Sunday, December 14, 2014

What a Fall!

It's been a busy fall with races . . .

August: Leesburg 20K
September: DC Ragnar (but I told you about that one)
October: Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon
November: Richmond Half Marathon
December: Rehoboth Beach Half Marathon

And a few trail runs in there with the Backyard Burn series.

This week, I've done pretty much nothing. I ran about three miles on Tuesday to try to shake out some soreness from the Rehoboth Beach half, but it hurt, and then I remembered that I had promised myself a break from running after that race. I hadn't taken any real time off since my foot gave me some problems in January. It's weird to take a break and not be hurt, and I'll probably not meet my goal of running 1,000 miles this year because of it, but my feet and knees are thanking me.

So let me tell you about one of those trail runs.

Backyard Burn is a trail running series put on by EX2adventures. They are a terrific company and the series is challenging and fun. I did three of the races in the fall series this year, at Lake Fairfax Park in Reston, Wakefield Park in Annandale, and Prince William Forest Park, down near Quantico. One bonus of these races is that I get to catch up with Michelle and Steve, who run so fast that I only get to see them before and after the race itself, but that's cool.

I'm smiling because the race hadn't started yet. They're smiling because they're going to kick butt.
For the last race, I also got to hang out with Chris and Jim from the neighborhood (it was Jim's first trail race!) and with Andrea, whose eyes were closed in this picture but maybe she was just gathering her energy because (spoiler alert!) she got 4th in our age group at the end!

Chris is in the green shirt, Jim has the shades on, Andrea is focusing, and you know me.
This was a very short race, at least for me. Less than a mile in, one of my contact lenses folded up in the corner of my eye so I couldn't see. No problem, I thought, I will just tough it out. 

Nope. About 100 yards down the trail I hit a root with my foot and went flying, splat. I skinned my knee, skinned my elbow, and called it a day. The other runners were jumping over me and asking if I was okay, but I managed to roll out of the way and take my bib off. It was the first race I'd started and not finished, which was disappointing.


My real problem was that because I had ridden with to the race Andrea, my cozy sweatshirt was still in her car. Fortunately, the ranger station was open. They let me use their bathroom to fix my contact lens and clean the dirt off my hands and face, and I loitered around there until the runners started coming in. I got to eavesdrop on the rangers (they were seriously helpful to the hikers who wanted to avoid the trail runners), learn a little about the history of Prince William Forest Park (it started out as the Chopawamsic Recreation Area in the 1930s to let DC kids get a chance to breathe some country air), and take selfies with the stuffed beavers.

According to the park's website, there are now about 80 beavers living there. This guy is not one of them.
Some of the super speedy runners started rolling in about 35 minutes after the five-miler started, so I went on out to cheer for people. Boy was Steve surprised to see me!

"I saw a beaver!" I told him. He was a little impressed until I showed him the above picture.

Chris, Jim, Andrea, and Michelle enjoyed their races, and we all enjoyed the bountiful food that EX2 provides. I reasoned that if you bail out of a race because you fell and got dinged up, you can still have a piece of pizza at the end. And yep, check out Andrea with her pint glass prize!

I would love to win one of these!
Maybe I should ask for lasik for Christmas.




Sunday, December 7, 2014

Race Report: Rehoboth Beach Half Marathon

This was my last race of the fall season and oh, trying to keep my running mojo to stretch to December was not easy! But let me tell you, this race made it completely worthwhile.

What lured me to this race was the medal. Last year, my friend Neeli's husband ran the half and she put photos of the medal up on social media. It's a big honker, my friends. It is shaped like a life preserver and really, it is an impressive item.

"I want one of those!" I said.

"Let's do this race!" Neeli said.

Jennifer A., who may be more Delaware-legit than even Vice President Biden, put some planning in motion. She called out to her running diva friends and they brought their party like they do! Even better, Jennifer gave everyone the word on a wonderful place to stay: the Boardwalk Plaza Hotel. It was only a five minute walk from the start but more importantly, it was a beautiful home base with some of the nicest service I've ever experienced.

This was the view from our balcony. Pretty stellar, huh?

The trip up from Fairfax was a little long. My road trip companion, our 17 year old daughter (who hates running but loves road trips and tax-free Delaware outlet shopping), and I left around 3:00, and though the GPS promised a 3 hour trip, it was close to 7:00 before we rolled into town. We met up with Neeli who whisked us off to a great dinner at Casa DiLeo, perfect for topping off the carbs in a delicious way. The restaurant was full of runners, but not so full that we couldn't get an immediate table, for which we were grateful. Get the gnocchi!

Because I got into town so late, I had to pick up my bib race morning. It was not a problem at all. I got up early, enjoyed the runner's breakfast offered for free by the hotel (coffee, corn bread, muffins, blueberry bread, orange juice, water, all set out by the nicest people imaginable), and enjoyed a quiet walk along the boardwalk to get my packet.

Packet pick-up was organized and friendly. Because the hotel was so close, I was able to get back and finish getting ready before heading to the race for real at about 6:30.

From left to right: Amy, Jessica, Delaware Jen, me, Neeli, Marie, Chiara, Stacey, Eleanor, and Tod. With beautiful holiday decorations at the Boardwalk Plaza.

Me and Neeli down at the start. Neeli puts together outstanding running outfits ("Go big or go home!") and my regret is that this picture doesn't begin to capture her style.

At 7:00 sharp, we were off! We ran through the streets of Rehoboth Beach's downtown (a beautiful place that I look forward to visiting again), then headed off to a quick out-and-back into Cape Henlopen State Park. I love out-and-backs because you can see all the super speedy people who are in it to win it, and also check out your buddies no matter where they are on the course. A shout-out here to Amy B., who was always a delight to see on the out-and-backs.

At about mile 6, we hit the trail. For the next six miles, we were out-and-back on a gravel trail that was absolutely beautiful, but which slowed me down a bit. It was a little treacherous, too. I turned my foot on a stone, reminding me to be mindful of where I was putting those feet, and one woman running near me did a full on, face skinning fall. She got up and vowed to go on, bloody chin and all.

I had to stop for this picture of the sun trying to peek through the clouds. The trail ran all around this beautiful farm-y area.

Once we finished that piece of the course, it was a quick mile through town, around a corner, and on to the blessed finish line. A woman I passed in that last mile zoomed past me at the very end, and when I congratulated her for it in the beer tent later, she told me that she is a police officer and imagined she was chasing a bad guy to give her that extra burst of speed. That made me feel better, because she went past me so fast I think I got to draft in her speed for a minute.

And oh, the finish! Friendly volunteers greeted us with medals, mylar blankets, water, Gatorade, and directions to the food and beer tent. Running buddy Kevin and I checked out the spread while big dogs Robert and Linda went out for five extra miles (they are training for the Goofy Challenge next month). Fruit, pancakes, bacon, sausage, salads, mac and cheese, and extremely yummy beer from the 16 Mile Brewery in Georgetown, DE. I really enjoyed the Watermelon Blonde, and not just because I will drink almost anything with blonde in the name. The music was loud and the party was rolling pretty nicely by the time Neeli and I caught up (as well as my neighbor Cathy and her speedy friends), toasted our running success, and headed back to the hotel.

Check out Robert, Kevin, and Linda looking strong! (photo by Michael Garnier)

This race is a winner from start to finish. The Rehoboth Beach Running Company and all of the race's sponsors put on a fantastic production. The folks at the RB Running Company even monitored the race's Facebook page and offered to provide shoes the morning of the race for a runner who lamented his poorly planned packing. It's got the feeling of a well-beloved local race that is welcoming to all. The town of Rehoboth Beach may be the friendliest place I've ever been.

The course is mostly flat and was never too crowded, even out on the trail portion. I'm blaming that trail for keeping me from my PR, but the scenery made up for it (and where else will you see fast moving Santa Clauses high-fiving each other on an out-and-back?). The organization was top-notch, and the long-sleeved technical shirt is going to become a favorite. And the medal? Well, check it out!



Sunday, October 26, 2014

Wishing I Was Somewhere Else

I tell you, swearing off marathon running seemed like a great idea a few months ago. Then the Marine Corps Marathon came to town this weekend, along with all of the cool kids, and I kind of felt sorry for myself all day that I wasn't running it. So, um, hello March 13 (aka lottery sign-up day). I've got almost five months to build good karma or juju or grace from now until then so I can get in.

Here's what I did instead today:

  1. laundry
  2. grocery shopping with one of the teenagers
  3. a nap
  4. a plank
  5. more laundry
  6. talked on the phone to my sister
  7. had a pumpkin ale
  8. picked up some new capris
  9. made chicken divan soup, which everyone liked
  10. enjoyed a great cup of coffee with a lovely friend who was also not running the Marine Corps Marathon. And Sarah C. really is a cool person I don't get to see often enough, so that was quite excellent.
And then yesterday I had a terrific run with another friend I don't get to see often enough, Linda G. We did a fine 13 miler on the W&OD trail. It was a beautiful morning featuring lots of Halloween costumed runners, and there was even a Girl Scout bake sale (with two Golden Retrievers) at the end.

So even if I didn't get to run a race today that I didn't know I wanted to run, I can't complain at all about the weekend.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Blogging is Hard with Teenagers but Running is Easy with Friends

I've got two teenagers and I blame them for a lot: my gray hair, my crabby personality, the bags under my eyes. Also, they completely rule our family's lone computer, so I can add that I don't get to blog as much as I would like because they're watching X-Files or some such thing. So I'm pretty grateful to get a chance to steal the computer back and write about today's run.

And I'm also grateful for that run, because it was stellar. There is a very nice crew of people who get together each Saturday, gently prompted by Melanie P.'s weekly email. They mostly live out in the Ashburn/Leesburg VA area, where all the cool kids live, evidently, but sometimes (like today), they mix it up and head a little closer to Casa d'Anne so I was able to jump in with their training.

We had a nice crowd today! Check out these peeps:

There's Kevin taking the picture, along with Robert, Rich, Sean, Rebecca, and Melanie. They did eight miles on a beautiful morning. Leah and I aren't in the photo. We did six and change, then she headed home because she's got little cute kids and I went to Wegman's because I was ready for a coffee and a bagel.
This is a great bunch to catch up with. Melanie just did the Chicago Marathon, Rich and Rebecca are getting ready for the Marine Corps Marathon in a couple of weeks, and Robert is doing the Beach2Battlefield Half Ironman next weekend. Kevin is going to be doing the Rehoboth Half with me in December. These guys rule.

Another guy who rules is my friend Jeremy, who we saw running out on trail and seeing him made me feel very popular. Jeremy is all in for that Marine Corps Marathon, too.

After the run I went in to Wegman's to (use their nice clean bathroom and) procure the aforementioned coffee and bagel. The cashier at the coffee line was like, "Wow, you finished a marathon?" My first thought was, well, not today, but then I thought, either he's psychic or I look like a Real Marathoner. But no, it was because I had this hat on.

You can brag without saying a word. They're GIVING these bad boys out for the full and the half this year. Oh yeah, Richmond! Doing it right!
And then I got home before the teenagers even woke up. THAT is a win.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Lucky Me! Stuff I Get to Do

There are things you have to do (brush your teeth, put gas in the car, clean the cat box), and then there are the things you get to do.

If I was really Zen I could look at the have-to-do's listed above and turn them into get-to-do's. You know: I get to clean the cat box because I have two cats and not everyone has two cats to bring joy to their lives so I ought to clean that cat box with a smile on my face. But this is not that kind of blog post. Instead, I'm going to talk about the things I've gotten to do lately.

Ragnar, for one. I'm not going to rehash it here, but I will remind you that I really liked it. I could write more and more and more about it, but I will instead refer you to Debbie's excellent write ups of each leg. She had wonderful descriptions and even better photos. Meagan, who was a terrific runner on our team, writes Turkey Runner (she is a proud Virginia Tech Hokie alumna), which includes some great descriptions of the event. Finally, the write up in Cultural and Social Incongruities made me laugh out loud and it's got a lot of truths. Read that stuff and you'll want to be on a Ragnar team next year. Let's do it!

But even aside from the big get-to-do's like that, I'm really appreciating the excellent - albeit smaller - treats that running has brought. Today I was able to do a 10K trail race down in King George, Virginia, that a friend puts together. It was a smaller race, with under one hundred runners, and it was run by extremely dedicated and energetic volunteers. And there was chili and candy at the end! Best, I got to catch up with Marie -- a very sweet lady who totally kicked it on that course and came in first in her age group. The course was challenging but beautiful, running through the woods and along the Potomac River in Caledon State Park. I was able to chat with a couple of interesting people during the course of the race and guess what, I came in third in my age group.

Here's Justyn Cox, the race director. He stood at the finished and shook every finisher's hand. A very nice touch.

Marie and me. And no, I don't think that's the port-a-potty in the back.
Even smaller, but still awesome, I got to do a shorty run in the neighborhood yesterday morning and catch the fog lifting off the local lake. No great shakes, I know, but wow, was it nice. As I was taking a minute to stand there looking at it I thought, how cool that I get to start my day like this.

Okay, I know, maybe 40 extra minutes of sleep would have been a splendid way to start the day, but those damn sweet cats make sure I'm up early to feed them, and they've gotten accustomed to a morning run schedule. So those extra 40 winks weren't going to happen.

After a crazy busy couple of weeks at work, a fair bit of drama among some friends in the running communities I know, and the too-early death of a kind neighbor, being able to run (away) has been a real gift this past week. I hope it never becomes a have-to-do (or if it does, that I recognize it's time to do something else).


Monday, September 15, 2014

DC Ragnar Race Report

I was fortunate enough to do the DC Ragnar this past weekend, and now I am finding it hard to pare down the experience enough to write a reasonable blog post. So much incredibleness packed into two days!

The starting line is a good place for selfies. When you're nervous. And wondering what you were possibly thinking signing up for this.
In a nutshell, a Ragnar Relay is a team of 12 people (some superheroes have smaller teams) that runs a 36-leg relay race from point A to point B that's about 200 miles away. Everyone on the team runs three legs. While one runner is doing his or her leg, a team van goes to meet them at the other end and drop off the next runner.

I first heard about this phenomenon from my fast-running friend Robert, way back when I was training for my first half marathon. He was getting a team together. I couldn't believe how crazy it sounded. The organization alone blew me away. All those runners? In two big vans? Matching t-shirts? And it involves elements of camping and not sleeping, neither of which I like.

But everyone I know who had done a Ragnar LOVED IT. They raved about it and told me they were jealous I was doing it and some people even had tattoos of the little "r" Ragnar symbol.

Then, this spring, I met Debbie C., who blogs at DebRuns.com, at a trail race. We got talking while we were in line for the porta potties before the race, and she mentioned that she was forming team for the DC Ragnar. One thing led to another: I signed up with Crusers Rockin' the Relay and now - BOOM! - we're Ragnarians.

It was even better than I'd imagined it could have been.

Oh, we got up stupid early on Friday. We ogled the sunrise over western Maryland as we drove along. I tried to take some pictures from the van but they didn't do justice to the scenery.

VAN 1, ready to race
Once we got to Rocky Gap State Park, we were checked off on our night running equipment (reflective vests, headlamps, blinky lights for our backs), collected more necessary gear (safety flags) and our swag (shirts), and had a quick safety briefing. There was no coffee at the start.

I was the first runner to go, and my leg was a trail-y 5.2 around Lake Habeeb. It was scenic and challenging and I managed to pass a couple of people (in Ragnar-ese, you call those "kills" and you mark them off on the side of your van. When I told people at work that today, they made horrified faces).

Each team is split into two vans. My team in Van 1 was one fast bunch of runners. For the next several hours, I was blown away at how strong these people are. Patrick had the second leg, followed by Linda with the third, then Sathy, Ravi, and Murali. Each of these people had righteous hills in their runs but they all ROCKED them and surpassed their expected paces. I felt like it was time for me to step it up.

But first it was time to find food. After everyone in our van ran their first leg, Van 2 took over the next six legs and we drove straight on to the twelfth exchange -- a small town in Maryland where my next leg would start. Fortunately, it wasn't so small that it didn't have a Chipotle.

Every sixth exchange is a big deal because both team vans come together. The twelfth exchange is at a high school, where the cross country team makes money by opening up the locker rooms and serving a spaghetti dinner. We passed on the pasta but took advantage of the showers and then sacked out in our sleeping bags to try and rest. It was too noisy for sleep but it felt good off our feet before our second round of legs.

I started my second leg at 9:00 pm, geared up in my yellow vest, headlamp, and blinky red light. You get kind of used to seeing people walking around like that all night, it's the weirdest thing.

I took off through the dark, hustling out of town (shooing li'l country boy skateboarders out of the way) and off into the highway. I have no idea what the scenery looked like -- it was CRAZY DARK. Instead, I focused on the string of other runners' lights stretched out down the road. It was not a quiet night; off in the distance you could hear what sounded like drag races going on out on the country roads. You could smell a bonfire from someplace and a skunk from someplace else.

The element of fear helped me pick up the pace on this leg. I was passed by one runner, passed six other people, and got a time that I was happy with. Then it was back in the van to catch up with Patrick, and on into the night. We six finished our legs and drove to the spot for the next switch, where we were slowed down a bit by the extraordinarily poor service at IHOP.

We got to sleep about 3:30 that morning. This exchange was in a large county park full of rolling fields. Two of our teammates sacked out in the van, and the rest of us joined the multitude of runners stretched out in the grass. I slept very comfortably under the stars (a first for me!) -- it was like a very large, very quiet, outdoor slumber party. Fortunately the rain held off until it was almost 6:00 and we were able to fuel up at a nearby Starbucks.

My final leg started a little after 7:00 am. I wasn't sure how it was going to go on only a few hours of sleep after running kind of hard - twice - the day before, but adrenaline kicked in and I was able to run the 4.2 miles in just over 38 minutes. I guess everyone else on the course was tired, too, because I passed eight of those folks.

What I did right there? That's "Bragnar."

The rest of our van, and the rest of our team, were amazing on the last leg. We ended up finishing a full hour earlier than our estimated time.

Van 1 moved on to the finish line at National Harbor and had a snack (beer) and commemorated the event (bought stuff with the Ragnar symbol on it) and ate some more, until we got the news that our final runner, Bill, was starting his last leg. Van 2 got to the finish and we all ran over the line with Bill. Actually, a little after Bill because that dude runs very fast.



And here we are in our triumph!



The day before the race, I was fairly sure this would be a one-and-done thing for me. Now I'm absolutely positive I will find another Ragnar to do ASAP. Hey, Robert, Stefanie H., Therese B., Mary R., Dusti M., Jim B., Ann Marie F., Derek and Danielle T., Will is Will -- all you encouraging people who told me to stop worrying and that I'd like it -- you guys were SO RIGHT!

The organization and positivity of the Ragnar staff and volunteers was beyond compare. They had a ton of people running the event, and they made it a party from start to finish. I could write more and more and more about it, but I could never get everything in, and you'd get tired of me trying.

I am extraordinarily grateful to Debbie C., who invited me to join up with the team, and to the whole wonderful Cruisers Rockin' the Relay team! Particularly Van 1. What a fantastic group of people! I would run with those folks anytime.

And while I did not get as Ragnar-ready as Jerri, who kept my pace going on my last leg . . .


I did run out on Sunday and commemorate the run.


It was THAT fun.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Bring It On, September

Wow, it's fall and you'd hardly know it! The last two days, I have savored the end of my end-of-the-summer vacation and have slept in. Unfortunately, that naughty behavior is rewarded with hot and sweaty conditions outside. No lie, it was so hot this morning a couple of golden retrievers on their morning walk made it up a neighborhood hill faster than I did.

But last week, ah, last week we were visiting Jim's parents on Cape Cod, so as usual, I enjoyed a lovely run in cooler temperatures and I took a mess of pictures. Here you go . . .

This is my inlaws' neighbors' mailbox, all landscaped and looking F-A-N-C-Y.


And here is one of my favorite running routes, East Bay Road.



That road takes you to (wait for it . . .) East Bay and Dowses Beach.

It was low tide. A little smelly. Still pretty.



I was the only person at the beach that morning. The only one! Usually there's at least a fisherman on the pier but I had it all to myself.


This swaggy house gets to look at that view every day. Plus that heron.

That's Phinneys Bay right there, if you want to be precise about your Cape Cod bay facts.

On my way back to the house I took a stop at West Bay (Osterville is known as the town on five bays and they don't lie).



And made it back to enjoy some coffee with Jim and his dad, Jim.


It's the All-James-Reynolds table!
September is a big deal because finally, the fall racing season is getting going and it's time to see if all those summer runs in the heat are going to pay off. First up, DC Ragnar in two weeks! (gulp!)