The 2nd Celebration Marathon – January 25, 2015 (Celebration, FL)

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Celebration is only a short distance from Disney World in Orlando and most of the participants in the full and half marathon here, perhaps 98%, are from Florida. This is bound to change as word spreads about this neat set of races. Last year I did the inaugural marathon and enjoyed it so much that I decided to do it again.

The race this year did not disappoint. Although the weather was colder than last year (mid-40’s at the start and only 60 by the time I finished), it was sunny and dry. The dryness was important because the wooden boardwalk bridges which are so easy on the feet and legs become treacherous when icy and wet. I discovered this during the first loop when I could feel my shoes slip while crossing the bridges. While the bridges were dry, the cold chilly weather during the night must have caused them to freeze. I came across two people in two separate places who had fallen and needed medical assistance. I wasn’t going very fast to begin with but I slowed way down as I became aware of the slippery nature of the course in those wee hours. As the sun rose, the bridges became much less of a problem.

My posting from January 28, 2014, gives more details on this race and the local area, so I will just summarize here and note several positive changes. We stayed at the host hotel, the Bohemian Marriott. It is pricey, even with the marathon discount, but you cannot beat the convenience. It is right in the heart of downtown Celebration and the start and finish are within easy walking distance. In fact, I could see the starting line area from my hotel room window.

There were several major improvements over last year’s event, including:

  • A larger expo with more vendors (though it is still small compared to many larger race expos)
  • The tee shirt is gender specific and a women’s medium fit me fine; even better, the fabric this year is a soft blend of cotton and bamboo in a pretty light green.  I will actually wear this shirt
  • The course is very well-marked and this year had large signs with red arrows to keep racers moving in the right direction.  Since this is a double loop course for marathoners, it gets pretty lonely on that second loop, so it was good to have those directional arrows as well as plenty of volunteers to make sure we didn’t get lost
  • The dangerous section between mile 12 ½ and 14 was altered so racers were directed to the sidewalk instead of to a street closely packed with parked cars and traffic – an important safety measure
  • There was more food at the finish line for back-of-the-packers.  I am not sure how people fared at the very end of the race, but when I finished at 6:16, I was able to have my choice of pizza, beans and rice, chicken and rice, bagels, and fruit as well as mimosas, beer, and water

There were plenty of well-stocked aid stations with gracious volunteers, some offering gels, orange slices, and bananas. The 7 hour time limit makes the race a good choice for walkers.

My only concern as I traversed that second loop was the lack of volunteers monitoring the course in case someone needed help. On that first loop when several people fell, there were many racers around to assist and medical aid and volunteers on bikes were plentiful. On the second loop, however, if I had fallen between miles 14 to the finish, it would have taken a while for someone to realize I was hurt and to get help. Since I was aware of that, I slowed my walking pace considerably. Despite this, I enjoyed the race immensely. My guess is that this marathon will increase in popularity and will draw more runners and walkers from around the country.

The Bahamas Sunshine Marathon – Nassau, January 18, 2015

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I probably would never have thought to visit Nassau for a marathon if that race had not been chosen as the site for the first face-to-face meeting of the Marathon Globetrotters (MG), a new group dedicated to completing marathons in countries all over the world. To join MG as a provisional member, runners and walkers must have finished a marathon in 5 countries. Once a racer has completed 10 countries, he or she is welcomed as a full voting member. The Bahamas Marathon would be my 10th country so I really wanted to go!

Darcy and I had visited Nassau numerous times but only during cruises. We’d already toured Atlantis, taken multiple excursions, and walked around the island’s capital often enough that we felt no need for a long vacation. This would be the first time we would actually be staying in a hotel on the island, albeit for just one night.

Yes, one night. We flew down early Saturday morning and caught a ride to the British Colonial Hilton downtown. It was too early to check in, and we were hungry, so we left our bags at the concierge desk and walked around the corner to Senor Frog’s. It was very crowded, smack dab in the middle of lunch hour, and there was a 25 minute wait. We people-watched and enjoyed the ocean breezes while we tried to wait our turn. An employee told us about a new restaurant owned by the same management; it was just a few yards away and there was no waiting and even better, it offered authentic Bahamian food. It sounded good, so off we went. I wasn’t crazy about eating Mexican food in Nassau anyhow (Tex-Mex snobs that we are, we eat only Tex-Mex in Texas) so Bahamian food sounded perfect. The restaurant was called ____ and although the portions were relatively small for the price, everything we had was exceptionally tasty. I had conch corn fritters and red snapper while Darcy devoured his chicken in honey sauce with a side of mac and cheese. For drinks, we each tried a different brand of Bahamian beer.

We finished eating just in time for the 4pm Globetrotter meeting in a Hilton meeting room. There was no need to visit the expo because several of the MG officers had already picked up our race packets and tee shirts for us. After introductions, we voted on bylaws, officers for the New Year, and discussed other matters. Members Kevin (Brosi) and Kino (Hideki Kinoshita) took pictures and we adjourned. Time to get ready for the race tomorrow!

Back in the room I started pulling the essentials from my backpack. The weather prediction was for warm temperatures with high humidity. I had a choice of shorts or crops but because I knew I would probably have to wear my racing outfit on the air-conditioned plane, I opted for the longer crops. Every race since late October had been in freezing cold weather. I was excited to be finally enjoying a warmer climate.

Globetrotters and Maniacs (many of us are both) met for pictures at the starting line at Junkanoo Beach 10 minutes before the official 6 am race time. A local vocal artist sang the Bahamian national anthem and there were several announcements, including recognition of our Globetrotters group (I think we provided at least 30% of the total number of marathoners). The race includes about 500 half marathoners and 170 full marathoners; both races began at the same time. I took my place near the back of the group of racers and at 6 am a horn blew that sounded the official beginning of the races.

For the first mile or so, runners make their way through downtown and then across the bridge to Paradise Island and back again over another bridge to return to downtown. It is good these bridges come early in the race when the weather is still relatively cool. While not steep, the bridges were still challenging but because they came early on, I was able to run the downsides on fresh legs. After winding through downtown Nassau, we followed the ocean along Cable Beach Highway. At mile 10, the half marathoners peeled off and made their way to the finish line back at Arawak Cay. At this point, with the field slimmed down considerably, I was concerned about getting lost but since it was a relatively straightforward out-and-back, I was fairly sure I’d be okay. There were a few confusing traffic circles but enough police presence to point us in the correct direction (although on my return, I did have to ask several police for directions).

The scenery is pleasant, especially along the ocean. There was an occasional breeze that cooled us off but as the day wore on, we could definitely feel the rising heat. Several runners told me as I passed them that they were forced to slow down because of the temperature. For me, though, it felt wonderful, and I truly basked in the warmth. As I approached the final 1.2 miles of the course, I saw Darcy waving to me on the street. I asked him ‘where the heck is the finish line?’ because, although I knew it was on the beach close by, a fence covered with vegetation prevented me from seeing it from the street. He told me to go straight and then take a sharp left onto the beach. Sure enough, as I approached the marker for mile 26, I made the corner and crossed the finish line in 5:50, my first sub-6 hour race is almost a year. It was good enough for 3rd place in my age group; my award was a Bahamian cowbell (which clanked in my carry-on the entire trip home, reminding me of its presence). In retrospect, there really should have been a volunteer stationed at that final turn, or at the very least a sign with an arrow, because I later learned that at least one runner missed the turn and went straight, adding an extra quarter mile at least to her race.

At the risk of sounding maudlin and a little crazy, I will confess that before every race, ever since my son Ben took his own life last November, I ‘talk’ to Ben and carry him along with me in my mind. He was a great long-distance walker and I just know he would have enjoyed doing these races.

Plusses

  • Wonderful oceanfront scenery with warm sunny weather
  • Great volunteers
  • Cheering spectators – not huge crowds (after all, this is a relatively small island) but very enthusiastic smaller groups
  • Aid stations every mile or so, with water, Gatorade, and gels at two of them
  • Time limit was 6 ½ hours but racers were allowed to finish on the sidewalks

The only disappointment was the tee shirt; it was black (not a great color to wear in summer heat), polyester, and the medium size was so huge so I ended up leaving in the hotel.

All in all, it was a great quick trip to the islands. And to top it off, when I finished the race, I became the 100th full member of the Marathon Globetrotters!

First Light Marathon Revisited – Again (Mobile, AL, January 11, 2015)

This was my 6th appearance at First Light, a testament to its strong pull for me. While I always enjoy visiting the city of Mobile, the real attraction is the race itself – it all takes place in a relaxed, fun atmosphere, with friendly runners and spectators. The only real variable here is the weather; it can be icy cold, hot and humid, or rainy and damp. This year it was cool all day, in the 50’s at the start and just slightly higher at the finish. I dressed warmly, with long-sleeved shirt and light jacket, mittens and hand warmers, but kept the jacket on all day because of the cold breeze.

I stayed at the Holiday inn Downtown, in my opinion the best place to stay since the race begins just outside its front door. It is clean, comfortable, and welcoming, but there are other hotels in the area that are also close by. I simply like the simplicity of staying right near the start and the ease of getting to and from the hotel from the interstate.

I’ve written about this race several times here so I won’t go into lots of detail in this write-up. I would like to note, however, several changes that have been made since I last did the race in 2013. First, there is no longer a free pasta dinner the evening before the race. Instead, several area restaurants offer substantial discounts to runners for pre-race meals. There have also been several major changes to the course. Runners no longer have to worry about being stopped by a train in the early miles of the race. I was never fast enough to be caught at the railroad tracks but it evidently was a problem for speedier runners. The other major course change occurs during the final 3 ½ mile stretch to the finish line. Instead of following the heavily trafficked Spring Hill Avenue, runners now proceed down Dauphin Street. This substitution changes the milieu from a noisy busy street to a much quieter one and leads directly to the finishers chute in Bienville Square.

Proceeds from the marathon, half marathon, and relay go as always to L’Arche Mobile, a community of adults with intellectual disabilities. The medals are handmade by L’Arche Mobile members and are handed personally to all runners and walkers who complete the races.

After the race, participants are welcome to partake of the lunch catered by a local restaurant. Usually there is BBQ, beans, and coleslaw; I always look forward to the delicious coleslaw. This year the menu was changed to red beans and rice with cold pasta salad and a corn muffin. I was dubious; I had been mentally tasting that BBQ and coleslaw for the last 15k. But I was pleasantly surprised. Either everything was exceptionally tasty or I was especially hungry or a combination of both, but I managed to scarf everything up.

My finishing time was not so great (6:24) but the time limit is 7 hours so I wasn’t worried about being last, especially since I was surrounded by a number of hearty souls, mostly Maniacs, who had just raced the very hilly Mississippi Blues marathon in Jackson on Saturday and were running on tired legs. I admired their strength and gusto; I am not sure how well I would have fared if I had tried that double. All in all, it was another great race in a great city.

 

A Cold Start to the New Year – and a Buckle for Ben – Across the Years 72 Hour Footrace, Phoenix, AZ (December 29, 2014 – January 1, 2015)

I must admit I am a wimp when it comes to cold weather. Give me heat and humidity over icy breezes and dry temperatures any day. Even though I really wanted this ultra to be one of my best, and even though I desired to remain on the course for at least 2 nights out of the 3, it was not to be. The weather was the deciding factor for me in this race.

Despite this, it was a pleasant race, especially once I decided to just relax and do whatever miles I could manage. As long as I completed a 50k, I could count it for Maniac statistics. Although 100 miles seemed impossible at first, once I realized it was within reach, I decided to stop there and dedicate the 100 mile buckle to my recently deceased son Ben.

We left for Phoenix from Jacksonville on the first flight to Atlanta. After a short layover, we were soon on our way to Arizona. Because I have reviewed this race twice in the past, when I did the 24 hour 3 years ago and the 72 hour back in 2013, I won’t reiterate the details. Suffice it to say that this is one of the best organized ultras I have ever done and that probably explains why I continue to come back. The course is a 1.05 mile loop in the beautiful Camelback Ranch. On our trips here, we stay at the alternate host hotel, the Courtyard Phoenix West/Avondale. The primary host hotel is a Comfort Inn and is located very close to the Ranch. However, we prefer the Courtyard since I am a Marriott loyalty member and the difference in mileage is only a few miles.

I rented a large tent with a cot (cost $80) so I would have a place to rest, change clothes, and eat/drink/relax. It works well, certainly better than using a chair or bench for my drop bag, but the weather is usually the troublesome factor. The tent provides shelter but no warmth. It is so cold at night that I cannot sleep; even sitting for any length of time inside the tent is impossible. Although there is a warming tent for racers to use, it is not for sleeping but just for defrosting one’s body. Even though I wanted to spend the first and possibly the third night moving around, the cold was debilitating to me and made me yearn for a warm hotel room.

This race now has a 6 day option and several running and walking friends were participating in that crazy feat. By the time I started on the 29th, Marie, Terrie, and Kena and a host of others had already completed their first day. I, along with other 24, 48, and 72 hour racers, joined them. The weather during the day was cool but sunny. I was optimistic. However, as soon as the sun went down, the temperature cooled dramatically. Predictions were for 32 degrees and frost and I was already shivering. It didn’t matter that I had on multiple base layers, heavy gloves, a warm hat, long pants, and two heavy jackets. It was COLD!

Darcy checked on me several times during the day and took me back to the hotel around 9 pm. I basked in the warm room, changed clothes, and fell into a deep sleep. The next morning I woke around 4 am and began my circuit around the course. On Monday I had made my initial goal of 32k plus a few extra miles, so I was hoping to reach 70 miles before I gave in to the cold once again. On this second day, Tuesday, I managed to reach over 80 miles. I knew that, even with absconding to the warmth of the hotel every evening, I should be able to reach 100 miles barring any major problem. Darcy picked me up around 5 pm and it was another comfortable night of rest for me.

I have to admit that – thankfully – I was feeling good most of the time. I began each morning with a fairly strong pace and it was only after 8 or 10 hours that my legs and feet became tired and sore. Considering that I had completed 36 marathons and ultras in 2014, as well as 4 half marathons and a few shorter races, I was moving fairly well.

By New Year’s Eve day, I had already decided that once I had reached 100 miles I would leave early so I could get a good night’s rest and continue the next morning to add whatever extra miles I could. We had some rain – in addition to the cold – on Wednesday, so it was a good day to leave early. By 2 pm I had attained 109 miles. Darcy took me back to the hotel and ordered takeout from Red Robin. We celebrated the New Year early; by 6 pm I was sound asleep.

Fireworks woke me up at 11:30. I never did get back into a sound sleep, instead just dozing for 20-30 minutes periods, and then waking up and checking the clock. I gave up finally at 3 am, woke my poor husband, and said ‘get me back on that course.’ And, even though he was still sleepy, he drove me to the Ranch and dropped me off. I managed to complete 28.08 miles before the horn sounded the end of the race.

What did I learn this time?

  • I don’t like the cold. Well, that is not really news, but it seems to be the confounding factor in a lot of my races. Had the weather been warmer I might have been able to last through the night at least once. Since I had a cot and a tent, I might have taken short rest breaks without needing to return to the hotel every night
  • I don’t like the dryness of desert climates. My nose bled for five days straight. I went through an entire box of Puffs and a jar of Vaseline. I was desperate for some humidity.
  • As long as I could have a few good hours of sleep in a warm room, I could handle the early morning cold. It was only when the sun went down and I was fatigued that the frosty temps really got to me.
  • I wished I had pushed a little harder each day instead of trying to pace myself. And even more importantly, I should have stayed out there at least a few hours longer every day. Of course, hindsight is 20-20. When I checked the standings before I left each evening, I was in 5th or 6th place for females. When I returned the next morning, I had dropped to 10th place or below. By that last morning, I was determined to move up in the standings once again and I pushed hard. I finally managed to reach 6th place female by race end. Just think what I might have accomplished had I stayed out there a little longer (of course there was always the chance I might have had hypothermia, too, so who really knows?)

All but the 6 day runners were finished on January 1. I really felt for my friends left on the course because they were facing more cold weather. But I was satisfied. I returned my ankle chip and received a heavy glass stein and my 100 mile buckle. I stein I will use. The buckle is for Ben.