Sunday, September 28, 2014

Roots N Blues N BBQ Half Marathon Race Recap

I left work early on Friday so that the boyfriend and I could head to Columbia, MO for my 35th half marathon.  Columbia is about an hour and a half from St. Charles if you can begin your journey before rush hour, which was our goal.  During the drive, Dan asked me if I was planning on running this race again next year.  I said "no" at the time because there are other September races on my bucket list and I have run this race two years in a row, but now I know that this race just isn't for me.

Packet pick-up was at Tryathletics again, and it was a quick in-and-out process.  As we were on our way to the hotel we noticed an Asian restaurant that sounded good.  I had already Googled restaurants in Columbia and I found a few Italian ones that had a basic pasta and meat sauce on their menu but when it came time to choose, we went with the Asian restaurant.  This ended up being the bad idea that led to a bad race.  I had noodles and veggies with teriyaki sauce and grilled fish, which I thought was safe.  All I will say is that it didn't sit well with me and it greatly affected my race time.

The half marathon started at 7:00 a.m with the 10K starting at 7:30 a.m.  Because the half marathon is part of the larger Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival, all of the parking garages downtown were free.  This year the start and finish line were Stephens Lake Park, so you could either take a shuttle from a parking garage one mile away or you could walk from the closest parking garage, which was a half mile away.  I opted for the closer parking garage and I arrived just after 6:00 a.m.  It was still pretty dark, but there were enough other runners around that I just followed the crowd to the park.  Once in the park I assumed there would be signs to the start line, but there were just general festival signs and nothing about the race.  Once I found the start line I also assumed there would be porta potties nearby, but they were by the festival entrances and not the start line.  Luckily I arrived with time to spare!

At the start line waiting for 7:00 a.m. I started talking to a runner who was station at Whiteman Air Force Base, which was an hour or so away.  We compared our race histories and discussed our bucket lists.  All of a sudden we were surrounded by runners and it was after 7:00 a.m.  I heard no announcements and no National Anthem from where I stood in the middle of the pack and then all of a sudden, runners were moving forward and the race was underway.  In 2013, I remember it being a bit more organized (and there were porta potties at the start/finish line).

What I like about this race is that it is mostly on the trails in Columbia, so it is easy for the race directors to control.  The terrain varied between concrete sidewalks, paved trails and roads, rock trails, and dirt trails.  When we were crossing streets, volunteers were at the intersections protecting us from traffic.  The race course was very peaceful as we weaved in and out of various parks and through agricultural research areas.  At one point, there were two random hot air balloons flying high above an open field the trail was running us through.  Beautiful!

At mile 9 we actually ran past the start/finish line of the 2013 race.  At that point, I really wished I was at the finish line because I had started feeling sluggish after mile 6 (remember what I had for dinner the night prior).  In the 2013 race we actually started by running up a long hill towards the Mizzou campus and I remember thinking that I should have signed up for the 10k, rather than the half marathon.  So in 2014 as I passed the start/finish line from the year prior, guess what came next.  Yes, the mile 9.  Ugh.  When you reach the top, you are on the Mizzou campus.  Apparently it was a parents weekend or there was a campus tour, because the sections we ran through had multiple large groups walking around.

After running through campus, we ran around a hospital.  It always makes me laugh when a race course runs us past hospitals and cemeteries,  it just seems ironic somehow.  The course then took us back towards the park.  I could see the park long before the course took us back into it, but we finally made it back inside.  At that point we were back on a paved trail and we were often passing runners who had already finished and were wearing their medals, so I knew we were close.  My GPS is often a bit off from the mile markers so I mistakenly thought a section filled with runners and several food and beverage booths was the finish.  It wasn't!  This section actually annoyed me a bit because the course ran us directly through where the food/beverage booths were for finishers.  Literally, the path went right through where people were standing in line for post-race food.  Not everyone was paying attention either, so you had to weave around people standing in your path with their food and beer as you are trying to finish.   I thought this was poor planning, especially since I had run the race last year and remembered that the food/beer was in a park adjacent to the finish, rather than on the course, technically prior to the finish.

Once I made it through the crowd, you run up a slight hill and then finish on a downhill.  I was exhausted at this point and I was not feeling well.  Before I stretched, I just laid down on the ground and I never do that!  After seeing the lines at the post-race food, I had no desire to walk back down the hill and wait in line so after stretching a bit, I started heading back to my car.  I called the boyfriend to check the vending machine at the hotel because all I was craving was Sprite.  Weird!  We had requested a late check-out, so I had plenty of time to shower and wind down before we came back downtown for lunch.  Downtown Columbia is very cute with a wide-range of food choices and quaint shops.  Knowing I would get stiff on the drive home, we walked around for a few hours looking at shops and menus before we settled on a spot for lunch.  Last year we had gyros at the International Cafe, but this year we went for sandwiches at Tellers Gallery and Bar.  Both years we got ice cream at Sparky's, which I highly recommend.  

I like quick weekend trips and Columbia has a very quaint downtown, so while I do foresee coming back to Columbia for another race, it will be for one of the others on my list.  I liked the 2013 course better than this year's course, but I liked the shirts and medals from both years equally.

Cute shirt - totally wrinkled from the drive home

Monday, September 22, 2014

Medal Monday featuring Gabi

Happy Medal Monday!  Today I am shining the spotlight on Gabi, who blogs at Lean Green Island Girl.

The medal pictured above is Gabi's favorite medal because she received it at her 1st and only marathon that she ran in Stockholm in 2006.  At the time, she said that she would never run another marathon; however, she is planning on running the Marine Corps Marathon this fall (on my bucket list) and the Ironman in Louisville.  Gabi said that this race was beautiful and that she really enjoyed her time in Sweden.  She also said that no matter how many races you run, there is always something special about the first races at each distance.

Follow Gabi's journey:
Twitter: @LeanGreenGabi

Do you have a favorite medal?  Email me at

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hard Truths

After four races in California over Labor Day Weekend, I took an entire week off of working out and running.  One reason I chose to do this was because my flight home was rerouted due to the weather in St. Louis on Labor Day evening and I did not get home until 3 a.m. Tuesday morning and I still had to work the rest of the week.  Throughout the long flight, people were also constantly sneezing, so guess who ended up with a cold...ME!  All last week I was working on trying to overcome a cold while catching up on sleep.  I didn't even unpack until this weekend.  But the downtime did allow me to reflect on the races and on the training leading up to them and I came up with a few hard truths about all of it.
  1. I was better trained for the Dopey Challenge in January than I was for the Dumbo Double Dare despite the fact that I was sick a week prior to Dopey and on antibiotics on race weekend.
  2. I focused too much on cross training and not enough on running this summer.
  3. My beautiful new running shoes were not broken in enough.
  4. Sometimes I am distracted by the prospect of "bling" much like miners were during the gold rush.  I need to concentrate more on the journey leading the "bling" rather than the "bling" itself.
  5. Apparently I have a dairy allergy that I didn't know about it until I was suddenly eating dairy on a daily basis while on vacation.
So Sunday evening I bought groceries that supported my normal eat-clean style diet.  Today was my first day working out in the gym again and I went to Insanity before work and did another hour of cardio after work.  The fall season is just getting started, so the California races served as a hard lesson and motivation for the rest of the year.  Here is to learning from my mistakes and hopefully helping you to avoid them too!

Good luck to everyone this fall! 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Conquer the Bridge 5.3 Miler on Labor Day

When I was researching the Dumbo Double Dare in Disneyland, I wondered if there were any other races in the Anaheim/L.A. area over Labor Day Weekend.  Since I live in the Midwest, I want to get the biggest bang for my buck if I was going to fly to California so I wanted to see if there was just one more race that I could add before coming home.  After all, I had ran the Dopey Challenge in January so three races in three days wasn't unheard of, right?

Well I lucked out when I came across the Conquer the Bridge race in San Pedro - the Port of L.A. on Labor Day.  At the time, the 5.3 mile race had been held the past five years and they added a half marathon for the first time in 2013. I immediately emailed the race director with questions about the race and to make sure that the race would also take place over Labor Day Weekend in 2014.  He assured me that the 5.3 mile race would occur, but that the half marathon required approvals from the Port of L.A. that were difficult and time-consuming to obtain.  He told me that he would keep me in the loop as the race drew near, but to plan on running the race on Labor Day.

As the year progressed, I kept checking in with him and several times he actually called me to give me additional details about the race and the planning involved behind the scenes.  I thought the concept and course was pretty unique.  On Labor Day the Vincent Thomas Bridge is closed until noon for all traffic.  Normally pedestrians and cyclists are not allowed on the bridge, so this race is the one time every year that pedestrians take over the bridge and run over it twice.

Some quick stats about the bridge:
1500' long
4th longest suspension bridge in California
1st welded suspension bridge in the U.S.
clear height of the navigation channel is around 185'

Earlier this summer the race director announced that there would not be a half marathon in 2014, but that they would try again in 2015.  There would only be the 5.3 miler this year.  I had already sold my family on the idea of staying our last night in San Pedro, so I went ahead and signed up for the 5.3 miler and Sunday after the half marathon, we headed to San Pedro.

If you have never been to San Pedro, allow me just show you how beautiful the Ports of Call is.

The Vincent Thomas Bridge in the background

Our hotel was a quick five minute drive from the start line and this race didn't start until 8:00 a.m., so I felt like I was sleeping in the morning of the race.  Even though I had only signed up for two races at Disneyland, I ended up running three since mom had an extra entry for the 5K.  By this point in the trip I had several blisters on each foot, so I just put bandages on and wrapped them with athletic tape to provide additional cushion.  

Parking was a breeze even though we arrived 30 minutes before the start.  All of a sudden, it was time to start.  

I wasn't really sore, I was just stiff but once the race started and the crowd started moving, I felt pretty good.  The race starts near the Ports of Call Village and then approaches the ramp up to the bridge.  You slowly ascend to the top of the bridge, being cautious as you cross the expansion grates (which are covered on race day for the safety of the runners), then you reach the top and have a great downhill.  At the bottom of the bridge you have a bit of flat road before a slight uphill at the turnaround.  Then you climb towards the top of the bridge again to head back.  Click here to see a great video of the course.  

I made sure to stop and take a few photos because it was such a beautiful day and I was flying back to the flatlands of the Midwest in a matter of hours.

Heading to the top

It is a port, but it is still beautiful
Heading back

This race seemed to be over in no time compared to the half marathon the day before.  At the finish, you received a medal, water, and fruit as the crowd continued to cheer in the background.  I had told the race director that I would try to find him after the race so that I could finally meet him in person, but the finish line was too chaotic and no one was able to point me in the right direction.  I wanted to tell him how much fun I had and how much I enjoyed this race.  Although I was originally disappointed that there would not be a half marathon this year, it was actually a blessing in disguise to only be running 5.3 miles that day.  I loved the race course and the fact that this was the only time each year that runners could cross the bridge.  The scenery was beautiful as you can see from the photos, and the volunteer support along the course was very active and fun.  I would not only recommend this race to Disney runners as an add-on, but also to locals who are looking for a unique race.  At the start line, the race director did mention that it is still their intention to have a half marathon again, so be sure to check the race website and Facebook page for updates as you start thinking about Labor Day Weekend 2015.

Conquer the Bridge medal at the bottom

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Disneyland Dumbo Double Dare and Coast to Coast Challenge

Whew, I can't believe it is already over!  My 11-day vacation and four races in four days has come and gone, and I have great medals and fresh blisters to prove it.  I started my vacation in Portland, Oregon visiting two of my former roommates from my DC days.  I distinctly remember when one of them was training for his first marathon when we were living on Capitol Hill.  I thought he was crazy and at the time, I hated running.  But eventually, it rubbed off on me.  I wanted to get in at least one run over the weekend I was in Portland, so I asked him for recommended running routes.  He recommended a trail in a neighborhood park, and I ended up running hill repeats.

A few days later, I flew to San Jose to meet my mom and stepdad.  We were slowly making our way down to Disneyland while visiting various beaches and tourist sites along the way.  My only other "run" the week of the race happened on an oceanside trail in Monterey.  As you can see from my Facebook page, the scenery was a bit too beautiful.  Even though I still ran over four miles, I stopped to take photos quite frequently.

Late Wednesday evening we made it to our hotel for the next four nights, the Howard Johnson-Anaheim, which was right across from Disneyland.  Every time we go to Disney World we stay on Disney property because of the convenience, but taking buses in between parks takes anywhere from 20 - 45 minutes depending on the resort.  So although the rooms were not decorated with a Disney theme and I didn't hear "have a magical day" at all, you could not beat the convenience of being able to walk a few blocks and be at the entrance to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.  Advice:  If you stay at the HoJo, request a balcony facing Disneyland so that you can see the fireworks from the comfort of your balcony if you decide not to stay late in the parks.  If you don't have a room closer to the I-5 side, you can actually hear the music from the park that plays with the fireworks and you can go to bed immediately after the fireworks end, rather than having to wiggle through the crowds to the exit!

Also walkable from our hotel was the expo at the Disneyland Hotel's convention center, which we visited Thursday afternoon.  The Disneyland expo was very similar to the Disney World expos:  a variety of vendors and long lines for the official New Balance Disney shoes.  The one thing that blew my mind was the line for the "official" Run Disney merchandise.  It snaked around the inside of the ballroom before extending into the hallway.  The area itself looked significantly smaller than the official merchandise area at Disney World expos, so that must have been the cause.  Either way I was not going to wait in that line, especially after picking up three more Disney race shirts for the Dumbo Double Dare.

The only issue I came across was that I was apparently so excited about registering for the Dumbo Double Dare, that I mis-typed my birthday as the 12th rather than the 13th.  This resulted in me not being registered for the Coast to Coast Challenge since the birthdays did not match.  I briefly panicked, but the wonderful volunteers/staff at the Runner Relations booth were able to fix it for me and make sure that I left with the green bracelet required in order to receive the extra medal at the finish of the half marathon.  Whew!  Be sure to type in your birthdays correctly.  Don't get so excited that you mis-type information like I did.

Before and after the expo on Thursday, we went to Disneyland, rode one of my favorite rides multiple times (since the park was not busy yet this day), and stayed for the evening fireworks show.

The Pirates ride, one of my favorite rides!

The original plan was to sleep in on Friday while my parents were at the 5K and they would sleep in on my 10K day.  On Sunday, I would get up really early for the half marathon and the parents would find me later on the course to cheer me on.  It turns out that my mom accidentally signed up for the 5K twice since the Run Disney website kept locking up the day registration opened, so it was either waste a perfectly good 5K entry OR force myself to participate in the 5K too.  Guess which one I chose...

5K medal and post-race snacks

I didn't really take any photos during the 5K, but it was filled with costumes and it was very family-friendly.  The most memorable moment of the 5K was when I was literally in between two groups who were yelling at each other.  We were in downtown Disney nearing the finish when I heard a male in the distance saying, "on your right, on your right."  The man, his wife, and a child in a stroller passed a group and then passed me.  The group behind me that they passed started yelling, "no strollers are allowed in this race."  Then the wife turned around and yelled back to the group, "yes they are."  Then the group yelled back, "keep lying to yourself."  All I could think was, "keep calm, it's a fun run and we aren't even being timed in this race!"  I didn't dare say anything out loud since I was already technically in the middle of the shouting but I did check the event guide later that evening.  Sure enough on at least pages 30 and 40 it states that strollers, baby joggers, etc. are prohibited for the safety (and apparently sanity) of the other runners.

After the 5K, we spent the day at Disney's California Adventure.  We were able to get on the rides we wanted multiple times before we decided to rest at the hotel for a few hours.  After a nap, we returned to Disneyland to ride a few more rides on our last day at the parks and the crowds had grown significantly!  At this point on Friday evening you not only had runners and their families, but the typical weekend crowds, in addition to the holiday crowd.  Just the day before, we were able to ride Pirates multiple times in a row after waiting less than 10 minutes in line each time.  Friday night we waited around 35 minutes.  It only got worse from there.  Disneyland is smaller than Disney World so although everything is closer together and requires less walking in between rides, there are also less areas for seating and stroller parking.  I don't normally get claustrophobic, but when I literally couldn't walk because the sidewalks were so packed with people and strollers, I got tense.  So we decided not to stay in the park for the fireworks that night since we could see them from our balcony and it would be far less chaotic.  Advice if you run in Disneyland Labor Day Weekend:  Try to arrive in town early so that you can go to the parks on Wednesday or Thursday before they get packed with weekend crowds.  Thursday was not crowded at all and Friday morning was fine, but Friday evening was absolutely packed!  

After a few hours of sleep, it was time for the 10K.  Because adding the 5K to my weekend meant I was now running four races in four days (race recap for the 4th race to follow in a separate post), I decided that this race series was going to be more about the journey and less about a specific finish time, so I sacrificed time in order to take photos along the course.  Below are the pictures I took during the 10K (that weren't blurry from the sweat on my phone).  Feel free to save them as your own if you ran and didn't get the chance to take any photos.

En route to the start line

Running through castle

Entering Paradise Pier

After the 10K, my family and I went to the packet pick-up for my fourth race of the weekend as well as Santa Monica and Huntington Beach piers.  In Huntington Beach, I actually saw several Disneyland Half Marathon and Dumbo Double Dare shirts which made me smile.  We went to bed early again since the half marathon started Sunday morning at 5:30 a.m. and it would be the largest of all the races that weekend.  Again I spent a lot of time taking photos during the half marathon because it will likely be a while until I get back to Disneyland, so feel free to save any of these magical photos as your own.

The corrals never end!

Running through the castle

Running through the car show

Getting closer to the finish

A mile or so after the last picture above was taken, I saw my parents with their sign and cowbells so I knew I was close to earning my medals.  Then I passed the 13 mile marker and I could hear the crowd at the finish....then I crossed the mat and I was done!!!  I collected my half marathon medal, Coast to Coast Challenge medal, and finally the Dumbo Double Dare medal and quickly grabbed drinks and the snack box before exiting the runner area.  All I wanted to do was get back to the hotel to stretch and shower so I walked back as quickly as I could.  We were checking out in a few hours to head to our last hotel in San Pedro where we were staying for the last race of the weekend, but first we were surprising my step-dad with tickets to the Angels game.  The remainder of the afternoon was spent relaxing at the game and then touring San Pedro - the port of Los Angeles.  I will post a race recap for the Conquer the Bridge 5.3 miler , the last race of the Labor Day Weekend, in a day or two.

Medal haul for the weekend

Thousands of people ran in Disneyland last weekend with me, but below are a few other blogs (in no particular order) you should check out if you are interested in running a Disney race:
YOU need to run a Disney race too!