Chicago Here I Come!

Well the time is finally here.  This weekend is the Chicago Marathon.  Since January 2012, when I ran my first Marathon, I have ran 6 full marathons with Chicago being my 7th and this is the one that I have looked forward to the most.  I have ran many big marathons, including the New York City Marathon last year which was the largest marathon ever, in terms of number of finishers and there is nothing like feeling the energy from the crowds that are all over the course.  I knew when I finished the NYC Marathon that I wanted to work to get into the Chicago Marathon this year and I was sure to register for the lottery on the first day that it was opened.  The day that the lottery was picked was one of the most nerve racking day of my running career and when I finally got that e-mail I was so excited and couldn’t wait to turn on to Michigan Ave at the end of the race.

The Chicago Marathon has always been a goal of mine.  I was born and raised in Illinois and even though Chicago is over 300 miles from my hometown it has always been a city that I have loved visiting and have many fond memories of.  In just less than 72 hours I will be done with the race and I will be able to smile with my accomplishments and know that I have completed a major goal of mine. Each race is special and this one is going to be special for every person that crosses that finish line on Sunday and I will be no different. What will be different for me is with my own accomplishments and the large steps forward I have been able to take during the training.

I am, admittedly, a very busy person.  Last year I got married, after proposing after my first marathon, and between working well over 40 hours most week, travelling and living it is was often tough for me to fit my training in.  This cycle I strove to make sure that I got in as much training as possible and despite having to take approximately a month off due to some IT Band issues.  I began to run in the morning to make sure that I got the miles in and allowed my miles to take a front seat to other activities.  I got up early to run instead of letting my schedule dictate weather I got to run or not I found time in my schedule to run.

Going into next year I have taken many steps forward and I know that because of the Chicago Marathon I have become a better runner, gained a better sense of commitment to a cause and have become more focused on issues that I feel passionate about.  I am thankful for all that the Marathon has done for me so far and I am sure that it will not disappoint.

Look for my race recap next week, but just a heads up, this will be a great race.

-Runner

Tips for a Great Time in Virginia Beach

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Over labor day weekend, Runner and I ran in our 3rd consecutive Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Virginia Beach. There is definitely something to repeating a race over and over – you gain a ton of knowledge on how to have a great experience.

1. Book your hotel early

You will be tempted to stay in a hotel outside of the beach to save money. We’ve done it twice before, especially when we needed a hotel last minute. The race’s shuttle service is amazing but you will have to wake up suuuuper early. The city offers a limited number of parking lots that fill up quickly. If you truly want to enjoy an end-of-summer beach vacation, book in May. We found a great deal at the Sundial Inn which was just a block from the beach. We were able to walk to the start and finish lines.

2. Pizza makes a delicious pre-race meal

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Dough Boys Texas BBQ Chicken Pizza

Pizza is popular here. We’ve tried Planet Pizza and Dough Boys. These are chain restaurants you can find up and down the main drag (Atlantic Ave.). The trick to these places is to avoid standard meal times – eat early or late. And if pizza’s not your thing, we did notice that a few local restaurants and churches offer spaghetti dinners for runners.

4. Don’t get sun sick

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The beach at 5pm – plenty of sun!

Go to the beach at 5 pm. Seriously. You’ll get enough sun during the race. You don’t want a sun burn before or after.

3. Treat your self to Virginia Beach’s signature drink

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The Original Waterman’s Orange Crush: Fresh squeezed orange juice with orange vodka, triple sec and a splash of Sprite. The bar was crazy busy but the drink was oh so refreshing.

5. Check out the free concerts

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Don’t forget to bring a lawn chair, a low one preferably. You will have to sit in the back but you are about to/just finished running so treat your booty right, lol. On Saturday night we saw the Cherry Poppin Daddies (of Zoot Suit Riot fame) for free. Sure, we stayed up a bit late the night before the race but it was worth it. The big concert is the night of the race, so you get time to go back to your hotel and take a nap. We got the concert early and enjoyed the food vendors. The race organizers do a presentation for the top runners. Our headliner this year was Train. Live music with your toes in the sand – there is nothing better! Oh yeah, and a firework display to top off the night.

-Bride

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Fun in the sand!

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Cherry Poppin Daddies Performing Zoot Suit Riot

My Most Unusual Long Run Ever!

Today I planned on continuing to follow my training plan leading up to the Chicago Marathon in 29 days.  I was really excited to say that this week was a shorter week for me, after a tough 18 miles last Saturday.  I was scheduled to run only 14 today but then I realized that I was also supposed to run a 5K this morning.  The “Race for Every Child” is put on by Children’s National Hospital in Washington DC and it raised over $1 Million for its foundation.  Since I wanted to do this 5K and I needed to finish my long run I came up with an unusual plan.

Thinking about how to best accomplish both of these I decided that I would run 9 miles before the 5K then run a couple of miles back to the car after the race.  So that is exactly what I did.  I woke up before 6am just to get downtown in time to put in the miles before I met the ophthalmology group before the race.  During those first early morning miles I felt GREAT, in fact it was the best that I have felt in a long time.  As I approached the meeting point for the 5K I was actually a little sad that I couldn’t just keep going.

I met the group and took about a 30 minute break before I started the 5K with one of Bride’s coworkers.  He ran slower than my normal pace so it was an easy 5K for me, but at the same time I was coming off such a great 9 miles I did wish that I could speed up and continue my great pace.  I did stay with the coworker and we finished with a respectable time just over 30 minutes.Race for Every Child Course Map

After the 5K we waited again for the rest of the team to finish and after a photo I started on my way for the last couple of miles before I finished.  The first half mile or so of this section was by far the hardest. My legs had tightened up and  my whole body had to get back into the running mode.  With that being said, I did get back into the groove and and was able to finish at the same quick pace that I had during my earlier 9 miles.

Overall this morning was the most unusual long run I have ever had.  This run was divided up into three obvious sections and included two long breaks where my body got tight and caused two uncomfortable starts.  With that said, breaking up my long run like this caused it to feel a lot quicker and easier than runs at these lengths have in the past.  I think that this formula is one that I will look for in the future, especially on my lighter weekends in the future.

-Runner

Race Review: 2014 VA Beach Rock and Roll Half Marathon

I must admit openly that it is hard to have a bad experience when you get to spend Labor Day weekend on the beach and get a ticket to a headliner concert with your race registration.  That being said, like every race this race is not perfect and has some things that it could improve on and when compared to other races it has to be judged as falling short.

We moved to Washington DC on Memorial Day weekend of 2012 and on Labor Day weekend of that year I found this race not only as an opportunity to welcome myself to the Washington DC area but also it provided us an opportunity to have a great vacation to signify the end of summer. This year marks the third consecutive year that we have both done races as part of this weekend and we are planning on going back again next year.

Race Criteria: I have divided my experience into five categories that cover what I think is every aspect of a race.  Just to make it easy each category will be numbered 1-20 for a total out of 100 to rank the race.

Race Organization: 18/20

The Competitor organization has gotten plenty of compliments on how it puts on its Rock and Roll Marathon series, most famously their Las Vegas race every November, and I must concur with all the compliments that Rock and Roll has been given.  The VA Beach Half marathon is always put on well with plenty of security and medical personnel on the course, ample water stations, and plenty of on course entertainment to earn the name “Rock and Roll”.  You can always dog a race for not having too many porta potties at the start or at parts in the race but no matter how many you have there will always be a line and this race was no exception but that does not ruin any part of the race.

Expo: 13/20

The expo is one place where I believe that this race could improve.  For the last three years this race has had essentially the exact same expo.  They have not added any new features or good presenters that have added a lot to the experience.  This race has over 15,000 runners and I think that the expo could be larger and better utilized to add to the race experience.  Although there are plenty of booths there is just something missing that can take the expo to the next level.

Course/Race Experience: 19/20

2014 VA Beach Half Medal and Bib

2014 VA Beach Half Medal and Bib

When I look at a race and try to decide if I want to do it, the course/race experience is one of the things that I look at most.  Whether it is that the race is historic (Marine Corp, NYC, Chicago or Boston for example) or has a unique on course experience (Walt Disney, Big Sur, Pikes Peak) a unique course always makes a great impact on the overall experience for any runner.  VA Beach has that unique quality to the course and the race that creates a great environment for any runner. On this very flat course you start off at the convention center just a few blocks from the beach and you quickly run to Atlantic Ave right next to the beach where the 5K race turn off occurs around mile 2.75.  After that you head south past the Virginia Aquarium before making a turn at mile 6 and heading towards an old military camp for miles 8-10.  After the camp you tun back towards the beach for miles 10-12.  Right after the 12 mile marker you hit the boardwalk for the last mile.  This mile is not only beautiful as you run along the boardwalk towards the finish line but excruciating at the same time since you can see the finish line but it is still so far away.  All three years this last mile has been the hardest of the race as I have to run towards the finish line that doesn’t look like it is getting any closer.

When you look at what makes a course unique you have the urban courses that allow you to see the whole city, like in New York or Chicago, and you have the scenic ones that allow you to see places in a way that you never had before, like Big Sur and Pikes Peak and this race in VA Beach is a great mix of the two.  You have long stretches of quiet roads south of town but you get to begin and finish near in the city, finishing with a beautiful run on a great boardwalk.  This race being on Labor Day does make it challenging because of the heat that can occur but it also provides for a great chance that the weather will be great for the race. Rock and Roll hits a homerun with this course and I would recommend that they don’t change a thing going forward.

Post Race: 13/20

For anyone who has crossed the finish line after a long race, at least if you are like me, the first thing you want is something to drink and eat.  Luckily, many races have great post race celebrations that will allow you to successfully recover quickly.  VA Beach unfortunately has to fight against the lack of space on the boardwalk that creates huge problems for the post race party.  The Boardwalk is not that wide so it is very hard to fit through the 15,000 runners, all the volunteers handing out the food and drinks as well as all the spectators trying to find their friends and family who have just finished the race.  After you squeeze through the guantlet of the finish line and you are ready to celebrate with your free beer you have to walk on the sand to get it.  This year, more than others, bothered me since sand immediately covered my shoe and provided me with a very uncomfortable walk back to the hotel.  The same finish that provides such a great site to the runners also doesn’t allow it to have enough room to have a great post race party.

Extras: 17/20

Let me start with the worst part of the race, the t-shirt I am not big on the freebies, or the medals, but I was very disappointed in the shirt.  it went for the nostalgic look of running on the beach but it came off as simply…cheap.  Given it is a Brooks technical running shirt so it is a great shirt to run it, it is just not one to wear around to brag about you finishing the race.

Each year on Labor Day weekend VA Beach hosts the American Music Festival.  They have multiple stages throughout the boardwalk which host dozens of concerts throughout the weekend, culminating in a headliner each night on a large stage on the beach.  With your entry into the half marathon you get access to EVERY concert the whole weekend.  Also, Bride, who runs the 5K, gets free access to the headliner concert on Sunday night at the beach stage.  This year that headliner was Train and they did not disappoint.  We also got to see Cherry Poppin Daddies sing their signature hit “Zoot Suit Riot” at one of the free stages on the boardwalk.  This added benefit puts VA Beach in a league of its own out of all the races that I have ran.  Never have I gotten access to such a great perk just for signing up for the race.

Runner and the Bride at the Train concert on the beach

Runner and the Bride at the Train concert on the beach

MY OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 80/100

This race is one that I look forward to every year and will continue to run as long as I am able to.  This race is a weekend experience for me and Bride.  We enjoy the beach, the weather, the celebration of the end of summer as well as the ability to complete a race.  Usually I have to hurry home after a race to be work on Monday, or rush to the race for a Saturday race but this holiday weekend allows a lot more relaxation to take place.  We took our time getting to the expo on Saturday morning, driving down from DC that morning, went to the beach afterwards and was able to relax after the race until the concert and not leave until after my recovery run was done the next morning.

I can’t wait to go back.  The highest compliment that I can give to this race is not my recommendation, but the fact that it also has Bride’s recommendation!

One Year of Marriage

On July 6, Runner and I celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary. We can no longer call ourselves newlyweds. Luckily for us, the first year was not our hardest year. Having lived together for 3 years prior and already having made some big decisions as a couple led us to feeling very stable and settled this first year.

With our anniversary falling so close to the 4th of July, we made it a weekend of celebration. On the morning of the 4th we traveled to Hershey, Pennsylvania for a day at Hersheypark. Runner found us a great deal on tickets. We purchased them at the Giant close to the park for a $15 discount per ticket (a better deal than the $10 coupon from Wendy’s).

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Runner gets his thrills from coasters, I get the opposite – terror. Alas, a sacrifice of marriage, I sucked it up and rode some. We started with the Skyrush. Check out the first drop:

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The longest line we waited for was about 1 hour and 10 mins but thanks to the cool weather, an unbelievable 75 degrees, it felt manageable. Other lines were much shorter and with it being a holiday I expected the lines to be worse. Runner did let me ride a few baby rides, lol, and then we took a tour of the Hershey Chocolate Factory. The free sample at the end of the tour was Brookside Dark Chocolate pomegranate seeds. Our night ended with dinner at Red Robin and watching the fireworks on TV from our hotel room.

On July 5, we visited Lancaster County which is known for being the land of the Amish. We spent a good amount of time at the Kitchen Kettle Village. The shopping center had artwork, quilts and lots of food. The best part about each shop was that you could sample almost every product – meats, cheeses and relishes, oh my! I will also admit that this part of our trip was indulging our old married couple style ;p

Our main event that day was the Lancaster Barnstormer’s baseball game. Runner and I decided that we would try and start a tradition of going to a baseball game on the 5th of July in honor our our pre-wedding Nationals baseball game last year. I hope we can keep it up!

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We had a great time at the game – again, beautiful weather – and you’ve got to love minor league prices. The “Stormers” lost to the York Revolution 0-2. Following the game, there was a strong man competition and a fireworks display. So we got to see our fireworks after all.

With all the travel and fun, we made our actual anniversary low key. We unpacked our new apartment (post to come!) and indulged in cupcakes in our wedding cake flavors:

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Lemon and Red Velvet

Funny story, these are from Crumbs Bake Shop. The next day, the bakery announced they were closing all of their locations. Our first and last time having them! We had a similar situation happen to us in Boston with JP Licks.

One more note, last night Runner and I went to Wendy’s, as he was craving a pretzel burger. As we were sitting eating we realized that exactly one year ago, on July 11, we were on our honeymoon in Grand Cayman. Before we headed to the beach, we stopped at Wendy’s to try their newest pretzel burger. Another anniversary tradition has been created … well, as long as the burger trend lasts, I guess.

PS: Thanks to all our amazing friends and family members who shared our special day with us. The memories are so fresh in our minds because of how much fun we had thanks to you!

View More: http://roneyfieldphotography.pass.us/brandon-mitra-wedding

PPS: Did we not have the most successful garter/bouquet toss ever?

City Review: Harrisburg, PA

Myself and Bride love to travel and experience the cities that we visit and I believe that one of the best ways to experience, and get to know a city is to run around it.  Knowing this I am going to start regularly writing about not just the cities that we are travelling to now, but I will write about the cities that I have traveled to in the past.

Overall Opinion:

Harrisburg is situated on the Susquehanna river and has the benefit of having many waterfront parks that provide the perfect environment for a great running trail.  Harrisburg’s waterfront is home to many old homes, stores, and buildings that have maintained their charm.  Harrisburg, being the capital of Pennsylvania, has the capital building and the surrounding area to run through.

Route:

When researching my route my realized that many of the regular online resources are not very active for Harrisburg routes.

Samsung Galaxy 5 Upload 07-07-2014 3223 Normally a simple Google search will provide ample routes in many cities I have visited in the past.  As I looked the most commonly states area was city island.  This small island is home to the Harrisburg Senators Minor League baseball stadium as well as attractions and the city marina. This island became the starting point for my run.

Samsung Galaxy 5 Upload 07-07-2014 3215 I parked near the capital building and planned on finishing my run with a nice run around the capital complex.  I started by running down Walnut Street to the pedestrian bridge to city island.  When I first made it to the island I quickly was impressed with the atmosphere.  Even though it was early and there were not many people on the island I could tell that before during and after baseball games this would be a great place to hang out and enjoy America’s pastime. The island included places to eat, a paddle boat, a miniature golf course and a small train that goes around the stadium.  Running around it allowed me to see everything and I really think this island would be a great place to go back to.

After running two laps around the island (around 3.75 miles) I ran back across the pedestrian bridge and started running on the path along the river that is part of the Capital Area Green Belt.  The Green Belt is a 19 mile trail  through and around the city.  My time was running tight so I just ran one mile west on the trail and one mile back to Walnut Street.  The parks that this trail connects are clean and are sprinkled with memorials and gardens.

PA CapitalAfter making it back to Walnut street I ran up to the Capital and was very impressed  with the grounds surrounding the capital as well as the building itself.  This capital is one of the few that I have been too that is not built on a hill yet they built it in such a way to still provide strong and dignified feel to the building.  That being said, I can imagine that this area is not an ideal place to run during the week when there are many employees and visitors on the grounds.

 

Highlights:

  • City Island was not only a great place to run in the morning, but I could tell that it would be a highlight for any night when the Senators are in town.
  • The pedestrian bridge to City Island provides a safe and scenic way to get to and from the island
  • The Capital Area Green Belt provides a clean and easy running trail that any runner can follow.
  • The capital is one of the most impressive that I have seen and provides a great area to run

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  • I have ran in many neighborhoods in many cities but I felt that in the area between the capital and the waterfront was not the safest for any runner.  I felt that the stop lights were not very pedestrian friendly and could use some improvement
  • Although the Capital Area Green Belt is a nice path, that was really the only option for any run over a few miles if you did not want to just do laps around City Island.
  • One of the highlights of running in DC is the ample amounts of water fountains in and around the mall and on many of the public routes that I have frequented  but in Harrisburg I passed only one water fountain and it was not turned on.

Score (1-5): 2 Despite Harrisburg’s waterfront charm its attractiveness does not go far from the water and despite much of my route was empty of traffic so I was not distracted or affected by it but on work days the normal traffic would greatly effect the attractiveness of my route.

2014: First Half Running Goals Review

Well we are officially half way through the 2014 calendar year and a recap is in order.  At the beginning of the year I set some goals for my year and so far I am happy to say that I have accomplished these goals, or am on track to accomplish them by the end of the year.

My first goal was to run 1,000 miles this calendar year and at the end of June (despite slowing down the last couple of weeks due to travel, illness and moving) I have ran 534 miles.  This obviously puts me over my 1,000 mile mark if I continue at the same pace but if everything goes to plan, my marathon training during the second half of the year will put me well beyond my current pace and well past my goal.

Another goal I had was to successfully train and run well at the St. Louis GO! Marathon in April.   This goal is obviously more subjective but after successfully completing my own training plan that I laid out weeks ahead of time and completing the race with a PR of 4:32:42 I believe that I can comfortably say that goal was reached.

Looking back on these first six months of 2014 there are other accomplishments that deserve to be highlighted as well.  I traveled for work throughout this period, taking multiple trips for multiple lengths but I was able to successfully continue to train for my April Marathon (even enjoying a long run on Bayshore Blvd. in Tampa, FL one Sunday morning) as well as continuing to keep up my running pattern despite the travel.

I also started doing multiple two a day runs during the work week to help build up my mileage in preparation for my fall marathon training to begin in earnest.  These workouts included many during my lunch break from work where I would do specific training runs including mile repeats, hills or fartleks.

As excited as I am to look back at what I have accomplished I cannot help but smile when I look at what I have coming up.  On Labor Day weekend I get to run in one of my favorite races, the VA Beach Rock and Roll Half Marathon.  Not only is this fun because Bride runs a 5K at the same time, but also because together we get to enjoy a concert on the beach that night, courtesy of the Verizon American Music Festival (previous years the headliners have been Train and Third Eye Blind).

That race is just the warm up for my big month of October.  On October 12 I get to travel home to the Midwest to run in a World Marathon Major race, the Chicago Marathon.  I was lucky enough to be picked in the raffle to run this year and cannot wait to run through the city of big shoulders and strive for my big goal of a Sub 4-Hour Marathon!

Two weeks later I am going to run the Marine Corp Marathon here in Washington DC where, afterwards, I will be able to join the Marathon Maniacs for completing two marathons in three weeks. Two years ago I ran Marine Corp (last year I deferred my registration in order to run the NYC Marathon) and was pushed along by Hurricane Sandy which hit Washington DC and the northeast the next day.  Marine Corp is always around my birthday so it is always great to have that extra momentum to think about as I am out pounding the pavement, completing this race is just a birthday gift to myself.

The previous six months have been a full of accomplishments and I know that the next six months, with continued hard work and support, will include more accomplishments.  I could not have reached my goals for the first six months with the support of Bride, who is always allowing me to leave her for hours and choosing running over spending more time with her and my parents and brother, who came out to support me in St. Louis and to watch their first ever marathon.  Without their support and more I know I would not be where I am today, or have the motivation that I need to keep reaching for the goals that I have set.