Thursday, October 24, 2013

Three Things Thursday: Spectator Edition

One of the highlights of my week was finding a collection of photos online from Sunday's half marathon. All taken by spectators, donating their time to be out on the course, offering up their photography skills, and then sharing their photos for free. This is a gift I treasure.  If you're a regular racer at big events, you know that race photography is expensive. However, the perfect photos can keep those wonderful memories alive. And whenever you hit that slump, all you have to do is flip album pages to rediscover your #runjoy.

My favorite is this one at Sunday's finish line... I had no idea who the lady was, but was so happy to discover this picture on Facebook. It may be my profile picture forever...

I am not racing this weekend. Whew, it's been awhile since I've said that. Oddly enough, it took a lot of determination to keep it that way. There's a pretty cool event in our town this weekend... the Screaming Pumpkin Marathon & Relay. I was invited to be on three different teams in the past two weeks... and I was oh. so. tempted.

Unlike other races, anyone can win this race; running fast means nothing! It's a prediction race... participants begin running any time after 6pm and ideally finish right on the stroke of midnight. No watches or clocks are allowed. Costumes galore... and a ton of HILLS through a heavily wooded cemetery. All finishers who make it back before midnight receive a wand and a tiara; finish after midnight and you get a pumpkin.

I plan to pack a few beers, head out into the darkness Friday night and give my friends support with some big cheers! Light-up costume necessary. One of these years, I'll actually run it...

The topic of cowbells were brought up in one of my running group forums. Evidently, there are runners who despise cowbells at races. One man brought it up because there were some people (my kids) at this past Sunday's half ringing them. His exact words... "Nothing more than a cacophony of irritating noise!"  (Now those could be words to describe my kids at times, but I'm pretty sure he was talking about the actual cowbell.)  I couldn't help but think those are strong words against someone who came out to cheer for you. Geesh, how people love to critic...
I am one talented spectator.
I can ring 3 cowbells at once... in each hand.

If we're going to analyze spectators' cheers, I understand that the "best cheers" are when people use the perfect words at just the right time to make you feel re-energized. That is perfect world. But have you ever been a spectator? Man, it's a lot of work to vocally cheer non-stop for 2+ hours, especially when most runners just ignore you. I know because I've done it.  Honestly, it can be more exhausting that actually running the miles myself. So sometimes you use a bell, clapper and yes, a cowbell, to fill the gap of quiet until you can produce more saliva to form words.

I absolutely love spectators and any noise/energy that they can bring to the race course. There's pretty much nothing that irritates me... well, except when they crowd/block the course. But my motto is BRING THE THUNDER! In fact, I've been known to yell out "Make Some Noise" or "More Cowbell!" when running past silent crowds. I truly appreciate their presence and enjoy the energetic distraction.

Obviously, I am in the dark on this subject, because I had no idea runners felt any different.
What do you think - YEA or NAY to the cowbell at races?

P.S. - If NAY is your vote, you're gonna want to avoid the Mo' Cowbell Marathon (self explanatory, I believe...) and other races like Hartford (where they actually deliver cowbells to the residents on the course in hopes that they'll come outside and cheer).

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

My Birthday Run 3.9

Yesterday was my 39th birthday. This makes me slightly excited because I'm only one year away from the next age group! I'm not saying 40-44 is any easier, but I swear the best times at all my local races come from the 35-39 range.

I invited readers on Facebook to join me in a virtual birthday run... 3.9 miles of course. Thank you to those who dedicated your miles in my honor. As promised, I randomly drew five names to win a RUNwithJESS bracelet. Those lucky runners are... Gigi Becker, Celeste O. Hamilton, Joy Hale, Carie Austin and Christy S. Baldinger. Email or message me your shipping address. Thanks for playing along with me!

I can't remember a birthday that was quite as miserable weather as this year. Typically, I look forward to (and receive) and beautiful sunny fall day. Yesterday, however, it was dreary and rainy all day long. But there is simply no excuse for skipping my birthday run. It's become an annual tradition ever since I became a runner.

I awoke to two very excited little girls. My birthday ranks pretty high, right up there with Christmas morning. I received hugs, kisses, singing, flowers, and a bunch of handmade pictures (full of sparkly glitter as little girls do).  My husband always picks out a new running outfit for me on my birthday - even though I tell him not to. Somehow without me trying anything on, his choice is always perfect. This year was no exception...
The theme was obviously PURPLE.
How did he know my favorite color?!?

With rain and temps in the upper 30's, it was a chilly. I chose the long sleeve for warmth and the visor to shield my face from the rain. I headed out to my favorite place to run... Bradley Park.  The fall colors have started and I thought this might be the perfect place to take in nature's beauty (and perhaps those big trees could protect me a bit from the rain).

I love this park, but it's a challenging place to run. It's full of hills, but that is also part of the beauty. As I was climbing the second big hill, I started to wonder... No matter how easy I go, running hills two days after a hilly half marathon probably isn't the best idea.

But just then I looked up to see another runner coming down the hill towards me. Guess who it was... the guy who won Sunday's half marathon! He whipped out a 13.1 miles below a 5:30 pace just two days prior... and here he was running the same hills as I. Guess it wasn't that bad of an idea...

Climbing the age ladder can be depressing, but I run those feelings out of my head. My thirties have truly been the best years of my life, and I feel like every year gets better and better. I'm 100% healthier than I was in my 20's, which in turn, makes me one happy woman. I'm also extremely blessed in life with a wonderful husband and children. As long as nothing messes with my health or family, I welcome each new year with open arms!

Year #39... welcomed in with a 3.9 miles at an easy (hilly) 10:14 pace. In hindsight, it would have been neat if that pace was a 10:22 for my 10-22 birthday. Darn that ending sprint down the flat stretch!

Today, I'm heading out for 4.0 miles to honor Gigi's 40th birthday!

Do you celebrate your special day with a birthday run??

Monday, October 21, 2013

Race Recap: Susan G Komen Promise Run 13.1

This Sunday, I ran the Susan G. Komen Promise Run (half marathon) in Peoria, IL. Before I even get into the race details... let me cover the most important part of this run. It was a charity event, first and foremost...
A run against breast cancer.
A run to honor survivors.
A run to support the current fighters.
And a run to honor the memory of those passed.

In the months leading up to race day, I did my share of fundraising to support this inaugural race. Through personal donations and a variety of events, including the Virtual 50K Ride and Spin for the Cure, I raised $1,173.09. Thank you to everyone who made that possible. I mainly use this blog to connect and help motivate others with my running ramblings. However, my heart is always proud when I can also use it to do some good for a charity. So a big thank you.

Pink ribbon cookies
from my Grandma's recipe
On Friday, I put in a good hour at the local Komen office, stuffing race goodie bags. I also decided to make some cookies to hand out after the race. These cookies had special meaning - as they were cut from my Grandma Lillian's recipe. I named my first daughter after G'ma Lillian and she was my source of inspiration for this run, as she died when I was 3 yrs old from breast cancer.

On Saturday, I worked the Sole Sisters table (aka the Bling Booth) at packet pickup. The race bibs were a beautiful pink, so we offered rhinestones and all kinds of glittery stuff to decorate them even more. The ladies loved it and it was a busy busy table at times. I also made some "I Run For..." bibs that runners could pin to their back to honor someone during their run.
Adding BLING to their race bibs!

I started off race morning around 6am, dropping off a plethera of signs at Bradley Park, where fellow Sole Sisters would be hosting a Cheer Station.  From there, I made my way downtown for the early 7am start (just how I like it).  I met up with the running Sole Sisters outside near the start (although most people were huddled inside the warmth of the Civic Center). I'm a Wisconsin gal and built for this weather. I absolutely love the upper 30's-low 40's, which is exactly where it stayed the whole race.

And we're off!! Starting in downtown Peoria, we ran over the bridge into East Peoria for the first of three out and back's.

The highlight of the East Peoria stretch was definitely crossing the Bob Michel Bridge. It's always a pretty spot to run in this town, but today had a pretty sunrise. Unfortunately, the volunteers didn't show for the water stop along this first stretch, so the table sat unmanned in the middle of the street. Self serve I guess, but I think it pretty much went unused this early in the miles.

Carried my camera in the first part just to stop and get this shot on top of the bridge;
then I tossed the camera to the hubs and ran hands-free for a nice change.

I knew this course had some major hills in the first half, so I kept my pace comfortable. My mantra for the first half was STRONG BUT CONSERVATIVE. The first 2.5 miles included a climb up and down the bridge (twice)... and then we made our way through downtown Peoria.

downtown Peoria

It took another two miles to get to the top of Main Street hill. On each of the major hills (Main St being one of them), I set my sites on a point halfway up the hill, ran to it, took a walk break, and then continued my run to finish the hill. That was the plan and I pretty much stuck to it this whole race.
Mile 1 - 9:02
Mile 2 - 9:09
Mile 3 - 9:39
Mile 4 - 10:12

We then cruised a flat mile through Bradley University. By now, I noticed more cops than I've ever seen on a race course before. Several cops even had police dogs with them. For the number of runners in this race, the big police presence actually seemed a bit odd... but I guess we were safe.

By mile 5, the leader was already pushing up the big Farmington Road hill as I coasted down. Yup, he was nearly 3 miles ahead of me already! He finished in an unbelievable 1:11 for the half.

When we hit Lower Bradley Park, there were my girlfriends... the Sole Sisters who were not running. Oh my goodness, they were cheering so loud for all the runners that I heard them at the top of Farmington Rd hill! What a fun spot to run through, by far the most ENERGY on the course!

photos from my friend Colleen
Yup, I was indeed having fun on this run!
Next up was the big Park Road hill. This baby is just plain evil. I stuck to my 'hill plan' and got up it... whew! At the top, I nearly collided with another runner coming at me. For some reason, runners had to "swap sides" of the road for the relay exchange up ahead at Shea Stadium. Very odd and dangerous - especially if the race had been bigger. This needs correcting before next year.

I like running through the relay exchange zones. There are lots of spectators and runners waiting for their run partner. Plus there's a sense of pride when you bust through the exchange... "Not me, I'm running the whole damn thing!"

I knew this area well as I run often through the adjacent Parkside Cemetery. I was kinda bummed that the course didn't veer past Susan G. Komen's burial site. It would have been a nice touch to offer flowers or something to drop near the memorial.

By mile 7, I was all smiles, now cruising down the Park Road hill. Sole Sisters at the bottom and then one more big hill to climb. I got this!
Mile 5 - 9:20
Mile 6 - 9:43
Mile 7 - 9:25
Mile 8 - 10:04

By mile 9, I was back on Main Street when my friend Cassie veered off the sidewalk and appeared by my side. She was just 'out for a run' and chatted with me a bit. It was a great surprise and perfect timing during a quiet stretch of road. All I had on my mind was the big downhill coming up...

The downhill on Main Street wasn't nearly as much fun as I had hoped. By now, my quads were getting tired of all this elevation change. A steep downhill didn't help. But I knew the worst was behind me and that made me happy to continue.

At mile 9.5, we turned left to begin our final out/back towards Springdale Cemetery. I've run this route too many times to count, as it's the popular course of the Steamboat Classic. I saw my hubby and kids as we left downtown, and it gave me steam to push the last four miles.

The final out/back of the course was flat, but yet it seems deceivingly long. Miles 9-12 are always the toughest miles for me in a half. With the hills in my rearview mirror, I decided to drive forward. My goal was to make the last four miles faster than the first four. I plugged my earbud in and searched my ipod shuffle for some hard tempo songs.
Mile 9 - 9:36
Mile 10 - 9:19
Mile 11 - 9:28

I hit the turnaround and was hating the little incline up and around the Sonnemaker statue... but elated to be headed in the right direction of the finish line. As I passed friends on the out/back, I resorted to hand gestures for communication. I needed every last breathe to hold my pace in the low-9's. One by one, I picked off runners in front of me. (The end is always so more fun when you run the first half conservatively.)

With less than a mile to go, I found a worthy adversary... All I remember is a pretty ponytail and a white shirt. I struggled to pass her. I could hear her footsteps right on my tail. My only goal was to stay one step infront. I can't even describe how hard that was at this point of exhaustion. As we made the turn onto the final stretch, my legs just quit and she zoomed by. Ugh, I was so disappointed with myself. I tried to grab ahold and trail behind with her, but she was now out of reach.
Mile 12 - 9:20
Mile 13 - 9:28

I had no time goal on this race - but I'm always striving for a good run. As many races as I've run, I'm still playing around with strategy - how to pace myself through the miles. I like to finish strong with just enough gas in the tank. Today, I was pretty close to that. I didn't look at my watch all morning. So as I approached the finish line, I was literally shocked to see 2:04... With those big hills, how on earth did that happen?

One of the benefits of a small race... my hubby positioned himself right inside the finish line. 
I ran right into BIG HUGS from my LITTLE GIRLS. An Absolutely Perfect Finish!!

Official Time 2:04:38
average pace 9:31 min/mile

I am proud of this run. Not only did I help the fight against breast cancer, but I also proved a lot to myself. With the climbs involved, I wasn't expecting much of a performance... but a 2:04 is pretty GOOD for me right now. It's what I ran a month ago on the flat Fox Cities course. It gives me cause to evaluate my goal for the Marshall University Half in three weeks. I'm going to give myself a couple weeks of "real training" to try and pull off a sub-2 to end the year. There... I said it. Now I gotta do it.

  • This was the inaugural year for the Komen Promise Run & Relay in Peoria, and I have no doubt it will get bigger and better every year. I've worked with the folks at the Komen office and they are good people, dedicated to making this a long-standing event for Peoria.
  • I liked the course... more than I thought I would. Initially I was disappointed when they released the course (3 out and backs?), but it turned out to be a lot of FUN. I saw so many friends throughout the run. I loved all the cheering and jabbing back and forth as we passed each other. It made this the quickest (mentally) half marathon I've ever run. And when you're running, sometimes it's all about the mental games in your head.
  • I personally loved the New Balance sleeveless tops. I wish more races did tank tops since that's all I wear. Plus I love the fit of New Balance. Although, I did hear a lot of suggestions that long sleeve seemed more appropriate for the time of year... and they ran out of sizes.
  • There were no finisher's medals. There's been a finisher's medal (of some sort) at every half marathon I've run (22 before today). So it was odd to finish and not be handed anything but a bottle of water.  To put it mildly, there were some upset runners. For the price tag of this race, I think finisher's medals are a must-add in 2014 if they want the participation.
  • There was an adequate breakfast spread in the Civic Center afterward... muffins, doughnuts, bagels, fruit, juice and coffee. The exhibit hall was decorated nice with pink lights and pink flags. A complimentary photo booth was a fun touch on the post-race celebration.
  • Unfortunately, the awards ceremony didn't go quite as planned. First, it took forever for the awards to start (especially when you're sweaty and cold). Then once they started handing out medals, the results were wrong and winners mixed up. Technology... it happens but still frustrating. Official results and correct age group winners can be found here.
I have high hopes for this race in the future and hope my schedule allows a 2014 repeat. It's an important cause and we can't quit the fight.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Three Things Thursday

This week has seen a huge uproar over Maria Kang. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, catch up here.)  I first saw her fitspiration photo when it came out nearly a year ago. I read her blog and actually enjoy her honest writing. However, I will admit the caption on that particular photo-in-debate was a touch bold. I knew from writing a blog/page myself, that she would certainly get backlash. In general, folks are extremely sensitive these days. Proceed with caution. When you put yourself out there - in an attempt to inspire - there will always be those who try to tear you down. I've been there and it stinks. On one hand, I feel bad for Maria that her intent was misconstrued.

On the other hand, I think Maria could have made the same point with a different caption. I posted a similar image not so long ago - although I have no bodacious abs to showoff. I got zero negativity over the photo below, but I guess I'm not as intimidating as Maria either.  I believe my point is the same as Maria's though... don't let children be a crutch, your excuse. If you want it (whatever that may be - rockin' abs, a finish line, or good health), you must be adamant and put in the work. In the end, it is our choices; our actions that define us. Be happy and proud of the ones you make. If you're not satisfied, do something to make a change... but don't knock someone else's success.

Same message; less offensive - right?

I completed my Virtual #RideOutCancer 50k last week.  Finisher's medals and shirts are sold out - but you can still join in the fun cause! Virtual Ride details here. I've got a pile of prizes waiting to be mailed out at the end of the month...

This Sunday, I'm running in the inaugural Susan G. Komen Promise Run & Relay. Yup, that'll be half marathon #4 in a month's time. I'm ready for a break, but this one is important to me.

My town - Peoria, Illinois - is the hometown of the Komen family. It was here that a young women named Susan aka "Suzy" reigned as homecoming queen and then years later died from breast cancer in 1980. Her surviving sister, Nancy Brinker, started the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in her honor to bring more awareness and help women become educated about the disease.

Just three years before Suzy Komen passed, my grandmother Lillian lost her battle to breast cancer.  Decades later, her daughter (my aunt) also fought the ugly cancer - but won. While there is much debate on how much breast cancer is genetic, it still scares the hell out of me - for both myself and my daughters. Our best defense is to stay current on checkups and be activeStudies have found that women who exercised vigorously and often were only half as likely to get breast cancer. Exercise can also help women with breast cancer better tolerate the side effects of treatment and recover faster after surgery. It also has a better impact on survival. All perfect reasons to keep kickin' it on the road and in the gym!

If you feel a desire to support me in my run against breast cancer, tax-deductible donations may be made here. Mucho gracias!

• Weigh-in... how do you feel about Maria Kang's fitspiration photo? Did it offend or inspire you?

• Have you finished your miles in the saddle to #RideOutCancer? 

• Anyone in your family affected by breast cancer? Who do you ride/run for?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Race Recap: UHC Newport Half Marathon

On Sunday, I completed my second doubleheader (two half marathons in two days) at the UHC Newport Half Marathon. To be completely honest, I was rather dreading the 13.1 mile run on day two. Even though I went an easy pace the day before, the Hartford hills certainly had my quads talking. I came East completely prepared to baby my feet between races - icing, rolling, massage - to ease my plantar fasciitis. Oddly enough, my feet were 100% fine, but those power muscles in my thighs had second thoughts about this whole "double" race thing.

We rolled into Newport, RI on Saturday afternoon and went straight to the packet pickup on Easton's Beach (also the start/finish line). It was nothing fancy, just a big white tent by the beach. The line to get in was really long, but moved quickly. We chatted away with local guy who had run this race often. He told me there was one hill at the start and the rest was pretty flat, a couple "little bumps" he said. I've come to learn... never trust a local's description of the elevation.

On race morning, I met up with Kim at her hotel this time. The prior day's failure in Hartford to find each other taught us a lesson. Both our hubbies came along as our personal cheerleaders, photographers and chauffeurs. Nothing makes a race easier than having support staff at your beck 'n call. It was a chilly morning, so we drove around a bit, waiting until the last moment to jump out of the car. Kim and I hit the portapotties quickly enough and then jumped into the corrals. Perfect timing... or not. The race was delayed about 15 minutes waiting for shuttles to arrive. At least I was warm, huddled in the mass of runners. One benefit of being short is that I was easily protected from the cold wind.

The first mile was a wakeup call to my legs. Here we go again! As I mentioned, my quads were not happy about this. We had a big incline to climb from the very start. I took it slow, chatting with Kim the whole time. "Talking pace" is good. My goal today was simply to finish, and again I vowed not to look at my watch the entire run. That seemed to work well for me in Hartford. While not keen on the aspect of actually running, I was looking forward to the actual course. Everything I've heard about this race praised the scenic beauty of the water-lined course. So I jogged along with my camera in hand, ready to capture it all.
mile 2.5
Shortly after mile 2, we passed by a harbor area that gave a glimpse of the amazing Pell Bridge (far off in the distance). As soon as we turned away from the water, there was another little hill to climb. Honestly, I'm really not a hill-baby. The inclines were short and nothing really severe, but definitely notable on tired legs. It's not Illinois, that is for shizzle.

Mile 1 - 10:15
Mile 2 - 9:50

mile 4
At mile 4, we circled through another marina. Another set of bathrooms and a water stop. A couple notes that I've never seen in a race before (and I've run a few). First, I couldn't believe how many people were in the bathroom lines so early in the race. Maybe they were on the last shuttles? But most of all, the bathroom lines were forming out into the course, at one point blocking half the road. Just weird. Common sense peeps...
Mile 3 - 10:10
Mile 4 - 10:06

mile 5
As soon as we came out of that marina, we hit some pretty countryside for the next mile... lots of trees and pretty houses. I fell in love with the stone walls that seemed to be border property lines. Kim and I chatted away for most of the early miles. We agreed early that each should "move on" should they feel the energy. I love running with someone who understands that. Today was not a day I was going to push to keep up, but I also didn't want to hold her back. Around mile 5, Kim slowly moved ahead of me. I saw her little blonde ponytail and white hat for most of the run - just ahead.
Mile 5 - 10:02

mile 6

Ever so quickly, we hit the shoreline. The water views were amazing! The wind picked up on the coast, but I didn't care. I absolutely love running alongside water. I was "all in" for this race as soon as I saw the course map. I took so many photos along this stretch - never stopping once. I feared that if I took a walk break, my legs may never start again.
Mile 6 - 10:00
Mile 7 - 10:10

mile 7
When we weren't right along of the water, we ran amongst the famed Newport Mansions, castle-like houses perched atop amazing estates. Again... simply amazing views! 
Mile 8 - 10:06
Mile 9 - 10:00

mile 8

I remember a nice sized climb at mile 9, which coincidentally had a large gathering of spectators. Slowly, we turned inward on the island, entering the Historic Bellevue Avenue District. The area featured many more extravagant homes, dating back to the 19th Century. I didn't snap enough pictures thru here, as I was getting tired and really just wanted to be done.

Right before the mile 10 marker, I stopped to walk, take the remainder of my SportBeans with water, and put my earbud in. For the last three miles, I used music to propel me forward. My quads were really starting to hurt. As I cursed each little incline, I started to alter my stride - heel striking in an effort to use my hamstrings more than my quads. (The outcome of an altered stride is never good. I was sore in really weird places the next day.)
Mile 10 - 10:41
mile 10
The remainder of this run was just looking for the finish line. There was a joyous downhill in that final mile. Remember that big hill we climbed at the start... I opened my stride and tried to take it quick. My quads were in no shape to take any downhill pounding. Surely, it would have been less painful to just tuck and roll down that hill?! Eventually, the elevation evened out and we had a long straightaway to come into the finish. We cut onto the boardwalk area, that was heavily populated with spectators and race finishers. I wish I could say they were cheering, but not. Instead, it was a bit difficult to navigate in that last 1/4 mile. People kept walking in front of the runners and the opening to run seemed to get smaller and smaller.
Mile 11 - 10:08
Mile 12 - 10:20
Mile 13 - 9:14

Best cheerleader ever... he caught me 4 times on the course!
State #18 Rhode Island
Official Chip Time 2:12:31
average pace 10:06 min/mile
Overall #1782 out of 2867
Female #945 out of 1752
Div F30-39  #323 out of 554

Kim and I on Easton's Beach, the finish line behind us.

Last note on Newport - This was a great race and superb course. I loved it and would have loved it even more as a stand-alone race. This CT/RI double was challenging for me right now, as my training was weak this summer. It flat out hurt to bring it across that last finish line, but it also served as a kick in the butt for me. I have a new schedule of training (for Shamrock Marathon) approaching and I need to take it a bit more seriously - if I want it to feel any better at the finish.
Did I mention my quads were TORE UP after this double?!?!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Race Recap: ING Hartford Half Marathon

This weekend was the long awaited New England Double... 2 half marathons in 2 states in 2 days. The idea for this challenging weekend arose nearly a year ago from Kim. Seriously, I booked our flights last December!
Saturday - ING Hartford Half Marathon, Connecticut
Sunday - UHC Newport Half Marathon, Rhode Island

Unfortunately, I wasn't as well trained for this double as I was for the Southern Double (Alabama/Georgia) last spring. I knew I had to run smart in order to survive both races. I was told ahead of time that both courses were "rolling", which to this flatland Illinois gal, that means hills. I decided to run my typical comfort pace of 10 min/miles, hoping to bring home both 13.1's in under 2:15. I wanted to run as consistent as possible, take in the scenery of new states and not die just enjoy my runs.

Hubby and I flew into Hartford on Friday evening and headed straight to the packet pickup at the XL Center. We arrived right around 7pm, when evidently a hockey game was also starting - so parking was a slow congested expensive P.I.T.A. Once we got into the expo hall, we grabbed our bibs and quickly veered thru the vendors - only to come upon the shirt nightmare happening at the back of the building. They were OUT of shirts... well everything except women's XS and S. There were a ton of pissed runners and volunteers doing their best to pacify. After standing in a long line, I was given the option to wait for the 3-mth reorder (and it would be mailed to me) or accept one of their black 20th anniversary shirts... which I had been oogling online anyway. Easy decision - and honestly, I think I won in that disastrophe.
ING Hartford swag
Next we went in seek of our hotel (again reserved back in January) in East Hartford and couldn't find it. After a near stroke, I discovered they simply changed their name. Our reservation was still there. Whew! Then we went down to the hotel bar for a drink and a small bite to eat... the unfolding episode there deserves a reality show in itself; but I won't even get into it. Needless to say, I went to bed shaking my head wondering what more this trip could possibly have in store.

Saturday morning was absolutely gorgeous outside - sunny 50's. Chilly at first, but ideal running weather. We had no idea where we were driving and yet somehow stumbled upon a parking spot right next to the start line... seriously, less than a block away. Score!

We arrived in plenty of time, so hubs and I huddled in the car to keep warm. After a quick line for the portapotties, a walk back to the car to ditch the jacket, I tried to find Kim by the starting line. Oh-wait, there are two different starting lines! Thank goodness I caught on because I was hanging out by the 5K start! Geesh! By time I walked a block over to the marathon starting line, it was jam packed. I squeezed my way into the corrals just in time for the singing of the National Anthem and an ode to Boston "Sweet Caroline". The whole crowd singing this song was a really neat moment.

Now THIS was my correct starting line!
As I made my way under the starting line banner, I jumped to slap the banner overhead. And we were off! The roadway was wide and packed. I was in no hurry, so I just ran with the flow of the pack. It seemed slow but I didn't care today. I vowed not to look at my watch during the entire race and just run on feel... never let myself get into deep breathing. Keep it steady and even...
Mile 1 - 9:47
Mile 2 - 9:26
Mile 3 - 9:53
Mile 4 - 9:52

The sun was wicked bright and I warmed up quickly once we started running.
There were uphills. There were downhills. I rolled with the punches and took it one mile at a time, keeping my heart rate steady and pace under control. I looked around a lot to take in the scenery and buildings... The backhalf of the course was the prettiest, but the early miles did feature a row of firemen. Hello fellas... 
Mile 5 - 10:13
Mile 6 - 10:01
Mile 7 - 10:02
Mile 8 - 10:14
Such pretty fall colors...
By mile 8, we ran into St. Joseph's College. I figured we were close to a student population since there were coeds sitting on couches in their front lawns. The sight of them made me giggle and I wanted to be 20 all over again. In mile 10, we entered Elizabeth Park and zig-zagged thru the pretty wooded setting. I would have liked it more... but the steady elevation changes was making my quads unhappy.
Mile 9 - 10:19
Mile 10 - 10:11
Mile 11 - 9:58
Running thru Elizabeth Park
When we hit the 11th mile marker, I remember thinking, "I've never felt this good before at 11." Typically I'm exhausted and starting the final countdown by 9 or 10, but today I was in a comfortable place. It felt good to run 13.1 this way and not be pushing against the clock. Of course, then I decided to step it up for the end... you know, since I was feeling so good and all.
Mile 12 - 9:49
Mile 13 - 9:31

The ending stretch was really quite nice... except for the gal being loaded onto a stretcher. The only best part of these larger races is the huge amount of spectators at the finish and the energy you can feed off.  I had juice left in my legs so it was just plain FUN to pass so many people in that final stretch. Running under and through the Soliders & Sailors Memorial Arch was a pretty darn amazing finish.

I guzzled water from the row of water bubblers (green thumbs-up!) and made my way thru the chute to receive my finisher's medal, a cool souvenir water bottle and bag of snacks. (There was also a food tent a.k.a. the 27th mile party, but we hurried back to our hotel in order to snag an ice bath & shower before hotel checkout.)

State #17 Connecticut
Official Chip Time 2:11:37
average pace 10:03 min/mile
Overall  #3849 out of 6562
Female  #1888 out of 3898
Div F35-39  #312 out of 582

I finally found Kim at the finish, hanging with my hubby.
The Connecticut State Capitol in the background.

Hartford gets a THUMBS-UP from me.
Part 1 of the New England Double is done!
On to Newport...