Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Vine to Wine Half Marathon Recap

Last weekend I ran my 44th half marathon, the Vine to Wine Half Marathon in Greenville, Illinois. This was the 2nd year for the race and I was excited to check it out since I was not able to run it last year.

Why you should run this race:
  • Greenville, IL is off of Interstate 70.  It took me just over an hour to drive there from Creve Coeur, MO so it is very easy location to drive to for a day.  The town is quaint and scenic and contains quite a few restaurants for carb loading the night before or celebrating post-race.
  • Packet pick-up was available the night before and on race day.
  • Great pre-race communication and price increase reminders.
  • Ample parking adjacent to the start/finish line.  I was in my car watching Hurricane Irma updates until 10 minutes before the race.  Then I just walked right up to the start line.  So easy!
  • Plenty of porta potties at the start/finish.
  • Packet pick-up was quick and easy.
  • Long sleeve tech shirts in unisex sizing!
  • Great finisher medals.

  • Water stops every mile.
  • Amazing volunteers!!!!!
  • Post race wine and entertainment.
  • Post race snacks like granola bars, fruit, Gatorade, and bottled water.
  • Additional on-site food for purchase.
  • Post-race survey.
  • Friendly runners!!!  Numerous times I heard "good morning" or "keep it up" or "good job."  Numerous times as in too many to count.  It actually caught me off guard because in my experience, that atmosphere isn't typical outside of Disney races
  • Nice country scenery along the course.  I saw a lot of wooly worms on the road, which I never see in the city.  My grandma, a former farmer, says that their frequency and color show you what kind of winter to look forward to.  I would say 80% of them were black or brown....whatever that means.

Suggested improvements for next year:
Really the only suggestions I had are for better signage for both the winery and race day parking.
  • I drove right past the winery by following Google maps.  I turned around in a subdivision and as I was exiting, I saw three other cars turning around too.  The sign for the winery itself is very small and when you are unfamiliar with a place, it is very easy to miss.  I might also be slightly biased because I am used to the wineries in St. Charles County which have large signs at the winery itself and when you are within a mile or two of the entrance. 
  • I heeded the warning and came early to race day packet pick-up, but there were no signs about where to park.  I saw freshly mowed fields, but I followed the other cars to the main building before someone ran out to tell us to park at the far side of the field.  A few signs would really make a difference for us newbies. 

My experience at the race:
Although I have been running this summer, I haven't been running longer distances consistently.  I have also primarily been running on treadmills, indoor tracks, and flat trails.  Having grown up two counties east of Greenville, I should have realized that "rolling hills" in the country is very different from rolling hills in St. Louis.  It seemed like the steeper hills were towards the end of the race and I specifically remember hills around mile 10 and one around mile 11 that were so steep that even walking was difficult.

Road conditions also vary a lot more on country roads than in the city, so my ankles were sore as if I had run a trail race.  Even though it took me over three hours to finish, the time actually flew by and the scenery and volunteers along the course kept me engaged.  For those looking for a fun 5k or half marathon, I would recommend adding this race to your 2018 schedule.

Did you run this race too?  Be sure to add your review to Bib Rave to help other runners decide which races to run.  

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

#WellnessWednesday - Cat Yoga

We had our wedding reception in my hometown in Central Illinois on June 3.  Knowing that weekend would be stressful, I took the following Monday off of work and signed up for a cat yoga class at Five Acres Animal Shelter in St. Charles, MO at 12:30 p.m.

This was the first time I had ever been to Five Acres Animal Shelter, and I was very impressed with their campus.  Cat yoga is scheduled only on Mondays because Five Acres is closed to the public that day.

The class was held in a building that only houses cats.  There were signs on the other buildings to guide you there.  

I arrived shortly after Noon so that I would get a good spot and have time to play with the cats before class.  Once you entered the building, you checked in and you left your donation (minimum $12 required donation).  You enter into a large open room with cat towers and cat condos around the perimeter.  There were several litter boxes in the room, but you could not smell them at all!  There were also cat shelves mounted at varying heights on the walls.

Once I set up my mat, I continued down the hallway to the various cat rooms.  Some rooms were open to allow the cats to roam throughout the building, while others were kept closed.  All of the doors had information about the residents of that room written on and mounted to the glass.

At the end of the hallway was a door that led to a "catio," which is a screened in porch just for the cats.  

After making my way through all of the rooms, it was time to start the yoga class.  The room was full of other participants by that point, but I never felt crowded.  There were two cats that pretty much slept on their cat towers the entire time while two others roamed during class.  Staff gave us toys to attract the cats, and they were definitely put to use.  Of the course of the class we managed to get in a good workout while also giving the cats plenty of attention.  

After class, I went into the only room I had not visited yet.....the kitten room.  There were two kittens out in the center of the room, and they were so adorable that I did not want to leave.  

If this yoga class was not on Mondays during work hours, I would take it again.  It was a great way to de-stress and support a good cause at the same time.

Because I had a great experience at the Five Acres Animal Shelter cat yoga class, I decided to sign up for a weekday evening class at Tenth Life with a friend, for what they call Cats N' Mats.  Tenth Life is located on Cherokee Street, which is a neighborhood known for it's amazing Mexican food.  For this cat yoga class, you pay online in advance through Eventbrite.  The total came to $16.74 and since it supports a good cause, I didn't mind the fee.  

This was my first time in the Cherokee Street neighborhood.  I showed up early because I didn't know how difficult it would be to find a parking space at that time of day, but there ended up being plenty of parking available on adjacent streets.  The doors opened shortly before 6 p.m. and we checked in and were told that we could set up in either of the two main rooms.  My friend and I picked our spot and immediately started playing with the cats.

By 6 p.m. both rooms were filled with participants, yet there was ample room to spread out.  The instructor positioned herself in between both rooms so that we could all see her.  Despite being new to yoga and only being familiar with a few of the terms, I could just feel the difference in the flow of this class vs. the cat yoga class at Five Acres.  Neither was better or worse, they were just different.  Some of the poses were the same in both classes while others were completely new to me.  There was substantially more laughter during this class, but there were also more participants and more rambunctious cats roaming about.  

The classes at Tenth Life fit my schedule better, so I will most likely be a repeat customer.  I could technically do a "cat yoga" class at home with my own cat for free, but there is just something about the opportunity to attend a yoga class at a shelter that warms my heart.  

The St. Louis area is filled with low cost and even FREE opportunities to attend a yoga class, many of which are listed on the Eventbrite website.  Click here to check out the list of upcoming classes.  It is a pretty extensive list this time of year, with both indoor and outdoor options available.  There have also been "Yoga with Bunnies"and "Goat Yoga" classes in the area, so I am definitely open to attending more nontraditional yoga classes in the future.  I will keep you posted on what else I come across....

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

#WellnessWednesday - CycleBar - Chesterfield Review

My first CycleBar class was actually the Sunday before my wedding, March 19 at the Chesterfield, MO location during their grand opening celebration.  I first heard about CycleBar through Facebook when their page popped up as something I might "like."  A quick Google search showed that they were opening two locations in the St. Louis area this spring, one in Chesterfield and one in Creve Coeur.  Their class format sounded similar to SoulCycle, so I liked the pages for both locations to stay in the loop for any grand opening deals.

As our wedding approached, I was very busy with last minute tasks and packing, but I kept watching the social media posts for both locations.  The Chesterfield location released their schedule of free classes first, most of which I could not attend, but I managed to find one on March 19 that worked.  The class was at 10 a.m. but I showed up early because I did not know what to expect.

As you enter, you see cubbies with cycling shoes and several tablets against the wall.  This is where you check in.  The outermost tablet is where you tap your name to check in.  The center tablet is where you see which bike you are on, since you are assigned or you assign yourself to a specific bike for each class.  I was bike #35 that day, so I found cubbie #35 which contained cycling shoes that were my size.  When you create your profile online you enter stats like your height, weight, age, and shoe size.  I entered size 8.5 as my shoe size but when I arrived at CycleBar, my shoes were a size 9.  Staff explained that these particular shoes run small, so they recommend going up a half size for better comfort.  

I grabbed my shoes and was escorted by the main desk, past the merchandise, and into the locker area.

The locker area is a large open room that contained half-size lockers on two walls.  The lockers are numbered, but you don't have to pick the same locker number as your bike.  The lockers all contain usb charging ports as well as instructions on how to set your lock.  There were also restrooms and shower rooms adjacent to the locker area.

The wall between the lockers and the studio is used for announcements.  There is also one bin for your used cycling shoes and one bin for used towels that are collected after each class.  

We were offered red CycleBar water bottles before class and were given the option of either chilled water or room temperature water.

Once we had our water, we were escorted into the studio where staff helped us find our bikes.  The studio is large with three rows containing 48 total bikes.  The middle row is one step up from the first row and the back row is one step up from the middle row, so that all riders can see the instructor at the front of the room.  The instructor is on a platform facing the class with large ceiling-mounted tv's behind them on either side.  The entire wall behind the instructor is a mirror, so that riders can see themselves and watch their form.

The bikes were made by Schwinn, obviously custom-made since they all had the CycleBar logo on them.  Mounted to the front of each bike were two holders; one for the four pound bar and one for the six pound bar....hence the name CycleBar.

What I LOVE about these bikes are the handle bars that are easier to grip because they are wider in the spots you place your hands for position two and three.  It makes perfect sense because the handle bars are difficult to grip when your hands get sweaty, yet this was the first time I had seen handle bars like this.

I brought my own towel to class not knowing what to expect, but each bike already had a fresh towel on it ready to go.  Staff help each new rider get set up on their bike and then explain the settings so that we were able to do it ourselves the next time.

Before you start your ride, you hit the button at the top of your bike's computer so that you can track your stats.  When I signed up for this class and set up my profile, I inadvertently unchecked the box that would allow my stats to also show on the tv's during class.  I could still see my effort and mileage on my bike's computer during the ride, but my stats would not show on the tv's which showed all riders and then ranked them in order of the effort they put out during the ride.

As class started, the instructor went through the different hand positions and what the different columns on the tv screens meant.  On the far left is your chosen screen name.  Then there is a column for your bike number as indicated by the bike at the top of that column.  The next column has a music note, or "Energy Points" which is used to rank riders during class.  The next column under the lightning bolt is for your watts, which is your current effort or energy output.  The last column with the speedometer shows your current RPM (revolutions per minute).  Not shown on the tv's but on your bike's computer, is total mileage.

This particular class used current, upbeat music that was easy to ride to.  The instructor would tell you what your gear and RPM's should be in order to ride to the beat, which made it easy to replicate the instructor.  We moved through all the different body positions over the course of the class and had one song entirely dedicated to working our arms using the arm bars.  Towards the end of class was a "connect" song where we just rode in whatever gear felt best and just reflected on our day and your ride.  Throughout the class the instructor would turn on the tv's to show riders how they currently ranked, but she mainly had the tv's turned off so that we would not fixate on the stats rather than the ride itself.

At the end of class, we unclipped and dismounted to the right side of our bikes to stretch.  The instructor let us know that our class stats would be emailed to us.  I wasn't sure if mine would be since I had unchecked the box for my stats to show during class.  But to my surprise, I received the stats and I ended up ranking 12th out of 47 riders!!!!  After each class you will receive an email with your stats as well as a link to the play list used during that class.  Then when you log into your account, all of your previous classes are saved so that you can see your performance over time.

This particular class was a "brunch" ride so as we exited the studio, the smell of waffles greeted you.  Mimosa's were also available.  What I didn't realize about the grand opening rides was that you could attend more than once.  I wish I would have known this, because I would have made an effort to come to a couple classes since they were so much fun and you burn a ton of calories each time.

After we got back from the wedding and honeymoon, I saw a Groupon for four classes at CycleBar - Chesterfield....so of course I bought one.  The classes have been loaded to my account and now I am just waiting to find times that work with a friend's schedule before I attend again.  The last time I checked, the Groupon was still available. Click here to get yours before they are gone.

Since returning from the honeymoon, I have been attending classes at CycleBar - Creve Coeur, which is my closest location.  Eventually, I will post my review of that studio, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Half marathon #43: Race 13.1 - St. Louis

In 2016, I was a course monitor for the Race 13.1 - St. Louis half marathon and 5k and I remember thinking "I want to do that" when I saw the race sweepers pass by.  So this past Sunday, I managed to convince a former co-worker and relay teammate to be a race sweeper with me and we had an absolute blast!!

With the race scheduled for a Sunday, packet pick-up was held at Fleet Feet - St. Charles on Saturday and also on race day prior to the start of the half marathon.  Packet pick-up at Fleet Feet was a breeze and took only a few minutes.  We received our bibs (customized with your name if you registered early enough), gender-specific t-shirt, race bracelet, temporary tattoo, and a race sticker.  Not only do I like the design of the race shirts, but the sizing of the shirts were actually spot on for once.  Lately my race shirts look like they were designed for teenagers and not adult women, no matter how large of a size I select.  The one thing missing from packet pick-up were bags to carry everything in.  I kept dropping the sticker and temporary tattoo on the way out.

Back of race shirt

Front of race shirt

Pre-race communication included an Athlete Guide full of useful information.  I read through it again on Saturday night and determined that I was going to park in the same lot as last year since it was so easy to get in and out.  I arrived in that lot around 6 a.m. Sunday morning just as my fellow sweeper was parking her car.  We walked a block to the start/finish line and race day packet pick-up tent for her packet and our race sweeper signs.  At first, we were handed an actual industrial-sized broom labeled "sweeper" to carry, but then they found two much smaller signs to carry instead.  Whew!

A line of porta potties were in the lot adjacent to the start/finish line and although the line was long pre-race, you didn't have to wait long at all.  Race sweepers are intentionally supposed to be the last ones to cross the finish line and be the end of the race, so we started at the very back of the pack, right before the 5k runners.  We were asked several times what "race sweepers" were which surprised me, but I just explained that Disney races have balloon ladies and Race 13.1 - St. Louis had us!

View from the very back

And then we were off!  Despite being a slow runner myself, it was so difficult watching the other half marathoners take off running while we were walking across the start line and then up the slight hill.  I remember fighting that urge to catch up, but I am sure it was even more difficult for my fellow sweeper who is actually a very fast runner and often places in her age group.

The first part of the course is on the research and development park's roads that were technically still open, but there was no traffic when we all started.  Within a half mile, we connected to the Busch Greenway and then onto the Katy and Hamburg Trails so the terrain varied between paved roads, paved trails, and crushed limestone.

The weather could not have been more perfect for this race!  It was sunny, slightly breezy, with a high in the low 70's.  With all the rain this spring, the flowers were in full bloom.  But with the rain and flooding we have had this spring came swarms of mosquitoes on some parts of the course due to standing water in areas that were still flooded.  Luckily a kind gentleman on a bike offered us bug spray several miles into the race, which was a lifesaver!

Despite walking the entire course, I only managed to take a few photos because I was so busy getting caught up with my fellow sweeper.  Honestly, the nearly four hours it took us to finish flew by because the conversation flowed the entire time.  We started out seeing other runners ahead of us but further into the race, there weren't any other runners in sight so the trails were very quiet and peaceful.  We also saw several deer cross our path during the race.

No runners in sight
As we approached water stops, we were offered water and Gatorade before they started packing up the remaining supplies.  At one point we passed a water stop, the group started packing up, and we ended up making a wrong turn at the fork because we didn't see any signage and had no other runners to follow.  We eventually found the right path, but managed to add a few more steps to our total mileage for the day in the process.

Once we reached the Weldon Springs Site and Interpretive Center, we were no longer protected by tree cover and were in complete sun.  Luckily the cool breeze continued, so heat was not an issue.

The 75' high Weldon Spring Disposal Cell

The mileage continued to increase until we were back in the research and development park.  We made the turn down the hill and noticed that nearly all the cars were gone, but we still received a few cheers as we finally crossed the finish line.  The clock had already been turned off, but my watch shows that we finished in 3:55:05-ish.  We grabbed our medals and waters before we were greeted and thanked by Race 13.1 staff.

We didn't spend much time at the finish line since we both had afternoon plans and as we headed back to the parking lot, we noticed that we were the only two vehicles remaining in that lot.  It was a unique experience for both of us and we have already discussed being sweepers again in the future.  I highly recommend being a race sweeper at some point to give you a different perspective, but be sure to sign up with a friend.  I would not have wanted to be on the course for that long by myself!

You can sign up to be a racer sweeper or pace group leader by finding your desired race location and then clicking on the Volunteer tab.  Scroll down to Pace Group Leader and apply!

Remember to create an account and save all of your race results in one place by going to www.athlinks.com.

Help other runners decide which race to register for by writing race reviews on BibRave.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

There is still time to earn a FREE 5k or Half Marathon through Race 13.1

Race 13.1 - St. Louis is scheduled for Sunday, May 21 and volunteers are still needed!  Course monitors earn $80 in credit which is enough for either a 5k or a half marathon (when you sign up before too many price increases).  Lead cyclists are also needed and they also earn $80 in credit for their shifts.  There are shorter shifts available too, but click here to sign up for a volunteer shift before they are gone!

Don't live in St. Louis?  No problem!  Volunteer shifts with the same great benefits are also available at other Race 13.1 locations.  Click here to find a race close to you.

You can read about my experience volunteering at last year's St. Louis race here.  More details about Race 13.1's amazing volunteer program can be found here.  I hope you will consider volunteering a few hours with Race 13.1 at a location near you!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Illinois Half Marathon & One America Mini Marathon recaps

Even though the wedding and honeymoon are over we are now in the process of planning our June reception, which means that I distracted and behind on race recaps.  Today's blog post will be a twofer covering both my 41st and 42nd half marathons.

Illinois Half Marathon - #41
After returning from the honeymoon sick and missing the GO! St. Louis half marathon as a result, the Illinois Half Marathon ended up being my first race as a married woman.  This was my 3rd time running the half marathon in Champaign/Urbana, IL but it never gets old or boring.  My step-brother lives in the area, so I always have a place to stay which makes the three hour drive worthwhile.  I always stop by the expo early in the afternoon on Friday and I always stop by one of the Za's locations for either lunch or dinner over race weekend.

After miserably running the 2016 half marathon entirely in the rain and in well over three hours, my goal was to redeem myself in 2017 and finish in under three hours.  For packet pick-up, I parked in the lot between State Farm Center and Memorial Stadium, which made it an easy walk to the expo at the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC).  There was no way to get lost in the ARC because there were signs everywhere, even on the floor.  This year we checked in with a scan code and your id and it was such a breeze.

After receiving your bib, you went to the gymnasium for t-shirt pick up and the expo vendors.  There were booths from other races as well as all the gear you can imagine plus items you never knew existed.  This year's t-shirts were bright neon and we received drawstring bags again too.  I had also purchase an ARC Shower Pass for $5.00 just in case my stepbrother was not home when I finished the race.  This is a great option for runners who may be driving straight back home and had to check out of their hotel before the start of the race.

On race morning, I parked in the exact same lot because it would be close to the finish line in Memorial Stadium AND most importantly, it was near the FREE coffee and tea tent.  I was in my parking spot by 6 a.m. just so that I would have plenty of time for caffeination.

On my way to the start line, I also passed by plenty of porta-potties and I had plenty of time to kill before my corral was released.

I only took a few pictures along the course, but it turned out to be a beautiful day for running!  The course winds through campus, commercial areas, residential areas, and parks.  In one particular area I remember signs along the route mentioning famous University of Illinois alums which is a nice distraction as your mileage increases.


What I love about this race is the amazing volunteer and local support in addition to finishing on the 50 yard line.  You receive your medal on the field and can even stretch in the end zone.  But if I were to ever run the marathon here, I would hate having to walk up the stairs to the concession stands for food after the finish, but that hasn't ever been an issue for me after running the half marathon or 5k.

Once you make it up to the concession stands, you are welcomed by volunteers with plenty of food which included bananas, cookies, pizza, pasta, and granola bars.  The medals this year celebrated the 150 year anniversary of the University of Illinois.

I will definitely run this race again and will probably park in the exact same parking lot and will visit Za's at least once during my racecation.  This is a great Midwestern race to run!

Indy Mini 500 Half Marathon - #42
This past weekend I ran the Indy Mega Mini Challenge in Indianapolis which included a 5k immediately followed by a half marathon.  Six months ago, this sounded like a good idea.  I had an hour to finish the 5k before my corral was even released, so I didn't think twice when I signed up for the challenge.  But as I am typing this, I am still sore.  But I actually felt much, much worse at the finish line on Saturday.  I guess more training was needed and I was blinded by the potential for additional bling!

This was actually my third time running the Indy Mini 500 Half Marathon.  As we came into Indianapolis on Friday for the expo, it was raining and rain was predicted for race day as well.  Because I have had one phone fried in the rain before, I decided not to take my phone on the course with me this time but you can click here to see pictures from the 2014 race.

The expo is held at the Indiana Convention Center which was connected to our hotel via a skywalk.  Much of downtown Indianapolis is actually connected via skywalks.  Our hotel, the Crowne Plaza Union Station, is in the shadow of the Lucas Oil Stadium.

One thing I noticed that was new from the last we stayed at the Crowne Plaza was this handy running route guide for Downtown Indy, conveniently located near the water in the lobby.  I really love downtown Indianapolis because it is so clean, pedestrian and bike friendly, and it feels really safe.  If I had more time, I would definitely explore these running routes.

Packet pick-up at the expo was a breeze here too.  I didn't have to wait at all!  Next to the bib pick-up was a t-shirt exchange area.  Then you walk through the race merchandise area of course before you enter the main part of the expo.  There were many other races represented at this expo as well as a wide-variety of products.  I ended up signing up for the Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon again because I just could not beat the price, plus I have a reason to visit Indy again this fall!

The Mega Mini Challenge meant three shirts and three medals.  The 5k and the challenge shirts were short sleeved while the mini marathon shirt was long sleeved.  I really loved the shirts this year but the women's sizes do run very small!

5k Shirt

We also received a running cap in our packets.

We spent the rest of Friday in the far northern area of Indianapolis shopping and watching a movie.  On Saturday morning, we woke up around 5:50 a.m. but since our hotel was so close to the start line, we didn't leave until 6:35 a.m.  We could have taken the skywalk to the Convention Center and then over to a hotel right at the start line, but we walked outside instead.  The morning was crisp and cool, so luckily I had packed gloves and a long sleeve tech t-shirt.  It was sprinkling a bit as we approached the start line, but it wasn't anything that would prevent us from running.  We made it to the start line of the 5k with time to spare and then we were off!  

The first part of the course took us past the Indianapolis Zoo and then through parts of the Indiana University - Purdue University - Indianapolis campus.  I only ran for a half mile or so at the start of the race just to get around the slower walkers, and then I walked the remainder of the course since I knew that my corral would not even start the half marathon until 8:00 a.m.  I ended up talking to a woman for the last mile or so, which made the time fly by.  Before I knew it, we were at the finish line.   

I proceeded past the medal volunteers who told me there was no sticker placed on challenge participant bibs this year and just to proceed back to the half marathon start.  I followed the signs back to the start and got to my corral just as they were preparing to start.  Whew!  Then I was off again!  

It was still misting during the first few miles, but as we approached the Speedway the sun finally made an appearance and stayed out through the finish.  This race is one of the larger half marathons that I have done lately and it is nice because you are constantly surrounded by people, no matter what your pace is.  Volunteer support at this race rivals Disney races and water and Gatorade seems to always be available.  I couldn't even tell you how many water and Gatorade stops there were, but they were plentiful and well-staffed.  Another great feature of this race, PLENTY of porta potties.  Plenty at the start, some very visible with others tucked in alleys, and plenty along the course.  

Do you remember how Rock 'n' Roll races advertised music every mile,  well the Indy Mini Marathon had music much more frequently than that.  You would barely pass one band before you approached another in some areas, it was great!  There were also several dance performance groups which made runners want to dance along, and some actually did.  While you are running on the track, music follows you the entire time.  I didn't stop to kiss the bricks this time, but plenty of others did and I do recommend stopping to do that if you haven't before.  I just knew that I would have difficulty getting back up if I dropped to the ground this time.

So what was predicted to be a miserable race day turned out to be an absolutely beautiful day and I wish I would have had my phone with me to capture more of the course and downtown Indy along the way.  Maybe next time, because I will run this race again and hope to drag my husband along next time too.