On the Streets of Philadelphia

Beep, Beep, Beep. The alarm awakens us, signaling another work day. Mike slowly swings his legs off the bed and starts a slow shuffle towards the closet. After ten minutes when he hadn’t even reached the foot of the bed, I gently chided “I said you wouldn’t be going to work today.” He had been playing basketball the day before when the ball went outside the fence. Jumping the fence to retrieve the ball, he landed on uneven ground and his back seized up. I had warned him it was only going to get worse. My childhood was spent watching my dad throw his back out more times than I can count. Mike blew off my warnings, claiming he would be fine. Sadly, my prediction was correct. Mike sighed, admitting defeat, and called in sick.

On the Streets of Philadelphia

To add extra stress to the thrown out back scenario, we were both signed up for the Rock and Roll Philadelphia half marathon. The race was exactly 3 weeks from the day Mike’s back went out of commission. We planned to stay with his sister who lives outside Philly, and our flights were already purchased. I knew immediately Mike would not be running, and as time ticked by without vast improvement, he also accepted that reality. The question was, could he travel? This was my first time meeting his sister and her family, so going alone was out of the question. His sister and brother-in-law had signed up to run with us, and we had tickets to a Father John Misty concert as well. Mike loves music more than running, so we try to fit a concert in our race-cations when possible. We were hesitant to cancel, so we decided to play the “wait-and-see” game.

Thankfully, after two weeks of being couch and bed bound, Mike was walking, albeit slowly and not pain free. Running was still out of the question, but he was at least going to be able to travel. Our flight was through Frontier as they offer a direct, cheap flight from Charlotte to Philly. However, as anyone who has flown Frontier knows, their seats offer zero cushioning. I believe they currently hold the patent on “negative cushion seating”. This typically isn’t a problem for us and we suck it up for the cash savings, but it isn’t ideal for one with back pain. Mike tried his best to not show his agony, but I could see the discomfort on his face. At least it was only a very short flight. 

Mike’s sister picked us up from the airport and we went straight to downtown Philly for packet pickup. Mike was actually happy to be standing and walking after an hour on the plywood board Frontier seats. Like most Rock and Roll packet pickups, it was in the large convention center, and was well organized. Gathering the necessary items was quick and smooth, and there were tons of vendors to peruse. We even got a coupon for a free box of Uncle Ben’s Rice from one table. An unusual but appreciated surprise.

After packet pickup we went to Mike’s sister’s house and relaxed a bit while I got to meet his nephew and niece. That night we attended the Father John Misty concert at the Mann Center, which is a breathtaking outside amphitheater with an amazing view of Philly at night. The next day we explored an amazing, hard to describe shopping mall with a mix of antiques, new items, and an area where the Amish could sell homemade food and items. We picked up Amish homemade pasta noodles and other items for dinner, and explored the eclectic mall. The adults decided to go out for a drink before cooking dinner, so they took us to a nearby restaurant with a fancy bar. The bartender was confused by our NC driver’s licenses. At first refused to serve us, claiming she had never seen a NC license before and couldn’t verify if they were real. Mind you, Mike and I are in our thirties and this was an expensive bar, not a place underage kids would try to score a drink, so we were taken back. The bartender said we had to show another photo ID to verify ourselves. All I had was my Sam’s Membership card with its grainy black and white dot matrix photo, and Mike had nothing. Finally a manager came over, deeply studied our IDs under multiple lighting, and begrudgingly agreed to serve us. So word of the wise, if you want a drink in the suburbs of philly, come with multiple forms of photo identification.

Alcohol quickly turned the moment with the bartender into a source of amusement, rather than a frustrating encounter. Mike’s brother-in-law ordered a scotch and received the equivalent of a triple pour. Seriously, we barely get a beer, but he got a pour like the liquor was expiring in an hour.  As it was much more scotch than he was intending or wanted, he offered to share. Mike and his sister, both of Irish descent, refused as they are bourbon drinkers. I had never had scotch, but I didn’t want to appear ungrateful to my hosts, so I agreed to help out. I am of Scottish descent, and my genes instantly delighted as the leathery flavor hit my tongue. His brother-in-law, excited to have another scotch fan on his side, gave me a full tasting of all different brands of scotch once back home. I landed on Laphroaig Select as my favorite.

The next morning I awoke somehow hangover free despite the array of scotch I had tried. Mike had volunteered to stay home and watch the kids, so he slept in while the 3 of us started an early morning journey to the heart of Philly. The port-a-potty line was impossibly long and we were nearing the start time, I decided to skip it and we moved into the starting corral. Both Mike’s sister and brother-in-law are fast runners, much faster than I am. They decided to stay with me though as I aimed to try for a sub-2, a feat I had never completed. 

The race started well enough, and we were keeping a good pace. The course winded through downtown Philadelphia, and was relatively flat. I had grabbed a granola bar for breakfast which I ate during the car ride, but I had not brought any extra fuel. I knew they would be handing out Sport Beans, but I realized too late I was on the wrong side of the street to grab the Sports Beans as we passed. Not wanting to waste time backtracking, I just pushed forward. Little did I know that was the one and only fuel station on the course. 

The bands and crowd support, such as the man dressed as a superhero standing in the middle of the course giving out high-fives and dancing, keep me both motivated and mentally engaged. There was also a homeless man standing on the side of the course asking the runners for change. I can’t imagine he made very much as I do not know a single runner who keeps a pocket of change on them while distance running. Around mile 11 my energy levels were depleting and my skipped pre-race pee was coming back to haunt me. I really wanted to stop and walk. We told Mike’s sister to keep her amazing pace, but Mike’s brother-in-law stayed with me as my pace slowed, gently and effectively pushing me forward. He reminded me my breathing was still perfect so I was still physically able to maintain a good pace, I just had to overcome the mental aspect. That and the fact that the faster I finished, the sooner I could use the bathroom. 

I pushed through and when we crossed the finish line the gun clock showed a time slightly over 2 hours. I had given up on the hope of hitting a sub-2 when my energy faded and my bladder filled. Michael’s sister came running over and informed me of my official chip time. 100% thanks to Mike’s brother-in-law, I finished the race in 1:59:54. Six whole seconds under 2 hours. I know that isn’t the most impressive sub-2, but for me it meant the world. I will openly admit I teared up when I learned the news. I was so excited I even paid the $20 to have my medal engraved. A sub-2 was a bucket list item and I needed to commemorate it, even if it was just 6 seconds under.

For me this was an epic trip where I not only accomplished a life goal, I obtained the half marathon ritual I still follow of enjoying a Scotch on the rocks the night before a race. Even Mike, who doesn’t sugarcoat when he is unhappy, said he enjoyed the trip. Thank goodness we had that concert planned or I think his assessment wouldn’t have been so positive. I wish this story had unfolded without Mike being in pain, but life rarely goes as planned. I’m just hoping the thrown out back isn’t a reoccurring theme and this is a one-time story line. Fingers crossed!

Rock n Roll Philadelphia 
Time: 1:59:54
Pace: 9:09/mm
Overall: 2225/8795
Age: 128/777
Gender: 844/5028

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
State #: 2
Chip Time: 2:10:52
Pace: 9:59
Overall: 4458/22,052
Age group: 345/2120
Gender: 1772/13,758