In My Mind I’m Going to Carolina

“The forecast is still calling for freezing temperatures and snow in the mountains,” the meteorologist cheerfully announces. I turn off the tv and toss the remote aside is disgust. I have a half marathon to run in Asheville, NC and the harsh winter is not relenting in March. I pack both my long running pants and my shorts, long and short sleeve shirts, multiple jackets, and ear warming headband. I’m trying to remain hopefully it will not be horrifically cold during the race, but my rational mind accepts the truth.

In My Mind I’m Going to Carolina

North Carolina is my home state, and Asheville is only 2 hours from Charlotte. It is a fun city full of breweries, hiking, and history. My mom loved the Biltmore Estate in my youth, so when I learned they hold a race on its extensive, beautiful grounds I knew I needed to run it. It is a boutique race, but since the half is more popular than the full, they offered a half option both Saturday and Sunday in 2017. I received a discount code from a race ambassador in my online running group, and signed up for the Saturday half.

Mike and I head straight to packet pickup upon arriving in town. Mike had run the 10k in Vegas, and he was willing to run a half, but did not want to start with one known for its elevation. Instead he signed up to be a volunteer, working at the first water stop. As a volunteer he got access to the grounds, food, and festivities the runners get to enjoy. The expo was small, held in a hotel, but with lots of sponsors and a smooth layout. I grab my race packet, Mike got his volunteer gear, and we head over to our hotel to check in.

We spend the night exploring Asheville and tasting local beers. We retire relatively early as the race starts at 7:30 a.m. but Mike must be there 6:30 a.m. for his volunteer duties. The 5:15 alarm goes off with neither of us excited. It is so cold in the room we know the weather is as bad as predicted. I peek out the window, but luckily no snow has fallen over night. I change my outfit a couple times, each time putting on warmer and warmer gear. Lastly I put on my down jacket which I will bag check before the race.

We had heard conflicting information if Mike would be able to drop me off at the race start before heading to his aid station. Once on the grounds we discover it will not be a problem. It is so early not many people are arriving yet. He drops me off at the start around 6:00 a.m., and I make my way to the sponsor alley where some porch heaters are set up. It is COLD. The temperature is still in the teens, but worse is the wind. Bone chilling gusts of wind. I huddle up around a heater and speak with the fellow runners seeking warmth. We all put on brave faces and pretend we aren’t miserable. Sadly, the time comes to turn in my down jacket to bag check, and shortly after we gather into the starting corral.

When I finally cross the start line I realize my legs are so cold I cannot even tell if my knees are bending. I feel like I have wood planks for legs. I trot along, waiting to feel human again. I start to notice some snow flurries in the air, but they are intermittent so I am not worried about accumulation. I pass the first water station, saying hello to Mike. I feel bad for him, at least I’m moving to stay warm. Mike has to stand in the freezing wind having water spill continuously onto his gloves.

Around the 5k mark my legs finally start to feel normal again. Of course, that is just about the point you see the “3 miles to the estate” sign which signals the start of 3 miles of grinding incline. I cannot say it was easy, but the reward of seeing the gorgeous estate at mile 6 was well worth it. I stopped mid run for a quick selfie, a real rarity for me but I couldn’t resist.

After running in front of the estate the course weaves through the winery, then follows a stream. The path changed to gravel, and the scenery lost some appeal on the back half. Finally I heard the crowd, and could see the finish line, but a glance at my Garmin told me I still had 3 miles to go. How could that be? The course was curving towards the finish line. At the last minute I realize instead of turning towards the finish line, I must continue straight down a single wide, muddy track for an out and back section to gain the extra miles. Such a mind tease. Since there was no room to pass, I was held hostage to a set pace, but I was spent so I did not mind much.

Finally the out and back was complete. I turned towards the finish line, which of course included another incline. Why do race organizers love to make you run uphill before a finish line? I crossed the timing mat, still freezing, but warmed by the amazing woodelian handed to me, and a metal tumbler. Mike was waiting for me at the finish, and immediately commented on my wind burned face. “Look in a mirror, buddy,” I respond. His wind burn is worse.

I retrieved my jacket from bag check and we went in search of the heated stable I had heard rumor of. We graciously accept our free Catawba Brewing beer, took a few salty snacks from the well stocked food tables, and I grab a Gatorade. Then, there behind the food tables, was Mecca. A large, heated, enclosed stable. Was this here prior to my race while I was freezing in the wind for over an hour? The answer is probably yes, but for mental sanity I tell myself no. Either way, relaxing and snacking in a heated space, blocked from the wind, was the perfect ending to a cold, but rewarding race.

*Author’s note: They also held a full and half marathon on Sunday. It continued to snow all day, and those poor runners had to run with approximately 6” of snow on the ground. I give them serious respect, as the cold wind and flurries were almost more than I could handle. Despite the freezing conditions, I really enjoyed the course and the after event is nice. I would definitely recommend this race, just make sure you dress warmly!

Race: Asheville Half at Biltmore Estate
Location: Asheville, NC
Date: 3.11.17
State #: 3
Chip Time: 2:09:31
Pace: 9:55
Overall: 429/1234
Age group: 46/127
Gender: 220/831

Pancakes and Beer 5k

I roll out of bed cold and cranky. Earlier in October it was still 80 degrees, but the week of the 27th it decided to jump to winter and is now in the 40s. Luckily this race, the Pancake and Beer 5k at Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, starts at 9:00 a.m. The location is close to my house, but it’s Saturday and I want to sleep in. “No rest for the wicked” I tell myself, and force myself to get ready.

“At least it’s not raining” I remind myself. It rained non-stop the day before. I braved the rain on my lunch break to pick up the packets. The race did offer race day pickup, but in case the rain didn’t stop and we decided to skip I at least wanted our shirts.

Every June I run the NoDa 5k with my friend Becky. This year she expressed interest in doing another 5k in the fall, so I set out researching local races. I love researching races as much as running them. In the end we picked the Pancake and Beer 5k which included a free pancake breakfast and beer after, a long sleeve shirt, and most importantly a start time that wasn’t horribly early. My boyfriend, Mike, said he’d join as well, and with that our 5k crew was set.

Although we arrived 30 minutes prior to race start, the parking lots were already full. We drove around and found a neighborhood street to park on. Neither Becky, Mike, or myself enjoy cold weather so we all stood around uncomfortably, trying to maintain cheerful banter, until we were called to the start line. While waiting in the corral Mike asks me, “what is your goal?” I answered honestly, “I have none, it’s just a 5k. Just running this one for fun.”

After crossing the start line I pushed my pace but tried not to look at my watch or put any pressure on myself. The starting streets, which were all within the business complex, where closed to traffic. But permits were apparently not acquired for the main roads so we were forced to run on the sidewalks. 700+ runners forced onto a singular sidewalk does not equal a great race pace. Luckily time was not my goal, but it was still frustrating to get me pace thrown off.

At mile 2.6 a young girl running solo asked a course volunteer what mileage we were at. The volunteer did not answer, so I told her the mileage per my Garmin watch. I learned this was her first race, and as we were doing about an 8:40 pace I told her she was doing awesome. The former Girls on the Run coach in me came out and I stayed with her until the end, and we finished in 26:50:12.

Once I reconnected with Mike and Becky we grabbed our free post-race beer, and got our free pancake and bacon breakfast. The breakfast was pre-packaged and Mike and I gave our portions to Becky to take home to her boyfriend. I am a vegetarian so no bacon for me, plus I never crave a sweet breakfast. Honestly the beer was hard enough to get down that early in the day. The wind was blowing strongly, which only made us colder in our sweaty clothing.

We decided to head home, but I heard the name of a woman who finished directly ahead of me get called for an award. “Did I place too?” I exclaimed excitedly, running to the results tent. The excitement was short lived, I did not place. I did come in 6th out of 52 in my age group though which is the best I’ve placed in a race so far. I was suddenly angrier about the narrow sidewalks and my pace being slowed. Had I known I had a chance to place I would have pushed harder. However, maybe I did so well because I was focused on fun. I think there is a lesson in there if I wish to learn it.

*Author’s note: I did enjoy this race despite the narrow course. Had it been normal weather for October it would have been an enjoyable after-party and we would have stayed longer. I would recommend and run this race again. And seriously, the shirt is SO soft, comfortable, and cute.

October 27, 2018
Charlotte, NC
Time: 26:50:12
Pace: 8:39
Overall: 134/636
Age: 6/52
Gender: 37/346

Meet Virginia, I Can’t Wait To

I’m aroused from slumber by the soft sound of weeping from the hallway. I look at my phone, 3:30 A.M. Still time to sleep before my 5 A.M. alarm. I hear my friend comforting her son, and feel for her. She is running as well and clearly her sleep isn’t going smoothly. I snuggle down to fall back asleep when it hits me, “My Garmin!”. I forgot to plug in my GPS watch last night. I jump out of bed and get it charging. Although I’d never wish a nightmare on a 4 year old, this one was a blessing.

Meet Virginia, I Can’t Wait To

I groggily roll out of bed and start to get race ready. I am not a girl who spends time getting pretty even on the best days, so races take me no time to prep for. I throw on my clothing, rub some chapstick in prime chaff spots as I’m too cheap to buy Body Glide, and head downstairs for a soda. I had missed the expo, but Katie had grabbed my packet for me. She was already in the kitchen, ready to go. Katie, my old college friend, had also picked up distance running after graduation. She had moved to Virginia after grad school, and she invited me to run the Fredericksburg Historic Half Marathon. I eagerly accepted, both excited to see her again and run my first half marathon. My first half attempt, which took place in Disney World, failed when a thunderstorm cut the course in half. Katie and I finished our morning caffeine and headed to the race.

We arrived before the bulk of the crowd and secured a good parking spot with ease. With time to kill, Katie introduced me to Wagman’s, her favorite grocery store. Her pre-race ritual is a hot chocolate and a muffin, and I agreed to give it a shot. I ordered a small hot chocolate and we split the oversized muffin. I am not normally a dairy drinker, and although it is never wise to try something new on race day, I like to live on the edge a little. After breakfast, we used Wagman’s lovely bathrooms to avoid the port-a-potties, then proceeded to the start line.

My nerves start to kick in as we near the starting corrals. Unlike my first half marathon attempt, the weather was perfect this morning, so barring injury I was going to succeed. The start was well organized with large markers to indicate anticipated finish times. I was aiming for a 2:15 finish, which was different from Katie’s goal, so we hugged, wished each other luck, and enter our respective start zones.

Left on my own my nerves really went into overdrive. Starting corrals are always the point you start to overthink the race. What if I get lost? What if I get injured? Did I pee close enough to the start time? What if I have to pee again and I can’t find a port-a-potty? How exciting would it be to finish faster than I anticipate? How sad will I be if I’m slower? How will I react if I end up running next to a celebrity? What if aliens abduct me and I don’t get to finish? What if, what if, what if. Although these thoughts typically quiet the more you race, I believe everyone experiences them during their first race. Except that fear about needing to pee, that one remains.

I’m literally shaken out of my internal reveries by a loud BOOM. The beginning of the race is marked by a cannon fire, which although fitting for a military race, is horrifying when you aren’t expecting it. Immediately my thoughts switch to run mode, and I take off across the start line.

The course is lovely, highlighting the best of Fredericksburg. There is lots of support from the crowd along the entire route, along with official aid stations. Strangers handed out orange slices, water, beer, and even shots of Fireball. Although I know how to handle my beer off the race course, I cannot imagine drinking alcohol while running, but more power to those who can! My cop father instilled a strong sense of “stranger danger” in me, so I do not take the goodies offered by the crowd. Official race support staff handed out Sport Beans, which I do accept. While running up a hill I pass a homeowner blaring “Eye of the Tiger” to power runners up the incline. In the historic downtown section there are people in period costumes doing Regency dances. Odd, but entertaining. I was having fun, and more importantly, feeling good.

However, Murphy’s Law is always waiting in the wings. At mile 9.5, a dull ache in my hip starts to appear. This wouldn’t be fun in any race, but the Fredericksburg Historic Half has a famous element that still loomed ahead of me: Hospital Hill. At mile 10, you start a 1.5 mile long incline in which you gain approximately 200 ft. Despite my hip pain, I was determined to conquer the hill. I am able to run the majority of it, although my pace does dip.

By the time I reach the top, my hip is screaming. I start massaging it hoping to work out the pain. The water stop at the top has Marines lined up to “encourage” you, which in military terms means yelling. I guess I looked as bad as I felt, because instead of tearing me down, a Marine gently said, “You are doing great, keep at it.” I could see in his face he knew I was in genuine pain. I’ve never responded well to negative reinforcement, so his kindness was the inspiration I needed. Had he yelled at me I probably would have gotten mad and walked longer. Instead, I start running again, trying to ignore the pain, and I cross my first half marathon finish line 2:06:50 after starting.

I take my medal and graciously accept all the goodies the Marines hand me. Water, Powerade, fruit cups, bananas, trail mix, potato chips…so many tasty treats! I had not planned on having a beer after the race since it was so early, but that immediately changes once I exit the finisher shoot. My hip is in so much pain, I crave some free Mich Ultra pain relief. While limping towards the beer tent, a heavenly angel from a sponsor’s table says “ice pack?” I eagerly accept the pink gel ice pack with some company logo stamped on it, and thrust it in my spandex shorts against my hip. I didn’t care that I look crazy. I’m in pain, and the cold feels great. I continue my journey to the beer tent, get my drink, and finally sit down to rest.

I have some good conversation with fellow finishers in the beer garden before heading to the meeting spot Katie and I had picked out. I stretch while waiting for her, and greedily shove potato chips in my mouth. I do not crave sweets at the end of a race, but I do love to replenish my sodium. When Katie arrives, we continued to sit and snack, before heading back to her house.

After a shower and a nap, Katie and her family treat me to a fantastic Indian dinner. While exiting the restaurant, we both instinctively stop at the sidewalk’s edge, trying to figure out how we are going to tackle the minor step off the curb. The pain in our quads and hamstrings has appeared. We make eye contact, and both burst out laughing. Runner’s life, you either love it, or loathe it.

*Author’s note: This race truly was amazing. I both highly recommend it and would run it again. Plus, they gave free race photos, which means I got gems such as this…

Race: Fredericksburg Historic Half
Location: Fredericksburg, VA
Date: 5.15.16
State #: 1
Chip Time: 2:06:50
Pace: 9:40
Overall: 1909/5719
Age group: 117/462
Gender: 646/3003

That’s What You Get for Waking Up in Vegas

Honk Honk. “Hey girl, want some cocaine?” Click, click, click, goes the cards from a man promoting a strip club. I spin around, confused, dazed, nervous. The bright lights have me blinded and disoriented. HONNNKKKKKK. People, so many people, pushing, shoving, drinking, and smoking. Thump Thump Thump goes the rave music flooding the street. It is official, I am in hell.

That’s What You Get For Waking Up In Vegas

I awoke with the sun rising, making my hotel room glow a soft yellow. From 27 floors below rave music was still bumping, THUMP THUMP THUMP. Apparently there are no noise ordinances in Vegas. Being from the east coast I can’t “go hard” partying into the night. Midnight in Vegas felt like 3 A.M. to me, and now in my thirties 3 A.M. is not even an obtainable goal. So by 11 P.M. Vegas time I wouldn’t be found on the strip, rather curled up in bed trying to sleep through the THUMP THUMP and traffic noise below.

I sit up in bed, checking my phone for the time. In order to maximize gambling and alcohol profits, clocks are absent in the hotels. This extends into the rooms. As someone who is obsessed with time management, I find this extremely frustrating. Thank God for cell phones. It was 6 A.M., 9 A.M. to my brain. I pulled open the curtain on my strip view room, taking in the multi-color skyline, along with the non-stop noise.

“What was I thinking?” I muse to myself. It wasn’t the round the clock drinking, gambling, smoking, or whoring that had tempted me to Vegas; it was a spinning, glow-in-the-dark medal. I wasn’t alone though, 27,000 other runners had also been lured in by this prize. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Vegas half marathon is the 3rd largest half marathon in the U.S., and a destination race found on most runner’s bucket list. Once I decided to try for the 50 in 50, RnR Vegas became my desired Nevada medal. The strip only closes to traffic twice a year, once for New Year’s Eve, and once for this race. What attracted me more than running through the twinkling lights though, was the fact it was a night race.

I did what any intelligent woman would do next, asked my boyfriend of 3 months, Mike, who had also never been to Vegas, to join me. He did what any intelligent man would do, agreed to go. To our benefit, we did acknowledge it was risky and stupid, since the race was in November and we started planning in June. We also live on the east coast, so this was a big, expensive trip. Flights were reasonable though, and between the runner hotel discount RnR offers and my reward points I was able to get a room at the Monte Carlo for free. The race itself was pricey, but I am sure it isn’t cheap getting the strip shut down, so I paid without complaint. To my surprise, Mike, who is not a runner, signed up to run the 10k. It was official. It was planned. We were going to Vegas.

Immediately upon arrival we went straight to packet pickup. RnR does offer race day pickup for an additional fee, something I wish other destination races would do. The race wasn’t until Sunday though, and we flew in Friday, so I could attend the expo. Despite the overwhelming size of the Vegas convention center, packet pickup was painless. We were in and out in thirty minutes, including a tour of all the vendors. However, the poor runners who wanted official RnR gear had a crazy 45 minute line to the cash registers. My free race shirt was enough of a souvenir for me though, so we headed to our hotel to check in.

In less than an hour exploring the strip, my initial thought that I would not like Vegas was confirmed. It is hell. Large crowds, loud noises, drugs, strippers, indoor smoking, tacky buildings, what’s to love? We knew we would not find an experience we enjoyed near the strip, so we started planning day trips outside Vegas. Red Rocks Canyon, Hoover Dam, Tater Tot Festival, Clark County Museum, all were better than the strip. The only Vegas event I enjoyed was the Penn and Teller Show, in which I was pulled on stage to participate in a trick. But this day was not for travel, today was race day.

With our legs fatigued from days of exploring, we decided to take race morning easy. We mostly lounged in bed, watching tv, only venturing out around 11 for lunch at New York New York’s Broadway Burger. As NYNY is next door to the Monte Carlo, this was not a long venture. Finally the time to prepare came. We got into our race gear and headed toward our start lines. The 10k and Half Marathon start in two completely different areas, so I said goodbye to Mike at the monorail station, which would take him to the 10k start, and walked solo to the Half Marathon starting party.

RnR races are known for their music both along the course plus a headliner. With Vegas being one of their biggest races, it attracts a big headliner. I was quite excited with that years headliner, Snoop Dogg! The previous year has Kidd Rock, which would have been torturous. Poor Mike, and the other 10k runners, had to endure a DJ and a light up car show as their “headliner” act.

The crowd at my starting area was huge, and growing larger by the minute. The concert is actually open and free to the public, not just the runners. Therefore it wasn’t just the 27,000 of us running in attendance, which already would have been a lot for me. I found a little hollow spot in the crowd where I could see the stage, and tried to relax to the smooth rap. “Got my mind on my money and my money on my mind”. In reality my mind was trying to ward off anxiety both from the crowd and from pre-race jitters, so I headed to the “porta party”, as RnR christened the porta-potties, then waiting to be called to my corral.

The race had three different waves, depending on anticipated finish time. I was in the green wave, the middle wave. Each wave started thirty minutes apart, so realistically you should never see anyone from another wave. The blue wave had been sent off at 4:30, and at 5 our fireworks shot up from the starting gate and we were off. Even with the full width of the strip and only 9,000 runners in my wave, I still had a hard time finding my pace. I was sprinting around people, weaving in and out trying to find an area I could run comfortably and unhindered. Try as I may, it was impossible.

To make matters worse, the road condition was awful. Potholes, road reflectors instead of painted lines, random pipes implanted into the asphalt wide enough to fit a foot and break an ankle. The first mile was also dark, as we ran away from the strip before doing a u-turn and heading back up. Then the magical part of the race happened, and at least some of my frustrations melted away. For all my negativity leading up to the race, I must admit running down the strip at night was almost breathtaking. All the neon and flashing lights helped masked the tackiness of the resorts easily spotted in the daylight. The strip appears to have been designed for night viewing, it is truly when it looks the best. I still had to watch my footing and fight for my pace, but at least I felt more positive at that moment.

Then you head into old Vegas, which I would not feel comfortable in at night if not surrounded by thousands of other runners. It was fun viewing the classic hotels, like Circus Circus, and I finally learned you could find cheap beer in Vegas if you’re brave enough to go to the old casinos. Elvis was singing outside The Little White Chapel, an amusing addition. After old Vegas, darkness envelops you. Literally. I found myself running through random neighborhood streets with little lighting. A neighborhood resident had dragged his large screen tv into his front lawn to cheer runners on while not missing his football game. It was a surprising mood enhancer.

Back onto the strip I could feel my energy starting to fade. It was hot and humid, and I had expended too much energy sprinting in the beginning. I still had about 5 miles to go but my pace was fading, as was my fun. I was ready to be done. I started to hear a wail in the distance, then some shouting. A runner had fallen and was crying in the fetal position. A halo of blood surrounded her head. Bike paramedics had gotten to her and were trying to figure the logistics to get her out. If anything jars your head back into focus, its a sight like that. Despite my tired legs I reminded myself to focus on the potholed roads and keep my feet lifted.

Finally the finish line was in sight! I crossed it feeling lackluster, grabbed my medal and didn’t even think to take a selfie. The finisher chute was a ¼ mile long. I took all the goodies handed to me in an exhausted daze, only stopping to drink the chocolate milk, which tasted like the elixir of life. I really, really had to pee. I did not want to stop during the run, although the course often had porta-potties available. Oddly though, the finished chute offered none. By the time I exited, I was basically walking cross-legged to hold it in.

Mike was waiting for me in front of Bellagio, the fountains no longer dancing as they did non-stop during the start of the race. He had been live tracking me and had seen my pace fall off at the end and knew I was going to be disappointed. I used the first hotel bathroom I found, gave my runner’s beer to Mike as I felt awful, then rejoiced when we got to our room. I checked my race stats, 2:10:52. I had to almost crawled into the shower, cleaned up, then threw up. This race was NOT sitting well with me. Mike was already laying in bed watching tv. I snuggled in beside him and we promptly fell asleep, all former plans to have a big post-race dinner vanishing.

We awoke early as usual, packed and left. When I originally booked the flights we were flying out at 2 P.M., giving us time for lunch before going to the airport. But the airline decided to change our flight to 10 A.M., so straight to the airport we headed. Although originally annoyed by the flight change, when the day came I no longer cared. I just wanted out of the sin city, and the sooner the better. Before long I was strapped into my seat, book in hand, trying to ignore the happy chatter of follow runners comparing happy stories so I wouldn’t ruin their fun with my negative view of the whole experience. I keep my attention on the window instead, never so happy to see the familiar landscape of North Carolina gliding beneath me. I made it, I survived, I got my Nevada medal, and with any luck, I’ll never have to return to Las Vegas again.

*Author’s Note: I know my opinion is not the popular one of Vegas. But it is real, and I’m wasn’t going to sugar coat it. I will say Rock and Roll did put on a good race, and the blame of my horrible experience does not lie with them. If you like Vegas, or are curious to experience the city yourself, I would recommend the race. If you hate Vegas, or think you will, I would definitely seek out a race that showcases the natural beauty of Nevada.

Race: Rock n’ Roll Vegas
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Date:11.13.16
State #: 2
Chip Time: 2:10:52
Pace: 9:59
Overall: 4458/22,052
Age group: 345/2120
Gender: 1772/13,758