Sunday, July 1, 2018

State #40, Sunburst Half Marathon, South Bend, IN, 6/2/18, Part 2

The whole family was up by 5:15 am and out the door by about 5:45. The Sunburst Half Marathon start time was 6:30 am, and I didn’t want to be late. Craig and the girls dropped me off at Four Winds Field (the starting line area) with plenty of time to spare. I tried to do some light stretching before the starting line up began.
Race start headquarters, early morning June 2nd.
The race was well organized. There were plenty of porta potties at the start, and regular announcements were made by the dj to keep runners aware of the timeline for the morning. The race stepped off promptly at 6:30 after the National Anthem was sung. 
Starting line view.
We began by running through the downtown streets of South Bend. It reminded me very much of many of the other small midwestern cities I’ve run in. There were 3 or 4 story brick buildings hallmarking the streets. Mostly, it seemed we were in a small business area. I lined up with the 1:50 pacing group, knowing it was probably too fast for me, but hoping I could stay with them for at least a little while. 
One of our first sights was crossing the river. We went over a bridge that gave us a lovely view of the water flowing over a small dam on the river. It was a nice way to start the run in the early morning. We zig zagged through some business/residential streets until we came out along the river on a nice paved path.
We continued along the river path for a bit, then went back in to some residential streets followed by a return to the river path. Being unfamiliar with the area, I’m not sure of the reason for having to leave the path and then go back to it, but it was all nice running. 
Once we were back on the paved river path, we stayed there until about mile 5 or so. It was really nice with little parks sprinkled along the way and some interesting stonework, too. We crossed a couple of footbridges before making the turn to come back up the river on the other side. This side, too, had a paved path along nice neighborhoods. All in all, it was pleasant. The only difficult thing was that despite the relatively cool temperatures in the low 60’s, the air was very muggy, so breathing felt harder than it should have. There was also a ton of pollen in the air (which I had already been suffering from pretty badly at home) so that wasn’t the easiest thing either. Let’s just say I sniffed and spat my way along that riverfront area. I’m sure I was a pretty unpleasant runner to my fellow participants, but hey, you have to do what it takes to get from point A to point B.
We returned along the river and made a turn through Indiana University’s campus at one point before heading back into some of the residential areas we passed at the start of the race. We stayed mostly in residential areas until mile 11 where we hit the largest hill of the race near a medical center. Once I got up that hill, I knew that I wasn’t too far away. The 2 hour pacing group hadn’t caught up to me yet, so if I could just keep a good pace, I’d break 2 hours which was my goal. At mile 12 we turned on to a pretty main road and far off in the distance I could see the golden dome of Notre Dame! I took out my camera to snap a picture. It was definitely a sight for sore eyes!
Can you spy the dome way off in the distance?
The rest of the race, I just tried to keep my breathing controlled and my steps light and quick. Just before one of the final turns to the race, there was a woman holding a sign that said .87 to go! I thought that was kind of funny, so I snapped a shot as I ran by. Less than a mile…
This way to the finish line!
I ran through the next streets and turned left on to a “main street” area that had restaurants, shops, bars and a band playing. It was all brand new and so close to the ND campus. It definitely wasn’t there when my husband was a student. What a nice addition to the area for the university! 
Waving to my family as I head toward the stadium.
Running in to the ND football stadium, phone filming.
I plugged along in the heat and humidity waiting to catch a glimpse of the stadium where the finish line was. It seemed to take FOREVER to get there. As I turned the corner to get in to the stadium, there was my family cheering me on and taking photos! I still had my phone in my hand so I could capture my entry into the stadium and on to the field. What fun it was pretending to be a Notre Dame champion! I crossed the finish line in 1:57:43 meeting my goal of sub-2 hours. (Below is the video I took while running in to the football stadium.)

The stadium was gorgeous and filled with lots of activity as runners finished and the announcer called out the finisher names. Fans were in the stands cheering on their runners. I snapped a few shots of the stadium and then headed out the exit in to the food and recovery area. I picked up my medal (substantial and colorful) and some fresh fruit on my way to find Craig and the girls. We found each other finally and enjoyed a fun walk around the campus a bit on our way back to the hotel. We took some fun pictures here and there. 
Happy to be across the finish line.
Inside the stadium.
Panoramic view of the stadium.
Finding my family as I exit the runners finishing zone.
Notre Dame class of 2029 ? Or maybe Purdue?
Outside the stadium as we walked back to the hotel.

Giving Touchdown Jesus a double high five. 
Detail of mural on ND library, aka "Touchdown Jesus."

It also happened to be alumni weekend at ND, but we didn't participate in any alumni events.
Visiting the campus grotto. Very similar to one at my alma mater, Stonehill College in MA.
After some stretch out time and a shower, we all walked back to the campus for more exploring. We visited the basilica which was spectacularly beautiful, then made our way to the bookstore for some ND souvenirs. 
Gearing up at the ND bookstore.
Basilica on the ND campus.
Inside the Basilica. 
More inside views. 
One of the new buildings on campus. 
We all picked out our Notre Dame gear and then headed to an Irish Pub called O’Rourke’s back in that new restaurant/shop area I had run through. We had an enjoyable lunch, then walked back to the hotel where I took a nap and the kids went swimming with their dad. When they were done, Craig took a nap and I took the kids out for ice cream. Why is it kids never get tired??!!
Race shirt, bib and medal.
We enjoyed a nice dinner out at an Italian restaurant in the area called Carmela’s. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at the new Notre Dame 18 hole golf course for a bit of looking around. It was a gorgeous course and we decided we all want to come back and play it next time. Before we knew it, it was 8:30 pm and we had to return to the hotel to pack and hit the pillow. Our flight the next morning was at 7 am so we needed to be up at 5:15 again. Thank goodness for those nap times today!
We left Indiana with our hearts (and souvenir bags) full. It was a quick but wonderful trip with family and school memories. The Sunburst Half is a nice (mostly flat) race with a great finish line vibe. Indiana is in the books at #40. Only 10 more to go!
Indiana card.

State #40, Sunburst Half Marathon, South Bend, IN, 6/2/18, Part 1

Half marathon in state #40 brings me Indiana. I chose the Sunburst Half Marathon in South Bend due to its finish inside the Notre Dame football stadium. My husband graduated from Notre Dame, so I knew this would be a special place to visit again and experience as a half marathon location.
As far back as my children can remember, they’ve been hearing about dad’s time at Notre Dame. In fact, someone gave our first born a board book of Notre Dame landmarks: the dome, touchdown Jesus, the grotto, the leprechaun, etc. Both of our kids knew all about that stuff, so we thought it would be great to make this a family race trip. Also, my husband’s cousin and uncle live not too far from there, so we wanted our kids to get out and get to know their family from the midwest a little better.
The golden dome on campus at the University of Notre Dame.
We flew out after school on Thursday and eventually made it to South Bend after a flight delay. We all crashed in to bed when we arrived and woke up the next morning ready for a day of visiting with family. My husband’s cousin, Stephanie, and her husband Scott live about an hour and half or so from South Bend on a large farm. We arrived to find Stephanie waiting to greet us with her daughters, Anna & Emelia, there as well to meet their cousins. Our kids met many years ago when they came to Connecticut for a visit, but our kids were so young, they don’t really remember much about that visit. 
We said our hellos and then promptly got a tour of their home and barn. They have three horses and several goats, some of which were new baby goats! It was so fun to see these little goats and have some petting time with them! The horses were beautuful, named Indy, Solo and Mocha. Steph even gave our girls miniature toy horses as gifts to match. We walked all through the barn to see the horse stalls and hay area. We saw their bunnies and their new baby chicks, too! Oh what fun we had seeing how the farm works!
Meeting the horses and goats.
So fun watching the little goats!
Learning about the horses.
Getting a tour of the barn. 
Meeting the bunny.
Hanging out with the baby chicks.
So many baby chicks!
Next, Anna drove us in their golf cart out to the pond on their land. They own about 80 acres, so we took a nice scenic drive along the grassy path that leads around the land. We passed by their woods and fruit trees out to the pond area. The pond is a man-made feature they created by damming part of the area. They have a small sandy patch and a little dock. They have it stocked with fish and also use it as a swimming hole. It was fun to check it out. 
Playing outside at the farm.
We returned back to the house where the kids played on the playscape while my husband and I chatted with Steph about their garden beds. She harvested a bit of asparagus while we talked. Scott returned home about then, and we greeted him with warm wishes and hugs. We all piled back inside the house to enjoy an amazing smorgasbord of antipasti for lunch: cheeses, meats, olives, crackers, chickpeas, fruit, sweets and best of all Steph’s homemade goat cheese from their own goat milk on the farm. OMG! The best! It was the perfect way to lunch for our large group. 
We chatted for a bit about school for our kids, family history, my race in South Bend and lots of other stuff. Then we piled in our cars for the next big treat on this special family day…a visit to the lake!
Steph’s dad (my husband’s Uncle Steve) lives a little over an hour from the farm in the lakes region of Indiana on a lake called Sawmill Lake. We enjoyed a drive out there and a stop at the local grocery store en route. When my husband was in college at ND, he would often visit Uncle Steve and Aunt Sandy at the lake to help them with their house. They were renovating it for full-time residency. It helped him tremendously with the loneliness of being far away from home, and they loved seeing him and having his help. 
As we pulled up to the house, Steve came out and was all smiles. It was so good to see him! I hadn’t seen him since Steph and Scott got married (17 years ago!), and sadly, Aunt Sandy passed about 7 years ago. Big hugs ensued, and as an added surprise bonus, Steph’s brother Tony and his wife Lynn and their daughter Jessica were all there, too! It was so wonderful to see them all. The girls all played together down by the water as the adults had some time for chatting.
My little ones checking out the lake scene.
Cousins together at the lake.
Although I remembered the house as it looked, I couldn’t really remember the lake very well. After some much needed family visiting time and fun game playing and a fab cookout, Steve gave us a boat tour of 4 of the connected lakes: Sawmill, Irish, Sechrist and Little Barbee. It was a gorgeous evening, and a scenic ride around the lake was the perfect way to spend the time after dinner. 
Uncle Steve, our captain.
Family boat ride on the lake. 
After the boat ride, we had to be mindful of time. Race morning was the next day which would mean a very early wake up time for us. Despite wanting to stay longer, we said our goodbyes until next time, which we vowed would be sooner rather than later. 
Cousins, new friends. 
Our drive back to South Bend was fine, and after a quick stop for some race necessities, we got back and went straight to bed. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

State #39, Skidaway Island Optim Orthopedics Half Marathon, Savannah, GA, 3/24/18, Part 2

Thankfully, my pre-race sleep was much better than the previous night, and I woke after a pretty solid 7 hours of rest. My morning routine moved along nicely with coffee, stretching, dressing, packing, breakfast…the usual. I realized about ten minutes before I planned to leave that I needed to call the front desk to have my rental car taken out of the valet lot (the hotel was valet parking only). Of course, I couldn’t find the valet ticket with my claim number on it! Grrrr! Now I was worried I’d leave late and miss the start of the race. Thankfully, they were able to sort it out for me, but it was a little bit of a challenge due to the fact that there was another car that looked just like mine. The parking attendant asked me what year mine was (like I knew that! Or if mine was a newer model…again no clue.) Luckily he figured it out in the end and I was on my way.
Skidaway Island is about 15 miles or so from downtown Savannah, but the drive takes a little over a half an hour. Leaving just past 6 am, that would put me at the race location by 6:30 with a start time of 7:00 am. The drive was easy, but as I got within a mile of the parking, traffic was backed up, and the minutes were ticking away. Having eaten my breakfast on the road, I also was feeling the uncomfortable effects of that along with the three cups of coffee I’d had back at the hotel. Let’s just say that I needed to park my car and get to the porta potty fast! 
It seemed to take forever to get in to the parking lot, but I finally did. I grabbed my stuff and jogged over to the bank of johns. Not a moment too soon, either. Grateful that I averted that crisis, I headed to the starting corral. 

Starting line view.
The line up for the Skidaway Island Optim Orthopedics Half Marathon was pretty informal. Group 1 was the “fast marathoners” who stepped off at 7:00 am sharp, followed by my group the “fast half marathoners"—2:15 and under who went off two minutes later. Just before we started, the race director, a lovely young fellow named Dan, read a runner’s prayer and also sang the National Anthem. He did a great job, too! Off we started.
It was pretty dark out right up to the start of the race, and then dawn started to show up just enough to help us see where we were going.The first three miles of the race were along the main road we drove in along, which was pretty desolate but was lined with forest on both sides. The trees smelled delicious. I’m not sure if they were pines or cedars or both, but the air was so lovely. The temperatures were cool in the low 50’s, and the woods were just awakening with the sounds of birds. It was magical. Add to that a canopy of trees heavy with the quinticential swamp moss and a sprinkle of palm trees and you can just imagine the beauty I was experiencing. 
Mossy tree near race area.
At about mile 3 we took a left turn in to The Landings property. This is a huge residential gated community. The surroundings were similar, almost making me think of a nature preserve, but with a paved walking/running path that ran through the property. Large, beautiful ranch and plantation style homes lined the streets in the community, but because the trees were so large and established and lush, it felt like a magical and enchanted land. 
The running path snaked along and eventually left its parallel of the main street to instead run along a creek that lined the back yards of many homes. It was serene and beautiful (and completely flat!) all along this way, and the creek led us to a golf course that was equally beautiful. We carried along in this way until about mile 5. 
Mile 5 brought us out to the water and a combination of dirt/paved path. The views here were stunning. We popped out of the golf course at the edge of a large marshy expanse that led to the water and on the horizon an amazing pink sunrise was just starting to show. We were still running along a path that led along several homes. What a lucky view they have every morning! It was an extreme pleasure to run this stretch.
Mile 6 took us away from the water and back into the neighborhood area, largely on streets for this bit. The homes were lovely and were varied in style, making it interesting to view all along the way. Somewhere around mile 8-9 we got back on to the snaking paved path and golf course area. I read after the race that there are 5 golf courses in The Landing! I have no idea if this was the same course we saw on the way in or not, but it was still so beautiful. By mile 10 we were heading out of the The Landing and turning right on to the main road back the way we came. 
I was feeling pretty good, as I hadn’t seen the 2 hour pacing group pass me by yet. Hoping for the best, I tried to keep my stride short, my steps quick, my breathing rhythmic, and my shoulders tall and back straight. Paying attention in this way, I cruised to the finish line to see 1:55 on the finishing clock. Yahoo! 
Just in the last little stretch before the finish line, a woman came sprinting past me. I yelled to her to kick it (she already was). I pushed a little harder at the end, too, and was just thrilled to be sub-2. Safely sub-2. I got my medal (super nice one) and progressed through the finisher’s chute. The other great finish line goody was a towel that converts in to a car seat cover. It was the perfect thing to wrap up in to stay warm in the cool temps. I did a bit of walking then had to hit the porta potties again—crazy day for pooping! 
Waterfront views near finish area.

I stretched a bit after that and then did a bit of walking around the finish line area. We were staged in the marine biology research area. I walked down to the water where a dock and some boats were located. It was a beautiful vista, and all along the way were the trees laden with the spanish moss. It was such a lovely surrounding. 
I checked the race results a bit after that and found that I finished 4th in my age group. I had just missed a third place prize…only to find out that the woman who sprinted past me was the one who beat me out! Well, good for her and better luck for me next time. 
Finish line selfie.
I stopped to let the race director know that it was a first for me to see the race director sing the National Anthem. He laughed saying that it was an easy way to save money! Too funny! I congratulated him on a fantastic race, and it was. What a beautiful area Savannah is. When I eventually arrived back home, I remarked to my husband that I could easily retire there. Yup. Could.
Pano shot of finish area waterfront.
One last bit of note on this trip…I arrived at the airport and returned my rental car, and as I was leaving the parking garage, walking toward the terminal, I spied a familiar face. Cute as a button, I smiled and walked up to this fellow and said, “Are you Vern?” He answered, “Yes,” and girl geeking out, I managed to to tell him how much I have enjoyed his work on HGTV over the years. Vern Yip. Outside the Savannah airport terminal. Just standing there. Adorable Vern. He was probably a little freaked out by my babbling, but I’m just glad I had the courage to say a few words to him. What a fun way to end the trip!
Georgia/Savannah was such a great place to visit. I’d definitely travel here again to take more time to soak up the downtown area and historical information. The Skidaway Island half marathon is a fantastic way to get your GA mark in for the 50 states club. Fast, flat, scenic as can be! Highly recommended! Thank you, Savannah, and I will be back!
Official race results.

Towel, number & finisher's medal.
Georgia card.

State #39, Skidaway Island Optim Orthopedics Half Marathon, Savannah, GA, 3/24/18, Part 1

I arrived so late in Savannah due to some major issues with flight delays. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that if the airline promises they will put you up in a city you weren’t planning on staying in, don’t walk away without some kind of written proof. Misinformation, delays, new connections and hours later, I thankfully arrived in Savannah unsure that I’d get my original hotel room. (I had canceled it on the way thinking I’d be stuck in Charlotte for the night. Rookie mistake.) Thankfully the folks at the Hilton had me covered. I slept the best I could given the very late arrival.
My rental car was a Mustang. Look at the horse light on the ground!
I'm not a car person, but it was a pretty cool ride.

Next morning, I wanted to get in as much of Savannah as I could. but first I had to go pick up my number at a Dick’s Sporting Goods store a drivable distance away. It went well, and I grabbed a hydration belt while I was there, as I had read in the race write up that there weren’t tons of water stops in this race. Better to be prepared, but I have NEVER run with a hydration belt before. 

I got back to the hotel just around lunch time  Arriving back at the hotel, I brought my groceries to my room, and then started out on foot.

A very dear friend of mine, Terry, who frequents Savannah due to family connections gave me all kinds of recommendations of things to check out. But seriously, this city is filled with amazing things steps from every hotel doorstep! I walked around the immediate block(s) of my hotel and found countless boutiques filled with clothes, jewelry, artwork and all kinds of other artistic endeavors. Cute cafes and restaurants were sprinkled in, and on nearly every corner was a city square or park honoring or memorializing some famous Georgian and/or Savannah native. It was all so charming and lively! 
One of the art museums in the area, Telfair Academy.
I walked along the shops, making purchases here and there, and then found a terrific sandwich shop, the Goose Feathers Cafe. I enjoyed a delicious lunch and then decided to seek out the Italian restaurant in the area Terry recommended for dinner. As I walked around the corner to where the restaurant was, the street was blocked off for filming. I learned from the restaurant staff that Will Smith was filming his latest movie just a few doors down! I booked a reservation for later that night and continued on my exploration of the city. 
Movie set.
I decided to head toward the waterfront area next. 
Scenes along the Savannah River. 

The waterfront area runs along the Savannah River. More shops and artisan markets are located along this stretch, as well as a self-guided historical walking tour  that you can make as you follow along the placards that line the river. Lots of Civil War history was detailed, such as Sherman's march to the sea, as well as other historical facts about the area. My timing was great, as I was able to watch an enormous container ship head up the river. Now that’s not something I see every day!
Container ship on the river.
I walked out to the famous statue of the “waving girl” who welcomes the ships in to the harbor, then I turned around and walked the length of the river back to the hotel area near where I was staying. 

I stopped in a terrific shop called the Savannah Bee Company that sold all honey related products. Since our school theme is bees, I had to check it out. They sold every type of honey, flavored and natural, as well as many products made with honey (soaps, lip balm, hand lotion, candy, etc.). Everything was amazing! I ended up purchasing an edible honeycomb square that I thought would be awesome with cheese and crackers at our upcoming Easter celebration. I also picked up some lip balm for my principal and Tupelo Honey for my husband. The shops all along this area were really fun to check out.
After the shopping, I went back to the hotel to relax for a bit before dinner. The restaurant I chose, Bella Napoli Bistro, was only a short walk from the hotel. When I made my way out, I made sure to leave a little early so I could check out the movie filming. I watched from across the street for a little bit. They were filming in a storefront that looked like it was a coffee shop or maybe a bike shop. It was hard to tell with all the scaffolding and lighting that was set up. I didn’t see Will Smith or any other actors I recognized (which isn’t saying much, as I never know who anyone is…). So I headed to the restaurant.
Park across the street from the movie set.
As luck would have it, I ended up being seated at a table in the front window, so I could keep an eye on all the action outside while I had dinner. It was fun to watch all the comings and goings of the various workers. It really is amazing how many people contribute to the making of a film. There were people everywhere outside manning various posts and taking on countless responsibilities. Since I was dining alone, it made for a more interesting time. 
When I finished and paid, I headed outside and watched the filming again from a corner across the street. Eventually, the folks helping with crowd control made us leave, probably because they were finishing up for the night. No spotting the stars for me tonight. Oh well. It was still cool to watch how they did everything. 
I walked back to my hotel a different way to see some other streets in the downtown area. I passed by parts of the art college and Leopold’s Ice Cream where the line was long. Must be a good spot…someplace to try next time around, as I was plenty full from dinner. 
Line outside Leopold's.
I stopped in to a couple more boutiques on my way back to the hotel, and in one I struck up a conversation with the shopkeepers. I told them about the race at Skidaway Island, and they mentioned that some of the Vietnam scenes from Forrest Gump were filmed out there. Cool. In fact, they said that Savannah is known as “Hollywood South” because so many movies are now filmed there. Apparently, there are tax breaks for filmmakers to come to Georgia, and since the weather is really nice most of the time, it makes for ideal conditions for filming. Who knew? I ended up buying some earrings for my mom and a bracelet for myself in their shop. It was a fun stop.
After that, I walked back to my hotel. Along the way, I passed by some of those dreadful bicycling bar trolleys (Ugh!). The gangs pedaling them were loud and obnoxious, and I thought if that was going to continue all night long, I’d have some sleeping issues. 
Luckily it turned out that wasn’t the case, or if it was, they weren’t pedaling outside my hotel window. Thank goodness. It had been a terrific day exploring Savannah, and I was looking forward to a great race in the morning.