Palmetto Bluff Half Marathon Race Report

This was a fun racecation.  My husband and I decided to do a weekend getaway that would involve warmer climate and a race for me.  This winter has been absolutely brutal, not that we knew that was going to be the case when we originally planned the trip, but it worked out well.  Basically, he gave me a weekend that he would be available, and he said, find a race you want to do.  Basically, I only found 2 realistic options — a race near Las Vegas, and the Palmetto Bluff  Half Marathon in Bluffton, SC, near Hilton Head.  Perfect.
 
It was really cold and nasty when we left NJ on Friday, but when we arrived in SC it was also cold and nasty — drizzling with temperatures in the high 40s.  We went for a walk on the beach anyway.
 

The next morning dawned sunny and beautiful.  Temperatures rose into the high 60s/low 70s, and we spent a lot of time walking on the beach and hanging out by the pool.  We drove to packet pickup and then had a nice sushi dinner.  Unfortunately, that evening my stomach wasn’t behaving, and we were both worried that I wouldn’t be able to race the next day.

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Packet pick up

 

Fortunately, when I awakened Sunday morning my stomach was fine.  We drove the 45 minutes to the race site which was at Palmetto Bluff Resort.  We were able to drive on part of the race course, so I had a good idea of what to expect — beautiful trees, flat, scenic.
 
Before the race, I prepared my bottles with coconut water and put my baby food pouches in my fuel belt.  All set. My husband said he was going to go to the other side of the starting line to try to get photos.
 
Soon after starting, I realized that my fuel belt was going to be a problem.  It’s Velcro, and I had tightened it as much as I could and had secured the extra part of the strap with a safety pin, but I kept having trouble with my bottles coming out and the whole thing riding up and down.  It wouldn’t stay put as it usually would.  I guess it’s old now, and it probably is more stretched out since I’ve been running with more layers than usual this winter due to extreme cold.  One lady recommended that I hand off the bottles to a volunteer to pick up later, but I wanted my coconut water. I stopped just before mile 2 and tried to readjust the belt, but it didn’t work. I ended up putting one bottle in my top between the top and the sports bra, and the other bottle seemed to stay put in the fuel belt.  Not attractive, but whatever works.
 
Unfortunately, somewhere during having to stop several times to pick up dropped bottles and stopping to readjust my belt, I realized that I had accidentally stopped my Garmin.  It was at 1.88 miles, and I had already well passed the 2 mile mark.  I restarted it but had to wait until the next mile marker to see how far behind I was. 
 
I was already off to a rocky start.  Not really, actually — I happened to be running the pace I wanted to pretty easily.  Despite the fact that I had not been able to train well this winter due to the bad weather, I was on pace for a PR.
 
Eventually (somewhere around mile 5 maybe) I was fortunate enough to end up running with a group that were keeping the pace that I wanted to keep.  The group consisted of a guy and 3 women.  One of the women had just moved to SC from NJ so we had something else in common!  It was fun running together and it took my mind off the fact that my lack of training should be catching up. 
 
One of the women commented that she really liked my running skirt, that it was cute and flirty.  She said that she wouldn’t comment on my “jugs”, referring to my prominent water bottle sticking out of my top.  Ha ha!
 
One of the things we talked about was what we were most looking forward to at the end of the race.  The guy said he was looking forward to the finish line.  I said I was looking forward to the BBQ.  One woman said she was looking forward to earning the finisher’s medal.
 
We were cruising along and entered the little village right around the 10 mile mark.  There were homes, shops, and restaurants, and there were quite a few spectators out cheering us on.  We came upon our first “hill”, a little bridge going over a stream, and we joked about the huge hill.  One of our group commented that we had a great group with a great vibe going on.  Spectators were cheering and waving to us all when we came to the second big “hill”, another bridge.  This one was a metal grid bridge, the type that I hate driving or running on because they tend to be very slippery.  Just as I was telling myself to be careful, one of the women in our group goes down hard.  We all swarm to her an ask her if she’s OK, but it was obvious that she wasn’t.  Her face was bleeding from a couple of gashes sustained from her glasses cutting her face when she fell.  You know the split second feeling of “what do I do” when there’s a crisis?  My first thought was to get help, and I knew there was a volunteer that we had passed not long before.  I ran backwards to find the volunteer; another of our group ran forward to find a volunteer; and 2 stayed with the injured runner as she was very upset (as anyone would be).
 
The volunteers came, and after asking the injured runner if she was OK and wanted to keep running, realized that she definitely needed medical attention.  The rest of us were at a loss as to what to do as other runners streamed past us, and as the volunteers led the injured woman away.  Unfortunately, this was the first half marathon for the woman who fell, as bad luck would have it.  That knowledge made me feel sick to my stomach — such a shame that she was the one who got injured (I REALLY hope that this does not turn her off to half marathons).  We took off running again, but it wasn’t the same.  The 2 SC friends seemed to be on a mission to finish the race for their friend, and I couldn’t keep up.  The other NJ woman was right behind me. 
 
With the wind knocked out of my sails, it was a struggle to finish the race.  Yes, I would finish, but my feet really started hurting, and I just kept telling myself, only X amount to go. 
 
Without reliable Garmin data due to the Garmin being turned off, and with fuzzy race math which often happens late in the race, I couldn’t calculate what my finish time might be, or what I needed to do to make it better.  I just willed myself forward.
 

Eventually, I could hear the music from the finisher area and knew the end was near.  I rounded a corner and could see the finish arch.  As I scanned the crowd to find my husband, I willed myself forward.  Finally I saw him and smiled and looked all happy for the camera.  To my credit, you can’t tell from the photos that my feet were in pain and I was just done.  As I glanced at the finish clock, seeing that I was finishing in 1:57 and change was a surprise (official finish time was 1:57:28).  Not a bad finish considering lack of training and the incidents during the race.

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 Heading toward the finish line

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My new favorite race photo…running toward a finish line that says “start”

I received my finisher medal and water bottle, then headed over to meet my husband so I could have some of that BBQ.  While we were in line for BBQ we were talking with a man behind us who happened to have grown up in the neighboring town to where we live now — small world.

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BBQ and a finisher medal — what more could a runner want?

The BBQ and music were great, and after we were done, we started to walk toward the parking area.  Then I spotted my running group — the NJ woman and the 2 SC runners.  I asked about the status of their injured friend, and they didn’t know for sure but thought she had been taken to the hospital for stitches.  We talked for awhile about the race and about other races, then wished each other well and headed our separate ways.

 
Overall, this was a well-organized race on a beautiful course.  It’s a shame that a runner was injured, but otherwise I had a great experience.  My husband and I spent the rest of the day walking on the beach and relaxing by the pool.  Plus, I feel great about the start to the race season and feel confident that with decent training, I can shatter my half marathon PR this year.
 

John Blackgrove 5K Race Report

Sometimes I think I can do things.  As in, I think I can do crazy things without problems, consequences, repercussions.  Sometimes I think I’m invincible.
 
So signing up for back to back 5Ks (one on Saturday, one on Sunday) seemed like a brilliant idea at the time.  Saturday’s Norwood 5K was a goal race, the second race in the 3-race Triple Crown series.  And Sunday’s John Blackgrove 5K was a smaller 5K that 2 of my friends were planning to run, so hey, why not sign up, right?
 
I busted butt on Saturday at Norwood and ran a 24:40 5K, a personal best on that particular course.  So my goal for the John Blackgrove 5K was to hit maybe 25:20 or so, reasonable after busting out a respectable race the day before. 
 
Sunday morning I picked up my neighbor Kathy who was running the race and headed over to the park where the race start was.  I’m very familiar with the park as my daughter had soccer practices and games there a lot.  Also, I was meeting my other friend George who has a streak going for this race — he’s run it every year since the race was organized 4 years ago.
 
Kathy and I got there early, picked up our race bibs and shirts, and started our warmup.  It was cold again, upper 30s, just like the day before.  Good running weather for me!  We ran into George as he and his son were doing their warm up.  
 
I asked George what his goal was for the day, and he said to run a personal best of under 25 minutes.  My friend Kathy was hoping for a personal best too as we have been training for several months.
 
We lined up at the start, and soon we were off.  Within the first couple of hundred yards George passed me, so I figured I’d just follow him as far as I could.  Also, I didn’t know if he and my husband had some sort of bet about which of us would win, and I didn’t want to unknowingly deprive my husband of a 6-pack of beer if that was the case.  And to be honest, there was no way I wanted George going to the next soccer game and telling everyone he smoked me in a 5K, even if it was one day after I ran another 5K and 2 weeks after I ran a marathon!
 
The course was mostly flat, just a couple of small hills, nothing major.  I hung in there behind George and didn’t worry about my pace.  Mile 1 — 7:58.  Probably not the best idea but I was determined to keep just behind George.
 
Mile 2 was starting to hurt a lot, but I was determined not to lose George.  We passed a few guys and kept going.  At the end of mile 2 we were at 7:53.
 
I was dying at this point.  My legs were hurting, my feet were hurting, my lungs were hurting, but I was somehow stupidly determined to hang with George.  I closed the gap between us and sensed that he was slowing down.  I pulled up beside him and told him not to slow down, that he had a goal to reach.  He said he was dying and would try to keep going, and I kept encouraging him that he was doing great.  We had less than a mile to go.
 
We turned a corner leading into the last half mile, and I encouraged him that we were getting there.  Mile 3 — 8:00.  We made the final turn to the finish, we could see it, and I told him to floor it.  We dug in and ran as hard as we could (6:46 — George later said that he’s never run that fast in his entire life).
 
The finish clock said 24:42 (George) and 24:43 (me). 
 
I told George that he had done a great job and congratulated him on a new PR!  He said thanks and that he was trying to catch his breath.  I got us some water, and we walked to cheer on the other runners.  We cheered on one of the boys from the soccer team, the boy’s mom, then George’s son.  Somehow I missed Kathy.
 
And of course I realized what kind of crazy person runs 24:40 and then 24:43 on consecutive days?  Did I not run hard enough the day before?  Am I just that crazy that I can turn anything into a competition?
 
My friend Kathy crossed the finish line with a new PR too!
 
Kathy and I both won 3rd place in our age groups, so that was exciting!  George was happy with his new PR, and we all had a fun time.
 

Apparently there was no beer bet.

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Norwood 5K Race Report

The Norwood 5K is a goal race of sorts for me.  While I haven’t been able to do it every year I have been racing, this year would be my 5th year running it since I started racing in 2007.  It’s billed as a fast and flat 5K (and it definitely is) and this year is part of the inaugural Triple Crown series made up of 3 local races.  The races with the top 5 combined times from each of the 3 races will receive a trophy.  I know I don’t stand a chance for one of the top 5 positions, but I’m hoping to be in the top 20.
 
While this race is perfect for hitting a PR, there is ALWAYS some reason I don’t.  In 2009, 2011, and 2013, the race happened to be 1-2 weeks after I completed a marathon.  Sometimes I’m just “off” for whatever reason.  Anyway, here are my finish times for each year I completed the race:
 
2007 26:41
2008 25:30
2009 25:24
2011 24:50
2012 25:00
 
I had 2 goals going into this race.  The first goal was to set a course personal best, despite the fact that I ran a marathon 2 weeks prior.  The second goal was to win an age group award.  I know I have no control over who shows up on race day, but several times I have been in 4th place for this race, which stinks because it’s so close, yet so far.
 
Race day was COLD with temperatures in the low 30s.  At race time it was supposed to be only 39 degrees.  That’s actually perfect for me as I get really hot, but it’s not so good for standing around pre-race. 
 
I parked, picked up my race packet, and went back to the car to hang out in relative warmth until time to warm up.  My warmup went well, and I could tell that I was probably going to have a good day.  I reviewed my race strategy of starting out at about 8:00 pace and dropping down to 7:55 for the 2nd mile, then 7:50 for the final mile, and gunning it to the finish.\
 
Because this race is generally fairly large (>400 runners), I got into the start corral early so I wouldn’t inadvertently end up at the back of the pack.  Generally, I line up about 20-25% from the start because I typically finish in the top 20-25% (fair, right?). 
 
After the announcements, we were off!  I didn’t start my Garmin until I crossed the start mat……oops, there wasn’t a start mat, so I was a few seconds off.
 
The start of a race is generally pretty crowded, and you spend a lot of time weaving through runners.  Soon the pack started to thin out a bit, and I kept reminding myself to run my own race at my own pace and not worry about others.  It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement at the beginning of the race.
 
I felt good.  Garmin beeped 7:43 at the first mile, but I passed the actual 1 mile marker at 8:00 on the dot.  I had been consistently passing people, so I made the decision to stop looking at the Garmin and just focus on passing people one by one.  Turning right into a residential loop I could see the race leaders leaving the residential loop.  Finally I spotted the first female, a woman who probably wins every local race that she enters (and happens to be in my age group).  I had my eye on each woman who was ahead of me, coming in my direction.  I’ve done so many local races at this point that faces are familiar and I know whether they are in my age group or not. 
 
Even though I didn’t recognize anyone else in my age group, that didn’t stop me from reeling in each runner that I could.  Hey, you never know….and I’m REALLY bad at estimating ages!  If you’re not obviously 16 or 66, you’re my age.
 
I left that residential loop and headed down the road a bit to turn into the next loop.  I continued to pass a few more people.  Passing the 2nd mile marker I saw by the clock that I was under 8:00 pace but didn’t look at my Garmin for confirmation. 
 
Leaving the last residential area I passed a couple of more women, one who I thought looked like she was in my age group but then again, who knows?  There were a couple of guys and a woman in a knit hat (in my age group?), and we were going the same pace. 
 
I was pushing as hard as I could.  Everything pretty much hurt, but that’s a 5K — a good 5K just hurts.
 
We turned off the main street and made a right down the side of the park toward the mile 3 marker.  I was pushing as hard as I could.  Then another right turn for the last 0.1 mile to the finish.  Pushing as hard as I could, I was still passed by an older guy and 2 young girls, plus Knit Hat got away from me too.  But that was OK, because I could see by the clock that I was finishing under 24:50.
 
Official finish time was 24:40!  Goal 1 accomplished!
 
I met up with a couple of friends afterwards, and we hung around to check out our standings.
 
And that’s when I found out that I won my age group.  Not 3rd place, not 2nd place, but 1st place!  Holy cow!  Goal 2 accomplished!
 
I have to admit, though, that it was just luck that faster women in my age group chose to stay home that day.  The 45-49 and 50-54 winners pretty much all beat me.  Oh well, it goes both ways that you can’t help who shows up on any given day.
 

Also, I found out that was in 16th place in the female Triple Crown standings after this 2nd race of the 3-race series.  I was only 8 seconds behind the woman in 15th place, so I figured I had a new goal to try to move up to 15th place in the final race.

 

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Several months ago, I decided that I would train for one more road marathon.  I’ve done two road marathons and one trailmarathon.  The first road marathon was very painful, and I swore that I would never do another one.  I chalked it up to the fact that it was my first and I was inexperienced.  So I did another one 2 years later, this time with a friend who was doing her first.  She did great, and I had another horrible experience which I chalked up to just having a bad day.  Then I did a trail marathon, and it was a wonderful experience, so I decided perhaps I should give the road marathon one more try.

 
Since I didn’t get into NYC Marathon yet again, I signed up for Hartford Marathon since (a) I’ve done it twice before and (b) I get a free place to stay because my mother-in-law lives there.
 
Unfortunately, none of my family could make it to the marathon that weekend.  My son had a soccer tournament, and my daughter had a big school dance the night before my race.  So I headed up to Hartford alone.  
 
I put a lot of time and energy into training for this race, so I felt like I was giving it a good chance.  I even read up on carb-loading thinking that this was the reason why I had issues before.  For 3 days leading into this race, I made sure to have about 400 g of carbs a day (this is a lot for someone who generally eats less than 150 g of carbs a day).
 
I made sure everything was prepared for race day.  My outfit was selected, my nutrition and hydration were dialed in, and I was well-rested.  I had even put my beloved weight-lifting on hold for a few weeks to make sure my body could recover well.
 
Race day was beautiful — in the 50s, sunny, fantastic.  It was a beautiful New England fall day.  I was all set to go.  The pre-race ceremony was amazing as well — a tribute to Boston, a wonderful prayer by a local minister, Irish-step-dancers.  I was literally in tears at the start of the race because I was so moved.
 
We started off, marathoners in their orange bibs and half-marathoners in their blue bibs.  Somewhere around the first mile we split off, marathoners to the left and half-marathoners to the right.
 
The first 5 miles seemed to fly by.  I congratulated every person I passed wearing a 50 States shirt.  I had a good attitude, but even early on I wasn’t feeling it.  After the first hour I started telling myself, “This is your race, your celebration, enjoy it.”  But I still wasn’t feeling it.  I  began stopping at water stations to pick up some water and dump some on myself to cool off.  At some point I bribed myself that after I crossed the halfway mat I could stop for a snack.  I crossed the halfway mark at about 2:06, pulled over to the side of the road, and had a snack.  I felt like I was done.  There was no joy, and I realized that if I’d signed up for the half marathon, my training would have helped me to pull off a smoking half marathoninstead of making myself hold back to a pace in the 9:30s to make sure I didn’t bonk.
 
Every mile after the half felt like a chore.  I kept trying to find joy — I’d wave to spectators, high-five little kids, cheer for the fast people coming the other way.  I read the clever and encouraging signs that spectators put out.  So many residents were out on their lawns cheering for us.  Yet I just couldn’t somehow feel it.
 
I crossed the 20 mile mat and kind of gave up.  No, I wasn’t going to quit, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore.  I’d stop at aid stations, get some water, stretch.  Somewhere around mile 22 I made a port-a-potty stop, which I’ve never done in amarathon before.  
 
People around me were alternating running with walking.  I felt like it was a death march.  I heard a guy behind me trying to encourage people to run with him.  I thought he was a pace leader, but he wasn’t — he was just a nice, encouraging guy.  I stopped at another water station and the guy passed by me.  I started running again and heard him encouraging others to start running as I passed him.  I came up to the 25 mile water station and stopped for water, and Mr. Encouragement came by.  I said, “You’re going to make me run, aren’t you?”  He said, “Yes, we’re almost there, let’s keep going!”  
 
I kept going.  As I passed him, he was trying to encourage more people to run to the end.  Some did, others said they didn’t have the energy.
 
I vowed to keep on going to the end, even though my feet were in excruciating pain.  Going downhill over the last overpass was excruciating.  With every footfall I was grimacing in pain, close to tears.  Getting to the bottom of that hill was a relief, and I knew I was close to the end.  
 
Going through the final quarter mile was painful and a relief.  I felt like crying, knowing that this was my last marathon.  I was done.
 
I smiled for the cameras, lifting my arms in victory.  Crossing over the finish mat, I got some water from the water fountains.  A volunteer draped a mylar “blanket” around me, and another volunteer hung the medal around my neck.  I walked a bit farther and a third volunteer handed me a bag containing snacks.  
 
As I exited the finisher’s chute, I looked to the left where the festival area was.  I was done — I just wanted to go to my car, drive back to my mother-in-law’s house, shower, and go for lunch.
 
As I walked to my car, I ate the package of fruit, and when I reached my car, I pulled out my protein shake and banana.  While I was stretching, I called my husband and told him I was done.  Done with the race, and done with marathons.  My phone was full of text messages from friends and family either wishing me good luck or congratulating me on my finish.
 
So that’s it.  I have found out the truth, that the marathon is not for me, and I’m not for it.  As much as I have wanted to like the road marathon, I just don’t.  Juxtaposed against this finish was the euphoria I felt at the end of my 10 hour Spartan Beast finish 3 weeks before.  
 
My finish time was 4:35, my slowest of the 3 road marathons I have completed.  A far cry from the 3:58-4:04 that all my training and recent racing predicted.  Maybe I was physically capable of that…..probably, in fact……but somehow I just wasn’t there.
 
 
I feel proud to have finished 4 marathons.  And I would still like to do the New York City Marathon just for the experience.  But I probably won’t race it — I’ll just do it, probably in a ridiculous costume, for fun.
 
But I’ve learned now what I truly love.  I love half marathons.  I love obstacle races.  I love weight-lifting.
 
For those of you who love the marathon, that’s wonderful!  Love it, embrace it, enjoy it!  For those of you who are embarking on your first marathon, definitely give it a go!  Whether you love it or hate it, you’ll learn something about yourself from the experience.

This is a photo of what I wished I had felt like at the end of the race.

This photo represents what I feel like I look like during a race.

 

Another good representation of what I wished I looked like as a marathon runner

A magazine cover photo of me as a marathon runner

 

And what I really felt like for most of the race.

Spartan Beast Part II

As I headed into the woods, I knew that I was racing the sun.  Wherever the terrain allowed running, I ran.  When there were too many rocks and roots, or where it was too steep, I just kept going at whatever pace I could manage.  As I went into a run again, one guy commented that I was running a good pace.  I replied that I was racing the sun, and he said, “Good idea” and ran with me.  It turns out that he had become separated from his team, and the girl in front of us had lost her team too (they had quit).  So we decided to become a team for awhile.
 
We went through the woods, through streams, mud, over rocks and branches as usual.  Then we had to go through another tube.  Eventually we came across an obstacle where there were 2 cargo nets hung between trees, and of course there was a large group of people waiting to climb over the near one.  The girl with us said to me, “Honey, I hate to tell you this, but your pants have split in the back.”  So I took my long-sleeved shirt from my Camelbak and tied it around my waist hoping to cover my backside.  Finally our turn came to climb the cargo net.  Being scared of heights, it’s tough for me to go over the top, but I made it.  The guy I was with somehow did a somersault over the top — not sure how, but he got points for style!  When we got to the bottom it was our turn to hold the net until the next person came over to hold it.  Then we went to the second cargo net and climbed over.  I almost fell off at the top of that one, probably because I was freaked out again, but I caught myself in time.  Then it was our turn to hold the net. 
 
Somehow the guy and I lost the girl, so we started off again.  I told him he didn’t have to stay with me, especially since I was old enough to be his mom.  He laughed and said I was keeping a great pace and he was having a hard time keeping up with me.  We made it to a hydration station and filled up our Camelbaks.  Then there was another obstacle — pick up a concrete cylinder, carry it across to the flag, do 5 burpees, carry it back to the starting point, and put it down.  Easy enough.  We ran a little farther and found a looooong muddy barbed wire crawl.  The mud was about a foot deep in places.  It as hard to get in there, as people seemed to be moving slowly.  The young guy found a good place to go in and made it to the top pretty quickly.  I somehow found a way through and passed quite a few people.  The secret is to keep low, keep moving, and forget about being covered in mud, even though it smelled like poo.  It might be poo but I didn’t want to know.
 
The young guy spotted one of his friends in the mud pit, so I told him feel free to hang with his friend and I was going to go ahead.  I ran about 400 m, around a turn, and there was another obstacle.  Take a bucket, fill it yourself with gravel to the white line, carry it up the hill and back down without spilling it.  Unfortunately, I was about done with lifting and had a hard time getting up the hill.  One guy said to me, “You can do it.  Small steps.  Take a few, rest, take a few, rest.  You can make it.”  I made it to the top, but then I had to make it down.  I’d already had problems on the downhill in grassy areas with slipping, so I decided to drag the bucket.  Unfortunately, I spilled it.  People around me groaned, and I scooped up the gravel back into the bucket.  I spent far too long on that obstacle — should have dumped the bucket, done the burpees, and moved on.  Finally I gave the bucket to the volunteer and ran around the “corner” and up a hill.  I met a couple of people from Indiana who are in a group Midwest Vikings who travel around the country doing races.  Cool!
 
Somewhere along the way was mile 10 and the pond again at an obstacle called Tyrolean Traverse.  You had to shimmy along a rope, ring a bell, and drop into the water.  A volunteer said that those who wanted to do burpees instead should cross the timer mat then do burpees.  I opted for burpees.
 
We headed back into the woods, and now it’s apparent that we’re losing daylight.  Some people pulled out glow sticks.  I could still see pretty well, but it was getting darker and darker.  We reached a clearing and I couldn’t see the sun anymore — it was pretty dim.  I was running with a guy named Giuseppe from Massachusetts who also lost his team and didn’t have a headlamp. Some people had put on their headlamps and pulled out their glow sticks.  Giuseppe and I kept leap-frogging from headlamp to headlamp as we went through the woods.  Both of us said we just wanted to finish and not be pulled off the course for lack of illumination.
 
We came to a high wall obstacle where a volunteer told everyone who had headlamps and glow sticks to pull them out, or if you didn’t have those stay with someone who did to avoid being pulled from the course.  Giuseppe and I continued to leapfrog from headlamp to headlamp just trying to keep going.  Some people offered to “babysit” us but we thanked them and kept on the move.  The goal was just to get to the finish.
 
There seemed to be a bottleneck heading down into the woods.  No one knew why, but everyone seemed to be in a slow-moving single file down, down, down.  There were a lot of rocks and roots, so those with headlamps tried to illuminate the ground for those without.  There was a group of 4-5 guys in front of us who started talking about food.  We all wondered if there would be anything left at the finish, or if there would be medals, or if there would still be spectators.  Probably not.  No one expected to be out this long!  A couple of guys said that this year’s Beast was much harder than last year’s, and everyone joked that Beast made Tough Mudder look like a kiddie race. 
 
Then one of the guys in front of me handed me his headlamp and told me to take it and help the guys behind me.  So Giuseppe and I with 2 other guys became a team.  I’m pretty sure I was old enough to be the mother of each of them, so as mom I held onto the headlamp.  I thanked the guy profusely, and he said no problem as each of his buddies had a headlamp so he didn’t need his. 
 
You cannot imagine how overwhelmed I was by this act of kindness. 
 
The four of us headed down a hill, and we heard someone cry out.  We went over to the guy, and he had stepped in a deep hole as he didn’t have a headlamp to see it.  We helped him out (he was OK) and called out to the people behind us that there was a hole and stayed until the next person with a headlamp could show it to others.  We kept going down the hill, and we could see the finish area below us.  This opened up the discussion about hamburgers again. Yet we saw a long line of people heading back up the hill.  Another sandbag carry.  One of the guys offered to carry my sandbag since I had the headlamp, and I told him I appreciated it but I could take the sandbag.  It was only 25 lbs for women anyway. 
 
It seemed like we were going up that hill FOREVER.  Someone told us later that the last sandbag carry was 3/4 mile.  Finally we got to the bottom, and a volunteer told us there were only 3 more obstacles and we’d be DONE!  Another great volunteer told everyone great job and high-fived everyone who came by.
 
The guys and I headed around a corner and saw a group of maybe 10 spectators.  They cheered for us and we cheered for them.  I went by and heard someone calling my name.  My husband was in that group of spectators, and I said hi and waved and kept going.  (Later he asked why I had kept going and I told him that our focus for so long was to finish so there was no thought of stopping).
 
We came to another short muddy barbed-wire crawl, and a volunteer told us there was less mud on the right side.  I went to the right side and crawled through but got my Camelbak stuck on the last wire.  One of the guys helped me get it untangled.  Then we had to go over the slipper wall.  The guy said, “We’re doing this together.”  I heard my friends calling my name but didn’t respond — I was focused on the obstacle.  We both grabbed a knotted rope and he said, “Pull, pull,” as we pulled hand over hand over the wall.  We slid down the other side and there was the fire pit.  Giuseppe ran and jumped over.  The 2 other guys said, “Let’s do this together.”  They headed forward, but I got scared and went back.  I got up my courage and went for it.  The 3 guys were on the other side waiting.  We high-fived and headed for the finish line.  My friends were calling my name, and I raised my arms in the air and started yelling, “YEAH YEAH YEAH!” as loudly as I could.  Spectators started cheering back.  The 3 guys and I crossed the finish mat.  A really hot muscle-bound guy gave us our finisher medals.
 
My husband came over to give me a big hug, mud and disgustingness and all.  He said, “You are the toughest person I know, I’m so proud of you.”  And the 3 guys said, “Yeah, she was tough and great!”  We all congratulated each other again, I got another hug from my husband, and my friends came over.  I didn’t hug them because I didn’t want them to get all dirty.  I grabbed a banana and we went to the T-shirt tent so I could get a T-shirt.
 
My husband and friends asked where I had gotten the headlamp, and I told them of the wonderfully selfless guy who had given it to us.  I don’t know who that guy is, but I will be forever grateful to him for helping 4 other people be able to finish this amazing event.
 
My body must have known that the time to fight and be strong was over, as I started shaking with emotion and cold while my husband and friends told me that after I showered we could go to dinner.  They had 9:30 reservations, and I said that sounded great as I needed something to eat.  During the race, I had only had 2 pouches of baby food, 2 Larabars, and a bunch of Saltstick pills.  Actually, I hadn’t had anything but water in several hours, and I had no idea how long.
 
It took 3 washcloths and a lot of scrubbing to get the worst of the dirt and mud off.  I couldn’t get it out of my fingernails and toenails.  All my clothes (including shoes) went straight into the garbage.  We had a great dinner together, and then I couldn’t sleep because I kept replaying the events of the day in my mind and because I was so sore.  Deep muscle soreness was coupled with surface soreness from scratches and bruises.
 
I ended up finishing this event in 10:08:44.  It took 6 hours to get to the 7 mile mark, and just over 4 hours to finish the last 7.7 miles (my friend told me that apparently the course was 14.7 miles long — I don’t know if it was true, but regardless of whether it was 13.1 or 14.7, I still negative-split the course).
 
The next day (Sunday) my body was so sore I could barely move. Monday it was sore but considerably better.  Tuesday I went for a 5 mile easy run, and it felt good.  My body was so bruised and scratched up that I looked like someone beat me.
 
There were 4 of us from work who attempted the Spartan Beast, 2 with spouses on the course as well.  My friend and her husband who were on my team dropped out.  I finished.  My other friend was pulled from the course at mile 10.  He had a headlamp and was guiding 6 people without a lamp.  They missed a cutoff point by 2 minutes and were not allowed to continue.  Another coworker and her husband finished the event on Sunday in just over 9 hours.  I’m at least 10 years older than any of my coworkers who attempted the Beast. 
 
I’ll be back next year, better prepared and determined to dominate the course to the best of my ability.
 
 
 
 
I'm a blur jumping over fire!

I’m a blur jumping over fire!

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Spartan Beast Vermont — Part I

Last year I did the Spartan Super event in New Jersey which ended up being 11 miles of fun, laughing, and doing obstacles with friends.  It took us about 5 hours to complete because we were staying together as a team.  It was a ton of fun, and I raved about the event.  So much that my husband got for my birthday an entry for me to Spartan Beast in Vermont for 2013!

 
What is Spartan Beast?  Here’s what the website says about it:
 

SPARTAN BEAST: The ultimate Spartan’s Race  Distance

13+ MILES / 25+ OBSTACLES – An obstacle Race from Hell. If you have done any  race anywhere in the world: whether a mud run, fun run, Olympic run, bike race,  death march or any kind of event claiming to be the “toughest race on the  planet” you will be happy to know that this is where it ends..THIS IS THE SPARTAN BEAST… Step up and get out of your  comfort zone on our +16k beast of an obstacle course race; many will arrive, but  few will leave!

 

My friend and her husband signed up for the race too, also about a year in advance.  We all thought, yeah, whatever, we finished the Super which was 11 miles in 5 hours, so we should be done in 6-7 hours, or at least 6-8 as the website claims.

I was training for a marathon leading into this event, so my main focus was on road-running though I was still going to the gym (functional fitness type workouts) and weightlifting on my own.  And my main dilemma was that the Beast was the same weekend as my last 20-mile run was supposed to be.  So I ran 18 the week before and hoped the Beast would suffice for my last big endurance event.

My husband and I headed up to Vermont, and our hotel was right by the start/finish area so we were able to see some of the course the day before the race.  I was a bit freaked out by a couple of the water obstacles — swim across the pond, climb a rope or ladder up to the bridge, grab some ropes and swing across to ring a bell…yeah, right!  Then there was the Tyrolean Traverse which is a rope across the pond — you shimmy across the rope and ring a bell and drop into the water.  Yeah, right, failed that one last year!

We had a nice dinner, and the restaurant at our hotel had a special drink — the Spartini!  It was green and melon-flavored.

For some reason I fell asleep before 8 pm and got up at 6:30 am to get ready for the Beast!  I wore old capris, an old sports bra and tank, old socks, old shoes, an old long-sleeve shirt, and an old knit hat because it was chilly outside.  I ate like a champ — 3 scrambled eggs, 2 slices of bacon, and a large baked sweet potato.  We headed out to the registration area to meet my friends and pick up race bib and timing chip.  In the race packet we received a Spartan headband with our race number on it — cool!

We had awhile before our heat started at 10:30, and we were fortunate enough to see the elite racers come through.  WOW.  Talk about fine specimens of masculine fitness!  These guys did the rope climb like it was nothing, flipped their feet up to tap the bell at the top, shimmied down into the dirty water, and headed to the next obstacle.  Yay, eye candy for the ladies!

To get into the start corral you had to climb over a 5 foot wall.  The DJ played music and got us all pumped up, and we were off!  And up.  The first obstacles were over-unders — over a wall or hay bales, under a wall, etc.  We kept going up.  And up.  The mountain was pretty steep and as we passed the 1 mile marker we were still going up.  And just when you thought you were at the top there was a left turn and more up!  People were calling for a medic, and we called down as well.  The girl who needed it had an asthma attack and may have hurt her leg, not sure, but it was hard to watch as she was sobbing hysterically.  Her friends and a couple of other people were trying to calm her down until the medic arrived.

I’m not sure of the order of the obstacles, but we did some wall climbs, monkey bars (which I fell off and had to do the 30 burpees penalty), a tire drag, pulling a concrete block on a rope and letting it down without slamming on the ground.  We went back down the hill through woods — lots of mud, rocks, roots, and at some points you had to go on your butt to keep from wiping out) and at mile 4 we were each given a big sandbag that was supposed to be 50-70 lbs, though I saw some that were much lighter.  Unfortunately, the volunteer threw me a bag inside another bag.  It had to be 70 lbs, was very unwieldy, and I ended up dragging it up the hill like a body bag.  One really nice guy helped me carry it — he said mine was heavier than his was!  We got to the top, then I tried to carry it down but couldn’t manage it.  70 lbs is much more than half my body weight.  I ended up sitting, putting the bag across my legs, and crab-crawling down.  My husband was there (it was a spectator point) and he said, “That’s a unique way to bring it down.”  Hey, whatever works!

We went back up through the woods to the mental challenge point.  Find the last 2 digits on your bib and memorize a word and series of 7 numbers.  If you wrote it down the penalty was 30 burpees.  No idea when we would be required to recite the word and digits.  We did some more climbing, did a loooooong mud crawl under barbed wire where a volunteer was more than happy to hose us down with cold water, through some dirty water trenches, and more downhill, finally coming to the 7 mile area where the rope climb and obstacles where we saw the elites was located.  There were lots of spectators.  First we had to climb over hay bales, then go under a wall in dirty water (ugh, nasty), then to the rope climb.  Rope climbs scare me as I’m afraid of heights, but I tried it.  No luck, the muddy water made it too slippery.  Then through a tunnel and into a surprise muddy barbed-wire crawl again.

Then we went over a showcase ladder structure with the Spartan logos displayed everywhere.  Up the ladder, onto a platform, across the cargo net where you were not allowed to touch the beams, to the platform, and down the other side.  Scary because you were so high off the ground and could see it thru the netting below.

Now it was time for the big water obstacles.  Swim halfway across the pond to the bridge, climb the rope, drop down into the water, and swim across to the other side.  We opted to do burpees instead.  As we were doing burpees, my friend’s husband announced that he was done, and my friend announced that she was done too. 

We were 7 miles and 6 hours into the race.  She said that this was supposed to be their weekend away from the kids and they wanted to have a nice evening together.  I said OK.  My  husband was coming around taking photos, and they told him they were done.  I said I was going to try to keep going.  My friends were surprised, but I started to tear up and said I wasn’t ready to be done yet.

I went over to the traverse wall and couldn’t make it across.  I started my 30 burpees and was trying not to cry.  My husband and friends were cheering me on.  When I finished the burpees my husband came over and said that I was an inspiration, he was proud of me, and he supported whatever I chose to do.  I told him, “I am not ready to quit.  I did not come here to quit.  Either they pull me from the course because I didn’t bring a headlamp or I will cross the finish line.”  He hugged me and said, “Find someone with a headlamp and stay with them.  Do what you have to do to finish.”

I went into the water for the second swimming obstacle.  I swam to the ladder hanging from the bridge and tried to climb it.  I couldn’t get up very high as I felt weak at that point and dropped back into the water.  I swam for the shore and started doing my burpees.  My husband was talking to a couple of ladies who were looking for salt pills, and he asked if I had some to spare.  I gave them several, then went over to the memory challenge.  I approached a guy with a clipboard and recited “Juliet 800-8307” and proceeded around the lake and into the woods.

Spartan Beast prerace gong

Spartan Beast prerace start line close

Spartan Beast Start

Spartan Beast Corral Wall Climb

Spartan Beast Mountain Beer

Spartan Beast Sandbag Carry

Spartan Beast Laura Monika Sandbag

Spartan Beast Discussion

Spartan Beast Burpees 1

Summer Breeze half Marathon Race Report

The whole concept of our family vacation this year was to include something that is important/enjoyable to each person in our family.  My husband and son are huge baseball fanatics and have a goal of visiting all 30 Major League Baseball parks.  My daughter is very interested in anything to do with the performing arts.  The kids and I love the beach/ocean.  And of course I love running.
 
So we settled on California, specifically Los Angeles, San Francisco/Oakland, and Santa Barbara!  There’s Hollywood, there are plenty of baseball parks, miles and miles of beaches, and there happened to be a half marathon near Oakland, CA.  Perfect!
 
We spent several days in LA doing all the touristy Hollywood stuff and had a great time.  Then we took a leisurely (long) drive up to San Francisco, stopping a few times to see different beaches along the way.  We even saw sea lions!  Of course, at one of our stops I accidentally shut the car door on my right foot….figures, the day before my race…..
 
We arrived in San Francisco in the evening and it was cold!  After dinner, I got all my race stuff out and everything that we would need for the baseball game after the race and tried to go to sleep.
 
After getting up early and going down to breakfast as soon as the hotel buffet opened at 6 am, we hit the road for San Leandro (near Oakland).  Generally, I like to be really early to races, and since it’s usually just myself going to the race, it isn’t a big deal.  But I felt guilty about dragging the whole family out too early (plus breakfast buffet wasn’t open until 6 am anyway) so I swallowed my anxiety and said it was OK if we got there by 7:15 for the 8 am start. 
 
Things to freak out about:  (a) I didn’t have my normal pre-race breakfast of sweet potato and scrambled eggs — there were scrambled eggs, but I had fruit instead; (b) hubby announces on the way that we need to get gas for the car or we might not make it to the Oakland A’s game after the race; (c) will the packet pickup and bathroom lines be long? (d) did I forget anything?
 
We arrived at the race site about 7:10, parked the car, and followed the crowd over to the race start area.  I got in line for packet pickup, then got into the next line for goody-bag/shirt pickup.  While in line, hubby and kids helped me fill my hydration bottles with coconut water (my kids think that’s gross), removed my jeans & sweatshirt to reveal the runner beneath, and pinned on my bib.  I decided to pass on the arm warmers since I underestimate how hot I get and didn’t want something extra to carry around during the race.  Everyone helped me carry stuff over to the portapotty area which fortunately was not yet crowded.
 
We passed by 2 photo back drops — one for the race and the other for age group winners.  I joked that I wouldn’t need the age group winner back drop, and hubby replied, “I don’t know, I’ve been looking around at the other runners and I think this might be your day.”  I translated that as, “I am a non-runner who loves you and thinks you’re awesome and am being supportive.”
 
We went over to the water to take photos — it happened to be our 17th wedding anniversary!
 
The family wished me luck and left me at the starting area while they walked to find a suitable spot on the race course to spectate and take photos.
 
After the usual race announcements and all, the horn sounded and we were off!  As usual, it was crowded at the beginning yet difficult to hold back from going too fast.  My strategy was to hold back the first half of the race then open the throttle the 2nd half.
 
Around the first mile marker I saw the family!  They took some photos and cheered.  I told them I’d see them in less than 2 hours.
 
It was REALLY hard to hold back as I saw runners passing me early in the race.  I kept repeating to myself, “my race, my pace” and reminding myself that I’d probably be seeing some of these people again later in the race as they burned out while I still had energy stores (ha ha, that’s the theory, right?).
 
Our route was an out and back along a narrow mostly crushed stone path by the bay.  Unfortunately (or fortunately perhaps) it was cloudy, there was a breeze, and the temperature was in the upper 50s.  Actually, perfect running weather, especially for someone who was used to running in the heat and humidity of New Jersey summer.
 
I locked onto an older guy who was running ahead of me and ended up passing him around mile 4 on a wooden bridge.  Ahead of him were a couple of girls in acid green shirts, and a woman in a pink shirt who I figured to be in my age group.  They were targets, but I didn’t allow myself to speed up to pass them — if I passed them while holding steady, that would be great.  And I did.  We started seeing the leaders coming back toward us, and I’d yell out “good job” for about the first 30 or so.  I started counting the women to get an idea of what place I was in amongst women.  Most of them looked young……really young……
 
At about mile 6 I pulled out the raisins and started the awkwardness that is running/chewing/breathing all at the same time.  I’m pretty sure now that I should be fueling sooner in the race though.
 
When I hit the halfway mark I knew I was in about 55th place for female runners.  I checked my Garmin and it showed 58:19. Fuzzy race-brain math led me to believe that with negative splits my A goal of a PR was possible or at least my B goal of a sub-1:57 was possible.  That’s when I allowed myself to drop the hammer.
 
There was an Asian woman in a blue shirt running ahead of me at a good pace, so I decided to follow her pace so I wouldn’t have to think.  This may or may not have been a great strategy but at the time I thought she was going to be holding 8:45 or so.
 
Also, there was a guy (probably around my age though I’m so bad at judging ages) who kept changing positions with me.  Sometimes I’d pass him, sometimes he’d pass me.  The first time I passed him he said I was looking good and had a good pace and I thanked him and told him he did too.
 
Miles 7-9.5 were kind of a blur with hanging in there with the Asian woman and the guy.  We passed a few people in the process.
 
But then I started feeling kind of crappy.  Not terrible, just not as strong.  I wondered if I’d hit the wall since vacation doesn’t really lend itself to typical diet.  Still, I was determined to zone out and stay with my new race running buddies.  My goal was just to hang on and ignore the crappy feeling (though I did start to wonder how I was going to manage 26.2 miles in a couple of months).
 
Around mile 11 I passed the guy for the last time and he shouted to me, “Go get’em!” and I vowed that I would indeed get’em.  Blue-shirted Asian lady was still ahead of me and ahead of her was a woman in a gray tank top.  I figured both were in my age group and vowed to hang with them.  Blue shirt and I got closer and closer to gray shirt and I felt comfortable with that.  I was hoping to be able to blow by them at the end.
 
At mile 12 I could see my family in the distance, and I started waving so they wouldn’t miss me.  Of course, I’d chosen my shirt so that it would be bright and distinctive to ensure they wouldn’t miss me.  I passed them with a huge smile as they cheered and my husband said, “Wow, you’re running a great pace and looking good!”  I thought, well, duh, I’ve been training.  Later it occurred to me that he has only attended a couple of my distance races and in both I was doing the death march at the end, so I guess I looked way better than he expected.
 
Then it happened.  The foot that I had accidentally closed the car door on the day before started cramping charley-horse style.  It felt like my toes were trying to curl themselves under my foot.  At least I only had about a mile to go and having given birth to 2 kids I am able to withstand a fair amount of pain.
 
I knew that a PR was out of reach, but my B goal was within reach if I could ignore the pain and run strong to the finish.  I watched the 2 ladies ahead of me move farther out of reach, but I also knew that I could come in under my goal.  I pushed hard and crossed the finish line, feeling dizzy and pukey as I pressed “stop” on my Garmin.  Garmin read 1:56:34 (official time was 1:56:31).  As I tried to catch my breath and quell the dizzy and pukey feelings, I started to get choked up — no, not with puke, but with emotion.
 
It dawned on me that I had just pulled off my 3rd best ever half marathon finish time, and my best half marathon finish since 2010.  I pulled out my cell phone and called my husband and related what had just happened and that I’d meet them in the food area.  The 3 of them were making their way to the finish area and would meet me soon.
 
After hugs & congrats from hubby (he doesn’t care if I’m gross and sweaty but the kids wouldn’t come near me) we decided that we’d be able to drive to the hotel for me to take a speedy shower before heading to the Oakland A’s game.  So we took off and didn’t hang around for race results or awards.
 
My foot continued to feel crampy but was easing up a bit.  Normally I would take off my shoes after a race, but I was afraid that my toes would actually curl under without the shoe.  After a couple of hours, my foot was better.
 
I asked what the 3 of them had done for 2 hours while they were waiting for me, and they said they had fun cheering for the half marathon, 10K, and 5K participants.  They were particularly inspired by one woman who was running her first 5K.  The first time she passed them, she said it was the farthest she had ever run, and they told her to keep it up.  As she came back, they told her, “RIGHT NOW is the farthest you’ve ever run!” and apparently she was overwhelmed with emotion.  How awesome!!!!!
 
They also relayed how some people were happy to have people cheering for them while others ignored it.  As this course didn’t lend itself to having easy access for spectators I would have thought that more people would have appreciated the cheers!
 
We had a good time at the Oakland A’s game and headed back to the hotel.  I kept checking my phone for race results, and finally they were posted.  I went first to Age Group results and almost fell over!  I had placed 3rd in the 40-44 age group!  I told my family (I think my comment was something like, “OMG no freakin’ way, I placed in my age group!”), and my husband said, “See, I told you so!”  I asked him how he had come to that conclusion, and his response was, “I didn’t see that many women who looked like they were your age and as fit as you.”  It was surprising to me how many younger people ran the race.  In NJ there are few people in the 20-29 age group but lots and lots in the 30-39, 40-49, and 50-59 age groups.    I guess in Oakland the older ladies are doing things other than road races.
 
I have to say, this makes me feel good about my marathon training.  Third best half marathon finish time ever, best in 3 years, and an AG award to boot!
 
(I’ll post pictures later — having technical difficulties)