Monday, August 28, 2017

State #36, Run With The Horses, Green River, WY, 8/19/17, Part 2

Race morning I was awake before the alarm I had set for 5:00 am. I was up nearly every hour throughout the night due to nerves and all the water I had been having since arriving in Wyoming. It is crucial to stay hydrated in the dry, desert, high altitude surroundings here. I did my best to get ready without disrupting my family, but in one small hotel room, that proved to be pretty impossible. The noise from the microwave heating up coffee and water for my oatmeal was so loud in the pre-dawn hours. I felt bad that I was waking them up in such an annoying way. 
Pre-dawn selfie in the car on the way to the start with my gang!
We all had to get up anyway to get to the start. I’m so grateful to my family for making these sacrifices for me when we are away on vacation. It isn’t easy, I know.
Start/finish line for the race.
We made it to the starting line area of the race at Expedition Island Park in Green River. It is a small parcel of land in the middle of the Green River with a nice little park there. A small crowd of runners gathered just prior to the start at 6:30 am to hear the safety rules from the race director. He cautioned us to stay on the sidewalks while in the town area to remain safe from traffic, and (a first for me) told us to be aware of rattlesnakes while up in the horse country. Rattlesnakes??!! Yikes!! What in the world was I in for? 
Green River at Expedition Island Park.
Rattlesnake warning from race director.
We stepped off promptly at 6:30 am. I realized right away that I was having trouble starting the GoPro camera strapped to my head, so as I started, I ran over to my husband and asked him to hit the start button. Starting line blip! 
Running to Craig to get help with the GoPro.
We then continued on with a loop through the park area that led us out to the immediate neighborhood and up on to the main road toward where my hotel was. 
Problem fixed! Off and running.
This first two miles of the race was mostly flat, although a couple of cross-sections went slightly uphill. It wasn’t too bad though. We took the turn for Wild Horse Canyon Road, which brought us off the main drag and up to the start of “the hill.” Basically this next stretch was about 5 miles of a steep climb in to the high desert plateau. Although my test run the day before went pretty well, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sustain a strong pace through this part. My goal was to just run as much as I could and take walk breaks when needed. 
I ran under the underpass at the beginning of the road and could see my hotel up ahead, along with the first water station. As I got closer to the hotel, I could see Craig and the girls there taking pictures and cheering for me. I gave them a wave and some high fives and kept on going. 

High-five power!
I was hoping to make it up to the 10K turnaround point without stopping, but I fell short of that goal and had to walk sooner. I walked just enough to catch my breath and then started to run again. The next mile or so I kept in this way, and then I decided to try a stronger strategy. I knew I wouldn’t have a PR on this race, but I also wanted to run more than walk. So I started counting 100 running steps followed by 50 walking steps. I maintained this pattern for most of the climb up until things leveled out and became more “rolling” hills at the plateau. It worked pretty well, as I never ended up feeling completely beat up. 

[Hoping to add some of the GoPro footage here...check back later, as I need more time to find the right clip(s) and format.]

I caught up with a man probably around the 4 mile mark who was wearing this year’s Flying Pig Marathon t-shirt. We Right at about this point we came upon the wild horses grazing next to the road. We both remarked that this was the show we were hoping for. There were the horses…just as the race had advertised. Well done, race director!
We chatted for awhile as we climbed the final bit of steep hill and began on the “rolling” hills of the plateau. He was from Cincinnati and was working on completing full marathons in all 50 states. Wyoming was number 45 for him. We chatted about the Flying Pig and our families. He had two grown daughters ages 25 and 29, one of whom had just gotten married. We talked for probably about a mile and a half or so, and then I pulled ahead of him.
I knew the turn around point for the half was coming up fairly soon, based on the drive we did a couple of days ago and judging by the runners who had turned and passed me on the way back. I couldn’t help but notice that there weren’t very many people ahead of me based on those who had come by, and it also seemed that the women I’d seen were all quite a bit younger than me. At this point I was thinking that even though I’d been running fairly slow for my standards, I might have a chance of placing in my age category (40-49). I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but I tucked the idea in the back of my head, pledging to do my best on the downhill return to Expedition Island Park. 
I made my turn at the top of the plateau, and then took off running! The wind was in my face on the way down, but I didn't mind, as I was pretty hot and sweaty at this point. I took off my windbreaker and tied it around my waist. The cool air helped dry me off, and it felt really nice.The downhill portion of the run was of course easier in many ways, but running downhill on a gravel road was tricky at times, too. I had to be careful to keep myself from slipping on the rocks, and I had to avoid potholes, large rocks, horse manure and other minor obstacles. Mostly, though, I was making good time and knew I’d have a negative split for this race. I took water at all the aid stations on the way back down, but didn’t stop running…just grabbed and ran on. 
The run down provided interesting perspective. The view on the way down was just of the desert canyon, very much tan all the way. It almost felt like running on another planet because all I could see were the tan canyon walls and parts of the winding road. I couldn’t see around the corners, so each section was very secluded. It wasn’t until I was pretty close to the bottom that I could catch a glimpse of civilization below. Before I knew it, I was back at my hotel with only 2 miles to go. 
I made my way back to the main road and in to the town and neighborhood areas of Green River. I ran though the park and across the finish line at a time of 2:15:00. I met my family, and we took a walk around the park as I caught my breath and stretched my legs. 
Crossing the finish line.
The woman at the finish line who gave me my finisher’s medal mentioned that my results would be available on a card in a few moments from a man who was printing them out. When he handed it to me, I couldn’t believe it…I had come in first in my age category! My first first-place age group finish! Holy moly! And I thought this would be my worst race ever due to the hills and altitude. I was thrilled! I presented my time card to the lady at the finish line and she gave me a golden horseshoe as my age group trophy. Cool!
Age group win!
I walked around with my family some more and stretched out while the kids played on some swings. We eventually made our way back to the hotel so I could shower up, then we hit the road. We stopped midway to Jackson in a small town called Pinedale where we had lunch at a local brewery called Wind River. We celebrated my win with burgers and beers. 
Brewery stop in Pinedale. WY.
This was just the start of our trip, and it was already so awesome! The rest of our vacation was to center around Teton Village in Jackson Hole with sightseeing in Teton National Park and Yellowstone. Thank you, Wyoming, for a fantastic race and great memories! The Run with the Horses race is worth the trip and the experience. 
Teton mountain range when we got to Jackson after the race. So beautiful.


Friday, August 25, 2017

State #36, Run With The Horses, Green River, WY, 8/19/17, Part 1


We arrived in Wyoming on Wednesday (Sounds like the title of a Magic Tree House book, doesn’t it?). We flew into Jackson Hole, and right away we knew we were in the west. The view of the mountains from the airport were gorgeous, and we snapped a few photos before we went on our way. We needed to get to a town called Green River for the marathon, and that was approximately 3 hours from the airport. Onward we went! 
View of the Tetons at the Jackson Hole airport.  
Antler arch at the airport.
The town of Jackson was so much fun to drive through though. There are all kinds of restaurants and shops, including a deli (Creekside) that is owned by relatives of good friends of ours. We will stop back there when we had back to the area after the race is over. 
Once out of Jackson Hole, the drive to Green River was long and fairly desolate. We left the mountains behind and made our way out to the high desert. The topography was grassy and polka dotted with low, scrubby desert brush. 
Convenience store we stopped at on the way to Green River. Too funny!
Our hotel in Green River was a Hampton Inn nestled in the wild horse loop area of the town. The hotel was at the base of a large hill that led in to the high desert lands. Large painted rocks surrounded the hotel area, and we couldn’t wait to do some exploring around them. I was grateful to arrive on a Wednesday so that I would have a couple of days to try to acclimate to the higher altitude. I learned from my race in Colorado that the thin air at high altitude was no joke while trying to run a half marathon. This race in Wyoming promised to be similar per the warnings posted on the race website. I was concerned, but figured I’d just plug along slowly and do the best I could. This wasn’t going to be a PR race. 
Painted rocks directly behind our hotel.
More views of the rocks next to the hotel.
After settling in to the hotel, we had dinner at a local spot and ended up turning in pretty early. The travel had been long and tiring for all of us.
The next day, we took a drive along the Wild Horse Loop road, which was the same road I’d be running in the race. In fact, right in front of our hotel and at the base of the giant hill was the sign marking mile 2. We drove up into the hills of the high desert to check out the difficulty of the route and to hopefully spy some of the wild horses. Our drive didn’t disappoint. We came across three different herds of wild horses and saw some amazing scenery along the way. 
View from the top of the race route looking down over Green River.

Wild horses in the area along the route.
Periodically along the side of the road were historical markers that told the story of the history of Green River and information about the topography and horses. It was a breathtaking route, and we stopped many times to take photos and read the various placards. 
Views from the top of the plateau.
Pilot Butte off in the distance.
Green River off in the distance.
We could even see Pilot Butte off in the distance, a formidable sight. I snapped some shots of the amazing views to post on the blog so I wouldn’t have to stop mid-race. What a fun adventure! The horses were stunningly beautiful. 
Desert sagebrush.
More views from the high plateau. 
And more wild horses!
Pilot Butte, closer view. Now that's a big butte!
After the drive, we did a few errands for mostly food supplies so we could make sandwiches back at the hotel for lunch. Our hotel had a nice patio in the back that looked out on to the rocks and hills. It was a great spot to hang out. We relaxed over lunch and then decided it was time to take a hike up in to the rocks and hills. It would be a fun activity for all of us and a good way for me to gauge my breathing in the altitude. We ended up walking for about an hour and a half, and that was pushing the limit of our youngest. She was fading fast on those high desert trails, and the only thing we could get her to do to keep going was to promise she could add rocks to the cairns along the trail and to let her start some new ones of her own. The walk down was much easier, and I spied a rock with a fossil on it as we descended! That really make our littlest one very happy. Everyone was happy in the end.
Hiking behind our hotel.
After freshening up, we headed out to dinner at a local brewery, Bitter Creek. The food was great and the atmosphere was fun (much better atmosphere than the restaurant we went to the first night). Our waiter, Drew, was very friendly and full of personality. It made for a delightful night out for dinner. We turned in early again after all the hiking and horse excitement. 
Friday morning after breakfast, I decided to try to do a test run up the hill a bit to see how my breathing felt. My husband took the kids to the pool, and I set my phone timer for 20 minutes, figuring I didn’t want to overdo it the day before the race, but I really felt like I needed some practice. I started out in front of the hotel, and while running up hills isn’t really my favorite thing, it wasn’t so bad. I was parched; probably a bit dehydrated despite the fact that I’d been trying to drink lots of water. (Note to self…pound more water in the desert!) Some parts of the hill were steeper than others, and I was able to run without stopping almost the whole 20 minutes. I had to stop just before I hit the 20 minute mark to walk and recapture my breath. Once I turned around, I felt great! Downhill was fine. In fact, I ended up running past my hotel to the end of the road for about an extra half mile. I finished with 4.25 miles clocked on my RW:GO app. Better than I thought, and breathing wasn’t as hard as it was in Colorado. At least now I had a sense of what I was in for. 
The rest of the day we spent taking a trip out to the Flaming Gorge/Red Canyon National Recreation Area in Utah. The drive out to Utah from Green River was largely desolate desert views, but once we arrived at the gorge, the vistas were unbelievable! All along the drive up to the top of the gorge, there are signs that inform you of various scientific and/or land facts in the areas you drive through. We saw signs announcing that the oldest fossils in Utah were found in a particular area, or that dinosaur prints were widely found or ancient shark species or ancient sand dunes. It was really mind boggling to soak in all the information about the area surrounding us. Our kids were amazed. We stopped once on the way up the gorge to snap some photos. What views!
Flaming Gorge as we drove up.
Another view along the drive.
We arrived at the visitor’s center at the top of the gorge, had a quick lunch in the car and then set out to hike the Canyon Rim trail at Red Canyon. The views of the gorge from here were sublime. The recreation area below in the gorge was created when the Flaming Gorge Dam was built on the Green River. Far below we could see boats and some folks tubing in the water. We hiked the rim trail which was largely flat but a bit rocky and uneven. The area surrounding us was a campground, so periodically we would see campsites or tents, but largely it wasn’t crowded at all. What a beautiful, unspoiled place to visit. We cut our hike a little short because the kids were getting hot and tired. 
View of the gorge from our hike on the rim trail. So incredible!
Topography of the top of the canyon in the campground. 
On our drive home, we took a different route that brought us by the Flaming Gorge Dam. It was cool to show the kids what it looked like and to talk about how hard it must have been to build. The dam was built to help Utah, but apparently it was very unpopular with Wyoming because it affected water flow on the Green River. One of the first explorers of the Green River area was John Wesley Powell who gave Flaming Gorge its name. The drive out was long, but the scenery and learning made it totally worth it. 
Flaming Gorge Dam on the lake side.
Flaming Gorge Dam on the Green River side.
Returning to Green River, we stopped so I could get my morning Starbucks coffees (and some treats for the family) before heading over to pick up my race number. The race registration and pick up took place at Expedition Island in Green River, right on the river. There was a park and playground nearby, so the kids were excited that they’d have something to do race morning while I was running. After that, we headed back to the hotel to relax and change for dinner. We ate the Coyote Steakhouse in Rock Springs, the next town over from Green River. We had a nice meal, and our waitress told us about another place in town called Cowboy Donuts where she also happened to work. Craig and the kids pledged to see her the next morning at the donut shop. 
Back at the hotel, we did our best to pack up our things so we would be ready for check out after the race. I gathered all my race necessities for the morning, and despite our early bedtime, I tossed and turned all night and had a terrible sleep. Not what I was hoping for, but what can you do?

Monday, August 7, 2017

Next up: Wyoming!

Wow! Summer is flying by. It is unbelievable that the first week of August is already over. Where do the days go? As much as the running in the first part of July was difficult due to the heat and humidity here in CT, these last couple of weeks have been really nice. Cooler mornings feel wonderful, and for some of my afternoon runs, cloud cover has been plentiful. Both circumstances are a welcome relief from the higher temps earlier in the summer. 
I am gearing up for my next half, the Run with the Horses in Wyoming. I’ve been pretty worried about this one. This trip was planned with the focus on catching the full solar eclipse heading to the U.S. in August. The race was second priority. I don’t know that I would have chosen this race if it weren’t for the timing of the eclipse. I suspect I would’ve gone with a larger race like the one in Jackson Hole or Yellowstone; however the description on the race website has me excited to run in what I suspect will be stunning (if difficult) terrain.
The race site cautions runners to the difficulty of the race, and it seems that only about 150-200 runners compete in the combined collection of races (full, half and 10k). The race takes place at elevation, starting at approximately 6100 feet and rising about 1400 feet or so before the turn around to head back down. Certainly not a course for the faint of heart. I usually try to avoid hilly courses, but this being the race that coincided with the eclipse, I just have to deal with it. 
It will be a slow go for sure for me, especially after the difficulty I experienced in Colorado in the altitude…and that was on a downhill course! I’m just going to take it slow and keep my legs moving. Taking a look at results from last year, the winning female finished in just under 2 hours, so I expect to be a fair chunk beyond that. (Originally I thought the first place female for the half finished in 3 hours which scared me to death, but when I double checked, I saw that it was closer to 2 hours. I can handle that.)
So apparently the run takes us through high plains desert terrain with views of buttes and mountains. Sometimes there might be a glimpse of wild horses. It should be incredibly gorgeous. I plan to try running with a Go-Pro camera for this one to try to catch some of the beauty. I can’t wait to post some footage on the blog of what the camera captures. I figured that since I’m mentally prepared to not be running for a PR this time around, I may as well have some fun filming it, right? Hopefully the results turn out ok. With my luck, I’ll get finished to find that the camera was pointing at the sky the whole time! Oy!
The rest of the trip to Wyoming will feature hiking and visiting the National Parks, along with a visit to Jackson Hole and the eclipse, of course. I look forward to experiencing the beauty of this part of the country. Only a few more easy training runs to go before the big event. What a wonderful way to wrap up the summer. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Bonus race--just for fun! The Narragansett Beer Summer Running Festival--Half Marathon--July 16, 2017

Trick question: When is a half marathon race not a race? Answer: When you enter and run it as a final training run. Yup. That’s just what I did last weekend. First time for me using an actual organized half as a training run, but it was pretty cool. Here’s how it all came about…
About a month or so ago, I found an email in my inbox from Race Wire advertising the Narragansett Beer summer running festival. Because my races for this year are already booked, I normally wouldn’t have taken the time to look at the upcoming race, but for some reason (probably for future prospects), I decided to open the email and see what this race was all about. Due to the “Narragansett” moniker, I assumed the race took place in Rhode Island. I figured maybe sometime in the future (after I finish the 50 states), I might like to run some local-ish races. Rhode Island certainly isn’t out of that realm.
To my astonishment, when I looked at the race information, the race did not take place in Rhode Island, but rather in Easton, MA at Stonehill College. This just happens to be the place where I spent four years of undergraduate study. I never knew this race existed, let alone that it took place at my alma mater. Now, I realize this may not be very monumental news to most readers, but there is another very cool aspect to this that made the timing and location of this race so remarkable.
Time for a short back story…my freshman year at Stonehill, I was lucky to have Fatima Velez as my resident assistant in the freshman girls’ dorm, Boland Hall. Fatima is from Spain, and she was a senior that year, so after she graduated, she moved back to Spain. Fatima administers a summer camp in the States now, so she visits the U.S. each summer, and through our amazing circle of friends, we usually get together each year to see one another. Back in Spain, Fatima and her husband, Jose-Luis, are big runners. They compete in full marathons and ultra marathons while somehow also balancing the work/life balance of raising three children. They are basically amazing. 
For years at our summer friend gatherings, Fatima has said that she wants us to run together. She has even said that I need to go to Spain to run with her. Certainly an invitation I plan on accepting when the 50 states runs are done. So with all of this in mind, I forwarded the Narragansett race link to her with a message that expressed my disbelief at its location and hope that we could run it together, if not this year, then sometime in the future. In no time I heard back from Fatima with an enthusiastic, “YESSSSS! Let’s do it.” She had to check her schedule and rearrange some things, but within a few days, I received a definitive yes that both she and her husband would be running. That was that!
Inside Boland Hall with Fatima, 1990
Outside Boland Hall with Fatima, 1990. Ready for floor hockey.
It was a very busy weekend for me, too, with events both before and after the Sunday race, but I was committed to run with my good friend. It was something we had talked about for so long. We both agreed to take the run on the slower side, and I told her I just wanted to use it as a training run for Wyoming (next month) rather than trying to race it. Plus with the heat and humidity common for July in New England, race organizers were cautioning runners against going for a personal best. Fine with me. 
Sullivan Hall, the dorm I lived in for most of my time at Stonehill.
The race start time was set at 7:30 am, so with a two-hour ride ahead of me, I left my house at about 4:30 am. The drive up was pretty easy with no traffic, and I made it to campus about an hour before start time. That left plenty of time to eat my breakfast and get my number, etc. I parked up in the Pilgrim Heights area of campus, right near the dorm I used to live in for much of my time there, Sullivan Hall. It is really amazing coming back to campus 20+ years later. So much has changed! There are many more buildings on campus and even a football stadium and outdoor track now. It really is impressive.
I picked up my bib (ironically in front of Boland Hall where Fatima and I first met), and headed over to the t-shirt pick up. The woman handing out the t-shirts immediately pointed at me and said “WSHL!” Those are the call numbers for the campus radio station where I was a dj for four years and station manager for two. I cautiously said, “Yessss….,” not knowing how she knew me. Turns out, it was Erika, one of the station board members who came after me, but we had connected through the WSHL Alumni Board that I once participated in. It was good to see her and catch up. She and her husband were volunteering at the race and also displaying their company, Bibs2Bags, as a vendor. They make various bags out of racing bibs. Pretty sweet. Their booth looked great at the finish line vendor area, by the way. Here's a link to their website: http://www.bibs2bags.com.
So after all that excitement, I started to head back to my car to eat breakfast, when I ran smack dab in to a woman I had met when I raced out in North Dakota. No kidding! I recognized her right away and stopped her and reminder her of our meeting out there. When we met in ND, we laughed that we were both from New England, and it turned out through our conversation that she had my father-in-law as her high school chemistry teacher. So funny! So we chatted a bit. She had completed her 50 states races and was now working on finishing 100 half marathons. Impressive! I told her I was still working away at my 50 and that this one was just a fun training run with a friend because we both went to college there. Then she told me she went to college at Stonehill, too! So crazy! We wished each other luck. I’m sure we will bump in to one another again in the future. 
Meeting Fatima outside Boland Hall pre-race. Old friends united!
I ate a  quick bowl of oatmeal back at the car and talked briefly with Fatima who was now on campus. We met a short time later in front of Boland Hall. It was so amazing to be standing there with her about to run a half marathon. So awesome! She and her husband and myself exchanged greetings and last minute race nerves. We set out to brave the growing porta-potty lines just prior to getting in to the race corral. 
The race start ended up being delayed a few minutes due to the long bathroom lines, but after a few selfies, we set out with a goal of trying to stay in front of the two hour pacing group. 
Starting line scene. 
Fatima and myself just before the start of the race.
For those Stonehill friends who may be reading, we lined up behind Boland/The Courts and the starting line brought us slightly up the side road that goes up to the admissions building and then u-turned just below Alumni Hall right down to the main road toward Duffy. We turned right to head out the route 138 exit, and sitting right there on my left was my sister-in-law, Jenn and her daughter Riley! What a surprise! I knew they were thinking of coming, but as any race spectators know, getting to the early start of a race just to watch isn’t easy. I ran over to them to give them hugs and thank them for being there, and we were off!
We exited the campus and ran across the street through the “Sheep Pasture” property across the street from the college. This part of the race was unpaved, utilizing a dirt and gravel road. The dirt road portion wasn’t super long, and brought us through some grassy and wooded parts before bringing us out on a main road heading in to Easton. We turned left on to this road and shortly thereafter a right that brought us into a neighborhood with gorgeous old houses. This road brought us through some lovely park areas in Easton and out to the “Long Pond." I vaguely remember this from my time at Stonehill, and I’m not sure why. Maybe my commute to my student teaching position brought me along this route? Old brain. Can’t remember. 
Fatima and I were having a blast running together, and we commented on how beautiful Easton is and how we never really explored any of the town while at Stonehill. We mostly just stayed on campus or took the school’s shuttle to Boston. We didn’t have cars then, so getting around the immediate area wasn’t something we did all that often. I remember in later years at school when I had a car or friends with cars, we would get out to places like Borderland State Park which was just beautiful.
As we made the turn around the pond, Jenn and Riley appeared again to cheer us on. They were the best! Not only did they come out to spectate, they moved along the route to cheer for us twice! 
We made the turn and headed further into another neighborhood development. Again, the houses were just lovely, and the road brought us by pretty landscapes, too. 
As we neared the half-way point, the first couple of front runners passed us by on their return trip (it was a mostly out and back race). The furthest reaches of the race, however, brought us into a neighborhood with a loop, and the loop brought us back on the road we traveled out on, but a little further along, so we didn’t see anymore of the front runners. We were hoping to see Jose-Luis and cheer him on, but it wasn’t meant to be. 
At this point in the race, we were keeping good time (still ahead of the 2 hour pacing group), but the heat and humidity was starting to get to me and my ankle started to really hurt. I could feel myself slowing down. Fatima was a wonderful coach, helping me get through this portion of the run. She talked to me about how she stays motivated in a race when she’s hurting, like visualizing her children’s faces or other things she absolutely loves. She was an amazing help! 
We made it past the Long Pond and as we got close to the center of Easton, the two hour pacing group passed us. We were hoping to stay in front of them, but at this point I was not in any shape to try to speed up. Slow and stead was good enough for me this day. 
One fun side note about this race…the water stations were largely manned by Stonehill students, so pretty much every time we grabbed water we thanked them and told them we were alumni. It was fun to connect with the young generation in this way. 
We made our way back through Easton and into the sheep pasture via a different trail. This trail brought us through the gardens that the school now has there. From what I have read, students help grow food there that is actually used on campus. Pretty neat. That was not done when we were there. We got through this section quickly, crossed the street and headed back on to campus for about a mile and a half stretch before the end of the race. 
This was actually a really cool part of the run, even though I was hurting and hobbling my way around. We came in through the route 138 entrance again and turned right, which brought us into the new football stadium and outdoor track the campus has. Wow! Sweet! Then we headed toward the sports complex, which has been added on to and looks gorgeous, and out along a new paved walking path to the old Sem. The Sem looks pretty much the same, and running out there reminded me of fun times with friends who lived in that dorm. We looped through the old “rugby field” which is now a finished looking multi-sport field. There were soccer nets there and football uprights. I think I saw a sign that it is used for club sports or something to that effect. 
That road brought us out to the main road that now comes in the front entrance to Stonehill where we passed by the new and very impressive science building. Wow! Again, very impressive, and Fatima and I were remarking that we barely even recognized the campus. Next, we ran up the quad, past the Martin Institute, the old Student Union (has a new name now, but I don’t remember it), the new library and then I’m not sure exactly where the route took us, but we saw a police officer (Rosie!) who used to be there when we went there. She still works there and remembered us (not sure if that’s a good thing…). Somewhere along this part, Jose-Luis found us and ran the end of the race with us. He told us that he was pretty sure he won 1st in his age group! So cool!
We passed through the Commonwealth Courts, ran the path and footbridges out near O’Hara, ran back through the middle of the quad and up the road on the right side of the “big house” as you are facing it. Up behind there was the finish line, and we crossed with our hands linked in victory at a time of 2:04, slow, but not too bad. It was a blast to run with a good friend in our old stomping ground. 
Triumphantly crossing the finish line together!
The finish line activities were really festive. There was a band playing and many vendors offering products and services. Jose-Luis seemed especially interested in Erika’s tent of the repurposed bib numbers. Shortly after finishing, as we were stretching out, our other good friends from school arrived. They missed our crossing of the finish line, but they came to spend time catching up. We hung out for a while at the finish line festival, enjoying the complimentary Narragansett beers (a generous 2 free per runner, so there was plenty for sharing) and getting caught up with each other. 
The finishers! Jose-Luis shows off his 1st place age group beer glass.
A beautiful day for a practice run, and a medal, too.
We continued our reunion with a walk through part of campus to the Notre Dame Du Lac dorm, where we had permission to use the showers after the race. The runners got cleaned up and the spectators got to hang out and chat. 
Same ladies in front of Boland Hall, July 16, 2017.
Afterward, we headed out for a well-deserved lunch. It is always such a wonderful time when this group of friends gets together. We missed Chrissy (who lives in Florida) and Heidi (who wasn’t feeling well) this time around, but it was absolutely food for the soul for those of us who were able to meet up. We got caught up on all the goings-on with our families and shared the latest pictures of our kids…they are all growing up too quickly! It was a fantastic day, and after lunch we said our goodbyes, until next time. What a wonderful, wonderful training run this was. I can’t thank Fatima and Jose-Luis enough for making time in their schedule for this event, and for Sue, Jenna and Nancy for making the trek to be there with us. It was the best! "Franks for the memories!"
Race bib, t-shirt and finishers medal.

Friday, June 16, 2017

State #35, Revel Rockies, Denver, CO, Part 2

I set my alarm for 3:45 am and woke up accordingly after a pretty sound night of sleep (thankfully). Andrew wanted to sleep until 4 am, so I tried to be quiet as I went about my morning routine. By the time I was dressed, he was up and getting ready. I don’t know if it was the altitude rattling my brain, but I felt so scatterbrained gathering my things. I had to check everything two or three times to make sure I had what I needed. I didn’t realize until we were at the starting line that I didn’t tape my hamstring, something I always do for half marathons. Oh well, good thing it was a downhill race. 
I left the room around 4:20 to head to the lobby to get some hot water for my oatmeal, and I told Andrew I’d meet him down there. Shockingly, no one was in the lobby, so feeling a bit alarmed, I asked the front desk attendance if the buses were still there and he said they were. Whew! Just as I was getting my hot water, a woman came in to the lobby from the buses doing a “last call” as the buses were about to leave! I texted Andrew in a panic to hurry! They held the bus for us, thank goodness! I don’t know what we would have done if we’d missed it. We had no idea where the starting line was and there wasn’t any parking there, and it would throw off our whole schedule of running, getting back to the hotel and off to the airport if we would have had to drive back to the race start to pick up a car. Oy!
video

The bus ride was fun. It was jam-packed with runner bodies, and to everyone’s delight, it was a party bus complete with fancy colored lights! Woo-woo! The crowd was friendly and fun, and it seemed we got to the start location pretty quickly (in about 30 minutes or so). We exited the bus and headed in to the parking lot of a dental office, the designated runners village for the morning. We huddled close to the dental office to stay warm. It wasn’t super cold, but a light wind and slightly lower temps than what we had at the lower elevation made waiting around a chilly affair. Andrew and I just relaxed, and I gulped down my oatmeal. With about 45 minutes to the race start, the lines for the porta-potties were getting really long, so we decided it was then or never. Luckily, the line moved quickly, and we made it with still a good 15 minutes or so to spare. 
Prior to coming out to Colorado, I had heard from a fellow Weight Watchers friend that a member of our Thursday group (which I haven't attended for quite some time due to my work schedule) was not doing well in her battle with cancer. I wrote her a note a couple of weeks before the race to let her know I was thinking of her and to tell her that I'd be running for her in Colorado. So, with Cindy in my heart, I headed to the starting line up.
Runner's village at the starting line.
Starting line selfie. Early morning.
I convinced Andrew we should line up near the 1:50 pace group (not that I was expecting a super fast run, but it can’t hurt to try). At the start of the race, a guy lined up a few rows in front of us and was taking pictures with some friends (or so I thought). Come to find out later (Andrew told me after the race), he was Ben, a former guy from The Bachelor. Who knew? My first brush with a celeb runner, I guess. 
View at the starting line (before the bachelor lined up!).

Starting line selfie.
Before long, we were off. Immediately I was hurting. The start of the race was uphill, and due to the lack of oxygen, it felt like I had never run a step in my life. I was huffing and puffing and having a super hard time. The first hill leveled out a bit, but then a second hill appeared. That one was just as tough. By the time I got to the top, I was so out of breath and had to pee again already. Sheesh! What a lousy start. Luckily, there was one lone porta-potty at the top of the hill and no line, so I was in and out quickly, but the 1:50s were long gone. I decided at that point that I better just focus on trying to get through breathing in the high altitude and not worry too much about time.
Thankfully, from that point on, the course was all downhill, and a beautiful downhill course it was. We ran along a pretty major road, but half of it was blocked off for runners only, and traffic was only being allowed in one direction. Beautiful, big houses with seemingly gorgeous views dotted the hillsides, and the pine trees were plentiful. They reminded me of a giant outdoor cathedral. Just majestic! I did my best to keep a decent pace, and I knew the breathing should get easier the lower down the mountain we ran, but I had a really hard time regulating my breath in my normal pattern. I felt like I was constantly trying to catch my breath and reestablish a rhythmic breathing pattern. Not easy. Still, the miles didn’t feel like they were dragging. I knew I wasn’t running super fast, but I wasn’t super slow either. And the 2:00 pacing group hadn’t passed me…yet.
By mile 6 or so, I was starting to walk through the water stations rather than try to run, drink and breathe all at the same time. The 2 hour group passed me around the halfway point, but I vowed to keep them in my sights. I wanted to be as close to 2 hours as I could for the finish. I hate when I go over that mark. I just kept going the best I could.
By the time I got to mile 10, I felt pretty good, and the downhill slope was pretty strong, so that helped a lot. I tried to visualize my 2.5 mile run around my neighborhood as the last bit of this race. Only one loop around the neighborhood to go until the finish line! The last couple of miles actually felt pretty good, and I passed the 2 hour group in the last mile. Success! I knew I’d finish under the 2 hour mark. Hooray!
The finish line of the race was in a town called Morrison, just at the base of the Red Rocks Park we visited the day before. What a nice way to end! Down the last bit of the hill I came, only to be greeted by an uphill finish! Thanks a lot, race directors! I managed to cross the finish line at 1:58:37, and  I was just fine with that time. Come to find out, I managed to get 25th in my age group! Not bad at all! I collected my medal, met up with Andrew, and after a short chat, we headed back to where the shuttle buses were to pick us up. On the way, Andrew pointed out the Bachelor guy to me, and we had a chuckle about our celebrity runner. We managed to catch the 9 am shuttle back to the hotel, which was perfect. We would have enough time to shower, pack and get to the airport on time. 
Race number, tee, socks and medal. Really good swag.
The Revel Race series again didn’t disappoint. The race was well organized, and the route was lovely. Staying at a host hotel was very convenient, as we had our own bus to bring us to the start and bring us back to the hotel. My only advice would be for non-altitude trained runners to get out there earlier to acclimate to the air. It was definitely more of an issue than I expected. Colorado was beautiful, and I wish I had more time to explore it, but that will have to wait for another trip. State #35 is done, and only 15 more to go!

**Post race follow up: I wrote the above post on the day of the race, June 11th. This morning (June 16) while making breakfast and going through my morning routine, I read Cindy's obituary online. She passed away on June 10th. Rest in peace, lovely lady. Your spirit, drive and sparkle lives on in those of us who knew you. Thank you for bringing me the strength to get through this difficult race.