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heartland road runners club

The Heartland Roadrunners at Bridge the Gap 2013

You know, I owe my readers a race report for the Bridge the Gap Half Marathon that I ran with my training partner Doug this spring, and I’ve been thinking a little about it.  My summary of the race would go:

jjk

Jackie Joyner Kersee and I after Bridge the Gap 2013

– Jackie Joyner Kersee (who gave out the medals) was AWESOME.  If there’s something better than getting a half marathon medal from an 8 time Olympic Gold Medalist, I can’t think of it.

– Crossing the bridges over the Mississippi in the beginning of the race is BEAUTIFUL.

– The support was pretty good, though they were out of water at the first 2 stops and I don’t drink Gatorade because the sweetness gives me a tummy ache during races (And that’s why I love Nuun…!)

… and that’s about it.  Oh, I would probably mention that it was the warmest day Doug and I had run so far for the year and that was a little tough on us.  Despite the heat, I cut 9 minutes off my time from the Allerton Trails Half Marathon a few weeks before.

Now readers, don’t get the wrong idea when I tell you my feedback about this race, because I don’t want you to think it was a negative experience!  The entire staff of Bridge the Gap does a terrific job of putting together a solid run and should be congratulated for raising a lot of money for MedAssist and for growing the sport of running in Quincy each and every year.  The beef I’ve got with BtG as compared to any of the other half marathons I’ve run in the past 2 years is:

Where were all of the spectators?!

I’m not going to lie, when we were hot and exhausted in the endless bottoms of mile 9, I could have really gone for a, “Your feet must hurt from kicking this much butt!” sign.  Or how about a poster reading, “Run Faster! Zombies Don’t Like Fast Food!”  Or my training partner’s favorite sign, “Worst. Parade. Ever.

occupy finish line

“Occupy Finish Line” at the Occupy Little Rock Protests.

You see, I love the crazy spectators.  It’s my favorite thing about a large race.  Without the spectators, it’s just another training run out a long and lonesome road.  I hit low spots. I want to give up.  I want to walk the next 4 miles or perhaps steal a car.  I need the energy of a crowd and the encouragement of an electric race environment to keep my mind off my sore knees and to keep me moving forward.

When I was in Little Rock, AR doing my first half marathon, a random person in mile 11 yelled, “Yeah Laura! Doing Great!” when they read my name off my bib.

the course is strong

My husband can draw Darth Vader. It is the only thing he draws.

When I was in Lexington, KY for Run the Bluegrass half marathon there were bands around every corner and crowds of people chanting, “Go, Stranger, Go!”

For the half marathon in Illinois, there was a spectator with a table full of Dixie cups with a sign that said, “Free Tiny Beer for You and Steve!” (I don’t know who Steve is, but I bet he enjoyed his mid-race tiny beer as much as I did.)

photo 1

Bike rides can use signs too! My friend Jen at the RAIL (Ride Across Illinois) ride

At the Allerton Trail Half Marathon (Decatur, IL) – even on a decidedly quieter trail course – there was a section late in the race where a line of 15 people were lined up giving a row of high-fives to the runners who went past.

I love you, crazy fans. I really, really do.

photo 2

My stick zombies could use some work, but rider Gary Clay still got a smile out of this one!

Here’s my suggestion for BtG 2013: We need to get more spectators and awesome signs on the half marathon course!  I’m not talking about fans at the start/finish (there were a good number of people in that area) but I’m talking about some hard core, awesome, “Pain is temporary, finishing is forever” sign holders sitting out on lonely mile 8.  If at all possible, I’d suggest that said sign holders also dress like 80’s hair bands or perhaps Batman.

Yes. That’s it.  I would like 15 people dressed as Batman at mile 8. 

whoop azz sign

Quincy Sketch Club Members Jamie Green and Charlie Martin helped me make signs for an Ultra Marathon in Vermont.

So next Spring when you’re asking a friend if they want to run Bridge the Gap with you and despite your pleading they turn you down, tell them they can still help with the race. As a matter of fact… don’t wait.  Tell them now.  Maybe they can pick up their Batman costumes at an after Halloween sale! Hook them up with a pack of those huge, smelly magic markers and a pile of neon poster board.  Get them a cowbell and a tambourine and tell them to go nuts.

This one goes out to you, Crazy Marathon Sign Holder Person.  Thank you for all that you do!

And if there comes a day that I’m not running in the race, I’ll still be down there.  Look for me at mile 11.  I’ll be holding the, “I Think Chaffed Nipples are HOT!” sign.  🙂

Also check out this Buzzfeed article of more fun signs!

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Doug, Glenn and I show off our medals after Run the Bluegrass

Doug, Glenn and I show off our medals after Run the Bluegrass

When I signed up for the Run the Bluegrass half marathon in Lexington, Kentucky, I had many lofty expectations that probably seem silly.  I pictured rolling green pastures, enormous old estates, chickens in the yard, babbling streams, horses running the fields, and miles and miles of white fence framing it all in the perfect picture of the South.

As it turns out- I was spot on.

Pre-race Sponsor Pics! It's Nuun Hydration and VFuel! Love it! Click here to enter my contest to win both!

Pre-race Sponsor Pics! It’s Nuun Hydration and VFuel! Love it! Click here to enter my contest to win both!

I came to this race by way of another race selling out really fast. I had originally intended to run the Quivering Quads half marathon through Cuivre River State Park, but when it was full in a day, I did what any red-blooded American would do: whined about it on Facebook.  A high school friend who once lived in Lexington posted a link to what was billed as “One of the prettiest half marathons in America,” and I was sold.  I quickly talked my training partner Doug into the race, and not long after that- primarily by reminding him that Kentucky was the heart of bourbon country- I had convinced our friend Glenn from the running club to join us too.

Training for this race didn’t always go smoothly.  The first few months of this year, our hometown was blanketed by over a foot of snow not once, but three separate times. It seemed like our choices for times to run revolved around which was worse: freezing temperatures or freezing rain. But we slogged through long runs and hoped for spring to relieve the need to run bundled up like the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

Night before the race drinks in the hotel lobby. My first ever bourbon. When in Kentucky...

Night before the race drinks in the hotel lobby. My first ever bourbon. When in Kentucky…

Due to a death in the family and an unexpected trip to Chicago, I arrived in Lexington late Friday night, after 10 hours in my car, having missed the expo.  My friends Doug and Glenn were already there, and I was barely in the door before Glenn had his expo prize out to show me: a bottle of Knob Creek Bourbon that was specially-selected for this race which he had gotten signed by Runner’s World’s Hal Higdon.  The guys had also each purchased an etched Run the Bluegrass rocks glass, and Doug had kindly picked one up for me too.  Happy to finally be out of my car, we all went to the lobby to have a nightcap and then were off to bed at a pretty decent hour.

We woke up at 6 am for the 9 am race.   We stayed at the race hotel, the Hyatt Downtown, so we were pretty close to the race start.  We grabbed breakfast at the hotel lobby. I had hot cereal and some fruit, which is evidently my pre-race ritual now.  Then we were off to the race.

Beautiful drive to the race.

Beautiful drive to the race.

The drive there is worth mentioning actually.  There was a low fog hanging over the low spots of the farms along the way, and temperatures just around freezing had frozen the fog in spots and added a gorgeous sparkle to the landscape. The sun was working hard to burn the fog away and the scene was another perfect picture of the South.

We arrived at Keenland Thoroughbred Race Track over an hour before the race.  Walking up to the spired main building I could see the finish line off to my right.  Perhaps the little detail of pre-race that made me the happiest is that the racetrack had plenty of inside bathrooms.  There is nothing in this world better than knowing you don’t have to go to the port-a-potty before a race.  I popped a lemon-lime Nuun Hydration tablet in my water bottle (what, you didn’t think I was going to mention my sponsor!?  CLICK HERE to see my brand new Ambassador Page!!) and then it was time to go.

I'm betting on the right horse to win!  These ladies did the whole race in costume. Awesome.

I’m betting on the right horse to win! These ladies did the whole race in costume. Awesome.

We made our way down to race start about quarter to nine, and maybe it’s just the speed of the South, but no one seemed in much hurry to get to the start.  We found our spot in our corral among the other 4000+ runners and chatted with the people around us.  Mainly, I talked to a guy named Andy, who was funny and kind and kept my mind off of the 13.1 hilly miles in front of us.  The race started just a little late and by the time we hit the start line, the temperature outside was absolutely perfect.

Go ahead. Count the hills. But it will only make you cry. (chart from Taz Running.com)

Go ahead. Count the hills. But it will only make you cry. (chart from Taz Running.com)

Now, dear readers, I’ve been thinking for 5 days what to tell you about the race.  You see, I don’t want to scare you off because you should definitely do this race.  I’m not going to lie to you though, it’s hilly.  Real hilly.  And if I do this race again next year, I shall never, ever skip one of Brian Pahlmann’s hill repeat training sessions down at the river. Ever.

I noticed the first long hill we climbed had a name: Songbird Hill.  It was a good name, since I could hear some meadowlarks off in the field. The next hill was also graced with a sign at the top dubbing it Rose Hill.  And at the top of the next hill there was another sign and another name and I remembered what someone in the bike club once told me, “It’s only a real hill if it’s got a name.”  Well looking from the crest of the hill we were on across the rolling landscape in front of us, I thought, “Gosh, there are going to be a lot of names.”

Kim and Laura and myself at around mile 8...we stopped for a picture!!

Kim and Laura and myself at around mile 8…we stopped for a picture!!

In spite of the fact that we were woefully underprepared for a course like this, both Doug and I were surprised to see the first several miles melting away.  The course was very well-marked and large flags called out each mile.  Intermittently along the course there were bands playing a wide variety of music (Seriously: there was some screamo at one corner and a bluegrass band at the next.  WIDE variety…) but mostly the course was a quiet country road with little to hear aside from footfalls.

Another post race pic!

Another post race pic!

Near the bluegrass band was one of those scenes I’d clearly imagined before the race- a yard full of chickens and one proud Tom turkey out strutting his stuff, wearing his feathers tall like royal regalia.  Not far up the road was the first close-to-the-fence horse, a big black and white draft horse who stood by the fence waiting for the next runner who would come over and give him a scratch on the cheek.  He was very sweet and made me smile.  That sort of thing really helps me get my mind off the primary problem: the hills.  My god, the hills.

We were struggling mightily up one hill that Doug named, “The Widow Maker,” when (now don’t miss the irony here) a little old man came by us and said, “You know what a little old man once told me about hills?  It’s just ground!”

Somewhere just past the halfway point, I called out, “Well there’s no turning back now; it’s further to turn around!” which drew a laugh from a couple of girls in the vicinity.  The girls were named Kim and Laura and we ran with them on and off for the rest of the race.  Kim is also a blogger and writes one called This Healthy Endeavor.  It’s got recipes and race reports and more. You should go check it out. Half way is also the point I chose to eat a second V-Fuel Endurance Gel. The VFuel really helped me get through this tough race and didn’t give me any tummy problems at all.  That’s why I love it.  (Click here to see my contest to win Nuun and VFuel!!!!!)

My race goodies! Yeah, I splurged for the bottle of bourbon.

My race goodies! Yeah, I splurged for the bottle of bourbon.

Probably the most beautiful moment of the race for me was at mile 8.  We crested *another* hill and at the top there were 3 sets of mares and foals running wide arcs around their fenced pasture.   It was breathtaking to watch, and even though I was getting pretty exhausted, their enthusiasm for running returned the spring to my step and the smile to my face.

I’m not going to get too much into the end of the race… it was hilly, I was undertrained, and I did a lot of walking.   That’s okay though. Doug stuck right by my side and we did the thing together.  Then, just past a little marching band stationed at the last corner (WIDE variety of music…) the finish line came into sight.  We ran out the last “point-one” as quick as we could and were presented with what is probably my favorite half-marathon medal to date.

Sorry this blog got so long folks! Thanks for sticking with me! Run the Bluegrass was a terrific race.  I posted a personal worst time- but I also feel like I worked really hard for it and was super proud anyway.  I couldn’t have done it without my training partner Doug, who helped me through the long, bleak winter training and shared in the fun in Lexington.  Glenn finished in front of us, but he was great to have around and was fun the entire trip.

Doug, Glenn, Race Director Eric and I after the race (and after a Kentucky Ale!)

Doug, Glenn, Race Director Eric and I after the race (and after a Kentucky Ale!)

Special thanks go to the race director Eric Marr and his team for making every part of the race beautiful.  From the specially chosen barrels of Knob Creek Bourbon, to the ribbons based on the silks of the famous thoroughbred filly Genuine Risk, this was a race with an eye for the details that make an experience special.

Also, a big shout-out to Andy, Kim, Laura, Amanda Jones and her friends, and Lisa- new friends from the race.  I absolutely loved the size of this race. It made it easy to meet people, share a Kentucky Ale, and lament the hills like we’d been running together forever.  Lisa if you’re reading this: I’ll see you this weekend in Allerton. I can’t believe we were both silly enough to sign up for the same two half marathons on back-to-back weekends.

Doug at the Town Branch distillery tour.

Doug at the Town Branch distillery tour.

If you make it down for this race next year (and you totally should) make sure you take a little time to explore Lexington. It’s an awesome town with lots to do.  We toured the Town Branch Bourbon Distillery after the race and also got a taste of downtown at a really great creole joint called Bourbon and Toulouse for dinner.  Then we treated ourselves to pie by the famous Missy’s Pies at Ramsey’s Restaurant for desert.  I had coconut cream.  Wow.

Just remember: If you sign up for this race next year… don’t skimp on the hill training.  🙂

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Hey, Adventure Foot Readers! I’m happy to be sharing another race report from my running partner and frequent guest blogger for Adventure Foot, Doug Burdic! Doug and I were supposed to run the Route 66 Half Marathon in Tulsa, OK together in November, but thanks to me catching a near-pneumonia-level respiratory infection, Doug had to fly solo for Tulsa.  I’m very proud of him taking on this tough course, for setting a new Personal Record and improving his time from our Illinois Half Marathon.  Doug and I are already looking at the calendar to plan our next half marathon together.  I promise I’ll drink my orange juice and try not to get sick before the next one.    

Oklahoma

Where the (Head)wind Comes Sweepin Down the Plains…

by Doug Burdic

IT’S LABOR DAY – Got a race to run sometime.  When’s November?  That soon, huh?  Best get cracking then.

FRIDAY BEFORE THE RACE AT THE OFFICE – Nervous wreck.

SATURDAY – Awoke at 5:30, jumped in the car and headed for the Route 66 Half Marathon in Tulsa.  Nice day for a drive.  Having never been through southwestern Missouri, I was surprised at the hills and valleys that the Ice Age glaciers were kind enough to provide, and noticed that Jefferson City is the most physically demanding city I’ve ever been through.  I actually had my hands at 10 and 2 for a minute.

Oklahoma looks exactly as you would expect Oklahoma to look:  just like any scene in Twister.  Lots of billboards for casinos.  And oddly, lots of signs begging me not to drive into smoke, which seems like a good idea no matter what state you’re in.

Having successfully not driven into smoke, I came in to Tulsa, the whole of which was under heavy construction.  Having blown my turn for the hotel (thanks for ripping the exit signs down, Tulsa 😦 ), I audibled to the packet pickup and the pretentiously named Health, Fitness and Sustainability Expo in the city’s Convention Center.

Big room.  Quite a few vendors, though I didn’t see any booths for any other marathons as I had elsewhere.  By the time I’d gotten there, most of the places were picked pretty clean and the crowd was thin.  Pickup was a breeze.

Doug snapped this picture with his super-cool half marathon finisher's medal right before he drove home!

Doug snapped this picture with his super-cool half marathon finisher’s medal right before he drove home!

Then to the hotel, conveniently located miles from anywhere, abutting the Tulsa International Airport.  The room was very nice and the place was quiet, save the odd plane taking off.  I grabbed some pasta for dinner at the hotel restaurant and retired early, hoping to sleep.

SUNDAY – I had set the alarm for 5:30 but woke up at 3:30.  Thought some fast thoughts, fired down some breakfast and headed back into the city to find a place to park and the starting line.

The weather was pitch-perfect.  About 45 degrees at the start, and mostly cloudy.  I waited 20 minutes in line for a bathroom, then herded myself into the proper corral to get ready for the start.

The race began pretty smoothly.  I felt strong.  Adrenaline had taken hold, as usual.  The first half-mile or so was downhill, and the next six were NOT.  Nevertheless, I’d kept up a pretty good pace, but that would come with consequences as I’d worn myself down too much.  Around the sixth mile, I was torn asunder.  My quads were actually on fire.  But I needed to continue, and apparently I needed to learn a valuable lesson about pacing oneself.  So onward I went.

One of Doug and my favorite runs from 2012- The Frozen Buns Run in St. Louis, MO

One of Doug and my favorite runs from 2012- The Frozen Buns Run in St. Louis, MO

A few words about the course:  very nice, really.  Ran through some nice neighborhoods with families in their front yards cheering us on.  Best sign:  “Go Random Stranger!”  Water and Gatorade stops were plentiful.  As I noted earlier, the course was uphill to start, but came back down quickly and finished flat, on the banks of the Arkansas River.  The only problem I had with that was the length of the finishing leg.  You know when you run on Bonansinga Drive in Quincy, and you run and run and run and never seem to get any closer to the end?  That was a problem here, as I’d no idea if my legs would continue to function properly.  However, the city had made a nice scenic park and the whole thing was pretty neat.  Nature.

I stumbled across the finish line in 2 hours, 45 minutes and change.  A personal best, with a caveat:  I’ve only done one other half marathon.  They had plenty for us to eat and drink, which was sorely needed.  All the volunteers were helpful, everything was great.  The whole race was a really positive experience, and I felt like I’d accomplished something.

Then I walked a block to the car, changed my socks and shoes and drove 450 miles straight home.  Which was stupid.

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Most of the Heartland Roadrunners that made the trip to the Illinois Marathon. Doug, Jeff and I missed the pre-race picture while we were stuck in traffic.

I wasn’t really sure where to go with this race report.  I didn’t personally run very well, and since a day after the race I was sitting on my couch with a sore throat and fever, and by Tuesday morning  I was at the walk-in clinic getting antibiotics for a  sinus infection,  I think the explanation for the slow run is now more clear.  So, I’m going to give you my impression of the Illinois Half Marathon and I-Challenge and I’m going to try to keep my not-feeling-good whining to a minimum.  Suffice it to say, I think I was on the verge of a pretty icky cold while I was running 16.2 miles in 12 hours, and that may have colored my experience a tad.

The Lead-Up

The days before the Illinois Marathon were simply full of obsessive weather-watching.  Was it going to rain? Storm?  I heard wind! Cold?  What am I going to wear?  Packing my bag on Thursday, I decided to not make a decision and just bring every piece of running gear I owned.

The Expo and Check-In

We took this photo at the expo…

I was super impressed with the organization of the check-in process.  I remarked to my friend Doug that it was easier to check in for this race of 20,000 people than it was for the comparatively small Turkey Run back in Quincy!  (No offense meant to the Turkey Run, which was also fairly quick!)   There were plenty of volunteers, the lines were organized by race and number, and there was really no wait when we arrived.

After we checked in, we headed over to the Expo.  As we were walking in, Ultra-Marathoner and Everest-Climber Marshall Ulrich was leaving.  I actually had not heard that he’d be there or I would have made a point to get there a little sooner- he’d be one inspiring guy to meet!  Anyway, Doug and I wandered around a while and looked at booths from other races and checked out some of the merchandise on sale.  The selection wasn’t nearly as large as the expo at the Little Rock Marathon, and I was disappointed that none of the vendors had any women’s trail running shoes, because I really wanted to try a few pairs on and take my favorite home.  I bought a poster and a pint glass and Doug got a new water bottle and then we were off to the hotel.

The Hotel

I only mention this in hopes of saving other people: do not stay in the Red Roof Inn in Champaign under any circumstances.   The beds were rocks, the highway was so close I thought a semi would come through the wall at any moment, and the whole place shakes when someone in another room flushes a toilet.  Worse yet, they charged $114 a night, with taxes almost $130… and that was just outright robbery.   Not a place for a pre-run rest.

The 5K

Some of the Heartland Roadrunners before the 5K. We were all participating in the I-Challenge by completing the 5K then a half or full the next day.

The skies were swirling and grey when Doug and I headed over to the 5K on Friday night.  It wasn’t raining, but it wasn’t pretty.  We met up with some club members and snapped a photo and danced to a Michael Jackson song playing over the loud speakers.  Someone said “Go!” and the 5500 participants all took off.  Most everyone in our club was taking it easy on this run since we were all doing the half or full in the morning, so a lot of silliness was in store for the 5K.

“The Dougster” goes off course… 🙂

I ran backwards underneath the Champaign and Urbana Fire Truck Arch (They actually had one fire truck from each township) and Ali snapped a picture.  The route ran through campus and the downtown area, and, at one point, Doug and I heard a big commotion off to our left.  To neither of our surprise, at the center of the cheering were 3 members of our club off of the course and on the lawn of a sorority house chugging beers.  I love our club sometimes…

After the 5K.

Running backwards under the fire truck flag arch!

Strangely enough, that’s really all that I found particularly remarkable about the 5K all the way to the finish line.  If there weren’t 5500 other runners, it would have just felt like any of the club runs we do in our town every day.   The finish line is pretty darn neat though!  After cruising through town, we headed back to the campus and toward Memorial Stadium at the University of Illinois.  We ran through the tunnel and onto the football field, sprinted the 100 yards downfield, and made a U-turn to run to the finish positioned on the 50 yard line.  There were lots of cheering spectators in the stadium, and as an alumnus of the University of Iowa Marching Band, it brought to mind my college days and the excitement of a Big Ten football game.   Doug and I got our medals, met up with some of the other club members near the food area, ate a banana and were on our way.

I guess the weekend was just not going my way at this point, because leaving the stadium my medal broke, we couldn’t find where we parked the car and had to wander 4 enormous parking lots for way too long, and it was almost 9 pm by the time we ate dinner.  And of course, after that, we were back at the hotel, and I’ve already mentioned why that was no good.

Race Day

At about 4:50 am- ten minutes prior to our alarm- torrential rain, thunder and lightning woke us up.  The first thing I heard was Jeff laughing.  That’s just what we needed… a thunderstorm.  When we poked our heads out the door of our hotel we saw many other poorly rested runners looking out at the same thing: a cold and soggy race day.  There was nothing for it except to get ready and head back to the starting line though.  I fussed over what to wear and finally decided to go with pants, an Adidas technical short sleeved shirt and my windbreaker jacket.

Doug crossing his first half marathon finish line!

Since everything had conspired to be more difficult than it should be, we managed to make the 3 mile drive to the stadium take 40 minutes.  We finally gave up on the traffic, pulled the car in to a hotel near the congested intersection, and started walking to our corral.  I think that’s when I noticed that it was only 8 minutes to the start of the race and that we were nowhere near where we were supposed to be… so we started running through crowds as best we could to get to the start line.

The Half

The sprinting to the start, as it turns out, was really unnecessary.  We were in the second to last corral based on expected finish time, and by the time we crossed the start, we’d been waiting about 17 minutes.  17 minutes was just enough time for the wind to make us really cold after our warm-up sprint…

I don’t want to sound so terribly negative about the half.  All I know is that I couldn’t get my head in the game.  I wasn’t feeling really ill (like I am today) but I also couldn’t get excited to save myself.  Was it the weather? The hotel? The lack of sleep? Was I starting to get this chest cold/sinus infection so my energy was just low?  I have no idea.  I don’t want to make an excuse.  I just didn’t feel real good at the start of this thing and I didn’t feel better as it went on.

The Prairie path was at about mile 9. This is where the wind really kicked up for us.

The rain had tapered off by the time the race started, but I think the weather still kept many spectators at home.  The ones that braved the elements were enthusiastic though, and they cheered as we ran down the main campus area.  I could tell Doug felt pretty good at the start of the race and was enjoying the feeling of his first big event.  It was only a few weeks ago that I had that rush of adrenaline for my first big race at Little Rock, so his enthusiasm made me smile.  We trained together for this race and had decided long ago that we were going to stick together for it.  Even though I wasn’t feeling great, he honored that plan and stayed right beside me the whole time.  It meant a lot to me that he stayed, and there was more than one moment where having a friendly face made all the difference to keep going.

Lots of hardware to bring home.

Let’s see… highlights of the spectators included a pair of signs that read, “Go Faster,” and “That’s What She Said,” and a stop for beer and bacon.  There was a little brass band huddled in a bus stop shelter to keep out of the cold wind but playing a jaunty little polka, and later a kid with a trumpet playing out of his pep band folder, which were both fun.  There was a spectator holding a sign that said, “Worst. Parade. Ever.” And Doug really got a kick out of that one.  The best water stop on the course was one where everyone was dressed like pirates and called us “matey.”

Logistically the course was fine.  It seemed like water stops were well-placed, there was GU available, and there were bathrooms at water stops.  There were lines at all the bathrooms though, so I’m glad I didn’t have to stop.  They could probably double the number of porta-potties and help a lot of people out next year.

Doug and I celebrating completing the I-Challenge.

Scenically, this was (and I’m really sorry Champaign…) sort of a dull course.  While other race courses cross rivers, go through historic neighborhoods or pass important landmarks, this one just kind of meandered through the campus and some subdivisions.  There was a mile or so of the course that went through a restored prairie park which could have been neat, but the plants aren’t high yet, so it was just a windy, cold grassland.  If you’re looking for a flat race, this one is for you.  If you’re looking for a scenic one, maybe not so much.

I was really tired… 🙂

The course once again ended on the 50-Yard line of the University of Illinois stadium.  It was somewhat less exciting to be doing that for the second time in 12 hours, but still neat.  I was completely spent by the end and glad to grab my medals, snap a couple of pictures and get going.  Probably the biggest highlight of the day was crossing the finish line with Doug for his first half.  We trained together and it was great to share the moment.    Our time was a 2:51, which is a slower per-mile time than all of our training runs and which is completely on me.  I guess it was just a confluence of circumstances that led to a crummy run.

Post-Race

Medals from Left to right: Half Marathon, I-Challenge, and 5K

I don’t want you to come away from this race report thinking I’m really down about the whole thing.  I didn’t run great- but you know, sometimes that happens.  Doug was emboldened by this first finish and we had only been home a few hours before I got a text from him saying, “You wanna sign up for Tulsa?”  I laughed to myself and replied back, “I probably do, but you need to let me eat my chicken before you ask me to sign up for another race.”  (btw- Mr. Bills fried chicken is an excellent post-race reward.)

So there you have it.  It’s a tale of perseverance mostly.  I’m glad, low energy or not, that I didn’t quit.  I’m glad Doug finished his first half.  I’m glad lots of Quincy runners completed I-Challenges, Halves and Fulls.  And I’m glad that I run, even on days where it’s hard to find the sunshine.

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Jason Asman, Melissa James, Laura Sievert and Michelle Bickhaus at the Thanksgiving Turkey Run

When I started on my training plan for the Little Rock Half Marathon I told my friend Jared that I would write little weekly updates to tell everyone how my training was going.  Well friends, I didn’t do it.  I meant to … but I was busy. Mostly I was busy running.  So instead of weekly updates, I’ll share my training with you a month out from my first half.

I guess when you sign on to run a distance race you expect that it’s going to be tough, but when it’s 4 months away, time to train seems unlimited. Life’s like that, isn’t it?  One day you’ve got 4 months to train, and the next you’re staring down a short calendar and wondering how it became February so fast.

I’ve learned a lot of really important things about running over the course of this training plan that I’d like to share.

The biggest surprise of training is how much short runs do for overall fitness.  My plan consists of three- 3 or 4 mile runs a week and one long run on the weekend.  I didn’t know that the gains you make in those little runs could translate into being able to keep going for 9 miles, but it turns out they really add up.

Good advice.

I’ve learned that sometimes you have to take a day or two off and you can’t beat yourself up about it.  I’m starting to know the difference between pains that are just soreness and pains that need rest.  Several times during the past few months, I’ve needed to move a run around or go for a shorter distance when I just didn’t feel right.  I also had a lovely week vacation from running when I managed to get some kind of upper-respiratory-walking-pneumonia crap that was going around my office.  I was very upset about getting behind on my training while I was sick, but after I got back on my runs, I really hadn’t lost much ground.  The key is: Don’t Panic!

I’ve learned that it’s important to run with people who have been running a long time.  They’re a wealth of knowledge and sometimes can give you one little tip that makes all the difference.  For example, my friend Jared noticed that I was bending at my waist when I ran uphill.  Simply learning to stand up and to shorten my stride has improved my hill running immensely!   [An aside: he also told me to “love hills.” I haven’t reached “love” yet, but I am swearing at them less, and I think we’ll put that in the win column.]

I’ve learned some new vocabulary since I’ve been training.  “Tempo” in particular is becoming a bit of a dirty word…  I’ve tried tempo and speed work several times on my own, but my first really good tempo workout was actually just last night.  For those unfamiliar, tempo runs are designed so that you run an easy pace your first mile, then slightly faster each subsequent mile.  This is easier said than done!  I ran my tempo run with my friends Dave and Denise yesterday.  They’re both experienced runners and they selected a great 1 mile circuit for this run.  Quincy is conveniently laid out in a grid, and our route was neatly divided into quarter miles.  The reference points made judging speed much easier.  Dave had a stop watch and we made adjustments to achieve the speed we wanted for each lap.  During my solo attempts at tempo runs I was only checking time every mile, and that just wasn’t working.

I’ve learned recovery is something you have to plan for.  Long runs were kicking my butt in the beginning.  I’d run 7 miles one day and then feel like I couldn’t walk the next.  Well, the fact of the matter is you have got to have a plan for getting the kinks out.  My post-run routine now consists of some targeted stretching (particularly in my hip flexors), a foam roller for my calves, 20 oz. minimum of water and usually some juice or something too, and ice if I need it.  Also, a brisk walk can do wonders to alleviate overall soreness.  Oh! And bananas.  I eat lots of bananas!   Sometimes I even eat bananas on peanut butter sandwiches.  Mmmmmm …

4 feet are better than 2.

I’ve learned that I’m a runner who needs a partner as often as possible.  Even if we’re not talking, I really appreciate having someone else close.  Some runners love the alone time and enjoy clearing their heads on the road. I’m just not there yet.   When I’m alone, I spend a lot of time thinking of things like where I’m sore, why I’m still not very fast, if I can make the distance, or whether  8.3 miles is good enough if I’m aiming for 8.5.  When I’ve got a running partner, I actually can clear my mind better than if I’m alone.  We talk a little, and run a lot.  Having a partner is like a spoonful of sugar to help the miles just go down.  Maybe someday I’ll be able to tackle the road with a clear head, but for now, 4 feet are better than 2.

On any given day a run can feel wonderful, terrible, long, short, frustrating, or triumphant.  My half marathon isn’t very far away, and I think I’ll be alright.  I’m starting to believe I can do it.  What I’ve really learned is just to keep making a little headway each day. Continual forward progress.

Little Rock: T-minus 30 days and counting…

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Tim 115 pounds lighter running the Bridge the Gap Half Marathon.

As I’ve been preparing myself for my first 5K at Bridge the Gap this Saturday, I’ve found myself in need of something to boost my motivation. Let me tell you — I found exactly what I needed.  I’m honored that Tim Cassidy has agreed to share his truly inspirational story with me, and with you, the readers of my blog.  Enjoy this guest blog by Tim Cassidy:

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By Tim Cassidy:

Before starting my current career, I grew up working on a ranch and working for the U.S. Forest Service cutting down trees.  So, I was very physically active whether that was wrestling steers, stacking hay, cutting trees, stacking logs, or whatever it may be.  I graduated college and started a career where I sat at a desk.  I went from being able to eat whatever I wanted and keeping somewhat under control, to leading a more sedentary lifestyle.  I won’t kid you: I was never a small guy, but I was a lot more in shape.  So, after three years of sitting at a desk I quickly went to being over 300 lbs.  The company moved me twice so health wasn’t on the top of my list.  I was offered a third position move to Des Moines, IA I decided I had gotten to a point that something needed to be done.  I started hurting all over on joints, pain in my chest, and just plan out unhealthy.

In April 2008, I started to do something about it.  My starting weight was 312 pounds. I didn’t have much of a plan.  Luckily for me, I had a coworker that worked out every morning, so I tag along to get started.  It wasn’t pretty at the beginning; in fact it was plan out ugly and embarrassing.   My first time on a tread mill, I’d covered not even a quarter of a mile, and I was breathing so hard that I sounded like a grizzly bear stuck in a barbed wire fence.

I made dietary changes.  I stopped drinking all soda and stuck with coffee in the mornings and water the rest of the time, and, except for an occasional alcoholic beverage, that was it.  I quite eating all candy, deserts, snack food, and all other sweets.  I only went out to eat if it was a business function, holiday, or family event (this was probably the hardest part for me because Des Moines has Taco Johns and it is my favorite restaurant ever, and I hadn’t lived around one for 6 years).  I had a small breakfast in the morning, yogurt at 9 am, small lunch of protein/vegetables, an apple at 3pm, and a small dinner.  It took time to get my body used to not over-stuffing at each meal.  I got used to getting up a 4:30 a.m. for my workout, and eating healthy the first year.  I went from 312 pounds from April 2008 to 250 pounds by May 2009 when I ran my first Bridge the Gap to Health.  I ran the 5K with a goal to finish in under 30 minutes.  I finished in 30 minutes and 31 seconds.  My time was a little heart breaking, but motivating.

After finishing the race I decided I would run the half marathon the next year. I don’t really know what I was thinking at that moment, because that is over 13 miles.  My training became more intense.  I ran five days a week, four short runs and one long run.  I gradually worked the distances up as the year went on.  I ran into a few setbacks with an ankle roll, pulled muscle, and dieting issues.  I actually got to a point of exhaustion because I wasn’t taking enough calories for all exercising I was doing.  I learned a lot about taking in the right carbs, sugars, potassium, protein to be a runner, and that became an important part of training for my half marathon.

Three months prior to race I cut all liquids besides water out and stuck to a strict diet.  The day of the race I weighed in at 194 pounds.  That was a total loss of 118 pounds by race day.  My goal going into the race was to finish in 10 minute miles.  After working through the crowd at the beginning and battling my nerves, I finally settled into my pace at about mile three.  The temperature of 37 degrees was in my favor, because I did all of my training outside, even through the winter. From mile 3 to mile 10, it was normal running for me.  I covered the ground quick and easy and had no issues.  At mile 10 the pain started kicking it, starting with the ankle I rolled, pain with every step worsen as the time went on.  The last mile, my pulled muscle from early in the year starting tightening and it made it a struggle to focus.

All of that pain went away as I saw the finish line a half-mile away though.  Finishing the race wasn’t just a relief, it was also extremely emotional.  My 2-year goal of hard work and dedication came to an end and had paid off.  I finished the race ahead of my goal of 10 minute miles. My official time showed an average of 8 minute and 19 second miles.

Training for Bridge the Gap and losing the weight has made an amazing difference in life. I now have the energy to do whatever. It’s great being able to play with my nephews and nieces without breathing heavy.  I can work on the farm and keep up with everyone else.  I feel better all-around.  The confidence factor has come slower though.  A lot of people are amazed how I look, and comment on me looking so much better.  It has taken me almost a year later for me to see that same thing.  I watched myself as a big guy my whole life and it came off slowly over 2 years, so the change was gradual for me.

My advice to people who would like to be more active and get healthy is this: Anyone can do it, it takes time, dedication, hard work, and a mindset of success.

Original Post May 13, 2011

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