Friday, October 23, 2015

It was a dark and tiring month...

October has come and nearly gone, and it seems impossible for this to be so. While I have kept up with my goal of meeting 100 miles per month, it has become so much harder for me. 
As I mentioned in an earlier post back in September, I started a full-time job at an elementary school, which is great! However, the new schedule of waking up at 4:30 am, 4:45 am or 5:00 am (depending on my workout each day) isn’t easy. So far, I’ve kept up with it, as I know I will feel better if I get that run in compared to what I will feel like if I don’t. With fall in New England, darkness comes earlier and lingers longer in the morning (at least until the time change happens), so many of my October miles have occurred in the dark with a headlamp on. 
Me and my headlamp and attractive crossing-guard vest.
This has been a new experience for me, and not an entirely awful one (except for the ungodly wake up hour). Once I’m out there running along, I feel privileged. Privileged to be among those who are awake and doing something good for my health. Privileged to have fresh air and a safe place to exercise. Privileged to have woken up at all that morning. It is a weird feeling to be all alone in the world (sort of) and out on the streets when so many others aren’t awake yet. There are a few lights on in a few houses and a few cars starting up, but mostly the city sleeps. It is both eerie and invigorating. But still not easy.
I notice that my pace is slower. I think this is because my sight is hindered with only a small circle of light in front of my feet to light my way. I worry about stepping in potholes (no shortage of which exist in my area) or twisting an ankle on a rock or some other item (acorns, anyone?). I’m not overly concerned about running more slowly, but my competitive self is annoyed. 
Then there are the night critters. It is unsettling to be running along in the dark and smell skunk. You can’t tell where it is coming from or if you are about to land upon it up close and personal in your path. Dogs barking at you in the dark are kinda scary, too. Again, not sure if they are outside or in, chained, fenced or free. One morning I had the great pleasure of stepping out of my door and hearing the gorgeous sound of an owl in a tall nearby pine tree. What a delight and an early morning thrill! (And something I surely would’ve missed if not for my new schedule.)
Luckily, the temperatures have been pretty warm all month, so I’ve been able to largely stay outside. I just started back at the gym this past week, though, as I think it is safer than the dark. That’s been ok, too, but boy am I exhausted by the time I get home from work every night! So far, so good with one month of school/work down. I just hope my stamina lasts until school ends in June. I will do everything I can to ensure it.
On the flip-side, it is such a treat to have a weekend run now. I don't have to wake up so early, I get to soak up some sun, and the fall foliage this year has been so spectacular to view while out there. I had to stop the other day to take a panoramic photo while out on my route. It really has been incredible running this month, and I can only hope and wish it continues throughout November. Wouldn't that just be great?! Run on, my friends!
Panoramic view of my route on a gorgeous fall day.

Monday, October 12, 2015

October 3, 2015, Bruckelaufe Half Marathon, State #25, Frankenmuth, MI

After a decent night's sleep, I woke up for the Bruckelaufe race and went through my usual pre-race routine. The coffee from Tim Horton's worked out just fine as a morning pick-me-up-and-get-me-going measure. My usual breakfast of champions, oatmeal, chia seeds and (Michigan) blueberries sufficed nicely. Although, I have to say, my stomach wasn't very hungry, and as such it wasn't easy to finish it all, but I managed.
Breakfast of champions, or at least non-frontrunners. 
I left the hotel and made my way to Heritage Park to the starting line. It wasn't very crowded, despite my late departure time from the hotel. I decided to wait as long as possible to leave my room, as it was only about 45 degrees out and quite windy. I figured it would be better to hang out in my warm room rather than the cold outdoors. 
Starting area selfie.
The start of the half marathon was on the grass along the Cass River, a very picturesque spot. This race started with a prayer (a first for me at any half marathon) and then the National Anthem. Right after that, the starting gun went off and the crowd of runners surged onward!
Gorgeous sunrise at the race start. 
Starting line runners.
We ran a loop around Heritage Park before exiting along the road and out to the main street via the Zehnder's Holz Covered Bridge, our first bridge of the 13. The next bridge was immediately after...a concrete, flat bridge on the main road...nothing fancy to speak of, but a bridge nonetheless. We veered in to a residential neighborhood and then out in to the farmland nearby. I was quite surprised at the expansive farmland in this region. I didn't really think of Michigan as a large farming area, but we ran past several corn fields along the race. The area was rural and lovely.
The third bridge was another flat concrete road bridge, but the fourth one was a surprise iron trestle bridge down a dirt road. When we turned down the dirt road from the paved road, I was a bit apprehensive due to the "Dead End" sign at the top of the road. I wondered where we'd end up. The answer was running over this lovely little bridge literally in the middle of nowhere. There was a small picnic area near it, so it must be a sweet little place to hang out in the summer time.
The temperature was quite perfect for racing, but I wore long pants and a long-sleeved half zip and winter cap anyway. I was plenty warm along the way, and since the wind was so strong, I was glad I dressed warmly. Most of the first part of the race had the wind at our backs, so that was good, and by the time we hit the halfway mark and started heading back to the finish area, it was warming up a bit, so the wind (although strong) wasn't killer. Somewhere around mile 4 or 5 a gentleman named Bill Hart caught up with me and we had a nice chat. He complimented me on my strong pace and asked about my running. I told him that I was on half-marathon #25 in 25 states and that Michigan was a big milestone for me. He was so friendly and nice, asking me about my journey. He told me that he was a runner with a local running club and invited me along to join them for lunch after the race. I told him that I'd check in with him at the finish line, but that I'd be glad to join in the fun. Thanks to Bill's chat, suddenly I found myself at mile 6, nearly halfway. And somewhere in that stretch, we ran past some alpacas. You never know what you're going to see when you are out running!
Bill got ahead of me, and it was fun to watch him chat with other runners along the way. He is just one of those friendly folks who truly enjoys talking with others. He is a fantastic motivator on the course...someone who helps you along and keeps you strong without you even realizing it. I kept up with him the best I could. We traversed through more farmland and made a cute detour through an actual farm and its pumpkin field, rooster coop, horse pasture and fields. The race alternated between paved roads and dirt/gravel roads in some of these farm/rural areas. I'm no trail runner, so I'm not all that used to gravel underfoot, but I did my best.
We were somewhere between miles 9 and 10 when I caught up with Bill again. We were both still running pretty strong. I didn't know what my time was, but I felt good with plenty of energy left to finish. I ended up passing him, and we promised to meet up at the finish. The last few miles were flat, and even though the wind was still strong, I didn't feel like it was as much of a hindrance as it was in Fargo. As I ran on and made my way closer in to town and the finish area, I ran over a pedestrian bridge at the River Place Shops. Just around the corner from there was the covered bridge again, and not far past that was the finish line.
Pedestrian bridge at shopping area.
I ran on in to Heritage Park thinking that the finish line was on the main road, but alas, at the end of the road we had to run a lap around the grass of the park to finish. As I turned the last corner and saw the time clock, I could see I'd finish in 1:53 something. Not bad. Not my best, but it was a time I was happy with. I crossed the line and headed in to the sports pavilion there for finish line food, stretching and results.
Some of these smaller races don't have instant online results. They rely on computer printouts on paper that they post on bulletin boards and update constantly as finishers cross the line. I posted my unofficial results on Facebook as "1:53 something." My husband texted me shortly thereafter to tell me he couldn't find my official time online. I told him they were posting paper results. I went to check my official time, and to my utter disbelief, there was my name as #2 finisher in my age group! 
Wow! Second place in my age group!
I placed high enough to win an award! Woo hoooooo! I was so excited! Just then, I bumped in to Bill and told him my good news. He introduced me to some of the other runners from his group and updated me that they were meeting up at the Frankenmuth Brewery for lunch. I'd be there, I told him.
I stretched out, met the local Frankenmuth High School mascot, a large eagle, and then waited for the awards. I won a nice growler from the brewery as my 2nd place trophy. Hot damn!
Meeting the Frankenmuth Eagle.
My beer growler trophy. Not filled with beer by the way.
I walked back to my hotel to shower up and then met the Cass River Runners at the Frankenmuth Brewery for lunch. What a lovely group of people. Bill's wife, Jeanette was there, along with other runners...Danielle, Vicky, Marcia, Brenda, Gordy, and a real "character" of a guy as Bill described him, Riley. 
Exterior view of Frankenmuth Brewery.
The Cass River runners at lunch.
Riley McLincha was a true renaissance man, having kayaked/ran to Niagara Falls from Frankenmuth, run marathons while dribbling 3 basketballs, achieved Guinness World Record fame for memorizing pi to the greatest number of places, playing music and performing as Johnny Appleseed, writing his memoirs in a published book, and singing the National Anthem at this morning's race. He was so much fun to talk to...everyone was, and I had a delightful time sharing lunch with them. Here's a link to his Runyaker blog: Lunch consisted of a couple of farmhouse ales and a bratwurst sandwich. I figured I had to order some German food while here in Frankenmuth.
My new pal, Bill Hart from Frankenmuth.
Dog signs at the Frankenmuth Brewery.
Dog taps at the Frankenmuth Brewery.
We said our goodbyes after lunch, vowing to meet up at another run sometime (either in Frankenmuth again or perhaps in Kentucky...). I left the brewery and spent some time in the Frankenmuth Historical Museum. The museum features information about the fifteen original German Lutherans who came to the area as missionaries to convert the Native Americans. It is actually a really lovely little museum with lots of artifacts and photographs of Frankenmuth and its early inhabitants. They also had a special exhibit about the Grimm brothers. I didn't realize Jakob Grimm was a librarian.
Scenes/photos from the historical museum. 

I spent the remainder of the afternoon checking out little shops up and down the main street. I bought some Michigan mittens that are super cute, as well as some souvenirs for my family. I also stopped at a local cupcake shop and had them doctor up a cupcake in honor of my 25th race. It was delicious! I went back to the hotel to rest for awhile and do my laundry before checking out the huge Christmas shop in town, Bronners.
Celebratory cupcake!
The cupcake really wasn't as big as my head. Camera trick here.
Michigan mittens.
Bronner’s claims to be the “World’s Largest Christmas Store,” and according to a statistic I read at the Frankenmuth History Museum, it is the size of five football fields. The outside of the store is nearly as decorated as the inside, with larger than life (or sometimes life-sized) statuary, lights, Christmas music playing and even a “Silent Night” chapel on the grounds. Inside I was met with miles of Christmas decorations. I walked around for about 40 minutes or so, selecting a few new snowman ornaments to bring home to my family for our snowman tree. It was pretty overwhelming in there after awhile…so much to see, and I’m sure I would’ve spent much more money had I walked through the entire facility. It was like the Yankee Candle Headquarters back home, but on steroids.
One outside view of Bronner's Christmas store.
Outdoor decor...maybe a parade float? 
Life-sized Nativity scene.
Silent Night chapel on the Bronner's grounds.
Altar inside the tiny chapel.
Stained glass window in the chapel.
I headed back to my hotel to park my car, then I walked a few doors down to Prost, a wine bar/charcuterie for dinner. I ordered up a delicious plate of charcuterie and a glass of wine, and I enjoyed every bite. I chatted with a nice young couple who sat next to me at the bar. It was a perfect ending to an exciting day. 
Over the bar at Prost.
Back at the hotel, I did my best to organize all my clothes, race paraphernalia, souvenirs and carry on items, as my flight was out early the next morning and the airport was an hour and a half away. I checked the online results of the race, and although my official finish time stayed the same 1:53:35, I was listed as 3rd place in my age group now. Hmmmm? How could that be? Well, I took a look at the listing and noticed the first place woman in the 40-44 age bracket was also the overall first place winner for women in the entire race. My guess is that the race organizers didn’t allow winners to “double dip” in the prize pool, so with that, I’m standing on my 2nd place finish. (Even third place would have been a thrill, so it really didn’t matter.) I have my 2nd place growler trophy to show for my efforts. 
Thank you to Frankenmuth, MI for a monumental halfway milestone race, and thank you to the Cass River Runners for being so welcoming to an outsider who enjoys your sport. Most especially, thank you to my wonderful husband and kids for their unending support. I love you guys! Here’s to the next 25!

Shirt, bib number, finisher medal and 2nd place growler.
Michigan card.

Friday, October 2, 2015

State #25, Michigan, Part 1

I flew out to Detroit this morning. The flight was quick and easy, and from the airport I had to travel just over an hour to a town north and west called Frankenmuth. After a couple of stops (lunch, shopping for necessities), I made it to my destination. Frankenmuth is a quaint Bavarian-style village near the dip between the thumb and first finger of the mitten half of Michigan. It is adorable and is filled with cute shops, hotels, restaurants and attractions. I chose this race in particular because my cousin's husband has family in the area, and they were going to head out with me. Unfortunately, plans didn't work out, so I ended up solo, but in a town this sweet, there was plenty to do just wandering around. 
Statue of mascot outside the Cheese Haus.
I checked in to my hotel and then decided to walk around a bit. I started off checking out the Frankenmuth Cheese Haus which was very close to my hotel. It was a great shop filled with hand made cheeses made on location as well as other local cheeses and all kinds of cheese and kitchen accessories. I was able to find magnets for my kids there as well as a postcard to send to a friend's son for his school project (collecting postcards from all 50 states). I also ended up getting a couple of gifts for other folks for Thanksgiving/Christmas. I won't go in to detail on that here, lest they be reading. 
Fall decor outside the Historical Museum.
Next, I walked by the Frankenmuth Historical Museum. I stopped in to the gift shop and spoke to a woman working there about the town. I asked how a little German town happened to end up in Michigan. She told me that the town began as a missionary town led by German Lutherans who came to the States to spread Christianity to the Native Americans. As they settled, they kept their heritage. Many of the buildings with the Bavarian architecture were constructed in the 1950's as more of a tourist attraction, but the original settlers in the area were from Germany. The name "Franken" comes from their home province in Germany, and "Muth" means courage. I told her I'd probably stop back tomorrow to tour the museum, and thanked her for the background info. 
Window display at Historical Museum.
Local directional signage.
I continued my walk along the main street, photographing some of the signs and sights along the way. Glockenspiel, anyone? The official Frankenmuth visitor's center was also in the Bavarian style and featured a fountain out in front of children running and playing around a maypole. Next was the Bavarian Inn which featured a lower level of shops. I stopped in there to look around and then stayed for a local pint at the bar while I wrote out my postcard. I ended up chatting with some local folks about where I could grab a decent plate of pasta. They gave me their recommendation, and I decided to check it out for dinner.
Visitor's Center
Fountain outside Visitor's Center.
Bavarian Inn
Protector of the Bavarian Inn.
From the Bavarian Inn, I had to walk to Heritage Park to pick up my race number.  It wasn't a far walk, and along the way I crossed the Zehnder's Holz Bridge, a wooden bridge spanning the Cass River. It featured covered sidewalks on both sides and the middle for cars. It was really picturesque. The Bruckelaufe Half Marathon actually features 13 bridges in the 13.1 miles of running. I bet the Zehnder's Holz is one of those I will be running over. I meandered along the road to the sports pavilion where I picked up my race number and shirt. From there I just walked back to my hotel to get ready for dinner. 
Side view of Bavarian Inn with horse and carriage.
Zehnder's Holz Bridge.
I found the restaurant that the folks at the Bavarian Inn recommended. It was called DaVinci's and wasn't too far from where I was staying. I had a hearty plate of spaghetti and meatballs, my usual. On the way back to the hotel, I stopped off for a few groceries and coffee for the morning. There wasn't a Starbucks nearby, so I had to settle for Tim Horton's. I hope it works out ok. I finished up the night getting things ready for the morning. Bed early after this busy travel and walk-about day.
Race number and shirt.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

On Nearing the Halfway Point

This coming weekend marks the official halfway point of my 50x50 half-marathon journey. It is amazing to me that I am this far along. I started working on this goal in 2011 when I ran my first half-marathon here in Connecticut, and actually I didn't even set the goal at that time. It wasn't until I ran my next half-marathon in New York in 2012 that I really made the decision to go for all 50 states. 
Now here I am, standing on the edge of number 25! Amazing. I just recently started putting together a non-blogisphere scrapbook (yup, the old school kind), and it has been a wonderful way to revisit all the places I've had the pleasure to experience while running. Each race has been special in its own way, and all of them carry special memories for me. I've saved all my race bibs, and pasting each one of them in my scrapbook calls up the emotions I felt each time I raced. I truly have loved every moment of these trips and races. Most especially, I love the people who I have connected with along the way and those who have traveled along with me. It is so nice to have those memories to look back upon. 
Low-tech scrapbook in progress.
So this weekend I head to Michigan to a small town called Frankenmuth. It is a Bavarian style town apparently, and I can't wait to see what it is all about. There definitely is a story there...but seriously, what a perfect time of year to be heading to a German-themed locale. Octoberfest, anyone? The race is called the Bruckelaufe Half Marathon and is sponsored by the local Jaycees group . Bruckelaufe means "bridge race" in German, and this race has runners traversing over 13 bridges in 13.1 miles. Some of them are covered bridges or other special kinds of bridges. I can't wait to see what it is all about, and hopefully capture a few good photos while I am there. (And maybe track down a bratwurst when I'm finished.) Interestingly, Michigan was the 26th state to enter the union, and this is technically my 26th half-marathon (although my 25th state overall). So I guess 26 is a lucky number, too.
Stay tuned for my review of the Bruckelaufe coming later this week. I can't wait to have number 25 officially in the books (blog and scrapbook).