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Race Recap & Review: San Antonio Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon

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Remember when I said Las Vegas was my final half marathon of the year? Yeah, I lied.

A couple weeks after the race, I felt the urge to run the final Rock ‘n’ Roll half of the year in San Antonio. It cost a little bit of an arm and a leg, but I loved the headliner medal for running nine Rock ‘n’ Roll halfs and was excited to see the city.

Little did I know the weather would be, well, horrible.

Let me say right up top here that I don’t regret going. I still had a ton of fun and got a feel for San Antonio. And running in a downpour for miles will help my mental strength in future races.

I got into town late Friday and worked from the hotel Saturday. It rained for most of the day. After work, I hit up the expo for packet pickup and realized just how crazy the weather was. It was raining hard, there was a ton of ponding on the roads and a decent amount of wind — Sunday’s race was not going to be fun.

After the expo, I walked over to the Alamo — the one thing I knew I had to see on the short trip. It was great walking around and reading up on the history of the place.

Then, I walked along the riverwalk for a while. It exceeded my expectations and was so cool and pretty. It’s too bad the weather wasn’t great, that would have made it even better. I popped into a bar for a couple beers before meeting up with friends for dinner. On the way, out it was dark and the trees above the riverwalk were all lit up with lights. So pretty!

We ate at a great Mexican place that ended up not being too far from my hotel. I’m so glad I got a really good Mexican meal in this trip — wish I could have gotten more. I settled into bed around 10:30 Saturday night and spent a lot of the night tossing and turning, letting my mind worry way too much about the possibility of a continuous, hard rain on race day.

I signed up for VIP for this event partially because of its indoor venue before and after the race. The fact that a bunch of runner friends I’ve met this year were also VIP sold me on it. I ate breakfast at my hotel and headed over to the other hotel where VIP was being hosted. It was less than a block from the race start and I was so happy it wasn’t raining at all on my walk over. No need to get wet BEFORE the race even begins.

Luckily, the VIP area also had the much-needed necessity for this race: plastic ponchos. Seriously, I don’t know how I would have made it through the race without that. The cost of VIP was worth that poncho alone. I’d tried to get one at CVS the night before but they were totally sold out. Note to self: Stock up on those AND buy a rain jacket for running.

I met up with up with the runner friends and after a potty break (yay indoor restrooms), we headed out the door a few minutes before the race start at 7:30.

The wind was blowing and it was raining a little and I thought “oh, no, here we go.” I threw my poncho on and got in the closest corral — it ended up being corral 7, not my designated 12.

The wind and little rain quickly died down — completely. A miracle. It didn’t rain a drop until somewhere around mile 4.5. And then, it started pouring. And the wind picked back up. For a good 3 miles. That was not fun. It was about 50 out but with a 10-15 mph wind it got chilly, fast. I couldn’t help but think that this is what running in Hermine should have been like at Virginia Beach, except warmer and windier.

I kept counting down the miles — one more mile until there’s only 6 more miles, one more mile until there’s only 5 more miles. Basically, I focused on each mile I was in and on my music (I don’t normally run with headphones on race day, but with the crappy weather knew I’d need something to help me along).

I knew I was getting grumpy when the guy running with the boombox got near me — two or three times — and I wanted to yell at him to turn it off. I just wanted to focus on my music (though I did pause it when a live band was coming up). Finally, somewhere between mile 9 and 10 the rain slowed and then totally stopped.

I kept trying to avoid puddles on the road and avoided the really really big ones, but it was impossible not to get my shoes and feet totally soaking wet. There were so many puddles and mini-rivers running down the road. At one water stop somewhere between mile 7 and 8, the volunteers were standing in ankle-deep water (while wearing rain boots) handing out cups that when tossed floated down the road in a big stream. It was crazy weather, guys.

Even with the poncho — which I’d taken off at mile 1, kept (no way I was getting rid of it!) and put back on at mile 5 — I was totally soaked. But the poncho was keeping me warm, so I kept it on. The long-sleeve shirt I’d worn over my T-shirt also came off at mile 1, and never got put on again. It got completely drenched in the downpour.

A little after mile 10, my legs began protesting. I’ve definitely tired them out this year — completely. I focused on the mile I was in and not taking walk breaks until I got to a water stop, but there were two little hills on the last two or so miles that I ended up taking walk breaks on to save my legs from hurting so much.

The last couple miles were rough on my legs, but I didn’t feel anywhere near as bad as the Vegas race, and took that as a clear sign that Vegas was just a weird race with the wedding stop and being on my feet all day before running so far in the evening, when I normally almost never run.

Still, San Antonio also clearly showed it’s time for a break from long-distance running. I finished in 2:27:59 and don’t think I could have fun any faster. The weather certainly slowed me down, as did my legs in the late miles.

I quickly chilled after crossing the finish line, but it was a short walk back to the VIP hotel. I immediately got my bag from gear check and immediately changed out of my soaking wet clothes.

After a couple hours of refueling, enjoying some beer and getting a massage, it was time to head back to my hotel, get a shower and head to the airport.

This race was really hard mentally — and even physically in dealing with the wet and cold. Yet, I still enjoyed parts of it — especially those early miles without rain. 😉

Rock ‘n’ Roll did a great job of communication leading up to the race to let folks know everything was going on as planned. I also can’t thank the volunteers and spectators enough. They stood out in the rain for who knows how long to help us all out — it really shows how much races bring communities together.

I can’t believe this incredible race year is now over, and I can’t believe all I’ve done. So what’s next? More on that later!

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Race Recap & Review: Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon Weekend

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What an awesome weekend!

I headed out Saturday morning to Vegas for my last Rock ‘n’ Roll race of the year (No. 8 for those of you keeping track). I couldn’t believe how insane the town looked just from my short shuttle ride from the airport.

lasvegasrnr-8After checking in to my hotel — the Luxor — and changing rooms (the one I got in the pyramid was too musty and smoke smelling), the first stop on my list was hitting up the expo.

The expo was huge, but I didn’t have a lot time, so it was a quick in-and-out trip. I decided to check out the Bellagio after.

I am not a gambler, but I knew I wanted to do it for fun on this trip. I set aside an amount I was willing to lose. I decided to play the slots at the Bellagio. I wasted about $15 before I realized that putting in just $5 or some singles at a time wasn’t going to cut it — I lost very quickly.

So I found another machine and stuck in $60. I hit the buttons, betting anywhere from $1-5 per spin. One spin, I got up to $80, and thought that’s pretty cool, I’ll keep at it. A few spins later and the machine was dinging and the number kept rising and rising. It settled at $522. I was shocked.

I immediately hit the cash out button and collected my winnings.lasvegasrnr-139

I had a little bit of cash left in the gambling money I’d set aside so I played a little longer and then walked back to the hotel, stopping when I saw the famous Bellagio fountain show had just started.

I didn’t gamble the rest of the trip.

It took forever to walk back to the hotel because of all the people crowding the Strip and all the walkways you needed to take over major intersections. Not helping for this entire trip — so many escalators and moving walkways were broken!

I made it back with enough time to take a quick shower and put on my 5K race outfit. I ran into a lovely runner while walking across the bridge between Excalibur and New York New York and we stuck together on our way to finding the monorail.

When we got to the other side of MGM, we were trying to figure out where to go to get up to the track when we ran into another pair of runners. I figured they were also taking the monorail, but they weren’t — they were going to take Lyft and asked if we wanted to hop on — the car had enough room for 4 people, anyway.

That’s what I really love about these races — you meet so many other runners and everyone is just so nice and willing to help a fellow runner. It’s this huge community where you gain immediate membership and friends.

lasvegasrnr-1The 5K was set to go off at 6, but they didn’t open the grounds until a little after 4:30. I met up with Steff and others from the Rock ‘n’ Blog / We Run Social team and we hung out — with donuts — before the start. There was music blaring and the best race day restrooms I’ve ever seen — indoors, with 100 stalls in one single women’s restroom. That meant no lines.

Finally, it was time for the race. The course was basically an out and back with some turns right around the start and finish to add the extra mileage needed.

It was crowded, and it never really opened up. Too many people were not in the corrals they should have been in given their pace. It was hard to keep running at times because of all the walkers.

Now, let me stop right here and say that I believe everyone should run the race at his or her own pace. And I hate it when runners are rude to walkers on the course when those walkers are staying to the far right and not walking three abreast or anything crazy. And since I used the 4/1 run/walk method this summer, I know there are a lot of other folks out there who use the same method for races.

So I really, really do try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I don’t know what went wrong here. Whether folks moved into higher corrals without realizing that could create a log-jam or what. Certainly when I was a beginner at races, I wouldn’t have understood why the corrals were important.

I didn’t love the 5K course — the road we were on was badly in need of repair and there weren’t as many fun buildings near that part of downtown, but I get that they couldn’t close the Strip two nights, let alone two in a row. Plus, placing the race there provided a great start/finish venue courtesy of the Las Vegas Festival Grounds.

I wore lightweight capris for the race as a test for whether I could wear capris again for the half. I so prefer running in capris over shorts. But I got too hot during the 5K and knew I’d need to switch to shorts the next night.

I anticipated finishing under 30 minutes, but the crowded course, heat, brief water stop and fact I was starving by halfway through added up. Still, my overall pace on my watch was sub-10, so that was great.

Even greater — Meb was at the finish line giving out high-fives. A lady had stopped to get a selfie with him, but I was NOT missing out on my high five from Meb, so I got it in anyway. I might have messed her photo up a little. Oops.

Finish time: 31:15

After the race, I found the rest of the crew. Some folks split off, but a good contingent of us ended up going over to the SLS where we found a pizza place without too long of a line. I was starving and devoured it.

I took the monorail back to my hotel with a few other folks and finally got to my room around 10 or so. Lights out at 11, no alarm set. Glorious.

SUNDAY

lasvegasrnr-2I woke up around 9 a.m., ate breakfast and then went to the Titanic exhibit in my hotel. It was absolutely incredible. If you have any sort of interest in history or shipwrecks or anything remotely related to the Titanic, it is well worth the visit.

After that, I went out to lunch with Libby and her crew. When she mentioned they were thinking In-N-Out Burger, I was sold. I’d noticed there was one a mile from the hotel and I’d never eaten at one before — despite all my trips out West this year.

It is just as yummy as everyone says. Back at the hotel, I grabbed a couple big pretzels so I’d have something to eat before the race — I didn’t want to get hungry during the half like I did during the 5K.

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Steff and her husband met up with me at my room, and a little bit later we went to find Libby before walking over to the pre-race festival.

I’ve never stayed for one of Rock ‘n’ Rolls post-race concerts. The closest I got was in Chicago in 2015, but I needed to catch a train so there just wasn’t time.

lasvegasrnr-28Because Vegas is a night race, they hold the concert BEFORE. And it always draws a huge headliner — this year Snoop Dogg. The concert was fabulous.

Before we knew it, it was time to walk to the start. Steff, her husband and I were running together and in the blue wave in corral 12. They were renewing vows at the run-through wedding and I jumped at the chance to be the “wedding photographer.” Ha!

I hit the porta potty one last time, and it was only 20 minutes to race start when I got back. They released multiple corrals at once instead of one at a time. We were fairly close to the front of the wave we ended up in, which meant a great view of the start line banner and the fire they shot out at the sound of the horn. I don’t know why but I just got such a kick out of the flames going into the air.

lasvegasrnr-51We officially crossed the start line at 4:45. It wasn’t too long before we hit the famous Vegas sign and we stopped for several photos. Then it was off to the run-through wedding, at mile 3.

lasvegasrnr-72The way the run-through wedding works is that at 5:30 they simultaneously marry/renew vows for all those who sign up. There were 50 couples getting married for the first time! And several of them had a cadre of friends and family there cheering. It was so great to watch.

After the wedding it felt like we were just starting the race — we’d spent about 22 minutes between waiting for the ceremony to start and having it finish — and this time we *only* had 10 miles to go. The miles really ticked by as we ran down the Strip. We stopped several times to take photos, and I was loving every minute. But we were going a bit fast, and I hoped we’d slow down eventually.

lasvegasrnr-81Somewhere after mile 6, it got a little quieter as we entered the northern part of the Strip, but there was still a lot to see — tons of wedding chapels, and the store in the Pawn Stars series. I started taking gummies in around mile 5 or so. I could tell I was getting a little tired and a little hungry and needed something to help pick me up. I had about 3/4 of a pack leftover from Chicago and I ended up finishing it completely by the end of the race.

Around the halfway point, I also noticed some of the water stops were running out of water at the first tables, but there was always plenty on the back tables, and they had a lot of refill towers for runners who carried their own bottles, which was a nice bonus.

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A bit after mile 7 there were a series of turns as we added mileage to get to that 13.1 total. I knew we’d hit Fremont Street after mile 9, and I was looking forward to seeing what some call the old Las Vegas Strip.

After that, it was a turn back onto Las Vegas Boulevard, where we’d stay for the final 3 miles.

lasvegasrnr-106My legs were killing me by this point, even though we’d eventually slowed down after mile 7 or so. We took a few walk breaks on top of photo stops and water stops in the final miles. But I was still having a blast, especially the closer to got to the finish line, where the main Vegas buildings were.

We never saw an 11-mile marker. And the 12-mile marker was probably a good half of a mile off, which was really disappointing and annoying. We knew we didn’t have another 1.1 miles at that point, but I don’t understand how that sign got where it was. We’d seen the 5 mile sign for the 10K and the 12 mile sign should have been a tenth of a mile after that. It’s not too hard to figure out!

The finish line was epic. It was set right at the Mirage, and there were lasers lighting up over our heads and fog machines blasting mist onto the scene. I felt great crossing the finish line, with a huge smile on my face.

Finish time: 2:59:55.

The finisher chute was long, and super clogged at the end because too many folks were crowded around looking for their friends and families. This is why you designate a place to meet, folks.

In the chute, we got our finisher’s medals, chocolate milk and a bag with food. The bag is a new addition for Rock ‘n’ Roll and a very welcome one. Not only will it help with carrying all the things you collect at the finish line — i.e. water, gatorade, chocolate milk — it should also cut down on those people who grab 5x as many food items as they should. I hope they keep this up in the future.

lasvegasrnr-73At the end of the chute was free beer. And I was handed two. And it’s Las Vegas, so you can just open them right there and walk down the street, enjoying your beer after the race as you walk back to the hotel. Amazing.

I got my gear check bag pretty quickly, then Steff and I went to find the  medal tent for our remix and heavy medals. I got the Eight Track medal — the thing is absolutely huge and amazing. I really wish I could do San Antonio in a few weeks so I could get the Headliner 9 medal — I really wanted that one.

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Steff, Joe and I split ways after that since our hotels were in two separate directions. I watched the Bellagio fountain show again — this time at night, when it’s so much cooler, then started the long shuffle back to the Luxor.

lasvegasrnr-108On the way, I got Shake Shack. We have these in D.C. but I’ve never gone to one and I’d been really craving a milkshake. So I grabbed one and a chicken sandwich for dinner. When I finally got back to the hotel, I grabbed another big pretzel because I knew the sandwich wouldn’t be enough, and I bought a couple beers, too, for a fun, relaxing dinner in bed.

It was the perfect ending to an awesome race weekend — and an amazing year of races.

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Reviews

Race Recap & Review: Rock ‘n’ Roll Los Angeles Half Marathon

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A week and a half before this race, I looked up the course time limit.

Coming off the marathon, running felt hard and I wasn’t sure how much of the race I might need to walk. I was seriously concerned I would be dangerously close to a 3 hour limit, but the official limit was 3:30.

In the end, I shouldn’t have spent a single brain cell even remotely worrying. My official finish time, 2:20:34, was nearly three minutes faster than my time in Philly three weeks before the marathon.

I signed up for this race in April, when I scored a sweet $236 round-trip ticket from D.C. to L.A. By that time, I’d already completed RNR San Francisco and was signed up for RNR San Diego — and that Cali Combo medal was incredibly tempting. I mean there’s a bear with sneakers on its feet that moves up and down the coast of California on the medal — how can you pass that up!?

Adding to the temptation: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios.

SOLD.

Fast forward seven months and while I was looking forward to the race, Harry Potter and Hollywood, the thought of another long distance travel race was not exactly appealing. Truth be told, I could really use a break.

But there’s nothing wrong with my legs, and I really do love to travel, so off to LA I went.

I took a morning flight out of Dulles that got delayed by nearly two hours. Two movies — X-Men: Apocalypse and London Has Fallen — and about 5 hours later I touched down. At least I’m finally realizing how valuable long flights are for seeing movies that I didn’t get to at the theaters. (I watched Batman v Superman on the flight back.)

A SuperShuttle ride later, I finally arrived at my hotel, where I got an upgrade to a corner room with two huge windows. Score!14853154_10111979800101454_6260553719131277184_o

Then it was off to the expo.

The convention center was also hosting Stan Lee’s Comic Con, so it was crowded x 100. I don’t typically spend much time at expos. I check out the official extra race gear options, then make my way to the exit.

I could definitely tell this expo appeared smaller than the other Rock ‘n’ Roll ones I’d been to this year, but it still contained all the usual suspects in terms of companies represented.

14900618_10111973022059704_5959426728734951942_nI dashed back to the hotel, got a shower and headed over to see Hollywood. I’m not sure what I expected, but I didn’t think the Walk of Fame would be so incredibly crowded with street performers. I immediately was not impressed and ready to get out of there. Too many people dressed in costumes trying to get money from tourists.

I walked around for a bit, then headed for the Griffith Observatory, which runs a 50-cent shuttle on weekends from the Vermont/Sunset metro stop. There, crowds also got in the way, this time via the insane number of cars trying to carve up the two-lane road to get to the observatory.

The wait was well worth it for the views.

14650311_10111973022912994_3125244481508418193_nI wandered around for a bit and took some photos, then it was time for pre-race dinner. I had picked out a burger place right around the corner from my hotel — The Counter — and it didn’t disappoint.

Next up: Bedtime. At 8:45. That’s the great thing about West Coast races. Even if I need to get up super early — 5:15 a.m. in this case — my body is still on East Coast time, making it easy to get to bed early.

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RACE DAY

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I woke up a little early race day after tossing and turning a bit. I ate, got dressed and made it to the We Run Social meetup at 6:15 at Staples Center. I met two other runners there — Melanie and Summer. We all needed to use the porta potties, but the lines were long. Summer mentioned her apartment was about a 5-minute walk away and asked if we want to just go there instead. Indoor bathroom pre-race? Yeah!

I arrived at my corral 5-7 minutes before the start. The first wave was released a couple minutes after the official wheelchairs, and I waited for the usual break up of Corral 2 and 3 and so on and so forth. Instead, I found myself walking quickly to the start line only a few minutes later, with no break in corrals despite being in the 5th one.

I’m guessing this was a result of road closures for the course, which wasn’t finalized until the last few weeks before the race because of all the road construction going on in the area. In fact, we did get an email emphasizing you needed to be in your corral by 6:55 or you wouldn’t be allowed across the start line!

In any event, we were off. I’d chatted very briefly with a husband and wife running duo before the start after they noticed my Chicago Marathon T-shirt and commented that they’d also done the race. Less than a quarter of a mile in, the husband found me, and we ran together through the first water stop.

Turns out, he’s run more than 500 marathons. I made him repeat that number three times. Surely, I’d misheard. The journalist in me kicked in. What is your favorite? Paris. Why? Because it’s Paris. Have you done London? No. When did you run your first marathon? 1994 … I ran 20-25 marathons a year for 20 years. How many half marathons? More than 125. Have you run New York? Yes, three times.

I would have liked to run with John for the entire race, but he surely got tired of my questions. Because of some vertigo issues, his wife usually runs slower than him, and they meet on the right hand side at the end of every water stop so she knows he’s OK. He patted me on the back when we reached the end of the first stop and wished me luck.

The course this year was essentially two out-and-backs. I saw on the course map ahead of time that there was some sort of circular pattern we went around a bit after mile 3, but I never looked at the course more closely. Turns out, we were set to run right around the Coliseum — and not just on the outside. They actually opened the gate and we ran right around the building, to the point that you could use the real restrooms inside the gates if you needed them.

14632962_10111979810196224_1142483704194968453_nI paused to take a photo at the water stop also stationed inside. It was too great of a shot to pass up.

After that, the race got a little boring for a while. There were still spectators and bands, but the run back to where we started seemed to drag a bit for me. I saw the first male finishers rushing toward the finish line as I passed by with half the race still to go. There was a slight uphill, but I saw a turn ahead.

I knew from looking at the elevation profile that there were some rolling hills on the course, but I wasn’t anticipating what I saw when I turned that corner. It ended up being the steepest hill of the race, but at that point I didn’t know that.

I walked for a good 2-3 minutes or so up most of the hill to save my legs. At that point, they were actually feeling great, but I knew there were still a lot of miles to go and I hadn’t run more than 6 miles since Chicago.

I was surprised when my time for that mile clocked in around 11:50. I figured it’d be much slower since I walked so long, but I must have picked up the pace enough on downhill to counter that.

The good news about turning that corner? The wind. Where it’d felt stagnant the first half of the race, there was a rather lovely breeze on the second half.

I never really struggled in the second half despite the continuous ups and downs. I focused on keeping a comfortable pace, not worrying about the watch. I walked a couple more times on some of the other steeper uphills — in addition to all the water stops as planned — to conserve my energy and legs.

Somewhere after mile 11, a spectator noticed my shirt and screamed “Chicago Marathon finisher!” shortly after I passed. I held my fist in the air and immediately heard the later part of his chant — “Fuck Yeah!”

It was pretty much the highlight of my race because despite being only 3 weeks off the marathon and struggling through runs two weeks earlier, I felt good.

I knew there was a gradual, decent uphill until about a half mile before the finish, but I never felt it — even though it’d seemed so apparent on the way out. The downhill finish, though, I definitely felt, and I cruised to the line passing lots of runners along the way.

img_2105The finish line didn’t have the usual horizontal banner, so it was harder to see. I knew from looking at my watch that I was super close to the finish, but I didn’t see it until less than a tenth of a mile away.

After the finish line, it was a bit of a walk to the L.A. Live stage area where I picked up my heavy medals. I’ve never seen a line for those medals before, but more and more folks must be earning them as it gets later and later in the season because I had to stand in a decent line.

The music from the stage was blaring and the heavy medal handout desk was way too close to it, especially when you need to shout and potentially spell your name. In addition to the Cali Combo medal, I got the super awesome, super heavy Stairway to Seven Medal.

I walked back to the hotel feeling great and super excited because Harry Potter was next!

THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER

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Let me be the millionth person to tell you this: Harry Potter world is amazing. Totally, utterly amazing. The detail in every little thing is done to the max, and it’s just so incredible. You feel like you’ve left Universal Studios and really entered Hogwarts and Hogsmeade.

14656421_10111979800690274_5857492887660101277_nThe bathrooms have Moaning Myrtle moaning through the speakers. The credit card machines have Gringot-inspired overlays. You can buy an interactive wand and cast spells to make items in windows of “closed” shops move. P.S. Butterbeer is way too sweet.

A smile plastered my face the entire time.

First stop: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. I’d heard how long the lines for this ride could get — 1-2 hours — and I was pleased when it took me less than a half hour to reach the front.

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While this ride has a single rider line, you absolutely MUST go through the normal, longer line at least once. This takes you through all the additional rooms set up just the way the books described them and the movies looked, including the Defense of the Dark Arts classroom, Dumbledore’s office and more.

Seriously, did I mention smile plastered on my face the entire time??

14695409_10111983205497014_4604070207089513030_nAfter exploring Harry Potter world for a couple hours (and purchasing a wand and some chocolate frogs), I took the Universal Studios tour, which ended up taking a total of two hours between the hour standing in line and the hour on the tour itself, but it was amazing to see where so many movies and TV shows have been filmed.

Next up: the Jurassic Park ride, where I got completely soaked because I sat in the absolute worst seat on a ride that normally doesn’t soak you. I ended up needing to buy leggings to change into immediately after.

14908376_10111979801473704_7823858121945752811_nAfter that, I decided to head back to Harry Potter for another ride on the Forbidden Journey, and to take one ride on the Flight of the Hippogriff.

While both rides are great, they could be a bit longer, especially the Hippogriff coaster, though I understand they had to deal with limited space and wanted to make it kid friendly.

I ended my trip with one night in Santa Monica, where I got another room upgrade (ocean view!) and walking around Monday morning on the pier and beach. It was great to see the Pacific Ocean again — for the third time this year … and ever, in fact.

14915522_10111987906730704_7826911999297153931_nThe view made me reflect on this year. I’ve been so blessed to experience so many different places, many of them through half marathons + the Chicago Marathon, and I’ve met so many people along the way, some of whom I’m sure will be lifelong friends.

I keep trying to add up the cities I’ve visited this year, and I never quite get there — I’m trying to do it in my head, afterall. In the end, I know that when the year is over, I will have lived my 30th year of life to the fullest — no excuses, no regrets.14947794_10111987906925314_5546790589476026310_n14639832_10111987906635894_8473317156876339298_n

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Race Review & Recap: Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia 5K & Half Marathon Weekend

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Well I meant write this up 3 weeks ago but things got crazy with work and vacation. So here we go, best I can remember it!

I drove up to Philly on Friday after sleeping in and arrived in town in the early afternoon. When I checked in, I found out I’d somehow booked a club room. I had no idea what that was.

Apparently it gives you access to a higher level floor, a club room with free drinks and fruit, and a free breakfast each morning — sweet!

I settled into the room and waited for Steff, my buddy and roomie, to arrive. She finally got there a little after 3 after dealing with insane traffic. We chatted a bit, then it was off to the expo for bib pickup!

After going too far down to enter the convention center — that thing is huge — we backtracked and found what we needed. It was a quick in and out with a couple stops at the Pro Compression and Sparkly Soul booths.

Next up: Reading Terminal!

I did this race last year, when it was moved to Halloween weekend because of the pope’s visit in September, but I never got into Reading Terminal — it was closed by the time I got there one evening.

So it was super cool to walk around and experience. I was hungry and hankering for some soft pretzels after Steff raved about them in Virginia Beach, so we found an Amish booth selling them.

We walked back to the hotel to indulge — and Steff rightly talked me into also getting a couple cheese whiz tubs to dip the pretzels into — then relaxed a bit before heading out to dinner. We met up with 4 other people — two of whom are also Rock ‘n’ Bloggers, and had a great time chatting and eating.

We made it back to the hotel around 9 or maybe a little before — I lost track. Steff and I quickly laid out our flat runners, and we were in bed by 9:30, with a 6:30 alarm set for the 5K.

SATURDAY — 5K

img_9890We met up with the group in the lobby at 7 and walked over to the race start. The weather was nice, almost “chilly” with temperatures around 60 and dew points in the 50s. Maybe fall is finally coming?

When we got to the start line, I hit up the porta potty, then the group walked over to the corrals. I split off about three minutes before the start. I wanted to start in my corral because I was planning to target a sub-30 time and I needed to work after the race.

Straight out of the gate, I could tell my legs were tired from the week’s workouts. So I decided to take it easy the first mile to warm up, then focus on speeding up the last two.

The first mile ticked off at 9:44, better than expected, and I pushed to pick up the pace slightly for a 9:29 second mile. I wanted to push to finish under a 9-minute mile for the final mile and got that in with a 8:53. I was able to pull out a little bit of a finishing kick — not much, but I was impressed I had any left.

Official time: 29:04.

14355096_10100633696080495_7798349414655124515_nAfter the race, I met up with Steff and some others, then basically hightailed it back to the hotel to shower and sign on for work. Steff got back to the room in the late afternoon after I finished and we spent time just lounging and chatting before going out for dinner.

When we got back to the room, I noticed a work email suggesting that something may be happening in New York’s Chelsea area. I turned on CNN, but it was too early for anyone to know anything — they weren’t even showing anything.

By that time it was 9:30 and time for bed. There was nothing I could do at that point to help with work — it would be another 2-3 hours before the dust settled and we knew what actually happened.

SUNDAY — HALF MARATHON

14317587_10111643982752114_7005900668718917234_nWe set our alarms for 6, and both Steff and I woke up a bit earlier than that. I called the front desk to see if the little Starbucks kiosk — which I could pick up anything I wanted for free because of the Club status — was open yet, and it was. I dashed downstairs to get milk for my usual race day cereal and grabbed a muffin and slice of coffee cake for after the race.

Pretty soon, we were walking to the race start. Albeit a little late for the scheduled 7 a.m. We Run Social meetup — and we had the flag. No worries, though. We got there about 7:10 and folks were still waiting for us. Walking to the start it was clear the humidity and temperature had taken a not-so-nice-turn overnight, but I didn’t think too much of it. At least it was cloudy.

The We Run Social meetup was at the top of the Rocky Steps. I got there with Briana ahead of the rest of the group and said, “We have to run up it.” And so we did.

I split off quickly from the group after a quick photo op because I needed to get to a porta potty. The lines were still a little long, but starting to wane with the race start only 10 minutes away. The race officially kicked off while I was still in line, but I cared 0%. I got my business done and tried to make it to my corral before it went off, but I ended up a corral or two back. Totally fine.

14358902_10100634827912295_8126908113514417012_nI actually ended up at the back of that corral too, and I was trying to run slower to simulate Chicago Marathon race day, so I found myself quickly not dealing with a pack. In fact, as we got to the fountain at the circle not too far from the start, a motorcycle came up beside me. It was the Rock ‘n’ Roll vehicle looking to grab some video of runners during the race. I did a quick cheer and was on my way.

I struggled to hit my pace. I set out to run no faster than 10:30 and kept coming in faster. Not a bad problem to have, but I knew with the heat and humidity of this race day that it meant running the first few miles of the Chicago Marathon slower would be incredibly difficult. I finally hit target pace at mile 4 — thanks to an uphill.

I loved the drums around that point and felt I was getting in a groove. Mile 5 dinged on my watch faster again, but it was a downhill, so I didn’t worry.

As we went into the more unpopulated Fairmount Park, I felt like I was running at the same effort, but my watch told me I was slowing down. I figured it meant there was either a slight uphill or the humidity was starting to get to me. By mile 6.5, I realized I was thoroughly soaked through, probably worse than during any of my summer long runs, even those in the sun! Usually I didn’t feel drenched until mile 8 of those long runs.

It was obvious lots of runners were taking more water than usual — some of the stations between miles 5 and 9 were having trouble keeping the first water tables filled with cups, but there was always a cup to grab, so it wasn’t an issue.

At this point, I knew I just needed to run by effort — which was equating to 11:00-11:10 minute miles at that point, including walk breaks through the water stops. I had figured I’d finish at 2:20 or a little faster, but that didn’t happen. Between mile 8 and the end of the race, I ended up dumping 3 water cups over my head  — which I’ve never done before — as well as stuffing some ice down the back of my bra. It was just. so. humid. I can’t even describe it.

After the bridge at mile 9, I felt we were going a little bit more downhill, and my pace picked up a bit. I wanted to finish strong, so I pushed for a faster final full mile and made it. Less than a mile from the finish line, though, I saw a collapsed runner. By the time I got to her position, there were already a dozen other runners surrounding her and help was on the way, so there was nothing more I could do. Only after the race, did I hear other runners talking about other folks they saw collapse on course. It was a hard day in the humidity.

At the finish line, I did the stupidest thing anyone could ever do 3 weeks out from a marathon — let alone their very first. I jumped at the finish line. And this wasn’t my normal little leap over the line. I had dreams of an epic race day photo of my heels all the way up in the air. I was thinking of those great shots you get when you jump in the air — while standing still.

While moving, it’s a totally different story.

And so I fell. And immediately thought, that was the absolute dumbest thing I’ve ever done. And then immediately thought, I need to get up immediately so no one thinks I’m really hurt and so I don’t impede other runners.

In the split second all this happened, I prayed I hadn’t really hurt anything. A sprained ankle was the last thing I needed. I got up and brushed myself off — it was simply some bruised knees. Well, one was lightly bleeding.

14292332_10111643983046524_1881103417338083372_nOfficial time: 2:23:19.

I met up with Steff and another runner friend, got all my extra medals, and then we chatted for a bit waiting for the other runner friends to finish. At this point, I was done. I was ready to get back to the hotel and get a shower. Everything was so thoroughly soaked in sweat that it was gross. And on top of it, I wanted to make sure to clean my knees. After a little bit of waiting, Steff and I called it — we both had to drive back to our respective homes, and had a checkout time of noon.

Showering felt amazing.

At the end of the day, this half reminded me it was still technically summer. And you have to plan for that. And it also reminded me just how hard it would be to slow my pace for Chicago — which promised to be in better, fall weather. (Oh, and I also found out, via Steff, that two of my running shoes were dead!)

And three weeks later, my left knee is still slightly scraped up — not yet fully healed. It doesn’t hurt, but it goes to show just how stupid a move that leap was at the finish line.

 

Reviews

Race Review & Recap: Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Half Marathon and Surviving Hermine

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Oh, Hermine.

You tried to ruin my race weekend in Virginia Beach, but you didn’t quite do it.

To be fair: I was disappointed that a great combination of beach weather and running weather  originally forecast for this past weekend — with sunny skies, low 70s for the start and low 60s dew points overall — didn’t pan out. That forecast would have given me some time to read on the beach and play in the ocean. I had a dream of finishing the half marathon and literally running into the sea. Alas, that was not on tap.

Instead, Tropical Storm Hermine — downgraded from a Category 1 hurricane — barreled up the East Coast, bringing insane winds and heavy rain.

***

FRIDAY

I woke up super early because I know how 95 can get on long holiday weekends. I got to my hotel around 9:15 and my room was already ready! Good thing, because I was beat and needed a nap.

After my nap, I felt unsettled. I decided to go for a run. I was supposed to do 6 miles on Thursday, but was too tired. So, I decided to run the boardwalk and maybe go to the expo right at the end.

The first mile flew by and felt super easy despite the pace my Garmin beeped at me. I reached the end of the boardwalk, turned around to head the other way and immediately knew why. I’d been running in a strong tailwind without even knowing it.

IMG_9810It was a struggle to run about 2.5 miles the other way to reach the other end of the boardwalk. There were a few stops to just rest and stare at the ocean. I realized a little more than halfway through 6 miles that I’d be way too sweaty and gross to run to the expo from the oceanfront, so I went up to my room to shower and change.

About halfway through the run, I also got the text that Saturday’s Mile on the Sand was canceled. Given the weather forecast and complicated logistics of trying to move the race to the boardwalk (which would still be blasted with wind and sand) or elsewhere, I wasn’t surprised.

Rock ‘n’ Roll knows how do to things right — and we would still get our medals and beach towel. They encouraged us to just do the mile virtually or run on the sand at another, more safe, time. They’d also been great about communication — sending out texts, emails and using social media to inform runners twice a day what the status of the races were. And it was a great call that they canceled the Mile on the Sand by 1 p.m. Friday, instead of potentially waiting until that evening.

The expo was a short 15-minute walk away, and I was basically in and out. I stopped only to talk to one of the CGI folks I know and to get some more Glukos gummies for my remaining super long run and the marathon itself. I also finally picked up my actual, physical TourPass, which I forgot to pick up at the other four Rock ‘n’ Roll races I’ve done this year.

I walked back to the hotel and got in my only time on the sand, dipping my ankles into the ocean, which was at the perfect warmth for going in deeper and playing in. But I wasn’t in my swimsuit and there were dangerous riptides anyway, so I didn’t go in any farther.

Then it was time to grab a snack and get ready for the happy hour Rock ‘n’ Roll put on at a nearby restaurant. I heard about it over the loudspeaker at the expo and it was at a place I had jotted down as having good dinner potential.

I ended up staying out until a bit before 11, enjoying some really great nachos with pulled pork and a few beers. Steff, her husband, and Gloria came by not too far into the happy hour and we had a great time catching up and chatting.

Walking back to the hotel, it was clear Hermine was coming. It was windier and I was a little cold. It was lightly raining, too. I got back at 11 and went right to sleep, only to wake up in the middle of the night to a roaring wind coming in through my air conditioner unit. I added interior air conditioning to my list of hotel perks to look for, put a pillow over my head — which I hate — and tried to get some decent sleep, but it was a toss-and-turn struggle.

***

SATURDAY

I woke up around 8 and peered outside. Hermine was almost at full force. I saw a person along the oceanfront and immediately thought, who is this crazy guy?! I Snapchatted that. Then a couple minutes later, I saw him still out there, but now he was gesturing. “Wait, is this a Weather Channel guy?!” I wondered, and Snapchatted. But where was his camera? Just on a balcony so it was out of the elements? I turned on my TV and found the Weather Channel. OMG! It is a Weather Channel meteorologist — Mike Seidel!

IMG_9828I spent the next half hour or so completely amused. Going back and forth between watching him on TV and watching him on the beach. At one point, two runners came down the boardwalk wearing their Mile on the Sand bibs — they were getting in that mile no matter what. Mike Seidel was able to get them live on TV, too.

After my amusement waned a little — but not much — I decided to do my Mile on the Sand as a Mile on the Treadmill While Looking at the Sand. I Snapchatted a couple more times while watching Seidel from my treadmill, and about a quarter mile into my walk, I noticed him leaving the beach.

I wondered if he was coming into my hotel, but after a minute figured maybe not. Then, he entered the hotel’s back entrance, which is right next to the workout room. I immediately knew I had to go talk to him and get a quote for USA TODAY. I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

So I stopped my treadmill walk, stalked him a bit and found him at a table in the breakfast area. He was completely soaked and busy trying to tweet out a video of himself at the beach. He was having quite a time with it because the screen protector on his phone had captured some moisture and wasn’t letting him type accurately.

IMG_9833It was clear he was super busy, and I found out he’d been on the road for 10 straight days, too. I got a couple good quotes, and then he needed to dash back outside. I went to finish up my last .75 on the treadmill, then got breakfast and went around interviewing a few of the other hotel guests so I’d have a nice feed to send to USA TODAY. A lot of the hotel guests were there for the race, and the feed I sent in ended up being posted as a separate story online and in print!

I basically spent the rest of the day in my hotel room. I had ventured out front around 10 — at the height of the storm — and it was insane, even under a covered awning. I can’t imagine being on the beach. The trees were bending at all sorts of crazy angles and the rain was coming in sideways.

I’d never experienced a tropical storm full on before and it was amazing to see the force of the Hermine and incredible waves it brought in.

A Rock n Blog meetup was canceled because of the weather, and I had brought food for lunch so I didn’t need to venture out. I took a nap — even though the wind was still blowing loudly through the AC (it finally stopped at the end of my nap), then went down for a dip in the pool before getting a shower and getting some pizza takeout for dinner.

The pizza was really good, but contained so much cheese that I knew wouldn’t be good for my stomach. So I had to slough some of it off and not finish the whole thing. The rest of the night I spent reading in bed. I was tired from my poor night’s sleep the night before and it was lights out at 9:30 with a 5:30 alarm set for the race.

***

SUNDAY

I definitely slept better and could feel it. I got ready and headed out the door a little after 6. I walked straight into a race shuttle I hadn’t planned on using, and decided to go for it — it’d get me to the start line faster.

IMG_9854I purchased VIP for this race, and I’m glad I did. I was thinking more about the after-race party, but it came in handy pre-race. I needed the bathroom when I got to the start line, and then needed it twice more before the start — my stomach was acting up a little. And the VIP bathrooms were indoors and there were zero lines. My stomach had started being funky Saturday, but I figured it was because my period started and I had hoped it would be done by Sunday.

We had a Rock ‘n’ Blog / We Run Social meetup before the race start but two seconds into that I felt I needed to go to the bathroom again, so I headed back to the VIP before getting a photo with the group. Sorry, guys!

I didn’t get what I needed to get done in the bathroom, so I stepped outside again only to have to go back a few minutes later, just 10-15 minutes before the start. But I finally could tell I was done with needing the bathroom. Phew.

Steff, Gloria and I had met another runner at the happy hour and she found us Sunday morning! I had talked to Steff about wanting to do around a 2:10 for this race, potentially a little faster if I could, and the other girl was willing to give it a shot. (P.S. Steff is super fast, so 2:10 is her long run pace!)

IMG_9838I had been concerned about running this race in just shorts and a tank given the wind forecast — at one point up to 20-30 mph sustained winds with 40-50 mph gusts. But on race morning, the winds had died down a lot. Still, I felt a little chilled until I’d walked around the convention center and VIP area. That’s when I knew I didn’t need the extra pullover long sleeve I’d brought just in case. I checked my bag super quickly in between the bathroom stops.

We started in corral 4, and the first few miles really flew by. I kept expecting to feel the wind, and anticipated a nice tailwind down Atlantic Avenue when we turned, but it didn’t manifest. Certainly not a bad thing, since that would have meant a strong headwind elsewhere on the course.

The other running lady stayed with us until mile 5 or so, then pulled back. Steph and I kept going, clocking in miles between 9:30 and 9:45 per the Garmin. I felt really good through mile 7 or so, but by mile 8 my legs were starting to hurt. I’d done no speedwork in the past six weeks and it was still rather warm and humid as race days come. Plus, we were losing time at the waterstops, where I started needing more time to get two cups instead of one and was walking a bit slower because of my legs. After mile 8, we hit the stop with Glukos and I struggled — once again — to get the gummies to open. It added on a good minute or more to our time, and I was only trying to get three or so into my stomach! One fell in my water cup and one or two fell on the ground. Ugh.

IMG_9853Miles 9-12 were a little bit of a struggle. My legs were hurting, so I backed off the pace a little, knowing once I hit that last mile that I would pick it back up. I made sure to get extra water in if I felt I needed it, too. My body kept telling me to walk, but I was too close to the finish line to give in and knew I’d feel awful if I did. Plus, I had Steff keeping my company!

I started feeling good again on the (slight) downhill around mile 12 — a bridge we needed to cross twice during the race. We turned onto the boardwalk a short time later, and I was ready to go. I ended up leaving Steff and then realizing half way through the boardwalk stretch that I’d gone off a bit too soon. I eased back a little bit, then picked it back up once the finish line was closer.

I expected the headwind on the boardwalk to be awful, but it was actually better than it had been when I did my 6 on Friday. Go figure!

IMG_9846I crossed the finish line in 2:09:39. Just under goal pace!

This was my fifth Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon of the year, which meant I got to pick up my heavy medal on race day! With the remix medal, it ended up being 4 medals for one race weekend!

Overall, Hermine had a minimal impact on Sunday race day. The wind was nowhere near as bad as forecast. I didn’t even feel it but for a couple of times during the race, most notably crossing the bridge on the way back in and on the boardwalk.

The race needed to ditch the inflatables, tall mileage signage (there were still short post mile markers) and the start and finish line banners, but it really didn’t affect the race much. There were still plenty of bands and spectators on the course.

IMG_9848I spent a couple hours at the VIP restaurant afterward, and I got some hushpuppies. I became obsessed with making sure I got some this weekend and the VIP restaurant served them during normal business hours so I asked the bartender if there was any way I could order some. I ended up taking them as takeout because they were so busy making tots for the VIP spread that it took awhile to get my hushpuppies into the fryer. But the wait was oh so worth it.

It was sunny on my short walk back to the hotel, and I really didn’t want to leave. Finally, decent beach weather! But it was, sadly, time to get a shower and hit the road.

IMG_9850

***

IMG_9844To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with my race. Even though 2:10 was my goal, I figured that wouldn’t feel too hard, and that if I pushed a little I could finish even faster.

I reminded myself I’d just run 18 a week before, and 6 on Friday, and it was hot and humid on race day. Perhaps if it was a nice fall race that I tapered for, then I could have run 2:05. Instead, I was pretty damn soaked in sweat by the end of this race and I’d  done zero speedwork to prepare.

If anything, this race gives me a great picture of where my fitness is right now, and the fact that it’s still summer. On the plus side, I expected to feel more stiff and achy later Sunday and into Monday, and I did not, so my body is still keeping on track with recovering well from workouts.

Next up: A 20-miler and Rock ‘n’ Roll Philly weekend with Steff!

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Reviews

Race Review & Recap: Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon Weekend

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After an insane 24 hours at work as a result of the devastating Nice, France, attacks, I got on a plane Friday evening to head to Chicago for a 4-day weekend of races and catching up with family.

I worked a bit from the airport and couldn’t believe it when news of the attempted Turkey coup came out — I didn’t think the day could actually get any crazier, but it did.

I was tired and hot and we sat on the tarmac at Reagan for a good 40 minutes or so. Someone got orders mixed up and loaded our plane with 8,000 pounds (!!!!) more fuel than we needed, because apparently that’s a thing that can actually happen. After the pilot initially said we might take off shortly and just “fly lower at 24,000 feet” to burn off more fuel, he announced we would “defuel,” but the process would take 20 minutes or so.

The plane was super hot and I was sweating like crazy. Fantastic.

Eventually we got off the ground and ended up basically landing on time despite the delay. The ride was a bumpy one — the seatbelt sign never turned off.

I got to Midway around 7:15 local time and caught a train. It was cool to finally get to ride the L in Chicago — and my stop ended up being right by the Chicago Theater.  A short Uber ride later, I was at my hotel around 8:30 or so. I got a shower and immediately went to bed, lights out at 9:30.

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ROCK ‘N’ ROLL CHICAGO 5K — SATURDAY

Great news. The race didn’t start until 7:30. That meant my alarm was set for 6:30. I woke up naturally a little earlier and ate my bagel before walking to the start. Even greater news: The weather was absolutely fabulous. Low 60s with a slight breeze and low humidity. Seriously, you cannot ask for anything better in Chicago in the summer (or D.C. for that matter). I smiled the entire walk over.

I got to the start line with not a lot of time to spare — I quickly picked up my bib since I didn’t make it into town early enough Friday to hit up the expo. I did gear check for my T-shirt (all the way back on the other side of the field) then got to my corral with just a couple minutes to spare.

The 5K course this year was different from last year’s, but still along the lakefront, which is so pretty. It definitely was getting hot in the sun by the end, but I enjoyed the race. The medal for this 5K was awesome and bigger than the half marathon one!

I planned to run slower — 10:30-11:00 pace but I ended up hitting a faster clip. My watch claimed the course was a bit short but we ran a good .1-.2 under a roadway so I’m guessing the GPS messed up there.

Final Official Time: 29:46, 9:35 pace.

I didn’t hang around the finish line and immediately walked back to my hotel, grabbed some second breakfast, then it was off to the expo!

13781941_10100595666327425_3360574231815698941_nThe expo is at McCormick Place, aka the farthest place away from downtown Chicago that costs some extra $$$ to Uber to because of tolls or something. Anyway, I got there a little after 9, got my bib and was done.

With the craziness of my workweek, I planned to take a nap both Saturday and Sunday after my races — I knew I needed rest. So that’s what I did — I got back to the hotel a little after 10 and took a 2-hour nap. It was amazing.

I woke up and it was time to find some lunch. I decided to walk to Navy Pier and maybe go to the pizza place down there. On the way, I ran into Steff and her crew! We chatted on the walk down and I ended up joining them for lunch and a walk after that eventually took us to the We Run Social meetup at the Bean at 4 p.m. My total active minutes per my Fitbit for Saturday because of all the walking was actually higher than Sunday!

It was so great catching up and talking to new runner friends, and I even showed them a couple cool local sites — Ohio Street Beach and the inside of the Chicago Tribune Building (seriously, that lobby).

13710518_10111178501305664_2022031705392572249_oBy the time we got to the Bean, I’d been in the sun for a bit longer than I planned, and I didn’t have any sunscreen on. I was anxious to get out of the sun because of that, so I wasn’t super social. I stayed for the photo and booked it back to the hotel.

… Except my Uber driver’s app messed up and he drove super far out of the way and it was 35 minutes before I actually got back to the hotel for what should have been a 5-minute drive to save my blistered foot. Oh well!

I got a few things together at the hotel, put a blister Band-Aid on my one toe — seriously, these things are lifesavers — then made my way to dinner at the same place I ate last year before the race — Sweetwater Tavern. I was back in my room by 7:30 or 8 to set out my race day gear and chill out on the bed — I stayed at the Sheraton Grand Chicago again, partially because I LOVE their beds.

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ROCK ‘N’ ROLL CHICAGO HALF MARATHON — SUNDAY

The plan: Wake up at 5 a.m., run a 2-mile warmup and then the half for 15.1 miles total for the day, my longest run ever — by .1 miles.

What actually happened…

I woke up a little before 5. I felt good. I thought, hmm, what if I did a 3-mile warmup. I can do that. I decided to wait and see how my legs felt before making a final decision, but to be honest, I’d already made up my mind to go for the 3-mile warmup.

13645212_10111180597963944_1931171777717873875_nI ran along the Chicago lakefront and it was gorgeous. There were some clouds and the sun peaking out through them gave a wonderful glow to everything. And the temperature — perfect once again. It was 65 with a light breeze and low humidity when I left my hotel.

13775853_10111183056397224_7842514632653356756_nI started running at 5:40 a.m. and got to the half marathon area about 10-15 minutes before the official start. I carried an 8-ounce water bottle with me so I would have some water before the race. I stood in a porta potty line that looked long, but actually moved pretty fast. I did my business and walked up to the start line as the gun went off for the elites. I took a quick photo then made my way to the corrals.

I hopped into corral 4 and saw Joe Harris, who I met in San Diego, and gave him a quick hug. I ran into him at the start of the 5K the day before, too!

Two seconds later, we were off.

CHI_16_courseMap_CE-2The weather was perfect for Chicago in July — cloudy with a light breeze staying for the entire race, in addition to that low humidity. I didn’t know how fast I was going because the buildings really throw the GPS off, so when I hit the official mile 3 marker under 30 minutes, I internally said to myself, “oh, shit.” I’d gone out too fast. I focused on walking slower through the water stops and trying to slow my overall pace down.

I eventually slowed, little by little, with a more major slowdown when I stopped to take gummies around mile 9. My legs and feet began feeling tired the last 4 miles or so — including the bottom of my feet, but I figured that was to be expected for running my farthest distance ever and being on my feet for much longer than I’m used to.

The final miles really ticked by, and the music that final stretch was great. I crossed the finish line, asked someone to take my photo, grabbed some chocolate milk and heard one of the race officials say “a storm is coming.”

Final Official Time: 2:17:49, 10:31 pace.

I made my way to the VIP tent to say hi to a few folks I knew would be in there (I didn’t have access this time), and that’s when I realized the storm that was coming was probably something I should pay attention to. After a brief stop, I began walking toward the end of the park and the lightning and thunder picked up.

13620093_10111183056487044_4834978493145567065_nI finally thought to pull up my weather app. I said, out-loud this time, “oh, shit.” Two other runners were standing near me and I told them I’d just pulled up the weather map. It wasn’t pretty. I spent a few minutes trying to catch a cab. (Uber was 5 minutes away.) Then, I started running.

I thought I’d need to run nearly a mile back to the hotel, but luckily after a quarter mile I saw a cab coming down the road. I waved him down and got in. A minute later it was absolutely pouring. I got back to the hotel, which has a overhang drop-off spot, and two seconds after stepping out a huge lightning strike and clap of thunder hit nearby.

“You got here just in time, didn’t you?” one of the hotel concierge’s said. Yes, yes I did.

I grabbed a cinnamon bun and went up to my hotel room to eat, take a shower and enjoy my second nap of the trip.

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13710588_10111196032433144_540867458942650989_oThe rest of my trip was highlighted by family time. I got up from my nap, ate a cheeseburger at the hotel restaurant and caught a train out to the suburbs, where I met up with my cousin and his wife. We spent some time at a local bar, then went back to their house for more partying and some pizza. Great times were had by all.

The next day, I headed over to grandma’s house, where I did a few chores to help her out. We got a family dinner that night then played some games before bedtime.

I woke up Tuesday with a sore throat, and I knew a cold was coming on. I went for a 3-mile run around grandma’s neighborhood, including two laps around the track at the high school my mom went to. On the way back, I stopped for some Zicam to try to stave off the cold, and some coffee, because coffee.

That afternoon it was time to head home. I really started to feel the cold coming on when I got back to my apartment, and I ended up needing to take Wednesday off work. So much for diving back into work and marathon training.

The rest of this week is up in the air. I know I’ll need to take another day or two off running and to scale back any runs I am able to go on late this week (when a heat wave kicks in — more fun!). But getting in those 16 miles Sunday gives me the confidence that taking a few days off running will not mean anything in the long run for running my first marathon in Chicago on Oct. 9.

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Half Marathon Reviews

Race Review & Recap: Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Half Marathon weekend

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What. An. Amazing. Weekend.

I’ve always wanted to visit San Diego, so what better way to see the sights than to travel there for an epic Rock ‘n’ Roll race event.

I arrived in town late Friday morning and immediately set out to walk to the San Diego Zoo located about 1.5 miles from my hotel, stopping at Starbucks along the way for some much-needed fuel. Power Lunch deal = stellar.

13310497_10110885700331164_3199726407134218220_nAfter a few hours touring the zoo, it was time to hit up packet pickup at the convention center. I didn’t spend much time at the booths, but made sure to stop by the Rock ‘n’ Roll Series one, where I realized the man sitting a couple seats away from me on my plane ride from D.C. to San Diego was actually Joe Harris, who’s completed an astounding more than 120 Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathons — the most of any person. I spent some time talking to him and meeting other phenomenal runners, including Kevin Gonzalez, who went on to run his 100th Rock ‘n’ Roll race Sunday.

After that, it was off to Seaport Village to check out the shops and grab dinner — pizza — ahead of the first race of the weekend: the 5K.

I walked back to my hotel in the evening, traipsing by Petco Park and meandering through Gaslamp Quarter on the way.

ROCK ‘N’ ROLL SAN DIEGO 5K — SATURDAY

The East Coast – West Coast time difference helps when you’re 3,000 miles away from home. I was in bed by 9 p.m. the night before the 5K and my 5:45 a.m. alarm felt like nothing.

13307384_10110889544851714_642382878174706671_nI ate a bagel, got my race clothes on and walked to the start a little less than a mile away. I walked around a bit when I arrived, even meeting someone who follows my blog! That was a real treat — I’ve never had someone come up to me before and recognize me in that way.

I noticed a line forming right at the start line and realized it was for Meb! I hopped into place and was able to get a photo with him before he needed to divert for a pre-race interview.

The race started at 7 a.m. and it wasn’t too long before my corral — No. 3 — took off. The announcers even said footage from our start would be used in their highlight reel.

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My goal was to run the 5K at a 10:30 pace — mainly to save my legs. But despite tired legs I felt good and overall I ended up at a 10-minute mile pace. Oops.

13346496_10110889544702014_1203875030910145372_nI ran into a young girl around mile 2, whose name was also Katharine (though who knows how she spells it — I doubt its the same spelling as mine!). I gave her a big thumbs up. I’d seen her ahead of me earlier in the race, and heard her father shouting words of encouragement from behind during the 5K.

Official finish time: 31:16, a 10:04 pace.

After the race, I stood in line to get a photo with Shalane Flanagan and Amy Cragg, two of our U.S. marathon Olympians. Worth. It.

Then, I went back to the hotel and cleaned up. After that, I took a trolley from Old Town to La Jolla Cove and Mission Beach, then checked out Cabrillo National Monument and Point Loma (amazing views) before heading to Coronado for dinner, complete with sweet potato fries — something I’m always excited to eat on a race night.

Notes for next time: Spend more time in La Jolla and Coronado.

I was in bed, lights out at 8:15. #Tired.

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ROCK ‘N’ ROLL SAN DIEGO HALF MARATHON — SUNDAY

13350298_10110909483998504_2894379081715169058_oThat early bedtime helped make it easier to get up at 5 a.m. (Thank you again, time difference working in my favor.) I ate my normal race day breakfast of cereal with milk and a bagel with cream cheese, then walked to the start.

I ran into another runner as I was exiting my hotel and we chatted until we got to the corrals, which helped pass the time. I lined up in corral 8 and about 10-15 minutes of the official 6:15 start, I was off.

The first two miles didn’t feel great. My mind started to go “oh, shit” because my legs were so tired and sore. But somewhere around mile 2, I was finally warmed up and felt good. My pace increased, and I didn’t even notice. I meant to run this race at 10:30-10:45 pace — again to save the legs — but like the 5K, I got caught up in the moment and ran faster.

IMG_9848This course is truly spectacular, though much hillier than the elevation profile suggests. I remember thinking the second half was mostly downhill, and while the data shows it was, there were enough uphills that you felt it.

There was one downhill — somewhere between mile 9 and 11 I think — that was so steep that I almost walked it because I was afraid of hurting something — and that’s coming from someone who loves downhill and is usually able to pick up the pace a bit there without any issue. I didn’t walk, but I did have to slow down substantially go get down without injury.

Around mile 8, I ran into a ton of folks from the We Run Social team, many of whom are also Rock ‘n’ Bloggers. They’d just run a half marathon the day before and were enjoying the scenery. At the mile 8 water stop, we all walked. I grabbed a Glukos gummy pack and actually ate all but two gummies, which is a feat for me. I’ve never been good about nutrition during races, not because of stomach issues but simply because I’m not hungry and don’t feel like walking, which seems like the only way to get it down easily.

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13340201_10110909483988524_1319904212426562301_oI walked for a bit with the We Run Social crew, a little more than a quarter mile, then took off. At this point, the race just flew by, and soon the finish line was in sight.

While the course might have been hillier than anticipated, it was still a great one. Shalane even ran a huge PR on it. The crowd support along the way was incredible, especially in Normal Heights — that was probably my favorite point of the race.

The temperature was great — in the low 60s the whole way with a nice breeze. Folks were talking about how humid it was, but coming from D.C., I didn’t really feel it personally — it’s all about what you’re accustomed to!

Official finish time: 2:14:58, 10:18 pace

The finish line festival area was fabulous, but I didn’t stick around long at all. I hadn’t done gear check and was immediately freezing after crossing the finish line — that breeze and low 60s temperature was just enough for me that I needed more layers after sweating a decent amount on the run.

As I was in the final stretch, the lead car for the marathon runners came up on the left side, where there was a separate lane for marathon finishers — the top finisher was just a few minutes away. After I crossed the line, I waited and got a shot of the winner cutting through the finish line tape. His finish time was 2:26 something… just 10 minutes slower than what it took me to complete half the distance. Crazy.

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13327588_10110898223015604_8454908728783117861_nI walked back to the hotel and simply enjoyed not rushing around anywhere — there was a We Run Social meetup at 11:30, so I just spent a bit of time lounging on the bed watching whatever channel it was that decided to have a Jurassic Park weekend playing all the series of movies a bunch.

Eventually, I made my way to the meetup. I stupidly decided to take an Uber to it, thinking there must be some way to get through the runners. I had to bail about a half mile or less into the ride and walk the remainder of the way, which wasn’t too bad but my legs were seriously tired.

To cap such an amazing day, I took a surf lesson in the early evening. I didn’t know how I would do. My goal was just to get up and stay up on the board one time. Instead, I ended up catching more than 20 waves. The first few were wobbly with some early falls, but after that I was solid.

It was the perfect epic end to an epic race weekend.

That night, I slept 10.5 hours. I spent some time in Monday morning walking around the waterfront, checking out the USS Midway and a few other Navy memorials, before catching my flight home.

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Reviews

Review: Apera Tech Backpack

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I’ve used this backpack for a year and a half now for work and exercise and I cannot imagine my life without it.

A friend introduced me to Apera a few years ago, and I bought a duffel bag as my first purchase. I loved it, but for the daily carry into the office and lug down to the gym, I thought a backpack that fit both my work and workout gear might be easier.

At least a few day a week, I cart a set of workout clothes and running shoes in my tech pack in addition to my laptop, small purse and makeup bag. I either get my workout in before the day begins or cart the pack down to the gym as a midday break.

The antimicrobial fabric and inserted bag for sweat-soaked clothes does wonders at keeping odors at bay, although after a year and a half, I’m finding I need to wrap the separate bag in an additional layer of plastic to firmly keep any noxious smells at bay.

On the front of the pack are two ventilated zip-up shoe enclosures for my running shoes. These work wonders. Plus, there’s multiple pockets throughout the pack, including at the front, at the top and on the side. There’s another zip pocket inside the main part of the bag, which is separate from the last part where you store your laptop and other work items. In that pocket, I store my extra chargers and cords as well as any other accessories I may need on the go.

The top pocket holds my earbuds and keys, along with additional items I need easy access to. The front pocket always contains my work ID that’s needed to get in the building.

I pretty much take this bag with me everywhere — from trips to work to just going over to my parents place — it’s the perfect size and holds what I need regardless of what I’m doing. If I’m dashing out the door in my running gear and need a change of clothes later, it holds it. Or if I want to fit in a yoga session, it easily contains those clothes, too.

It’s so super functional that I don’t know how I managed without it.

I checked out Apera’s site recently, and they no longer sell this exact backpack, but they have a wide range of other bags in some super stylish designs. I can’t imagine they’re anything less than I would expect.

 

Reviews

Review: Balegas are the best running socks — ever

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I’ve been running in Balega socks — finally forgoing my cheap cotton pairs — for a few years now after a friend recommended them to me.

This year, I joined the Balega ambassador team — we’re called impis, a Zulu word roughly translating into “warrior.” I couldn’t have been more stoked to represent a brand I love and strongly feel creates the best running sock out there.

Ultralight No Show

Ultralight No Show

Why are they so great? They’re super soft, moisture-wicking, blister-resistant, arch-supporting miracles that keep my feet feeling fresh no matter how much I’m sweating or how wet they get from the elements. I’ve used these socks to run a half marathon in the rain and while dashing through the snow — with my YakTraks of course.

And more than all that — they last. While other brands I’ve bought have faded and grown stiffer over time as they’ve gone through multiple washes, my Balega socks retain their comfy feel through thick and thin.

My first thought when taking my laundry out is did all my Balega pairs make it through the sock-eating machine that is the dryer. So far, phew, they have.

A bit after the new year, Balega sent me a bunch of socks as part of the ambassadorship, including types I might not usually buy in store. I’ve gravitated toward the thinner versions of the socks — the Second Skin Fit Ultralight No Shows are my favorite — since I began using them. While I still love those types the best, it’s been great to try out some of the more normal weight and even heavier types of Balegas.

Enduro No Show

Enduro No Show

The Hidden Comfort is one of Balegas best-selling socks, and I certainly see why. These socks are medium-weight and, well, comfy. I like wearing these for colder runs or during my strength training workouts at the gym. The Enduro No Show feel very similar to me.

I also got a pair of Weightless Hidden socks, which are a little thinner than the Ultralights. I love them, especially for hotter days or my tighter pair of running shoes.

I cannot imagine my running life and feet without these wonderful socks. Here’s to many more runs in them to come.

 

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Reviews

Review: Eagle Creek Pack-It Sport

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As part of my affiliation with Rock ‘n’ Blog, I received some Eagle Creek Pack-It Sport products to try out. And I am absolutely, utterly in love.

That’s without actually, technically going for a run using the items. I took the Fitness Locker and Shoe Locker with me on my work trip to Wilkes-Barre, Pa., last week. I just didn’t get a run in because of the weather conditions.

IMG_9342Regardless, these products are great. I used to pack race day gear in Ziploc bags — no longer! And even if I’m just planning to go for a run or two while I’m on a trip, I can keep everything separated and neat. Thank you, order.

This system uses ventilated, antimicrobial fabric for odor control that’s also water repellent and washable. Each item I received, which included the roll-top sac in addition to the ones mentioned above, has a little handle that makes picking up or dragging out whatever you need super easy.

The Fitness Locker fit all I needed for what would have been a run on a somewhat chilly, rainy day — running capris, a T-shirt, sports bra, socks, a long-sleeve pullover, GPS watch and hat. I could have stuffed even more in the bag if I wanted. The only time it might not fit all I needed would be for the coldest of the coldest workouts in the winter — when I wear thick Polartec tights, multiple long-sleeve layers and a jacket.

IMG_9338The Shoe Locker fit my shoes perfectly, and there was room to spare to toss in a few more items if needed, but ultimately I just loved having a place to put my running shoes in my suitcase without them touching my clean clothes or needing to use a grocery store plastic bag.

I didn’t end up going for the run I planned in Pennsylvania because of thunderstorms nearby, but the short trip clearly showed the Eagle Creek Pack-It Sport is going to be a vital part of my travel race packing. And whenever I’m done with a run, I know I can just stuff my stinky clothes back into the lockers or sac to keep them separated from the rest of my non-smelly gear.

I can’t wait to use Eagle Creek Pack-It Sport lockers for the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego 5K and Half Marathon coming up!