Friday, March 27, 2015

In Like a Lion

With the start of March, my mindset began to shift out of the deep winter chill and lean toward the start of spring. Even though it felt like February would never end and that my workouts suffered because of the hideous winter weather, February really wasn’t as bad (mileage-wise) as I thought it was going to be. But with the start of March, I felt hope, rejuvenation, freshness and renewal of spirit. I always have high hopes at the beginning of March that spring should begin immediately. Of course, in a year like this one with winter being what it was, spring wasn’t going to arrive on March 1st. So treadmill it has been for most of the month. I’ve been doing well with my mileage, and I’m hopeful I will hit the 100 mile mark for the month—my highest monthly total so far this year. Yippee! Things are looking up!
Even though the month has been pretty cold (still many days below freezing), I’ve been working hard to stay motivated. My pal Meg is a Beachbody coach, and she set up a Facebook group to Beat the Winter Blues through exercise, so I’ve had a nice little support group to keep me on track. Also this season to get on track and stay there, I gave up wine & beer (any alcohol really) which has helped keep my calories down and snacking at bay. A welcome change from the food and drink train we started on back in Maui. :) Now that March is nearly done, I feel lighter, healthier and ready for the running season. As an added bonus, while I was at the gym a few Sundays ago, a woman who was running on the treadmill saw me arrive and she told me that I was her running motivation. That made me feel like a little super star. Thanks, girl at the gym!
Just this week I caught a cold, sidelining me for a couple of days. It made me think of ending March as the old “out like a lamb” cliche. I took two rest days and then got right back out there and ran a 5 miler OUTSIDE! The temps reached an acceptable level so that I could stand it, and it felt great. Two days in a row now I’ve been able to take to the streets. Huzzah! I’m looking forward to many more. And now I’m just a scant 8 miles from my hundred mile month. With six days to go, I’m pretty sure I’ll make it.

Monday, March 2, 2015

February 22, 2015, Mercedes-Benz Half Marathon, State #20. AL (Part 2)

I awoke on race morning feeling refreshed. I think I had the best sleep I’ve ever had at a hotel before a race. I'm not sure why that was, but I wasn't going to question it. I went through my usual pre-race morning ritual with one small blip. The coffee maker in the room leaked all over the place when I tried to brew a cup. Luckily, I had a cup of coffee that I purchased at the airport as a back-up, but the room didn’t have a microwave to heat it up. I was going to brew a hot cup to mix with it to heat it up, but instead I just made a mess. I tried another cup, but that one leaked, too. I managed to salvage some of it and then ended up drinking mostly cold coffee. Whatever. It was better than nothing. It is always a good idea to bring your own "standards" with you, as you never know what will happen. I was glad I did.

Ugh! Leaky coffee mess!
One super fantastic thing about the race in Birmingham was that my hotel was  so close to the starting line, about a 5 minute walk. It was raining lightly, so I decided to stay in my room as long as possible to avoid getting soaked before the race. The temperature was in the 50’s, so at least I wouldn’t freeze out there. That was good news, too. 
I made my way to the starting line after one more bathroom stop and arrived with about 5 minutes until the starting gun. I had to jump the barricades to get in to the starting corral near my pace. If I had gone to the end of the corrals and tried to thread my way up to the 8 minute/mile group, I never would’ve made it, and I just wanted to be near the front of the pack. Psychologically, I have an easier time starting near the front rather than at the back. If I start near the back, I feel this need to have to “catch up” the whole time, and I think it drains my energy. I never seem to do as well.
View of the starting line.
The starting gun went off and we made an initial loop around the downtown area near where my hotel was and then through to some more industrial parts of downtown Birmingham. It was still raining, but the roads were mostly flat at this point, so my fear of slipping on a downhill stretch was at bay for the moment. 
Around mile 5 we entered a more residential area. The houses were small craftsman style bungalows lined rather close together. Again I got the sense of the 1950’s screaming through the scenery. Sadly, many of the homes in this area were run down and in need of restoration. I could absolutely see this area as an “up and coming” neighborhood for motivated buyers who like to rehab homes. It could be adorably charming if given the attention it needs. 
True to the race map, the largest hill was at mile 8, but it really wasn’t a killer. I just stayed steady in my stride. The rain had lessened at this point and was more like a mist. Groups of fans were here and there along the route, with the best cheering sections anchored around the water stops. The volunteers at this race were great…right on their game. 
The next part of the race featured some larger and more grandiose homes and a large park/golf course. The parks along the race route featured natural landscapes, wispy grasses and rolling hills. It was nice to look at these features along the way, and in fact the entire race had rather varied surroundings, making the miles tick by rather quickly. For not having trained to my usual level prior to this race, I felt rather good. Not too tired, keeping a decent pace, no injuries to speak of…
After another hill at mile 10, it was basically all downhill. I tried to take advantage of all the declines as much as possible in this race. It was nice because I didn’t start out too fast, so I had some gas left to speed up a bit on these later downhill miles. Before I knew it, I was heading back in to the downtown area where the finish line awaited. I crossed the line at 1:48:46, well below my expectations of where I thought I might finish. Hooray! I was awarded my medal along with a Mercedes-Benz beach towel. Nice! 

Next, I made my way through the finish area to stretch out a bit, and I spied two women who had lined up next to me in the starting corral. I congratulated them and we traded stories a bit. One of the women, Jess, PR’d in the race which was so exciting. Her friend (Andrea, I think her name was, or maybe it was Amanda) was a teacher from Atlanta, and she was intrigued to hear of my 50 state journey. We had a great chat and hopefully she will read about herself here in my blog. Hello lovely ladies! We took photos for each other, and I made my way back to my hotel for some stretching and a glorious hot shower.
After a delicious lunch of a steak salad, I hopped the shuttle to the airport. Unfortunately, my flight was delayed, and I would miss my connecting flight in Charlotte. Alternate flights were all booked up, as the snow up north had wrecked travel for thousands of folks finishing up winter school vacations. I was stuck. Until my genius husband found a Southwest flight that might work. I hightailed it to the Southwest counter, and as luck would have it, two seats were still available on the flight. Credit card in hand, one of them was now mine. 
The flight home was good, if long. I had to go from Birmingham to Orlando to get to Hartford (go figure!). The important thing was that I’d be home that night. My last leg of the flight was interesting, as I sat with two women who had also run in races over the weekend. One ran the Disney Princess Half Marathon that morning and the other ran the Disney Princess 10K the day before. We chatted all about our running adventures and other things all the way home. 
Although it was about 17 degrees when I arrived home, I was glad to be back and see my husband and sleep in my own bed. Birmingham was a super friendly city and a delightful race. Upon checking the race results the next day, I discovered I’d finished 11th in my age group! How about that?! I guess my winter training wasn’t so shabby after all. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

February 22, 2015, Mercedes-Benz Half Marathon, State #20. AL (Part 1)

I chose the Mercedes-Benz Half Marathon in Birmingham, Alabama in part because of the climate there (being a winter race), partly for the wonderful charity it supports (The Bell Center) and partly for the famous car maker’s prestige. With this being the year of the deep freeze, even for the Southern states, the race didn’t end up being the warm weather experience I had hoped for. When I arrived in Birmingham on Saturday, a chilly windy day greeted me at the airport. After a lively shuttle ride to the hotel with a large group of other runners, I checked in to my room a bit early and made my way to the expo to pick up my number. 
Outside the expo building the 5k runners were finishing their race and were celebrating in the park. Kids and adults of all ages were sporting their medals and having a great time. It was a lively scene with music and excitement and a large crowd. Everyone had smiles on their faces. It seemed like a great way to start the running weekend.
My race bib and tech shirt.
The expo was on the small side, but everyone there was very friendly and helpful. I found my number easily and picked up my ticket for that evening’s charity pasta dinner. I also found a new gear belt large enough to carry my new phone. Score! After a quick walk-about at the expo, I left to check out the art museum which was right next door. 

The Birmingham Museum of Art caught my eye because of the large signs indicating an exhibit featuring Vermeer, Rembrandt and Hals. Coincidentally, on the plane I started reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt which references those artists. It was just too good to be true, so of course I had to go check out the exhibit. The museum was small, but filled with lovely treasures. Especially poignant was a wall of black and white photos depicting various scenes in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life. In fact, simply walking through the streets of Birmingham brought about the distinct feel of the Civil Rights movement. The architecture of the buildings is just as you see it pictured in photographs from that era. Many of the buildings in the downtown area are the low brick buildings with large windows, and many of the facades still have the retro neon signs presumably from that time. 
After the museum visit, I made a quick walk to the local grocery store for some necessities and then back to the hotel for some relaxation. 
The pasta dinner that evening was held at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame which was right around the corner from my hotel. The pasta dinner proceeds supported The Bell Center, an agency that provides early intervention programs for children with developmental delays. Some of the children and their families were at the dinner enjoying pasta, and I got the warm fuzzies seeing these beautiful children running here and there, laughing and playing and thoroughly having a great time. It made me really glad that I supported this wonderful center. 

Famous baseball players from Alabama
View of some of the exhibits in the hall of fame
I sat with a married couple, Pixie and Bob from Gloucester, MA and Mark from Los Angeles, and we all traded stories about the races we’ve run. Mark and Pixie were both working on running full marathons in all 50 states, while Bob explained he was Pixie’s “agent” and that he runs races but not necessarily to accomplish all the states. Bob and I were both running the Mercedes Half, while Pixie and Mark were doing the Full. We had a great time together and wished each other well. After dinner I explored the Sports Hall of Fame and saw exhibits honoring famous Alabamans who achieved greatness in the sports world, including Carl Lewis, Joe Namath, Jesse Owens, Joe Lewis, Willie Mays and many others. Several exhibits were dedicated to the college football heroes from the state, but not being much of a college football follower, those names and stories were lost on me. 

I got back to my hotel around 8 pm and started to sort through my gear, not really knowing what I’d be wearing the next day. The weather in the area had been so unpredictable recently that I brought gear for warm and cold weather racing. The forecast for race day was predicting rain, so I brought rain gear, too. I’d have to make my final decision in the morning. 
Various gear for the morning