Race Report #25: Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

This is part 2 of my Dark Side Challenge at the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon weekend.  If you want to read my review of the 10k, you can find that here.

Okay!  When last we met, I was finishing up the Star Wars Dark Side 10K and then going to run another mile and a half chasing my kid around an inflatable obstacle course with a camera.  That was fun!  Really!  Enough that it requires multiple exclamation points!  But, it did leave me with a couple of challenges going into the second half of the Dark Side Challenge – the half marathon.

I was not, when I was chasing him, wearing running or technical equipment.  I didn’t have my compression shorts on.  And (and there is no way to do this but just to spit it out and get it over with) – I hadn’t prepared my nipples.  And though I didn’t leave that event actively hurting (other than my throbbing feet) … I did feel a sensitivity in the force, if you know what I mean.  Some gingerness in the upper thigh region.  A little scratchiness on the man nipples.

I had allowed myself to start chafing, is what I’m saying.

So I powdered and lotioned and did everything I knew how to do … and set my alarm for 2am and went to bed at 8pm.  The joys of an early runDisney start, and all of that.

My perspective on this race was different than my perspective on just about any race I’ve ever done.  I’m competitive.  I try not to be too competitive – in general, life is not a game – but I also know myself enough to know that if you call it a race then I’m going to try to win it in some way.  So it was a bit odd that I entered this one with the idea of not worrying too much about doing that.  I didn’t expect to PR, and I knew there were going to be places I wanted to stop to take pictures (Darth Maul!) – so just go out and have fun and get this finished, right?

Because of my experience on Saturday I had a much better idea of what to expect.  I got to Epcot at about 3:15, and when I got to the place we lined up for buses I discovered that they’d been running buses since 3am.  On the next bus I went and headed over to the same starting area as yesterday, where the lines were already looped back on themselves for pictures with characters.  Because I’d gotten Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and Jabba the Hutt the day before, I went for BB-8 first, and then for the Rogue One scene.  I decided to pass on Kylo Ren altogether – he is at Hollywood Studios every day, after all – and try to get Captain Phasma at the finish line.  I waited in line for probably 25 – 30 minutes for BB-8, and 15 or so for the Rogue One scene – and then off to pee.

After the 10K debacle with the urination, I was determined to avoid the discomfort this time.  I did my thing, then got a bagel at the concession stand.  Then got in line and peed again.  Then walked over to the corral area.  Then peed again, and immediately walked down to the end … and peed again.  I was not going to start the race needing to go.  This time I was in Corral D, so I headed down and stretched a little, and waited for our turn.  I was impressed again with the start.  I was in the 8th wave to start, and was probably running within 15 minutes of the start of the race.  They shot off fireworks for every wave, which was cool, and we were off.

The course followed the 10K course until we got to the parking gate for Magic Kingdom on World Drive.  The band was there playing the fanfare again (still the coolest music ever), and R2-D2 had a huge line again.  But this time, instead of heading down World Drive, we turned right and headed down a service road toward Animal Kingdom.  At this point, my choices from the day before started to have an impact – I was barely past mile 1 and I could already feel my nipples starting to get sensitive.  My friction defense stuff wasn’t going to get it this day – and though Vaseline is the kind of thing that makes a mess on a shirt, I preferred Vaseline nipples to bloody nipples.  Fortunately there was a medical stop very early on, and they had the good stuff out on popsicle sticks just waiting for us.  Frankly, that saved my race – it would have been excruciating without it.

Just past this we went through one of the best parts of the course.  It was still very dark, and on a long, straight stretch of road they kept it dark – very few floodlights.  But what there was a lot of was the Battle of Endor.  There were lasers coming out of the woods, Ewok sounds everywhere, and even explosions back in the trees to mimic AT-ATs or Walkers blowing up.  This went on for several minutes.  It was very, very cool.  I heard some grumbling after about how some of the flashing lights caused some momentary loss of vision – but I couldn’t have cared less about that.  As long as we didn’t do anything crazy I don’t think there was any real danger – and wow, was the effect very real.  We then ran past probably the longest character line on the course – they had Ewoks out!  Because of the length of the line I kept running, but that looked like a cool picture.

Next, at about mile 3, we went past another fan favorite section of the race – the solid waste plant for Walt Disney World!  There wasn’t anything to see here, but it basically smelled like you’d expect a place that treats shit to smell.  It smelled shitty.  I just got a whiff or two, and while unpleasant, thems the ropes – they had to get us from Magic Kingdom to Animal Kingdom somehow, and running past the shit plant was it.

Going in to Animal Kingdom the back way was interesting.  Around mile 4 we started to see things you see from the train over to Rafiki’s Planet Watch – some of the animal housing, etc.  We basically ran right past the Planet Watch area, and then over behind where you catch the train to Planet Watch, past some trailers that house who-knows-what, and then, bang, we were in the park.

This is in Dinoland – I remember thinking when it was taken that I hoped the dinosaur was visible in the background…

We came in right the left of the entrance to the Maharaja Jungle Trek, over by where the Kali River Rapids exit is.  We ran over past the Siamang Gibbons – which appeared to be hanging out together on the ropes – and headed around toward Expedition Everest.  I’ve never been in the Animal Kingdom at night, so I didn’t know they had that area around the mountain camp strung up with lights – it took an already very real-looking spot and made it look very authentic.  We ran past Everest, past the Finding Nemo theater, and into Dinoland, where we hit mile marker #5.

We left the Animal Kingdom over behind the gift shop in Dinoland, and were almost immediately greeted by members of the 501st Legion in full garb.  Emperor Palpatine was there, along with the Emperor’s guards in red.  Tuscan Raiders and Jawas were out, too.  Not stopping to get a picture with the Emperor and his guards was the first of two photo stops I regret not stopping for … but now I know.  And then we went straight into the doldrums of this race.

At about mile 5.5 we emerged from the service area into the Animal Kingdom parking lot.  We wound through the lot, past the second of two photo ops that I regret not stopping for … this time a scene with the Wampa in the ice cave on Hoth that was set up so that the picture looks like you’re hanging upside down and trying to get the light saber out of the snow.  In retrospect, missing that picture was my one big miss from this race.  I’ll run this whole race again next year just to get that picture.

And then we headed out onto Osceola Parkway.  From the parking lot emergence at mile 5.5 to the back entry to Hollywood Studios at about mile 9.5 the sole purpose of the course was to get us from Animal Kingdom to Hollywood Studios.  We were running on a straight flat road, then turned onto World Drive, and then merged with where the 10K course headed into the next park.  Nobody really likes this stretch of this race, and while there is some grumbling, I get it … if we want to run through all of these parks, we have to actually get there, and there is only one way to do that.  We have to run on roads.

At this point I had some decisions to make.  I was running well, and hadn’t stopped for any reason byhalfway on the course.  I needed to decide if I was going to push through and try to get a good time or if I was going to really back off and enjoy the parks in the last 4 miles.  At the halfway point of the course, I was about two or three minutes behind PR pace.  But with a bunch of flat road running ahead, there was a chance I could start chipping into that.  I struggled with that decision for a few minutes, but ultimately decided not to hurt myself and backed off.

This was also the stretch that featured one of the more interesting little quirks of this race.  runDisney partners with Jeff Galloway, who is a proponent of the run/walk system when doing these big races.  The races are loaded with Galloway folks – many with audible timers that tell them when to pull over and start walking.  For the most part, this is no problem.  The runners generally do a good job of signaling and not getting run over, so my thought is run your own race.  There were also pace groups doing the run/walk method, with a leader carrying a sign that would signal the walking times.  During this stretch, I was just ahead of the 2:30 pace group, and they would sneak up on me.  I’d be in my own little world, and suddenly, alarmingly close, somebody would yell “Walk!” and startle me into speeding up a little.  I’d take off, pull away from them, and then a few minutes later we’d go through the same deal.  It was an interesting little back and forth.  What finally broke it up was that I ran into a fellow Celebration Crossfitter (hi, Michele!) and wound up ignoring that pace group.  It was about here that I started my own run/walk strategy, especially walking up any inclines and running down the other side.  And it was here that they had the water stop giving out energy gels, which really made a difference for me.

When we got to the back entrance of Hollywood Studios at mile 9.5, we also got to the one character photo I was determined to get, regardless of line – Darth Maul.  The line wound up being very short – I still completed the mile it was in in about 13 minutes, so I had maybe a 2 minute wait.  The Darth Maul costume is awesome, by the way – the way they do that really makes that guy look real.  This picture made me happy.

Citizen!


Jazz hands!

Inside Hollywood Studios we had exactly the same run as we’d had the day before.  This time I stopped for a quick picture with some Stormtroopers – I said “guys” when I walked up, and got “Citizen!” in return.  I then took off and smiled for the batch of photographers they’ve got through this stretch, and then we headed out toward the Boardwalk.  Unlike yesterday, this time we turned right and headed down the Boardwalk proper, and when we turned the corner there were crowds for the first time on the course.  Holding signs – my favorites of which were “I am proud of you, perfect stranger!” and the one that quoted Alice in Wonderland “Well after this I should think nothing of falling down stairs.”  There were also members of the 501st Legion here, too, as well as a Rey and some other characters.  And then we headed into the back entrance of Epcot.

Boardwalk Joe’s Marvelous Margaritas

Again a difference from the day before – when we emerged behind the Rose and Crown we turned right and headed around the entire World Showcase.  This time I was prepared for the music to be blaring, so the headphones came off and stayed off for the duration of the run.  They opened Epcot up to guests right after we got in there, so by the time I got to about Mexico there were people walking through looking at us like we were crazy.  The best part of that World Showcase stretch, other than the music and the atmosphere and, you know, Epcot, was that several of the cast members that worked in those pavilions were out waving their country’s flag and cheering us on in their language.  This was true for Italy, Germany, China – a very nice little feature.

That’s France in the background…


And Morocco…

And then when we got to the main entry way behind Spaceship Earth the course was exactly what we did for the 10k.  The 501st had folks stationed in the area – my favorite was the Scout Trooper – and then we wound around through the finish chute and that was it.  I was again in the top third of all finishers (4,393 / 16,302) and since I was in a relatively early corral there was basically no congestion through the finish chute.  This time we collected our challenge medals as we went through that part of the chute, and then the snack box and through gear check and we were back out into the public area.  I immediately went and got in line for a picture with Captain Phasma, and then after a quick run through the merchandise tent I headed to the car.

My finish time was 2:30.08, which is 8 minutes and 16 seconds behind the PR I set back in January.  Especially given the photo stops and the humidity and the 10k I ran the day before, I’m thrilled with that time.  For perspective, even with the photo stops, that would have been a nearly 5 minute PR for me if I hadn’t run that half marathon in January.  And I didn’t train well for this one.  I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since high school, and that extends to being able to complete a half marathon on very little running-specific training.  The incredibly shrinking Matthew is becoming athletic Matthew, and I couldn’t be happier.

Notes:

  • Again very, very impressed with the organization of this race and the course. Over 16k people ran the half (which is apparently fairly small for a runDisney half, though I imagine they did OK and the proximity to Easter and Spring Break didn’t really help).  I had very little congestion, there was great support all over the course, and in general that was as smooth as an event that size could have been from my perspective.  Admittedly I was fortunate enough to be in a relatively early corral … but still.  Great job.
  • The humidity was pretty brutal. I’m used to it, but I can only imagine what it must have been like for folks that traveled in from the Northeast or upper Midwest.  My Garmin showed a starting temperature of 72 degrees, and that was at 5:30.  By the time I got into the World Showcase the sweat had gotten into my socks and I was squishing when I walked.  It was pretty rough.  Which is funny, because the week before and the week since have featured perfect weather – cooler and less humid.  Florida!
  • Ever since we got our Disney passes I’ve maintained that my favorite park was Animal Kingdom. And I love Animal Kingdom, I do.  But I’ve finally come around on Epcot and changed my mind – what a hell of a place Epcot is.  It doesn’t hurt to have Star Wars music blaring while you are running through there feeling like you accomplished something, but still.  I plan on going back to Epcot hopefully very soon and just reveling in it.
  • I dealt with very little pain in my legs this time. Since I started at a much more reasonable pace my shins and calves never did freeze up, so mostly I was just fighting fatigue and the general beating 13 miles puts on your legs.
  • I mentioned running into fellow CCF athlete Michele – she unknowingly flipped a switch for me that I don’t particularly like that I have. It is one thing to be struggling along doing your own thing with thousands of people you don’t know.  But now that there is somebody you know in proximity, well … now we’re racing.  I’ll bet I finished 2 – 3 minutes faster than I would have otherwise.  That competitiveness is not exactly something I’m proud of, but it exists.  I recognized it for what it was and decided to use it to help me get through this time.  So, yeah …
  • At about mile 8 I let the 2:30 Galloway pace group go … and I never saw them again. Which is odd considering that we started at the same time and I finished in exactly 2 hours and 30 minutes.
  • I really only truly regret missing that one ice cave picture with the Wampa. Could be worse.

  • SWAG was as discussed in the last post – three very nice technical shirts (one each for my 10k, half marathon, and the Dark Side Challenge for running both), three heavy medals, and a very personalized bib. Since my annual pass includes the PhotoPass, I didn’t have to pay for any pictures – which is one hell of a nice perk.  And they did have the Virtual Goody Bag online, which was mostly discounts for stuff at the expo.  Also at the end there were full bottles of water and Powerade plus the snack box and bananas.  Overall, it felt very high-end.
  • Next Race – the next one I have scheduled is Ragnar Washington DC in September. I doubt I make it that far without at least running a 5k somewhere, but we’ll see.

Final thoughts – this was one hell of a fun weekend.  It will not be my last runDisney race.

And may the force be with you.

Race Report #24: Star Wars Dark Side 10K

This is part 1 of my Dark Side Challenge race report – you can see the half marathon review here.

Hi.  My name is Matthew – and I’m a Star Wars nerd.

I own that.  Really own it.  And so it was a natural fit to make my first runDisney race … the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon.  But, in a fit of optimism brought about by a 10K PR on Thanksgiving, I did something that may seem foolish.  I signed up for the Dark Side Challenge.  This means I signed up for a 10K on Saturday AND a half marathon on Sunday.

Yikes.

I’m going to break this up into two posts – I’ll talk about the expo and the 10K in this one, and then the half marathon in the next one.

Needless to say (but I’m going to say it anyway), runDisney races are a big deal.  People come from all over the world for a chance to run through the different parks and take pictures with the themed characters.  Several characters come out especially for these races – you don’t see them at other times.  They estimated 14,000 people started the 10K – looks like just under 11,000 finished – and then 20,000 for the half marathon.  Even though many of those are the same people that ran both races (like me) – that’s still a ton of folks.   And, in typical Disney fashion, they’ve got it very well organized.

I went to the expo to get my bib on Friday – took a day off of work in anticipation of challenges with timing.   Everything opens at 10am at the ESPN Wild World of Sports complex.  Apparently there was a multi-hour line on Thursday, which is the first day of the expo, so I got there about 9am and hoped for the best.  Turns out I was about 6th in line, and thought I had really gone overboard with timing.  But I had not – by the time things opened up the line went all the way down the building, wrapped all the way back to where we were, and then went all the way back down the building.  Getting there early was a good thing.

After acquiring my bib (one bib for both races) and shirts (three technical shirts that I really like), I headed over to the merchandise building and hoped not to wreck things.  I wound up wrecking things.  Refer back to the opening of this post – I’m a Star Wars nerd … and there is a lot of cool Star Wars stuff.  I wound up with a new pair of shorts (with a Death Star on them), a pint glass (if a pint glass is available, I always get the pint glass), a pair of flip-flops for the boy (with Darth Vader on them, of course) and a handful of limited release race pins (because we do pin trading, and, yeah – Star Wars race pins!).  The shirts that came with the race are nice – though for the first time maybe ever my reaction is that they are too big.  I got XXL because I still generally need XXL, and it is clear that the runDisney folks use a different definition of XXL for these races.  Next time I do a Disney race I’ll get XL shirts.

Pins!

So then the rest of Friday my goal was to stay off of my feet.  One of the things that runDisney is notorious for is an early start – the race started at 5:30am on Saturday morning.  But now if you start backing up timing – 8pm bedtime.  2am wakeup.  30 minutes to wake up and choke down coffee and breakfast.  20 – 30 minutes to get over to Epcot.  10-15 minutes to walk to the line for busses.  The busses over to the starting line at the Magic Kingdom start running at 3:30am, and right on time they let us through.  A few minutes to get over to the starting line, and then…

A friend that had recently done the Princess Half gave me some very good advice – be on one of the early busses to the start line and that way you can have a relatively short wait for pictures with characters.  That was great advice – as we started hitting characters there were already lines forming.  But instead of beginning at the beginning (BB-8 already had a long line), I headed to the end and wound up being like 6th in line for Darth Vader – who was easily the toughest picture once the crowds showed up.  I got that picture, immediately popped over to Jabba the Hutt, and then was able to have only a 10 – 15 minute wait for Bobba Fett.  So … that worked out.

I found my lack of sleep … disturbing.

How cool is Han in carbonite in the background?

Of course, at this point, I still had over an hour to kill.  I used the port-o-potties (of which there were tons) twice, and then headed to my corral.  I somehow got into Corral B for the 10K, so I was up near the start.  They had big screens everywhere and good speakers for the race hosts, and they were showing clips from the movies and such.  Again, as expected, very good organization as they started walking us down to the start line.  When I did the Rock n’ Roll Half in DC it took me nearly an hour to get to the start line.  For this race I was running within 10 – 15 minutes.

And we were off.  Because of the multiple races this weekend, I went with a strategy of trying to race the 10K – PR if I could – and treat the half as a fun run.  I guess I didn’t stretch enough because my shins immediately froze up.  I had a decision to make, and I wound up deciding to push through the pain.  It took nearly 4 miles before things let go.  But I had also managed my pre-race poorly and I immediately needed to pee.    I also tried to gut that one out, but that wound up costing me my PR.

The first three miles of the course were pretty uneventful.  We ran back out of the Magic Kingdom parking lot and headed straight down World Drive.  Just past the start there was a high school band playing the Star Wars theme – which was awesome. Even walking to the bus feels somehow impressive when the Star Wars fanfare is going.  The first character photo happened before mile 1 – a huge line already for R2-D2.  There were a couple of other random photo-ops along the way, as well as screens set up showing scenes from the movies.  The mile markers are fancy, and featured different Dark Side characters – the first mile marker had Darth Maul on it and they were playing Duel of the Fates on speakers.  A nice touch.

Water and Powerade stop at about mile 1.5, which I ignored, and then medical just past mile 2. Thanks to the volunteers that really help that out.  And then we hit a cloverleaf to an overpass so we could head over to the first park.  The cloverleaf was banked for cars, and of course represented a decent hill for central Florida, so it wasn’t the most fun … but it also featured the 5K split.  We crossed World Drive and ran a bit toward the Swan and Dolphin, and then turned into a back entrance to Hollywood Studios.  Just before we hit the gate we got another character spot – this time Darth Maul.  I made a mental note to get that picture when I came through here on Sunday morning in the half.  Immediately inside the gate there was another water stop, and then the 501st Legion was all decked out to greet us – Tuscan Raiders, Jawas, Troopers of all types, the whole crew.  And then we were in the park.  But I couldn’t hold out anymore on the bathroom – I stopped at one of the park restrooms.  No line, but it wound up blowing my PR attempt.  Lesson learned – pee before you line up.

Running through the parks is why people pay a fortune and get up early to run Disney races.  We came out from behind the Tower of Terror, and were immediately greeted by Stormtroopers.  Running through the main drag of Hollywood studios, right at dawn, with Stormtroopers patrolling the place … it was a very cool scene.  We ran right up to and around the front gate, and then headed around to a path that connects Hollywood Studios to the Boardwalk area.  Instead of turning right onto the main Boardwalk, which I expected, we headed left toward the Yacht Club and Beach resorts.  That was boardwalk running all the way around to the back entrance to Epcot.  Just before we hit a service entrance into Epcot there was another water stop, and then we emerged right behind the Rose & Crown in the Great Britain section of the World Showcase.

I didn’t realize until I got the pictures that the photographers were so strategically placed…

One of the things you might not know unless you’ve experienced it is that they’ve got that whole park wired up with speakers so that they can speak to everybody there all at the same time.  And when we came out into the World Showcase … all of those speakers were blaring the Star Wars fanfare.  I’ve already owned that I’m a Star Wars nerd, but that was chilling.  My headphones came off for the rest of the race.

We turned left at Great Britain, ran through the Canada section, and then around to the main path headed toward Spaceship Earth.  There were Stormtroopers taking pictures in front in that area, and also photographers with Spaceship Earth in the background – and no line.  Since my PR was already not going to happen, I got a quick picture there and headed to the finish.  Just before the gate we cycled around through a cast member area, which also had some of the 501st.  Snowtroopers, Sandtroopers, Imperial Gunners, etc. – very cool.  We turned back into the finish line in the parking lot, and after getting past some patrolling Stormtroopers we were done.

Big finish chute – clearly set up to handle major crowds.  They did a great job running people through the sections and avoiding bottlenecks.  I collected my medal, and then a water and a Powerade.  We then walked through the Challenge Medal area (which was not being used until Sunday), and picked up our snack boxes (chips, cheese sauce, Oreos, dried fruit, granola bar) and bananas, and then through gear check and back out.  The characters from the beginning were also at the end, but I made the decision to hold off until Sunday to get the ones I hadn’t gotten and headed to my car.

I finished in 1:06.20, which was 2 minutes and 42 seconds off of my PR.  If I had managed my bathroom function a little better I had a shot of getting it – but I’m still happy with that run.  It was fun, I got to see a lot of cool things, and I also got acquainted with how they do things before I started out on the long run on Sunday.  I was home by 8:00 or 8:15 – and then heading back out to watch my oldest run his first event, an inflatable obstacle run.  This turned into a good day.

Notes:

  • Could not be more impressed with how well this was organized. I’m already on the Disney bandwagon, but this was just another place where they demonstrated how very good they are at handling big crowds and big experiences for their guests.
  • I observe the taboo on wearing a race shirt in the actual race – bad juju, plus the idea of wearing something completely new on race day.  Not only did I see a ton of race shirts for this – I saw a bunch of half marathon shirts, which wouldn’t be run until the next day.  And I even saw a couple of Dark Side Challenge shirts which, just … wow.
  • Something different – I finished in the top 25% overall and top third in my age division.  This has little to do with my speed and a lot to do with the facts of the race – they want people to stop and take pictures.  And a lot of people just are not regular runners – they are doing it for the Disney or the Star Wars parts.  Still…
  • I’ve seen several complaints about the overall course for both the 10k and the half since the race ended – and I think that’s nonsense. The logistics of making this work and letting us see as much as possible, in an environment where they’re going to be letting tens of thousands of people into their parks in some cases while we’re still running … those have to be a nightmare.  I thought the course was great.
  • The medal was intense – big and heavy, with a Stormtrooper on it. If this was the 10K medal, I was anxious to see the half marathon medal.
  • I didn’t mention the weather – it wasn’t so bad for somebody that lives in Florida – pretty normal for this race. Mid-60s and humid at race start.  Folks that traveled from up north were struggling with it, but overall I didn’t have a problem during the 10k.  Bit of a different story on Sunday.
  • My goal of going home and basically not standing up for hours after got blown all to hell. The obstacle course my son was doing had a parent run-along lane for 1.5 miles, and I was trying to stay ahead since I had the camera.  I wound up running most of the way in non-running stuff, and starting to put some irritation on my thighs and nipples.  I would have to deal with that the next day.  But it was so very worth it.
  • Another 8pm bedtime and 2am wakeup. Yay?
  • SWAG picture at the end of the next post – the bib was cool, the shirts were cool, and the medals were awesome. We got a virtual goody bag with discounts and things for the expo.  No other little stuff, though, which I’m OK with.
  • Next race – Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon – April 23rd. Post coming soon.

Race Report #23: Celebration Half Marathon

When I registered for the Celebration Half Marathon, I actually viewed it as more of a training run than a goal race.  I’m registered for the Gasparilla Half Marathon in late February, and I had registered so early that I believed I could get in a “practice” half marathon and still have time to recover for a real push at Gasparilla.  Also – I live in Celebration.  It felt like if I were going to be doing a 12 or 13 mile training run in town, I might as well get a medal for it.  All indications are that the race is very well run and very runner friendly … so I signed up.

Training went well.  I’ve clearly gotten faster, which I attribute largely to endurance gained with Crossfit.  My taper was very non-traditional – two weeks before the race I ran most of the actual course, about 12.25 miles by the time I was done.  And then I didn’t go for another formal run for those two weeks.  I went to Crossfit 6 days a week, and that often included running, but at no time did I go out for a run.  For dinner on Saturday night I made a chicken barley soup and homemade bread to carb up, and called it a taper.  My prior half marathon PR was 2:36 flat – my stated goal going into this was a PR, my secondary but really no-brainer goal was under 2:30, my stretch goal was under 2:25, and in my wildest dreams I hoped to get under 2:20.

Florida in January is generally a glorious place to be.  For the last several weeks the highs have been from the mid-70s to the mid-80s, with lots of sunshine and low(ish) humidity.  Winter training here is a completely different thing than winter training in New York.  Everything was going great until we started checking the forecast a week or so out – mid to upper 40s and rain.  From like 4am to 10am on that Sunday – the exact window that the race was scheduled to run in – Central Florida was going to get rain.

<sigh>

The race expo was at town hall, from 5pm to 9pm on Friday and 10am to 6pm on Saturday.  My thought was that I’d get there right around 5 on Friday and beat the rush.  Apparently that was a good idea, because by the time I got there the line to pick up bibs was quite long.  They moved it along quickly, though, and we got our bibs and a bag full of coupons and headed inside to the expo.  We all got very nice steel tumblers as part of our SWAG (very nice), and my bib number won a door prize – which was one of last year’s shirts.  The shirts we all got this year are very nice, and there was a small but nice expo with several vendors and local companies.  Then I did my best to stay off my feet until Sunday morning.

Race day, I got up 20 minutes earlier than normal, ate my traditional pre-race oatmeal and coffee (got to keep things, well, moving) and prepped up.  Because of the rain I had purchased a throw-away rain jacket at BJs for $13, and tried to dress warmly but not too- warmly.  The walk down to the start line was a bit over a mile, and about halfway there I passed a parking lot and entered the masses.  I’d brought along a coat in a gear check bag, so when I made it downtown I went and checked that at the very neat little area they had set up and then started wandering around trying to stay warm.  I knew several people running the race, but never did see any of them before we got started.  Of course, there were 2,500 of us milling about between the half and the full, not including family and volunteers, etc.

celebration-half-start-line

The corrals were not formal, but there were plenty of signs designating where to start.  There were also professional pacers scattered throughout, so there was plenty of signage.  Lots of port-a-potties, so I got one last stop in, and then lined up just in front of the pacer with the 11:05 pace sign.  National Anthem, 3-2-1 go, and we were off.  I dropped my raincoat just on the other side of the start line and the race was on.

Lots of congestion early on.  The first mile of the course features several turns through a nice neighborhood, which is lovely when you’re running with a handful of people.  When you’re running with several hundred, though, those turns really bog down as people try to run the tangents.  Also, and I hate to be negative about this, but there is really no excuse in a start area this well signed for people that are going to be walking within the first mile to have been in front of me.  There were a few people running a Galloway-type run-walk program, some even with beepers, but they were all very courteous about stops and starts and stayed over to the side.  Other than that, though, if you’re going to be walking that early, line up farther back.  <sigh>  My first mile was the third slowest, at 11:09.

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Right at the first mile marker, two things happened.  First, we turned out of that neighborhood and began running a much more straight course, which cleared up much of the congestion.  Another, though, was the first of the spectators that was specifically cheering for a group of friends running the race, including me.  She and her kids had created a sign with “You Can Do It!” on one side and “Go <insert names here>!” on the other.  I could tell I was the first of our group to go by, because I seemed to take her by surprise, and by the time she got the sign turned around I was already by.  That kind of support, though, makes a monster difference – it was cool.  My second mile settled into very comfortable pace and came in at 10:39.

The third mile is a big out-and-back through a neighborhood called North Village.  I don’t like out-and-backs, but I had practiced this particular one several times since I knew I’d be running it.  I passed the time on the way out scanning the runners that were coming back, and then vice-versa on the way back.  I didn’t recognize anybody, but it sure made the miles go faster.  Mile 3 was a 10:38 mile.

This course is very, very flat.  Over the whole 13.1 miles, my Garmin only picked up 32 feet of elevation gain, total – and that’s not net, just the number going up.  Mile 4 goes through a stretch, though, that I’ve always felt like is slightly downhill.  Any time I run that stretch I always feel great going through there, and this time was no different.  Nothing remarkable – we wound around near the Water Tower Shoppes and then ran in front of the Disney offices here in town, headed toward the hospital.  Only one turn in mile 4, which helped it come in at 10:31.   At this point I was feeling very good and knew I had a very good chance to hit my goals, even the stretch or dream goals.  The rain had been spitting all morning, and it was chilly, but overall things were going very well.

For mile 5, we wound in around behind the Celebration Hospital, running through their parking lot and access road.  Here I should also say that the support on-course was GREAT.  There were police and volunteers at every intersection, and water stops with water and Gatorade at very regular intervals.  Particularly with the weather like it was, it was great to have that much support.  In my practice run two weeks before, I had refueled with a Lara Bar at the end of mile 5.  It felt too heavy on my stomach, so this time I brought lighter Nutri-Grain bars.  There was a water stop just before the mile marker, so I took my first walk break to eat that bar and wash it down.  Because of that little stop, mile 5 was a bit slower at 10:50.

At that point, though, we turned off onto a roughly 2.5 mile stretch of just straight running.  They had blocked off a lane on the main road coming into town and we had the whole thing for that stretch.  Wide lanes, no turns, just running, leads to good splits, and miles 6 and 7 were my fastest in the race – 10:29 and 10:21, respectively.  The marathon organizers had several signs printed up to line this stretch (“You’re running better than the government!” and “Hurry up marathoners, the half-marathoners are eating all the food!”, etc.)  There were also a few spectators, including one couple that had a big sign “Free Gatorade for runners!” and a cooler full of 20oz Gatorades.  Again, the support means a great deal.   These miles seemed to fly by, and I hit the official 10K split in 1:06.44, which is less than 3 minutes off of my 10K PR that I set on Thanksgiving.  And I still felt strong.

Just after the mile 7 marker we turned off onto a potentially hazardous stretch.  Celebration was basically built on a big swamp, and throughout town there are miles of paths that include boardwalks through some of the old forest.  These boardwalks are very nice, and make a lovely stroll or even a run under normal circumstances.  They are also very slippery when they get wet – and it was raining.  Between that and how narrow they are, we were warned multiple times to be very careful, and to stay right unless passing but don’t even really do that.  Most of mile 8 was on a boardwalk, and though I didn’t see any accidents or incidents, I also slowed down to a manageable 10:48 pace.  I both wanted to stay safe and also wanted to start conserving energy – my legs were starting to feel the miles, and about mile 9 was when I bonked pretty hard on my long training run.  So I throttled back a bit, and in the end this was the right strategy.

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At about mile 8.5 we came off of the boardwalk and crossed over a bridge into a neighborhood called Artisan Park for about 1.5 miles.  That bridge is the only way in and out of Artisan Park, so that’s where I’d told my wife to be if she wanted to bring the kids to cheer.  Both of my kids, but particularly the young one, have been pretty sick lately – and it was raining – so I had told her the night before that if they couldn’t make it I would not have my feelings hurt.  It was more important to keep everybody healthy than to get them all wet.  So I rounded that corner not knowing what to think – and there they were!  Part of my motivation for doing all of this is to be a good role model for my kids – I want them to see their Daddy doing healthy things and making active choices and living that kind of life.  And so when they see me and smile and give me fives and act excited – well, there really isn’t anything better.  It was awesome.  Just past my family I took another walk break to eat my second Nutri-Grain bar.  Between stopping to say hi and then eating that bar, mile 9 was by far my slowest at 11:29.

I have a standard loop that I do through Artisan Park … and this course actually cuts that loop off, making it feel like I’m cheating.  That helped.  I also saw another group of spectators that I knew – some friends live down in Artisan Park, and the wife was also running the race.  It is always good to get personalized words of encouragement – in this case a big “Go Hogs!” in reference to the Arkansas Razorbacks pullover I was wearing.  This got me through mile 10 in 10:37.  We also crossed the 15k mat in Artisan Park – my official 15k split was 1:40.44, which is nearly a 9 minute PR at that distance.

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My family was still there when I came back over the bridge – so another round of high fives and smiles later, I had my motivation to finish.  The final three miles are always a mental exercise, making sure your mind doesn’t tell your body to stop.  At this point I knew that I was going to finish in under 2:25, and what kept me going was the chance at getting under 2:20.  But I was also tired, so I started hitting every water stop … and then it was just put your head down and get to the finish.  Mile 11 goes through a little neighborhood called Aquila Loop (10:54), Mile 12 is partly in East Village and partly on a very nice path on the back edge of town all the way to Lake Evalyn (11:11), and then at the beginning of Mile 13 the full marathon course turns for its second loop and the half marathoners loop around behind the main lake in town, cross through the original startline, and wind around to the finish right in the middle of downtown.  In Mile 13 the rain picked up a little, but it was an 11:00 mile, and that last 0.1 mile I did at a 10:00 pace, to finish in 2:21.52.

Nearly a 15 minute PR!

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So, yeah, I was pretty amped up.  They’ve got a chute set up to run through at the finish, and they were calling names.  Lots of people were cheering, music, a great atmosphere.  In the chute we got our medals, a Clif bar, a bottle of water, orange slices, bananas, and a little cover-up from the rain.  I inhaled all of that that was edible, probably through a big smile.  I went over and retrieved my checked bag so I could put a heavier coat on, and then cheered the other runners until my friends came by.  At about 2:40 the winner of the full marathon came through, flying – I saw him coming and thought “Wow, that guy is running fast” before I could see his bib and tell he had run a completely different race.  Once everybody around me realized what he was, there was a really big cheer.  It is impressive watching somebody do something you can’t.

And at that point I headed to the after-party, which is really really great for a race this size.  All of the local restaurants had a tent set up with food.  You got a card with all of their logos on it, which entitled you to a sample at their tent.  It was awesome.  We got two beers at the beer tent, a mimosa at that tent, and the restaurants had awesome food – standouts were the clam chowder from the Tavern, the black beans and rice from the Columbia, and the chili from Market Street diner.  Café D’Antonio had big doughy pizza, and Upper Crust had hot rolls.  I didn’t make it to all of the tents, but I know Imperium Wine and Avocado’s Mexican were out there, too – as well as Starbucks.  Just an awesome perk for the runners.

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I could not be happier with that run.  My training was good, but at the end of the day my mileage was lower than when I trained for the half marathons I did in the past.  I’m convinced that the difference is Crossfit – my cardiovascular endurance, as well as my leg and core strength, are drastically improved from what they were, and I got there without pounding my legs out on all of those miles.  To be this much faster than before, AND injury free, is an awesome feeling.

If you’re looking for a small, flat, fast, runner-friendly race, I’m not sure you could possibly do any better than the Celebration Marathon and Half Marathon.

15 minutes!

Notes:

  • Everybody on social media is raving about the race, as well they should. Lest I be considered biased, there is one decent complaint – the area where they do the bag check is not covered, and if you didn’t put your stuff inside something waterproof in your bag, your stuff probably got wet.  Mine did.  That was a bit annoying – to have thought ahead to pack a dry warm coat, and then have it be pretty wet, was not what I was looking for.  BUT – it wasn’t all that bad, and I’m going to give them a break.  I’m going to bet they haven’t seen weather this crappy since they started this race, and I’ll also bet that the next time it rains on race day they’ll have a solve for this.  At the end of the day, this was pretty minor.
  • It turns out that I’m not going to be running Gasparilla – the cost and logistics of getting to that area on that day are just prohibitive, and the Crossfit Open starts that weekend. Also, it’ll be nice to take a break from training for a race – though it’ll be a short break, because the next one is not that far out.  All of that to say – running this was absolutely the right call, all the way around.
  • There is something really odd about running a decently big goal-type race in your own town when you walk to and from the starting line. These are routes I run all the time, and this was just like a training run – except with a couple thousand of my closest friends, and water stops along the way.  Kind of surreal, really.  I imagine it’ll be even worse the next time I get out there to do a regular run.
  • The encouragement I got from my Crossfit box was incredible, and really means a lot. A couple of my fellow athletes also ran (go Nanette, Joanne, and Brooke!) also ran, and I got several texts and other encouragement from others.  The community is the best part of Crossfit, and this is just another example of that.
  • Also a big congrats to Holly and Elizabeth for killing that race, and thanks to Laura and William for standing out in the rain with a sign. I’ve never lived in a community where friends all root for friends like this.  I like it.
  • This race is worth it for the food after. Seriously – the beans and rice from the Columbia was absolutely perfect after this.  Also, for dinner that evening we came back down to the Tavern and I absolutely crushed a cheeseburger & fries & onion rings & beers & a post-race meal that I’d been planning for several days.
  • Back on the wagon on Monday morning, though.
  • Speaking of Monday morning – I had a checkup with my doctor the morning after the race. The nurse that took my vitals engaged me in my single favorite medical interaction of all time:

Nurse:  Is your pulse always very low?

Me:  Oh, uh … I run.

Nurse:  Ah – ok.

End of conversation.

(for the record, my resting pulse was 45 bpm) (#running)

  • The SWAG was awesome, too – our shirt was organic cotton from RawThreads, and is a shirt I’ll actually wear. The steel tumbler is exceptionally nice, and unlike anything I’ve ever gotten in race SWAG before.  And the flyers and coupons included are all for discounts for local restaurants and stores – which is handy, because I actually live here and may use them.  There was also a light-up safety arm band and something they called a “buff”, which really saved my ears going to and from the race.celebration-half-swag
  • My next scheduled race is The Dark Side Challenge on April 22nd and 23rd at Disney World. That’s Star Wars Dark Side weekend, and I’ll be running the 10K on Saturday and half marathon on Sunday.  Which, in retrospect, was crazy for me to sign up for.  May the force be with me.

 

Pictures!

Quick update to the race report I did for The Florida Run 10K that I ran back in November.  They posted pictures!  I’m a sucker for pictures.  Not really any super good ones of me, I don’t think, but I wound up with three.  I’m going to go back in and put them into the race report itself, but wanted to put them here since they’re new.

Pictures!

results%2f2350bfa8301645cdadc5%2fdsc_4848At the starting line.  You can see this was a small race, though they were very well organized.  This picture is a little Where’s Waldo, but with me.  I’m in here, though…

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Right after the start.  I really struggle with relaxing my arms – they always wind up high and tight like that unless I’m focusing on it.  I don’t know why, and I feel like I’ve done a much better job of working on it when I’m training.  But, especially when I am having to focus on other things (like a race start), they go back up there.  I’ll keep working on it, but I’m also open for ideas.

Incidentally – that guy in front of me was one that I marked early as “want to finish before him”.  Not sure why him, but there you go.  I stuck with him for the first mile or so, and then he left me behind. I figured that was that, until about mile 4, when I passed him as he was walking up a hill.  I never had to drop into a walk, and I never saw him again.  It was roughly there that I realized I had a very good race going.

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Not too often you get pictures from the back like this.  Look at those calves!

I linked to the full race report in the first line of this post, if you’re interested.

Pictures!

RR #22: Ashburn Farm 10K

In retrospect, I should have expected the email.  For whatever reason, though, I didn’t, and was a bit surprised when:

“Looking forward to seeing everybody on Thanksgiving – hey, there is a 10K about 45 minutes away – anybody want to do that?”

So, I signed up for a 10K on Thanksgiving morning.

This was the 23rd running of the Ashburn Farm 10K, which is a fundraising event organized by Crossroads United Methodist Church in Ashburn, Virginia.  They support a charity in Uganda that helps young people with school – a worthy cause.  They were expecting around 2,300 going into the event, though I did hear the number 3,000 at one point that morning.

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Six of us went – our hosts for the week, Dave and Erin, two of their kids, my sister-in-law, and me.  When I announced we needed to leave around 6:30am in order for me to be comfortable about getting there, my sister-in-law groaned a rather lot.  But we were out of the house by 6:40 – not bad.

We parked near the start line, which was about two blocks from the finish line and therefore a perfect place to make a quick exit after.  Packet pickup was in the church, and then we headed back and stayed warm in the car until the 10K start, which was 8:15.  Dave and one of the girls were running the 5K, so they came out and cheered and then presumably headed back to the car.

Couldn’t hear much from the back of the pack, 3-2-1, go.  It took about 45 seconds to get to the start line (this will be important later), and we were off.  I never felt crowded at the beginning, which was nice.  I had looked at the elevation profile, so was prepared for the hill in Mile 1 – a hill that was especially daunting for the Florida runner.  I can do an 8 mile long run and my Garmin will tell me that my total elevation gain is 8 feet.  So a 100 foot hill is a monster.

My goal was to PR, which is to say that I wanted to beat the time I ran less than two weeks before at The Florida Run – which was a 10:43 pace.  Mile 1 was a 10:38 mile, so ahead of pace even with the hill.  But I felt OK, so I went with it.

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Mile 2 was kind of rolling, with some downhills after the crest at the end of Mile 1.  Miles 2 – 5 were a big out-and-back, and at the end of Mile 2 is where I met the leaders going the other way, near their Mile 4.  Looked like running club or track kids – they were flying. Mile 2 was a 10:21.  In Mile 3, also kind of rolling, I met the three people I was running with coming back on the out-and-back, as well.  I wasn’t as far away from them as I might have thought.   Mile 3 was 10:22 – very consistent.

About halfway through Mile 4 we turned up a hill that, again, wasn’t that bad for most, but … Florida.  It sucked.  That hill continued into Mile 5, but by then I knew I was on a real PR pace and took off.  Mile 4 was 10:33, Mile 5 was 10:15.

And then the elevation turned downhill.  Mile 6 was a downhill bomb for me, losing 100 feet of elevation in the mile.  There was nobody around me – really not anybody in front or anybody behind.  I was on an island and decided to uncork it.  It felt … great.  I ran Mile 6 in 9:38, which is one of the fastest miles I’ve ever run in a race.  And to have that happen in the sixth mile of a 10K, well … that feels good.

Near the end of Mile 6 we met up with the 5K race, and because of my time that means I was with the walkers.  I spent half a mile dodging walkers, and as we neared the finish line we were in a residential area with turn-y roads and apartment complexes, so you couldn’t see the finish.  It was maddening.  A couple of hundred yards out Dave and his daughter came back to cheer for me and told me it was close, just go.  The clock at the finish line said 1:04.24 when I crossed it, and my watch said exactly 6.2 miles and 1:03.43.

My official time was 1:04.24, a 10:22 pace, and the timing company posted that my net time and my gun time were identical.  And that appears to be the case for most of the people that ran – there are very few people that have a different net time and gun time.  Of course, that doesn’t make sense.  It looks like their start line failed to register our bibs, so they had to go with the gun time at the finish.  That sucks – I’m convinced I ran this nearly 40 seconds faster, at a 10:15 pace, which is spectacular for what I’ve done in the past.

Update:  They updated the times!  My official time for this was race is now 1:03.38, or a 10:16 pace!  Not sure what made me look, but … woot!  The next paragraph has been edited to reflect the updated time.

I PRed by nearly 3 minutes, off of a 6.5 minute PR that I set less than two weeks before this race.  In the last two weeks, I’ve taken 10 minutes off of my 10K PR.  10 minutes. I’m crediting Crossfit – I’m about the size I was when I was running these a couple of years ago, but my aerobic threshold is so much higher.  I’m thrilled with this, even if I did lose a few seconds.

PR!

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Notes:

  • Much of the course was not completely closed to traffic, and I saw two different instances where cops were yelling at drivers.  Thanks to the boys in blue for coming out on Thanksgiving morning and keeping us safe.
  • Because they all finished a few minutes before me, I didn’t really get a chance to visit the after-race amenities inside the church.  They said it was a zoo in there though – fortunately, they grabbed me a water and a banana.
  • I don’t like uphills, of course – but I remember now why I don’t mind hills in general.  Downhills are awesome.  That last mile was a bomb and felt like it – I have almost never run that fast.
  • A few people cheering for me at the end by calling out my bib number.  It was cool.  I’ve got a couple of races coming up where my name is on the bib – I think that is going to be a good thing.
  • Afterward we went back to the house and WRECKED Thanksgiving dinner. Wrecked it.  My early calorie deficit did not last very long.  I ate a lot, is what I’m trying to say.
  • Not a lot of SWAG – a nice long-sleeve cotton shirt with the logo that you saw above, and some coupons to local places.  Apparently there were some door prizes, but I spent so little time in that area that I have no idea. Not complaining – it was a $35 race and they were raising money for charity.  And it is a nice shirt.
  • Next race:  Celebration Half Marathon, January 29th.  I may try to find a 5K between now and then, but other than that, a big one is next.  Given what has happened in the last two weeks, I feel REALLY good about that one.

PR!

RR #21: The Florida Run at Lake Louisa State Park

Update – 12/19/2016 – the race published pictures!  I talked about each individual picture here, but I want to come back in and put them into this post for anybody that might be looking for reports on this race.  Pictures!

Here’s how the website describes, in part, The Florida Run at Lake Louisa State Park:

Known as one of Central Florida’s more challenging and unique races, the course will take runners on paved surfaces, dirt trails, grass trails and some sand.

Lake Louisa State Park is in Clermont, Florida, about a 30 minute drive from the house.  I was worried about timing for my traditional pre-run oatmeal, so I had my coffee and a bowl of cereal, snagged a couple of Lara bars, and headed out.  I have visited the park before – and I hit the gate at about 6:20am for an 8am start.  Normally the park opens at 8am, but they make an exception on race day.  I made my way to the back of the park and headed over to the lakeside bathrooms for a quick break … and saw this – which is a sunrise that you normally don’t get to see:

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Well.

After that auspicious start, it seemed it might be a good day.

This is a really small race but is very well managed.  The Florida Run includes a half marathon, the 10K, the 5K, and a kid’s fun run.  There wound up being 114 finishers in the 10K, and it was probably a few more than that for the half marathon.  But, packet pickup was smooth and easy, and the timing company did a great job.  There was an announcer, a nice chute, and good signage throughout.  Just very well run.

For whatever reason I needed two more trips to the restroom, and then headed over to cheer on the half marathon start, which left at 7:45.  While the mosquitos chewed on me, we had an opening prayer and then a very well done National Anthem – 3-2-1 go, and they were off.  Took maybe two minutes, maybe less, to clear the chute.  15 minutes later we lined up in the chute for the 10K, same 3-2-1, and off we went.

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Because we were in a state park and running what can only be described as a rural route, there was no spectator support.  We were on our own almost immediately.  The first mile was paved, was uneventful and maybe slightly rolling.  The first water station was at about the 1.5 mile mark, followed immediately by one of the bigger hills I’d seen in a while.  By my New York standards it almost doesn’t even count as a hill.  By my new Florida standards, it was tough.  But I powered up and did OK.  And then at about 1.8 miles, we turned off of the pavement onto a path, and the second mile marker was a bit down this path.  Mile #1 clocked in at 10:44, and Mile #2 at 11:04.

This part of Central Florida is basically one big sand dune.  And these paths were like a beach that had a lot of grass growing on it.  The ground was always a bit soft, and if there was no grass in an area it was not all that different from any sandy beach.  Obviously we tried to avoid those.  Maybe 0.75 mile into this we made a sharp right turn and headed up one of the bigger hills I’ve run in literally years.  Again, by non-Florida standards I don’t think it was so bad.  But, when you factor in the sand and the pancake-flat ground around my house that I train on, it was pretty brutal.  The next aid station was at the top of this hill, and they laughed when I said “Well – that sucked.”  The top of this hill was also the third mile marker – Mile #3, which included that crappy hill, was an 11:17 mile.

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At that point, we were back on pavement, and started back downhill, and I knew I was going to have a good day.  Even after those hills I was feeling good, and I knew that the hardest part of the run was behind me now.  Given that, I decided to uncork it a little and start reeling people in.  That got easier because at about this point the 10K and half marathon courses converged, and I was suddenly in the middle of a bunch of runners that were halfway through a race that they had started 15 minutes before I had started mine.  If this were a Ragnar, I’d say it was a target-rich environment, and I started focusing on picking people off.  Mile #4, which included some more off-road sandy trail, was a 10:31 mile, and Mile #5 – where we passed the first water station again going the other way, was a 10:41.

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At some point in all of that the half marathon course had diverged again, and there were only two 10K runners in front of me within reach, so I focused on trying to pick them off.  I actually got both of them with less than a quarter of a mile to go, but one guy apparently didn’t like that I passed him and hit the gas – he finished ahead of me by about 10 seconds.  I had passed a girl, too, and right at the very end she went by me at full sprint speed – again apparently not liking the idea of being beaten by a fat guy.  I wonder how far she would have been ahead had she portioned that energy out a little better.  Mile #6 was a 10:44 mile, and then the last little bit took a little over a minute – I forgot to hit the button on my watch until well after I crossed the line, so I don’t know exactly.

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I’m not sure who the spotter was as we came in to the finish, but the announcer called my name and town as I entered the chute, and I collected my very nice medal and bottle of water and headed over to the food tent.  They had Clif bars, oranges, bananas, and chocolate chip cookies – not a horrible spread.  About 10 minutes after I finished the first half marathon finisher came in, at about an hour and a half.  Dude was flying.

My stated goal going into this was a PR (1:13 and change) and my really hope-to-get goal was 1:08.  My finish time was 1:06.32 – a PR by nearly six and a half minutes!  I was and am thrilled.  Especially with the hills and the sand, I never would have expected to be able to do that.  I know based on my recent 5K and some recent training that I’m capable of that speed, but I didn’t think I would have been capable of that kind of endurance.  And my weekly mileage isn’t really that high – Crossfit is getting me into the best shape of my life.

I’m officially on the training schedule for the Celebration Half Marathon in January – this makes me very optimistic for that.

PR!

Notes:

  • Can’t say enough about how well the race seemed to be organized, especially for such a small race. I’ve run races that were quite a bit bigger than that one that didn’t have some of the niceties, and that didn’t go as smoothly.  Well done.
  • Those hills could have been worse, but they also weren’t exactly smooth. I’m going to have to figure out how to get hill training in somehow if I ever want to run any events outside of Florida.
  • I haven’t been training with water, so I didn’t take any at the first two water stations. I took Gatorade at the last one, with the thought that maybe I’d get a boost.  Not that I could tell, but it didn’t hurt, either.
  • When I got done with the last bit of trail running, there was a volunteer there that was yelling “No more sand!” I told him he was my hero.  I meant it.
  • I wish I had taken a picture of the trophy table. Other than a trophy that was designed for local teams to pass around, the trophies were all pieces of cut 2x lumber that had been laser printed with the race logo and the winner’s category.  Unique, and very cool.

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  • Actually got a SWAG bag, which doesn’t happen that often anymore. There were some coupons and flyers, a couple of medicine samples (Advil, etc.), and a little tube of sunscreen.  The race shirt was cotton but very nice (though they only had XL, so I may never be able to wear it … <sigh>).  And we all got a very nice medal.  I still don’t know how I feel about getting a medal for running a 10K, particularly since it is the exact same medal the half marathoners got (and, not for nothing, that the 5K runners got).  BUT – I am not conflicted enough to not hang it with all of the other medals.  The bib also was not only race-specific, but it was distance-specific … the different distances had different colors and descriptions.  I love that detail
  • Next race: Ashburn Farm 10K, Ashburn, Virginia – a Thanksgiving day race that I now intend to try and absolutely bomb.  We’ll see.

Onward!

RR #20: Celebration Rotary Pancake Run 5K

I registered for this race last year and wound up getting lazy and not running it.  This year, I didn’t register for it initially on the theory that I didn’t need races and would like to save the money. But I eventually relented and signed up.  This is a charity race that Celebration Rotary does each year in conjunction with the fire department.  They have a big pancake breakfast at the fire house that is free for runners but that you can buy tickets for if you don’t run.  And they have a 10K and a 5K.

And the start line is about a mile and a half from my house.

With an 8am start and a pancake breakfast, I thought maybe my family would be able to come.  The night before, my wife and I decided that she wouldn’t wake the kids up, so I expected to be solo.  I had my normal long-run oatmeal and coffee for breakfast, and as I was sitting at my desk in my house, I thought something had broken in the kitchen because I could hear running water.  Turns out, it was raining.  Oh, boy.

The finish line, before the madness

The finish line, before the madness

I got to the race site a little over an hour early – even though it wasn’t far I drove so that I had an easy place to stash my shirt, and so I’d be able to leave quickly to make it to a t-ball game starting right after.  I checked in, and an hour early they were already out of men’s XL shirts.  They tried to give me a women’s, but one look at the way it was cut and I had to laugh.  I got a Large, but there is a decent chance I’ll never wear it.  If I’d been thinking I’d have gotten a small and let my oldest son wear it, but, whatever.

On the way back to the car to drop my shirt off, I realized I’d left my Garmin at home.  I briefly considered going to get it, but decided I’d run without it.  I didn’t need it for the overall time or distance, and wouldn’t really need it for pacing, so I left it.  In the end, I think I regret that decision.

The 10K was scheduled to start 30 minutes before the 5K.  They had a DJ, and somebody came to warm us up – I did some laps in the parking lot.  The local Boy Scout troupe marched out an American flag, the girl did a great job with the National Anthem, and they lined up the 10K and set them off, about 10 minutes late.  Once they were gone, they actually physically moved the starting line down the street to the official 5K start, and we all marched down there to get into place.  I noticed several kids and others that didn’t look like they had a lot of 5K experience near the front, so I went ahead and lined up farther up than I normally do.

My goal, especially without the watch, was to go out comfortably fast and do my best to hold it and maybe have some kick.  I was realistically expecting a 33 to 35 minute 5K, thinking that I had an outside chance at a PR before the day started just because I’m in much better shape than I was when I ran my PR.  The rain made that unlikely, though – even though the active raining mostly stopped, the roads were wet and there was a ton of humidity.

3-2-1, and we were off.  I got caught in a narrow lane behind people running slower than me almost immediately.  I wound up actually running up on the curb to get around, and almost immediately I was out of the crowds and running basically alone.  And a bit too fast.  But I made the decision to try and hold that best I could, and run the race.

Our town is very pretty, even in the rain, and the course was all streets I’ve run on before.  There are no hills, but several turns, so it wasn’t the fastest course.  But there was nearly no congestion, the turns were all very well signed, and there were police working traffic to make sure everything stayed safe.  It was an enjoyable run.

A bit after mile 2 the course runs relatively close to the baseball fields – and my family surprised me by being there to cheer!  My wife, of course, was cheering like crazy.  My 4-year old, in his t-ball uniform, knew what was going on and gave me a five, but seemed almost embarrassed.  And the 19-month old looked very confused.  He clearly had no concept of what was happening, and then when I ran by and kept going there was no telling what he was thinking.  But it was great for them to be there.  I love when my kids get to see me doing this stuff.  Part of this is setting an example for them, and that is easier when they actually see it.

From there it was just a grind to the end.  We could see the finish line well in advance of getting there, so I kicked best I could and gutted it across the finish.  We got medals, which is nice, and an option of a full bottle of water or a full bottle of Gatorade.  And then after I caught my breath I walked over to the pancake breakfast and got some coffee and made pancake sausage rolls.  That was a nice after-race treat.  I finished in 31:09, which is a 10:03 / mile pace.  That is only 30 seconds off of my PR, and this is the beginning of the racing season in Florida, not the end. I’m very happy with the run, and will almost certainly do it next year.

After

After

Notes:

  • On my last training run I did a 10:20 mile, and felt very happy about that. To do 10:03 for three miles means I really am in much better shape than I’ve been in a very long time.  I don’t have any more 5Ks scheduled, but I’m thinking I’ll pick one in March to be a PR attempt – and a chance to get under 30 minutes.
  • The pancake breakfast after was awesome. I’m now officially going to be disappointed with post-race spreads going forward.
  • I’m still very unaccustomed to receiving medals for 5Ks. In the Northeast I never saw that – you didn’t get a medal unless you ran at least a half marathon.  Down here, apparently all races give medals.  The medal itself was small and not fancy, but it was nice, and fun to get.  As before – I almost feel bad hanging it next to my half marathon and Ragnar medals, but not bad enough to not hang it.

    This, without the date, is what the medal looks like...

    This, without the date, is what the medal looks like…

  • Not having my Garmin was very annoying. Not so much during the race – it would have been nice to see my pace, but I didn’t miss it all that much.  But because I didn’t have it I have no idea what my splits looked like.  It felt pretty evenly paced; I can’t think of a stretch where I slowed down or sped up.  But I just don’t know if I started too hard and fell apart at the end, or how good my kick was.  I won’t make that mistake again.
  • I am annoyed that they didn’t have a shirt my size. If they were out by the time I got there, which was early, I imagine several people didn’t get a shirt that fit.  At the end of the day it isn’t that big a deal, but it seems like such a waste.  Oh well.
  • There wasn’t any other SWAG, but there certainly didn’t need to be. We got the shirt, a bib with the race logo on it, a medal, and the pancake breakfast.  That was plenty, and all really nice.
  • Next race: The Florida Run at Lake Louisa State Park in Clermont, Florida.  I’m running the 10K – some of this is going to be on trails, and in that park that means they could be a bit sandy.  I have no idea what to expect with that, but it should be fun.

We’re racing again!

RR #19 – The Great American Bacon Race

Selecting my first “race” (event is really more correct, but they’re called races so we’ll go with that) back from my little hiatus was an interesting thought experiment.  I’m new to the area, so I want to explore – but my son is older, too, and it would be fun to not have to drive so far and maybe the family could come.  Based on timing and theme, I chose The Great American Bacon Race in Tampa.

The Great American Bacon Race advertises itself as a bacon-themed 5K series, with everything that you’d think comes with that.  They started doing this in 2014, and they’ve only got three – Orlando in August, Miami in September, and Tampa in October.  The website is short on information (course maps, etc.) but long on really good advertising and playing up the theme.  I figured it couldn’t hurt – what the heck?  That’s about an hour drive, but since it didn’t start until 9 I thought maybe the family could come – and we might get some bacon, besides.  So I signed up.

The race goes down at the Florida State Fairgrounds – so pay $6 to park, park on the grass, and a decent hike in to the check-in.  About halfway on that hike from the parking lot, the smell starts happening.

Bacon smells amazing.

No check-in bag – just your bib, your safety pins, and a strip attached to your bib that you use to go get your shirt.  So I lined up for my shirt, and then took it all back to my car to pin the bib and put the shirt away and kill a few minutes.

About an hour before the race started, people started circulating with huge pans of bacon that were being cooked on big griddles over by the finish line.  Just huge piles of bacon.  They said at one point that about 1,000 registered, and they had around 20,000 slices of bacon.

One of the thing about themed races like this is that they appeal to non-runners, and that was evident immediately.  There were a lot of kids and a lot of people with non-traditional running body shapes.  This is not a critique, just a fact – one look at me and you know I have no place for critiques.  There were a lot of costumes – many bacon themed ones, of course, but also tutus and pig ears and something that looked like a sandwich that I never really understood.  And, a solid hour before the scheduled race start, several of the kids and costumes started lining up at the start line, which, well, tells anybody that is taking this seriously what is going to happen in the first half mile.  No judgies, just statement of fact.

Notice the children and people in costume.  Also, you can see me clearly, if you look.

Notice the children and people in costume. Also, you can see me clearly, if you look.

They got everybody lined up, countdown from 10, fire the horn, and we’re off.

First thing, I was right about the chaos in the first several hundred yards.  I lined up in the front third or so of the pack because I knew what was about to happen, and I was still dodging walkers immediately.  There was one apparent incident where a woman was tripped and fell, too.  If I were going to give a single piece of feedback to the organizers it would be on this point – add signs for expected finish times, including one for walkers at the back, and make it clear over and over that walkers need to start back there.

Great American Bacon Race Map

Now, take a look at the screenshot of the course map that I got off of my Garmin.  It turns out that putting together a 3.1 mile run inside the Florida State Fairgrounds requires a lot of out and back weaving, most of it in parking lots.  The first mile or so was all in the parking area, with each “back” leg right into the sun.  Then we peeled off, passed the first Bacon Station on the course (I expected two, but never did see the second one) and ran over near the barns and the rodeo & livestock arenas, which was much more interesting.  Then another half mile or so weaving through a parking lot, and then a bit of looping through where the midway would be, and then around to the finish.

First, and I normally give massive benefit of the doubt on this one, but that course was not 3.1 miles long.  My Garmin stopped at 2.83, and my phone, which was tracking because I had an episode of Zombies! Run going, stopped at just over 2.9.  So it appears to have been about a quarter of a mile short.  Some of that is likely due to all of the weaving around – how you take corners and run the lines makes a difference, so there is that.  Benefit of the doubt has been given.

2015-10-03 09.36.53-1

Another interesting phenomenon – there was one couple in particular that stood out as non-traditional runner.  He was dressed up as a slice of bacon, and both of them were significantly larger than I am.  They were at the start line at 8am for a 9am start, and were among the first half-dozen people off the line when the gun went off.  As expected, I blew by them in the first minute, and wound around to start my out and around weaving.  Because of all of the weaving, you can see everybody that isn’t going all speed racer, and at about half a mile in … they were ahead of me again.  What the hell?  Took me a couple of minutes to catch them, and then maybe a mile later … they were ahead of me again.  It took me forever to figure out that they were cutting through and not completing all of the loops.

The bastards were power-leveling the 5K course.

Once I figured that out, I noticed it from several people, including one older (but fit-looking) lady that had come over to me at the beginning of the race for the express purpose of telling me she’d already had two Bloody Marys and that she planned on having fun.  This activity distracted me.  I know I shouldn’t let it bother me, but it does.  Skipping whole sections of this thing is not how this works.  I don’t care how much you love bacon, if you want to take credit for finishing a 5K, you’ve got to earn that by finishing a 5K.  Dammit.

My official finishing time was 35:34.4, and my watch had the exact same time but only 2.83 miles.  If I extrapolate up from the pace I covered my last half-mile at, this would have been a roughly 39 minute 5K, in my estimation.  My stated goal was to just go and do it, and I did that, and it was awesome.  My non-stated, but like-to-have goal was to make sure this stayed under 40 minutes.  Check.  And my dream goal was to get under my first ever 5K time, which was 38:15 … that didn’t happen, but I’m happy nonetheless.  It felt really good to get back out there.

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A finish line picture!

Notes:

  •  No, really – it felt GREAT to get back out there.  There is just an energy around these events.  Being around generally fit people is inspiring.  Being around generally not-fit people who are working their asses off is inspiring.  Just being a part of something going on is exciting.  I love seeing new things and being out in the morning.  Really – getting back out there was a good thing.
  •  My hat, it turns out, does a poor job of stopping sweat.  And one of the things about running in the daytime versus in the morning before sunrise is that I sweat more.  And it all ran into my eyes.  And stung.  So I purchased a headband at the race, and I’ve got another, and I’m going to see how I like headbands.
  • The running-through-the-parking-lot bits of this were tedious, but the other parts of the race – the barns and the arenas and the midway – that was pretty cool.  It would be nice for that course to try and incorporate more of that.
  • I never walked.  I spent a lot of time around people that were doing a run-walk strategy – they’d blow by me when they were running, and then I’d pass them 30 – 60 seconds later when they were walking.  But I kept ’em churning.  Nobody impressed me more than the speed-walking lady that passed me at about mile 2, though.  I had passed her early in the race, but apparently I slowed down and she hit her stride, because, wow.
  • No real swag in terms of a bag of crap.  But the quality of what we got was quite high.  We got a medal, which is something I’m not accustomed to in a 5K.  I almost feel bad about hanging it next to my half-marathon medals – but not bad enough to not hang it.  The bib was specific for this event, which I love, and the shirt was a very high quality cotton shirt with a nice logo – a shirt I’ll actually wear.  One thing about for-profit races, they don’t need to fill their shirts with sponsor logos, so that helps.  In the picture below, I purchased the headband only…

    SWAG

    SWAG

  • Next Race:  Celebration Rotary Club Pancake Breakfast 5K on October 31st. Hopefully this one winds up being somewhat faster.  We’ll see.

Throwback Thursday – RR #18 – Phillips 10K Trail Run/Walk

Aaaaand – we’ve got a continuity issue.

This event was my 4th, in June of 2013.  If anybody is counting, that would make it race report #4.  However, I never did a race report on this event – some of which was laziness, some of which was politeness, some of which was dissatisfaction with my performance – and continued to number the rest of them – numerically.  So I had run 18 events, but only had 17 race reports, numbered 1 – 17.  This can be confusing, and it is just frankly time to true this up.  So this report is delayed by over 2 years, but without further delay…

I signed up for the Phillips 10K Trail Run without, frankly, knowing what I was doing.  This was the second year for the organizers of this event, and a new course for them in Lewis Morris Park near Morristown, New Jersey.

I did two things wrong going into this.  First, I randomly bought a pair of low-drop trail running shoes online, thinking that they’d be magical.  And second, I didn’t really do a lot of training on trails.  There was some of that, sure, but they were relatively short runs on relatively well maintained trails.  My achilles tendons hurt like mad whenever I wore those shoes, but I tried to ignore it and headed into this race – my first 10K – thinking I was ready.

Turns out, I was not.

I made the hour drive out to Morristown, and about the time I got there I got a call from my wife saying they had decided to come along, too, and would be there when I finished the race.  That was exciting, because this was the first time they were able to come and cheer for me since that first race in March.

Head into the parking lot, park the car, open the door, and step into a very strange sound landscape – a low level drone that never ended – a constant buzz with no direction at all.  It turned out to be cicadas – this was during the big cicada takeover in the summer of 2013, and they were EVERYWHERE.  Flying around, on trees and tables and benches, and just generally making a nuisance of themselves.  My son, as you might imagine, was fascinated.

Cicada #1 Cicada #2

 

 

They lined us up and off we went – the 5K runners (200 – 300 people) went one way, the 10K runners (all 30 or so of us) went the other.  The course itself was a hiking / biking single-track through this big park, and was generally pretty.  There were a couple of stream crossings and several good hills, and in general it would have been a pleasant hike.  There were four things, though, that wound up making it a fairly unpleasant run for me, and then one other really big thing that made it a very unpleasant run for everybody else.

1.  I had not anticipated that about 300 – 400 yards into the race the course would drop to single track on a hill – meaning nobody could pass me.  I wound up running entirely too fast in the first mile just to try and get out of everybody’s way.  That was a mistake.

2.  There were proper, 500 – 600 foot elevation gain hills.  I hadn’t prepared enough for that, and coupled with a fast start, they wore me down quickly.

3.  The course was not closed, and the trail turns out to be popular among mountain bikers.  And they, to a man (all men), refused to yield.  Dodging the cyclists sucked.

4.  About 4 miles in, I had hit a groove and was feeling really good when I stepped on a root and turned my ankle very badly.  It was the same ankle that I had injured at the close of my first race, back in March of 2013, and though I was able to eventually walk it off, that mile was more of a stumble than a walk, and certainly not a run.

The course came close to the finish line about half a mile before the actual finish line, so I was able to see my wife and son, and she told me about the bigger issue before I looped around and finished.

The biggest issue on the course was signage.  Because the overall course was a network of hiking trails, there were a lot of intersections and they weren’t always signed very well. But there was a particularly bad one at roughly the 3.5 mile mark.  The ground was flat and a trail T-ed off to the right of the direction we were running … and there was a tree right across from that intersection with a sign that could be interpreted as either “Turn Right” or “Go Straight”.  What they actually wanted us to do was turn right.  I wound up going straight, but not very far before I second guessed it and doubled back.  A few yards down the correct path you could see another sign, but only if you looked.  Fortunately, I looked, so I didn’t get lost.

Others were not so fortunate.  One lady apparently had a sizable lead and was going to win the race but missed that turn and tacked on another mile.  Several others had the same issue.  The crowd at the award ceremony after was not … friendly.  After it was all over we got an email from the organizers offering to refund our money, but I don’t think anybody took them up on it.

This was the only race I’ve ever run where I came in functionally last (as opposed to DFL).  Not technically last – there were two walkers, each of which finished 30 – 45 minutes behind me – but for those of us trying to run it, I came in last by about a minute.  The award ceremony was almost over when I crossed the finish line.  I was limping, exhausted, and muddy.  But my family was there, and I felt prouder to have done that than I think I would have if it were easier – I conquered that sucker, you know?

My time was a robust 1 hour, 26 minutes, and 17 seconds, for a 13.55 / mile pace that stands as the worst official performance of my running “career”.

Notes:

– One upside to doing this as my first 10K was that it was extraordinarily easy to PR in the next 10K.

– That was the last time I ran in those shoes.  I was so sore for the next three days that I needed a scapegoat.  They were thrown in the garbage with something like 30 miles on them.

– I’m also not convinced that the course was a full 6.1 miles – my watch only said about 5.5 miles, and the mile marker signs never seemed to align with what my watch was saying.  But, if they are calling it a 10K, I’m going with it.

– This did not sour me on the idea of trail races – in fact, I think I could really enjoy them – but it made me painfully aware that the preparation for trail races is different than the preparation for road races.  Especially now that I’m in Florida, that could be challenging.

– Decent SWAG – I obviously don’t remember everything in the bag, but they did have a branded refrigerator magnet, and the shirt became one of my favorites – I wore it a lot, as you can see in the picture below.

– The next race after this one was the CHK 4K, which I enjoyed a rather lot.

cropped-chk_4k.jpg

Not from the Phillips 10K, but I’m wearing the shirt I got at the Phillips 10K

RR #17: Run for a Reason 5K

I suppose we could call this one a Throwback Thursday, couldn’t we?  Because this happened almost exactly one year ago, though I never did a race report.  I’m a bit out of practice, but here goes nothing.

The morning dawned bright and muggy.

Nope – too much.

Each year for over 10 years now, my wife’s parents rent a beach house at some very nice location for their vacation.  What has always happened is that they would rent a house big enough for all of their kids and their families, and then they would invite everyone.  Come, don’t come, that doesn’t matter – you are all invited.  July of 2015 will be the 8th year I’ve been in the family for this, and it was a long-established tradition before I got there.

They started in the Sandbridge area of Virginia Beach, Virginia.  That’s where my first year was.  But my first year in Sandbridge was the family’s last year in Sandbridge – the drive from northern New Jersey was proving too much.  So we gradually began migrating up the coast.  The following year was in Cape May, New Jersey.  The year after that began a two-year run in Mantaloking, New Jersey.  And then there were three years in Southampton, New York, on Long Island.

By this point in the summer of 2014, I was basically not running anymore but had not yet given up on the idea of me running.  And one of my sisters-in-law is very athletic and saw this 5k and sent out a blast to the family – I want to run it, lets have a bunch of us do that.  So I signed up.

There was some confusion at the bib pickup, and I knew there would be – when I signed up online, there was never an option to pay.  So when I showed up at the race, they said “You’re the guy that didn’t pay!”  But, because I was expecting that I was prepared with cash and we didn’t have a problem.  It turned out that the only family members that actually were running the race were the aforementioned sister-in-law, my niece who is in high school and runs cross country, and me.  I made it clear very early on that my feelings would not be hurt when they left me in the dust.

The 2014 Southampton Family Vacation 5K team

The 2014 Southampton Family Vacation 5K team

We got there pretty early, so we spent 30 minutes warming up by jogging around the little park where the start line was.  And then we lined up and were off.  We ran down about 200 yards, turned left and climbed the only real hill of the race, and then ran a big square in a neighborhood area full of $1million+ homes in the Hamptons.  We then came back down the hill and headed back to the finish line.

So, yeah, I was unprepared for this race.  Things went OK until I got maybe a quarter mile past the top of the hill, and then my right shin seized up and that was it.  I run / walked the rest of the way in pain, wondering what in the hell my shins had against me.

My wife’s family is the cheering type, and since there were three of us running, they came out and sat near the finish line.  As I come through, this is what I’m greeted with:

Seriously – that’s worth your time.  That’s my son on the left – I love it when he gets to come out and see me doing this.

My time was horrible – 38 minutes and 23 seconds.  That is slower than my first ever 5K.  I was so discouraged that this performance basically ended my running for the next six months – my last run was on August 3rd, with a little attempt in February 2015 and then a couple of fits and starts in May / June.

Notes:

– Hard to say it more strongly – that really really sucked.

– Having a cheering section like that, though, is amazing.  Seriously, amazing.

– Running in the Hamptons is a bit surreal, if you want to know the truth.  The houses we were running past were protected by huge hedges, so mostly we were running through a big green tunnel. And then when you did see a house, it was a freaking mansion.  Weird.

– My sister-in-law and my niece both did run away from me – they had a decent race.  I was happy for them, even if I was disappointed in myself.

– I don’t remember much about the SWAG.  The t-shirt was a cotton job that my wife wears all of the time around the house.  And the bib was a unique one that said Southampton Rotary Club, which I love.  The spread at the end was bagels and bananas, and there were plenty left when a back-of-the-packer like me made it to the table.

– That race was the 17th and last race of my streak.  In January of 2013, I weighed about 315 pounds.  In March of 2014, I ran my first 5K, and then ran at least one event in 16 straight months, losing 50 pounds in the process and feeling amazing.  During the streak I ran a Ragnar, two half marathons, a 15k, two 10ks, a 5-miler, ten 5ks, and a 4k.  I ran events in 6 states and the District of Columbia.  I ran through three pairs of shoes, and just basically felt like a million damn dollars.

– I want that back. I want it back badly.

– Next Race:  The Great American Bacon Race, 5K, Tampa, Florida, October 3rd, 2015

My son and his grandfather.  This - this right here - is what this is all about

My son and his grandfather. This – this right here – is what this is all about