Thursday, October 1, 2015

Newsflash: I don't suck quite as badly at running as I thought - Clarence DeMar Marathon 2015 Race Recap

My marathon state count is now at 33 after completing the Clarence DeMar Marathon in Keene, New Hampshire this past weekend.  And what a lovely race this was!  Even without the beautiful fall colors that I was expecting in New England at the end of September, the race was still very scenic and just all around fantastic!  I arrived in Manchester around lunch on Saturday and made the 1.5 hour drive over to Keene to pick up packets for my friend and me.  Some of the trees looked like they may want to start to turn colors, but pretty much it was all 99% green still.  No worries.  The temperature was fantastic though!  Thankfully my hot race streak was going to get a break!  I stopped in Marlborough (right outside of Keene) for lunch at a delicious vegetarian/vegan restaurant called Zeppelin and Kaleidoscope.  My Tempeh Asian Wrap with hummus and chips was amazing!  Packet pickup was at the gym on the Keene State College campus and was easy enough to find.

Cheesin' it for state #33!

After packet pickup I made my way back east to Concord.  My friends Jenny and Scott live there and I stayed with them for the weekend.  Jenny was signed up for the DeMar Half Marathon so I would have some company going to/from the race.  We had a really good dinner at Hermano's Mexican Restaurant.  I had a tasty burrito!  I was beginning to get slightly worried about the temperature for the race the next morning.  The lows were predicted to be in the high 30s/low 40s.  That's insanely cold to my Mississippi ass!  It's still 90 degrees here!  I made sure to get a heavy duty garbage bag and Scott hooked me up with a sweet red turtleneck that I ended up cutting down the front so it was easier to get off while running!  

Race morning was easy but early.  We had to drive an hour to the race.  Found parking very easily right at the bus pickup.  We got on our respective buses that would take us to our starting lines (both the half marathon and marathon are point-to-point so they have different starting lines).  I was so happy to see that the marathoners had a place inside to stand while waiting for the race to start.  With about 20 minutes to go, I reluctantly made my way over to the start line and froze my booty off!

Freezing my booty off!

We started on time and going down a hill!  Yay!  I ditched my garbage bag but kept the cool red turtleneck on for a mile or so.  The course was very shaded so that did not help with the whole thawing out of my hands thing.  My "goal" for this race was to run continuously for the first 18 miles at a comfortable/easy pace (maybe around 10:30/mile) and then slow down or run/walk the rest.  This "race" was only to be used as a "training run" in preparation for my late October marathon (where my goal is (was?) to run the entire 26.2 miles).  The first several miles of the course followed a river/creek and it was so peaceful.  My legs were feeling great.  The cool temps and mostly downhill course were helping my pace quite a bit. I was hovering right around a 10 min/mile pace which is really good for me right now.  Usually in Mississippi I run about a 10:30 pace and feel like I want to die most of the time. 

Be jealous of my super cool red turtleneck made into a cardigan.
I always like to meet new friends in the course.

We continued to follow the river/creek (and go down) for a long time.  The roads were not closed to traffic and there were not even cones for us to run inside but all the drivers were very respectful of us.  In my travels around the country, both Vermont and New Hampshire have the best drivers in my expert opinion.  Around mile 10 we made the turn that would lead us towards the Surry Dam, one of the most beautiful spots on the course.

More of the river/creek
We passed a few farms.
See how the trees kind of want to change colors?
View from the Surry Dam
Coming off the Dam and into mile 12

I hit the 13.1 mark in 2:12:22 which is pretty much unheard of in my world these days!  If you've been following me, you know that this year has been a total suckfest for me in terms of finish times.  In the five races before this one my finish times were 5:54, 6:21, 5:47, 5:34, and 5:48.  I was pretty sure that sucking at races was my new norm.  Well, it turns out that's not the case.  Those previous five races were pretty much either boiling or really hard courses (or both - I'm looking at you Mad Marathon!).  

Beautiful tall trees along one of the roads

The second half of the course is a big blur to me.  We moved away from the back roads and were more on busier roads and through some parks.  The course also evened out.  I hit mile 18 and was still feeling good so I just forged ahead and tried to maintain the same pace (around 10/mile) for as long as I could.  I was pretty good until we started to hit some pretty decent UPs around mile 20.  Around mile 22 we ran through a CEMETERY!  Yes.  Actually through it!  We were in there for about a mile.  This is actually one of the reasons that I picked this race!  There were a few short but very steep hills in the cemetery and for the first time all race I walked up one of them.

So awesome!

At some point during the race I got greedy and decided that I wanted to finish in under 4:30.  This seemed like it would be very easy at the time I made the decision but then all the hills happened in the last few miles which made it a bit more of a challenge.  My pace dropped a bit but I was still able to finish in 4:28:57!  That's an hour and twenty minutes faster than my last race.  And I pretty much ran the entire race (save that one short/steep hill in the cemetery).  Needless to say I was pretty stoked!  After the race we drove over to Brattleboro, VT, and ate at Superfresh Organic Cafe where I had the most awesomely delicious chocolate chip pancakes.  I also got my obligatory picture with the "welcome to" sign!

Yay for marathon(+) #45 and state #33!

So I pretty much hit my goal for the year at this race.  If you've been following me, you know that I hurt my leg last year and that impacted many of my races at the beginning of the year.  Then I was doing run/walk (which got me an excellent time at the Garmin Marathon).  Since about June I have slowly been building my running mileage back up in preparation for the Marine Corps Marathon in late October.  My only goal for MCM was to be able to run the whole thing at a comfortable pace (like around 10:30/mile since that's what I've been doing in training).  So I guess I need a better (more challenging) goal for MCM.............or not.............

As for the Clarence DeMar Marathon, I highly recommend this as a NH race!  The course is lovely.  The first half is mostly downhill.  There are a few bumps along the way, but nothing major.  The second half of the course isn't quite as scenic/peaceful as the first but it's still nice.  The toughest part of the course is after mile 20 with several short/steep hills.  The mile through the cemetery was priceless!  Travel deets are as follows:
  • Registration was free.  This was a birthday gift from my hubby.
  • I flew out of New Orleans to Manchester.  My flight was $37 thanks to Southwest points.
  • I rented a car in Manchester for Saturday through Monday.  It was $55.  I spent about $18 in gas while in NH.
  • No hotel expenses since I stayed with friends.
  • I spent a bit more than usual on food, but I treated my hosts to dinner.  I think my total food bill for the weekend was around $120.  
  • Since I flew out of NOLA, I had to park at the airport.  This was $30.  I also spent about $15 for gas to get to the airport.
  •  So for $275 I got to cross NH off my list.  
So next up is the Marine Corps Marathon at the end of October.  After that I'll be taking a bit of a race travel break for a few months.  

Saturday, September 12, 2015

You WILL eat cheese when you're in Wisconsin!!!!! - Lake Michigan Trail Marathon 2015 Race Recap

Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting Wisconsin for the first time. And obviously I ran a marathon too.  Duh!  This was a late addition to my 2015 race calendar.  Last month I was browsing Southwest (I should NOT do this) and noticed that flights to Chicago were insanely cheap for this particular weekend (like $67 or less than 3,000 points one way).  So I obviously had to find a race within driving distance of Chicago that weekend and talk someone into going with me!  Done and done!  The Lake Michigan Trail Marathon in Milwaukee with my friend Evelyn was an official go!  Apparently Wisconsin is famous for cheese.  Evelyn mentioned to me that everyone kept asking her to bring back cheese and she asked me if I had experienced the same thing.  First off, I don't have any friends close-by and second off, I'm vegan.  Certainly everyone knows that vegans don't eat cheese nor would I use my money to buy any!  And third off, doesn't cheese need to be refrigerated?  How in the hell would I get it back to Mississippi anyway?

Ermahgerd!  I'm in Wisconsin for the first time ever!

Our flight out of Chicago was a bit delayed so there was no time to hit packet pickup Saturday  (the day before the race).  Instead, we went straight to feed our holes in downtown Milwaukee.  Apparently when Milwaukee does construction, they do construction on the entire city all at once!  We finally found the restaurant and I settled on ordering a Tempeh Reuben Sandwich which was labeled vegan and I asked the waitress (who was very sweaty for no apparent reason) if it was vegan just to make double sure!  When I got the sandwich it was really good!  Like I couldn't believe that the vegan "cheese" tasted that "real".  I've never been a huge cheese person so it's not something that was ever particularly hard for me to give up.  But the cheese on this sandwich complemented all of the other flavors and textures perfectly and I was interested in possibly recreating the sandwich at home.  So I asked the waitress what the vegan cheese was (so maybe I could look for the brand at home).  She returned (still very inappropriately sweaty) just as I was about to eat the last bite to inform me that it was in fact "real" cheese and that she was very sorry and that the menu did say it was vegan and they were in the process of updating their menu!  Say what?  Those sneaky Wisconsinites trying to immerse me into their cheese culture and trick me into joining their weird cheese cult!  Doh! I should have known because, let's face it, vegan cheese is fucking disgusting!  Luckily I did not get sick (yay for having an iron stomach) and I drowned my guilt with a slice of vegan caramel cake from Whole Foods!  We arrived to our hotel (after navigating a horribly labeled detour around all that damn construction) and found that it was pretty sketchy!  There was actually a sign at the front desk telling people that they did not rent rooms by the hour and there were a whole bunch of people just sort of hanging out in the parking lot! 

Race morning was easy peasy.  We found parking right at the start/finish lines and retrieved our bibs.  Did I mention that it was pretty warm even at 6 am and that temps were predicted to be unseasonably warm that day?  No surprise here.  Boiling hot weather seems to follow me to races.  Plan for the race was to just finish.  

I stole this off FB.

The race started on time (at 6:30am) and we were off running south.  There was a 50k, marathon, 20-miler, and half marathon for this race and they all started at different times and did varying parts of two different out-and-backs/loops.  As marathoners, we started with the 10 mile loop heading south of the start/finish.  At 6:30am it was already hot and very humid.  I had a 15 mile run scheduled for that day, so I was hoping to at least run (loosely defined) continuously for the first 15 miles (then do whatever for the rest of the race).  I basically stuck to this plan, but it was slow going!  The first 5.5-ish miles were mostly along a paved multipurpose trail.  It was mostly flat with a few rollers.

Much of what the first 5.5 miles looked like.

At about mile 5.5-ish, we entered the trail part of the course. Now I swore off trails last year after Big Butts 50k and I really wasn't sure what to expect for this part of the course.  We started out going up/down some stairs and then ran along a trail with some slippery rocks (called the Seven Bridges Trail) for a bit before finally being dumped onto some single track.  It wasn't "terrible" but I definitely made sure to look straight down (so as not see any snakes in my peripheral) and to just get it done.

Entering the Seven Bridges Trail
Just coming off the stairs.
Now going down some stairs.  It really was beautiful!

Those rock pavers were very slippery in spots!
Ermahgerd!  Flashbacks of a giant snake and horseflies.
Lovely view of Lake Michigan.

The trail wasn't bad but there were parts where the trail was so narrow that the bushes on both sides were touching me!  I didn't see a single snake though or encounter any horse flies so I call that a success.  We emerged from the trail around mile 9 and then crossed through the start/finish area around mile 10.  At that point we headed north on a paved trail for a little more than 3 miles (then headed back for 3 miles).  This is when life really started to suck as there was no shade and it was effin' hot!

Heading north to the 13.1 mile mark.  Great views of the lake and downtown Milwaukee.

Somewhere along this north stretch, I met up with fellow Maniac Boris and he kept me company for several miles.  My goal was to make it to mile 15 with mostly running so his company was greatly appreciated!  Once at mile 15, I felt like death and commenced to walking.  At mile 16, we crossed the start/finish again and once again headed south along the same path as the first 10 miles.  I walked A LOT for a few miles but then tried to keep up with run/walk intervals as much as I could!  It was HOT and it was hard to keep moving.  The aid stations on this last loop were especially great (all of them had been good).  They had ice, and delicious water, and delicious sports drink (Sword, which I had never had before but I never abide by the rule of nothing new on race day - YOLO!), and nearly orgasmic sponges in ice cold water!  I didn't care who had used those sponges before me and where on their body they had used them!  I squeezed that ice cold water all over my face, head, neck, and shoulders!  We once again did the 3-ish miles of trails and I was actually looking forward to it!  The ground was softer and the air was cooler/shaded!  I ran as much of this part as I could!

Very narrow, scary trail!
Entering hell (if hell was a real place).

The last mile was the mile straight from fucking hell!  It was about 4 billion degrees outside at this point and there was no shade from this point until the finish.  I walked just about every bit of this last mile and only ran when I was about 2 feet from the finish (and as always, my definition of running is very loose).  If it gives you any indication of how fucking hot it was, I would have rather run the mother of all hills at Crater Lake 10 times in a row than been out in Milwaukee that day!  

Why yes I've been running this whole time.

Oh my Flying Spaghetti Monster I was glad that was over.  My time was absolutely abysmal!  I did better at the Crater Lake Marathon which was at elevation and the course itself was much harder!  I was immediately crabby and needed to sit down but there was nowhere to sit except the ground.  I didn't check out the post-race spread and just grabbed my drink and sat my ass down for a few minutes.

The look of someone that just had every ounce of their soul taken away by the sun.

Besides being oppressively hot and humid, the race itself was very nice.  The course was well marked (especially in the trail part) and aid stations were well stocked with amazingly cold things!  The course was also fairly scenic with great views of Lake Michigan and downtown Milwaukee.  Despite clearly violating my "no trails" rule, I actually liked the trail part, especially on the second loop when it was a welcome relief from the hard asphalt and oppressive heat/sun.  Don't worry.  I'm not going to become a die-hard trail runner as long as I'm living in Mississippi.

Travel deets are here:
  • Race registration was $85.  I registered late so I suspect there are cheaper rates.
  • We flew from New Orleans to Chicago-Midway.  My flight was $36 thanks to Southwest points.  I had to park at New Orleans airport ($48) and spent about $15 in gas to get there and back. 
  • We rented a car Saturday through Monday.  It was $90 total (I paid half).  We spent $25 on gas (again, I paid half).
  • Saturday night we stayed at a very sketchy La Quinta Inn in Milwaukee.  I am not a hotel diva, so I was fine since we had inside doors and the door locked.  This hotel was free thanks to La Quinta points.  
  • Sunday night we headed back to the Chicago area and stayed at a Red Roof Inn that was $72 for the night (I paid half).  It was a basic hotel room.  Nothing fancy.  
  • I was actually pretty good with food.  I spent about $75.  I've been carrying cash for food and that seems to be working better in terms of spending less money.
  • So a total bill of about $353 to cross off Wisconsin (state #32)!
So I have a pretty "light" schedule for the rest of the year!  Only two more marathons (and new states) to go!  Next up is New Hampshire!  It's gotta be cooler up there!  Right?

Monday, August 10, 2015

I assure you this is real life - Crater Lake Marathon 2015 Race Recap

Well my life officially does not suck!  Oregon is my absolute favorite state that I've been to and my latest trip there did not disappoint!  I first visited Oregon back in 2007 and absolutely fell in love!  I wanted to go to Crater Lake National Park during that visit but it was a bit too far out of my way.  When I discovered there was a marathon actually in the park, I was sold on it being my Oregon race.  

Stunning views of Crater Lake and Wizard Island

In addition to the race, my trip to Oregon also involved a SLEEPOVER WITH SLOTHS!!!!!  I am not joking.  This is exactly what it sounds like.  I had a sleepover with seven sloths!

My friend for the night.
This one was a crazy beggar.
Oh, ya know, just taking a selfie with a sloth.  No big deal.

I basically slept in a tent in a big room where sloths live at a zoological/wildlife center (NOT a zoo).  I wasn't sure how I felt about the place at first, since as a vegan I don't really like to see animals in cages. But after meeting with the owner, I felt like the place was legit!  All of their animals are endangered and they have two species that are actually extinct in the wild.  I asked why the animals were there and not in the wild and the owner explained that there would be no place for them to go due to habitat destruction and poaching.  They also "rescue" animals from zoos (animals that were going to be put to sleep due to injuries or other circumstances).  After the sleepover, I got to have breakfast with a penguin and several lemurs and monkeys.  Again, I'm not making this up!

Josie the penguin
Leeza the lemur
Lemurs and monkeys in diapers.  OMG.
I can't even.
Deep thoughts

So Friday morning after all the excitement with the animals, I headed to Portland to pick up GK so we could head down to Klamath Falls which is basically the largest town closest to Crater Lake National Park (and it's still about a 1.5 hr drive from Klamath Falls to Crater Lake).  It was a LONG drive down there from Portland.  There is no packet pickup for this race.  Your bib and pre-race instructions are mailed to you about two weeks before the race so there was no need to go to Crater Lake Friday night.  You basically just show up at the Rim race morning.  And that's what we did.  We left the hotel super early Saturday morning to get to Crater Lake and didn't have any issues with parking at Rim Village and catching the shuttle to the start line!  I about froze to death at the start since it was pretty much winter for this Mississippi girl with temps in the 40s! 

Bus-to-the-start selfie
What a view at a start line!

This is a no frills race (who really cares though with that view?), so nothing fancy at the start.  Remember you're running in a NATIONAL PARK, so that should be frills enough for you.  Someone basically said "go" and we went.  There are three different distances at the race - 6.7 miles, 13.0 miles (NOT a half marathon), and 26.2 miles - and we all started together.  All of the races are point-to-point so if you are a marathoner you will pass the other two finish lines.  The course follows Rim Drive and the views are absolutely spectacular!  This makes up for the hella hard course!  I think this is the hardest course that I have done as we had both significant hills and high altitude to contend with.  Check out this elevation profile (all is correct except the last 4.2 miles, which I'll explain later).

It is as brutal as it looks.

We started at about 7600 ft and on a hill, but soon after we went down for a bit.  I decided that was going to run the flats and downs and walk the ups.  The first significant hill was right after the mile 2 marker.  It lasted about a mile and I definitely walked.  After this hill, we were rewarded with several downhill miles. At some point I warmed up and was able to take my long sleeve shirt off.  The temp was pleasant for much of the race and we had a nice breeze. 

First significant hill

I'm going to apologize in advance for the obscene number of lake photos in this post.  But, DUH, that's the most amazing part of this race!  

Many many views of the lake and all its awesomeness.
I had to stop for a picture every single time!
It's as awesome as it looks.

At mile 6.5, we began to roll a bit until the mother of all hills started at mile 9.5!  Your life will basically suck for almost 5 miles!  You will go UP a very steep hill with almost NO relief!  You will climb from 6700 ft to 7900 ft over about 5 miles.  You will pass the 13.0 finish line and continue to go UP for over a mile!  I walked every bit of those miles.  Soon after the 13.0 finish, we did a short out and back to the highest point on the course at Cloudcap overlook (7900 ft).  

We also had this view opposite the lake for much of the race. 
Almost done with this most awful 5 mile hill!
Cloudcap Overlook.  Our efforts were definitely rewarded.

After the torture of the previous 5 miles, you are rewarded with almost 10 miles (from about mile 14.2 until 24) of basically constant downhill (a few short ups, but nothing terrible).  Of course, the scenery continued to be amazing.

Coming back down from Cloudcap Overlook.
No ugly part on the course.
Of course, more views of the lake.
More awesomeness.
And more.
And more.
It really never stopped.

I ran just about all of these downhill miles (which probably explains why I'm pretty sore today).  We hit mile 22, which is where the finish line is.  I guess last year, the course turned here and went UP a very steep hill on a trail for ~2 miles before you turned around to go back DOWN that hill for the last ~2 miles to the finish.  Well this year they decided to have us continue straight down the road for ~2 miles.  I was flying at this time but I noticed that every single person that was on their way back to the finish was walking.  The hill didn't feel that steep going down and I was actually making pretty good time.  I wanted a sub 5:30 finish.  When I hit the turnaround just past mile 24, I was right at 5:00.  Surely I could do the last ~2 miles in 30 minutes.  WRONG!  I soon found out why everyone was walking.  Two miles up a very steep hill to the finish.  I finished in 5:35, which I consider an excellent time for this course and my current level of fitness.

Happy finishers

Since this a no frills race, there was not much at the finish line - some sports drink, water, soda, and watermelon.  GK said maybe some bagels too.  Again, you just had the opportunity to run in a NATIONAL PARK, so don't get your entitled panties in a wad over the lack of festivities.  The aid stations were very bare bones too - only water and sports drink, so bring your own gels/etc. if you require them.  You get your medal, shirt, and bag at the finish line.   We headed to the bus to get back to our car (you had to take a bus from your car to the start and also back to your car from the finish).  Our bus driver was no less than 1 billion years old and was driving the school bus like a MANIAC!  He was for realz going 60 mph in a 20 mph zone along a windy mountain road with steep cliffs.  Once safely at our car, we snapped some shots of the lake before heading back to Portland.

I assure you that what is behind me is very much real!

Obviously, this is a FANTASTIC race.  It is definitely no frills, but you are running in a NATIONAL PARK (have I said that enough times)!!!!!!!!!  Crater Lake is a bit out of the way, so prepare to do some driving.  You'll be in beautiful Oregon though, so relax, sit back, and enjoy the ride!  Here are the deets for my travel/logistics:
  • Registration was $95.  High, but you are running in a NATIONAL PARK.  Totally worth it for this one.
  • I flew into Portland, OR.  My flight was pretty expensive at around $460 (ouch)!
  • I rented a car out of Hertz in downtown Portland (not at the airport) for $120 for Thurs-Sat night.  By not using the airport rentals, I saved a significant amount.  The Red line takes you from the airport to downtown Portland for $2.50 where I picked up my car no problem.  I dropped the car off Saturday night and took the hotel's free shuttle to the airport Sunday morning.  GK and I shared the cost of the rental and gas. 
  • Hotels - Thursday night I stayed with sloths, but I'm not counting that as part of my race expenses.  Friday night we stayed at the Golden West Motel ($80) in Klamath Falls (1.5 hr drive to Crater Lake Saturday morning for the race).  Highly recommend this motel.  Saturday night I stayed at the Quality Inn Airport in Portland ($122).  No room share, so this was all me.  
  • This was obviously a very expensive trip, but totally worth it.
Next up for me is the Lake Michigan Trail Marathon in Wisconsin Labor Day weekend.