Freemorewest 5k on the Greenway

I have been a bad blogger and I’m way behind on half marathon recaps. I hope to get back on track soon. I recently started a new run club for a local arcade bar, Abari, so a lot of my time and energy has been focused on getting that going. (If you live in, or are visiting, Charlotte, NC feel free to come run with us! Abari Track Club) Now that I have that fairly under control, I can get back to blogging.

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to PR in a 5k, so when I discovered a Friday night race just down the road from my neighborhood I figured I couldn’t pass it up. The Freemorewest 5k on the Greenway only cost $25, came with a t-shirt, plus a free pint of craft beer from Town Brewing. Free beer is all I need to convince me to run, so I asked my friend Becky to join me and signed up.

If you don’t live in NC, you may not know we turned into a rainforest. It rained almost daily over winter, and it seems spring is following suit. So I wasn’t surprising when it stormed the afternoon of the race. Thankfully it slowed as the day progressed, but the threat of an evening thunderstorm loomed. I had already decided I was going to run rain or shine, but with the uncertain weather, Becky decided to back out.

I had looked up the finish time for this race last year, and based on those times I had a chance to place in my age group. In the start corral they told us that the course was slightly re-routed due to flooding on the greenway, which is common for Charlotte greenways as they tend to parallel creeks. It had been lightly raining before the race, but minutes before the race started it stopped. However, that just left the air loaded with humidity, so I think I would have preferred a drizzle.

After the start horn, people instantly went flying past me. People commonly start too quickly and slow down in the end, so I stayed positive on my goal to place. We crossed some train tracks and a few runners slipped and fell on the wet wood. Then on the greenway there were many slippery mud spots or large puddles covering the entire paved path. The course also hillier than I anticipated. I kept a strong pace, but let myself slow down due to the slick conditions. This race was not worth an injury. I looked at the large number of women still in front of me at mile 2, and mentally let my hopes of placing go.

5ks always feel like they go so fast, and right when I started thinking “I can’t maintain this pace much longer” I looked at my Garmin and saw I only had a ¼ mile left. I crossed the finish line, seeing on the clock that only 26 minutes had passed. My previous PR was 26:50 from the Pancake and Beer 5k, and I knew I had beat that. I walked around the sponsor tables, letting my heart rate stabilize, and printed my official race results. They confirmed I had PR’d. They also confirmed I had not place in my age group, not even close! I came in 11th. Per the 2018 results, I would have come in 3rd with my time, but clearly all the elites were out in force this year. Oh well, part of running is you never know who else is going to show up at a race.

The race ended in the parking lot of Town Brewing, which is where my boyfriend had been waiting for me. I found him at the outside bar, and got in the long line for my free beer. I gave him Becky’s bib so we could get the free beer it came with. (*please note: no one ran with the bib. I do not condone illegal bib transfers or banditing races. I do not have a problem, however, of drinking the free beer that comes with a fully paid race entry. Becky did give us permission to drink her beer.) You could pick any beer you wished, and I got the Naked Napoleon, which was a refreshing sour beer. Once our beers were done we headed home, although they did have live bands and DJs set up for a fun after party. We had prior dinner plans with out-of-town friends though, so I needed to get cleaned up pronto.

Despite my hopes of placing being beyond broken, this was an enjoyable 5k. I did at least PR. With better weather I would have enjoyed it more, but that is not the fault of the race director. For only $25 and a free beer, I’d run it again.

April 5, 2019
6:00 P.M.

Time: 26:03:60

Pace: 8:23/mm

Overall: 46/162

Age: 11/25

Gender: 14/78

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

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