Race Review: Hot Chocolate 15K in St. Louis

Disclaimer: I received a free entry to the Hot Chocolate 15K as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!”

For anyone seeking the best way to take a break from Law School finals I have found the secret.  Just take a quick trip out of town to an enjoyable race to get your mind off the stress of finals.  When I saw that the Hot Chocolate series was coming to St. Louis on the weekend between my two weeks of finals I thought that it would be a great release from the strain of constant studying and pressure that was bound to occur during those two weeks.

Post Race 1There has been an exponential growth in themed races in America.  Just in the few years that I have been running there has been an explosion of race series that have themes surrounded by parties, celebrations and excitement beyond the thrill of finishing.  There are races now that promote glowing paint, mud (lots of mud!), inflatables and color powder just to name a few.  One of the best tasting themes of any of these races is the Hot Chocolate series that has quickly expanded to multiple races throughout America.  The races start in November and run through the winter and into the early spring in cities throughout America including a very big race in Chicago each year.

This is the third year for the STL race and the previous two years the Hot Chocolate was well deserved at the end due to the weather.  This year the temperature at step off was in the fifties and they announced that combining the previous two years temperature at step off would still be 20 degrees below this year’s temperature.

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: 17/20
I have ran some of the best ran races in America and I love to see different approaches to putting on races.  Hot Chocolate, obviously, has plenty of experience putting on races and they have perfected what is needed to run a successful race.  They sent out multiple e-mails with training plans that list out what a typical training plan would include in the upcoming weeks to help runners prepare.  They provided plenty of guidance on the locations of the expo, the start line, the finish celebrations.  There will obviously be a difference between this race and the large marathons and it would not work well for races like this to mirror the Chicago or NYC Marathon with their promotions with the participants.  Instead Hot Chocolate has developed its own unique approach that worked great for the STL race.

Union Station Entrance

Expo: 14/20
Hot Chocolate ExpoThe expo for the Hot Chocolate race took place in the historic Union Station. Union Station is in the heart of St. Louis and, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. So often people look to the Arch as the extent of the St. Louis iconic architecture without realizing that there are buildings like Union Station that should be ranked up with the Arch when people look at St. Louis.

The expo was a small expo but it served the purpose.  I was able to quickly walk in, get my registration packet and look around without having to fight the crushing crowds seen at some expos.  One of the best features was after picking up my packet I was able to try on the long sleeve jacket to confirm that it fit, while being able to switch it out if I need to, before leaving the expo with it.  Many of the sponsors were local companies that have roots in the STL area that provide a great regional feel to the expo.  This feel was a great experience since most of the runners were inevitably from the St. Louis area so advertising local companies and races would have the biggest impact.

Course/Race Experience: 16/20
Hot Chocolate CourseThe course started on Market street downtown and went towards the St. Louis University Campus before turning back towards downtown where the 5K/15K split occurred.  The course then ventures past Busch Stadium before heading south towards the Budweiser Brewery before the turnaround.  Around mile 7.5 or so there was a turn that began a long hill that culminated almost a mile later.  The race completed with a small hill, that felt much bigger on tired legs before a gradual downhill into the finish line.  The first mile was almost all uphill and the final 2 miles was a majority uphill as well completing what was a tough 15K race.

On the course there was only four water stations, at each there was water, Gatorade and a snack relating to the chocolate theme.  I did not partake in the snacks, not wanting to chance my body not appreciating them, but other runners said the treats (including chocolate chips, as well as strawberry and chocolate marshmallows) were great.  I understand that when the temperatures are cooler fewer runners will take water but with the temperatures as they were on race day I felt that an extra water station would have gone a long way to making the race more enjoyable.  Two miles between water stations is further than what is found in other races.

Hot Chocolate Finisher

Post Race: 12/20
Although the warmer temperatures created a more enjoyable pre-race environment, that same weather created a less enjoyable post-race environment.  The whole theme of the race revolved around having a warm cup of hot chocolate waiting for you at the finish line to warm you up after being out on the cold course for the race. To add to the warmth it drizzled throughout the race creating a very uncomfortable setting for the post race celebration.

The hot chocolate was great and the cup shaped serving dish that held all the post race treats including more marshmallows, a banana along with dipping chocolate and the cup of hot chocolate was a great way to quickly serve all the runners allowing there to be virtually no line to get the food. Overall the post race experience would have been must better if the weather would have cooperated to optimize the experience.

Hot Chocolate Cup

Extras: 17/20
Finisher MedalThe Hot Chocolate series tries to make itself stand out with the extras that it provides to runners.  Beyond the post race hot chocolate the series gives every runner a nice long sleeve zip up jacket as well as a distinctive medal that features a candy bar with a bite out of it with a unique picture representing the city that the race takes place in. These are some of the best extras that are provided for free from any race that I have ran in.   The jacket is something that I will wear regularly in the future.  The medal features the arch and city skyline and is one of the most unique medals I have earned.

 

MY OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 76/100
This was a fun race that I would definitely look to do again in the future.  In fact I will look to do some of the larger Hot Chocolate races to see how they compare.  Specifically I would love to do the Chicago race that I have heard from friends is one of the most fun race in the second city.  I would recommend this race, and the series to every runner that I know!

-Runner

Race Review: 2015 Chicago Marathon

After completing the Chicago Marathon on October 11 I was completely spent.  For a year I had been leading up to that race.  I had prepared harder than I ever had before and I had spent so much energy to complete the 26 mile loop around the city.  I could not think about anything else for so long that after the race my body just shut down.  I made a promise to myself that I was not going to put any stress on my body for at least a month.

Part of that promise was to stop blogging and to take more time to relax, read, and recover from the race before I entered back into the endurace world in order to prepare for my next race in the spring. I am happy to say that I have accomplished that month off and feel rejuvenated and ready.  To announce that I am back on the training path, I wanted to complete my review of Chicago.  This review was mostly written soon after the race but I wanted to hold off publishing it until my body was repaired.

Enjoy!

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.

Before Chicago 2015Race Organization: 19/20
I made a point to get to the expo early this year and was able to very quickly breeze through the registration, get my packet and head to the back to pick up my shirt and bag before the crush of the crowd.  Before I reached the area where I picked up my number they already knew my name (from when I first scanned my bib and got my assigned area to pick up my bib) and had the number packet ready and waiting.  The only blemish on the record of Chicago is the long lines to get into the park on race morning.  Obviously these lines are caused by the sheer number of people who attend the race, and the security is a necessary measure, it is just not the best experience when you are already super stressed about the race to begin with.

Expo: 20/20
If there ever was a perfect experience at an expo that had thousands of people then I had it.  I got there early on Friday, with Bride and a friend who was also running the race and we headed strait to the booths that we wanted items at first. We wanted to make sure that they were not sold out before we got around to the booth.  After that we headed to pick up our registration and was quickly pushed through the line.  We quickly got our shirts (which were much better than last year’s) and were off to visit all the booths. While at the expo Bride got a pair of Chicago Marathon Nike LunarGlides, I got a USA Track and Field Chicago Marathon shirt and a few other items.  But the big item was not something I bought, but something I won!  I won a free entry into the Puerto Rico Marathon in March!!! I couldn’t believe that I wont and am so excited!!!

I could not have asked for a better experience.  I beat the crowd, I won a free race entry, and never was I told that something that I wanted was sold out.

After Chicago 2015Course/Race Experience: 20/20
It is obvious that the race is great.  Not only is it organized but it is one of the most well supported races in the world.  Well over 1.5 million people were estimated to line the 26 miles through the 29 neighborhoods.  How can anyone not be inspired to run their best when they know that so many people are there cheering them on.

The whether called for it to heat up to near 70 later in the day so I changed my strategy away from staying locked in with a pace group.  I instead decided to leave it all on the line and go out hard and just hold on for as long as I could.  I knew that with it just getting hotter I needed to take advantage of the cooler earlier temperatures and that is exactly what I did.  I stayed ahead of the 3:40 pace group until mile 20 where I really started to slow down.  As with every marathon I have ever ran, miles 19-23 were the hardest for me.  From mile 24 till the end, I survived on adrenaline and crossed the line with a huge PR of 3:57:06!!! Great time for a warm day.  I saw one analysis where they said the heat could have caused the times to increase by almost 10 minutes, so that made me feel even more confident with my time.

Post Race: 16/20
This year’s post race was different from last years.  This year I got to spend it with Bride who made the trip up for the race.  She said this was her favorite race that she has ever watched me in.  She got to see me twice along the course, and our hotel was just a block from the two locations where she could see me!

After the race we met by the family reunion area, after I wobbled over to it.  We relaxed under the sun until I was recovered.  I enjoyed my free beer, some food and some time to take in my new PR.  We then moved on to the hotel where we packed and headed back home.  The Chicago Marathon might be one of the biggest in the world but the way that it is set up makes it very manageable for any runner.  There is plenty of room after the race for you to stretch out and enjoy some time off your feet in the park. That being said, there are still thousands of people walking around and many of the lines are unbearable to stand in.

Extras: 18/20
With any big race there is going to be plenty of themed items.  Virtually every major running brand is at the expo and everyone of them has Chicago themed clothing and items available.  Goose Island Beer is always one of my favorites.  This year I got a themed pint glass to celebrate another year in Chicago.  I also was happy to find a great t-shirt that had the outline of the skyline on it. (I was disappointed at the Nike official clothing this year because this years logo was almost identical to the one used last year.)  One of the best experiences at any major race is getting to see all the extras that are available for that race and this year is no different.

MY OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 93/100
Simply, the Chicago Marathon is one of the best Marathons in the world and definitely one of the best races I have ever ran.  I understand that big races aren’t for everyone, and I have ran some small ones as well, but a marathon major like Chicago is unique and I would recommend every runner to aspire to someday run those 29 neighborhoods.

-Runner

Race Review: Freedom 4 Miler

Some people might call me a snob for admitting this but I do not normally sign up for races that are shorter than a half marathon because they are usually just too short for one of my weekend long runs.  But sometimes, those shorter races fit perfectly into my schedule…this weekend was one of those perfect times.

I have just started training for the Chicago Marathon in October and this weekend I was scheduled to do a four mile run followed by my longer run on Sunday.  I couldn’t help but sign up for the Freedom 4 Miler in Forest Park on the morning of July 4th!!! Some holidays just call for you to run and 4th of July is definitely one of those holidays.

Leading up to the weekend I made plans to head to my brothers house in the Illinois suburbs on Friday night and head over to the race on Saturday morning before spending the rest of the day back at my brother’s with the rest of the family.  As the race day approached Bride said that she wanted to race it too!!! I love racing a good race, but one thing I admit I love more is racing a good race along with Bride so my day could not have started off any better.

Freedom 4 Miler Course

MY RACE:
Bride and I left early that morning and there was actually a little chill to the air.  The temp was only in the 60s, although it would eventually reach the high 80s, and the humidity had broken.  I knew it would be one of the best racing mornings possible for a 4th of July in St. Louis.  We got there with plenty of time to sit down and relax before the race and enjoy the beautiful forest park.

My goal for the race was 30 minutes although I knew that my legs were tired from the training and that goal was definitely going to be hard to meet.  I compromised with myself by saying that I wasn’t going to look at my watch the whole race and was going to just run as fast as I felt like I could and see what time my body was going to give me.  The start of the race was my worst nightmare.  The largest, and only, hill on the course was within the first half mile.  I don’t mind running a good hill but I always feel like I run them better when my legs have a few miles in them first.  This hill wasn’t tough when I was running it, but my legs felt it a lot later on in the race.

Mile 2 was when I really got into my zone and just focused on keeping up the pace and pushing though the miles.  I did try to enjoy the scenery a little through the beautiful forest park.  The 3rd mile left forest park and went west along Lindell Blvd where I saw 3/4 of a mile full of beautiful homes (and some much needed shade).  Entering the park again began the 4th mile where we curved our way until the finish line.

I felt strong when I crossed although my time on the clock was approaching 32 minutes I knew that my total time was going to be just a little below 32 which I was proud of. Sadly, in the hassle I forgot to stop my watch (a rookie mistake!).  I went home and checked my time and I got 31:50 for the race. Not the best that I have ever ran, but I am happy with the time and know that I can use that and grow from it.

Pre RaceRace Organization: 16/20
This is a good size race for a 4 miler.  There were a total of 880 finishers, including Bride who finished in 50:32! They had multiple locations where you could pick up your bib and shirt the day before, including one in Illinois where Bride and I went, as well as having race morning registration and packet pickup.  They had a bag check available for a fee, but biggest of all, they successfully communicated to everyone the night before the race that because of all the rain in St. Louis that week the parking location was moving from a field in the park to the parking lot of the zoo.  This problem could has wreak havoc on race morning but I felt like they handled it well and had plenty of signage around the park pointing everyone where to go.

Mitra and the Shopping CartExpo: 14/20
There was no expo for this race in the regular sense.  But that is completely understandable.  It was a holiday small mileage race and there was no need for an expo.  I gave it this ranking because the pre-race festivities were well run and there were booths there set up by the sponsors as well as one great display by Schuncks Grocery Stores, the presenting sponsor, that will never be forgotten by Bride or myself.

Race Experience: 18/20
As written above, even though I did not get the time I wanted, I really enjoyed the race. I felt that I raced well, the course was in a great location, set up in a challenging way and provided a great test to see how fast I could go that day.  I was impressed that they had water stations at every mile, but I was disappointed at how badly the Power Ade was mixed.  The portions were not right and it did not taste good at all.   I know that the 4th of July is a prime day for running in America and I am sure to do future races on this day as well but it will be tough to get a better race experience than this one.

Post Race

Bride is Showing off her Bling!

Post Race: 16/20
After I finished the race I got my initial recovery snacks including a banana, a protein bar and plenty of water.  I watched the runners come in behind me and cheered them all on, including an Army group running in cadence.  The atmosphere was great including an announcer who tried to mention as many people’s names as he could (he even pronounced Mitra correctly!).  There was always music playing and always a good crowd cheering on the finishers.  It was a great time.

Extras: 18/20
This race is never going to be the one with the best swag, the best perks or the largest field but that doesn’t mean it can’t have something extra to give to a runner.  First, I must admit how much fun it was getting to run through Forest Park.  We ran by the 1904 bird cage at the zoo, the Muny as well as the Missouri History museum in the park.  Also, this race, which only cost $30, included a free beer and a pretty nice t-shirt, which is about as much as you can ask for with that price.  Once again, they did a great job with what they had.

MY OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 82/100
You can’t compare this to the major marathons I have gotten to run but for what this race is, it doesn’t get much better.  If you are looking for a race that has sights, sounds and hills this is it.  Starting off my day with the race and finishing it with fireworks are two characteristics that, by themselves, mean a great day.  I am looking forward to not only doing this race again, but hopefully participating in more races in St. Louis in the near future.

Ironman 70.3-Eagleman: Race Recap

This was not just my first Ironman but my first triathlon in general.  With moving to IL and this race being fairly early in the year anyways I did not get a chance to start a shorter triathlon before tackling all 70.3 miles of Eagleman. Although that fact weighed on my mind, it did not have that much impact on my race and although my time doesn’t show as well as I was hoping I think I performed well and learned so much more for all the triathlons in my future.

Saturday Expo and Bike Check-In:

Bike Racked in Transition 2

Bike is checked in and ready to go for the race!

My parents were nice enough to accompany me out to Maryland for my race.  Bride was busy studying so I figured I would make the journey by myself and take my time coming home, depending on how exhausted I would be after the race.  My parents being there with me for this journey made my race experience much better and I am happy to say they enjoyed themselves at their first triathlon as well.

We got to the expo early on Saturday so I had plenty of time to register, go to my athlete briefing and look around before heading out on a quick bike ride to get my legs warmed up before it had to be racked in transition.  I got my bike racked and checked into transition early in the afternoon and was off with my parents to relax the rest of the day before the long day that I knew would be ahead on Sunday.

Pre-Race/Transition Set-Up:
My father was nice enough to get up early and drive me to the race start so I was there by 5:10am with plenty of time to set up my transition before it closed at 6:30am.  Without having done a triathlon before this one I knew that setting everything up would take me longer than others so I wanted to leave plenty of time for me to rearrange my area if needed.  The other 25-29 year old men around me were nice and we chatted about the day ahead as we all began to get set up.  This conversation included a lot of talk about advice since many of us were doing our first 70.3 race as well as discussion about not using wet suits since the race water temp was said to be 78.6 (77.1 is the cut off for wet suit swims).  I got my transition set up (unfortunately I didn’t have my phone to take a picture!) and was off to wait until wave 20 of the swim start.

Swim Leg (1.2 Miles): 50:33
After talking to so many other athletes this weekend I believe that there are two distinct groups of triathletes: 1)those that like the swim and 2)those that don’t.  I, along with the vast majority of triathletes, fall into the second group so as I entered the water I was prepared for the least enjoyable part of my day and what I got did not disappoint.

The swim started my swimming out about 10 yards off the pier to a shallow area where you could stand for the start. As the gun sounded I was prepared for the chaos of the mass start and stayed in my spot for just a few seconds to allow those serious swimmers a chance to go ahead.   As I began the adrenaline began to pump and I began to remember all the time I had spent in the pool, specifically for this moment.  As I began to maneuver around those slower swimmers I realized that some were still standing.  The shallow area (approximately 4 feet deep) went out for the first 100 meters or so.  I slowly stood up and began to use the shallow area to catch my breath and relax before hitting the deeper water.

I did it! I finished the swim!

I did it! I finished the swim!

After about 300 meters in the water my body wasn’t relaxing very well and I knew that if I was going to get through this swim I needed to calm down, catch my breathe and remember that I will make it through this swim.  That is exactly what I did.  I took my time by treading some water to catch my breathe and slow my heart rate and remind myself that I trained hard for this and was prepared.  As I started going again I remained calm and slowly got closer to the first swim turn (first of two).  As I made the turn I realized that the reason that first straight away seemed so difficult was because we were swimming against the current and now the current was pushing us.  With that help I felt like I was flying when I reached the second turn back towards the exit.  After that turn is where I began to catch swimmers from the group ahead of me (they started 4 minutes earlier) and I began to think about my transition.  About 250 meters out it got shallow again and you had to basically walk in.  The water was only about 2 feet deep for this section, even too shallow for your arms to stroke.

As I came into the finish I realized I had done it.  The hardest part (so I thought) was over and I knew then that I would finish the race!

 

Bike Leg (56 Miles): 3:34:22
Getting Ready for the BikeAlthough a lot of my early training focused on my weakest leg (the swim) a lot of my recent training had focused on getting miles in on the bike.  One of these training rides even included riding this specific route during the Six Pillars Century Ride (see the review here) in May before moving to IL.  That ride, followed by a short run, provided me with a lot of comfort about this course when I hit the road on Sunday.  I knew it was going to be a hot day so I took some time to put on a cycling jersey over my tri suit so I could carry my nutrition and cover up my shoulders to avoid being sun burnt.

The route takes the riders through the Blackwater Nature Preserve where you can regularly see eagles nesting (hence the name of the race). Along with animals along the way you can also guarantee that there will always be wind.  The nature preserve is located between two bodies of water and that causes wind to come from all directions at all times.  On most hot days you would welcome the wind, but this wind was not cool, but instead it was just blowing hot air into your race the whole day.

None the less, I was feeling good going into the bike leg and as I got out on the ride I realized that I would easily be able to get a faster time than on my ride during the century just a month before.  But at around mile 35 all my joy of how well the race was going began to disappear.  The arch of my foot began to hurt and I could tell, without getting off my bike that it would make my run really hard…and painful. Coming in from the bike my emotions were running high, I was excited that my legs felt great and that I crushed my previous time on the course but I was so upset that my foot was hurting so badly that I knew then my run would not be fun, and would not be a good time.

Run Leg (13.1 Miles): 2:59:57
I got off the bike and tried to take a few steps and could only limp.  I arch was hurting so bad on my right foot that I couldn’t put my full weight without a lot of pain.  I thought it would get better in a few minutes so I got ready for my run.  I put on more sunscreen, grabbed my hat and started to head out to the course but despite my hopes my foot did not feel any better.  I knew that I had to put in the miles so I began to walk with the continued hope that it would eventually heal up enough that I could run in.  I walked for the first 2 miles before my foot felt well enough to run and when I did I only was able to make it about a half mile.  From then on I would run as far as I could before the pain became too much and then walk until my foot felt better.

Although it felt like forever by the halfway point I came to the realization that I was going to finish, not with my ideal time but I would finish.  I know that not every race is going to be your best but I always hope that an injury like this would not hobble me during a race.  The temperature continued to rise through the afternoon and didn’t make it any easier to do the run, adding to the difficulty I experienced throughout the time pounding the pavement.

As I pasted the 10 mile marker I told myself that now was the time to push yourself despite the pain and after the 10 mile marker the only times I walked were through the 2 water stations, trying to finish as strong as I could. Crossing the finishing line I was proud, despite the struggles. I finished my first 70.3 and I know that I will do another one as soon as I can.  Although my next endurance adventure will be this fall is not a triathlon, I am already planning my 2016 year to include AT LEAST one triathlon!!!

Finishing

Crossing the Finish Line

TOTAL TIME: 7:39:38

Final Thoughts:
I didn’t have the best race, my foot bothered me more than I could have imageined and I know that if that did not happen I would have gotten under 7 hours.  I found, through all the training, the early mornings and the early nights that I am in love with triathlon.  Although running is still my first love, this triathlon proved that not only can I excel at another endurance challenge, but that I can push myself further than I thought and that with training I can do anything…maybe event 140.6 in 2016!

The design of the Eagleman medal!

The design of the Eagleman medal!

My First Half Marathon

Greetings from Illinois! The days following my FIRST half marathon were completely nuts. Lots of packing and goodbye parties. My last day of work was Wednesday, we loaded the Uhaul on Thursday, arrived in Carbondale on Friday and on Saturday morning we unloaded into our new apartment. Then it was time for a camping trip in Florida and finally the beginning of PA school. A whirlwind for sure!

Confession: there has not been a lot of running.

But, I wanted to write my recap of the Delaware marathon before it becomes a too distant memory. In the days leading up to the race I felt prepared. Thanks to my awesome coach, Runner, and his training schedule. No, I did not do every run. There was time that I took off for knee pain and time that I was suffering from allergies. My longest run before the race was 10 miles.

We arrived in Delaware on Saturday morning around noon. The drive up was easy with minimal traffic. Wilmington is Delaware’s largest city, which we found much more exciting than it’s capital of Dover. The Running Festival was smaller than I expected. My dream of seeing elite athlete,Titus Rotich, happened earlier than expected when he cut Runner in line during T-shirt pick-up. Ha!

We looked up things to do in downtown Wilmington but didn’t really find anything better than heading over to the Christiana Mall which was crazy busy. We walked around a bit and then headed to the movie theater. I took a nice nap during Avengers 2!

I booked a room through Hotwire and was pleased to find out that it was an Official Race Hotel, the Sheraton Suites Wilmington Downtown. Our room was a suite, natch, with a huge living room. We also got a goodie bag from the race upon check-in.

The morning of the race, I took my time getting ready. We were able to park close to the start and finish line. At the start of the race I was so excited in anticipation of what I was about to accomplish. The song that was playing as we crossed the start line was “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon, a good omen! (A frequently played song in training)

The first three miles of the race were a bit crowded but listening to the steps of all the runners was really cool. We ran on the city streets and then turned around through a shopping mall. It was still very congested at this point and many runners around us were complaining. It was also insanely humid and the sweat was pouring! We ran along the riverfront and then back past the festival grounds at Tubman Park.

Shortly after this, Runner and I had a dispute over drinking enough water at the water station. I’ll admit to not being very prepared for this aspect of the race. In my training, I rarely drank water until I was done, even on the longer 8 and 10 miles lengths.

nothappy

Not pleased

mitrabrandonsmile

Still married!

Our run through the Zoo and Brandywine Park was so pretty and shaded. Of course it was overcast and humid – so it didn’t make much of a difference. The suspended bridge was my favorite section of the race. It is featured on the medal. I just wish the photographer was there to capture our crossing. Then we ran up some really long inclines for what seemed like forever… but, the homes were pretty to look at. Also, anticipating the really long decline helped too.

Runner’s favorite part of the race, Little Italy, was my second favorite. Bernie’s Italian Ice in lemon was heaven. Yum! Although, I didn’t finished my cup, the lingering lemon taste really helped. This was also the part of the course when we were passed by Rotich. I kept hearing the cop sirens and was getting excited to run with the elite. However, he came and passed us in the blink of an eye.

Throughout the race there was a young kid who caught my eye because he would sprint by me and then I would slow and steady catch up to him (very much the tortoise and the hare, lol). So I made it my goal to beat him. Spolier alert: I DID. Near the end of mile 11, I finally got him back in my sights and he was walking! Well, I passed him and didn’t see him for the rest of the race. Woo hoo – take that 14 year old! Runner informed me of this well after we had finished the race. Because the end of the race was a real dooz-ey…

Mile 12 was a real nightmare for me. So close yet so very far… my body completely seized up (much like it did in my early days of running). I was crying like a baby and just barely moving my legs… I was walking for a good portion. I saw that mile marker for 12 and at the same time saw the steepest hill of the entire race. Oh my body was not pleased….

pain

It hurts so bad

finish

It hurts so good

It was only for the last few blocks that I was able to pick up my pace, after getting my motivation from the crowds. My legs started moving again and I was able to run through the finish line….crying like a baby! Lol I think I scared the girls who were handing out the medals. I also gave Runner a dramatic kiss infront of them.

Chip Time: 2:53:40.8
Overall Place: 1021 out of 1151
Age Group Place: 83 F 25-29 out of 88 total participants in the Female 25 to 29 age group
Pace: 13:15/M/mile

I’m so proud to say that I’ve completed a half marathon.

Lessons learned: If anything, I can say that I’m a fan of 10Ks. During my training I ran two of them for time. I also love running outside. The majority of my training has been indoors on the treadmill. I am sick of the treadmill. The hills on the course were a real challenge for me. I was taken completely by surprise by them. Well, guess who lives on the top of a hill now? This girl. I’ll get plenty of practice.

Race Recap: 2015 Delaware Half Marathon

This past Sunday I have a privilege that I am so happy to have had.  This Sunday I ran with Bride during her first half marathon.  She came to me before the new year and said that she wanted to make a New Years Resolution to run a half marathon.  Obviously I was very excited that she made this commitment.  I told her I would help her all I could and I would run with her during her race.

To begin the year I wrote out a training plan for her to follow and help introduce her to the best parts of running. She followed my training plan the best that she could (missing just a couple of runs when she felt under the weather) and she grew to actually like running!  I let her run by herself during her shorter runs but made a point to join her on the longer ones including an 8 mile run up Mill Mountain in Roanoke, VA and a 10 mile run in Williamsburg, VA.

Leading up to the race I could tell that Bride was so excited for the event and I was even more excited for her.  I knew that she would struggle at times but I always knew that she would finish.  Not only did she finish but she got a better time than I thought she would get.  I will not take away her thunder and will let her tell everyone about her run.  I will just review my run and my opinion of the whole event below.

MY RACE:
The weather could have been better for this race.  The day was VERY hot and VERY humid (92%).  Although the rain held off it did not help.  The heat has to effect any runner and it definitely made the run harder for us.  The route took us all around Wilmington, including past the minor league ball stadium, the waterfront, the downtown, the zoo, a beautiful city park, quiet neighborhoods and their little Italy.  You could not ask for a better tour of the city, which to me says a lot about the race.  We finished strong, despite the many hills throughout the course and I am nothing but proud of Bride’s performance.

Race Organization: 10/20

This is a small race, so it will inevitably have some hiccups along the way.  The race organizations revolved around a beautiful little park on the water in Wilmington, Tubman-Garrett Park which provided a beautiful starting point and location for the expo.  Except, the size of the park limited the size of everything.  The park is not a large park and the expo had to resort to only having a couple of tents with just two vendors and one tent for the title sponsor (Discover Card).  This park also caused the start line to be congested and chaotic the morning of.  The bag drop off was hard to find, the corrals were almost non-existent (a 4-hour marathon runner lined up next to us behind the 11 min/mile sign because there was no room near the front) and the areas for the crowds were tight and caused more congestion on the streets. I told Bride before we stepped off that this race had out grown this park.  In the future I hope that the race either rearranges the start line to better accommodate the size or works to stagger the start so that everyone can have a more enjoyable beginning.

Expo: 8/20

This rating might seem harsh but I cannot but help rank this expo compared to other races that I have been apart of. This race is small but it is the premiere marathon in the state and should have a better expo.  As mentioned above, the primary reason that the expo is so underwhelming is because it is confined to the small footprint of the waterfront park.  They try to make the best use of space that they can in this small area but there is no way that a proper expo can be accomplished in this small space.  I would suggest that the organizers look at using the parking log of the neighboring waterfront market as the base for their expo in the future to allow for a larger one that can hopefully attract more vendors.

DE Half Marathon CourseRace Experience: 18/20

My race experience after I started the start line was amazing.  The route started along a beautiful water front trail winding through a lot of new development, office buildings and their minor league baseball stadium before heading into the city around mile 3.  From miles 3-5 you went through parts of downtown and began the your run through Brandywine Park.  In Brandywine Park you got the chance to run right next to the Wilmington zoo (close enough that you can hear and smell the animals) before making a u-turn our of the park and onto Park street where the hills truly began.

The next two miles included a constant incline before leveling off in a beautiful neighborhood.  After running around the neighborhood you went into Little Italy where the greatest mid race snack I have ever had awaited.  This snack was even better than the gummies at mile 23 of the Disney Marathon.  Around mile 9.5 Bernies Italian Ice (Title Sponsor of the Wilmington Italian Fest) was passing out their signature Lemon Italian Ice.  There could not have been a better mid race snack on such a humid day than a small cup of this delicious flavored ice!!! Around this same time we heard the police sirens that were with the lead runner, and defending champion Titus Rotich.  As he passed us Bride was able to see up close just how fast he was running.  We got to see him climb a small hill over a train track and experience just how impressive his athletic ability is.

To close out the race you run down the Park St hill we ran up after Brandywine Park and at mile 12 we turned towards the finish line for the final mile downtown.  Only to realize that there was a final half mile hill facing us.  We finished under our goal and looking back on the course I realized that I felt like I saw all of Wilmington while being challenged with the hills, the heat and the sun.  It was a great course and such an enjoyable race.

DE Half Marathon MedalPost-Race: 17/20

After finishing the race we sat down to relax and quickly was able to pick up our bag from the small bag check and got in line for the food that was provided.  The food included sliders, chips, fruit, and drinks that all tasted good after the run.  But what stole the show was Bernie’s Italian Ice being there with two extra flavors (coconut and cherry) along with their lemon that they had on the course.  On top of all of these the race medal is one of my favorites and includes a spinning boat at the top along with sights from around the course. This race is an example for others to follow on what to provide to its runners.  Finally, the park’s location along the waterfront provided beautiful scenery and after finishing any race it always feels good to relax after knowing you have worked so hard for the whole morning.

Extras: 18/20DE Marathon Headsweats Hat

Every race tries to have their perks that make the race memorable and worthy of the entry fee.  The Delaware gave perks that few other races, at its price point, can provide.  While at the race we were able to get a free Headsweats Hat, pint glasses with the marathon logo, a (with a discover card) a car magnet themed for the race and a mesh bag that I will definitely use again.  The hat is one that I will definitely wear on future runs and is a much better hat than the one I received at the Shamrock half in VA Beach in March.  This race is an example for others to follow on what to provide to its runners.

MY OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 71/100

This race had a little bit of everything.  It had a great course that included urban, trails, hills, hot weather and fun. The expo could be improved but I think that this race is one that I would suggest others run.  My two pre-race categories (expo and race organization) are low but all the categories that take into account the actual race and afterwards are very high.  The race itself is a great race and has many positive aspects.  I would suggest that this is a hidden gem, especially on the east coast were many high profile races take a lot of the attention.  I am glad that Bride chose this race as her first half marathon and I hope that it will not be her only one.

-Runner

2015 Shamrock Half Marathon

Some of my favorite races are those that you get to do in the middle of a training cycle for a bigger race.  That is exactly what the Shamrock Half Marathon was this weekend in Virginia Beach, VA.  I am 8 weeks into my Half Ironman Training and felt that I needed see how much progress, if any, I had achieved in the two months of training.

One reason why this race was so attractive to me as a test for my training was the fact that I love to run in VA Beach.  I have ran the Rock n’ Roll race here for three consecutive years and both Bride and I loved being there each year.  Secondly one of my good friends from college Kathleen, from Sister to Sister Running, was coming from Chicago to run.  I do not get to run with friends very often and I always love running a race with someone I know.  Although Kathleen and I didn’t run together, like we did at the Disney Marathon, it was great knowing a friend was running the course with me.

MY RACE:
Although the race itself had some deficiencies, that I will discuss below, my race worked out just as I planned.  I had not ran more than 8 miles since I have finished the Disney Marathon in January but all of my runs had been very quick and I felt that I could easily get a PR if I pushed myself like I knew I could.  My previous PR (1:56:36) was done without any pacers so I thought that I would stick with the pace teams for as long as I could before I was dropped, or was able to pull ahead.

PR Bell!I moved my corral placement up from Corral 3, as I was assigned, to Corral 2 so I could join the 1 hour 45 minute pace team.  This pace would require 8 minute miles throughout the race and although I had been training at paces faster than that, I still questioned if I could keep it the whole race.

The first few miles were inevitably faster than the 8 min/mile pace but after the first 5K the pace slowed to the expected pace and as the miles past I felt more and more comfortable with the miles ahead.  After the 15K mark I knew that I would be able to get a big PR.  At the 12 mile mark I knew that I felt good enough to speed up through the last mile and ended up finishing about 30 seconds ahead of the pace team for a final time of 1:44:35 completing the race 12 minutes faster than my PR that I got just four months ago!

Many times during the last 8 weeks I questioned if my training was actually helping or if I was actually getting any better, but this race proved that all the early morning swims, the many miles on the track and the hours on the bike have all paid off.  The feeling of crossing that line, knowing that my training worked, will stay with me over the next 12 weeks as I prepare for Ironman Eagleman.

Race Organization: 16/20

J & A Racing is the organization that puts on the Shamrock Weekend and my first experience with them was a great one.  They put on a great race weekend and I would not only recommend this race to other runners, but any other race that they put on. There were a few things that I felt could be better, including the starting line being way too crowded and without a clear path for the runners to use to get to their corrals.

Expo: 16/20

The Virginia Beach Convention Center, where this expo and the Rock and Roll expo takes place, is a great location for any event.  It is just blocks from the beach, but provides ample parking so you won’t have to worry about how you are getting there.  The center is big enough to hold the largest of expos, while still providing some intimacy allowing you to not feel overwhelmed with the size, like I did with the Chicago and NYC Marathon expos. The one downside to this race, the same with many local races, is that there were not many of the larger companies present and instead you had a lot of local companies that runners from out of the local area like myself cannot enjoy.

Race Experience: 14/20

Shamrock Marathon Sandle Sculpture

I have a motto that you can never be upset at all about a PR so my race experience will be lifted because I ran so well.  The course is pancake flat, even flatter than Chicago, and a great course to PR on.  I would look to this marathon course as a PR opportunity if I didn’t loathe training through the winter weather of January and February.  The big flaw in my race experience was found at the aid stations.  The half marathon had over 8,000 finishers but the stations were set up for a race about half that size.  I completely missed two water stations, not because I didn’t want anything to drink, but because the traffic was too much and I couldn’t get over quick enough to get something to drink.  I didn’t want to sacrifice my pace for a drink.  Worst of all was at the PowerAde Gel Station.  This station consisted of tables set up with the Gel boxes opened and sitting out and runners had to run by the tables (it was only 2 tables long) and grab the gel that they wanted.  There was NOT ONE volunteer located at this aid station.   With a race this large, and promoted and ran this well the water and gel stations should be better prepared.

Post-Race: 16/20

After you cross the finish line it is always a time of emotions, fatigue and excitement.  Here you crossed the line and as the post race excitement rushed over me I walked through and got my medal, my food and drinks along with the race extras (discussed below) and met up with Bride as I exited the runners area.  That excitement quickly subsided as I looked at the line for my UPS truck holding my post race bag.  In many races the trucks are separated by your race number, or your last name but here they were divided by your corral.  The unfortunate thing about this is that many people in your corral finish at the same time as you do…so there was a long line.  After the race my body immediately began to cool down and I became very cold while waiting for my bag and it was obvious that everyone around me was suffering as well.  This process can easily be improved and I hope they find a more efficient way of getting the bags out next year.

Post Race YuenglingAfter the bag check debacle the disappointment ended. I entered the post race celebration tent and could not help but smile.  Inside each runner was able to get not 1, not 2 not even 3 but FOUR beers!  Also available was warm soup and great bands for entertainment all day long.  This was by far the best post race party that I have ever been too immediately after the race concluded.

Extras: 18/20

Every race usually has something extra.  The larger and more prestigious the race the more extras they usually have. Chicago, NYC and Boston have tons of special merchandise designed specifically for that race each year and almost every major race gives their runners shirts and other small knick knacks to remember this event.  The Shamrock takes that to a whole new level.  When I arrived at the expo I was given my shirt but as I entered the race store I realized how much they embraced the St. Patrick’s Day theme of the race.  There was so much green theme merchandise.  But the best awaited me at the end of the race.  As I finished I was given a real towel, instead of the classic aluminum blanket that so many other races give, but I was also given a great running hat with the logo for the race.  These extras really provide a better experience and a great memory to end the race.  Not only do they serve a purpose to keep you warm after the race, but they also all you to show off for many years to come.

MY OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 80/100

This race was great.  You finish on the beach, and you get some of the best extras that a race can provide.  The course is a PR seekers dream and there is plenty of beer for you waiting at the end.  I would recommend this race to anyone looking to do a spring Half Marathon, especially those wanting to relax around the race.  I love running in VA Beach and now I know that not only does it put on a great Rock n’ Roll race every year on Labor Day but the Shamrock Half Marathon rivals the quality of that race as well.  VA Beach has risen up in my list as one of my favorite running destinations and everyone should experience finishing on its boardwalk at least once!

-Runner

My First 10K

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You guys, I ran a 10K… on Valentine’s Day. Runner* had been begging me to sign up for this race for some time. I kept saying it would be too cold. It wasn’t until the last day of registration that we finally pulled the trigger and registered – the Thursday before the race – knowing that it would be in the 20s!!! As Siri would say, “BRR.” Yes, crazy decision, but my training plan had me running the 6 miles on Saturday either way. This article, also gave me confidence in how to stay warm.

The night before the race we went shopping and stocked up on some winter weather gear. I bought some Under Armour athletic knee socks for $2.99 at TJ Maxx. The pink stripes really went with the theme of the day! One of my biggest fears was that the cold air would irriatate my lungs. Coincidentally enough, at Sports Authority I found an extremely discounted “wind scarf” section. It was really the packaging that caught my eye – Mona Lisa heads!

PACKAGING-MONA-LISA-WIND

multiusos

The scarves had been marked down from $19.99 to $1.99. I could see why – the designs really sucked. Runner helped me pick the best one, and in pictures it acutally doesn’t look half bad. The material was thin and elastic. It fit snugly around my head when I held it up to cover my mouth and nose. Breathing in warm air made me feel better – perhaps it was all mental – but I’m glad I wore it. Not sure when or if I’ll ever use this again, but I hope to see the product some day on Shark Tank.

Later that evening we exchanged Valentine’s Day presents. My Valentine’s Day gift to Runner was homemade “Runner” and “Bride” dry-fit shirts. We weren’t able to wear these on Saturday but hopefully, we will at another race in the future (half marathon, hint hint). I made these with iron-on decals from Michaels. I have some extra letters and really want to make a shirt with my name on it. Runner’s gift to me was an AWESOME purple iPod Shuffle. I’ve been using it for workouts and it is so light and easy to wear.

The race kicked off at 8 am, which meant we didn’t have to wake up much earlier than we normally do for work. For the Love of It 10K was put on for the first time this year by Potomac River Running. Knowing this, and the frigid temps, my biggest fear was that I’d come in last place. When we arrived at South Lakes High School, we were pleased to find out that registration was indoors! We picked up our race numbers, free t-shirt (long sleeve, women’s cut, cute logo) and commemorative pin.  We had plenty of time to use indoor restrooms and prepare.

At about 10 minutes ’til, we started heading outside to the street and the starting line. Runner and I separated – he was going for speed. I must say, the people in the back were friendly and entertaining. Thankfully, my layered clothing kept me comfortable. There was a moment when I first warmed up when I questioned weather I had overdressed. However, the hot flash passed soon enough. Luckily, the wind wasn’t much of a factor. Seriously, it could have been brutal, so I am very thankful for that. Having only run on the treadmill for most of my training, the hills were a bit much. I just decided to keep running. Each mile was marked, so as I passed, I would raise my arms arm and cheer for myself.

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Major dork! But there were very few spectators – like 3 total – so I cheered for myself, lol. Another bonus of the race was free photography. Having paid some rediculous prices in the past for photos, this was a huge perk. The race ended with a partial lap around the high school track. My finish time was 1 hour 17 minutes. Doing a race on a holiday was quite fun and I’d like to do another sometime in the future. 16503476476_9282a7cc0a_o

*Every time I say Runner now I can only think of the Dad from the book Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. If you liked Gone Girl, I highly recommend it, it’s pretty twisted though – bordering on Chuck Palahniuk territory. It was a quick read that kept me guessing until the very end.

Choosing My First Half Marathon

After I made my announcement, it wasn’t long before Runner researched every race in America that I could possibly run in April and May. I was looking at this time frame because 4-5 months should be plenty of time to train and I wanted to do it before starting grad school.

In the running (pun intended) were:

La Jolla Half Marathon – La Jolla, CA – April 26

la jolla marathon

Absolutely gorgeous race and hello KIWANIS! I’ve never been to California and that alone would be amazing, however, with grad school starting soon, it just didn’t make financial sense. I give Runner credit for finding this race, it is perfect.

Pittsburgh Marathon – Pittsburgh, PA – May 3

Many positive reviews about this race are out there, almost swayed me – but the hills!

Flying Pig Marathon – Cincinnati, OH – May 3

Seemed like a long drive for a city I’m not excited about.

The St. Michaels Running Festival – St. Michaels, MD May 16

This was appealing at first because it seemed close and scenic on the waterfront. However, it would still be a 2 hour drive to get there, so a hotel would be needed. Also, I found a race video on youtube that showed the runners sharing the road with cars which made the whole thing less appealing.

And the winner is…

Delaware Marathon – Wilmington, DE – May 10

delaware

Something about this one is just so darn appealing. It’s not too far away and the date feels right. The logo is purple, so it’s meant to be. I’m a fan of their Facebook page and people are getting excited!

Race Recap: 2015 Walt Disney World Marathon

Disney EntranceDisney concludes my 2014 calendar.  I cannot look forward to the rest of 2014 until I look back and reflect on my concluding race of such a great year.  Next week I will not only look at my 2014 season as a whole, but I will also look forward to my 2015 adventures and goals. For now, please enjoy my recap of the 2015 Walt Disney World Marathon.

Race Organization: 20/20
There is no race that is organized as well as the Disney races. They have thought of everything that could come up during the expo, the race and the post-race and addressed each scenario.  Their staff and volunteers are always welcoming and happy even during what are a few long days since there are four consecutive days with early race starts.  They have entertainment throughout the race and work to help the runners complete the race as easily as possible.
The one ding against runDisney is that they are so big and complex that they cannot adapt very well to unexpected events.  When there was rain during the race the characters had to go inside instead of just being under cover to still allow the runners to enjoy the energy given by each character through the race.  Despite this one criticism out of all the races that I have ran, runDisney and the Walt Disney Marathon is the cream of the crop.

Expo: 12/20
For Disney being such a well put on and large running event Disney’s expo is lacking in size and attendance of the biggest and best companies and displays. The expo takes place in a great location, at the Jostens Center at the ESPN Wide World of Sports just across from where the packet pick up is.  The organization getting into the expo is quick and easy, especially compared to getting into the expos at the Chicago and New York City Marathons. Also, the Disney expo, more than any other, has more custom apparel and merchandise than any other race. If you want anything running related to be Disney themed, you can find it at this expo.  Be it t-shirts, running pants, jackets, headbands and even shoes it is available at the expo.  Unfortunately many other large running companies are not present at the expo.  Champion is the sponsor of the runDisney shirts and they seem to have a monopoly over all the other clothing companies including Nike, Adidas, Under Armour and Asics.  No other large company has any presence at the expo also there are, for obvious reasons, no other races present to promote their upcoming events.  I understand that runDisney competes with any other race since they have races throughout the year but giving other races the opportunity to promote at their events is good for the running community as a whole and a better experience for the runners themselves. Although the race organization is top of its class, the runDisney expo is definitely not near the best I have ever attended.

In front of 'Spaceship Earth' before the big Race!

In front of ‘Spaceship Earth’ before the big Race!

Race Experience: 18/20
Even to non-runners, the idea of running through Disney parks, during which some are not even open yet sounds like a great opportunity.  This is the opportunity that every runner has during the Walt Disney Marathon.  Getting to run through the Magic Kingdom Castle before the park is open and right at dawn is a great experience that you can only get if you run in the race.  In every race you interact most with the volunteers that man the water stations throughout the long miles and often times after a few hours these volunteers understandably get tired and often will cheer just a little bit less but in Disney this is not the case.  Weather the volunteers and crowds are at mile 2 or 22 they cheer loudly and excitedly for every runner.  For anyone who has been to Disney they know that no matter how old you are you enjoy the parks and the atmosphere and running through the parks is no difference.  It always amazes me how much energy running into the parks gives every runner.  Even after 22 or 25 miles, when you enter those parks you quickly gain more energy and view the future miles as shorter than before.  The only failure that I found in Disney’s execution was one that probably hurt me more than other runners.  In the previous years they have served chocolate and fruit gummies just before mile 23, right as you enter MGM.  This year those gummies were not available and I feel that runDisney saw this as a cost cutting measure.  This treat helped take your mind off the fact that you still have a long 5K to go, and they also provided a refreshing flavor after a whole morning of GU, Powerade and Water.  I hope that Disney just forgot to order these and did not try to save a few pennies by removing them.  Besides that small change that I really didn’t like, Disney put on a world class race that is hard to beat anywhere in the country.

Post-Race: 14/20
Post-race is usually the best part of the day…because the race is over!  At the Disney marathon the post-race is a lot of fun for many reasons.  The first is that you are in the shadow of Spaceship Earth at Epcot and surrounded by the “Happiest Place on Earth”.  Secondly after the finish you are able to take many photos with more characters, backgrounds, friends and family that were waiting for you to finish.  This was mostly the case in 2015 as well, with a few drastic differences.   When I finished the race I saw that there were no nylar blankets available and the massage area seemed much smaller than last year, with a much longer line.  I was rushed through the drink area to the picture taking section where I tried to get a picture taken with a friend who was running Dopey but was told that only Dopey runners were allowed to go into that area and I was not allowed as just a marathon runner. Lastly, after I got my bag my friend wanted to wait in line to get her picture with Dopey but it started to rain and they had to take Dopey inside, leaving dozens waiting in line.  There was a good chance of rain the whole day and Disney should have been prepared to handle the rain. Disney made some big, and uncommon, mistakes during my post-race time and I am confident that these mistakes will not take place in the future if I were to run the race again.

Relaxing at Downtown Disney later that day!

Relaxing at Downtown Disney later that day!

Extras: 12/20
Disney, as mentioned above, customizes anything that you would want.  You could legitimately have a whole running wardrobe with just runDisney branded items.  The one thing that runDisney doesn’t do well is provide extra items, or allow other groups to have items, to runners during the expo for in preparation for the race.  Every branded item is tightly controlled by Disney and does not allow for some of the unique collector items that you can find at other races.  I hope that in the future runDisney will reach out and open up the abilities of companies to expand the runDisney brand with more new and unique products.

MY OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 76/100
The Walt Disney World Marathon is one of the best in the country.  Although some of the details of this year’s race were not to my liking, the most important aspects, the race experience and organization, are near perfect. While in Orlando for the race you get the opportunity to go to Disney, Universal Studios, the beach or any other activity that Orlando offers.  As you run around the parks you get to see Disney like very few people ever get too, and you really get a lot of energy from the surroundings, the crowds and the excitement.  I still believe that the Walt Disney World Marathon is the best marathon for any first time marathoner, and one of the most enjoyable for seasoned marathoners to participate in.