Rerun – 24 the Hard Way, October 24, 2015 (Oklahoma City, OK)

I decided to do this race again because so many things about it are great. I like the course (smooth asphalt), the friendly people, and the accurate and clear timing results that show up quickly after each lap. The biggest drawback for me is the lack of indoor heated restrooms and that proved to be a major problem for me this year because of the cold weather. On the plus side, I so enjoyed seeing my friends Joyce and Ray, her brother Wes, sister Patsy, and brother-in-law Andy, as well as my friend Karen and my amazing racewalker buddy Rob, who managed to do over 57 miles in 12 hours.

Since my report of last year’s race is fairly extensive (see October 2014 of this blog), I will only elaborate on some of the differences between my two experiences. The biggest change was the weather. Last year it was hot, even for me, and the heat probably contributed to some of the nausea and queasiness I felt during the latter hours of the race. This year the weather was predicted to be ideal, with lows in the 50’s and highs in the 60’s. Well, those weather reports were WRONG! It didn’t rain, and that was good, but it was cool on Saturday morning and cloudy all day long. I was okay with that. But as day turned to evening the temperature dropped and by 3 am on Sunday it felt like 40 degrees and breezy. I wore three layers of clothes plus a jacket, mittens, handwarmers, woolen hat,and buff, but was still cold. If there had been a place to warm up, I think I could have made it through until the race ended at 9 am but I was too chilled to continue past 20 plus hours.

The fatigue was getting to me and I could tell that I was ‘drifting’ across the wide path. I also developed a blister on the sole of my left foot, in the same place where I had experienced a blister at Wichita a few weeks ago. I changed from my Brooks shoes to my Hokas and put on new socks. That helped a little. Still, I could feel the blister with every step I took. But it was the cold that did me in. I could have packed a much warmer coat but I did not since the weather prediction was for warmer temps. Without a warm place to lose the chill, I was becoming pretty miserable. I got to 100k, then 63 miles (my total for last year’s race), and finally decided it was time to call Darcy to take me back to a warm hotel room. By the time he arrived, I had completed 67.2 miles in 20 hours and 49 minutes. Instead of a finisher’s ring this year, we received a souvenir paperweight and award with stand.

It was a relief to get into a warm car and then a warm hotel room. And in regard to hotels – last year we had stayed at Springhill Suites, Quail Springs, not far from the race site. This year we made plans to stay at the same hotel. Unfortunately, the television in our room did not get more than a few local channels and since my husband was planning to spend most of Saturday watching football games, that was not acceptable. The hotel was completely booked for Friday night so we were stuck but on Saturday morning Darcy walked to the nearby Hilton Garden Inn and made a reservation there for the remaining two nights (after checking to make sure the cable stations were working). If television programming is critical to the enjoyment of your support team, try the Hilton Garden Inn (or the Holiday Inn, Sheraton Four Points, or one of several other nearby hotels).

On Sunday afternoon we had a midday meal at Mimi’s Café, within easy walking distance of these hotels, and a good choice. We had white peach mimosas, salads, and burgers, with a French twist (my burger had Brie cheese on sourdough bread) and went to bed early since we had such an early flight on Monday. Now I am nursing my sore blister and trying to get it back to normal in time for another 24 hour race this weekend.

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A Grand Race in Grand Rapids – October 18, 2015 (Grand Rapids, MI)

Kind of a corny title, I know, but it’s in keeping with the overall ambience of this weekend – relaxed, family-oriented, and fun. In fact it was the humorous slant taken by the race director on the race website that attracted me to this race in the first place. I liked the idea of the early start for ‘velocity-challenged’ runners and walkers giving even slow-pokes like myself a full 7 hours (in reality, the finish line is open until the last person crosses, and this year 2 people finished in just over 8 hours). I also enjoyed reading the amusing but never disparaging answers to the FAQs. Take a look here http://grandrapidsmarathon.com/information/faq/ and see what I mean.

Surprisingly, there is not much written up in the review section of Marathonguide.com so I had to rely on website information almost exclusively, but I found the info there to be fairly complete and instructive. Darcy decided to come on this trip with me because he had never been to Michigan before so this was a good opportunity while this would be my third marathon in the state (I have done Detroit and Marquette and enjoyed them both).

We left Florida on Saturday morning and arrived in Grand Rapids (GR) around 10:30 am. Yes, only 2 short flights and both were on time. We didn’t even have to adjust to a time change either because GR is in the eastern time zone (a nice change for me after dealing with jet lag from Scotland, Pacific, and Central time zones).

Our hotel was J. W. Marriott, the host hotel and just a few short blocks from the YMCA, site of packet pickup and the start and finish lines. We were lucky because our room was ready when we arrived well before the check-in time of 4 pm. That gave us a chance to settle in before walking over to the Y for the expo and packet pickup. The expo was relatively small, with about 30-35 booths set up around a large activity and conference room, some selling race paraphernalia and services, others advertising local races, and several enlisting runners for their charity programs. The Grand Rapids Marathon supports numerous local organizations, with money from race events staying in the community.

I followed the signs to look up my race number and get my bib and backpack with long-sleeve tech shirt, a pair of socks, poster, and race instruction booklet. There was a small snafu when I realized my name was misspelled (Martha instead of Marsha) but a volunteer quickly made the change on a ‘solutions’ sheet and everything was corrected by the time I finished the race.

We had worked up quite an appetite by this time so Darcy and I were ready for some local cuisine. Grand Rapids is noted for its fine beer and numerous local breweries. We decided to try Founders Brewery several streets away because of its reputation. When we arrived we saw that it was crowded with people, even though it was still early Saturday afternoon. The reason? It was a Harvest Party and there was a cover charge, which got us one beer and a souvenir glass. We were tired and hungry so we decided to stay, pay the cover, and order some food. I had a delicious Reuben while Darcy worked his way through an enormous roast beef sandwich; we both enjoyed the microbrew. We sat outside on the patio with heated fire pits all around us and watched the locals as they watched the Michigan/Michigan State game on the outdoor television.

That was fun but it was soon time to get back to our hotel so I could get some rest. The early start was set for 7:00 am and the weather report called for freezing temperatures overnight. I was not happy about the cold but I was prepared. I wore long Injinji socks, long pants, 3 layers of thermal tops, buff, mittens with hand warmers, warm hat, cap with visor, and a jacket. As the day ‘warmed’ up, I took off the mittens (but put them back on several times), tied the jacket around my waist, put the buff in my pocket, and pinned the hat to the inside of my jacket. But I was never really warm so I was glad I had on so many layers.

In addition to the marathon, there is a marathon relay, a half marathon, and a wheelchair marathon which includes the West Michigan chapter of Team Triumph, a group that helps aa participants with disabilities complete a race, similar to Achilles. I saw at least a dozen or more of these teams with their ‘angels’ in red shirts, as they zoomed past me.

There were about 150 people joining me at 7:00 and the race director joked and talked encouragingly to all of us as we counted down to the start. It was still dark at that time so I couldn’t see too much for the first several miles but we were mostly on city streets for those early stages. Around mile 5 we began a long stretch through an industrial area and around the Butterworth Park landfill site. This was my least favorite part of the course; it was unattractive and had a pervasive unpleasant odor. Because the course is an elongated loop, we had to repeat these miles once again during the final stretch. In-between these two sections were many attractive and pleasant miles on wide paved mostly flat bike paths.

Aid stations began appearing every two miles after mile 2 and they were stocked with water, Gatorade, and occasionally pretzels, gummi bears, fruit, and gels. At one of the last aid stations, there was even pickle juice! I grabbed a cup since pickle juice is great at warding off leg cramps (at least according to anecdotal evidence). At almost every aid station there was medical help as well as several portapotties. Maybe it was because of the cold, but I had to stop 3 times to use the latter.

I crossed the finish line in 6:15:59, not too shabby considering this was my 4th marathon in 4 weeks. I received my medal gratefully and accepted a bottle of chocolate milk, bagel, apple, and chips, and then was gently encouraged to enter the post-race party area where Darcy and I could select from a quartet of microbrews from Holland (MI) Brewing Company and some chili and crackers from Wendy’s. Yes, family members were encouraged to join finishers partaking of food and beverages. Instead of everyone leaving as soon as they finished the race, many people spent some time eating, drinking, and chatting while they cheered latecomers in. It was a true party atmosphere and extremely enjoyable.

After a while I could feel my muscles start to stiffen up, so it was time to return to the hotel for a shower and nap. Our evening meal was at HopCat Brewery, another fine eating place. We had a very early flight in the morning so we quickly went to sleep afterwards.

This is a fine race for walkers who want the amenities of a big city with the feel of a friendly Midwestern town. Be sure to take the early start, and then relax and enjoy.

 

 

Adventure in Kansas – the Prairie Fire Marathon, Wichita, KS (October 11, 2015)

This race turned out to be an unexpected pleasure on many counts. I had only been to the state of Kansas twice, once on a family road trip to Denver and once for the Eisenhower Marathon in Abilene (that was the race that counted for Kansas on my 50 State journey). Both trips occurred several years ago. I was pleasantly surprised at the attractive city of Wichita and the neat neighborhoods and parks that comprised the bulk of the marathon course.

I flew into Wichita from JAX via Atlanta and arrived early enough to catch the hotel shuttle. I was staying at the host hotel, the Hyatt Regency, which turned out to be an excellent choice since it was situated right in front of the race start and finish lines. Packet pickup and expo were held in the Century II Expo Hall in the convention center connected to the Hyatt. How convenient was that? My room was ready when I arrived around 1 pm, so I checked in, deposited my luggage, and went directly to the expo. This was a relatively small affair, and it seemed especially so after attending the much larger Portland Marathon expo the previous week. However, there were sufficient vendors there to supply any emergent needs for the marathon, selling everything from shoes and socks to gels and energy beans. I looked up my race number from the bulletin board, went directly to the table for my bib and a race booklet. Participants were also given a colorful Prairie Fire beach towel. Hmmm, I thought, this is a nice change from a race shirt. Turns out that after the race we were also given finisher’s shirts as well and they were gender specific and the correct size I had requested, even for back-of-the-packers like myself.

My 50 State finisher tee shirt garnered a lot of attention and several people came up to me to ask if I really did a marathon in all 50 states. Apparently, this race doesn’t see too many 50 Staters or Maniacs, and I am not quite sure exactly why. It is a good race, with a pleasant course, and very well organized – and it has a 7 hour time limit.

After walking through the expo, I had built up an appetite so I had a tasty lunch at the hotel restaurant and then retired to my room to get ready for the race. Although I was tempted to walk to downtown and do some sightseeing, I realized that I was pretty tired from traveling and the previous two weeks of racing. Since this was to be my third marathon out of 9 races in my fall schedule without a break, I wanted to be sure to get sufficient rest and recovery time between races. Thus I opted to take it easy, get my gear ready for the 7:30 start the next morning, and watch some television before falling into a sound sleep.

The alarm woke me around 4 am and I had my usual coffee and bread for breakfast. I couldn’t avoid those crazy pre-race jitters – will I get lost? Be last? Trip and fall? Yes, I know this was marathon/ultra #208 for me but that didn’t really matter. I always have these worries, unless it is a familiar course that I have done many times. And even then I worry, my usual neuroticism added to the excitement of a race.

Around 7:10, I wandered downstairs and out the door of the hotel, following the many people, full and half marathoners, who were ahead of me. We lined up loosely in front of the start line banner. There were no official corrals – this is too small a race for that – but there were pacers up to 5 hours, so I positioned myself well at the back, behind all the pacers.

Everyone starts at the same time – 7:30 – with a loud ‘cannon’ (it sounded more like a shrieking whistle) and I found myself between two Maniacs, Ralph from Washington State and Robert from Texas. We chatted for a while but they were planning to take the full 7 hours to finish and I wanted to try to finish in under 6 ½ so I took off walking at a faster pace. For most of the race I kept leapfrogging with two women from Lawrence, KS, who were sticking to a run/walk program. Though they had done several half marathons, this was their first full, and by mile 18, I passed them for the last time. They said they had just lost their energy but they did manage to finish well under the time limit.

Most people here do the half marathon, so at the 5 mile split the race course became open with a lot of space between racers, though I could usually see people ahead and behind me. The beginning miles took us through a fairly deserted downtown, and then alongside parks, by museums, and through many residential neighborhoods. Aid stations had water and Gatorade every couple of miles and there were one or two portapotties at most of the aid stations. The course was paved, though there was some brickwork in the downtown areas; to me, the bricks were smooth and not cracked at all, so they were not so troublesome as cobblestones. Occasionally there were potholes in the streets so care had to be taken around them. The course, like most (or all) of Kansas, is flat.

In the city itself, runners were funneled into the center lane, which was coned off on both sides, while traffic moved as usual on our right and left. This gave me a funny feeling as I walked in the middle of the road with cars beside me going in different directions. However, drivers were careful and we did have the entire center lane to ourselves, so I never really felt uneasy.   Once we left the city, we stayed mostly on one side of the road or the other, and traffic was light throughout the day. I found the scenery to be varied enough to keep me from getting too bored, and I especially enjoyed the miles 15 through 26 which took us along both sides of the Arkansas River. By mile 23, we headed back towards the Hyatt which I could see in the distance. I crossed the finish line in 6:23, was announced by the MC, and given a huge medal and my finisher’s shirt. I hunted around for chocolate milk and food, but by this late in the day there were just some tired orange slices and brown bananas left.

Fortunately I had brought some food with me so I ate an individual package of Umpqua Oats that I had purchased the previous week at the Portland expo to tide me over until the hotel restaurant opened at 5. Then I wandered down to see if I could order a personal pizza to take back upstairs with me. I just felt like vegging out in front of the television and eating some protein and carbs. In the elevator I met a fellow marathoner and we started talking races; half an hour later LaDoria and I were still chatting away. We finally settled in at the bar and had a glass of wine while I waited for my pizza to be done and LaDoria enjoyed some dessert (she was one of the earlier finishers and said that there really was pizza at the finish line for faster racers). Since we both had early flights the next morning, and since the hotel shuttle didn’t begin until later in the day, we made plans to share a cab to the airport.

My 2 flights back to Florida were uneventful (always something to be happy about) and I was very pleased with the Prairie Fire Marathon and Wichita. For 50 Staters, this is a good choice, especially if you are a walker or slower runner, because the 7 hour time limit gives great flexibility (the Eisenhower Marathon has a 6 hour time limit). Although there were only 572 marathon finishers this year, I never felt alone or lost. Aid stations and course marshals stayed at their posts throughout the day cheering us on (spectators were sparse). The logistics couldn’t be easier, especially if you stayed at the host hotel. Highly recommended for walkers.

 

As Good As Ever – the Portland Marathon, Portland, OR (October 4, 2015)

This was my third Portland Marathon and it remains one of my favorite races, if only because everything seems to run smoothly and like clockwork. You can easily tell that this race has been around for a while, 44 years to be exact, and the events surrounding the busy weekend are well-attended and supported by the city and its citizens. I’ve written about the course and logistics in my previous posts (see ‘Visiting the City of Roses’ October 5, 2014 and ‘The Portland Marathon’ October 7, 2012) so I won’t dwell on the things that haven’t changed but instead will concentrate only on those that have.

One of the things I noticed was the lack of a speaker series this year. In previous years, there was a full complement of talks on a variety of race-related topics, including a rundown of what to expect on the course, possible health issues, and Jeff Galloway’s run-walk method given by Jeff himself. This year I could find no mention of any lectures or discussions at all, and that was kind of surprising to me. The closest I could find to a course description was an elderly gentleman standing by the course map and giving a brief summary of what to expect.

The expo seemed to have a lot of new local vendors, including Umpqua Oats (I bought several individually sized containers), some locally produced one-serving containers of humus (I bought several of those too), and Sweet Spot Skirts, colorful all-cotton reversible skirts that are designed to be worn over racing gear (yes, I bought one of those as well).

There is always a lot of great stuff given to runners and walkers at this race, and this year was no exception. However, late finishers missed out on the roses that were usually handed out to people as they crossed the finish line. I didn’t really mind not getting my rose, since I knew it would not last very long, certainly not the 3000 mile trip home, and in previous years I had always given the flowers to the hotel desk staff. I was grateful that I received a tree seedling, charm and token in little velvet bags, my finisher’s shirt, and a Tyvek jacket, plus a glorious medal.

In the corrals, I had noticed that there were lots of different colored bibs for the marathon and wondered aloud what each color signified. No one could really answer my question, but at the end of the race I realized that the bibs were color-coded to the color of the finisher shirt we had requested when we had signed up for the race. Now I remembered! I had chosen blue and sure enough my blue bib entitled me to a blue shirt, correct size (ladies medium) and all.

The weather was close to perfect, perhaps too cool at the start for me (in the low 50’s) but breezy and warm as the day progressed. I enjoyed all the entertainment, including the pirates, belly dancers, and bagpipe players, and even the climb up to the St. Johns Bridge did not deter me from enjoying the day fully. Crossing the bridge is my favorite part of this race – Mt. Hood in the distance and the skyline of Portland typifies the Pacific Northwest for me.

The only problem I had during this race was a slight cramping in my right hamstring, a vestige of the same tightness that surfaced during last week’s marathon in Inverness. That was a strong hint to slow down a bit, and slow done I did, but my pace was still good enough to finish in 6:16.

Well-done Portland, once again.

Loch Ness Marathon – September 27, 2015 (Inverness, Scotland)

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If I had to describe this marathon in one word, it would be LONG. Everything about the race seemed to take forever – the 7:15 am bus ride to the starting point near Ft. Augustus (the ride took over an hour), waiting around for the race to begin (we arrived around 8:40 but the race didn’t begin until 10 am), the long lines for the portapotties, the incredibly steep ups and downs of the never-ending hills along Loch Ness, even the distances between aid stations (there would be individual stops for water, electrolyte drinks, and gel blocks and shots). I am sure that the final mile into Inverness and the finish line at Bught Park must have been at least a mile and a half or longer, although it might have been my overwhelming fatigue that made it just seem like forever.

It had been 45 years since I had last visited Scotland so I was eagerly looking forward to this trip. Because Darcy and I had been immersed in moving and all the angst involved with selling and buying houses, I decided to use Amazing Running Tours based in Huntington Beach, CA, to book our trip. Overall, it worked out fine, with just a few snafus, and it certainly saved me lots of time and decision-making.

We left on Sunday, a week before the race, flying from Jacksonville on a red-eye to London Heathrow and then on to Edinburgh. A driver met us at the airport and brought us to the first of our hotels, the Crown Plaza Royal Terrace. This hotel was located close to several pubs, shops, and tourist sites, so it turned out to be a good location. Past experience has taught me to always book an upgraded room or junior suite when traveling overseas because European and British hotel rooms tend to be on the small side compared to American hotel rooms. Our suite at the Crown Plaza was a large room with a fireplace and included access to the club lounge for snacks, drinks, and light meals.

To make the most of our time in Edinburgh, I used Viator.com to book several excursions. On our first full day we took a 3 hour motor coach tour and Forth Bridges sightseeing cruise. The bus trip had audio commentary about the streets and houses we passed on the way to Queensferry and our boat. The cruise portion took us under several suspension bridges, along Inchcolm Island, and by numerous seals and seabirds. Afterwards we had a late lunch at the Deacon Brodie Pub in the heart of the bustling tourist district.

The next day we slept late and then walked to Edinburgh Castle where I had booked tickets on Viator for easy entry. We joined a guided tour and learned about the history of the castle, viewed the Scottish Crown Jewels, and walked through the National War Museum and the Royal Palace of Mary Queen of Scots. Of course, we also had to visit several of the gift shops in the Castle and taste some real Scotch whisky (which I later learned was delightful Scotch whisky liqueur, rather than the much stronger actual whisky).   We also had to have tea and scones at the Red Coat Café. To round out the day, we toured the National Gallery of Scotland as well as the Museum of Childhood and then walked up Calton Hill, site of several monuments including one that resembled the Parthenon of Athens.   We took our late afternoon meal at the Royal Theater Pub where I indulged in traditional fish and chips and a Tennant’s lager, a locally produced Scottish beer.

On Thursday, it was time for the Highlands portion of our trip. We took the train from Edinburgh’s Waverly Station to Inverness, a 3 ½ hour ride. We had so far been very lucky weather-wise. There had been no rain at all in Edinburgh during our time there and although it was cool, it was also fairly sunny. However, when we alighted from the train station in Inverness, the weather was blustery with a light drizzle. We opted for a taxi to take us to the Glen Mohr Hotel, situated right across from the River Ness. The location was prime but the hotel had definitely seen better days. Once again, I was glad I had booked the junior suite because we had two good-sized rooms, with one overlooking the river. However, the hotel in general was badly in need of a good paint job and some upgrades. At least it was clean and certainly convenient. After checking in and depositing our luggage, we went looking for a place to eat. Most of the pubs don’t serve food until 6 pm so we chose a restaurant nearby that offered nachos (yes, nachos) and mac and cheese.

Our tour package included an all-day tour of the Highlands so on Friday we boarded a comfortable motor coach at 9:15 am and took off for an extensive trip past Loch Ness, several picturesque villages, Urquart Castle, Eileen Donan Castle (where we stopped for a self-guided tour), and on to the Isle of Skye. I tasted Cullen Skink (finan haddie) soup at a local restaurant on Skye and then we toured several other small towns. We returned to Inverness after 7 pm – it was a very long day and we were tired.

On Saturday the expo opened so I walked from our hotel to Bught Park to get up my race bib and pasta dinner tickets. I remembered that finisher shirts in some overseas races are not sized for women so I decided to purchase a Loch Ness Marathon cotton tee shirt at the expo just in case. I walked back to the hotel, did a little shopping in town, and then Darcy and I returned to the expo site for the pasta dinner inside a big tent set up in the park. If the tickets to the dinner had not been included in our tour package, I would have definitely passed on this meal; the pasta was not especially tasty but at least it was filling. There was a choice of chicken or veggie ziti, vegetable soup, and either fruit or cheesecake for dessert. Water was the only beverage.

Race day dawned clear and cold but the weather for later in the day was predicted to be sunny and much warmer. That made it hard for me to decide what to wear, since I knew I would be standing outside for 3 hours or so in cool weather but then would have to deal with warming temperatures. And that is exactly what happened. I was over-dressed, even though I tied my jacket around my waist after several miles. I walked to the park around 7 am and boarded one of the two or three dozen buses waiting to transport runners to the start. As I mentioned earlier in this report, the bus ride was long, the wait at the start was long, and the portapotty lines were long. I learned from chatting with some people from Aberdeen that the weather last Sunday was pouring rain so I was very grateful for the clear skies. Right before the start of the race, a high school band of bagpipe players, dressed in colorful kilts, marched through the runners and gave us a wonderful sendoff.

The scenery was stunning. The course follows the River Ness all the way back to Inverness, passing through neat little towns like Foyers and Dores. Around mile 17 the land changed from forests to pastureland, with sheep and cattle and horses dotting the landscape. But what I remember most, especially in those later miles, was the hills. In the beginning, it was fun to run down the hills and walk up them. As my legs tired, though, I plodded up and down the hills, feeling just a little discouraged about how far I still had to go. It had been over a year since I had done a hilly race of any caliber, and this one qualified as extremely hilly. Although I usually get a resurgence of energy by the time I reach mile 20, that didn’t happen in this race.   At mile marker 22, I was trying hard to push my way up a hill when my right hamstring seized up. I had to spend several minutes stretching before I could move – slowly – again. From that point on, instead of speeding up, I had to walk gingerly to avoid cramping.

Oh, it was so wonderful to finally reach Inverness and see mile marker 25! But then I still had a very long way to go (or so it seemed) until I could get to that finish line. I crossed in 6:24, under the 7 hour time limit, so I was relieved and happy to have marathon/ultra #206 (and country #11) under my belt.

The medal shows the 3 humps of the Loch Ness Monster, as does the finisher’s shirt. The 3 humps on the shirt are actually laces of a running shoe – a very unique and creative expression of the monster. The post-race food seemed to be leftovers from the pasta dinner of the day before – more chicken and veggie pasta – so after returning to the hotel for a shower and quick nap, Darcy and I headed out to a pub for a tasty meal. We had several long travel days ahead of us so we needed our rest.

This was definitely a fun race to do and very walker-friendly. There were at least 40 people who finished behind me, the last one around 8 hours, and because the course follows the river, it is essentially impossible to get lost, even for me. Just one caveat, however; be prepared for hills!