Sunday, October 14, 2018

MO' Cowbell Half Marathon Recap

The MO' Cowbell Half Marathon last weekend was my 51st half marathon and the 3rd time I have "run" the half marathon in St. Charles, MO.  My 2013 time would have been the best time on this course and in 2017 and 2018, I opted to mostly walk the course.  In 2017, I took a lot of pictures on the course because it was a beautiful and sunny day.  So be sure to check out the 2017 race recap for course pictures. The 2018 race was hot and steamy and started in foggy conditions, so I didn't take any pictures on the course.

What I did take photos of was the expo, which is always held the Friday and Saturday prior to race day at St. Charles Community College.  Both days offered FREE exercise classes, packet pick-up, and lots of vendors.  Even if you aren't running the race, the vendors and FREE classes would be worth your while.

Free cowbells!!!
Bumper stickers for all distances

I worked at the expo on Saturday from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. at the shirt pick-up area.  It was super busy, but I was pretty much in motion the entire time.  Next year I will have to remember to wear a pedometer because I swore I got in at least 10,000 steps during my shift.  

We received a lot of positive comments on the jackets this year, even though race day was too hot to wear them.  This jacket is perfect for fall and winter runs!

The drawstring bags also come in handy year-round!

On race day, I did get a few early morning photos since I arrived so early.  There is plenty of parking all around Frontier Park and downtown, but you really do have to heed the race director's warning and arrive by 6:00 a.m. or you could get stuck in traffic searching for a parking spot, leaving little time to relax and warm up prior to start time.  You also have to allow enough time to get parked so that you can be at the start line by 7:20 a.m. with your cowbell for Don't Fear the Reaper!!!  Then at 7:30 a.m. the marathon, half marathon, and half marathon relay begin with the 5k following at 8 a.m.

Start/Finish line set up

PR Bell!!!
And the medal!

No matter what the weather brings, I always enjoy this race.  The course takes you through some scenic areas of St. Charles County, the community support is awesome, great pre-race communication, training runs during the summer, you get to shake your cowbell to Don't Fear the Reaper, nice medals for all distances, you have the opportunity to pose for photos with Chuck - the mascot - who has 6-pack abs instead of udders, and the swag is always top-notch.  The 2019 date is already set for Sunday, October 6th so be sure to pen it in!!! 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Looking back on 50 half marathons

You may recall from my very first blog posts, that I started running back in 2009 while living in DC.  My first running shoes were purchased from Pacers, which is a local running store that also manages many of the races in the DC area.  While purchasing those shoes, I remember seeing signs for the Parkway Classic race, which starts at the Mount Vernon Estate (George Washington's home) and ends in a park along the Potomac River in Old Town Alexandria.  It sounded like an exciting and scenic race, so I registered. I finished the race with an average 10:36 per mile pace, so I was ecstatic!!! I must have been bitten by the racing bug as soon as I crossed the finish line that day, because I remember asking myself when my next race would be.  It turned out that my next race and my very first half marathon would be that fall at the Baltimore Running Festival.

It seems like so long ago now, but I remember my mom flying out from Illinois to support me even though she had just met me for a girls weekend in Baltimore the month prior.  I remember that my only goal was to finish before the sag wagon came through.  The race itself was pretty much a blur now, but I do remember celebrating my first half marathon with carrot cake from Lexington Market.

This was the beginning of my half marathon addiction

Waiting, waiting....

I used this same fuel belt until it finally broke in early 2018!

Fast forward to 2013, and I had moved to St. Louis.  I started this blog 19 half marathons in because I was starting to forget which year I had run a particular race and the details were all starting to blur together.  This blog was really created as a way for me to remember the details of each race from that point forward.  My mother was my only reader for the longest time and my early reviews were pretty short and had no real format until I started networking with other bloggers. I took pieces of what I liked in their blog posts and avoided incorporating anything that just didn't fit my own blog.  I also found the BibRave website, which was designed to be like Yelp for race reviews.  As I read race reviews from other runners, I learned more about what made a race review helpful for other runners and then I started replicating that.

As my blog grew, I would email local races to see if I could help promote their race or write a race recap in exchange for a free entry.  To my surprise, it worked a few times! That process is how I came to be a MO' Bassador for the MO' Cowbell races in St. Charles, MO.  They were seeking runners to help promote their race, so I applied and was one of their original MO' Bassadors.  As more MO' Bassadors have been added over the years, I have learned more about races than I ever knew before.  Some of us had run Disney races, some were trying to run a half or full marathon (sometimes both) in every state, some schedule back-to-back races, some run for swag, some run for medals, some run as an excuse to travel.  Their race experiences provided a wealth of information and also fueled my desire to continue running half marathons.  And that's exactly what I did - I kept running races.  In April I finished my 50th half marathon in Nashville, Tennessee and in October, my 51st half marathon will be the MO' Cowbell Half Marathon.

Even after 50 half marathons I am still superstitious and NEVER wear my race shirt on race day.  I force myself to earn it first.  I keep things the same as much as possible race-to-race, which is why I kept using the same fuel belt for 9 years until it finally broke and the reason why I have a gps watch that is absolutely massive on my wrist.  But if it ain't broke, don't fix it!  I still get nervous, especially at large half marathons.  Every race day I hope that my training was enough and typically wish that I would have done just a little more.  Then as soon as I cross the finish line, I am already thinking about my next race.

But through plenty of injuries, some health issues, major fluctuations in weight, and paces that vary widely, I still love the thrill of completing a half marathon.  My motto for this blog was that if I can do it, you can too and I still find that to be true.  I am pretty sure that I am the slowest MO' Bassador by far and I could let that discourage me, but I still get out there and finish a race regardless of my pace.  So get out there and try a race in your area!  You never know where it may lead you (literally - I never look at the course before a race) and it may just start an addiction for you too.....

Half Marathons by Year:

Baltimore Half Marathon

National Half Marathon (now a Rock 'n' Roll race)
Frederick Half Marathon
Pacers Running Festival Half Marathon (defunct)
Heartland Half Marathon (defunct)
Baltimore Half Marathon
Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio Half Marathon

Walt Disney World Half Marathon (part of the Goofy Challenge)
Illinois Half Marathon
500 Festival Mini Marathon
Rock 'n' Roll St. Louis
U.S. Air Force Half Marathon

Disney Princess Half Marathon
Rock 'n' Roll USA Half Marathon
Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon
Rock 'n' Roll St. Louis Half Marathon
Monumental Half Marathon

Alton Half Marathon
GO! St. Louis Half Marathon
Roots, Blues, and BBQ Half Marathon
MO' Cowbell Half Marathon
GO! St. Louis Halloween Half Marathon
Rock 'n' Roll St. Louis Half Marathon
Walt Disney World Wine and Dine Half Marathon

Disney World Half Marathon (Dopey Challenge)
Innsbrook Adventure Max Half Marathon (defunct)
Southern Illinois Spring Classic Half Marathon
GO! St. Louis Half Marathon
Rock the Parkway Half Marathon
500 Festival Mini Marathon
YMCA Schoolhouse Rockin' Half Marathon
River Town Run Half Marathon
Disneyland Half Marathon (Dumbo Double Dare)
Roots, Blues, and BBQ Half Marathon
St. Louis Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon
Monumental Half Marathon
Litchfield Route 66 Half Marathon (defunct)

GO! St. Louis Half Marathon
St. Louis Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon

Illinois Half Marathon

Illinois Half Marathon
500 Festival Mini Marathon (part of the Mega Mini Challenge)
Race 13.1 Half Marathon
Vine to Wine Half Marathon
MO' Cowbell Half Marathon
Monumental Half Marathon

Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Half Marathon
Rock 'n' Roll DC Half Marathon
GO! St. Louis Half Marathon
Rock 'n' Roll Nashville

Or click here for half marathons by location.

Stay tuned for my MO' Cowbell Half Marathon race recap in October!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Volunteering at Race 13.1 - St. Louis

I first volunteered for Race 13.1 in 2016 as a course marshal.  In 2017, I was a race sweeper for the half marathon with a fast runner friend of mine.  In 2018, there was supposed to be four of us sweeping until I got injured the Thursday before race day.

Only me!  It was an accident waiting to happen really. 

The couple weeks prior to the race, I had noticed that my legs were just extra tight every time I would stretch after an Orangetheory class.  Every time I noticed the tightness, I would think about taking a yoga class or doing some extra stretching during the week, but neither of those thoughts ever became a reality.  So when I tripped on my sandal going up the stairs at work, I immediately felt a pull in my left calf.  The result was a pretty significant limp which meant NO Race 13.1, not even the 5k distance they offered.

I was completely bummed about not being able to participate in the race and I also mad at myself for not following through on my initial thoughts about extra stretching.  I could have let myself be depressed about it and avoiding the race entirely, but I decided to volunteer on race day instead.  I still wanted to be part of the race day action and I also wanted to see my friends take off from the start line, so volunteering at race day packet pick-up allowed me to accomplish both of those things PLUS get a free t-shirt!  I guess that's what you call making lemonade out of lemons.

Back when I signed up for the race, I also signed up for the Saturday packet pick-up volunteer shift.  When I got injured last week, I signed up for the exact same duties on race day too.  Both packet pick-up shifts went really well.  Race 13.1 is very good at communicating with racers leading up to race day.  Most participants had the email with their bib number pulled up and ready to go but if they didn't, it only took a matter of seconds to look them up.  It was a very quick and easy process from the volunteer perspective and the participants seemed pleased with the quick in-and-out for packet pick-up.  On race day, the line was a bit longer at times but the process still ran incredibly smoothly.  My volunteer shift ended at 7:00 a.m. but as I walked back to my car, I passed the finish line and noticed that they needed more volunteers.  At that point, I decided to stay and help pass out medals.  It was hot and the finish line was completely in the sun, but the DJ played amazing tunes (Ice Ice Baby and Bye Bye Bye had me dancing and singing) and the time just seemed to fly by.  Before I knew it, my sweeper friends crossed the finish line and the race was over!

I really enjoy volunteering at races because it not only gives you a behind-the-scenes perspective, but it also makes you appreciate all of the work and planning that goes into a race of any distance.  It doesn't matter if it is a company that has races all over the country or a local run raising funds for a charity.  You are guaranteed to meet some amazing people and learn something new during your volunteer experience.  So go volunteer at a race near you!!!!

Race day packet pick-up before the rush
5k runners waiting to start

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Looking at 2019 races already? Yeah, me too!

So far in 2018 I was able to run (more like walk) half marathons in two new states.  This is major progress for me since I have not run a race in a new state since the Dumbo Double Dare at Disneyland back in 2014.  The ease of finding a half marathon within driving distance of St. Louis has just out-weighed the desire to conquer a new state for several years now.  And so my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states may literally take me 50 years at this pace.

On the drive down to Nashville last month, I began to think about all of the other states adjacent to Missouri that I had yet to run in.  Fun Fact: Did you know that Missouri and Tennessee both share borders with eight different states and no other state in the U.S. touches more than eight states?  I have only run in two out of eight of Missouri's bordering states.  That's kind of pathetic considering there are races in every one of those states that are easily drive-able for a nice weekend runcation.

Question: But when you aren't familiar with those states or their half marathons, where do you turn when trying to decide which races to run?

Answer: BibRave!!!!
If you haven't heard of BibRave, it is like a Yelp or Google review for races of all distances and terrains.  I created an account back in 2014 when there weren't many races added yet.  Now races like Rock 'n' Roll Nashville, have 20-something reviews that have been added throughout the years.  As races are constantly being added, renamed or having their courses changed, BibRave continues to need runners like you to give honest post-race reviews to help next year's runners.

We are purchasing a product when we sign up for a race and we have expectations when we make that purchase.  Sometimes expectations aren't met and then other times reality exceeds any expectations we had.  Some people run for medals or shirts so they better be great quality when the entry fee is high, while others want a scenic course or amazing post-race food.

In any case, runners like you help us find out what the race was really like, not just what the race director is trying to sell us.  Runners like you help make the BibRave website so great!  So go on.....create your profile and start leaving your race reviews!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

An Amazing Recovery System

Because my recovery plan has now worked for the 2nd time, I decided that I just had to share it with you!

A little background.  Due to my recent obsession with Orangetheory classes, I have been running more frequently and consistently during the week but because I love the classes so much, I end up  taking classes on the weekends rather than fitting in a long run.  As a result, I have been under-prepared for the half marathons I have run this spring and my body makes sure to tell me that from about mile nine onward.

We walked most of the Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Half Marathon due to my bronchitis, but I could still feel blisters starting to form and my feet were just unhappy the latter part of the race and also post-race up until I had completed my post-race recovery appointment.  After the appointment, I was good to go with no pain and I never actually developed any blisters.

Next up was the Rock 'n' Roll DC Half Marathon and although this same recovery activity was in my original itinerary, I decided not to make an appointment thinking I was better trained this time and didn't need it.  I was wrong and as a result, I was pretty sore for the rest of my annual trip to DC.  I used a lot of Tiger Balm that week.

In April, I ran the GO! St. Louis Half Marathon here in St. Louis and although my recover activity is also available here, I unwisely chose NOT to schedule an appointment.  Bad choice!  Again, I was sore for several days post-race.  Even getting out of my chair at work was painful and it took me several days to get back to normal and back into an Orangetheory class.

Last weekend was the Rock 'n' Roll Nashville Half Marathon and I wanted the post-race portion of my weekend trip to be as pain-free as my pre-race portion.  I also did not want to be in pain for the 5-hour drive back to St. Louis, so I wisely chose to schedule the recovery activity and luckily there was a location that offered these services just down the street from our hotel.

What am I talking about?  My half marathon recovery activity is a combination of a three-minute whole body cryotherapy session and a 30-minute NormaTec session.  The order does not seem to be relevant since I did the NormaTec session first in Arizona and then last in Nashville, but the amazing result was the same.  No post-race pain whatsoever!

I had done cryotherapy sessions in St. Louis at both Berman Chiropractic and Wellness and Celsius Cryotherapy, both through Groupon packages.  Celsius also offers NormaTec sessions and although I had read a lot about the product and the benefits, I did not actually try it until I visited Chillfit Cryo in Arizona. 

The best way I can explain cryotherapy is to describe it as a quicker and less painful and less annoying post-run ice bath.  I also notice that I sleep very well the night after I have had a cryotherapy session, which is listed as one of the many benefits below. 

Cryotherapy booth in Nashville

The cryotherapy booths have looked different everywhere I've gone.  Some have risers built into the booth while others add or remove pads depending on your height.  Some staff have you turn every so often, while others just have you stand in place the entire three minutes.  Pricing also varies by location, but you typically get the best deal as a first time customer or via a Groupon package.

The NormaTec system is a compression system designed to enhance blood flow and speed up the recovery time.  I have only used the system for legs, but they also have attachments for hips and upper body.

The NormaTec boots have been the same at both locations, but in Arizona I was laying down on a stretching table and in Nashville they had recliners.  Both locations had the 15 minute or 30 minute option, but I went with 30-minute sessions both times. 

NormaTec in Nashville

NormaTec in Arizona

The woman working at Cool Spot Cryotherapy last weekend told us that several of the Tennessee Titans players come to their location for cryotherapy because the team does not have their own booths.  While we there, a group of lacrosse players came in to use the NormaTec and a couple Canadians in town for the Predators - Jets playoff games did both cryotherapy and NormaTec sessions. It was a very busy place during the hour we were there!

Although I walked a lot of last weekend's half marathon, I could feel blisters starting to form towards the end of the race which led to some limping.  I especially felt like I was limping on the walk between the finish line and my car.  I was hurting!  But after the cryotherapy and NormaTec session at Cool Spot, I felt like I hadn't even run a race (but still had the medal to prove it) and I felt great!  Most major cities now have at least one cryotherapy business and some even have mobile trailers that they take to races and triathlons for both pre and post-race recovery. A system similar to NormaTec had a booth at the expo in Nashville, and you often find them at universities and physical therapy centers.  The NormaTec website lists locations and events throughout the country where you can try their products, but I have had better luck just Googling it or checking to see if the cryotherapy business also offers NormaTec sessions since they seem to go hand-in-hand.  For both sessions in Nashville, I paid $55 and it was worth EVERY penny.  Give cryotherapy and NormaTec a try and see what you think!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Rock 'n' Roll Nashville - The Race

I picked an amazing race for my 50th half marathon.  I wasn't nearly as well-trained as I wanted to be, but the gracious course time limits left me at ease and I ended up walking the latter half not only because my feet were killing me, but also because the weather was perfect and I was just enjoying being on the course and talking to other runners. This race had so many runners that you NEVER feel alone and the community support was present throughout the course.

The Expo:
The expo was held at the Nashville Music City Center in downtown Nashville.  The race information mentioned that there was parking available for $15 at the Center but due to traffic congestion downtown, we just parked in the first available lot we could find.  We ended up paying $11 for four hours and were right across the street from the expo.

The Nashville Music City Center is probably the most beautiful building I have attended an expo in.  Wow, was it beautiful both inside and out!  The hallways were wide and the exterior windows offered amazing views of Nashville.

Inside the exhibit hall, there was more than ample space for bib and shirt pick-up, merchandise, and vendor booths.  Neither Rock 'n' Roll Arizona nor Rock 'n' Roll DC had this much space for runners and their supporters to move through the expo.

Lots of space!!!

Marathon, half marathon, and 5k banners throughout the merchandise area listed the names of the participants.

The merchandise check-out area also took no time at all, despite the long line and they had tons of  great merchandise to choose from!

Shirts and more shirts
Great volunteers and staff

Why you should run this race:
  • Distances include the marathon, half marathon, 5k, and Kids Rock race.
  • Medals and shirts for all distances.
  • Emergency contact information pre-printed on the back of your bib.
  • Start line in downtown Nashville and the full and half marathon course immediately takes you down Broadway by all of the hip and trendy bars, then circles back by the Country Music Hall of Fame, down Music Row, by Belmont University, through The Gulch neighborhood, around Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, then across the bridge to the finish outside Nissan Stadium.

Party at Mile 5

You are never alone on this course!

Entering The Gulch

Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum
Approaching the finish
Finish Line Festival 

  • Nashville First Baptist Church opens their doors and bathrooms to runners on race day AND they offer free coffee and a stretching area!

Stretching area

Free coffee!!!

Encouragement was even found in the restroom stalls!
  • Plenty of porta potties on the course. 
  • Plenty of water and Gatorade stops along the course. 
  • Gracious course time limits. 
  • The best community support of any half marathon I have run.  Wow, does this city get involved on race day!  The community made this race so much fun.
  • Post-race snacks included bottled water, Gatorade, chocolate milk, fruit cups, bananas, cookies, pretzels, muffins, bagels, and granola bars.
  • And finally, the real reason I run.....the medal!

Suggestions for future runners of this race:
  • Train for rolling hills.  Seriously!  This course was hilly.
  • Stay downtown and walk to the start and from the finish if at all possible and especially if you are not local.  I got lost twice and then thought I had found a way around the road closures only to have to turn around multiple times before finally making it to my lot.  Leaving the parking lot after the race was also very time consuming, so just stay downtown and walk it!
  • Whether you walk or drive, train to walk at least a mile after you cross the finish line.  
  • This race gets VERY expensive if you wait too long to register.  If you register now for the 2019 race, you will get the best deal. 
  • You will be overwhelmed by restaurant options in Nashville.  I started following Nashville Eats on Instagram 6 months prior to race day, just to help me see what was available and popular in the area. 
Leaving Nashville on Sunday was sad, but we were already discussing reasons why we should come back to Nashville and when we should run this race again.  So one thing is certain - I will be back Nashville!!!