The Hyannis Marathon (Hyannis, MA) – February 23, 2014

I approached this race with a certain degree of trepidation, primarily because of the unpredictable weather.  It is a late winter race in an area of the country that has been hard hit with snow and ice this year, and I was not looking forward to dealing with cold and precipitation.  Since it is on Cape Cod, the logistics of getting to and from the race are also difficult.  It would be necessary to fly into Providence, Boston, or Manchester, and then rent a car and drive to Hyannis.  It’s not a bad drive when the weather is pleasant but in winter, all bets are off; one of the reasons I left Massachusetts years ago was to avoid having to drive in bad weather.

So, why Hyannis? In part, I wanted to do this race because the Cape is such a neat place to visit off-season, when all the tourists have gone home.  I did the Clam Chowdah Challenge in Falmouth on the Cape several years ago (read about it in my blog report for October 2011) and enjoyed it immensely.  Another reason was bragging rights.  The Hyannis race, while not particularly difficult in terms of terrain or elevation, is considered challenging exactly because it’s held while winter is still at its peak in New England.  Runners (or ‘runnahs,’ to use the race director’s Boston pronunciation) consider themselves hardy souls for braving the elements to run the course.  And finally, the course offers a half hour early start, giving runners and walkers a 6 ½ hour time limit.  That clinched it; I registered and started making plans for my trip.

I was able to get a fairly reasonable airfare to Providence.  Instead of renting a car, I opted to use one of the shuttle services available.  As it happened, my fears about having to drive in a snowstorm were unfounded; it turned out we had wonderful weather all weekend, cold but with no precipitation.  Still, with the possibility of bad weather an unknown, I decided the shuttle was a wise choice.  I selected Cape Cod-based Green Shuttle, in part because they had an excellent and easily maneuverable website.  Their round-trip fares were reasonable and I had no trouble finding my driver, Richard, once I arrived at TF Green airport.

It took about an hour or so to get from Providence to Hyannis and Richard was kind enough to drive me first to my hotel, the DoubleTree, and then to the expo which was held at the host hotel, the Hyannis Resort and Conference Center, about 2 miles away.   I chose the DoubleTree because I had read mixed reviews of the host hotel; rooms there were said to be musty and sadly in need of refurbishment, while the DoubleTree had been newly renovated and rooms were in excellent condition.

The expo was relatively small but still had a variety of vendors selling everything from shoes and shirts to hats, socks, and gels.  Packet pickup was quick and easy; there was no line at the early start desk and I quickly managed to get my bid with chip attached and my tee shirt (long-sleeved cotton), slightly big but it still fit reasonably well.  Past Boston Marathoners Bill Rodgers and Dick Beardsley had a table at the expo and were signing autographs. I wanted to buy the book that Bill Rodgers had written but the lines were extremely long; I decided to wait and try another time at another race.

I attended the pasta dinner so I could listen to guest speakers Rodgers and Beardsley, but fatigue overwhelmed me.  I had been awake since 1 am that morning and desperately needed to get some sleep before the race the next day.  I stayed as long as I could and then took a taxi back to my hotel.  It would have been easy to walk the 2 miles, but it was now about 7 pm and dark outside, so a short taxi ride seemed the wisest course.

Back at my hotel, I selected my clothes and shoes for the race, listened obsessively to weather forecasts for Sunday, and had a cup of herbal tea.  I fell asleep around 8:30 pm and slept like a rock, waking up around 5 am the next morning.  Since I had signed up for the early start, I needed to be at the conference center by 9:30.  That was easy; I was dressed and ready to go by 8 am.  But first, I walked outside 3 times to try to decide what kind of jacket I should wear.  The weather was cold but not freezing, with a possibility of rain, and the temperature was supposed to rise to the mid-40’s.  I opted for my heavy jacket because it had a hood and I wanted protection from the wind, which I read could be a problem near the ocean areas.

I walked the two miles from my hotel to the conference center and waited patiently for the 10 minute briefing for the early start.  Packet pickup was continuing inside the conference center and there were dozens of people milling around, picking up bibs and shirts, stopping to talk to each other, and eating snacks sold at a concessionaire.  In addition to the marathon, there is also a half marathon and a marathon relay.  As usual, the half marathon attracts the most people.  There were 382 marathon finishers while over 3000 people did the half.  At 9 am the race director began calling for all early starters to meet at the start line, directly in front of the conference center.  There were only about 20 of us; we listened to instructions and a little past 9:30 we took off, following a cyclist who was supposed to show us the way.  Just in case, I hung back with my friend Mike Brooks, a Hyannis Marathon veteran who had a good idea of the course.  Fortunately, there were also volunteers already set up at every crucial turn, so we headed in the correct direction and did not get lost.

The course is a double loop.  I really dislike double loop courses but I found this one to be fairly pleasant.  The streets were in good shape and there were not a lot of confusing turns.  We passed by several neat cemeteries, through attractive residential neighborhoods in the villages of Hyannis, Hyannis Port, and Centerville, and by a number of beaches.  There was only one section on a busy road but that was fairly brief; the road was coned on the first loop and on the second loop we were directed to the sidewalk.  Aid stations were approximately every two miles and were staffed with lots of volunteers who offered water and Gatorade and occasionally bananas and pretzels.  Police on motorbikes continually monitored the course and I saw several ambulances and EMT vehicles keeping a watchful eye on us.

Of course, it was hard to finish the first loop and pass right by the finish line; a big part of me wanted to join the half marathoners as they pulled away, but I concentrated on mentally and physically pushing myself through the second loop.  There were a few people in front of me on this loop and (I hoped) a few people behind me as well.  The weather had turned a bit cooler now and I was glad I had my heavier jacket. I made myself focus on enjoying the sights of the harbor, beach, and small villages we passed through, but I must admit I was relieved to finally get to mile 26, the finishing line within sight.  I crossed the finish in 6:02, received my medal, and wandered into the conference center for some refreshments (water, soup, doughnuts, bagels, fruit).  It turns out that I placed 2nd in my age group, so I picked up my award, a medal on a red, white, and blue lanyard.  Now I was one of those runnahs with bragging rights!

Austin Amplified: The Austin Marathon – February 16, 2014

This was my third Austin Marathon and it remains high on my list of favorite races.  Since I wrote an extensive review of this race back in February of 2012, I will keep this report brief.  I had forgotten how hilly this course is, and after 3 months of racing on relatively flat terrain, it was a shock to my legs to climb and descend the many ups and downs.  I’m not complaining – I definitely enjoyed running the downhills – but I was pretty sore for several days afterwards.  The race is no longer affiliated with the Lance Armstrong LiveStrong Foundation but instead has several corporate sponsors like Freescale, H. E. B., and Seton Healthcare.

Our trip this year was similar to our previous ventures to Austin.  We flew in on Saturday, used Super Shuttle to ride seamlessly to our hotel of choice, the Embassy Suites Town Lake, and walked to packet pickup at the Palmer Convention Center.  After getting my bib and race booklet, we walked to Guero’s our favorite Tex-Mex restaurant, and enjoyed a delicious meal of fajitas, tamales, and Carta Blanca beer.  Then it was back to our hotel to get everything ready for the race and for me to begin my usual pre-race worrying.  But it was odd this year;  the usual worries and anxieties that normally occupy my mind were notably absent.  Maybe it was because it was my third Austin Marathon or perhaps it was because I had completed 159 marathons and ultras, but I finally realized that I had nothing to fear.  Whatever the reason, I enjoyed the calmness that descended upon me and I was able to get a good night’s sleep.

The next morning at 6 am Darcy walked me to the start line just north of the State Capitol building.  There are no formal corrals, just signs with minutes per mile on them, so I lined up at the 12.5 minute + section.  The weather was close to perfect, about 60 degrees and foggy, and temps rose to the low 70’s by noontime.  The humidity was high but not horrible, and it remained cloudy and overcast with cool breezes throughout the day.  I never had to put on sunglasses and occasionally had to remove my cap so it wouldn’t blow off my head.  The race began at 7 am but it took about 20 minutes for my corral to reach the start line; once there we began our attack on the fairly constant hills.

I had wondered if I would see anybody I knew here.  Although there were supposed to be about 65 Maniacs at this race, I saw very few people ‘wearing the colors’ and there was no info about a pre-race photo.  Still, it turns out I did see a few familiar faces, including Paula Boone, co-founder of the 50 States Club, who was doing the half marathon, and Parvaneh Moayedi, who is returning to Badwater again this year and was running Austin with a broken foot.  Around mile 6, I was power-walking in my usual happy-go-lucky way when I heard a voice on my left ask if I had done the Waco Marathon 3 years ago.  Well, yes, indeed, I had been at Waco then, so I responded affirmatively and then turned around to see who had asked.  That’s when I remembered meeting a young man at Waco who was doing the Galloway run-walk method with several friends.  We had been leap-frogging each other during the early part of that race.  This was the same man, Charlie, who had recognized me today from my steady rhythmic walking style.  I had to laugh at that.  We chatted a bit but I was moving a little faster and wanted to maintain my speed so I waved and wished him luck.  As I moved away, I heard him say to another runner, “she’ll probably beat both of us just walking,” and I had to smile.  I believe I did come in ahead of him, by 20 minutes or so.  Who says walkers can’t finish ahead of runners occasionally?  That thought made me smile all day (and it still pleases me).

I crossed the finish line in 5:50:35, under my goal of 6 hours, and 2nd in my age group.  For food, there was water, bagels, chips, and bananas.  A volunteer placed a medal of the Austin skyline on a black lanyard around my neck, and I was given a black tech finisher’s shirt (in the correct size, thank goodness).  After shower and a nap, dinner was at Guero’s once again.

We had planned this trip with an extra day in the city after the race, so we spent a leisurely Monday walking around some of those same hills that I had raced on the day before.  This time I was moving pretty slowly, though, as we perused the all neat stuff at Book People, visited the LBJ Presidential Library, and had some great barbeque at Ironworks BBQ.

Austin has a generous 7 hour time limit.  There are plenty of aid stations and music as well as outstanding support from volunteers, police, and townspeople.  The race (and the city itself) is highly recommended for walkers.

The Delirium Mudfest (February 8, 2014) – Ridgeland, SC

I’ve read plenty of stories about runners who strode through thick mud puddles and wet swampy trails during races. I’ve heard about the slurp-producing suck of the mud as it ate the shoes of those who couldn’t make it across the wide pools of sloppy mud fast enough. Although I have experienced firsthand some amazingly wet drenching downpours in both cold and hot temperatures, I had managed to avoid MUD. That all changed in my latest race experience. It was a mud bath of truly noteworthy proportions.

The Delirium trio of races offers participants a choice of 6, 12, or 24 hour options. Last year, when the race was held in Bluffton, SC, I chose the 24 hour option. Readers of this blog will remember that in the wee hours of Sunday morning, about 20 hours into the race, I took a hard fall and ended up with a broken wrist (although I didn’t realize it at the time and not only completed Delirium but also did a marathon the following Sunday). Still, I enjoyed the race immensely and decided that the 12 hour option would be ideal. I signed up for the 2014 version as soon as registration opened.

This year the race was moved to a different venue. The new course has no road crossings (last year there were several) and there is plenty of room for participants to set up tents or tables and chairs. Although I missed the convenience and privacy of the indoor restrooms at the previous location (Publix, McDonald’s, and a bowling alley were right near the course), there were 5 portapotties set up at the start/finish line and these were thankfully ‘refreshed’ around 4 pm on Saturday. The start/finish line is in a grassy area, with a timing table and fully stocked aid station to one side and a fire pit on the other. There is a brief section of asphalt (naturally, that was my favorite part), and the rest of the 1.695 loop is all tree-lined trail – wide and mostly flat. It was not at all technical, although with my proclivity to fall, I still had to be mindful of the occasional rocks and limbs strewn across the path.

Weather reports called for rain on Saturday so I packed rain pants for both heat and cold. Since the morning and evening were expected to be chilly, I also made sure I included several jackets of different weights and a variety of hats and mittens. I needed them all. I also packed a pair of old Cascadia trail shoes plus a brand new pair of colorful Nike Zoom Wildhorse trail shoes. Uncertain about the quality of this new trail, I also threw in a pair of regular running shoes. I forgot my gaiters, but the rain pants were long enough so I managed fine without them.

I woke on Wednesday with a sore throat. That was ominous. Thursday evening I couldn’t sleep because I was coughing and sneezing; I spent most of the night sitting upright because of nasal congestion. That was not a good sign. My husband was experiencing the same symptoms. On Friday morning, the day we were set to leave, he asked me if I still wanted to go. I said ‘YES’ – after all, this was a timed race so I could go slow and take it easy (my plan all along, since it was trail) and I would probably feel much better afterwards. Besides, my friends Joyce and Ray were planning to be at this race and I wanted to visit with them. Joyce was doing the 24 hour (she is far more adept at running trails than I am) and we hadn’t seen each other since Run-de-Vous last August, so I was looking forward to visiting with her.

We left home Friday morning and drove the short distance to South Carolina. Our hotel was in Hardeesville, right off I-95, so we checked in around 1 pm and had lunch at a local restaurant, the Okatie Ale House. My veggie sandwich was delicious (Portobello mushrooms with cheese and onions) but my husband’s meatloaf was so-so. The rest of our meals this weekend were unremarkable – we ate at McDonald’s and Subway because they were convenient.

Packet pickup was at the race site and began at 3 pm. We were there early and met up with Joyce and Ray as well as several other familiar faces. Race Director Tim Waz and his volunteers were on site to give us our swag – a lightweight comfy hoody with zipper (Low Country Ultra insignia on the front and a huge Delirium symbol on the back) and a warm cap, plus our bib. I love the hoody and have been wearing it nonstop ever since I returned from the trip. I discovered that I now have a reputation of sorts (a good one) with Low Country Ultras – Tim and several of his wonderful volunteers remembered me from Cremator last July; I wasn’t fast but I was pretty steady and I managed to finish within the time limit.

Joyce and I walked the course and discovered it was very doable. Little orange flags marked every possible turn but we also found ourselves studying the ground so carefully that we did manage to go astray at one point. All of a sudden I realized there were no more orange flags so we retraced our steps back to the course. I mentioned this to Tim and – low and behold – the next day there was a log across the errant turn and orange flags pointing the correct way. Now that’s paying attention to the needs of your runners!

It was starting to get dusk as we headed back to the hotel. Darcy and I turned in early so I could be up as usual at 4 am to get ready. The rain had held off and I was optimistic that it might turn out to be a sunny day. That was not to be. We arrived at the race site around 6:30 to help Ray and Joyce set up their canopy and table. Tim gave us some last minute instructions and handed out awards to notable Low Country Ultra volunteers; after a young woman gave a stirring rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, we began the race at 8 am sharp. I positioned myself at the rear and began a slow but steady walk.

It started to drizzle. The rain never became a downpour but remained a steady mist throughout the morning. However, it was enough to turn the dirt in many sections of the trail to amazing mud wallows. About two-thirds of the trail was in pretty good shape but that final third was amazingly difficult to navigate. Thick shoe-sucking mud was everywhere and there was no way to avoid it. I just plowed on through, trying to make sure my shoes stayed on my feet and not in the mud. I had decided to wear my new trail shoes and I’m glad I did, even though the bright colors are no more. They provided more traction than the older trail shoes and were much lighter to wear. Some runners took off their shoes and ran barefoot – a good idea but my feet would not have tolerated the cold. During the day, the mud (and the trail in general) was easy to see but as soon as it got dark, around 6 pm, I slowed down considerably because I had trouble seeing the deeper mud traps. I was overjoyed to complete 40.6 miles at the end of 12 hours. My usual mileage for 12 hour road races is 45 miles, so this was not bad at all. I was glad to say that I finally had the chance to really do a mud race!

Delirium has lots of great things going for it:
• Tim Waz and Low Country Ultras really know how to put on a race. Just about everything is high quality, from the hoody and cap to the corps of dedicated volunteers
• The aid station has lots of good food, although somehow I managed to miss out on the homemade cookies this year. I liked having fruit – bananas, kiwis, and grapes – and chocolate M and M candies as well as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
• While the course is trail (except for that neat little bit of asphalt), it’s not too difficult (unless of course it’s rainy and muddy . . . . . and then it’s another story!)
• People are friendly and welcoming – both runners and supporters. People were cheering for me just because I was out there – and that helped a lot when I was tired (and even when I wasn’t)
• This area of South Carolina is an attractive and fun place to visit
Be warned, however, that the rules state that you cannot leave the race area until you are finished. That means – unlike other timed ultras – you can’t go back to your hotel for a nap or shower and then return to continue your laps. If you want to get the medal for your race, you must stay on the course the entire time (of course, you can take breaks as you need them, but you have to stay in the general race area). It’s also critical to bring a headlamp or flashlight (with backup) because the course is not lit and you will definitely need personal lighting. With those caveats, this race is highly recommended. It’s a great race for walkers who want to try a timed trail race.

Déjà Vu: The Tallahassee Half Marathon – February 2, 2014

Just a brief report on the Tallahassee half marathon, a race I do every year with my oldest son. The race itself is not much to brag about. I’ve mentioned in previous reviews how this race concentrates on providing runners with a very boring but fast and flat course while managing to avoid all the attractive and scenic sites in Tallahassee. But that’s my personal take. The full marathon has been around for 40 years and the half marathon for almost as long so the Gulf Winds Track Club must be doing something right. This year the number of participants for both races was exceptionally high, perhaps in part because the full marathon was celebrating its 40th year but also because of the recent write-up in Marathon & Beyond magazine.

The main reason I show up year after year is so I can have some one-on-one time with my son. Although he finishes well ahead of me, I enjoy the time we have together before and after the race itself. That’s worth quite a bit to me. Besides, half marathons are relaxing and fun to do. Food is plentiful at the finish line and the day is still young, with lots of time to do other things besides shower and nap. It’s also enjoyable to see a lot of my racing friends at this race – Mellody, Deb, Pam, Phil, Ruth – as well as many new ones that I met on the course. I missed seeing my Canadian friends Sheila and Wendell – they were probably lined up ahead of me in the informal corrals.

There were no surprises in this race. The weather was cool but not cold and the light drizzle in the morning hours was refreshing. It did get slightly humid as the day wore on but nothing intolerable. There were few spectators but the volunteers and police were excellent as usual. The groundhog medal was fitting for a race held on Groundhog Day. I finished in 2:46:22, my usual time (and a good 10 minutes behind my son).

With a 6 hour time limit for the full marathon, this race is not for slower walkers, but the half is a good choice for a late winter race.