My Birthday Marathon – Covenant Marathon, Knoxville, TN, April 3, 2011

I’ve had a busy 3 weekends so these reviews are out of order. Knoxville really came the first weekend in April, but I had wanted to write everything about my memorable weekend in Boston right away before I forgot anything. The week before Boston, I was in Abilene, KS, to do the Eisehower Marathon. So, here is what happened on the first weekend in April, my birthday weekend.

If I had one word to describe Knoxville, it would be HILLY. I have no idea how many hills were on this course but there were quite a few. Even the University of TN is high upon a huge hill, and I know this because I walked the entire way, going roads up and stairs down. I stayed at the one of the host hotels, the Sheraton Four Points, a clean and pleasant place. Only problem was that my room was not ready when I arrived, so, although I left my suitcase at the hotel, I had to carry my big heavy bag with me as I explored the town. Put me in the center of a strange city and I will invariably select the wrong way to go when looking for where the action is. I found the convention center with no problem – it was close by – and picked up my packet and bib – but when I tried to find the business area with restaurants and shops, I kept choosing the wrong direction. I must have covered 5-6 miles or more before I finally discovered the Market Square area, a great wide street with plenty of places to eat and browse.

Went to bed early and when I got up on Sunday morning at, the temperature was about 47 degrees. Had my coffee and bread and got ready for the 7:30 am race start right near the convention center. We were allowed to use the bathrooms and stay warm inside the center which was very nice. I was still pretty tired from my extended walk the previous day and did not realize until just before I left the hotel that I had used the little decaf packet of coffee instead of the regular. I wondered how that would affect my time and pace – since I am used to that caffeine kick in the morning. Turns out it was not a problem but I was a little concerned early on. The race began with a rousing rendition of the UT theme song, Rocky Top, and that song was played in various venues throughout the race – it’s a catchy tune and I couldn’t get it out of my head for days (this is hard for a Gator to admit).

The course was marked with arrows on the ground which helped with directions although there were plenty of volunteers and police who were placed at every turn. I can’t say enough good things about these folks who helped make this race such a pleasant one (despite all those hills!). Much of the course wound through neighborhoods, along the Tennessee River, through parts of the University, and finished in Neyland Stadium. My favorite section was around the last 2 miles – we passed through the Market Square section of town I had discovered yesterday afternoon; by the time I walked by, lots of people were sitting in the outdoor cafes eating and they all clapped and cheered as I and my fellow ‘back of the packers’ strode by. It was definitely a lot of fun and a great way to finish the race; I moved much faster as I listened to them yell “Go, Florida” (something folks from FL don’t usually hear in TN – LOL – lots of football rivalry there).

After I crossed the finish line and got my medal, I had some trouble finding the building with food and drink – we had to walk for a while in a totally different direction. There was just pizza and water so I grabbed a slice and started to walk back to my hotel. On the way I stopped by the awards table to see if I had placed in my age group. There was a lot of confusion there and no one seemed to know what to do about the older and slower runners/walkers so I finally just gave up – turns out I did get 3rd in my age group but no award – not sure why. But I finished in 5:46:44 so I was pleased. It turned out to be a good birthday race.

Eisenhower Marathon, April 9, 2011 – Kansas, my 48th State!

We left for Kansas City, MO, very early on Thursday morning, and arrived around in KC around 11am central time. We were starving so we picked up our baggage and our rental car and headed for Arthur Bryant’s BBQ shortly after leaving the airport. After a very filling lunch, we drove on to Abilene, passing through Manhattan and Topeka, about a 2 hour drive. Abilene is a small town (6500 population) in the middle of Kansas farm country. It’s claim to fame is as the home town of Dwight D. Eisenhower (hence the name of the race), and the Eisenhower Presidential Library and boyhood home are located right in the center of town. We checked into our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express, just north of town, and then explored the downtown area a bit. We stopped at the one bookstore in town and looked at some of the other shops, One of the most intriguing places we visited was the Greyhound Hall of Fame. There we met the two friendly resident greyhounds, retired from racing, and learned quite a bit about the raising of these dogs and the racing culture. I am not a gambler and so the betting aspect held no interest for me, but those dogs are just so appealing that I would have adopted several on the spot. My husband reigned me in, reminding me that we had a little Yorkie waiting for us at home, but I think with a little bit of work I can talk him into getting a retired greyhound for our next dog. We had dinner at a local Subway and then back to the room to wind down and sleep.

Next morning, we slept in (which for me meant 5 am) and had breakfast at the hotel. At 9, we drove to the center of town and toured the Eisenhower Library and Museum (which included his boyhood home). We then had lunch at Mr. K’s Farmhouse Restaurant, supposedly a favorite place where Ike liked to dine. Very downhome atmosphere, tablecloths vinyl, napkins cloth, food good, especially the homemade apple pie. Packet pickup began at 2pm back at the Eisenhower center, so after lunch we headed back there – I got my bib, chip, and short-sleeved tech tee shirt (bright blue with white and yellow letters, attractive and it fit for a change). The packet had a better map (the one on the website was impossible to read with my aging eyes) with all the aid stations marked and other useful information. Since the course was on roads, we decided to drive the actual course. I am glad we did, because it gave me a much better idea of what I would be up against on race day. The major part of the race was on highway 15 which would be completely closed to traffic for 6 hours and then would reopen, with slower racers having to deal with traffic but there is a 3 mile section in a somewhat shady park that runners go through both going and coming. Small but easy to see yellow signs with red arrows marked the route and were especially helpful in the park.

Race day dawned clear and cool, 66 degrees, and temps were expected to reach 90 degrees. Yes, you read that right – 90 degrees!! While I spend a lot of time training in hot humid weather, doing a road race in that kind of heat, with no shade except for a bit in the park, was daunting. However, for me, warm is better than cool, so I was not really worried. We left the hotel for the starting line at 6:15 am and watched people arrive. There was a breakfast for runners and guests but just the thought of food at that point was unsetting to me. And there had been a pasta dinner the evening before, but we missed that as well, so I can’t describe the food or whether it was worthwhile to attend. One report I had read stated that the meal was typical high school cafeteria type food. Since I usually skip the pasta dinner unless I want to hear a speaker, we hadn’t planned on going to this one.

The race began 5 minutes early (first time THAT ever happened) and marathoners and half marathoners all lined up on Buckeye Avenue, the main street in town. The 5 and 10 k races began a half hour later. A group from Chicago sang the Star Spangled Banner, we all counted down from 10, and we were off! Of course, most of the group were half-ers and at the 6 1/2 mile point, they turned around to head back to the finish line( which was also the starting line). It got pretty lonely after that; for much of the race I was by myself, out in beautiful Kansas farmland, with some friendly neighbors cheering me on and the wonderful and patient volunteers at the aid stations. I took my jacket off and tied it around my waist at the 2 mile marker, since it was already starting to get warm. I was glad I had decided to wear a short sleeve tech shirt and my Maniac singlet, with just the jacket to keep my arms warm in the early stages. At least a dozen other Maniacs were there, so I was glad I wore my ‘colors’ so I could be easily identified. On the way to the turn-around, I was a bit concerned that it might rain, with thunder and lightning (and possibly a tornado or two – after all, this IS Kansas, the land of Dorothy, Toto, and Oz) but the weather remained clear and warm.

Though this was a small race, with fewer than 200 people doing the full marathon, I did recognize a few familiar faces. Jerry from Illinois passed me with his familiar jog. He is faster than me for the first 5-6 miles of a race and then I usually catch up to him with my steady but fairly speedy walking gait. He took a neat photo of me as we passed each other at the turnaround.

I think the heat was starting to get to most folks and several runners began to slow their pace as the sun and humidity both rose. However, I was definitely in the back of the pack – just a half dozen or so people were behind me. I passed a Maniac from Florida who had also been at Live Oak and earlier I had seen Larry Macon, another Maniac, at some point on the out and back (he was ahead of me).

Funny, distances here seemed similar to those in the high desert of Nevada when I did the Extraterrestrial 51k – landmarks looked much closer than they really were. With the roads so straight, I would think the next mile marker was very close but NOT SO – it was very disorienting. I was glad to finally reach the finish line, just making it with 10 minutes to spare before the 6 hour time limit. Finished 3rd in my age group. I went in to the Eisenhower Center to change my clothes and wash up before we left and by the time I came outside, the finish line banner was being dismantled and timing mat was rolled up – although my friend Jerry finished in 6:39 and the last finisher at 7:03, so the race organizers and volunteers stayed to make sure that these determined participants got an official time and medal. That was very reassuring.

We drove back to Kansas City, checked in to Embassy Suites at the airport, ate a filling meal at Hereford House, and then to bed for an early flight back to Florida.

All in all, a good race to do in Kansas. Now only 2 states left in my 50 state quest.

BOSTON – finally!

I’d been a nervous wreck the last few days just thinking about this race – the logistics of getting there, the preparations to be made beforehand, the hand-wringing fundraising, the anxiety-provoking debate over weather and what clothes to pack (and what to wear on race day, all dependent on that crucial weather report), and most of all – how will I do on this marathon course with a stringent time limit? Will I be last? Will I be able to make the finish line in time to get the coveted Boston medal? Will there be any spectators left by the roadside to cheer me on? Will my legs and feet behave and not give me any problems???? My worries reached fever pitch by Friday afternoon and I was beside myself, truly wondering if I had made a good decision to do this race.

Friday evening – we left work a bit early to get a head start on our packing. We walked and fed our dog and drove him to the vet to board, stopped to gas up the car, and headed home for supper and to pack. We both took a medium-sized suitcase to check plus my small rollerboard and computer case. We were up at 2:30 am on Saturday to drive to the Jacksonville airport. Our first connection was JAX to Reagan National in a small CRJ – 50 and then we had 32 minutes (yes, that’s all!) to make it to our next gate. When I originally made the reservation, I had allowed for a cushion of an hour but that had been altered by the airline. Fortunately, our initial plane left right on time and we landed in DC a few minutes early. Since Delta has just one concourse at Reagan and our gates were opposite each other, we even had time for a pit stop before boarding our flight to Logan. So, the first of my many concerns was alleviated – we made both our flights. We had been upgraded to first class, very nice even though the flight was only just over an hour, and this plane was a CRJ-700, a bit larger than the other CRJs I’ve flown in but still relatively small. I am becoming quite the expert on airplanes since beginning my marathon odyssey – who would have ever thought that? I am also becoming familiar with the locations of bathrooms on all types of planes!

We arrived at Logan Airport in Boston about 11 am. We were the first to disembark and as soon as we entered the baggage claim area we saw a sign above the baggage carrousel that said “Welcome Boston Marathoners!” Of course, I had to take a picture of that and then Darcy took one of me standing beneath it. And we were not the only people taking pictures of that sign!

Boston is a sports town and everyone knows what is happening to the Boston teams, so other sporting events are taken seriously as well. Our bags came quickly, we gathered them up, and made our way to the ground transportation area. I had made online reservations with Go Shuttle for round trip transportation to and from the airport and our hotel, so I called their local number to find out where we should meet them. Turns out we were standing in just the right spot, and our van pulled up just as I finished my call. We piled into the van, along with 5 others, also marathoners, also staying at downtown hotels. Our driver was a real character- an older woman who lives in neighboring Rhode Island and only drives the van on weekends in downtown Boston. She told us she was familiar with Boston but yet seemed very uncertain about which way to turn on the confusing web of Boston one-way streets. We all laughed nervously and tried to help her out.
At any rate, our driver did get us eventually to our destination, the Copley Square Hotel, and we checked in without a hitch – our second possible problem averted. I had been worried about hotels ever since I had found out I had been accepted onto the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team. It was too late at that point to get a room at the Marriott Copley with the block of room designated for the team (and which were much more reasonably priced). And Marathon Tours, which handled the other Boston Marathon reservations, had no room at hotels near the finish line at Copley Square so we would have been forced to stay further away. Through AAA, I was able to find a better selection of downtown hotels that did have some openings, but they were very pricey and I had never booked online through AAA so I was entered unchartered waters. However, I took the plunge and made a reservation at the Copley Square Hotel – very expensive but a perfect location, right near the Hynes Convention Center, location of the Expo, and close to the finish line. But since I had had no contact with the hotel directly, and no email confirmation from them, I was a bit on edge about the reservation itself. Needless worry, because as soon as we approached the hospitality desk, the clerk found my name and reservation and sent us up to our room.

Okay, so the room was tiny, with barely enough room for 2 people to maneuver, and the view overlooked another part of the hotel complete with fire escape. Still, it was clean and attractive, with all the basics except for a coffee pot. No coffee!! I muddled through on Sunday as best I could, waiting patiently until the lobby coffee was ready at 6:30, but I knew I would have to make sure to bring back a large coffee from a nearby Dunkin Donuts for race day morning. Doesn’t have to be hot, just lukewarm will do (although hot is better), as long as it has caffeine.

But back to our story – we deposited our suitcases and headed out to the Expo. I needed to pick up my bib and packet for the race (very important) and check in with Dana Farber at the Marriott, touch base with them, and receive a special wristband to get me into their gathering place at Hopkinton on race morning. Dana Farber rents a local church there and all DFMC participants can keep warm, have a light breakfast, change clothes, and chat while waiting to enter our corrals for the race start. Other runners had to wait under the large tents set up outside in the Athlete’s Village in a schoolyard. Since the temps on Monday morning were in the 40’s at the start, staying inside in a nice warm church was a very definite advantage.

So we headed to the Expo – there were huge numbers of people milling around the Expo site at the Hynes Convention Center and along the many shops that line the area, part of a huge indoor mall. I hadn’t been here in years (my high school graduation was held at the Hynes Convention Center back in ’65 and it looked nothing like it does now) – it was a nice change. Even though crowded, the packet pickup area was very well-organized and there were no lines at the station for my number (22,454). I handed the volunteer my card and she gave me my bib, blue, 3rd wave, and told me to go to the next counter to get my tee shirt. I was allowed to select my size, try it on, and exchange it if necessary (nice touch) but medium fit perfectly, so I kept it. Next stop – VERY important – I wanted to purchase my official Boston Marathon jacket. Lots of people had already bought jackets and were wearing them. I wanted to make sure I got mine! So I stood in line at one of the counters and bought an official jacket and a cotton tee shirt and a patch and 2 mugs. I really wanted to get some more stuff but my husband was getting rambunctious – I figured that would have to wait, maybe I could return on Sunday by myself and just browse. But I also realized I had left my camera in the hotel room, so we wandered back to put stuff down and get the camera so I could take some photos.

Once I had my camera, of course we had to backtrack and take photos of everything. I found my friend Cathy Troisi at the Marathon Tours counter where she was helping Kathryn Switzer (first woman to run the Boston Marathon) sell her book Marathon Woman.

Of course, I bought a copy and asked her to autograph it and Darcy took a photo of all 3 of us.

Then on to the Dana Farber check in. That twas seamless and easy. Now it was past 2 o’clock and we were famished. On to Legal Seafood where I kept to my resolution to eat nothing but seafood now that I was back in New England. I had some delicious clam chowder and schrod (baby cod), returned to the hotel where we took part in a daily ‘whine’ hour between 5 and 6 pm with local complimentary wine at the hotel and then to relax and sleep.

Sunday morning we caught up on our sleep, although I was still awake early, anxious for my coffee. We walked to a popular little restaurant for breakfast, the Pour House, stopping along the way to watch the 5 k (kind of a fun run) and invitational mile race for local middle school students, races that took place right at Copley Square. After we ate, we walked to the Public Gardens, took a ride on the Swan Boats, and walked through the Boston Common, by the old State House with its golden dome (with Bruins and Celtics banners hanging outside), along Tremont Street, by the Old Granary Burying Ground, past the theater district, and back to Copley Square. Memories filed my mind, especially of my Mom who passed away over 20 years ago. I was born and spent the first 3 years of my life here in the Back Bay area and then lived in various areas of Boston as child and young adult. I remember my Mom taking my younger sister and myself on the Swan Boats and to the shops on Tremont and Washington Streets and all the surrounding areas. My sister and I would go to Saturday matinees at the Schubert Theater and I often would take the subway the Boston Public Library in Copley Square to do research for my high school history and English papers. But enough reminiscing – after a delicious lunch at Top of the Hub on the 52nd floor of the Prudential Building, we went back to the hotel to get ready for the RACE.

I should mention, before I leave this discussion of the Expo, that there was a whole schedule of talks on both Saturday and Sunday given by famous athletes, nutritionist Nancy Clarke, and others, but I was only able to attend the course orientation given by Dave McGillivray, mostly because there was just NOT ENOUGH TIME to do everything. Darn!

Preparations consumed the rest of the day and early evening. I decided to dress for the race as lightly as possible – no jacket this time for me. I would tough out the early morning cold with my long sleeved bamboo shirt and a throw away sweat shirt, disposable gloves, and my Florida cap. Weather was supposed to warm up to the low 60’s with a light tailwind so I was sure I would be fine (and I was). I pinned my blue bib (I was in the third and final wave – bibs for the earlier waves were white and red) to the front of my vest and pinned a laminated photo of Michael Umans to the back of the vest. Michael is the son of our library technician and a cancer survivor (and also a runner). I didn’t get much sleep Sunday night but I expected that. I kept waking every hour to check the time. I probably slept a total of 4 hours but even that was broken up.

I was up at 3:15 for my cold Dunkin Donuts coffee and bread. I dressed and was all ready to go by 5! Woke my husband so he could dress and walk me to the Marriott Hotel where I joined the other DFMC teammates. We were all going to walk together to Tremont to get in line for the busses to Hopkinton.

A nice young woman sat beside me at the hotel while we were waiting. We got to talking and ended up spending most of the morning together, right up to the start of the race. This was Mary’s 7th time doing Boston for Dana Farber and she was a fount of useful information and had lots of good information and advice. The bus situation looked chaotic but it was really very organized . Volunteers had everything under control; a group of school buses would line up along the street, marathoners took their seats, orange flags were raised when the full complement of buses were filled, and that group of buses took off while another set arrived, and the whole business began all over again. I was glad we got there early because there were long lines stretching all the way across the Garden by the time we were comfortably seated on our bus ready to take off. But I felt reassured that everyone would eventually get to the starting line.

For the hour it took us to get to Hopkinton, Mary and I chatted and shared race stories. When we arrived, we set off for the church and stayed inside where there was warmth, indoor bathrooms (plus a dozen outdoor portapotties), a changing room, a television where we could watch the news coverage of the race, tables of snack foods like bagels and granola bars, and drinks. We had our own baggage drop-off bus which was very convenient. As the time arrived for the 3rd wave to begin, we were given the word to head out to our corrals and we arrived at #5 just in time for the count-down. It took me 3 minutes to cross the starting line.

Wonderful! There is no other word I can use. The course is along roads that wind through several small Massachusetts towns – Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline, and finally the city of Boston. I had expected a boring road race with nothing much to see except pavement and houses. I was so very wrong! Sure, it was a road race but the towns were delightful – I had forgotten how pretty and picturesque small New England settlements are. We went down beautiful main streets past public buildings, libraries (including the Morse Institute in Natick, where I used to work many years ago), churches, and commons. The streets almost everywhere were lined with cheering spectators, young and old. Boston is a real sports town and athletics are a big deal here – not just the local high school and college teams but all the big league stuff – after all, this is the home of the Celtics, the Bruins, the Patriots, and the Red Sox.

Everyone is warned not to start out too fast because the early stages of the race consist of lots of downhills, and it is very easy to run or walk very fast and completely crash during the second half of the race. So, of course, I started out way too fast anyhow. I was pumped and so was everyone around me. I had decided that I would run all the downhills I could manage and walk the flats and uphills. I knew I was flying during those first 12-13 miles because I felt great. People who were following me using the ATT Athlete Alert system can attest to the fact that I held an 11:17 pace per mile for the first 10 K and and 11:45 pace for the half.

Then at mile 14, my right hamstring cramped, badly, and I had to stop and stretch it out. I thought ‘great, that’s the end of the little bit of running I’ll be doing’ and for the most part, that was correct. I essentially power walked the second half of the rest, still able to maintain a good pace, but a minute per mile slower than before. At mile 17, I thought that perhaps my cramping was due to lack of sodium (I was sweating a lot and remembered that previous cramping episodes had been due to not enough salt) so I took an S-cap as soon as I reached the next aid station (and they were conveniently placed every mile). After about 45 minutes, I felt like I could jog downhill for a few minutes every mile and I tried, but ever so carefully, since I could still feel the potential for pain. Walking felt so much better that I decided to stick to walking, with only an occasional short burst of cautious running.

Spectators were fantastic, as I’ve already mentioned, and the coeds at Wellesley College (and the students at Boston College as well) were great. So enthusiastic and excited, they were eager to high-five everyone, greeting men and women runners alike with screams and yells. And the children were terrific all along the route, offering us orange slices and water, licorice sticks, and candy, cold sponges, just about anything you could want or need. Medical stations were strategically placed but fortunately I didn’t need to stop at any.

Around mile 24, I saw the famous Citgo sign and knew I had only 2 miles or so to go and at the 25.2 mile marker there is a sign that says ‘one mile to go.’ And then, I could finally see the finish line and headed singlemindely straight to it, turning my head briefly when I hear my husband yell ‘Go, Gators’ – his traditional signal to me so I can find him.

I crossed the finish line in 5:27:46 – a personal best for me! I think I smiled the entire 26.2 miles. It was the BEST race ever!

WalkAmerica – March 26, 2011

I had a break of a few weeks between races, with the Youth Ranch Marathon now history and April’s races yet to come, so I decided to go ahead and sign up for the local March of Dimes WalkAmerica fundraising 8.6 mile walk. It was easy to sign up as an individual walker (in the previous years I had completed this race, I had been part of our employees association team but that group was no longer participating), so I joined, made my contribution, and planned for the race to be a long training walk. Since the route passes right by my street about 3/4 of the way throughout the walk, traffic would be blocked and it would be hard to get anywhere by car, so it was a good decision, And since it is not really a race and would have several thousand participants, I did not have to worry about time limits or getting lost.

Up early, had my usual pre-race bread and coffee, and dressed, leaving the house around 6:30 am for a 2 mile warm up walk to Westside Park, the starting point of the walk. Once I arrived, I sought out the portapotties, picked up my race guide (which had a map and space for the aid station folks to mark that I had dutifully shown up at each spot), and then spent the next hour or so people and dog watching and listening to a local high school band and recorded music and announcements.

About 25 runners (who were really going to run) began the actual race, starting a few minutes past the official 8 am time; they were followed by the March of Dimes ‘heroes’ – children (along with their parents) who had been helped by the March of Dimes organization, and, finally, the rest of us. I quickly eased my way to the front so I could attain a brisk walking speed, about 13-14 minutes a mile (but I wasn’t really paying much attention to speed, just desiring a good workout). I wore my little Myrtle Beach cloth backpack so I could slip all the goodies given out by the aid stations into it without filling my pockets too much – there were granola bars, candy, bandaids, frisbies, pastries, and more. My favorite stop was the one just after the ‘hill’ going up to 13th Street – I was treated to BlueBell real fruit bars. By that time, it was close to 80 degrees and the cold juice bar tasted sublime.

As I passed the street by my house, I made a pit stop and unloaded my treasures, left my backpack and jacket there, and completed the final 2 miles back to the Park. A choice of lunch options awaited me there from various restaurants around town, but since it was only about 10 in the am, I chose a sub sandwich and chips to eat later and worked my way the 2 miles back to my house. Of course, at that point I was heading in the ‘wrong’ direction, making my way through the throngs of people who were still trying to finish. I got lots of amusing looks and comments to which I just smiled and shrugged, responding that ‘the story of my life, always going in the opposite direction from most people’ -which is probably true (LOL).

Back home, I checked my trusty little Omron pedometer and found that I had walked about 14 miles, just over a half marathon. To increase that mileage a bit, I added a 3 mile walk to the local post office plus a walk around my neighborhood with my dog Tex – coming up with a total of about 20 miles for that Saturday. For the past few years, I have been out of town for WalkAmerica and I had forgotten what a pleasant experience it was to take part in it.