24 September, 2014

Top Ten

Now that I've run in TEN half-marathons, I figure that I have enough experience to write a top-ten list.  All of my races have had wonderful aspects that I genuinely enjoyed, and I wouldn't say that I hated running in any of them.  And because I'm a slow/beginning runner, I'm pretty sure that my list wouldn't match up with most other people's lists.  Just the same, here we go:

10. ODDyssey Half 2014.  Aside from the brutal hills, I also didn't like the fact that they advertised extra activities, but I didn't even see most of those as I ran by.  Best thing: free pint glass!
9. Celebration Half Marathon 2014. This was the inaugural year for Celebration, and I wanted to like it so much.  Unfortunately, the part that I remember the most was the miles of running through neighborhoods with almost no spectators.  Best thing: running on the boardwalks through wetlands.
8. Sarasota Half Marathon 2014. I love bridges!  And I loved the first 4ish miles of this race because of the out and back picturesque bridge run.  Unfortunately, the middle third of the race was on the most uninspiring stretch of road I've ever run on.  Best thing: running the Ringling Causeway Bridge.
7. Melbourne Half Marathon 2014. It's possible I said it before (one paragraph ago?), but I love bridges!  The bridges at Melbourne kicked my @$$, and I loved every second of it!  Honestly, I'd say I loved about 12 miles of this race.  But it lost a lot of its charm in the final mile, when I was running against the stream of people walking from the finish line to the after party.  The after-party was also too crowded to be worth my while.  Best thing: cresting the second bridge and being above the fog.  It was like being in Heaven!
6. Princess Half Marathon 2013. As my first half-marathon, I thought I'd rank this one high just for the sake of sentimentality.  However, I was stressed, had to stop to un-tape a toe, my phone died, and boy howdy are Disney races crowded!  I'm surprised I didn't bother writing a recap, but I think that speaks to my emotional state and other crap in my life than anything about the actual race.  Best thing: accomplishing a goal I never dreamed I could!
5. Princess Half Marathon 2014.  This was the third time I ran this course, and I found a certain comfort in that.  It was also the first time I did a "challenge," by completing a 10K the morning before.  I enjoyed running Princess 2014 way more than 2013, and I still tear up when I read my recap.  Best thing: pushing myself farther and faster than ever before, and being rewarded with a shiny glass slipper medal!
4. OUC Orlando Half 2013. For my third half marathon, I stupidly registered for a race 6 days after my second half marathon!  My legs were wobbly and uncooperative from the start.  I was ready to quit, until I met a fellow runner also struggling and miserable - Jackie.  She and I trudged through that race together, and made it not suck.  I really want to do this one again, now that my legs are a little more functional.  Best thing: making a new friend. The course was lovely as well.
3. WDW Half Marathon 2014. The reason this race ends up higher than my other Disney races can be summed up in one word: Cat.  This was the first time I started and ended a race with a friend, and it was wonderful.  Our time sucked, but we had a great time.  Best thing: memories to last a lifetime.
2. Marine Corps Half Marathon 2014. This race was book-ended by a long road trip with lots of laughs. Jackie and I had a really fun weekend.  The pre-race activities, the actual race, and even the after party were all really well done. Best thing: gaining a helluva lot of respect for the Marines.
1. Space Coast Half Marathon 2013. Of all the races on my fall calendar, this year's Space Coast is the one I'm most looking forward to.  I loved the race, the after-party, the volunteers, and the crowd support along the course.  Best thing: a fun, flat course and a fun space theme!

...and while I'm ranking things, why not rank the bling?

10. Sarasota -- I made the mistake of running this race for the bling...and then the medal was so ugly I could've cried.  This is when I learned the valuable lesson that you should never sign up for a race for the medal.
9. Melbourne -- I'm not a fan of having a sponsor logo on a medal.
8. Celebration -- the color scheme and design of this medal were both misses for me.
7. ODDyssey -- it's ok, but small and the 3-D design is awkward from most angles.
6. Princess 2014 -- this is the point where ranking got really hard, because I **love** all of these.
5. Orlando -- I'm a sucker for a round medal, because they make me feel like I have an Olympic medal around my neck.
4. Marine Corps -- it's simple, the Marine Corps logo is prominent, and somehow even the olive drab ribbon is appropriate.
3. Space Coast -- it's huge and sparkly, and the one that everyone else seems instantly drawn to. maybe it's not my favorite because I love an underdog?
2. See #5 regarding round medals.  Then add Donald Duck and a solid gold color.  Yep, I love this medal!
1. Princess 2013 -- 5 pink gemstones, a sparkly tiara, and a heart combined with my own sentimentality.  I'll always have a soft spot for my first!

Race Recap: Marine Corps Half Marathon

I don’t think I can say enough positive things about this race.  The expo was held in conjunction with a local festival (at which I spent a whopping $2 on a pumpkin pie Rita’s), and packet pick-up also included a free pasta dinner.  I got my race bag from a nice man named Dennis, who snuck two extra safety pins in my bag when I commented about stealing the extra two that Jackie wasn’t going to be using.  We ran into him two other times the following day, and he was incredibly friendly both times.  He told us that this race was the original Marine Corps Half, and that they are happy that they get to show off the base to people who might otherwise not get to see it.  He also told us that we had the best weather they’ve had in 20 years.  We were definitely happy we got to enjoy that!

After we picked up our packets, I sheepishly asked a group of three Marines if I could be tacky and ask them to pose for a photo.  They obliged, and a woman standing nearby forced two other ones to get in the picture as well.  It just might be my favorite pre-race photo yet (or maybe a close second to the one with the astronaut mural from before last year’s Space Coast Half)!  Someone with the event also asked if he could take the same photo – lord knows where that’ll end up!

With only about 1,100 runners registered (less than 1,000 finished), the race really wasn’t crowded at all after the first mile.  Jackie and I settled into a good pace and set off on our own race, not paying attention to the hundreds of people who took off so quickly we couldn’t see them again!  We talked and laughed (the theme of the weekend), enjoyed the eye candy, and watched the miles roll by.  Jackie was having a problem with an anti-blister pad on her heel giving her a blister, so we stopped just after the mile 4 water station so she could yank it out.  The break gave me a chance to stretch my ham strings, which is always a bonus!

The course ran through Camp Lejeune.  We saw all sorts of fitness stations – climbing ropes, pull-up bars, giant tires… -- and joked about stopping to take silly pictures, but I thought that I might be at a PR pace and it stopped me from wanting to spend too much time horsing around.  In addition to the fitness stations, we seemed to run past housing for Marines of increasing rank.  We started going past barracks and “bachelor housing” (which reminded me of the fact that the AK gorillas are divided into the family group and the bachelor group), cute little single-family homes, and then two-story homes across the street from the water.  I was about to ask what you have to rank to get a two-story house, and then noticed that the little name plates at the foot of each driveway had rank and last name.  Mystery solved!  I saw a few Majors and Commanders, and then stopped paying attention.

The water stops were all manned by Marines in their cute little matching track suits.  They were Disney-friendly – making eye contact, smiling, and some yelling encouragement.  Even the ones doing traffic control (obviously on duty, judging by the side arms and uniforms) were friendly as we passed.  I’m not sure why I expected them to be scowling and judgmental about us slowpokes running through their base, but I’m so happy that they weren’t!

…and while we’re on the subject of the Marines, I think now is a good time to have a quick side note about running on the base.  It was humbling for me.  I realized pretty quickly that I needed to stop calling the Marines “kids,” even though many were practically half my age.  (reality gut-check: some of them were born the year I graduated from high school)  It’s disrespectful to refer to someone dedicated to God and Country, willing to die for said Country, and more committed to that job than I’ve probably ever been to anything as a “kid.”  I also noticed a handful of the people competing in the wheelchair division were wearing shirts that identified them as disabled veterans.  Wow.  I’m not sure I can even begin to put into words what it was like to come face-to-face with just a tiny bit of what I only half pay attention to on the evening news.  I definitely complained less about my sore feet and shin splints than I normally do, and that had A LOT to do with my surroundings.  Also, after the race our buddy Dennis told us that there was an 88-year-old retired Sgt. Major participating.  I checked the results, and it looks like he was the last one to cross the finish line at just about 5 hours.  When I’m 88, I hope I’m still that tough!

Around mile 9 or 10, Jackie and I pretty much stopped talking.  I think we were both trying to keep ourselves motivated to not slow the other one down.  In the last race we ran together, I noticed that my run pace was faster than hers toward the end, but that she walks faster than I do.  We were doing that again, and sort of leap-frogging each other.  Mile 9 was also the point I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the water stations were now every mile, instead of only on the even miles.  Thanks to the excuse to walk while drinking a tiny cup of water, we were actually able to maintain our intervals with no extra walk breaks.  This is the first time I was able to accomplish that with the 25/40 intervals (and the reason I bumped the intervals up to 30/40 on this morning’s run).  By mile 9 or 10 of Sarasota, those same intervals had kicked my butt!

As we approached the finish, we were able to “run it in” to the finish line from a further distance than I usually can.  A nice (female) Marine put my medal around my neck.  Jackie and I congratulated a woman we leap-frogged during the race – 50 years old with 5 kids and a grandkid, running in her first half-marathon alongside her Marine husband.  They were pushing a stroller through the whole thing as well, and finished probably a minute ahead of us.  And we traded phones with that couple so that they could have a finisher photo together, and so that Jackie and I could do the same.

As far as post-race parties go, this one was pretty standard.  We got baggies with assorted fresh fruit, and they had water, Powerade, and even burgers available.  Beer was there for purchase, and there was a pretty decent band playing.  Since I’m not a fan of the giant post-race festivals, this small gathering was just my speed.  There was plenty of space to sit, wander, eat, and talk without my crowd-phobia kicking in at all.

I’m actually sad that this race is 10+ hours from home, because I genuinely enjoyed it and would love to do it every year.  Now that I’ve hit ten (TEN?? Yes, ten!!) half-marathons, I’m planning on ranking the races (and, separately, the medals) in a future post.  This race is going to be very close to the top.

So…how’d I do?  Thanks for asking!

Chip Time: 3:03:04 **PR** (by 4:15)
Pace: 13:59 min/mile
Overall Place: 905/964
Women’s Rank: 459/504

My Splits (according to RunKeeper):
Mile 1: 12:52
Mile 2: 13:04
Mile 3: 13:23
Mile 4: 13:30
Mile 5: 14:30 (includes our shoe-fix stop)
Mile 6: 13:35
Mile 7: 13:44
Mile 8: 13:30
Mile 9: 13:48
Mile 10: 13:28
Mile 11: 14:13
Mile 12: 13:37
Mile 13: 14:09

I had a massive runner’s high after this race like nothing I’d ever experienced before.  I was incredibly proud of my PR (although I didn’t realize until just now that it was 4+ minutes), and that I finally hit my goal of a sub-14 pace.  Jackie and I were both basically euphoric at the after-party, and neither of us managed a post-race nap.  I did have multiple laughing-with-tears episodes, one of which turned into a full-on ugly cry.  It’s always embarrassing when that happens, but I guess just had more emotions than I could process at one time!

It was a great race, and an amazingly fun weekend.  I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard, so often, for so many days straight.  Getting in and out of the car on the drive home Sunday was even funny, because we were both moaning, groaning, and limping every time.