2016 by the numbers

This year saw the most races I’ve ever done in a year for a total of 209.6 race miles in 23 races!

  • 3 5ks
  • 2 4-milers
  • 1 combo trail run (7 miles total)
  • 1 10-miler
  • 3 trail relays
  • 10 half marathons
  • 3 marathons
  • 3 weekends with more than one race
  • 4 times volunteering at trail races 

I attempted my first ultra in 2016, but was thwarted by Hurricane Matthew at Ragnar Carolinas – 3 y’alls and a yinz is already planning to come back together in 2017 to take on this race again. With 7 trail runs this year, I’m definitely starting to prefer my races on the trails, but in going for a race in each state, I know I’ll still be doing some road races too.

This was a rough year for my dogs, with both of them having to have knee surgery to repair a torn CCL and meniscus – on opposite legs and surgeries 6 months apart. Rehab for these injuries meant no stairs for 12+ weeks each time and confinement to the living room for both dogs, and because they have to be where I’m at, that meant almost exclusively living on the first floor of my house for 7 months this year. Luckily both came through their surgeries very well and are back out walking and hiking with me.

Can you guess which one is my happy puppy?

No PR’s this year, but I did have 4 top 10 age group placements, including 2nd place at the Run Run Rudolph 5k in December.

4,104,755 steps (or 1,943 miles) based on my fitbit (Jan-Mar) and Garmin (Mar-Dec) and I beat last year’s total mileage by 40 miles. Next year I’ll once again go for the years in mileage and see if I can finally make it over the 2,000 mile mark and try to hit 2,017 miles in 2017.

I raced in 3 new states: Missouri, Louisiana and Nevada and I had 3 opportunities to volunteer with Ragnar, traveling to Georgia, Massachusetts and Washington. I’ll be back with Ragnar at the Kentuckiana race in April and 2017 will be starting off with 2 new states this coming weekend which means by next week, I’ll be halfway through my 50 states running (plus DC)!

Here’s to kicking off a new year!

Want to see how the last few years compare? Check out 20132014 and 2015.

Ragnar Trail Alafia part 3 – Lithia, FL (2016)

AKA the one with all the pictures

After my second leg, I took another nap for a few hours before it started to get pretty warm in the tent and I heard my other teammates up and about in camp, so I got up and we found out that our team would have to double-up on our loops so I would end up running with our captain’s 63-year-old uncle. He had never done a race like this and typically runs on the road, but he seemed to have a lot of fun running with us.

The Red loop was the longest loop coming in at 5.9 miles and we had heard from everyone that it was pretty tough with lots of steep up and down hills and that it felt like a roller coaster. I was really excited to run this loop and would love to try it on fresh legs at full speed at some point, but I was able to get a ton of pictures from the loop and it makes me wish I could have seen the others in the daylight as well!

 Jairo running next to the water early in the loop
 So much green in the water… I kept looking for alligators, but didn’t see any
 The super heavy Red loop totem! 
One of the many bridges on the Red loop
The bridges were pretty much my only complaint about this course – the slats were made for bikes, so they were just far enough apart that you had to make sure to step on them correctly so that you didn’t stick a toe down in between them. I noticed this a lot more on the Yellow loop, probably because it was my first loop and I was running it in the dark, but while the bridges were definitely stable enough to run across, I tended to walk or at least slow way down to make sure I wouldn’t take a tumble and hurt myself.
Here comes the monster hill!
Here’s the view from the top of the hill looking down across the switchbacks
Banked curves for the bikes, flatter trail for the runners
Looking back on the beautiful single track trail
So many hills on this course means you get previews of what is coming up next
Eventually the course opens up to more expansive views
After 5.9 miles, we joined the rest of our team and donned our holiday gear to cross under the arches as a team and get our medals. Team No Moe’ Hills was officially finished!

Ragnar Trail Alafia part 2 – Lithia, FL (2016)

Let’s rewind a few hours because I realized I forgot one of the best stories from my first night at Ragnar Alafia. When I was at the Ragnar Carolinas race getting ready to start my second set of legs, there was a contest where 12 people picked an egg and all but one of them was hard boiled – the “winner” was the one who smashed the raw egg on their head. So, when I heard the announcer  lining up participants, I went over to watch, but when he only had a couple people who wanted to participate, I jumped in. This time there were going to be two winners and each person picked their egg one at a time. When the woman beside me heard what the contest was, she tried to opt out, but the crowd cheered her on to stay in the game and she switched sides with me so that I would go first. I was probably about the 6th or 7th person in line and within the first few people there was a winner, but soon it was my turn and I got to choose my egg, so I picked one and promptly smashed it on my forehead to win a Nathan Neutron Fire 115-lumen headlamp!

After my egg smashing fun, I did manage to get about 4.5 hours of sleep before I got up around 4:00am and started to get ready for my second loop in the dark. I started around 5:20am on the Green loop. In a typical Ragnar race, the Green loop is shorter than all of the other loops and “easiest,” though on trails “easy” is a very relative term. For this race, all three loops were around that 5 mile mark and the Green loop was actually longer than the Yellow loop at 5.4 miles. This was a flatter course than the Yellow loop, so I was able to keep a better pace for most of the loop with the exception of parts of mile 4 where the trail turned into a beach!

The sand was extremely hard to run through, so I walked most of that section until I was able to get onto more solid ground, but luckily it wasn’t too long of a section. The Green loop had a lot more exposed areas, so I was glad I ran this in the dark as I’m sure this loop got hot in the sun. As I finished my loop the sun was starting to come up and I wish I knew what the loops looked like to find a good place to take a sunrise picture, but the sun coming up over the Village ended up being a pretty nice view too.

Next up will be the Red loop where I finally got to run in the daylight, so of course, I took a ton of pictures!

Miss part 1? Check it out here.

Ragnar Trail Alafia part 1 – Lithia, FL (2016)

 I was headed to Orlando for a work conference and knew I had to take advantage of being in the area to try out the first year of Ragnar Trail Alafia. I was a little worried about the weather considering that last year during our conference, it was in the 80’s during the day, but this time, there was more concern about being cold and rainy! There was some rain Thursday night and early Friday morning, but we missed the majority of it and had really great weather on Friday. My team started at 9:00 am and I was our last runner so that I would be able to make it on time for my legs since I wasn’t going to leave Orlando until at least noon and then had an hour and a half drive to the park. After stopping for some extra food for our team, I finally met my teammates around 2:00 pm on Friday afternoon. I only knew one person on the team (our captain) and many of the teammates were meeting each other for the first time at the event. At least one person had never run trails before and only three of us had done a Ragnar before and knew what to expect with the three loops, but everyone came into it excited and ready to try it out.

My original starting time was somewhere around 4:00 pm, but I ended up starting at 6:00 pm, so my first leg was on the Yellow loop in the dark. After Ragnar Carolinas, I decided that even though my headlamp was definitely bright enough to use on its own, I would take my knuckle light along too for some extra visibility. I didn’t make it too far onto the loop before I took a tumble. I’m still not sure what I tripped over, but considering how clumsy I am, I’m surprised that this was my first true trail fall – I’ve stumbled before, but never fully hit the ground. After I jumped back to my feet, I kept running. I passed a few people here and there and went past two women who were on the side of the trail around 2.5 miles into the 4.5 mile loop and didn’t make it too far away from them when I heard one of them say “I guess we’ll just turn around” so I stopped and asked them if they needed a light. They said they did, so I gave them my knuckle light and my team number and just told them to turn it into the staff working at the transition tent and I would get it from them later. I was happy to help fellow runners and glad that they wouldn’t have to turn around when they were halfway done already.

I promise it wasn’t nearly as scary as it looked

I felt good running the Yellow loop and it was a lot of fun, even if I couldn’t really see much of the scenery around me. There were a lot of people on the course (with over 300 teams, you’re never really alone) and I passed 9 people on my first loop, coming in just under 52 minutes before handing off to our captain to start the rotation over again.After I finished, I hit up one of the food trucks that was serving rice, beans and steak – there was also an option for chicken, but apparently that was in high demand as there were several people in front of me waiting for chicken when they announced that there was a steak option ready, so I jumped at that and it was delicious! I really like the food truck options at the Ragnar races. They’ve used them in several races I’ve done lately and it gives so many more options that I think it’s great for runners to be able to choose what they want without having to bring a bunch of food in addition to all their other gear.

After dinner, I hung out with some of the Ragnar staff and got to watch them brand one of the leather sheaths for the medals. It’s pretty impressive in the dark with the Ragnar logo glowing in the fire, though it was harder to figure out whether the logo actually transferred correctly.

This was a fun race to do to see all of the Ragnar staff I met over the year – since they all live in Salt Lake City, everyone wanted to come to Florida for the nice weather in December. Little did they know that it would be in the 40’s overnight! Since I knew it was going to be colder at night for this race, I had to show off my new outfit to keep me warm – a fleece cat onesie. It was pretty ridiculous, but it had pockets, “paws” to go over my hands and kept me warm, so I’m counting it as a win!

I knew my next leg wouldn’t be until at least 4:00 am, so I made myself stay up for awhile so that I wouldn’t wake up in the middle of the night and it seemed to work pretty well. Next up was the Green loop!

Run Run Rudolph 5k – Huntersville, NC (2016)

So this was an impromptu registration… last Thursday one of my friends posted that he had registered for the 5k after not running since Marine Corps Marathon and we went back and forth a few times and I looked up the 2015 finishers results. First place in my age group finished in 30:11 which convinced me to register for the race. I had heard the course had some hills (understatement), but with my last 3 5ks under 27:00, I felt pretty confident in being able to place in this race.

There wasn’t an elevation map of the race online, but I saw the course map and tried to use Map My Run to get an idea of what to expect. I knew there would be a long climb through the first mile and a quarter, then a good downhill portion and some rolling hills near the end. The long climb was tough, but knowing the downhill was coming kept me going. The water stop was in the middle of the hill and I did take a few seconds to drink a few sips before taking off again. I couldn’t really feel my legs through most of the race which made it hard to tell how fast I was going. On the downhill section, I couldn’t feel my legs going any faster, but as I got to the bottom of the hill and started to go uphill again, I looked at my watch and saw 7:XX and knew I would be slowing down pretty quickly. I struggled a lot on the last few hills which were much steeper than the first long hill, but the out and back section which I thought was going to be a lot longer was pretty short and then we saw the 6 mile marker (the 10k did the 5k twice) which meant we were getting pretty close to the finish line which was flat and then downhill. Two women passed me on the last big hill and I kept them in my sights as we flattened out and once we hit the 3 mile mark, I turned it on and passed them both. I ended up finishing the last .1 at a 6:19 pace!

  • Mile 1 – 9:02
  • Mile 2 – 8:51
  • Mile 3 – 9:48
Official time: 28:10, 2nd place in my age group
No one else stuck around for our medal picture, but I got mine!
There was another good group from Run for Your Life at this race, including a festive grinch who cheered on all the racers and posed for lots of pictures with everyone – yet another reason I’m appreciative they have adopted me into their running group and I’ll be joining them in January!

Rock ‘n’ Roll Vegas – Las Vegas, NV (2016)

Less than two hours after finishing the Charlotte half marathon, 5 of us were hopping on a plane to make the trek across the country. After getting to Vegas an hour earlier than expected, we checked into the Tropicana, stuffed everyone’s luggage into one room and headed to the expo. Most of the group wasn’t interested in browsing much at the expo, but I had to go pick up my We Run Social shirt from Sparkle Athletic (on the left) and Beth and I hit up a few other booths before meeting back up with the group to head to our separate hotels.

We unpacked and I finally took my post-race shower while we lounged around before dinner at A Slice of Vegas. After dinner, Beth and I walked up the strip to the Bellagio to catch the fountain show and I ended Saturday with almost 23.5 miles covered.

Sunday saw us “sleeping in” until about 6:30 local time, which was really 9:30 for our east coast minds, so even though it was still early, it felt like we got a ton of sleep! After breakfast, I broke from the group and headed to the Neon Museum and then wandered around the Fremont area and the northern part of the strip before heading back to the hotel for a short nap before meeting the group at 3:00 to go to the race.

Since we were staying at the Tropicana, we were able to walk outside our front door and join the crowd heading north on the strip to the pre-race festivities. Snoop Dogg was the featured artist and put on a good concert for us before the race. With 45,000 runners doing the half and full marathon, we were broken into 3 big groups. The majority of our group were in the second group that was set to start at 5:00pm. By the time we were starting, it was already pretty dark out, so we were able to all the signs along the strip lit up.

The first two miles are an out-and-back heading south on the strip before coming up past Mandalay Bay and the Luxor and parts of that section were really dark. Lots of people had lights on their costumes, but there were a few sections that were really hard to see.

Corey, Beth and I ran together for the race and it hurt from the beginning. Having pushed myself to the 2:08 finish the day before and then sitting on a plane for 4 hours meant that I was really sore. We knew this race wasn’t going to be one that we were trying to hit a specific time – we wanted to enjoy the sites and take a lot of pictures and we certainly succeeded at that!

As part of the race, you could register to get married while on the run. We never did see which chapel the runners went to, but we passed a ton of different ones and most of them advertised which stars had gotten married there.

One of my friends had mentioned a fire-breathing praying mantis on the course and I kind of forgot about it until we saw fire shooting up behind a building and when we turned the corner, we saw the giant figure. Unfortunately, he stopped dancing and shooting fire as we got close and since we didn’t know how long it would be before he would start up again, we decided to keep going, but this was definitely one of my favorites from the strip.

Overall, I liked this race. It’s certainly a good one to do to see the sites of Vegas and since it’s an evening race, it’s really easy to do as a second weekend race. I would not recommend this race for anyone who is trying to hit any type of PR – there’s just too many people. The course had sections

where we were spread out, but just like the Marine Corps Marathon, for the most part, you had people on all sides. I also really enjoyed everyone’s costumes. There were a lot of people dressed like Elvis and tons of outfits that incorporated lights. Beth and I tied some around our waist belts, but they were more of an add-on than an important part of the outfit. I got a lot of shout outs in my Waldo costume and I’m sure there will be many people who have pictures with me hiding in the background, which is really what Waldo is all about! After the race, we grabbed dinner at Cesar’s Palace and then headed back to our hotels which was a bit of an adventure since roads were still closed.

Showing off our double-bling

I’m doing another back-to-back half marathon weekend in January, but thankfully these will be closer together in Jackson, MS and Mobile, AL. The drive time between the two races is still a good 3 hours, but I’ll have more opportunity to stop and walk around if I need to and I don’t plan on pushing myself in my first race, so hopefully I won’t be as sore. Now I’ve got a couple weeks off before my last race of the year at Ragnar Trail Alafia.

Charlotte Half Marathon – Charlotte, NC (2016)

 The was the first year for this race as the Charlotte Marathon (and half, relay, 5k and mile). Last year it was the Thunder Road Marathon, which was my redemption race for Savannah Rock ‘n’ Roll getting black flagged. Over the summer, Beth and I had finally committed to running Rock ‘n’ Roll Vegas with our free entry from Savannah and I had thrown out that it would be cool to run Charlotte the day before since we could then do the last Thunder Road and the first Charlotte race. We didn’t act on it right away, but I had planted the seed, we made sure the flight options would work, and she shared the idea with some of her fellow Run Far runners. In no time it went from one crazy idea to 5 of us committed to do it!*

Fast forward a few months and as Beth and I were running the Marine Corps Marathon we realized that we would have to cover that distance again in two weeks, plus fly across the country in the middle. Those 12 days in between were all about rest for me. I took my dogs for a few walks, including a 7.5 mile hike, and got a sports massage to help me fully recover from the marathon.

Friday I met up with the Run Far group to pick up our packets and this year instead of printing names on the bibs, they let you “personalize” them. At first, I would have preferred something printed on mine, but then we came up with the idea of putting “CLT to Vegas” on all of ours and then adding some hashtags. #ringleader

Race morning, Helen and her boyfriend (our lifesaver!) picked all of us up so that we wouldn’t have to leave cars in uptown Charlotte over the weekend and we would have a quicker escape to the airport after the race. The rest of the group decided that they were going to start the race early because they were concerned about our cutoff time (2:20 in order to get to the airport for our 11:30 flight). I wanted to run the race for an official time, so I just started out near the front of the corral to avoid having to weave through people at the beginning of the race. I’ve done this race a few times, so I knew the course and knew there would be some good downhill sections to take advantage of and, of course, some long climbs that would slow me down.

I had a 2:15 pace band left over from another race and figured that would keep me in line for the time I needed to run. Having just run Rocktoberfest a month ago in 2:13, I was pretty confident in my ability to stay under 2:15, especially since it was much cooler to start this race and I love running in the colder weather.

After a brief downhill, we hit our first hill of the morning and that’s when I realized I forgot to put my buff on – my lungs were not happy with me in those first few (speedy) miles. I always struggle to breathe deeply when it’s cold out – it was mid-40’s for the race start, so I was definitely feeling that in my lungs.

I had my watch set to 5:1, but I ran the first few miles straight before we hit our first real hills in mile 3 and I walked as I ate my first GU. I like keeping the run / walk timer on even if I don’t plan to fully use it because when I do decide to walk, I will sometimes force myself to wait until it’s actually a walk break and then stick to the 1:00 buzzing to keep me on track. I’ve gotten a lot better at sticking to short walk breaks, but depending on how the day is going (my last two marathons, for instance), I’ve needed something to push me to start running again. Plus, with the 5:00 run, if I am struggling, I will split that up into 2:30 running, 1:00 walking, 1:30 running and then hit the actual 1:00 walk break.

I ran my first few miles fast and came close to my fastest 10k time, coming in at around 58 minutes, which was almost 4 minutes ahead of my expected pace and by mile 7, I was about 6 minutes ahead of my 2:15 pace band. In my head, this race had a really tough hill around mile 7, and even when we got to mile 8, I was still waiting to hit that hill. I’m pretty sure I was actually thinking of the hill in the RaceFest half marathon which I haven’t done since 2014. Either way, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that there wasn’t an extra monster hill waiting for me. There is a beast of a hill on Morehead Street in mile 9 and the remainder of that hill near the end of mile 10 (you cut away in the middle of the hill and then return to the same road after a residential detour), but again, I knew that it was coming, so I planned my walk breaks for the worst of the hill.

After that, I hit mile 11 and was still almost 6 minutes ahead of my pace when I hit a mini wall – I was out of water in my bottles and was taking another GU and my body was not too happy about that idea. I walked a few extra minutes and waited for it to settle down before I started shuffling, then running again. I only had 3 miles slower than my goal pace of 10:18 – mile 5 (10:19), mile 10 (10:51) and mile 12 (10:28) and most were well under it. I ended up finishing in 2:08:16 which is my second fastest half marathon, only slower than The Scream which is about 90% downhill, so I was really excited about my time.

When I finished, I immediately got into the gear check line which did. not. move… finally after 15 minutes of waiting, I just went up to the front of the line and asked someone if I could jump in because I needed to go catch a flight and even after they had my bib number it took them almost 10 minutes to find my bag. After that debacle, I ran to find the rest of the crew and my lack of uptown shortcuts meant I added an extra half mile to my walk (which was really a run because I was late), but I made it to the group and wasn’t the last one (yay!) so I had enough time to snap a quick picture of my medal with the tops of the uptown buildings behind the trees and the Carolina Panthers on the practice field in the background.

Now onto Vegas for race #2 of the weekend!

*Beth found out at packet pickup on Friday night that she never actually registered for the Charlotte half, so she decided not to pay the race day fees to join us Saturday morning, so only 4 of us did the back-to-back races.

Marine Corps Marathon – Washington, DC (2016)

In reading others’ recaps from this race, I haven’t found anyone who had the race they wanted yet. There’s a lot of different factors that go into this, but the main theme seems to be the weather and just having an off day. I’m certainly in the same boat, but I’m also going to add my X factor was that this was my 4th race in 4 weeks. Probably not my smartest plan, but you never know until you try!

Beth and I decided to drive up to DC to save some money and even though it’s a 6 hour drive (without traffic), it was definitely the way to go. Round trip with gas, hotel parking and using Uber to get to dinner Saturday and Sunday night was less than $90 to split between the two of us and we had a lot more control over when we arrived and left which was certainly a bonus.

We left Saturday morning around 8:00am and, as expected, hit a lot of traffic as we got close to DC. Originally we were going to park in Old Town Alexandria and take the ferry over to National Harbor, but we figured that might take even more time, so we just drove to the Expo and parked in one of the garages two blocks from the hotel. There was a lot of traffic on National Harbor, but there were a ton of cops directing traffic and it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. The expo itself was a little disappointing and certainly not as big as I was expecting for a race that had almost 20,000 marathon finishers. I didn’t end up picking up anything extra at the expo, but I really like that we got a fleece-lined mock turtle neck. That will get some use this winter for sure!

Sunday morning, we headed out to meet Beth’s running group to take the shuttle buses from Crystal City to the start line. When I originally booked the hotel, I just looked for something close to the start (we were about 2 miles away), but didn’t realize we would only be two blocks from where the shuttles would pick us up and drop us off – win! We met just after 6:00am and got in line – it was a long line to get on the shuttle that wrapped down into the parking garage, but the line moved well and even though it was a lot longer than it originally looked (the line went down much further into the garage than we initially thought), we kept warm and got on the buses quickly enough and headed to the start line. I had heard that the security to get through the start was insane and that it would take a really long time to get through. Luckily for us, after we got of the bus and walked to security, we were able to immediately get checked by security and quickly made it into the parking lot. Gear drop was really easy and there were plenty of porta potties in the waiting area, but I opted to wait until we walked to the start line and found shorter lines there. The race had an open start time from 7:55 to 8:55 and it took us about 20 minutes to get to the start line from where we were near the 4:45 pacers.

This gives some of an idea of just how many people ran this race!
I made a few mistakes coming into this race… I never really looked at the elevation profile and I didn’t have a true game plan for pacing. Honestly, this was a race that I was doing because I’ve heard good things from other people and because I knew other people who were running it – it wasn’t a goal race of mine, and unfortunately, that became clear pretty quickly. I had quickly glanced at the elevation profile and had heard that the first 5k had the worst hills of the race, but I wasn’t too concerned about them… until I hit them!

As soon as I started the hill, I could feel how tight my calves were from the Cane Field Classic. Even with compression socks on, they were sore! I ended up walking up the majority of the hill. I figured if it really did level out like I expected it to, there was no need to push myself up this hill and potentially cause more issues later in the day. I was doing a 5:1 run / walk interval and stopped to take pictures along the course. It was a little bit harder to make sure I was out of the way of the other runners since there were so many people, but I snuck off to the side to get my pictures in.

Heading down towards mile 4
Mile 4 had us running alongside the Potomac River

I was doing pretty good with my run / walk plan until I took a bathroom break at mile 5. I ended up getting passed by the 5 hour pacer. It took me until around mile 7 before I was able to pass the hoard of people around the pacer and during this time, I was just running their pace and trying to pass people whenever I could. The biggest challenge was that we were on a section of two-lane road that had runners going on both sides, so it was a very crowded section of the race. Around mile 8, I caught up with John (one of the runners from Beth’s pace group) and he was struggling. We talked for a little bit, but I lost him in the crowd as I was doing my run / walk and didn’t see him, or anyone else from the group, until our designated meetup spot after the race.

Beautiful views from mile 9

Between miles 10.5 and 11.5 was the blue mile. In the first half of the mile, both sides of the course were lined with signs and pictures of fallen service members, followed by volunteers holding American flags. The Rock ‘n’ Roll races I’ve done have done similar blue miles, but this was exponentially more impactful. I ran with hundreds of people, but the only sounds you could hear were people running – everyone was taking in the scenes, reading the signs and listening to the encouragement of all of the volunteers holding flags. After a somber mile, we quickly entered a section where there were hundreds of signs beside the road cheering on random strangers and personalized signs dedicated to specific runners. I assume that these signs were created at the Expo and placed for runners – it was fun to read all of the different signs, even though I didn’t know who any of them were talking about!

Mile 15 brought on more iconic views and the Gauntlet – our first time-based cutoff. I had fallen just behind the 5 hour pacer again by the time I reached the Gauntlet and I was starting to struggle some, but I was trying to keep my run / walk ratio up, especially since I still needed to Beat the Bridge at mile 18 before I would really feel safe. As I got closer to mile 16, I knew I was in some trouble. I had forgotten my electrolyte drops, so while I had started out with a bottle of Nuun and one filled with CarboPro, I quickly ended up drinking just water as the temperatures increased. At mile 16, I grabbed two cups of Gatorade and walked as I slowly drank and hoped that would help my headache go away.  Just before mile 17, you go right in front of the U.S. Capitol and there were volunteers in the middle of the street offering to take pictures of people so that they could update their Facebook pictures later that day!

You can see how the crowd has spread out, but there’s still a lot of people everywhere!
Not sure what this building was, but I liked it

I was able to start my run / walk again, but ended up breaking up the 5 minutes into shorter sections with another walk break in the middle. I was able to keep this up until mile 19 when we officially hit the bridge (which I did successfully beat) and ended up baking in the sun, crossing a major road. Deja vu of Savannah for sure! Everyone was struggling at this point – lots of walking on the bridge and beyond. At this point, my head was still hurting a lot and I knew I was dehydrated but also needed more salt. I had been eating my peanut butter pretzels, but eventually I realized that if I kept eating the pretzels, I would just keep drinking more water, thus diluting the salt even more, so I started sucking the salt off of the pretzels instead of actually eating them and I think it started to help. There was a lot of crowd support as we crossed over into Crystal City which certainly helped as well.

This was one of my favorite signs

I did another quick pitstop at mile 24 as I walked around the parking lots of the Pentagon and my headache had finally started to go away. I started doing a run / walk again, albeit at much shorter intervals. As we passed the start of the marathon, the crowds were even thicker and when we passed Arlington Cemetery, I knew I was almost done. There is a brutal (but short) hill at the very end of the marathon before you flatten out and go under the finishing arch. When you finish, it’s a long (long, long, long) walk to get through the finishers’ only area before you can meet up with the rest of your group. I got my medal put on by a Marine, took a few pictures at the Marine Corps War Memorial and then wandered out to find my bag at gear check.

Our group planned to meet up at the family reunion area and when I got there, a few people had already finished and it wasn’t long before the rest of the group showed up. No one had the race they had wanted, but we all finished, including two people doing their very first marathon!

I really appreciate this group adopting me!

This is probably a one and done race for me. It was my first huge marathon and I definitely prefer the smaller crowds. I think this was extremely well organized and with the exception of miles 5.5 – 8, I never felt overly crowded. I wouldn’t be against doing another major marathon at some point in the future, but they probably won’t be my main focus races.

Bonus tip: You should never put candy corn in your pocket to save it for later, especially on a warm day… it will melt through your shorts and stick to your skin. #themoreyouknow

Cane Field Classic – Port Allen, LA (2016)

I’ve had this race on my radar for a few years, but with October being a huge race month, I couldn’t work it into my schedule until this year. This was my bucket list race for Louisiana purely for the machete you receive if you complete all 3 races. This race was voted the coolest race in Louisiana and its popularity is clearly growing with extra spots opened up for the challenge this year.

The flights from Charlotte to Baton Rouge (or New Orleans or Lafayette) weren’t great and either had a layover which meant double the travel time or had terrible fly in / out times, so I opted to fly into Jackson, Mississippi and rent a car. I would need a car to get around while I was in town anyway and the overall cost was cheaper than if I would have gotten a direct flight into Louisiana.

I picked up my race packet Friday night which was easy enough – no lines and easy parking near the store. Unfortunately, it seems that most people didn’t take advantage of the Friday pickup as there were over 200 people who were waiting in line Saturday morning before the race to get their goodies. With a runner total of just over 360, it caused quite a backup. The races were set to go virtually back-to-back-to-back, giving runners 15 minutes per mile to get through each of the courses.

Part 1: 1 mile

Due to the packet pickup backup, the first race ended up starting at 8:17 (yay Garmin tracking!). The 1-mile loop was a fairly wide swath of cut grass / field which was helpful since it was a mass start. There was a lot of jockeying for space in the first half mile before it felt more spread out. I was hoping to finish the mile around 9:00 and as I got closer to the last quarter mile, I could hear them announcing the first finishers (first place finished in 4:55!). I pushed through the finish and finished in 8:19 as 19th female across the line. My Garmin had the loop a little short, which would’ve put my finish time around 8:50, but I’ll certainly take it either way.

Part 2: 4 miles

After the first race, I took off my jacket and then stood in line for the porta potties. The second race had an extra 5 minutes before we got started again. This time, I started a little closer to the front to try to avoid some of the backup I ran into in the first course. The start was the same for the first tenth of a mile or so before we headed out into a field between the high growth sugar cane. Runners spread out a little faster this time and just before the second mile, we saw the leaders coming back towards us. From the field, we made a turn into a section beside a small stream. This section was a little more technical because it wasn’t flat like the field – there was some downed sugar cane and generally just a lot of uneven ground. We then turned back and ran up through another field before meeting back with the field that we came in on to head back to the finish. During this loop I definitely started to feel my calves burning a bit more. I was glad I had my compression socks on, but there wasn’t much to do about the uneven footing, just keep an eye out and try not to trip myself (success!).

Official finish: 39:10, 31st female

Part 3: Rows of Hell (2 miles)
Based on the first two races, I moved up in the starting chute (but not far enough). This race started going out the same way as the first two races for probably a tenth of a mile or so and then we went to the end of the cane field before heading back and forth down the rows. It was overcrowded for the entire race which was kind of a drag, especially when we had to keep walking because of the backup. At one point the RD (I think) was yelling at runners for not being in the right rows – people were going two rows down instead of just one, but I think that’s probably an expected consequence of the number of racers on a single track so quickly.

Having to run up and down each row meant we got to see the same people over and over again. The last row was up against the big high cane field and then we were back into the wider field to head back to the finish line. As you can see from the map, lots (and lots and lots) of back and forth. I think there were about 20 rows that we went through, though it’s really hard to tell on the map from Garmin!
Official finish: 20:37, 23rd female

After finishing the race, I got in line to get my “finisher’s medal” – this year’s was less of a machete and more of a Crocodile Dundee / Rambo knife and comes with its own sheath so I can wear it on a belt (not likely). Some people have asked, and yes, it is as sharp as it looks and could easily be used.

Overall results: 1:08:07, 32nd female

A few days ago, the race pictures were posted to Facebook and I got an email from Amy at Gypsy Runner who saw my shorts in the race picture and wanted to make sure I saw it. I love these shorts and finally got a good race picture too – double win!


Rocktoberfest half marathon – Charlotte, NC (2016)

Back in the spring I had some discussions with a coworker who decided that he wanted to run a half marathon this fall. Always on the lookout for more running buddies, I told him I’d help him get ready for the race, he just had to pick one and we could do it together. After deciding that a fall half would be the most realistic, he chose Rocktoberfest since it was a local race which removes a few of the potential challenges for a first-time race. I’d never done this race and as the last local long distance race I hadn’t done yet, I figured it would be a good race, even though it was only a week after Ragnar Carolinas.

I gave my friend a basic training plan and tried to check in to see how his training was going. As happens a lot of times, life took over the training plan and he ended up running less than he wanted to in preparation for the race. Expecting to come into this race having just finished 50k the weekend before, my plan for this race was just to take it easy, but after the shortened Ragnar Carolinas, I decided to go ahead and push the pace a little. We decided to run together and just see how it went – he was worried about not being able to hit the cutoff time and I wondered how I’d feel running the whole thing – giving up my run/walk wasn’t something I was looking forward to.

The race starts and finishes uptown near CPCC and we didn’t want to deal with the traffic bottlenecking in the parking deck beside the start, so we met up at the midtown Target to take advantage of their parking deck next to the greenway. We got there with plenty of time to spare and met up with Beth before she joined her run group teammates for the half.

This race has a lot of hills! The course takes a different route than most of the Charlotte races and while we got to see some new neighborhoods, there weren’t really many spectators along the course. This isn’t unique to this race as it seems like a lot of the neighborhoods in Charlotte aren’t interested in getting up early on the weekend to cheer on runners – there are obviously exceptions, but crowd support is usually quite sparse.

We kept a good pace through the first few miles, hitting close to 9:00 at some points. I tried to reel us back from going to fast too soon, but we were both feeling good, so we just kept running. I had forgotten to bring my water belt, so I had to use the water stops, but luckily I had thrown a couple extra GU into my bag in the morning and wore my Gypsy Runner shorts with the huge pockets so I still had somewhere to store my gear. We used the water stops to take a quick walk break, assess how we were feeling, and I used it to fuel.

We stayed together through the majority of the race, though we were each in our own zones, listening to music most of the time. I pulled ahead a bit around mile 11, so I walked at the top of the hill until he caught back up again and we stuck together until the end, taking one last walk break at the last major hill. It’s a (very) slight downhill finish, which is a nice change from most races which seem intent on putting a big hill where everyone can see you struggle, so as we got a couple blocks from the finish line, Daniel said “let’s go” and I asked if he was sure before taking off to the finish. My last kick brought me in 5 seconds ahead of him and he admitted that he didn’t have any more to give in a sprint to the finish. My official time was 2:13:00, averaging 10:05 per mile. I haven’t done a half that fast in awhile, usually pacing closer to 2:20-2:30 depending on how many times I stop to take pictures. The flip side of this is that I only got pictures before and after the race. With no official walk breaks scheduled and trying to keep pace with another person, I wasn’t really running “my race” like I normally would.

Overall, this race wasn’t as bad as I was expecting based on what I had heard. Yes, there are sections where you’re inhaling exhaust and long stretches where you only see other runners, but I found the traffic to be well controlled and the cops and volunteers were attentive to the runners, cheering us on as we passed them in addition to keeping motorists where they needed to be. I really like the shirt and medal for this race, which was another motivating factor for why I wanted to check this race off my list. Definitely not my favorite Charlotte race, but one I would do again if someone else wanted to run it.