Friday, April 25, 2014

Riverboat Series Day 1, Columbus Belmont State Park (KY) - April 12, 2014

I've now been home from my last big runcation for almost a week, and once again, I am staring at a blank screen trying to think of how to write these blog posts in such a way as to do this fabulous experience justice. This is the first post of 5 regarding the Mainly Marathons Riverboat Series which took us through 5 states in 5 consecutive days (KY, TN, AR, MS, LA). For some reason, the days of the race are seemingly blending together... something which significantly compounds the problem of writing about this experience.

I struggle about writing for a number of other reasons, but mostly because of the other runners and the amazing volunteers. From what I truly learned on this trip, they are all amazing people with awesomely inspirational stories. Some people present had over 1000 full marathons under their belts, some folks were out there doing their first half marathons, some were celebrating milestones, some were just plugging away putting one foot in front of the other (like me). But each had a story. And each of them was absolutely amazing.

I was in awe (once again) of what I was seeing happening, even within myself. I've been through a lot this year. Getting injured in the early part of 2013 really played a lot into it. Yes, last year I was able to still participate in many half marathons including my 6 halfs in 6 days fiasco which included Center of the Nation Series (also by Mainly Marathons), but I also spent the greater part of the year in and out of the orthopedic surgeon's office, in various medieval torture devices for my foot, and searching for answers about how best to not only allow me to have a future at running, but ensure that I could walk in the years to come.

When I signed up to participate in the Riverboat series, I had high hopes that my foot would be back on the mend, and that I would be able to run all 5 races at my normal pace... but that just wasn't in the cards. A month ago, I realized that the months upon months in a boot had left my ankle weak and at an even greater risk of rolling (causing more damage). I accepted these limitations and went into this series knowing that I would be walking, and really getting my money's worth in terms of time on the course.

Which brings me to Kentucky, at the Columbus Belmont State Park. This gorgeous park, overlooking the Mississippi River (which I had never seen before) is a 160 acre park with chain and anchor used during the Civil War to bar the Mississippi River and separate the Union from the Confederacy. The course was a figure 8 with upper and lower loops. The upper loop, brought us up a steep hill (ridiculously steep) overlooking the Mississippi (and the spectacular view), past the anchor and chain, then around an antebellum home built in 1850 that once served as a Confederate hospital. From there, we traveled even further up a hill, and around a campground area, returning to the start, to wind through the second part of the course.

As if the hills in the first part of the course weren't hard enough, the second portion proved to be even more difficult as they brought us off the roadway and through the trails. To get there, we had to climb an almost vertical 4 foot area, then into the trails. It had rained heavily the night before, so the trail area proved to be slippery and muddy. When not working hard to avoid the mud, we had to be extremely careful of exposed roots (multiple people reported twisted ankles), and wildlife (SNAKES!).

When we emerged from the trails, we returned back to the start, collected our first rubber bands and repeated until we had earned the required number of rubber bands signifying that we had finished our distances.

I have to admit that this was by far my favorite course because the views were spectacular, this was also the hardest course I have probably done in my entire life. I went into this with an agreement with the Husbeast that if I was experiencing any pain, I wouldn't let my pride get the best of me and I would listen to my body knowing when to call it quits. I just didn't realize that I would be faced with that dilemma during the very first race. Being careful to protect my bad foot, to not roll my ankles on the trails, or slip in the mud was taking its toll on my body. By the 4th lap, I was having some significant pain in my right hip. Thankfully there was no pain in the foot or ankle, but every time that I attempted to bear weight on the right leg, the top of my femur would scream. It felt as if the head of the bone was going to shatter off, and brought tears to my eyes.

For the entire 5th lap, I found myself weighing the options. After a much needed pep-talk from Brina, I forged forward and finished the event. And looking back, I am happy that I did.

I finished in 4:29:28.

I was a little slower than I had expected, but all things considered (walking, pain, course difficulty), I'm still proud of my time.

After collecting my medal I treated myself to a massage from a fellow runner who was doing 30 minutes for $30 to raise money for charity. Without this massage, I am not sure that I would have been able to continue on to day 2. I was just that spent.

To be continued...

*Disclaimer: Nearly none of the photos that you will see in the posts about this trip are mine. I chose to not bring my camera with me during the races and instead rely on other people. To the people who have contributed photos to help tell this story, I am thankful.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Race for Women's Wellness, Coral Springs Half - 3/29/2014

I'd run the Coral Springs half before. And absolutely loved every moment of it. Granted, the last time I ran it, I had Brina with me, and we chattered the whole way through the course so I didn't really have much time to love it... but never-the-less... when the registration for this year's Race for Women's Wellness half marathon opened, I was quick to register to secure my spot, eventhough I knew I would be running solo.

Organizationally, I think they worked out some kinks since last year's innaugural half marathon. Instead of having the packet pickup at the local recplex field, they held it at the nearby runner's depot. This allowed folks an escape from the sun and oppressive heat that can become South Florida's afternoon standard. This also allowed the participants to pick up the few extras that they may need in preparation for the race. So well done there, folks, kudos!

The morning of the race, because it was a straight 20 minute shot from my house, I was able to sleep in a little. Unfortunately, when I woke up, I was feeling like a 10 ton mammoth and needed to try on everything in my running wardrobe (despite laying out clothes the night before), so I still wound up getting a later start than planned. But I still got there, with a little time to burn before the start. I even remembered my to tape up the feet and ankles really well and put on my calf sleeves. Sadly, all this remembering of things before hand left me forgetting my trusty handana during the event, and I spent 13.1 miles trying to blink salt out of my eyes. Oops, you win some, you lose some.

In my pre-race de-stressing, I finally caught up with some folks that I had known from previous South Florida races who I had been meaning to catch up with for some time. Mark Lewin, is somewhat of a local running legend (pictured bare-chested here), as he has been running his whole life, despite what should be debilitating scoliosis which has gotten worse in his later years. He does walk/run/walk intervals, and boy can that man move. He said he was a real "back of the packer" and wanted to start from the very last spot. we parted ways, and I moved a little further into the corral to get a little more of a boost from the crowd.

The anthem played (at least I think it played, though the sound system was bad so I could barely hear anything), and the race started. No gun, no loud noises to get us going. Just suddenly the corral started moving, and we were off.

The first mile of the course isn't that well lit and goes along the access road to the recplex. It feels like it takes forever just to get to the main road entry. The pavement is nice, but I forgot about those speed humps. For people in other parts of the country, I am sure you would balk at the idea of this, but speed humps are torture for this flat lander! I was doing my regular intervals, but those humps were killing me! And there were like a bajillion... ok, that was an exaggeration... there were maybe 5 spread out through the first mile. but it felt like a bajillion.

I took strength thinking of fellow half fanatic Bobby Praythor who died of an undiagnosed heart issue shortly after the Coral Springs Half last year, and who I had shared a lot of race laughter with during my first race season. Thinking of him brought a smile to my face, but did little to mask the pain. At approximately .58 mile into the event, I realized that I was having some pain in my right foot again. Not the same pesky pain I was battling all year last year, but rather a sharp pain whenever I kicked off my right and my foot was flexing against the ground.

With Riverboat series coming up in 2 weeks (at the time), I knew I had a decision to make. I didn't want to take any unneccessary risks, and resigned myself to walking. I stopped at the water stop at mile marker 1, stretched out my calves and waited for my new friend Isabella to catch up. Isabella had been battling her own injury and was taking it slowly. There was one woman behind her, and the SAG wagon was already picking her up. Mark (the self-proclaimed snail, was already long gone by this point). This would be a LONG race if people were already getting picked up by the SAG wagon.

I talked to Isabella for a little while, and then realizing that I was walking at a faster clip than she, I carried along without her. Around mile marker 2, I picked my "people" that I was going to beat. If I couldn't beat them, I would at least catch up with them. They were also walking and were probably about 1-2 tenths of a mile in front of me. I picked up my pace.

When I felt like slowing down, I thought of my friend Eleanor who died a couple of weeks ago after a years long battle with various cancers. She was such a fighter, and was determined to be strong and independent. And I thought of the fact that the proceeds from the race would be benefitting one of the local breast cancer programs. I felt that I was pushing through for her, and It really helped me keep the pace.

Wouldn't you know, I didn't catch up to my "people" until mile marker 7. I looked at my garmin, and I was walking at a fairly fast (for me) clip, somewhere around 15:50 per mile. As we rounded the corner for mile marker 7, and I passed them, the SAG wagon pulled up next to us. Panicky, I looked at the passenger and said "you aren't here for me, are you?!?!?!" I didn't wait for her response. But then the SAG wagon did something different. they pulled in front of me about a tenth of a mile, and they LET PEOPLE OFF.


First I saw the woman in pink get off. She was the woman who was picked up before mile marker 1. Then I saw Isabella. She had tears in her eyes. She was shaking her head and gritting her teeth. She told me she had been picked up about a quarter of a mile back, despite being well within the 18 minute/mile time limit. I tried to cheer her up, but I think her pride was a little hurt, so I gave her some space. Besides, on fresh legs was the woman in pink, IN FRONT OF ME. I would be damned if she stayed in front of me for long.

Between mile 8 and 9, the course veers off the main streets and snakes through a school parking lot for about a half a mile. I got in front of the woman in pink right before turning into the parking lot, and walked as fast as my aching legs would carry me. I passed 3 other groups of walkers at that point. I felt good about myself. Though I was walking the event, I knew I would be finishing strong.

Coming out of the school, I looked ahead to see who the next goal people to pass would be, and that damn woman in pink! wouldn't you know, she was in front of me again. She had skipped the school parking lot, cutting the course by half a mile, and was now half a mile in front of me. I WAS LIVID.

Understand, while I go out and do a lot of "races," I am not actually racing against anyone other than myself. I am not delusional enough to think that my times matter in the larger scheme of the racing world. I know I will never place. I will never place anything but the bottom 30th percentile. I will never be considered a "real" athlete by many. But course cutters really get to me. No, it doesn't matter to me if someone wants to cut the course and say they did a half marathon distance when they rode a van for 6 miles and cut out an additional half mile. Really, there isn't much impact on me. But I *do* want my earned place in the standings. And if that means that I come in 266/273 instead of 267/273, then I want what I *earned.* Someone who cuts the course, shouldn't take my spot.

I had to catch that woman. I was seething. Teeth gritting, arms pumping, feet stomping much harder on the ground than they should, determination strethening, SEETHING.

And instead of plowing my seething, heaving self past her, I slowed to her pace for a moment, and offered a kind word. What's wrong with me that I am so nice sometimes?

Her walk intervals were faster than her run intervals, she was too tense, she was risking injury. I gently let her know that its ok to have an off day, and that she should be gentle with herself, and forgo the run intervals for the duration of the race because they weren't doing her any good. She thanked me, and then I was off again.

I dislike the last couple of miles of this course, so I think I block that from my memory,  I was soon at the finishline. The awards ceremony was going on in another area, and the crowds had already dissipated, leaving only a few straggling spectators (which there really were not many of on the course, much to my sadness). A man came out into the chute and chivalrously offered me his arm to "escort me to the finish line" as he joyfully told me, and I finished. Rumor has it that the man who waltzed me to the finish line was the mayor of Coral Springs, and while being a small city politician is not a huge prestigeous position in the larger reality, I think its pretty dang cool that the mayor would come out and do that for participants!

NET 3:34:45.277
Pace 16:23 (I really slowed down that last 2 miles, no wonder I was trying to block it from my memory)
OA 403/411
Gen 266/273
Cat 32/34

As I was recovering, I saw Isabella rounding the corner and went to bring her a cold water and walk her in until the mayor took over. We rested and laughed together, and then I saw the woman in pink come in. With all the fanfare of being the last "finisher." She had the cruisers and the motorcade, the excitement, the announcement, and the look of exhaustion after having completed (not her first) half marathon. Except she didn't really do the distance. And I just felt sorry for her.

She went through the chute and thanked me for the encouragement and bringing her to a "strong finish of today's half marathon." She had the half marathon medal around her neck (which as an aside, i was NOT impressed with this year as it is about 3/4 inches by 2 inches wide, and at least half the size of the medals they were hanging out for the 5k race which does 3/4 less distance). She was proud of herself. And while I am proud of her for doing what she could do (like I would be for anyone going out there and doing something healthy for themself), it just made me sad.

She started the race, she finished it, but she definitely didn't do all the miles in the middle. Does it make me a bad person for being so sad for her?