First Light half marathon – Mobile, AL (2017)

After my “fun” trip from Jackson to Mobile, I headed to the expo for the First Light full / half. It was a small expo, but I got my bib, shirt and a special handmade plaque for doing the back-to-back half marathons. Race morning was cold! It was 24 degrees, but the weather app said it felt like 14. It was really easy to get parking close to the start line and I killed some time waiting in my car since it was so cold. I had long pants, compression socks, t-shirt, windbreaker, buff, hat, gloves and some hot hands and it was still cold at the start! As I got out of my car and started my walk to the start line, someone passed me on the street and said, “Go get ’em girl, go get ’em baby!” I told him thanks and made my way the two blocks to the start line ready to embrace the cold!

There were a ton of people from Half Fanatics, Marathon Maniacs and the 50 states clubs who were in town attempting the same back-to-back that I did – this is a really popular back-to-back trip for those groups since the races are so close together and there is even a bus you can sign up for to transport you between the two races. I opted not to do the bus this time, but if I decide to attempt this one again, I may do that to get to meet some more people.

The race itself was pretty small, with just over 900 finishers between the two races. The course itself winds through downtown Mobile and takes you past beautiful houses and the quintessential moss covered trees. Around mile 2, we went past the Magnolia Cemetery and it was really pretty seeing the sun come up across all the gravestones and trees.

It was nice when the sun was out, warming up all the runners. The course itself was really flat with only a few small hills in some of the neighborhoods. Based on my Garmin, the overall elevation only went from 10′ to 33′ so super flat!

Around mile 8, the half and full marathon split off from each other and there were several people who were holding huge signs directing runners to the right course. I had to take a picture of the couple holding the sign for the half marathon – who could say no to taking pictures while wearing a dress in 20-something degree weather?

Through the middle of the race I was leap-frogging with a group of kids (maybe middle school, but definitely young) and at one point I heard one of them say “I can’t wait until we finish this race, we’re going to get so much food!” – he certainly has the heart of a runner with that statement! I laughed when I heard that and told him, “Yes we will!” I ended up getting and staying ahead of the boys shortly after the half marathon split, so I’m not sure if they were able to get all the food they wanted, but the finish line food was pretty good – it was a hot meal of rice, beans, corn bread and some other food with lots of hot chocolate and coffee available for everyone too.

After a few more miles of tree-lined residential streets, we headed back into downtown Mobile and past a lot of buildings that had graffiti designs across the sides of the buildings, we soon came upon the last street where we could see the finish line in the distance. There were mile markers throughout the course, but as we got close to the finish, they marked the 13 mile mark on the street in chalk – only .1 to go!

This wasn’t a very fast race for me, but I had fun just taking everything in and listening to the other runners. I ended up finishing in 2:21:08 and headed to get some of that good food at the finish line festival. Even though the Mississippi Blues race was cancelled, the race director for the First Light race decided to go ahead and give out the back-to-back medals for anyone who had registered for both – that medal has the race logo and state outline on each side, one for each race with the middle part spinning.

The race medal and back-to-back plaque were both hand decorated by local Alabama residents who are part of the L’Arche Mobile Thomas B. Barnett Activity Center. The back of the plaque has a picture of the artist as well as a short story about her and some background on the activity center. Each year there is a different design for the race sticker (lower left, same as the design on the shirt) which is designed by a member of the community. It’s a really cool way to bring the local community into a race that brings in people from all across the country and even the world, as the winner of the marathon was from London!

I was definitely disappointed to only come away with one race finish after this weekend, but I wholly understand why it happened and the weather in the south is very unpredictable in the winter – it went from high’s in the low 20’s in Charlotte on Saturday / Sunday to a high of almost 70 by the end of the week – crazy!  I’ll keep this duo on my radar and may try to head back to do the official back-to-back in the future, but I’m not 100% set on that yet, so time will tell which will be my first “official” Mississippi race!

Mississippi Blues half marathon – Jackson, MS (2017)

Is it an official DNS (did not start) if the race was cancelled due to weather? Probably… but, with the winter storm that hit the east coast this past weekend, there wasn’t much to be done other than cancel the race. As it turns out, Mississippi gets snow like Charlotte gets snow, which is to say, it comes in the form of ice.

I flew into Mobile Thursday night and rented a car so that I could wander around Mississippi and Alabama for the weekend. I spent Thursday night in Wiggins, MS with the intention of checking out De Soto National Forest on Friday and I did head to Airey Lake for a short walk. It was raining and quite cold, so I didn’t venture too far, but the fog coming off the lake was beautiful!

Some of the trail had wooden bridges along the path to help people over swampy land, but with the additional rain, the boards were nice and slick!

From De Soto, I headed to the expo in Jackson and then on to Vicksburg (more photos coming soon) to wander around a bit before heading back to Jackson in the late afternoon. By the time I started heading back the rain had turned into sleet / ice balls and traffic had slowed down considerably. I passed one tractor trailer accident that has blocked the entire other side of the interstate because it was jackknifed across the road. By the time it got to the hotel, the ice was starting to pile up a bit, so I attempted to order take out online and was promptly called and told they weren’t delivering because of the weather. Luckily the pizza place was only a few blocks away, so I slowly made my way over there and successfully made it back to the hotel without sliding anywhere.

Just after 10:00 p.m. we got an email from the race director letting us know that the race was cancelled due to the icy conditions. it was definitely disappointing, but checking out the road conditions in the morning made it easy to see they made the right decision. There was some confusion on the Facebook page about earning our medals through a virtual race, and there are still rumors that this might still be the case, but the RD did offer anyone who still needed to pick up their packet or wanted to pick up their medal could come downtown and pick them up on Saturday morning.

I attempted to do a treadmill run Saturday morning to make up some of the mileage I would be missing and ambitiously set it up for an hour, but quit after 2 miles because running on a treadmill is so boring! I’d rather brave the weather later in January during one of my scheduled training runs to do my redemption / virtual MS Blues half than do it on the treadmill! After my two miles, I packed up my stuff and hit the road just after 9:00 a.m. and headed downtown. Google maps didn’t know what the Jackson Arts Center was, but I headed to the Convention Center and then walked a bit before I found other runners and was able to figure out where to go. The sidewalks and streets were extremely icy and certainly unsafe for runners and cars to try to share the road, but it was very quiet downtown, so I took a little bit of time to wander around and take a few pictures.


I saw the courthouse on my drive in and thought it was a really cool-looking building.

This medal is super awesome and I will “earn” it with a virtual half soon enough, but I’ve also heard that this same design will be used next year since it will still be the 10th anniversary of the race given this year’s cancellation.

A little after 10:00 a.m. I started my trek out of town towards Mobile, AL to head to the First Light expo and was concerned it would end up being a 5 hour drive instead of just 3 with how slow it was going in the beginning. Going over 20 mph was very limited, but the only trouble I had was merging from one interstate to another. I was behind a tractor trailer truck and the road we were on was just pure ice, but luckily the other interstate was much more clear – unfortunately this meant making a turn on the ice. I gave the tractor trailer plenty of space and he started to jackknife a bit but was able to straighten out and get on his way. I did a little bit of sliding getting onto the other interstate, but otherwise didn’t have much trouble. It took about 30 minutes before the majority of the ice turned to slush and just wet roads and shortly thereafter the roads were bare and there was barely a trace of ice on even the sides of the road.

So, the good news is that the First Light race didn’t seem to be impacted at all from the winter storm, but they did offer a discount to anyone who was planning to run the Mississippi Blues race who wanted to add their race due to the cancellation. It’s great to see the cooperation between the races!

Ring in 2017 17k – Rock Hill, SC (2017)

I signed up for this race on a whim after a friend told me about another race hosted by the Rock Hill Striders and since it was at the Anne Springs Close Greenway, I figured it would be a great way to kick off the new year. The weather was in the high 30’s and rainy with the rain expected to last most of the day, so I knew it would be a cold morning. I ended up overdressed so I took off my lightweight rain jacket after a couple of miles and didn’t really notice the rain since we were in the middle of the woods for the entire race. The race was pretty low-key with runners congregating under a pavilion (with an awesome fire to huddle around) where volunteers checked us in, gave us our bibs, a race bag and bells! I loved the idea of the bells and they worked much better than when I tried to sew bells onto my hula skirt as part of my Hawaiian Santa outfit a few years ago. The next time I want to make some noise on a run, I’ll be sure to break these out again.

We started out at the Rush Pavilion and headed down to do the full School Loop then back around the Grist Mill back up Muscadine trail and around Lake Haigler for a good 10.5 miles. When I first got to the venue and went to pick up my packet, I talked to one of the greenway workers who told me I was hardcore for running in the rain and cold. Certainly put a smile on my face to start the day!

I loved the trail directional signs around the course. 

During the opening remarks the RD told us that part of our loop would take us past the millstone and while he didn’t know what would happen if we didn’t touch it when we ran past, but why risk it. Makes sense to me.

I love the tunnels on the School Loop!
When I finally made it to the Haigler Lake loop, I was excited to be almost done!
The geese didn’t seem to care that it was a cold and rainy day.
I was one of the last runners to come in, but I really enjoyed this race. It was a tough one to start off the year given the lack of training I did over the holidays, but it was a good kick in the butt to get started on more serious training for my April marathon. Plus, I was able to kick off Ragnar’s annual January 30-day challenge by spending a few hours outside which was really nice.

Spoiler alert: I’ve already broken the streak, but I’m catching up by doing two on some days.

After the race I got some food, warmed up by the fire and talked with the RD about the Rock Hill Striders race series. They’ve got a 50k, half marathon and a 12-hour race all at the greenway, so even if I can’t run any more of their races, I definitely want to get involved where I can.

Official time: 2:18:21

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