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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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Pre-Climb at registration!

Pre-Climb at registration!

This past weekend my husband, Justin, my friends Jeremy and Adam, and I all participated in the Fight for Air Climb to benefit the American Lung Association.  I’d like to start this race recap with a great big THANK YOU to the friends and family that made donations to our team.  With your help, we raised over $600 to help the mission of the American Lung Association.  The ALA supports anything and everything lung related- including research, smoking prevention and cessation programs and screening programs for cancer, asthma, and rare lung diseases.

I decided to form a team for this event back in October after a good friend suffered a spontaneous lung collapse. Then my dad was diagnosed with primary lung cancer.  What can I say?  It was a bad month for lungs.  As members joined my team, we added some “reasons to climb” for friends and family with conditions including asthma, sarcoidosis and a recent lung transplant recipient.  The one thing we know is this: no one should have to fight to breathe!

ALA Fight for Air Climb events are held at prominent skyscrapers and stadiums throughout the country. Participants basically just climb the stairs as fast as they can- kind of like a vertical road race!  There are different categories at each race including a first responder division where firefighters and other first responders run the stairs in 70 lbs of full gear, and a category called “The Ultimate Climb,” where climbers complete the course as many times as they can within a set time limit.

The Hilton in Springfield, IL

The Hilton in Springfield, IL

We signed up for the regular single climb in the Springfield, IL event.  So, on a cold Saturday morning, we made our way over to the tallest building in Springfield: the 34 story Hilton hotel.  The Hilton sticks out like a sore thumb in downtown.  There’s just no other building around it even half so tall.  It really adds to the intimidation factor to see this one tower dominate the skyline.

We arrived about 45 minutes before our scheduled climb time and went straight to registration.  I get the feeling that locals took advantage of the early registration the night before, because it took no time at all to get in, get our numbers and our tech shirts, and get ready to climb.  And it was good that registration was so fast, because the event was running ahead of schedule and our wave was already being called.

The volunteers directed us toward the basement where we got chip timers for our shoes and where we saw the beginning of the climb.  Yep.  It was just a regular old stairwell.  The team before us exchanged high-fives and took off up the stairs.  We didn’t know really what to do, so we all kind of stretched our calves out for a minute and then walked up to the door.  A very nice volunteer checked off our numbers and then we were off!

The stairwell is pretty narrow, so our team took off more or less single file.  I could hear Adam hootin’ and hollerin’ as we began… and so could everyone else in the stairwell!  You have to love his enthusiasm echoing through the halls!

Personally, I didn’t have any expectations for how long climbing this building would take me.  I just kind of took off as fast as I could go without tripping over my own feet and started knocking out floors.  I didn’t do much stair training for this event since I’m in the middle of my half marathon training plans, but I figured the cardio should transfer… right?

Top of the Hilton with our medals!

Top of the Hilton with our medals!

Wrong! Well, maybe the cardio transferred some, but it was still harder than I expected.  I think it was around the 6th floor where I first felt winded.  It was a surprise to be that out of breath!  There wasn’t anything else to do but keep going though, so that’s what I did, albeit a little more slowly.

Some other women from the team before me were also finding this climb a little harder than expected and were taking a break on a landing.  I high-fived them and yelled out something encouraging as I passed.  Through the climb I passed several other groups- getting around them was not always easy in the little stairwell- but everyone seemed like they were having a good time.

I looked up somewhere around floor 20 and was really proud of myself.  This was going pretty fast, even if I was winded!

My Fight for Air Climb Medal

My Fight for Air Climb Medal

There were volunteers standing at some of the doorways along the way up handing out water or yelling encouragement, and the man at the 28th floor yelled out that I was almost there!  I scurried up the last couple of steps and then it was over.  My time for the climb was 7:30.

The rest of my team were already there waiting for me at the top.  My husband put up our team’s best time: a scorching 4:35.  Adam ended in 5:00 flat, and Jeremy came in at 5:20.  It was kind of strange to be done with an event so quickly.  We didn’t quite know what to do with ourselves… so we snapped a few pictures and headed to one of the best restaurants in Springfield, D’arcy’s Pint, for a victory beer.

The event was a fun time for a good cause. It was also incredibly well-run and well-staffed with helpful volunteers   We all decided if we did this again next year, we’d try the Ultimate Climb.  Our friend Brian Pahlmann participated in this grueling event last year and logged 11 climbs in an hour.  Amazing! I also think it would be fun to try the same event in Chicago at the Sears Tower.  It’s, ya know, just a little more iconic than the Springfield Hilton.

If we do that though, we’re going to need to really train.  Stair climbing is some serious exercise, and I can tell that I need to work on my VO2 Max if I’m going to dart up the 110 stories of the Sears Tower next year!

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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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TOMRV Day 2- Laura, Justin, Stephen, Jen and Tony (left to right)

You know in the movie Forest Gump the way Tom Hanks describes all the ways that it rained in Vietnam (big rain, fat rain, stinging rain…) or how Bubba described all the ways to fix shrimp (boiled shrimp, shrimp gumbo, shrimp stew…)??  That’s the same sort of list I’d make to describe the hills of the 35th Annual Tour of the Mississsippi River Valley ride.

There were big hills, long hills, steep hills, false flat hills, round hills, hills with bumps, hills with more hills on top of them, barbequed hills… oh wait.  Strike that last one.  You get the point though. It was hilly.

TOMRV Route Map

The ride is presented by the Quad Cities Cycling Club and this was Justin and my first year to participate.  The ride gives you the option of doing 108 miles Saturday and 89 miles Sunday, or doing 70 miles Saturday and 50 miles Sunday.  Justin and I had originally signed up for the longer ride, but since he’s been fighting some IT band issues since he ran the Bridge the Gap Half Marathon (he placed 3rd in his age division!) a few weeks ago  and since we knew it was a tough route, we decided to check down and do the shorter route.  That was probably a good move for our first time at this event.

Crossing one of the first bridges of the day.

The ride started from the town of Preston, Iowa early Saturday morning.  We’d taken advantage of the Friday night check-in, so we had everything we needed to just air up our tires and get on the road when  we arrived at 7:30 am.  High temperatures were supposed to be in the 90s, so we figured getting going early was the best move.

Saturday morning is kind of a blur to me.  Let’s see.  The very beginning wasn’t bad and we warmed up on some low hills.  No big deal.  Then there was a nice section of rolling hills, and they were tough, but still not so bad if you got enough momentum going.  Almost immediately we got to cross a couple of pretty bridges with great views of the rivers (I think the first was causeway near Sabula and the second was the steel-grate bridge over the Mississippi into Illinois) and I really enjoyed the views at both of these locations.  When we hit the first SAG stop at Mississippi Palisades State Park (about 20 miles into the ride), I felt pretty good about everything.  I ate a banana and some grapes, some peanut butter on a bagel, and a little pile of fig newtons and we were on our way.

Here’s the thing about being in the bottom of river valleys: you’re going to have to climb out of them at some point.  The first major climbs of the route were not far down the road from the SAG stop.   They were tough but manageable- I don’t think I slipped into my easiest gear in this stretch.  But then…

We turned onto Blackjack Road: home of the Chestnut Mountain.  This little monster tried to warn us with a sign that said, “Ski Area Ahead,” but we didn’t listen.   Those hills meant business.  While at home, there are only 3 hills that come to mind that have me in my easiest gear- there were at least three climbs in this little stretch that had me there.   I did a little search on Google and found someone else’s GPS map of the ride- I bet you can spot the hills I’m talking about! http://ridewithgps.com/trips/313472

TOMRV Day One Climb. I wish I could credit the guy who made the GPS maps, but it doesn’t say on his website 😦

On the top of Chestnut Mountain… evidently near the Schwarz farm 🙂

This section was also home of the hill known as “The Wall.”  It’s one steep, mean, quarter mile climb.  Nothing to do but sit and spin for this one, guys.   Justin made it up to the top, but I ended up stopping in the middle with my heart rate that felt redlined… I walked a few steps and then thought to myself, “hell no, I’m not walking,” got back on and struggled up the thing.  It was super tough, but at least it was short.  At the top of the mountain, we were rewarded with gorgeous views over the river valley and a nice stretch of flat road to enjoy.  Justin started calling the hills “paying the toll for the view.”

I spent much of the remainder of both days of the ride deciding which was more difficult: short steep climbs or long low ones.  I think in the end, the one I like better is the one I’m not on when I’m thinking about it!

Justin and I on the Sebula Bridge over the Mississippi

Anyhow, it’s worth mentioning that when you climb up a crazy thing like Chestnut Mountain, you will eventually have to ride down it too- and ride down we did- at speeds well over 40 mph.  I hit a personal speed record of 45 miles an hour.  It was terrifying.  No, awesome! Or maybe terrifying.  But awesome!  Lol.

I believe it was at the second SAG stop that my college friend Marinan and her husband spotted me.  We caught up a while, soaked up some shade, ate some much needed food and the headed off for the next section.  Marinan has done TOMRV several times (6 I think?? ) so she knew that the route didn’t get any easier as we approached Galena and then Dubuque, but I had no idea what was still in store!

So, normally, I’d keep describing the route in detail but I’m going to give you cliff notes of the rest of day one:

–          There were bike races the same day in Galena that shared our course for a couple of miles and Justin and I were passed by the race peloton at one point.  It was amazing to see those tightly packed riders heading past us at those speeds.  I just tried to stay to the right and stay out of the way.

–          There was another huge climb and steep decent not far after Galena where I got over 40 mph.

Marinan and I spell out IOWA at the top of Victory Hill

–          We caught up with another friend, Stephen Rogers, at a SAG stop in a town called Menominee.  Steven did the longer routes both days- the only one of my friends to accomplish this.

–          At mile 60, we entered Wisconsin.  I didn’t find out that we’d been to Wisconsin until after the ride.  They should put up a welcome sign.  Silly Wisconsin.

–          There was another ridiculous hill carved into the bluffs 10 or so miles from the end of the ride.  Justin asked Stephen Rogers if this hill had a name like the other hills, so Stephen, taking a cue from a sign he just saw, dubbed the hill “The Weigh Station.”  We also met a guy we called Texas there.  Texas rode the rest of the way in with us.

–          The decent going into Dubuque was one of the most gorgeous things I’ve ever seen from my bike.  I wish I could show you a photo, but it wouldn’t do it justice anyway.

Justin enjoying a Fat Tire at the beer tent after Day One

–          The beautiful decent was followed by the second-steepest climb of the day- which also was the last quarter mile of the route.  I was so hot and tired by the time I got here, that it was really hard for me.  Half way up, Justin and Steven (who had already made the climb) started cheering me on, and at the top, Marinan was waiting for me to sing our college victory song: The Hawkeye Victory Polka.  (AKA “In Heaven There is No Beer!”)  It was a great moment.

–          The total elevation change for Day 1 of the Preston (shorter) start was +6554 ft. / -6365 ft.  Whoa. No wonder my quads were on fire.

–           At the top of Victory Hill (which is what I’m now calling it) was Clark College- our host for the night.  We enjoyed 2 Fat Tires apiece at the beer tent while we were waiting for two other friends to make it in from the long route.  Tony and Jen rolled up and we went and showered while they had a beer.  We dropped off our bikes in the tennis courts (all of those bikes in that tiny space made these the most valuable tennis courts ever!! )

–          Then we all went to the banquet!  I pretty much ate everything in sight.  Pasta, chicken, veggies, some really good coleslaw, corn, carrot cake…  Maybe it was just the heat and the exertion, but we all scarfed down a ton of food.

Most $ in a tennis court ever.

–          The accommodations we had signed up for were just sleeping bag space on the floor.  If we do this ride again, this wouldn’t be my pick because I had a hard time dealing with that many people moving around, snoring, turning on flashlights and the like.  Next go around, we’ll probably camp in a tent outside because it looked like fun and I imagine it would be quieter.  Barring that, I’d try to get one of the dorm rooms with beds.

Panoramic view near Bellview Iowa on Day 2

Day 2

I could hear people moving around and getting ready to go before light was even peaking in the window.  The heat had been pretty bad on Day 1 and was expected to be worse for Sunday so I guess everyone wanted to get an early start.  I was really exhausted from a long, restless night though, so I laid around as long as I could.  We packed up, dropped off our bags, retrieved our bikes and were ready to hit the road for Day 2.

Tony shows off his vintage Nishiki bike…

So Day 2 was 50 miles.  That’s chump-change for Justin and I anymore.  I mean, we do that distance regularly with no problem.  In fact, I had made plans for after the 50 mile ride (visiting a nearby cave) since I figured we’d be done in just a few hours.  But what I didn’t know was that Day 2’s climbs were even more gnarly than Day 1.

Justin, Jen, Tony, Stephen and I decided to ride as a group on Day 2.  We climbed a couple of decent hills coming out of Dubuque and had another beautiful, fast decent on to the floor of the valley (I got very comfortable with 35 mph on this ride. That’s pretty darned fast for me at home) but after that the climbs got crazy.

On the Mississippi River near Bellview, Iowa

And the crazy climbs? They were *not* helped at all by the straight-from-the-South headwind that started at about 10 mph in the morning but grew to 20+ mph by afternoon.  Every time you would crest a hill the wind would scream over the top and threaten to blow you back down.  In the late afternoon the wind was so strong that we’d have to downshift in the flats and even down some hills.  Talk about a momentum killer!  Anyway… what was I talking about? Oh, right, just the three hardest climbs ever…

The first climb out of the valley lasted for 1.7 miles and had an insane 7% grade in places.  Then we went back down.  The next climb out of the valley lasted almost 2 full miles and had a max of 6.8% grade.    I’m not kidding you- those were the toughest, slowest 10 miles I have ever done on my bike.  Then the last major valley climb was over the majority of a 4 mile stretch (one little downhill in the middle) and, frankly, I’m lucky to still have legs after the thing.  I stopped 3 times (walked none) to catch my breath and to make another go at that last climb.  It was so, so hard but I’m so, so glad we did it.  See GPS here http://ridewithgps.com/trips/313470

Day 2

More beautiful vistas were in store at the top of each one of these climbs, and the downhills all were over much too quickly.  I kept thinking that I’d never enjoyed a Midwestern landscape as much as I did at the top of these glacier-carved hills, but I’d never struggled uphill for a half an hour to earn a view either.

Tony at lunch!

We stopped in the picturesque riverside town of Bellveiw for lunch, where we once again were all quite ravenous.  We bypassed the Casey’s gas station where many bikers seemed to have stopped and found a lovely café in downtown Bellview that was serving a Biker’s Brunch.  We were treated to a leisurely and delicious meal before hitting the road. *My lunch, if you’re curious, was this terrific open-faced turkey sandwich on pumpernickel topped with charred tomatoes, béchamel (French-style milk sauce) and locally grown basil.

This is a pic from day one- all of us flashing W for the “Weigh Station” hill!

What else can I say about day 2?  It was great.  There were more hills, more climb, and more wind than I thought you could squeeze into 50 miles in the Midwest, but hey, we made it through just fine.  Catching up with my friends from far away and sharing a bicycle adventure made the weekend (and the sore quads I had on Monday) completely worth it.

The Quad Cities Bike Club deserves lots of credit for wonderful SAG stops, friendly volunteers, and a tough course that challenged every rider there.

And the views- earned the hard way- are something I’ll never be able to adequately describe;  their beauty makes me believe that the same farm-dotted landscape that inspired artists like Grant Wood will be around a long time to come.

As for my bike and I?  We’re feeling quite confident about our chances to complete the 500 miles of the Register’s Annual Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) which, as I write, is only 37 days away.   I’ve also vowed to never complain about the two hills on State Street or the ones coming up Hampshire again, because I’ve met their big brothers who live up river and are much worse!

Thanks for a great ride TOMRV!  See you next year!

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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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Heartland Road Runners and Walkers Club lined up pre-race at the 2012 Little Rock Marathon.

Interesting fact: The 25 members of the Heartland Road Runners and Walkers club who traveled to the Little Rock Marathon last weekend completed 11 half marathons (13.1 miles each) and 14 full marathons (26.2 miles each) for a total of 510.9 miles run.  510 miles is also about the distance between the cities of Quincy and Little Rock!  We could have lined up as a relay and made it from convention center to convention center with the miles we put in.  There’s something very poetic about that coincidence.

My race report starts with a big thank you to the group that traveled to Little Rock for this outstanding event.  If it weren’t for the HRRWC, I wouldn’t have even started the journey that put my Adventure Foot on asphalt in Arkansas for my first half marathon.

PRE-PRE- RACE

We’d arrived in Little Rock Saturday afternoon and, after spending some time and money at the Expo, my husband and I headed over to the Clinton

Presidential Library to see what there was to see and then went out to dinner with a few of the other club members.  At times, I just felt like a tourist on vacation.  At other times, I was pumped and ready to race.  And then at other times, I’d be overcome with nervousness and my knees felt like they would buckle.  As it turns out, a decent enough way to get over pre-race jitters is having a local brew at a local bar with some good friends.  I highly recommend Diamond Bear IPA from the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium if you’re ever in Little Rock… but just one.  It is race day after all!

PRE-RACE

I started my day at the hotel with a breakfast of oatmeal with loads of pecans, a couple of glasses of OJ, and a banana.  Several of us walked to the

At the Little Rock Marathon Expo

start about an hour before the race and met up with the rest of the club to snap a group photo and take our places in our starting corals.  I was placed in the open coral, and club members Jeremy Grootens and Dave Poland were nice enough to start there with me.  I ditched my $2 thrift-store jacket near a tree, had my VI Fuel (a gel), and stood among the 10,000 other runners to wait for the countdown. 3…2…1… *pow!*   The starting gun didn’t signal the start for us exactly, as we were many thousands of people behind the elite corral, but the excitement buzzed through the crowd.  We ambled forward for 6 minutes before we crossed over the starting pad and got underway.

THE BEGINNING

2012 Little Rock Start

Jeremy and Dave stuck by me during the chaotic first mile.  The three of us weaved around other runners to find our own space.  The beginning of the route had us winding around downtown, and if I had any complaint about the course at all, it was that the roads had trolley tracks in them and I couldn’t seem to stay away from them.  It would be a damn shame to twist an ankle in the first half mile, so I was extra careful.  Right around the mile mark, the guys and I got separated a bit and Jeremy clearly was feeling good, so I waved him on and was on my own from there on out.

The river of runners turned right from the downtown district and passed under two fire truck ladders that were extended over an intersection and served as hangers for an enormous American flag. There was a band playing and the atmosphere was electric.  Even though it was more than a mile in, crossing under this arch felt like the real start of the race to me.

After the fire truck arch, the route went over the Arkansas River.  The lead male full-marathon runner was already headed back across the bridge towards me while I was crossing.  He was escorted by four cyclists and I had 2 thoughts:  1. Wow that runner looks graceful.  2. I would really like to borrow that pretty Cannondale for the rest of this.

Oh! I can’t leave the description of the beginning without telling you about one of my favorite spectator signs of the race: “Run Faster… The Zombies are Closing In!”

THE MIDDLE

Crossing the Arkansas river.

Once I settled into a groove, the miles started to tick away.  The route meandered through residential and business districts in North Little Rock and was occasionally punctuated by a band playing blues or rock or gospel or country.  I enjoyed watching other runners and occasionally someone would notice my cap and yell, “Go Hawkeyes!”  I have always loved Iowa fans away from home!

The weather was absolutely lovely.  I think race temps were in the 50s at the start, and the clothes I picked out were just right.  Every time I’d feel a little hot, a light breeze would kick up enough to cool me down.   I carried my own water bottle, but sometimes I still grabbed a Gatorade at the water stops.

This is a good time to mention that it’s easy to tell that this race is set up by a couple of women.  They clearly understand that there’s nothing worse than needing a potty break while you’re running, so they put bathrooms every 2 or 3 miles.  I never availed myself of the facilities during the race, but it’s nice that they were there.

Somewhere in that middle section we passed a truck that had a sign that said, “Free Beer for Bill and You” and had a bunch of Dixie Cups of beer set out for runners.  I thought, “Heck, why not?” and gulped down a lovely swig of amber as I ran by.

Around mile 6 of the course, Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe was standing outside his mansion shaking hands and posing for pictures.  Though I didn’t stop, I thought it really added to the hometown feel of the race to have him out there with the athletes.

THE WALL

Everything was going pretty well and I zoned out for a lot of the middle of the race until things went sour around mile ten.  I was trucking along a few blocks ahead of the 5:10 marathon pace group when a little sore spot I’d been noticing in my hip suddenly turned into a really bad cramp that radiated down my leg.  The pace group passed me and I grimaced with each step.   I walked/waddled for a half a block and decided I better just stop a second and try to stretch this thing

Occupy Little Rock was supporting the runners!

out a bit.  This wasn’t the first time I’d had pain in my hip flexors, so I went to the side of the road and did a few of the stretches I’d been taught to deal with it. I downed my entire water bottle and then got back on course.

I’m not going to lie, that mile wasn’t pretty.  I walked more of it than I would have liked to, but I kept on going hoping I’d just work the cramp out.  I was jogging again after a while, but I finally said a couple of expletives out loud  when it seemed like mile ten was never, ever, ever, ever going to end.  But then…

THE FINISH

But then I saw the sign for mile 12!  What!??!  I never saw mile 11 I guess.  Maybe I was zoned out when my GPS had announced that mile.  Maybe I was looking at the other side of the road when I passed the sign.  Heck, I don’t know what happened!  All I know is that I only had 1.1 miles left and I wouldn’t have cared if my damn leg was falling off;  1.1 miles was not that far and I had bling to get.

First Half Finish!!

Little Rock 2012 Half Marathon Medal

My hip was still hurting pretty bad, but I managed to make a little surge and ran it on in.  There was quite a crowd when I turned down the last stretch, and lots of them yelled out my name (which was on my bib) and that was really encouraging.  There were photographers and announcers at the line and even though I was one of thousands of runners that went by, they made me feel like a rock star all by myself.  I dashed past, grinning and throwing my hands in the air, and it felt great.  I retrieved my medal from a volunteer, posed for a finisher photo and grabbed a few snacks including a heavenly chocolate snack cake, and wandered out of the chute.

Another runner and I were walking down toward the perks pavilion and we both made a painful little noise as we took our first step down the stairs.  It was a funny moment that really sticks in my head.  We didn’t know each other but the shiny medal around our necks and our common enemy- the stairs- made us friends.  We actually hugged at the bottom of the small flight.

I texted a friend back home with a smiling photo of my finish and then set off to find the rest of my group.  Justin, Jeremy and Dave were all there waiting.  All had run great times.  Justin finished in 1:59, Jeremy at 2:06 and Dave at 2:16.  I was 2:44.  Maybe it’s not a quick time, but it is my very first finish and I’m okay with it.

POST RACE

It’s Tuesday as I’m writing this, and I’m still a little unsure about my reaction to the whole experience.  My hip is still sore, but not terribly, so I might go for a walk or short jog tonight with the club.  I’ve got my second half on the calendar in

Justin Sievert, Laura Sievert, Jeremy Grootens and Dave Poland at the finish.

late April, and I’m pretty confident that I can trim some time off of my Little Rock finish.  I’m looking forward to the Illinois half, but I’m not sure what I’ll do after that.

Some of the people that were with me in Little Rock love to run and it shows.  I’m okay with not being that person.  I don’t feel passionate about running the way I do about cycling, but I’m happy to be able to do a little of both.

My main feeling is probably satisfaction.  I set a decently tough goal, worked hard and got there.  I made some great friends along the way, and we’ll have more adventures as the years go on.  I wouldn’t expect to see my name on a full-marathon list any time soon, but I could probably be talked into doing a few 10K races or another half after Illinois.  We’ll just have to see.  The point is, if I want to run, I know I can do it, and there is something to be said for having that confidence in myself.

Jason Asman, Roger Mckenzie, Clifton Anders, Doug Seebers and Jon Owen with their full marathon medals!

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