Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Yuengling Oktoberfest 5k 2014 Recap

My god, this race was disappointing. I can't say I had very high hopes considering how the Yuengling Light 5k turned out, but still. We arrived early to pick up our packets on race day, even though they "would really rather we didn't." Considering our other options were to drive the three hours round trip the day before to get the packets or have them mailed to us for $15 each, it wasn't a difficult decision.

The annoyances started out early when they were out of size small shirts at packet pick up. Why do I bother registering for a specific size if you aren't going to use those numbers to order the proper amount of shirts? We also got a big plastic beer stein with our registration. The race itself started on time and the course was awesome. It wasn't too hilly, the views were good, and the crowding wasn't bad.

The finish was where it totally fell apart. Rather than having the cattle shute style finish area like almost every other race in the world has, they decided to set this race up where you have to walk down to some tents and push your way into the crowd of people in the area to get your water, snacks, and finisher's cookie. The cookie was totally the best part of this race, by the way. It was adorable and delicious.
After we all finished, we decided to go see what was in the beer garden area and get something to eat. We had to sneak into the area past the fence and the security guard because the line JUST for the free beer wound all the way out of the garden and into the street. There was obviously no way I was waiting in that line, so none of us got our free beers that were included with registration.

I feel confident saying that I will never run another Yuengling race again. Both of them that I've done this year have been badly organized and incredibly crowded. Why run a Yuengling race when you can't even get your free beer at the end? Better question, why would you have ONE BEER TENT for the 5,000 runners who have free beer tickets?? For the money I spent on this race, I should have just stayed home, gone for a walk with my family, and bought a case of beer with them to celebrate.

Hershey Half Marathon 2014 Recap

A couple weeks ago, Joe and I ran the Hershey Half Marathon, which was celebrating it's fifth year anniversary. I had a much better experience this year than I did last year, even though I feel like I'm in worse shape this year. We went down early Saturday morning to pick up our packets at the stadium and then went right to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire and had a kick ass time. I knew I wasn't going to break any PRs in the race since I haven't been running much, so I drank wine and ate whatever I wanted without worrying about how it would affect me the next day. We stayed at the Harrisburg/Hershey La Quinta and would definitely recommend it if you're looking to do this race next year. It only took us ten minutes to get to the race in the morning and the room was very clean and quiet. The night manager even opened breakfast up an extra hour early for all the runners!

Unlike last year, we weren't waiting in line for the restrooms when the race started! We actually started on time; however, is was very cold and windy just like last year. It even started to sprinkle and everyone around us seemed pretty unhappy about the idea of running in the cold rain. Thankfully though, the rain stopped and we just had the chilly wind to deal with.

Running through the park is so much fun, but seems like it's over way too soon. The real highlight though is running through the Milton Hershey School campus; the kids there are always out cheering and it's so motivating.

After running the Pocono Lake Region 13.1 three weeks ago, the hills in Hershey seemed like nothing. I felt really good throughout the whole race, which was a huge difference from last year and I was so happy for that. It was sunny through most of the race, which helped negate the wind a bit, but the final finish through the parking lot toward the stadium was brutal just like last year.

I finished in 2:20:39 and was so mad at myself for not being able to dig in and cut that minute off to finish in the teens. However, I finished twenty minutes faster than the half three weeks ago and I ran the entire thing, so I couldn't be too mad! Plus, the medals are insanely awesome this year; they're so heavy and the detail is incredible. I might even like it more than my Scranton Half medal. :X

I can't say that we will for sure be back next year, since we are really hoping to run our first marathon and it would be the week before Hershey, but we'll see how things go! All in all, this was a super fun weekend and Hershey did a great job (again!) of organzing this race.

Pocono Lake Region 13.1 2014 Recap

This was my very first half marathon last year, so even though I wasn't in the best of shape from not running most of the summer and for being in phsyical therapy, I knew I wanted to try running it anyway. Sadly, sign ups were way down (possibly because of the Eric Frein manhunt) and there were only about 100 people who ran this year.

It was a chilly, but gorgeous morning and you really couldn't have asked for better scenery. This is a tough, hilly course but it's absolutely stunning this time of year. We started right on time and I knew from mile one that this wasn't going to be fun for me.

By mile five, I was taking consistant walk breaks and I just felt so winded and out of energy. My legs were tight and I couldn't for the life of me force myself to run. I wound up completely walking the final three miles and finished in a time of 2:39:32, which I didn't think was too bad considering all the walking I did and all the tough hills. Obviously it's not something for me to brag about, but I figured the fact that I was able to complete the half meant I wasn't in as bad of shape as I thought.

I wound up placing 3rd in my age group which was really funny and unexpected. Sadly, they accidently gave away the 16-24 award to the actual 25-34 winner, so I get to pretend that I'm a little older than I actually am. ;)

I made an appointment for a massage right after the race and it was so incredible. The only thing that sucked was getting up off the table afterwards! We had a fantastic crab cake sandwich lunch and relaxed for the rest of the day. Hopefully more people will come back for this race next year and make it a bigger event!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

ODDyssey Half Marathon 2014 Recap

I completed my fourth half marathon last Sunday. <--- Still can't believe I can say that. Joe and I ran the ODDyssey Half in Philadelphia over the weekend, partly because it looked like fun and partly because we were able to register for $55 and I thought that was a pretty good deal.

Since the race was in Philadelphia, we drove down the night before and stayed with our friends who live there. Megabus was a sponsor of the ODDyssey, so they were offering "free" bus services from the Sonesta Hotel to the start line and back after the race (you had to pay a $1.50 reservation fee, so I don't know why they said it was free). The buses were supposed to pick up from the hotel every 15 minutes, ending at 6:30. We reserved spots for the 6:15 bus so we would have a cushion of time in case something went wrong and it's a good thing we did.

We walked from the apartment to the hotel in the morning and when we got there, the line for the bus was wrapped all the way around the block. We waited and waited and didn't end up getting on a bus until 6:45. As you can probably imagine, I was really annoyed and anxious that we were going to miss the start of the race. By the time the bus arrived at the start line, the national anthem was already being sung, so we ran across the field and got in line quickly with the other runners. The one positive thing about waiting so long for the bus was that we got to use the nice hotel bathrooms instead of the porta potties at the start. ;)

The start of the race seemed to go smoothly and there was enough room that everyone seemed able to run at their own pace. There was slight congestion at one or two points, but nothing bad enough that I had to slow significantly or walk. The course itself through Fairmount Park was beautiful and it made me wish that I lived closer and could run there more often.

It wound up being a humid and sunny 73 degrees and by the time I hit half a mile, I was already damp with sweat. That had me worried because I've never run a half marathon in such warm weather, but the organizers had a lot of water stops (although not enough stops had Gatorade too, but I brought my own bottle with Nuun so at least I had something other than straight water).

I've been having soreness in my hip flexors for the past two weeks and it probably wasn't wise of me to run this race, but c'est la vie. They bothered me throughout, but it was never excrutiating and I was able to maintain a pretty fast pace (for me). Unfortunately, they feel pretty awful now and I'm thinking I should probably take a week or two off to rest them up and get them feeling good again.

The last half mile of the race was a ridiculous uphill section. I'm all for a challenge, but this was just cruel. I knew before we signed up that the hill was there, but I thought, "oh people are just babies, I run hills all the time, no big deal." This hill is a big deal. I did manage to muster up enough energy to keep up my run (barely), but the majority of people near me had started walking at this point.

I ended up finishing in 2:09:30 officially, and 2:05:47 according to my watch. I stopped once to stretch out my hips and once to use the restroom, so I definitely would have PRed if it weren't for that. I'm annoyed with myself that I wasted so much time, but I honestly didn't think I'd have any chance of running anywhere near my PR with it being so warm and humid. 

I did learn some important lessons this weekend, though:
  1. Don't eat a slice of pizza the size of your head the night before your race. Half a slice would do.
  2. Don't wash that gigantic slice of pizza down with an equally huge strawberry Nutella crepe.
  3. Don't get 4 hours of sleep the night before your race.
  4. Don't wear flip flops to walk around the city the night before.
  5. Actually, just don't walk around the city the night before. 

A medal that doubles as a bottle opener... perfection.
All in all, it didn't end up being too bad of a race for me, but I know that if I had disciplined myself and behaved in the days leading up to the race, I may have had a shiny new PR right now. That's a little sad to think about, but I had a great day with beautiful weather and two (mostly) functional legs to run with, so what's there to be sad about?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Yuengling Light Lager Jogger 5k Recap

Oh, this race. I was so excited for this race. The race was held in Pottsville, which is about an hour and forty five minutes from my house so we had a really early morning. The race started at 9am, but we need to be there between 7 and 8:30 to pick up our packets.

We got there at the perfect time and walked right up to get our packets and our beer bracelets for after the race.  We found a sunny spot to wait until just before the start. They released about 500 runners every two minutes starting promptly at 9am.

The race, simply put, was awful. I started getting a stomach ache before the start and foolishly hoped that it would go away once I started running. It didn't. I spent 3.1 long, hilly miles fighting with myself to just keep moving. For the first time since I started running, I had to walk during a 5k. I wasn't happy. This was probably the most hilly course I've ever run, which would have been fine if I was feeling up to it, but I wasn't so nuts about it that morning.

I ended up with a chip time of 34:46, which I'm pretty sure is my worst 5k time ever. In the scheme of things, I am glad that this happened to me for this race instead of the Scranton Half the weekend before though. Besides, we signed up for the Yuengling Oktoberfest 5k in October, so I'll get my re-do then!

My very favorite food truck, What the Fork, made the trek down to Pottsville for the race, which meant I got to chow down on some pork tacos to make me feel better. When I got home, I also enjoyed some lemon lime Nuun in my cool new Lager Jogger pint glass!

A couple thoughts... The swag was awesome. The shirts are comfy and I like the design, but women's cut would be awesome since I swim in the unisex size small. Also, MORE PORTAPOTTIES PLEASE. There's not much I hate more than waiting twenty minutes in line to use the bathroom. There were definitely not enough bathrooms for the 2,000 runners plus however many spectators were there. The after-race block party was pretty awesome and I wish that I had been feeling better so I could have enjoyed it more. Oh well, maybe I'll be back next year to give it another shot!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

10 Things I Learned in My First Year of Running

I can't believe it's been over a year since I started running. For some reason last March, I decided that I really wanted to become a runner. I signed up for a 5k and trained with the Couch to 5k program and eventually wound up training for and running my first half marathon in September. My journey to becoming a runner has been full of ups and downs, as any other worthwhile journey is and I've learned some important things along the way that I thought would be worth sharing.

1. Getting fitted for proper shoes is so important! This is one of the first things you should do when you get serious about running. Joe made a deal with me that if I stuck with running for a full month, we could go get fitted at our local running store. I ended up getting a pair of Brooks PureCadence 2s and they are fantastic. I even bought backups once they released the PureCadence 3s and the 2s went on clearance.

2. Not all of my runs are going to be awesome. In fact, some of them are really going to suck and make me wonder why I do this in the first place. Some of those sucky runs will end up being races that I paid good money for, like the Yuengling 5k last week (sad, short recap coming soon). All I can do is learn from it if I can and move on.

3. Signing up for a big race is scary. When I signed up for my first half marathon last year, I was terrified. What if I couldn't finish? What if my family is there watching me and sees me fail? I learned that the saying is true though, if your goals don't scare you, they aren't big enough.

4. Do the training. Seriously... Do. The. Training. Find a plan that sounds good to you and stick to it as closely as you possibly can. I used Hal Higdon's half marathon plan and loved it. It was simple and completely manageable. I skipped maybe two or three of my runs during training for the Pocono Lake Region 13.1 and I had a fantastic experience there. I hardly ran in the three weeks between that race and the Hershey Half and I had an awful time. Put in the time and it will make a world of difference.

5. Runners are the most amazing group of people. I was only about a month into running last year when the Boston Marathon bombing occured. I barely even considered myself a runner at that point, but I found myself glued to the television watching for updates and as the stories poured in day after day, I was amazed and proud of the support that the running communities around the country gave to the people affected by the bombings. It solidified my desire to be a part of it, a part of something so strong and united.

6. People are going to think you are weird. Unless you are really lucky and have a big group of runner friends, which I don't. And you know what? They are right. Running for two hours straight is a weird thing to do. But it's also challenging, invigorating, satisfying, and strengthening.

7. I want to run a marathon. Desperately. I almost signed up for one yesterday. The thought of it scares the absolute crap out of me, but I want to be a marathoner at least once.

8. I can run faster than I think. I almost dropped dead in shock when I ran a 5k with an 8:40 average pace a few weeks ago. But guess what? When you push yourself, awesome things happen! I spent so long thinking that I couldn't run faster than a 10:30/mile pace, but when I actually started pushing myself, I found out I was capable of much more.

9. Hills are my friend. There are literally no flat places to run anywhere near my house, so either way I go, I'm running hills. Guess who isn't afraid of a course with some hills? This girl.

10. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can compare to the feeling of accomplishing your goals. I ran the Scranton Half Marathon at the beginning of April with the goal of running under 2:10:00 and honestly, I didn't really think I could do it that morning. I ran a 2:07:41 that day and I've been on cloud nine ever since. I break into a huge smile whenever I see my medal hanging in my bedroom and the thought of that run gets me out the door on days when I really don't want to.

I've played sports, but I've never taken them seriously or considered myself an athlete until I took up running. I've made huge progress in this past year not only as an athlete, but as a healthy person as well and I can thank running for that. I can't wait to see what I can do in this next year!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Inaugural Scranton Half Marathon 2014 Recap

When I found out back in September that Scranton was hosting a half marathon in the spring, I knew I didn't have a choice but to sign up. We don't have an abundance of local races (other than 5ks) and this one looked like it was going to be especially awesome. I got plenty of emails to keep me updated leading up to the race and Joe said packet pickup on Friday night was a breeze.

The morning of the race, we got up at 6am, got ready and out of the house shortly after 7am, and arrived around 7:30. The race was scheduled to start at 9am, so we hung out in the car for a while to relax and stay warm.

At 8:30, we got in line for the bathrooms and then made our way to the start line. The "corral" area was crowded and cramped and it took us a minute or so to get past the start line and into a light jog once the gun sounded promptly at 9am.

Miles 1-5 brought us through a few different communities, including a row of gorgeous houses (and some hills) in Greenridge. The main hills for this course were here, although they weren't too bad. I had a hard time getting into a good pace because of the congestion so my first mile was close to 11 minutes but I picked it up into the 9:40/mile range for the next few. My goal for this race was to run under a 10:00/mile average pace and at first, I didn't think I could pull it off, but as I kept running I realized it just might be possible.

I also realized at this point that I could've done without my jacket. Even though it was only 35ยบ, the sun was out so I warmed up really fast. It was annoying to run with the jacket tied around my waist for most of the race, but we live and we learn and there was no way I was tossing it.

It was so cool seeing the huge hoard of people running up the hills in front of me. Normally, I'm driving down these roads and I'm grouchy from the other drivers and the pot holes, so it was a nice change of pace to run through town with so many other people who were clearly enjoying themselves as much as I was. 

Miles 5-7.5 brought us into the downtown area down North Washington Ave and past my very favorite local restaurant, Cooper's Seafood House. Seriously, best crab bisque ever. I kept logging miles around a 9:30 pace and was excited to have a small bank of time for the second half in case I really started to lose it.

The part of the course I was most excited about was running on the Lackawanna Heritage Trail, which I've never done before. It was beautiful even though nothing was blooming yet and I'm really looking forward to getting some runs in here over the coming months.

However, this is the part where I started to struggle. We logged miles 8, 9, and 10 here and I started to have pains in my knee and hips. I took a gel at mile 8 (Salted Caramel Gu is amazing, FYI) and once I hit mile 9, I knew it would be rough but I could tough it out until the end. I switched my watch to show me my current pace and fought hard to keep it under 10:00/mile.

It wouldn't be Scranton if there wasn't at least one train sighting! Well, train car anyway. This was during mile 12, I think. The last mile or so was pretty much downhill, so it was a great chance to make a good push to the finish. I pushed myself really hard in the last two miles and I'm really proud of that. In fact, the last mile was my fastest of the day at 8:45!

The half ended on the track of the Scranton High School with TONS of crowd support and cheering. As I came around the corner, I saw 2:08:something on the clock and knew I had surpassed my expectations for myself. Once I passed the finish line, there were volunteers handing out Scranton Half fleece blankets (I didn't know about this beforehand and was so excited to get one!) and finisher's medals. One of the volunteers put a water bottle in my hand and I hobbled around the food tent to grab a banana. I wish I would have thought to grab a photo of the finish line area, but I was so thrilled by my finish time and exhausted that all I could think about was my water and banana and finding my parents and Joe.

I ended up with an official chip time of 2:07:41, which works out to be a 9:45 average pace. I'm still so thrilled about this and I'm not sure I've even fully processed it yet, but I feel so accomplished. I've never considered myself an athlete, but running has changed that for me. And besides that, look at that medal! It's soooo heavy and absolutely gorgeous! Scranton doesn't mess around; this was the inaugural year and they threw one hell of a race.

And what's better after an awesome run than a burger and sweet potato fries? Not much, I think. My parents joined us for Red Robin after the race and it really hit the spot! Apparently other runners thought so too since we saw quite a few medals around the restaurant! :)

All in all, the one and only complaint I have is that the start was a little congested and it took a while for there to be enough breathing room to run comfortably in the beginning. There were nearly 2400 runners who finished though, so I guess a little congestion is to be expected! But I will DEFINITELY be back next year and I'm already looking forward to it. This was one kick ass race and I'm proud to have been part of something so awesome in the area!