Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Race Recap: Peoria Marathon Relay

There are some races that you just can't pass up. No matter where you live, your hometown race is probably one of them.  It's like one big family reunion... because running friends are the family you pick for yourself. There is magic in those shared miles and trials.

The Peoria Marathon (also known as Run River City) is quickly becoming that 'can't miss' race in my city of Peoria, IL.  I had so much fun participating in the 2013 inaugural race that I vowed to return.  For the second year, I put together a women's relay team to cover the 26.2 distance. I'm typically not a fan of relay races, but in this particular race, I enjoy moving around the course and seeing my runner friends of all speeds at different mile markers.  It's the best of both worlds - I get to cheer and run!

This year, I created a team with three other ladies from our Sole Sisters running club. The hardest part was coming up with an outfit idea and team name before we could register.  Finally, we agreed on Rainbow Racers - a name built soley around these rainbow-colored checkered flag skirts.
The skirts were ordered from Sparkle Athletic.
I designed the logo and Runner Decals made an iron-on for our shirts.

This past Sunday, May 18th was finally race day!  There was so much excitement and nerves in the air leading up to the Peoria Marathon. When you're part of a team, there's just something inside that makes you want to perform your best - not just for you, but for the whole team. Going in, I knew I was the slowest on the team, but just hoped to give it an honest effort.

Sole Sisters group photo before the race.

The Peoria Marathon, relay and half all started together at 7:00am.  The 5K would start 30 minutes later and the kids mini marathon kicked off at 12noon. A lot of races in one day!  It was ideal race weather - in the 50's and beautiful sunshine.  Crystal lined up at the starting line for our team and set us up nicely from the beginning. She ran leg 1 in 52:39 (8:08 pace), and then handed off to Missy.

Crystal handing off to Missy

At the first exchange zone, we got a peak at our competition by watching the batons run by. Competing in the open women's division, we were counting how many female-to-female exchanges came before us... one... with a second right by our side.  Missy took over to run leg 2. She had the big Main Street hill to climb, but killed it in 53:25 (8:18 pace).

At the second exchange zone, Missy handed it off to me. We were officially halfway done at mile marker 13.  There's something about a baton that makes me sprint - perhaps a little leftover gear from the high school track? By time I was a couple blocks down, it felt like my heart was going to explode. With a quick glance at my Garmin, I realized I was indeed sprinting... a 6:40 pace my Garmin said! Holy smokes, I didn't even know I could do that!  Mile 1 - 8:50

The first half of my 10K leg was flat and very enjoyable. At first, there was a quiet stretch through neighborhoods and then entering into the pretty shaded Bradley University area. I run these streets often and felt right at home. We zigzagged back and forth, making it easy for my hubby and kids to catch me at three different spots.  Little Girl jumped out to run a block with me every time I saw them.
I love that we are perfectly in stride here...

The marathon course reconnected with the half marathoners by Bradley Park. For the next 2 miles, it was real fun passing people and seeing a lot of my friends in the final portion of their 13.1.  By far, this was my favorite part of my leg.
Mile 2 - 9:01 
Mile 3 - 9:12

At mile 17, the full marathon turned off and headed up North Street. I drove this portion of the course the day before, so I knew it would not be heavily spectated nor would it be easy.  There was a gradual climb up North Street that lasted about a half mile. It wore on me and I plugged in my music for some push. My mantra was "just keep working". I just wanted to give my best, knowing my team was waiting for me.
Mile 4 - 9:36

The course was pretty sparse at this point, but every once in a while, someone would pass me. We turned onto Loucks Ave and there was another climb up to reach the Sheridan intersection... again, not an awesome part of town so very sparse on spectators through this section. But halfway up the hill, I heard my hubby's voice. There he was at the top of the hill yelling at me with a bullhorn in one hand and a camera in the other.  Gotta love that guy!
Mile 5 - 9:35

Little Girl out to run with me once again... and again, we are perfectly in stride!

It seemed like I reached the final turn onto Isabell Ave all too sudden. I knew this section well, as it's part of my running route from the gym. I knew I didn't have much mileage left until the exchange zone.  I putzed with my ipod and found my "bring it in" song. Powering up the final stretch of my leg, there were a bunch of cheering spectators through this nice neighborhoods.  Mile 6 - 9:30  I tried to give a finishing sprint before handing the baton off to Karen.
My Leg 3 - 56:56 (9:19 pace)

So relieved to hand that baton off. Go Karen Go!

Karen killed the last (and longest) leg of the marathon in 53:47 (7:36 pace).  We met her downtown for the last 1/4 mile of the route.  The course narrowed and we got caught up behind a shirtless male relay team.
Excuse us fellas... get out of our way!

I guess there are worse problems than being trapped by half naked men... but hubby was trying to get a picture of our whole team running. We slowed down to get the money shot...

 Official Chip Time 3:36:50
8:17 avg pace
2nd place Open Womens Division (out of 25)
12th place Overall Relay (out of 85 teams)

I had so much FUN running with these incredible (fast) ladies!

We hung out cheering in fellow runners for hours after our relay finish. The kids mini marathon didn't start until 12noon and you know I couldn't miss that!  My kids had trained for 8 weeks, compiling their 25 miles before race day. On Sunday, they ran the final 1.2 miles to complete their marathon!!
Big Girl and Little Girl kickin' it down the finishing stretch!
Look - Their medals are BIGGER than mine!

The 2nd annual Peoria Marathon was a blast!  Yes, I will be back again next year. I hope you will join me in MY town for this great race.  I was delighted to see several Marathon Maniacs and 50 Staters on the course. This marathon will easily become a destination race, and continue to grow every year.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Double the Training

This week begins a new phase in my training... preparation for my June Western Double.  The challenge is simple - two half marathons, two days, two different states.  It's efficient in both time and travel finances; but without doubt, also exhausting.  I've done this "Double Half" challenge twice before along my quest to #RaceAll50...
March 2013 Southern Double - Alabama + Georgia
October 2013 New England DoubleConnecticut + Rhode Island
Honestly, a Double is a fun adventure. I enjoy planning the logistics and the drive between races. I really get to see a vast area of the country I'm visiting.

This year's Western Double will comprise of the Bear Lake Half in Idaho (Fri, June 13) and the Jackson Hole Half in Wyoming (Sat, June 14).  I'm really looking forward to a western race for a change in scenery. I've completed the majority of my state races in the middle of country. The Idaho course is fairly flat, followed by mixed course in Wyoming.  My biggest challenge will be the change in elevation, as I've never run at high elevation (over 6000 feet). I have no time goal on either race except to finish and arrive home in time for Father's Day on Sunday.

When I ran the Southern and New England Doubles, I trained like I would for a normal half marathon. Let's just say the second half was not nearly as enjoyable as the first one. This time around, I've decided to change up the training in hopes that day two won't feel so shitty tough.  I'm currently trained to finish a single half marathon (just did two weeks ago in Nebraska).  So mileage is not necessarily my concern. What I want to improve is "running on tired legs," so instead of just one long run, I'm running back-to-back long runs each week. Back in January, I planned out my training long runs for the entire year. (No OCD here. Nope!)

In the month leading up to my Western Double, here's how my long runs look...
Week one - 7 + 8 mile runs on consecutive days  (this week)
Week two - 8 + 10 mile runs on consecutive days

Week three - 10 + 12 mile runs on consecutive days
Week four - 10 miler (taper)
Race week - Idaho/Wyoming Western Double 13.1 + 13.1

Since I'm running as part of a relay team this weekend for the Peoria Marathon, I moved my long runs to the early part of this week. I'm delighted to say that I got week one in the bag!

Yesterday, I met up with a local group to start my miles. It was a fun run organized by my buddy Anna, who was celebrating her one year cancer-free anniversary. She is a cervical cancer survivor! Being the awesome person she is, she used this special occasion to raise money for St Jude Children's Hospital... $750 in one day!

I ran four miles as part of Anna's fun run, gave a quick hug and snapped a few pictures. Then I was off to finish my first long(er) run of the week. I ended with 7.4 miles at a 9:51 average pace.

Today I procrastinated all morning. I just didn't feel like running 8 miles after yesterday's run (plus Spinning class in the evening).  It came upon the time of day that I HAD to get out there if I wanted to beat the school bus.  As I started off, I could feel tiredness in my legs (that's what I wanted, right?). As the miles ticked off, I felt better and better though. I finished 8.1 miles at a 10:07 average pace. With that, week one's long runs in prep for the Western Double are complete. Whew! Made it!

Now I can rest up before my race this Sunday. I'm the slowest runner on our relay team, so I want to bring my best!

Have you ever run back-to-back races before? How did you train for it?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Race Recap: Race for the Cure 5K

This past weekend, I spent a lot of time offline - enjoying the summer weather with my family. My hubby and kids spoiled me for Mother's Day, and I couldn't help but relish every moment.
"My cup runneth over" Psalm 23:5

I ran this race as a member of the
 Peoria Air National Guard team.
Saturday was particularly perfect. I started off the day at one of my favorite races ever, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure 5K.  This event has special meaning since it was my very first race (2001).  It's also our community's biggest fundraiser for breast cancer, the disease that took my grandmother when I was just a toddler.  Always the Saturday on Mother's Day weekend, it's heart-warming to see the crowds that gather for this occasion - grandmothers, mothers, daughters, sisters, and each year more men participate too.  By far, the largest hoopla you'll ever see surrounding a 5k run/walk.

I arrived about 45 minutes before the start, for the mere purpose that I wanted a good getaway parking spot.  The race started a 8:00am and I had to teach Spinning at 9:00am. Talk about an incentive to run fast!  My plan was to finish the 5K in under 30 minutes, run through the finish line straight to my car, and then jet off to the gym.

I purposely didn't plan to "meet up" with anyone pre-race. It was a nice change of pace to just show up and run. I relaxed on a curb pre-race, soaking in the beautiful morning sun while listening to the pre-race ceremonies from the stage. I love watching the huge group of survivors and big crane up in the sky that takes their group photo each year.
The Survivors.  Photo from the Susan G. Komen FB page

After a quick jog around the parking lot to warmup, I bumped into some friends near the starting line and waiting there for the official start. I haven't run the Race for the Cure in a couple years, so I was surprised to see all the men lining up in front. The race has evolved through the years. The first year I ran, there were no male runners - only a "mile of men". Then it had a waved start - women first and then the men 10 minutes later. We ran the same course, but it guaranteed a woman winner. I always used it as an incentive... my goal being to reach the 2 mile marker before the lead male came zooming past me. Now it's all merged together as one - probably for the best - but personally, I liked the wave start best.

I haven't run a 5K in a long time, and certainly had not trained for the speed that these shorter races require. My only goal was to finish in time to make my 9am Spinning class!  It was a silent flag start, and just like that, we were off. I knew the course well, but hadn't given it much thought when I registered. I completely forgot how hill-challenging the course is.  In the first mile, we did a gradual climb up University Avenue. There's a clock at the top of the hill to mark the end of the first mile, and I sadly noted that I was a full minute off the last time I ran this one. Sigh...

The latter miles circle through pretty neighborhoods, adding in several more hills. I always like to see residents sitting out in their yards, cheering runners on. What I wouldn't give to live on a race course!
My friend Cassie was out cheering along the course and caught me as I ran by...

I hauled it in for the final mile and finished with an official chip time of 28:44.7
That averages out to a 9:15 pace. For now, I'm okay with that!

I hurried off to the gym and continued the Pink Celebration with my For The Cure ride in Spinning class. It's an inspiring but tough ride. I left the gym with a big smile on my face, happy to have squeezed in both a race and a Spin class - all before 10am.  

My hubby and kids had been busy too. They spent the morning cleaning the house from top to bottom and doing laundry. I walked in the door and my kiddos yelled out, "Happy Mother's Day!"  We spent the rest of the day shopping for and planting flowers. It was truly the best day ever.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Race Recap: Lincoln National Guard Half Marathon

State #21 is done!
On Sunday, I made Nebraska state #21 on my quest to Race All 50 during the Lincoln National Guard Half Marathon. This is an event that sells out fast (less than a day!), so you gotta decide quickly if you're in.  Registration opened at midnight on New Year's Eve. So while everyone else was raising a toast and playing kissy face, I was at my computer trying to get into Lincoln. With such demand over a race, I assumed it was 'thee one' to run in Nebraska.

On Friday afternoon, my friend Anna and I began the 7 hour drive across Illinois and Iowa to reach the eastern edge of Nebraska.  Ugh - Iowa is one long and boring state to drive. It was nice to have someone to travel with - especially someone whose BFF lived in the race city. Thanks for hosting us Bry!

We had a nice leisurely Saturday morning (coffee and a magazine on a warm sunny deck) and finally got motivated to hit the race expo around lunch.  It was a busy moderate-sized expo. Easy in; easy out for the most part. I tried not to shop much, but I did snag an autographed book from Dane Rauschenberg after chatting with him.
Most important part of the race expo is THE BIB of course!

Saturday evening, Bry brought us to the Project Purple pre-race dinner. I felt a little out of place and awkward at first - since I wasn't "on" the team, but everyone made us feel welcome. (And I sure was thankful I had preciously donated.)  I met some truly amazing people that night. Their stories touched me more than they'll ever know. I left the party wishing I had joined the Lincoln Project Purple team - running to beat pancreatic cancer.

Race morning came and **TMI Alert** I was constipated. Some people have problems with going too much and have to take immodium. I have just the opposite problem, but thankfully just when I travel. So my body was not feeling light and quick like I want it to on race morning. All I could think about was... well, you know. The first place I headed when we arrived to the starting line was the the bathrooms. Unlike most races, there were no outdoor porta-potties. The only restrooms were inside the Coliseum, which was packed. As we entered, someone told us, "Go downstairs to the locker rooms." It was better down there, but still a jumbled mess. Men had no line while the womens wound down the hallway. And oh dear, hold your nose once you got inside the locker room, where everyone was pooping... Not a pleasant start to race morning. All that and I still couldn't go.

We all wore purple to support Bry's run for Project Purple.
Anna and I waiting for the start
The race began with a staggered start to accommodate the 13,000 runners. It was the kind of start where everyone picked their finish time and basically hopped in wherever they wanted.  I was waiting on the sidelines for the 2:05 pacer, but after nearly 27 minutes of watching people start before me (whom I knew I would pass later), I finally jumped in.

The race started smoothly and we had the full road to run. I tried to find a comfortable pace and just settle in. Once the first couple splits ticked off, I'd have a better idea how this race was going to unfold. I had originally selected this race for a sub-2 run. Training had not gone as planned (at all). I knew a sub-2 was not going to happen today, but I wondered how close I could get. After all, someone had told me this was a flat fast course. (P.S. It's not.)  At mile 1, we passed the Nebraska State Capitol building. Other than that, the sights along the early part of the course were basic city streets.
Mile 1 - 9:27
Mile 2 - 9:27

Inside the third mile, we hit a long gradual climb, which my Garmin stats say was the largest elevation gain on the 13.1 course. We entered some nice neighborhoods and the spectators through this area were in plenty and very supportive. The course continued to roll...
Mile 3 - 9:41
Mile 4 - 9:29
Mile 5 - 9:35

The course suddenly crunched and became congested. I could feel the slow down all around me.  I found myself wondering what was going on... Is there something up ahead? or are they just getting tired as we near the halfway point? I pushed onward trying to hold my pace and weaved around people.  And then we hit the trail... a paved bike trail that is not big enough for a race of this size.  The next several miles were finally flat, but oh so frustrating... weaving around walkers and the side-by-side friends that create a wall. One of my biggest pet peeves is people who block the course for others.
Mile 6 - 9:20
Mile 7 - 9:13
Mile 8 - 9:35

Finally, we turned off the trail. I'm pretty sure a "Thank God" slipped out of my mouth as we spread back out on the street. And then I looked up to see another climb in front of me. Aw shoot! The sun was out in full force all morning and the temps were on the rise. Combined with the unexpected hills and congestion and I was turning into one crabby runner.  I realized that I hadn't taken an energy gel yet, so halfway up the mile 9 hill, I walked to eat my Caramel GU, that squirted out all over my hand. Seriously, can I catch a break? I wanted to quit.  But as I crested the hill, I came upon the highlight of the race - ORANGES!!  Everyone knows how much I love oranges when I run!  I dodged across the road and grabbed me a big ole fist full. I tried to pace myself as I popped piece after glorious piece into my mouth.
Mile 9 - 10:04
Mile 10 - 9:34

I don't recall much of the last part of the race... except desperately looking for the finishline. At one point, I thought I might have passed the half/full split. The final miles were quite boring as we made our way back towards Memorial Stadium. I wish I had my normal finishing kick, but it was missing today. We had to make a little climb to get up to the stadium entrance and I'm pretty sure I cursed out loud.  As we entered the football field, the grass felt squishy under my feet (unlike the other fields I've run across at Illinois and Marshall).  Instead of a sprint, I slowed and concentrated on my stepping... Oh please don't let me trip and fall. My feet were like dragging bricks across the finish.
Mile 11 - 9:59
Mile 12 - 9:56
Mile 13 - 9:41
The finish pictures show National Guardsman along the finish.
Funny, I never noticed while I was running.
Wish I hadn't been so worn down at that point.

I crossed the finish and collected my medal. It was pretty crowded in the finish chute and we were being pushed off the field quickly. Despite volunteers constantly telling me to "keep moving", I paused to take a photo on the field and collect a space blanket.

Half #26 
State #21 - Nebraska
Official Chip Time 2:06:27
average pace 9:39 
overall  #3299 out of 7175
females  #1582 out of 4347
F35-39  #300 out of 817

So Lincoln wasn't my best feeling race, but it was my best time so far in 2014.  I can't lie; I was disappointed in my run. It just proves that you can't fake it without putting in the training, which I clearly did not.

It was crammed quarters trying to find my way out of the stadium, but I finally found Bry and Anna (who crushed her PR by over 4 minutes!) for a post-race celebration.
Thanks Bry for your hospitality, and Anna for the great road trip!
Rumor has it this was the best Lincoln medal in years. Score!
The official race shirt. I kinda liked it, but not everyone did...