pace car for the Indianapolis 500, and I knew we had chosen the right race. The Indy Mini is part of the city’s May festival that leads up to the 500 on the last weekend of the month. Throughout the town we saw banners celebrating the race. I get the feeling that the 500 is Indianapolis’s Christmas, and May is their December. I could feel the excitement in the air, and Russ was all grins and nervous energy as we picked up our shirts and bibs. The convention center was less than a mile from our hotel, so after we took in all the sites, we headed back to the hotel to get changed for dinner.

We picked the right race.

We ate at Osteria Pronto, an Italian place in the Marriott Hotel downtown. The atmosphere was that mix of modern and rustic that seems the current trend. The food was good, but not life changing. Russ had the lasagna, but despite never having GI issues before, found it didn’t sit that well overnight.

We stayed at The Conrad, which was a gorgeous hotel located a cozy 2 blocks from the starting line. They had coffee and bagel for the runners in the lobby race morning, but we had lucked into some free room service coupons, so we started the morning with french press coffee and danishes.

We didn’t have to be in our corral til 7:30, so we were able to sleep in til 6 (which felt like 7 am ‘our time’). As soon as we hit the lobby, you could feel the excitement of the crowds. We followed the bib wearing masses to the start. We watched the runners pile into to the corrals, as we stretched out our quads. Old, young, svelte and plump; all in it together to run 13.1 miles and a rare chance to make a lap around Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Ready to run.

Russ’s step father Bill had passed this last fall, so as we prepared for the race, Russ donned his late step father’s Indy 500 Old Timers Club hat. Bill was a racing enthusiast, writer, announcer, promoter, and risk manager for the largest motorsports insurance company. The years that Russ had see the Indianapolis 500 in person, it had been with his mom and step dad, so this race was a special.

Bill Hill’s classic Indy hat

Our wait in the corral seemed shorter than usual (perhaps because my last race was at Disney where half the event is in the corral), but still festive and nerve wracking. Runners filled with nervous energy were jumping around and fidgeting with their Garmins. Blaring music filled the air, as the occasional beach ball bopped us on the head before we could send it flying back across the crowd.

The Race

Russ’s goal was 2:15, so our corral was in third wave. We were quickly off through the streets of Indy. The crowds were thick and we spent a lot of the first two miles weaving through the runners trying to maintain a 10 min/ mile pace. The area between downtown and the speedway was not that visually appealing, consisting mostly of run down houses, many with bars on the windows. Despite the aesthetics, the crowd support was great, and the volunteers were out in full force with water and gatorade stations at every mile. There were also abundant porta potties with minimal lines.

Heading down Main Street of Speedway, Indiana, a small town completely inside of Indianapolis.

The excitement built as we headed down the stretch toward the speedway, in the shadow of the giant walls of the grandstands. We then made a sharp left going through a tunnel that filled me with childlike excitement and then we emerged in the infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Who doesn’t love to run through a tunnel?

The track is 2.5 miles long, lined with a quarter million seats. The music was loud and the runners were giddy with excitement, but I know that could be no comparison to what race day must feel like. I can’t fathom racing a car around that track 200 times at speeds of over 230 mph. Russ was all grins as we ran on the famous speedway, filling me in on Indy trivia, like how the winner always drinks a glass of milk and in the 90’s a tradition started where the winner of the race would get down and ‘kiss the bricks’.  The original racetrack was all bricks hence the nickname ‘the Brickyard’. When it was finally paved, they left a literal 3 feet of bricks at the finish line in homage to the famous nickname. As we approached the start/ finish line of the speedway, we were give the opportunity to stop and ‘kiss the bricks’.

Kissing the bricks

Exiting the speedway, we cruised back toward downtown. Around mile nine, I saw a man lying lifeless beside the course, as a women knelled next to him removing his bib, for what I presumed was to access his emergency contact. I went into full doctor mode and rushed over to assess him. Luckily he informed me that it was only a sprained ankle, before I began the chest compressions and emergency breathing.

At mile 10 we made a pit stop and when I asked Russ how he was feeling, he said that he felt awesome. “That means it’s time to speed up” I answered with a mischievous grin. We ‘stood on the gas’ and headed for the straightaway.

The final half mile was lined with checkered flags, sticking with the racing theme. We finished strong and were rewarded with a milk jug shaped medal. We hydrated, called the kids and walked the couple blocks back to our hotel, once again thankful for the close location The Conrad.

We took it easy the rest of the day and then ate a fabulous steak dinner at the Capital Grille, replenishing all calories burned in the race. We slept in Sunday, then ate at Russ’s favorite local diner, Charlie Brown’s. It is the kind of place that’s filled with locals and the couple beside us literally ordered ‘the usual’. The portions were huge, greasy and delicious.

This breakfast reminded me of my favorite Ron Swanson quote: “Just give me all the bacon and eggs you have… Wait. Wait…”
“I’m worried what you just heard was give me a lot of bacon and eggs. What I said was give me all the bacon and eggs you have.”
“Do you understand?”

We left Indianapolis feeling a sense of accomplishment. We hauled our swollen bellies and sore knees back down I65 to Nashville. It was a fantastic weekend and great first (hopefully not last) half marathon for Russ in memory of a great man, Bill Hill.

The Indianapolis 500 is known as the “Greatest Spectacle in Sports” and while the Indy Mini may not be ‘the greatest race ever’ it still proved itself to be a fun, flat, well supported half.

Russ beat his goal by 7 minutes and finished strong.

 

Long sleeve tech shirt and milk jug medal

 

Disney Princess Half Marathon Race Recap

This magical running tale begins about a year ago, when I discovered the existence of the Disney Fairy Tale Challenge. I had seen the postings of the Dopey Challenge Runners for years. However running a a 5K,10K, Half and Full four days in a rows seemed a bit excessive. If I’m going to be at the happiest place on earth, I don’t want to be so exhausted from running that I can’t enjoy it. Then I learned of the Fairy Tale Challenge: a 10K and a half marathon in two days sounded like the perfect ratio of challenge to fun.

My friend and fellow Disney fan, Ashley, had been threatening to start running for a bit, so I propositioned her with the idea of signing up for the Fairy Tale Challenge. I tried to ease her into the idea by first suggesting she could just run the 10K with me; however, she would have none of that. She cocked up her eyebrow and glared at me, in the way only Ashley can. “You think I can’t run a half marathon” she replied indignantly. At that moment I saw the look of determination in her face and knew that, in fact, she most definitely could.

As with all things Disney related, getting into the race takes planning. We set our alarms so we could be online the minute the challenge went on sale 10 months in advance. Ashley got in immediately. I, on the other hand, was busy ‘doctoring,’ so I was delayed about 8 minutes signing on. In those precious 8 minutes the challenge sold out. {insert dramatic pause} For another 10 minutes I frantically tried to get into the half–my apologies to any women who may have spent an excessive amount of time naked with their butts slowly becoming one with the exam table paper, but this was an emergency–and finally got my bib. 27,000 people running a race, and it sells out in minutes.

Ashley got serious about running through the summer. She trained and ran her first 10k (The Franklin Classic) over Labor Day Weekend.  Having completed a race is uber important, because you have to provide an official time to be assigned you corral. If you don’t have a race time then you get stuck in the last corral, and you do not want that!

The Race Trip

We caught a late flight out of Nashville and got to our hotel at the lovely hour of 2 am. Our number one ride priority was Avatar Flight of Passage, but we didn’t get a coveted fastpass. Despite our exhaustion, we caught the first bus from the resort and got to Animal Kingdom when it opened, so we could be in the first wave to ride it. We managed to only wait 45 minutes to ride a Banshee (normal wait is several hours). This ride is phenomenal! Totally worth the sleep deprivation. We rode the other major rides AK and headed back to our hotel after lunch to catch a nap, before the Expo.

The Expo was huge. You could get your picture made with Cinderella’s Carriage too, but the line was crazy long.

 

The Expo was held at the ESPN Zone and encompassed 3 buildings. You got your bib in the first building, then walked to second to get your t-shirt and see all the vendor booths. Disney race swag had its own separate building. While I love a good expo, this expo was almost too much or maybe I was a wee bit tired, with working all week, flying all night and riding roller coasters all morning.  Nevertheless we got our bibs and headed off to dinner, then early to bed.

We had a fabulous dinner at Trattoria Al Forno at Disney Board Walk Resort.

The Disney races are HUGE and they have to be over before the parks open, which means you have to be on the bus at 3:30 to go to the races. Yes, you get up in the middle of the night. Saturday morning, Ashley got up at some insane hour to run the 10k and I slept in till 6:30 and ran a leisurely 5 miles at the resort. At that moment, I was quite glad that I only got into the Half and not the challenge.

Ashley’s 10K shirt

We stayed at Port Orleans French Quarter, which had a lovely running trail along its waterway.

Saturday we spent part of the day at Hollywood Studios. We tried to make this a lighter day since we were running the half the next morning, but no matter where you are at in Disney there is a lot of walking. Ashley took a nap in the afternoon and then we headed back to Hollywood studios for dinner and tried to get into bed as early as we could.

 

 

Sunday morning the alarm began to blare at 2:45 am and I began to doubt my sanity. I crawled out of bed, threw on my Tutu and headed out to the bus. I was pretty hesitant to run in a costume, but Ashley assured that this was Disney and that was part of the fun. When I got to the bus stop at the resort there were at least 30 women waiting in the wee hours of the morning ALL dressed in various costumes. If you are going to do the Disney Princess Half Marathon, you must dress up.

The bus driver dropped us at the race starting zone, and the air was electric. Thousands of women (and a handful of men) were dressed as running Princesses ready to race their way from Epcot to Magic Kingdom and back. We grabbed some coffee and bagels, made use of the abundant porta potties and hiked the mile to our corral.  Even though it seemed like we were at the race ridiculously early, the time passed quickly. The race began at 5:30 am with fireworks. They released a new wave of runners every few minutes and EACH wave got their own countdown and fireworks. We were in corral F, so we did not actually get to the starting line until 30 minutes after the race started, but there were still at least 10,000 people behind us. This is a lot of people’s first half marathon and they all end up in the last corral. 

Miles 1-5 

We started the race in the dark and headed out on the highway. The first 5 miles were flat, actually most of the race was a nice pancake. There was not much crowd support, but just checking out all the outfits and enjoying the atmosphere made those miles fly by.  The sun began to come up as we ran under the Magic Kingdom sign. We were giddy with excitement! Around mile 5 we thought we were entering Tomorrowland, but we actually just ran through the edge of the park as we passed a full band of drummers from Epcot. This was one of my favorite moments, the sun was rising and the rhythm of the drums was gorgeous and invigorating.

Ashley (“Cruella”) running under the classic sign.

Miles 6-7

Miles 6-7 were inside Magic Kingdom. We started down Main Street and then took a right at the castle to run through Tomorrow Land. We snuck up to Fantasy Land and then ran THROUGH the castle to make our way to Frontier Land and out of the park. Running through Magic Kingdom was absolutely magical and everything I had hoped it would be. The streets were lined with crowds and there were several character stops (the lines moved super quick). Magic Kingdom was, by far, my favorite part. Seeing the castle for the first time each trip always fills me with a sense of wonder, but seeing it as I ran down Main Street with crowds cheering on both sides was absolutely thrilling. As we exited Frontier Land and ran through the back lots, they had the giant dragon from the parade with all the princesses there for a photo op.

I had to stop and get a pic with my favorite sign (I’m a HUGE Princess Bride fan).

photopass_visiting_wdwrundisney_409900386279.jpg

Main Street, USA

A different character was on each mile marker sign.

Miles 8-13

As soon as we exited Magic Kingdom, the road narrowed and we had to walk because the crowds were so thick. This had happened a couple times earlier, but this area was the worst. At one point there was a DJ playing music who told us we were all 30 minutes ahead of ” the balloon lady”. In Disney races, the last person has to finish in a set amount of time because the parks have to open. The balloon ladies are the final pacers, so if you get passed by a “balloon lady,” you get swept off the course, get no NO MEDAL and get a big DNF by your name on the internet forever. Luckily, we were in good shape for time, despite a few character stops and bathroom breaks.

Around Mile 9, the race became a little less magical. The temperature had soared to 75 degrees, and there was not a tree in sight. We were running on a boring freeway back to Epcot, the humidity was miserable, and the high from running through Magic Kingdom was wearing thin. While there was an occasional character stop and lots of water stations, there was not much else to look at. Mickey wasn’t there to cheer us on anymore, we had to find our strength within. Ashley needed to walk a lot the last few miles. She was getting dehydrated, and I could tell there were moments she wanted to give up, but I knew she was determined. She’d worked too hard for this to get “swept”. I did my best to encouraged her on to the finish line.

Mile 13

The last mile was inside Epcot. As we ran around the giant golf ball, the crowds and characters were out in full force. Music was pumping and Ashley found the strength to run the last mile. Minnie Mouse greeted us at the finish line. I was proud of my friend for finishing (7,000 people didn’t finish this race). We both got our medal (Ashley got 3 for doing the entire challenge) and scrambled back to our bus as soon as possible. It felt amazing to be done. We took the world’s longest showers and napped.

wdwrundisney_wdwmarahalfmedalbackdrop26_20180225_8194058464.jpg

finishers!

We hydrated and walked all the way around the world at EPCOT. We rode Soarin’ and Space Ship Earth, then headed over to Canada where we ate one the best meals I’ve ever had (definitely the best Disney meal ever) at Le Cellier Steakhouse. We laughed and ate until we could not hold another morsel in our body. Back at the room we went to sleep without setting an alarm.

20180225_183657.jpg

We ate “poutine” in “Canada.” It’s french fries with cheese curds and gravy. Otherwise know as the most amazing recovery food ever.

The last day we went to Magic Kingdom and had a fabulous day. We rode all our favorites (Space mountain, Seven Dwarves Mine train, The Little Mermaid, etc.) . We caught lunch at Belle’s Castle and snuck over to the Polynesian for a cocktail at Trader Sam’s Grogg Grotto Tiki bar. Once you walk inside, you feel like you are in actually in Tahiti. It’s Disney, so there are special effects associated with different drinks when they are ordered. I don’t want to give any other spoilers, but if you are lucky enough to find yourself at Disney sans children, it’s worth the effort to go there. Dinner was at the Kona Cafe. Halfway through dinner, the guy next to us starts choking, turning blue and needs a Heimlich, stat. I rush over and the realize that this guy is absolutely huge, and there is no way I can get my arms around him. We start to move him and luckily the movement dislodged the giant chunk of hamburger blocking his epiglottis. Phew, now on to fireworks.

The next morning we caught the magical express back to Orlando and boarded our flight back to our slightly less magical, but equally wonderful real lives. We missed our kids, but a Disney race made a great girl’s weekend. I came back refreshed and ready for the next set of challenges that lay ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cincinnati Flying Pig Half Marathon Race Recap

“It’s just a half.” I replied somewhat flippantly, when a colleague asked if I was nervous about my upcoming race. What I wanted to say was “While I can run 13 miles in my sleep, I’ve trained painfully hard for this race for the last few months and I really want to finish strong and PR; but I’ve heard the course is super hilly and hard. So, yes, I’m crazy nervous!” However, they were not a runner and I knew they were just trying to make polite conversation. An honest answer would have likely been met with the same response I get when detailing my tempo run splits or taper angst with non-runners: the glazed eyes, furrowed brow and polite head nodding of confusion and non-interest.

When training for a marathon I check every box on my training schedule, because I have a healthy respect for the distance and I don’t want to die. Half marathons, not so much. While I always “train,” I don’t usually follow any type of schedule or speed work. However for the Cincinnati Flying Pig Half, I followed the intense Hanson’s Method training plan and while it was the hardest I had ever worked for a half, my training was far from perfect. I managed to get in most of my speed work, but only hit about half of my tempo runs, which left my type A personality a little anxious as race weekend approached.

With the race looming on Sunday, half our gang drove up to Cincinnati on Friday. My son had field day on Friday, that I had promised to attend, so Shannon and I hitched a ride with her dad on Saturday morning… in his plane. I hadn’t ridden in a small plane in years and to be honest I’m a touch claustrophobic, so I was quite nervous at the idea of being trapped enclosed. I’m so glad I pushed through my fears, because it was so much stinkin’ FUN. With all the windows in the plane you could see so much better than a commercial flight. As we flew right over downtown Nashville, the Titan’s stadium and Batman building looked like kid toys. It felt like an amusement park ride. The flight was only an hour and half and when we landed, our friends were there to pick us up and whisk us off to the Expo.

I could totally get used to traveling like this.

I love a good expo, and the Flying Pig did not disappoint. The race shirts were adorable and we also got a backpack and poster. Next we walked around downtown Cincinnati, which had a great variety of hip restaurants and shops. We decided to eat lunch at Kruger’s Tavern. They had a fabulous (heated) rooftop patio where we relaxed and enjoyed our lunch. Later we headed back to the Hyatt, which was a perfect location for the race and across the street from the expo. That afternoon I did something beyond luxurious: I took a nap. By myself. On decadent hotel sheets. With no alarm set. It was heaven.

Expo!

Kruger’s Tavern

When I finally aroused, we headed out to Nicola’s, a quaint Italian place, for an early dinner. All the pasta and sauces tasted fresh and homemade. Our table was in front of a gorgeous picture window, that sadly overlooked a trash filled alley, but otherwise we had a great experience.  I had the gnocchi and while it was probably too rich of a pre-race choice, it was divine. The bread basket was an extra dollar, but I would have paid $20. It had a variety of types and flavors of breads and rolls, all fresh and warm. It was superb.

After dinner we went back to the hotel for drinks (of water for me) and an extended debate on what to wear for the race. The weather was predicted to be 38 degrees at the 6:30 am start and 42 at the finish. Perfect running weather, but a clothing challenge. I finally decided to wear short sleeves with capris, the only downside was that I forgot to pack a short sleeve shirt. Then with a sudden awful sinking sensation, I realized that I was going to have to do something obnoxious, something that would violate all my ethics, something truly mortifying: I would have to wear my race shirt  *I can barely even type it* on race day. I am a firm believer that you should never wear a race shirt unless you have completed the race, however my poor packing skills left me with no other choice. Before bed, I embarrassingly pinned my race number to my race shirt.

The 5 am wake up call jolted me from a deep sleep. It felt obnoxiously early, as it was actually 4 am “our time”. Regardless, I rolled out of bed, started up the coffee pot and choked down my bagel. We left the hotel a little later than planned because “she who cannot be named” was unhappy with her pre-race bowel evacuation experience.

We rushed to the starting line and slid into our corral as they finished up the last few bars of the national anthem. The first mile was a little crowded, but by mile two the crowds had thinned and I found my pace. My goal was 8 min/ miles. It seemed to take a few miles to warm up and the pace wasn’t as comfortable as I had hoped, but I simply concentrated on “running the mile I was in” and keeping the pace steady for the first 5 (flat) miles. I knew there were some big hills coming up, but when I actually saw the incline at mile 7, perhaps a few expletives might have escaped my lips. Mile 7 was one intense giant steep hill, but the crowd support was fantastic. A speaker half way up was blaring “eye of the tiger” and a guy with a megaphone and pink camo pants was holding a giant letter “F” and encouraging the runners to “Just F the hill”. It seemed to go on forever, but at the top we did get a little bit of recovery before the next monster hill.  The majority of the course from mile 7-10 was uphill. The view was beautiful, with green hills and glimpses of the river, but the hills were painful, physically and mentally. The real reward was that once we hit mile 10, it was all down hill, literally. You get to coast in the last 3 miles. I felt like I was flying. I finished strong and made up some time from my hilly miles. When I saw the finish line I knew I had hit my goal. I set a 3 minute PR on a difficult course. It felt amazing.

Half Marathon PR 1:45

After finishing I headed back to the hotel and jumped straight in the shower. One advantage to racing at 6:30 is that I was back to the hotel by 9 a.m. My friends also had great races, Abby set an amazing PR and Christina and Shannon had a fabulous time enjoying the race course. Once we all showered, we ate a fantastic brunch at Maplewood Kitchen and Bar, then road tripped it back to Franklin. It was a short but wonderful trip, with tons of laughs, coffee, blisters and love.

Cincinnati Flying Pig was a great race. I ran hard and hit my goal, but those hills were no joke. One of my favorite moments was as we ran across the first major bridge I looked over and saw a marine running with an American flag, with a budding sunrise reflecting off the river. It was one of those perfect running moments that makes you remember why the hell you do it. Why you get up at 4 am, deal with blisters and skip the wine. You do it for the stolen moments of gorgeousness, to feel your body pushed to its limits and to feel like a badass, running your best race at 41 years old.

 

Abby celebrating her incredible PR of 1:38

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Training

Tulips are blooming and April showers have empowered the grass to paint the landscape a vivid green. A sweet reward after all the bleak gray training runs in the early morning darkness of Winter. Spring is here and I am ready to race.

Done with using an entire load of laundry for one run!

The activities that bring me the most joy (other than being with my family) are running, travel and spending time with my friends. So this spring two destinations half marathons are on my schedule. Me and my local running group are planning to run the Cincinnati Flying Pig Half Marathon in May and then I’ll travel to visit one of my best friends and run the Seattle half marathon in June.

Friendships +Running + Travel = Best of Times.

Long run to First Watch for breakfast.

As we thought about our race schedule for the spring, we wanted to find a fun, close destination half. Even though I broke up with the Nashville Country Music Marathon last year, I almost caved and signed up after after I saw the medal for this year (it lights up!); but I stood my ground and decided to venture to Cincinnati, OH this year for The Flying Pig half marathon. The Flying Pig is know for great crowd support and party atmosphere but also for being a hilly course. Hopefully our Tennessee hills will have our quads in good enough shape.

 

Our initial idea was not to take this race too seriously and simply enjoy a girls weekend, but then after Chicago when we all made huge improvements in our time by doing the Hanson Method, we decided to try the same strategy for a half marathon. We have consistently been doing speed work and tempo runs and alternating our long runs between 10-14 miles a week, with total mileage between 30-40 miles. This is the most structured training plan I have ever used for a half marathon. It a lot of mileage for a half. I’m hoping to finish under 1:45 ( my PR is 1:48). Life, work, weather and vacations have caused me to miss far more workouts than I would’ve liked, but I have still trained much harder for this half than any others in the past.

Catching a gorgeous sunrise on an early morning run.

The Rock and Roll Seattle Half is late June, so I will have some time to recover in between races. I’m sure it will be a crazy hilly race, so likely I will try to enjoy the scenery and experience and not push for a super quick time.

Most of our long runs have been out and backs from our neighborhood, but we were determined to do a least one long run on the Brentwood Greenway. Sadly the weekend we decided to do it, there was a wee bit of flooding. We got lost due to trail closures and got chased by wolves (well we say a coyote on the other side of a field and it defiantly made us run faster). There were times it felt like we were doing a mudrun, but it was the most memorable 14 miles of our training.

The trail was a little damp.

 

Hoping that Cincinnati turns out to be a memorable race for all the right reasons. I plan to start out slow to save some energy for the hills. Hoping to run was my best half marathon, but even if I don’t, I’ve already had enough laughs in the the training to make the race a personal success.

 

 

 

Chicago Marathon 2016: Triumph of the “Hanson Method”

The Chicago Marathon 2016. 45,000 Runners going the full distance. The weather was 55 degrees of perfection. I had trained harder for this race, than any other. I stood on the starting line feeling rested and strong, with no excuses not to run my best race.

Shannon, me, Abby and Christina giggling our way to Chicago

Shannon, me, Abby and Christina giggling our way to Chicago

Marathon training for me is more about the camaraderie of the process. Seriously, who wants to get up at 4 am in the dark and run by themselves? I trained and traveled with 3 fabulous runners who also happen to be my dear friends. Our last marathon was also the first for Abby, Christina and myself (Shannon’s our veteran). When we tackled the hills of Nashville in 2014, our goal was simply to finish. I did complete it, but I crashed brutally into the “wall ” at mile 16 and never fully recovered for the rest of the race. Chicago for us was not about just finishing, it was about finishing fast ….at least “fast” for middle age suburban moms.

We read The Hanson Method book and followed the training plan excruciatingly well. It calls for 6 days of running, including intense speed work and blister making tempo runs. The plan packs in a ton of mileage but keeps the “long” runs at 16 miles every other week. We pushed each other to give it our all. I can’t can’t imagine training for a race alone, especially the grueling tempo runs. Even when we couldn’t physically train together due to our hectic schedules, we were constantly texting each other encouragement and/or complaining about how every last fiber of every single muscle in our legs was tired. Despite the intensity of the training we were all a little worried about the lack of the classic “20 miler” in our plan.

My last Tempo run

My last Tempo run

When we boarded the plane from Nashville to O’Hare on Friday, we left behind 10 kids, 4 husbands and all our responsibilities. We were all giggles on the way to the airport. We were going to Chicago. To Run a Marathon. Without Children! It was definatly helpful to go up 2 days before the race to have plenty of time to rest and hydrate before hand.

I was all nerves as we checked in to the hotel (the ‘W’ on Lake shore drive). The training had consumed so much of my most prized commodity: my time. As much as I wanted this opportunity to prove myself and finally have a few days of down time (yes, I consider running a marathon “down time”), there were many times I had felt selfish for choosing to run this race. Granted most of my miles were run before my kids/ husband even woke up, but working mommy guilt is often not logical. Regardless, I didn’t want my training to be in vain. I don’t get the chance to do this often. I wanted it to count.

I tried to follow all the rules including cutting out sugar and alcohol and keeping my caffeine to a minimum (one small cup of coffee… which for a busy OB/GYN isn’t nearly enough) the week before the race. I counted my carbs, which consumed 70% of my calories; which is annoyingly hard when you are not eating sugar. However, I did make an exception that was well worth it. Our dinner Friday night at Geja’s Cafe. I always eat at this quaint fondue restaurant when I’m in Chicago. It did not disappoint. The food, wine and atmosphere were spectacular.

Decadent dessert of chocolate fondue at Geja's Cafe

Decadent dessert of chocolate fondue at Geja’s Cafe

We rested surprisingly well, considering we all stayed in one room. The rooms at the W were quite small so I wouldn’t recommend 4 adults in a double, but we made the most of it. Saturday we slept in and ordered room service coffee. It cost a million dollars, but was worth every delicious drop. We scarfed down a breakfast of pancakes and then made our way to the expo. We walked a mile down Michigan Avenue to catch a shuttle from the Hilton. The skies were crystal clear and a brisk breeze wafted off Lake Michigan. It was a perfect day and the weather man promised race day to be its equal. The city was full of runners and you could feel the excitement in the air.

wp-1476654489454.jpg

Checking out the starting line on our way to the expo

The expo was ginormous and by the time we made it there, I think all the other 45,000 runners were also there. I would have loved to spend hours browsing the booths, but we were determined to save our legs. The convention center that the expo was held in was confusingly huge, and we had trouble getting an Uber back to the hotel.  When we finally did head back to the hotel, we got stuck in traffic. It seems that President Obama had come to watch us run as well. While that was nice of him; his motorcade kept shutting down the roads.

Christina ran her 4th Marathon in Chicago set a 20 minute PR

Christina ran her 4th Marathon in Chicago and set a 20 minute PR

The night before the race, we ate pasta in the hotel restaurant and headed to bed early. As much as I love Chicago, this was not the time for sightseeing or late nights out on the town. This was time for race prep.

With 4 marathoners sharing the same bathroom, this came in quite handy on race morning.

With 4 marathoners sharing the same bathroom, this came in quite handy on race morning.

Race morning I ate a bagel with peanut butter and banana, chugged as much water as possible, and headed out. The hotel lobby was packed with runners; the air was electric with race jitters. We were about a mile from the start and decided to walk rather than try to catch an Uber. In hind sight, we would have been fine driving, but I was worried about road closures and getting stuck in traffic.

Ready to Race

Ready to Race

We walked down Michigan Avenue then entered into Grant Park for bag drop and one last trip to the plentiful port-a-potties. Standing in the corral, I once again began to doubt my training. Per the Hanson Method training plan, I had never ran more than 16 miles… could I really run strong for 26? My mantra became “trust the process and stick with your plan.” I was determined to not go out too strong, so I had set my Garmin to alert me if I was going too fast for the first 20 miles.

Sometimes it seems that you are in the corral forever, but it was only a few minutes before I crossed the start line. As I ran through the city over the first few miles, the spectators were several people deep cheering on the runners with the typical cache of funny signs and encouraging mantras. But it wasn’t just the first couple of blocks, there was crowd support for the entire 26.2 miles. Not simply people standing there bored, staring at the phones and looking up at you annoyingly as you pass by because you are not their wife, but people cheering their heart out for every random stranger. I had read this about the Chicago Marathon, but I thought it had to be an exaggeration. It was completely true: the crowd support was amazing.

Me and Shannon before the race

Me and Shannon before the race

The first 13 miles my hips felt sore and tight, not painful but I was worried they would get worse. Thankfully they loosened up at about mile 14 and didn’t bother me anymore. I tried to keep my pace around 8:50, but my Garmin was off due to all the buildings. It was hard to know exactly how fast I was going. I was definitely conservative in the first half. Despite 45,000 people running the race, the course was not too crowded. I made sure I fueled frequently, taking in either a GU or gatorade every 4 miles. I loved running through downtown, across the bridges and down the middle of famous streets with the breezes off Lake Michigan keeping me cool. Mile 16 came and went in a blur, and when I rounded the corner at mile 20 I felt strong. I realized the the Hanson method had worked. I didn’t hit “a wall” instead I put a determined smile on my face and picked up my pace for the last 10K.

View of Navy Pier from our hotel

View of Navy Pier from our hotel

The last few miles I started getting texts from my family on my Garmin. I got an extra bolt of much needed adrenaline knowing that my family was cheering me on from 2 states away. When I saw the finish line, I started to cry. I had done it. I wasn’t sure of my time at that point but I knew I had ran my best race. I had trained hard and ran smart. I finished strong and ran the second half of the race 6 minutes faster than the first. At 3:54 it was a 30 min PR for me. That crazy Hanson Training Method had worked.

I did it! Marathon PR 3:54

I did it! Marathon PR 3:54

The volunteers at the finish line were so excited. I cried again when they put the medal around my neck, overcome with emotion and exhaustion. As I walked the famous 27th mile after the finish line, I felt euphoric. I was a real athlete.  A competitor. During those 26.1 damn miles I wasn’t a 41 year old mom, wife, doctor, friend or Sunday school teacher. I was just Heather, proving to myself that I could do something I never thought I could do in my wildest dreams: run a sub 4 hour marathon.

We all finished within 10 minutes of each other. After downing a celebratory beer, we hobbled back to hotel. The mile back felt more like 17 miles at that point. Fourluxurious showers later, we went out and ate our weight in Chicago style pizza. We slept like babies that night and headed home the next morning with new medals in our suitcases and giant grins on our faces.

We did it!

We are smiling because we are DONE! Abby also finished sub-4 with a time of 3:56.

I went to Chicago searching for marathon redemption and I found it. My first try at the classic distance in Nashville left me feeling defeated as I limped across the finish line. For my second try I trained harder, ran smarter and ran 26 glorious miles without hitting “the wall.”

Added my medal to my "wall of glory" in my closet

Added my medal to my “wall of glory” in my closet

Marathon Training: Chicago Here We Come

I am on week 13 of my preparations for the Chicago Marathon and I’ve reached the point in my training where I have begun to doubt my sanity. I’m averaging about 50 miles a week, by rising so early that the glowing digital numbers of the clock often make me cringe when I set my alarm. I dream about GU and rest days. My foam roller is my best friend. Actually, there is no doubt, I’m likely insane.

wp-1472410566017.jpg

I ran my first marathon in Nashville a couple years ago and made all the rookie mistakes.  When my running buds decided to put their names in the hat for the Chicago marathon lottery, I couldn’t resist the chance to run the windy city and hopefully redeem myself on a flatter course. When all four of us got bibs we were ECSTATIC.  However we quickly calmed down and realized we had to to actually start training for this monster.

The commitment that it takes to put in miles to properly train for the most honored of distance races, is not something I take lightly. Last time we went with the good ol’ Hal Higdon training program. At the time I felt like the training was going well, but due to combination of heat, hills and going out too fast I crumpled at mile 20. I wanted to try something different this time, so I decided to go with The Hanson Method. This plan skips the super long runs and instead embraces the philosophy of “cumulative fatigue” (I often insert some more colorful adjectives to this term under my breath when I’m on my 54th mile of the week, but since my grandma might read this, I’ll leave those to your imagination). By spreading the mileage out over the week and focusing on speed work and tempo runs the Hansons hope to train your legs to improve their lactic acid threshold (that’s fancy talk for teaching you how run with stupidly tired legs). There is only one rest day and they down play the need for crosstraining and weight lifting (so no crossfit for me lately).

wp-1471212187777.jpg

How do I like this training? After a particularly painful speed workout, we recently googled Mr Hanson’s home address to determine the feasibly of toilet papering his house but alas, luckily we were too stinking tired to follow through on our plans with all the cumulative fatigue. Joking aside, the training seems to be going well. My legs are tired, but nothing hurts and I’m rarely sore. I’m actually really enjoying the the challenge of the speed work. Even though the mileage is higher, the plan seems to work better with my schedule since my entire Saturday is not wasted on running. I guess we’ll find out in October how well it really works.

Despite a full schedule I have only missed 1 run so far this summer. Usually when I’m on vacation, I don’t always run everyday if I’m walking a lot, but this summer I stuck with the plan no matter where we ventured. On a recent trip to NYC I ran 10 miles one morning only to walk an additional 11 miles around the city throughout the day. I slept quite well that night.

Birthday run in NYC. We ran through the "Highline trail" and then along the Hudson River trail.

Birthday run in NYC. We ran through the “Highline” and then along the Hudson River trail.

Run though Central Park.

Run though Central Park.

Felt very safe running in Central Park. However, it was far hillier than I expected.

I felt very safe running in Central Park. However, it was far hillier than I expected.

Running through Pigeon Forge on another weekend trip I ran past this quaint old mill at sunrise.

Running through Pigeon Forge on another weekend trip, I ran past this quaint old mill at sunrise.

I have 2 new pieces of running gear that I AM CRAZY about. First is my Garmin 235 and second are my perfect running shorts. If I know you IRL you can skip this next paragraph because I am sure I have already told you how much these items have improved my running life whether you wanted to hear about them or not.

My old Garmin went to GPS heaven (which is ironically difficult to find) right as I started marathon training. I got the Garmin Forerunner 235 as a replacement and I love it so much that I want to marry it and have little Garmin babies. It is a combination running watch/ smart watch. I can and do wear it all the time. It tracks your heart rate on your wrist and sends your texts from your phone. You can program it with training runs and it will prompt you with a vibration if you get off pace. I have found this especially helpful for a tempo run.

Recently I discovered that it can also predict your “race finish time” which I found a little presumptuous, until a friend who has run a million marathons told me his watch accurately predicted his PRs. When I checked my predicted marathon time my jaw hit the floor. MY WATCH THINKS I CAN BQ (that’s qualify for Boston, for you non- runners… not that any non runners would read a entire paragraph dedicated to praising a fancy running watch). I have very mixed emotions about this. While I’m pleased my watch thinks so highly of me, I do feel now feel a little pressure to up my goal time. I was originally planning to try for sub 4 hours, but now I know that my watch thinks I can run 3:36! I feel like an Olympic gymnast who’s coach tries to push over her limits; not caring that I have sprained ankle, but demanding I do the vault anyway.

wp-1471125303407.jpg

Being blessed with “athletic quads,” I have a hard time finding running shorts that I can tolerate, let alone really like. Most traditional running shorts chafe and a lot of biking style shorts are too short for me. My new Lulu Lemon Speed track shorts are the perfect length, comfortable, don’t chafe and have pockets on each side that are the perfect size for my smaller water bottle. I have now bought them in every color.

New shorts accompanied by what has to be the best running shirt ever.

New shorts accompanied by what has to be the best running shirt ever.

While my first marathon training took place during a crazy cold winter, this time I’m training in heat and humidity. Even in the wee hours of 5 am when we are often out pounding the pavement, the air already feels like jello. Well, hot jello. I guess it feels more like pudding, but you get the point. I’m not sure which is worse, running through pudding or tundra; but I’m definitely learning the art of electrolyte replacement and hydration.

The car gets really stinky when you've just ran 16 miles in 90% humidity.

The car gets really stinky when you’ve just ran 16 miles in 90% humidity.

We have 7 weeks to go and I’m feeling ready. My planned pace is 8:50 which would give me a finish of 3:50. Faster than my original goal, but not as crazy fast as my “smart” watch wants me to run. This pace has felt comfortable in my tempo runs. Plan A is to run negative splits so I may start out a little slower, so I can finish strong.  Plan B is to finish and have fun.  Regardless, I looking forward to running down Lake shore Drive in October.