Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Part 2:Revel Big Cottonwood Half Marathon, State #18. UT

4:15 am arrived quickly, and I was up going through my pre-race routine to ensure I caught the 5:00 am bus to the starting line provided by the hotel. My early morning routine usually consists of a quick wash up followed by getting dressed in the clothes I set out the night before. I heat up a venti bold coffee from Starbucks in the hotel microwave and prepare a packet of instant oatmeal with chia seeds & fresh blueberries mixed in. I drink a small amount of G2 lemon-lime flavored and a bottled water. Before walking out the door, I pin on my number and make sure I have all the gear I need to get me through the race (sunglasses, running hat, sports watch, GU, phone, ID, medical card and $20). This morning followed the same routine. Not too neurotic or anything, right? 
I took the elevator down to the lobby which where it was already loaded with runners waiting in line for the bus. I chatted with some nice folks from Texas who were full marathoners. They told me about their many travels for marathons and we swapped some recommendations on good races. When I got to the front of the line, a woman checked for my name on her clipboard, and upon finding it, I was released to climb on to the bus. The busses were really nice coach-style busses with reclining seats and foot rests! Not too shabby for this marathoner! (And seriously, I've never seen this kind of luxury at any other race. Another great perk!)
The ride up to the canyon was dark (the sun was not yet up) and the road was twisty and turny most of the way. Unbelievably, I sat with a man on the bus who was from Trumbull, CT! This really was a destination race for so many racers. His name was Bill, and we had fun chatting about our races. He was an accomplished marathoner and ultra-marathoner. We had fun discussing races in CT and our kids and other common topics. 
The bus ride took a good 40 minutes or so, and I started in on my breakfast near the end of the ride. I didn't want to eat too early so that I was starving by the 7:00 am race start time. As we neared the drop off point for the half marathon, I knew I needed to find the dreaded porta-potties ASAP! I hopped off the bus at the Spruces Camp Ground which was the staging area for the half marathon start, and located the porta-potty bank way in the back of the furthest reaches of the campground parking lot. Not to worry, I made it in time just fine, but trying to use one of those things in the pitch black of pre-dawn is damn hard! 
After that, I just kind of hung out in the general area. It wasn't that crowded back by the porta-potties (amazingly), and they created a barrier against the wind and cold. It was about 10-15 degrees colder up in the canyon than it was back in town at the hotel. When we left, I think the temperature was around 50 degrees. As we waited, I asked some women next to me to snap a pre-race photo. 
Literally glowing with excitement in the pre-race pre-dawn!
As the time crept closer to 7:00 am and start time, I made my way to the forward staging area so I could hear announcements and be in closer proximity to the starting corral. Even though I didn't have high hopes for a PR in this race (as I had been nursing a sore hamstring and glute the last two months since my Oregon run), I was hoping to at least keep the pacing groups in sight. Unfortunately, there wasn't a 1:45 pacing group (my current PR). There was only a 1:50 or 1:40, but as it turned out, the race ended up being delayed for about 30 minutes and I didn't get up to where any of the pacing groups were lined up. C'est la vie. 
View of runners just prior to the start of the race.
Finally it was time to line up and get started. I took off my long-sleeved zip-up, tossed it in my gear bag and passed my gear bag off to one of the guys loading them in to trucks. I kept the complimentary gloves and mylar blanket on as I walked to the starting area. Once the go signal was sounded and we started to run, I tossed the blanket but still kept the gloves. They were a godsend. 
The sun was coming up, but the canyon hills blocked much of the sun for most of the run. I didn't mind, as it kept me cooler. The run was absolutely majestic from step one. The surrounding canyon rocks were red and brown and gold as the tops received the light of the sun. Aspen trees and cedar pines were plentiful along the way. In fact, the smell of cedar surrounded us. What a switch from breathing in nauseating car exhaust back home! A rushing stream ran along the left side of the road at the start of the race and for the first miles. Mile markers were clearly visible, and I have to say, the downhill nature of this race made me feel like I was ticking off the mile markers more quickly than usual. Aid stations were also well stocked and plentiful along the way. Runners were jovial along the way, and I think we were all glad to have gravity on our side.
I am not a big hill runner, either up or down. In the spring and beginning of the summer, I started running hill repeats on the Powder Hollow Hill where I live, but after Oregon I cut that from my routine to give my injury a chance to heal. Aside from my run in Oregon which was half uphill and hence, half downhill, I hadn't run any hills for two months. I was worried that my quads and toes and knees would take a beating in this race, but after the first few miles, I was still feeling fine. I also caught up to the 2:00 pacing group and passed them, followed thereafter by the 1:50 group. Hot dog! I was moving! 
I took my gloves off somewhere between miles 5 and 6 and tucked them in my belt. About a mile later, one fell out, so I ended tossing the other one off at the 7 mile marker. Oh well. They were great while they lasted. My fingers were warm now, so I didn't really need them anymore anyway. I continued on my great downhill feeling speedy through mile 9. After that, we were out of the canyon hill and heading in to the town of Cottonwood Heights. The road flattened out at this point, and it suddenly felt like lead weights had been added to my legs. Wow, what a difference gravity makes for sure! At least there were spectators along this part of the race. That really helps pull you along when you need it. By mile 10 1/2, a slight downhill returned, so I tried my best to take advantage. The remainder of the race was a slight downhill in to the finish line area. The finish chute was jammed with spectators and was very festive. It was a great way to end. My finish time on the clock as I passed through the gate was 1:47. I knew I was close to a PR, but still wasn't sure what my net time would be and if it would be enough to break 1:45. Needless to say, I was psyched, and I still felt pretty good. No toe or knee issues, but I knew my quads would be sore the next day. For now, not so bad. 
I went in to the finisher's area to stretch out and grab some food. I texted my husband and found out that he won two blue ribbons for tallest and best head on a sunflower at our local Four Town Fair! Awesome! I found out moments later that my net finishing time was 1:43:34! A new PR for me! I couldn't believe it, but gravity really was my friend in this glorious downhill race. 
Finish line selfie. The medals were huge and awesome!
The finish line area was getting more crowded now, so I got in line to get my official time printed on a card, then I made my way over to the bag check. I picked up my things, changed and went to wait for the cushy bus to bring me back to the hotel. One benefit of being a half marathoner is that you get back to the hotel before many of the other runners, so in that respect, I was already showered and my laundry was done in time to head out and grab lunch. As I was leaving the hotel, many runners were just arriving back. 
Snapped just before I got on the bus to head back to the hotel. View of finishing area.
I walked around the neighborhood in the downtown area where I was and found a brewpub called Squatters. Bill, who I sat with on the bus ride in the morning, told me he and his party ate there and really liked it, so I went in for a post-race celebratory beer and lunch. It was a great local spot with all the beers brewed on site. I ordered a beer and a Nicoise salad and sat back to enjoy the local atmosphere. The restaurant was fun and featured a terrific 80's soundtrack that day. Bowie, The The, Depeche Mode, so many of my old favorites were featured, and a few songs I literally hadn't heard in over 20 years. It was a great place to hang out for a bit. 
Beer taps at Squatters.
After lunch, I decided to take the train up to the University of Utah to take a look at the Olympic Torch from when the 2002 Olympics were held in Salt Lake City. The university is up on a hill overlooking the city with great views all around. The football stadium was impressive and the torch was located there. As I approached it, the torch was actually much smaller than I would have thought. I took a few pictures and then walked up the hill toward campus. It was a very warm day at this point, and I was hoping I could buy a bottled water in the campus bookstore. 
U of U stadium and Olympic torch.

I got to the campus just as the bookstore was closing, so I walked toward the student union. I figured there had to be a fast food something there that sold water. The campus was completely empty except for a few students walking to and from the library. I entered the student union, and all the fast food counters were closed, but a little further down, it seemed something was open. I found a few students hanging out at the billiard room and bowling alley. Yes, BOWLING ALLEY! How cool is that?! They had snacks and drinks for sale, so I grabbed a water there. I wished the students well and got directions back to the train. 
I headed back to the hotel after that, as all the walking around the U of U was hot and tiring after 13.1 miles in the morning. I rested for the remainder of the late afternoon and started to pack my things. I decided to try a bistro in the city that night for dinner called Bistro 222. Again, it seemed like there were very few people in the city, and at the restaurant there were a few of us, but not many. Most folks were sitting outside, but I opted to sit in. My waiter was a young guy named Alan who was very nice. We ended up talking about running, and he told me he was a runner but had never done any races. I told him about my journey, and he seemed really enthusiastic about it. He told me he mostly runs trails up in the hills behind the city and can eke out about 7 miles at this point. I told him for sure he could work up to a half marathon if he wanted to and that the Big Cottonwood half was all downhill. 
When dinner was done, I declined dessert, but told him how lovely the gelato selection looked. (I spied it on my way to the ladies room earlier.) Just before the check came, the owner of the restaurant came by with a small scoop of pistachio gelato for me "the runner" he said. So sweet. I left feeling special. It had been a wonderful day and a wonderful race. 
The trip home the next day was uneventful, and as always, I was overjoyed to be back with my family. We celebrated all of our weekend successes over a sushi dinner at home. The Revel race series is hard to beat! I might be checking out Revel Denver some year...
One of the free race photos offered at the race. Look at the amazing scenery!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Part 1:Revel Big Cottonwood Half Marathon, State #18. UT

The Revel series Big Cottonwood Half Marathon in Salt Lake City was quite an experience. I hardly know where to begin with this race post. I chose this race based on the description from race organizers that it was an entire downhill race on a beautiful canyon in Utah. The race description also mentioned that runners would receive free gloves & mylar blanket at the starting line as well as free race photos and video post race. Sounds pretty great, right? Well indeed it was!
The week leading up to the race was crazy as we were getting back in to the routine of school and after school activities, and my husband was away all week traveling for work. I felt like a scatterbrained crazy person and waited until the last minute to pack, check my itinerary and get up to speed with all the race details. One thing that was just amazing was that the hotel I stayed at (Doubletree in downtown Salt Lake) sent me an e mail prior to the race to check and see if I would need transportation from the hotel to the starting line and then back to the hotel from the finish line. This absolutely flabbergasted me. I have never had a hotel reach out to me like that. The race organizers had obviously done a spectacular job coordinating with the sponsor hotels. To top it off, the hotel also offered a free shuttle to and from the airport, so no need to spend money on a car rental. Love that.
I arrived at the Salt Lake airport on Thursday evening, and immediately I could feel the dryness in the air. I swear my skin started to dry out the second I stepped off of the plane. My lips were chapped from the instant I got there. I didn’t get to the airport until around 9:00 pm (which was really 11:00 pm east coast time), so basically I got settled and went straight to bed. 
The next day was number pick up which was a train ride away. I took the local public transportation to the South Towne Expo Center which was about a 30 minute ride from downtown. Along the way I found some other women from my hotel heading out there so we chatted a bit. The expo was well organized and I picked up my number, goody bag and t-shirt. There were several vendors there, but as I didn’t really need anything, I moved along quickly and headed back to the downtown area. 
Posing for a photo at the expo.
On the train ride back, I met a woman who was working on full marathons in all 50 states, so we traded some race information. A man who was on the train overheard our conversation and became interested in the race, as he was a former runner. So we chatted with him along the way back. He and his wife were volunteers at a genealogical library in the downtown area, so he suggested it might be a nice place to visit. Being a librarian, this of course interested me, and I had already read about the library in the guide book I had with me from the hotel. It was on my radar, but I just didn’t know yet where the day would take me.
Mormon Temple
I spent the rest of the day in the downtown area, visiting Temple Square where the Mormon Temple and other religious buildings were incredibly beautiful. I also walked around an open air shopping mall, indulging myself in a little me-time shopping. I don’t often get to go to a clothing store alone with the luxury of trying clothes on in the dressing room by myself. I didn’t buy anything, but it was fun to just look. 
Salt Lake City was very nice, with some beautiful buildings, but what struck me as I walked around was how unbelievably clean the city was. I didn’t see one piece of litter anywhere in the downtown area. The city had a strange feel to me though. It was eerily uncrowded for a major city. I’m not sure where everyone was, but there were no crowds anywhere. There was also a real sense of religiousness permeating the area. Religious officials could be seen walking about in the Temple Square area, or at least I assumed they were religious based on their outfits. 
I wrapped up my afternoon of walking about by stopping at the Harmons grocery store for my pre-race necessities. Without hesitation, this grocery store was the nicest one I’ve ever stepped foot in. I loaded up on fruit, water and gatorade and walked back to the hotel.
For dinner that night, I walked to a nearby Italian restaurant called Buca di Beppo, which was a fun, casual spot that offered a great plate of spaghetti and meatballs. The staff seated me at a booth, and a few minutes later, they seated another single woman at the booth next to mine. When she sat down, I recognized her as one of the women from the hotel who had been on the train out to the expo center for number pick up. I invited her to sit with me, as it would have been pretty awkward for us to sit facing each other but not actually with each other. We had a nice chat about our racing. She was from Louisiana and worked on an off-shore oil rig as an engineer. All of her training for this race was done on a treadmill, as she was on the oil base and couldn’t really run outside. We had a nice time and walked back to the hotel together afterward. It would be an early night. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Fun runs are FUN!

I don't sign up for very many local small races these days, as I'm so focused on my half marathon goals. As such, it is easy to forget about how fun a local 5K or fun run can be. But when your kid's school has a fundraiser run, you really should get involved, and I'm so glad our family did. My oldest daughter's school held its inaugural 5K last year, but unfortunately I was away running another race and couldn't make it. I was so happy when the race date was announced this year and I was available. 
Thanks in large part to my cousin Robbie who expressed interest last year in doing the run in the future, I was spurred on to invite family and friends to join the race. I'm thrilled to say that my mother's side of the family came out in large numbers to support the school and get some morning fitness done. It was a hot day, but we had lots of fun together and many successes amongst our group. 
Team Frost ready to roll!
My husband and I volunteered to help out with set up, and my girls signed up for the kids' race, while I signed up for the mile race. The race changed from a 5K to a one mile race this year. I thought this was an interesting move, as I read a neat article in Runner's World this past year about the growing popularity of one mile races. Apparently lots of old time track runners who are now in their 40's and 50's and beyond are challenging themselves to see how fast they can run a mile these days and to see how close they can get to their old records. Fun, right? I'm not much of a sprinter or miler myself, but a one mile fundraising race is completely doable for nearly anyone. No question we would do it.
Kids' race line up...Runners on your mark...GO!
The morning started off with a kids quarter mile race. Our girls lined up along with our cousin Liam and a bunch of other kids. The Central Connecticut State University softball team members were in attendance to volunteer with the race. Those girls were awesome! They ran with the kids to keep them safe and cheered them on to the finish. Our cousin, Liam, finished first for the boys and our daughter Lily finished third for the girls. Ella received a ribbon for being a participant, while the other two received place ribbons for their categories. So exciting! It was great to watch them finish and cheer them on. One note about this race that is fantastic...the finish is all downhill. 
Ella finishes with the CCSU softball girls.
When the kids were done, the adult race lined up and took off up the hill. Two short laps around the neighborhood later, and we were already shooting down the downhill finish. I went in to this race knowing that I wasn't going to sprint. I'm so not a sprinter. But I am a competitor, so of course, I just wanted to do my best and run with as much strength as I could. 
Much to my surprise, as I made the final turn for the downhill finish, I was the leading female runner! This was so cool to me on many levels. First, I've never been in this position in a race before. (Perks of running a small, local race, for sure!). Second, it was completely outrageous to experience what the elite women feel, albeit on a microscopic scale...knowing that no one is in front of you...worrying who might be on your heels...enjoying the cheers of those clapping for you as the leading lady. So fantastic! Third, waiting around for the awards and hearing your name announced as first place female. Awesome! I ran a 7:09 mile, which is terrific for me. I might not win in a large race, but it was enough for this one, and for that I'm thrilled. 
Like daughter, like mother.
To round out the family success, my mom won top honors and a medal in her age group. Like daughter, like mother! We had some good laughs, got some great exercise and then came home to enjoy pizza and cannoli from Russo's for my husband's birthday which is today. Many thanks to my family for supporting our school. Many thanks to all the volunteers who came out to make the day so great, too. I met some fantastic people today (Including Scott Ryder who organizes the Hazardville Memorial School 5k) and had stellar fun. It was a great day all around! Way to go, SBS!
A morning of family fitness & fun. And happy birthday to Craig!