Tag Archives: races

#166 – Mississippi River Half Marathon

Said Dr. Peabody to his boy, Sherman, “Set the way-back machine to November 2015, for that’s when this tale begins!”

I ran my first half marathon in November 2015 at the Route 66 Half Marathon in Tulsa.  This was monumental in so many ways for me, and something I’ll never forgot.  You can read about that race here.  As part of the expo, I ran across the table for the Mississippi River Half Marathon.  After talking with the folks there, I dropped my name in the proverbial hat for a chance to win a free entry to their race, and didn’t think about it again.

Not until a week or so later, when I heard from the race folks, letting me know I’d won that free entry!  I talked with the director for a while, hearing about this great, flat race, all the while getting my excitement up for this event.  However, it was very close to Gasparilla, which I’d had teed up for a while.  They let me defer to 2017, so done and done.

Now, we return to the present…

I’d been sweating this race all winter.  I knew I wasn’t getting the training miles that I should’ve — ice, winter, and injuries all got in the way.  I kept telling myself that I could do this anyway.  I mean, I didn’t train that hard for my first half, and I got through that one, right?

But, this was gonna be my fourth attempt at my second half marathon.  I had blisters in Chattanooga in March.  I had a leg that was incredibly messed up in Tulsa in November.  And December found me taking care of Becky and her eye, keeping me away from Springfield.

So this race was a long time coming, with a lot of self-inflicted pressure.  And the closer the day came to leave for the race, the more nervous I got.  Even up to the day before the race, I was still doubting if I could really get through it.  I figured that I could just muscle through it though.  After all, I’d done this before, right?  (Sense a theme yet?)

I drove to Greenville MS on Friday.  When I left STL, it was 28°, and by the time I hit the bootheel, it was in the 40s, with tremendous winds.  There were times that the dust blown up from the barren fields made “brown out” conditions where I couldn’t see thirty feet in front of the Jeep.  And with those winds, my mileage plummeted to about 12.5mpg.  That was impressive.

I rolled into Greenville around 5pm, got checked into the hotel, and went to pick up my race packet at the local mall.  I think that’s the first time I’ve picked up my packet at a mall, but it worked out well, and being a small race, went pretty quickly.

I laid out Flat Colin, making sure I had everything planned and together for the race.  I went through my race strategy, trying to plan for what was to come on Saturday.  I’d been visualizing my race plan for a week, putting myself in the best place I could be for my race.  All I had to do Saturday morning was get dressed, and get to the start line.

Well, technically, it was the finish line first.  This race is a point to point race, with all the runners bussing to their starting points.  We were to be carried 13.2 miles from the finish line, with the full marathon folks going 13.2 miles even farther out.  The cool thing is that that meant that there would likely be folks on the course while I was finishing.  I chit-chatted with a bunch of folks as we awaited the busses to begin boarding.  The doors opened, and we started loading up.

Runners on the Bus
Runners on the Bus

This was the first time I’d been on a school bus in a very long time, and I was suddenly struck by the size of things on the bus.  It was obviously designed with smaller persons in mind, and folding all of us runners into these little seats was pretty comical.  And then the doors closed.

No more comical notions about long legs in little seats.  It suddenly got very, very real.

Runners on Deck!
Runners on Deck!

We were dropped off at a little steak house just across the border in Arkansas, milling around for just about an hour awaiting time for the race to start.  The race folks announced a ten minute warning, and asked us to start collecting up on the bridge deck.  I really thought we’d be running across the whole bridge span, but we ended up starting about a quarter way across, which meant that the first part of the race wasn’t entirely uphill.  🙂

Lynn and I
Lynn and I

While I stood on the bridge deck, awaiting the start, someone walked up to me, and said hello.  It was Lynn Nelson, who was on the bloggers panel with me at Route 66 in November.  I was stunned to find someone I knew at this race!  We chatted like old friends, and that really helped cut the pre-race jitters for me.

We all stood, sang The Star Spangled Banner, and just like that — we were underway.

Sun on the Mississippi
Sun on the Mississippi

The thing that struck me right away was how long that bridge over the Mississippi River was… and how beautiful the land so very far below was.  The sun was poking through the heavy clouds every now and then, lighting up parts of the river as I crossed the bridge.  And as I expected, inside fifteen minutes, I’d lost the pack, and was left to my thoughts.

That's a lot of cable!
That’s a lot of cable!

The Greenville Bridge is pretty impressive, and is billed as the longest cable-stayed bridge span on the Mississippi River.  I couldn’t say if that’s true, but it’s very cool to run across.  The only thing that was weird for me was ensuring I didn’t step wrong on the expansion joints.  They were huge, and looked like you could break an ankle by stepping on them wrong.

Hot pursuit!
Hot pursuit!

Having lost the pack, I was the very last person running the half.  As a result of that, and running on a pretty significant highway, I had an escort.  🙂  That’s one thing I noted throughout the race — the support from the LEO community was amazing!  I never felt unsafe crossing any intersection, and I made sure I thanked every one of ’em.  They kept all of us safe, and I loved being the target of the world’s slowest high-speed pursuit!

I chugged through the first quarter (5k), and had a time pretty comparable to the first quarter of Route 66 — within a minute.  I felt like I was on track for another long day, but a successful one.  I even posted some Facebook Live material from the race course.

I continued on up Highway 82, with a nice tailwind, and kinda thought my times would be benefitting from the little extra push.  However, at the halfway point, I was seven minutes behind my time from Tulsa, and was starting to feel a blister form on the bottom of my left foot.  I’ve been there before (remember Gasparilla last year?), and that could’ve set me up for some real misery.  As it ends up, that blister was the least of my worries.

Halfway was kinda a big point in this race.  I put another (and my last) Facebook Live video up.  The first of the marathoners passed me — remember, he was at the 19 mile point in his race, while I was sitting at six miles in mine.  He was flying!  And it was around halfway that I met Liz, Brenden, and Ashley.

These kids were probably half my age, and were walking at the same pace I was, plus or minus.  Oh, and Liz was 30-weeks pregnant.  🙂  We’d been passing each other for much of the first half, and then hooked up as we reached the end of the highway part of the race.  We talked for miles, stopping at some of the neighborhood rest stops, picking up doughnuts, citrus and other goodies.  Eventually, they got ahead of me for good, although every now and then, they’d look back to make sure I was still in the game.

Somewhere around nine miles, I really began to struggle.  I started taking breaks, sitting on the culverts and leaning against walls.  I had so many folks passing me by, asking if I was ok.  And I was, I was just exhausted.  I hydrated well along the way (a little Gatorade every mile), so I know that wasn’t the problem.  But for some reason, I was just barely getting from point to point.  It was like some crazy Walking Dead imitation, only without the constant mumbling for brains.

And every time I’d get moving again — slowly and sloppily — I had runners passing me, encouraging me as they went by.  And every now and then, someone would slow to my pace, talk with me for a few minutes before moving on.  And being in the South, there were more than a few “You’ve got this, sir” flung at me as those faster folks passed me.  Sir?  Really?  🙂

I don’t quit, and I finish what I start.  But, this… this was really brutal.  There were at least a couple of times where I wanted to pull the plug, and catch an ATV to the finish.  Every time I thought of that, I knew I’d be crushed, and I’d have to live with that.  I could see that I was so close to the finish, and that I only needed to find ways to rest, recharge, and keep moving.  That was my strategy over the last couple of miles, and I just kept counting down the kilometers.

Finished!
Finished!

And then it was over.  I finished, and had my medal around my neck.  (Put a tack in that; we’ll come back to it later.)

I waddled to the finisher’s tent, and found that they had a feast of pizza and other goodies.  The lady behind table asked what I wanted, and I muttered something about just wanting to sit down, eat some pizza and have the coldest Coke I could find.  She said there weren’t any chairs in the tent, but walked off for a minute, and came back with a folding chair from somewhere.  I sat right at the serving table, hunkered over my pizza and Coke like they were my precious, and began to recharge my batteries a bit.

The tent also had some massage chairs set up, so I signed up for my first ever massage.  My shoulders were awful — they always are after a long race — and I figured I wouldn’t hurt anything by getting them worked on a bit.  As it ends up, that was the best move I coulda made.  The masseuse just pummeled my back and shoulders, and it made all the difference in the world.

And while I had my face in the doughnut, someone came up and grabbed my hand.  I asked who that was, and it was Liz, coming by to congratulate me on finishing.  I felt like George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, suddenly having something wonderful happen.  It absolutely made my race.

When my massage was finished, I wandered back over to the table, and asked for the quickest path to where I’d parked my Jeep.  The folks started trying to figure that out, when a twenty-something girl said she’d just take me to the Jeep.  Wow.  I’ve never had anything like that happen at a race!

I drove back to the hotel, and that’s where I discovered that I had a medal for the full marathon, rather than the half.  I’m sure that as long as it took for me to come across the line, the volunteers weren’t expecting that grizzled old dude to be a half finisher!

I’ve thought about why this race ended up being so tough.  I thought the flat course, especially with a tail wind, would make for a fast time for me.  However, I really think that having some hills to help break up my pace, and to give me a “restful boost” on the back of those hills, could’ve been helpful.  I also think the weather toward the end of the race got to me.  It was 75° when I finished, and I felt every degree of it.  All that conspired to keep me on the course an hour longer than I’d planned for.

I am thrilled to have my second half marathon behind me!  But there’s no resting on my laurels.  I’m supposed to be in Gasparilla in two weeks for a 15k and 8k.  I’m definitely encouraged by how this race went, despite how very tough it was.  I learned a lot about myself, and that I really can push through some pretty tough racing in order to finish.  I know folks finished much, much faster than me, but for me, this was a solid win!

This race benefitted Teach for America.

Race Course

Everything I Needed to Know About Racing, I Learned From Ralphie

“Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at it’s zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters decend upon us.” – from A Christmas Story

And so it was this weekend.

I mentioned yesterday that I had apparently injured my right calf muscle sometime during my races.  Truth is, I haven’t hurt that bad since completing the Route 66 half marathon last year.  After that race, anytime I sat down, it was very hard to get up, and it took everything I could do to get moving once I got on my feet.

Yesterday was just like that, except only in my right leg.  I have no idea what I could’ve done before, during or after the races.  I didn’t do anything goofy — I wore clothes I’ve worn before, shoes I wear regularly for running, and I stretched the same way I always do.  I don’t remember having any close calls where I had to avoid a collision, or any kind of potential ankle rolling that could’ve caused this.  I am totally lost about the root cause of this injury.

So after a painful, restless night of little sleep, I got up this morning, and was still in a fair amount of pain in my calf, but I was also feeling some pain across the outside of my right ankle, and noticed it was swollen.  I got dressed, and hobbled downstairs for a little coffee and poppyseed bread for breakfast.  By the time I was back at the room, it was obvious to me that four (or more) hours of beating up that already injured leg wouldn’t be the smartest idea.

Could I have finished?  Perhaps, but who know what kind of damage I would’ve done, and how much future racing it might cost me to recover from that.

I talked to Darla, told her what I was seeing and feeling, and she agreed that it was probably best for me not to put 13.1 miles of stress on my already-injured body.  Begrudgingly, I began to pack my bags, checked out of the hotel, and headed for Da Lou.

I’m disappointed.  I mean, really disappointed.  I had such high hopes, and was in such a great state of mind going into yesterday’s races.  Midway through the 5k yesterday, if you’d told me I be writing about a DNS for the half, I woulda told you you were nuts.  I knew I had these races covered.

I talked at the Blogger’s Forum Friday night about trying to keep a positive outlook, and that I really just wanted to run and write about my journey, and hopefully inspire someone else along the way.  Well, kids, this is part of the story too.  It’s not just easy every race.  Some races will challenge you like you’ve never been challenged.  Some will come easy.  Some will kick you to the curb like last week’s trash.

This weekend, I had both ends of that — the heights of revelry, and an unthinkable disaster.

But here’s the cool thing… I was smart enough NOT to push through this injury, and that probably means I’ll be out there running again sooner.  It’s one thing to be smart about running a race — working on pace, stride, breathing, and all the other things that make up a racer’s profile — but it’s just as important to be smart about an injury, and not make things worse.

Of course I’m bummed, and I’m one medal short of where I wanted to be by this time in the weekend.  However, there are always more medals to chase, more races to run, and more challenges to come.  Even if I’m sidelined for a few weeks, I’m still the same dude I was before the injury this weekend, and I’m still jonesing to get out there for my next race, and show this old body what it can still do.

#142 – Ellisville Independence Day 5K

5kmThis was a first-time race for me, despite it being in my own backyard.  I’d been wrestling with running it, largely because I believed it didn’t have medals at the end, and I like getting “paid” for my runs.  🙂

I signed up during this last week, and got up early this morning to make the short drive to the race course.  After yesterday’s amazing run, I really was gunning for big things.

The weather was supposed to be amazing — rain and low 60s — and I was really looking forward to that.  As Mother Nature does sometimes, she took a left turn, and I ended up with low 70s, no rain, and a crazy humid airmass with occasional fog.  Blecch!

I got to the race course, and talked with the packet pickup folks.  Last year, this race had about 300 entrants; this year, only about 100 for the 5k.  I got kinda excited, thinking that maybe I could end of up with an age award.  Three deep across each decade of ages… yeah, that would help push me higher in my age group, and maybe the math would favor me with a top-three age group placement.

I was about to find out that math today and a great run yesterday wouldn’t ensure a medal for me!

The race started on time, and I trudged along a trail in Bluebird Park that seemed to wind downhill forever.  And much like the sidewalks yesterday, the trail was slick as snot.  Where I shoulda carried some speed downhill, the slipperiness kept me reserved, taking careful steps as I climbed downward.

I’d never run this course before, and it was nice to see a part of my town that I’d never seen before.  I passed through neighborhoods, with the occasional driveway of folks cheering us on.  It was clear that I was losing the biggest part of the pack, and that I was well on my way to being dead last in the race.  I don’t race to come out on top, I race to challenge me, so that was ok.

Lumbering through the neighborhoods, I’d occasionally catch a glimpse of the golf cart that was trailing the last runners in the race… and I wasn’t all that far ahead of them.  With about a kilometer to go, I reentered Bluebird Park, and started climbing up all the hills I’d carefully descended at the beginning of the race.

I came up the last big hill, and turned left into the staging area for the race.  Folks cheered as I came through the finisher’s arch, which was cool.  Perhaps they were afraid that I was really ol’ St. Nick, and they wanted to stay on the good side of the Big Man.  Regardless of the reason, I enjoyed a few seconds of cheering, and ambled over to the ice cold water bottles to start cooling down.

This was a fun little race, but much more hilly than I’d expected.  And, I wish it’d had a finisher medal.  But, it was close, early, and done, and there’s nothing wrong with that!

This race benefitted Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

Race Course

#140 – Orlando United 5K

5km VirtMuch like the shootings in Paris last year, the shootings in Orlando hit me hard.  Orlando is the city of my birth, and frankly, it was once again on home turf.

A day or so after the attack, I got wind of a race being held in Orlando to help raise funds to help folks in the area who were affected by this awful event.  That was June 15th.

In just about 24 hours, all the “live event” spots — 1300 of them — were sold.  Fortunately, they also had a virtual leg to this race, and I quickly signed up.  So did about 2000 other people.  I’ve never heard of an impromptu race going from concept to sell-out so quickly.  It certainly props up my faith in humanity, and once again, makes me proud to count myself as a part of the running community.

Yesterday was hot here in Da Lou.  Really hot.  I know the map below says 90°, but what I saw was closer to 95° with a heat index close to 105°.  Frankly, it was stupid to be out in that, but I knew I needed to get this one done, so out I went.

Pretty quickly, I knew the heat was on me, and I realized I was gonna finish, but it’d be ugly.  On my way out of the neighborhood, I came across a neighbor who is a much better runner than me.  He told me he only made it two miles before having to head for home.  That didn’t bode well for me!

The route I’ve been enjoying lately has started to undergo some construction, so I played around with my route a bit.  Yesterday probably wasn’t the best day to do that.  And, by the time I’d gone a couple of kilometers, my dogs were barking, with the sense that I was growing a blister on the back of my right heel.  This has been an ongoing problem over the last couple of weeks, and I haven’t yet been able to track down what’s causing it all of a sudden.

I slogged through my route, and worked through the pain, coming closer and closer to the end of my route.  As I turned back into the neighborhood, that same neighbor was driving out of the neighborhood, and stopped to talk.  I told him how far I’d gone, and was I pleased that I was able to keep my feet on the street longer than him.

As it ends up, I probably shouldn’t have done this run yesterday.  The sun really affected me, sapping my energy for the rest of the day, and having some significant physical impact from all that heat.  Normally, I feel great after a run, but yesterday wasn’t one of those days.

Still, I got it done, muscling through the discomfort and the sweaty St. Louis summer day.  I’m proud that I have found the mental strength to learn how to pound through conditions like these — that’s not to be confused with the wisdom, however, to be smart about getting out there in the first place!!!!

This event was sponsored by Final Mile Race Management and benefitted the One Orlando Fund.  Last I heard, over $110,000 was raised by this event for the fund.

Race Course

#139 – All American 5k

This race is billed as “St. Louis’ Fastest 5K!”  I get why… there’s a bunch of downhill grades as the race starts in Kirkwood, travels through Glenwood, and finishes in Webster Groves.  And it was fast.

Today's Objective!
Today’s Objective!

My splits in the first two kilometers were way under 10min/km, which is my yardstick for good, bad or ugly paces.  As it ends up, three of my four splits were sub-10, the last one was ten on the nose, and the the split that included the water stop was just over ten.  Really good race for me.

This course meanders roughly east, with the river lying many, many miles in the distance.  But, with that gentle grade toward the river comes some gentle uphill chugs to earn those beautiful downhill gliding opportunities.  The gentle hills are in the second half of the run, which is why my first two splits were so fast.  There were definitely times where I had some fast sprints in the second half of the race, but the uphills slowed me down.

This race course runs through some nice, old neighborhoods, and there’s always folks outside, cheering us on.  One couple was sitting in their driveway, enjoying their coffee, and I noticed their sprinkler was on, feeding their lawn.  I shouted “Can I run through your sprinkler?”  They cracked up, and said sure, and I proceeded to make aircraft wings out of my arms, and ran dead center across their lawn (and their neighbors).  Folks in the race behind me were cheering, and I suspect I wouldn’t be the only person to take that little detour.

Another thing that was interesting was a couple that passed me about four kilometers into the race.  The guy had a race-style bag on his back, with a loud stereo of some kind in it.  There was this giant Caribbean sound emanating… and they were dancing and skipping!  I was behind them most of the last kilometer, and they carried that groove to the end.  I was blown away!!!

Flying!
Flying!

I got toward the finish line, and could see that the clock was about to cross fifty minutes.  I knew I wasn’t near fifty, as it took me almost two minutes from the time race started until I crossed the finish line, but there’s still that crazy mental thing that happens with finish lines and timing.  I looked up, and the clock was at 49:47.  The announcer was cheering on folks to finish ahead of the clock crossing fifty, and I kicked in some kind of crazy afterburner.  I ran faster than I think I’ve ever run, and crossed at about 49:58.  🙂

Finished!
Finished!

Once again, this was a fun race.  Last year, the morning was full of electrical storms, and rain through the whole course.  Today was cloudless and hot, more than ten degrees hotter than last year.  Even with that dramatic difference in conditions (to the worse, for me), I was only 45 seconds slower than last year.  I’ll take that.  🙂

Race Course

#134/135 – Hospital Hill 5k/10k

5km10km
This weekend, I ran my third Hospital Hill race weekend (second time for the 5k/10k re-run.  Two years ago, I challenged The Hill, and it was one of the hardest races I’d done up to that time.  Last year, I did the re-run for the first time, and was just pummeled by the 5k.  The heat was crushing, and it was all I could do mentally to go back out on the course for the 10k the next morning.

I’ve run 100 events since last year’s Hospital Hill, and I was determined to not only be a little faster than last year, but to enjoy the experience.

Friday

I drove out to Kansas City Friday morning.  I-70 is a relatively quick, albeit kinda dull, drive between here and KC.  Three-and-a-half hours after leaving the house later, I was pulling into the Sheraton Crown Center.

This is the host hotel for Hospital Hill, and I’ve really come to enjoy my stays there — the expo is right there, and the race start/finish is just a couple of blocks away.  Perfect!

I checked in (early, even!), dropped off my stuff, and headed to the expo.  Specifically, I was looking for Lifespeed Sports, but unfortunately, they weren’t there this year.  However, there were plenty of races represented, and loads of vendors selling their wares.    Aside from picking up a buncha flyers for races I’ll probably never do, I really didn’t walk out with anything aside from my bibs and shirt for the event.

This race starts at 7pm, so I always have time to burn between packet pickup and race time.  Just hanging out in the room added to the tension of the upcoming race, but I did get to nap a bit, and I’m sure that wasn’t a bad thing.

I got myself together, and wandered downstairs and to the start line.  Like last year, there were loads of folks enjoying the pre-race festivities… stuff for kids, a great fountain, and some clouds.  Yes, clouds.  This was gonna be a night with cooler weather than last year!

We got corralled up, and in short order, we were released onto the course!  As I’ve mentioned before, the 5k course starts out with a ginormous hill, almost ¾km in length, and pointed kinda straight up.  I’d strategized that this year, I was gonna walk up the hills, and run the downhills and flats.  Previous years had seen me running up the hills — especially the first one — and burning myself out.

My plan worked pretty well, and I enjoyed churning through the course, running through sprinklers, speaking to anyone who’d listen, and generally making the best of my race.  I scooted back down the big hill, and continued my run to the finish line, finishing three minutes faster than last year.  Woot!

I gathered up my post-race goodies, including an ice cream sammich and a carton of chocolate milk.  Those are absolutely the best things ever post-race, and really oughta be required at every race!!!

I headed back to the hotel, grabbing some Jimmy John’s on the way, and changed back into street clothes.  One of the challenges with a race that starts at 7pm is that by the time you get settled down after dinner, it’s already at least 9pm, and the clock is already ticking down to wake-up time for Saturday’s 10k.

Saturday

Typically, I awoke before the alarm, and had time to kill — my favorite! — before heading down to the race site.  I nibbled a little breakfast, and headed down.

The scale of the Saturday race is enormous compared to the Friday race.  Saturday has both a 10k and half marathon, with about 3500 racers combined.  The field stretches for almost two blocks, all lined up by pace.  I’d placed myself at the back, knowing that I would be slow, slow, slow.

I started talking with three ladies — a mom and her grown daughters — that had also lined up near the “Walk” pace sign.  We chit-chatted a bit, and I found out that this was the youngest’s first official 10k.  It’s always fun to kill my nerves with some small talk, and frankly, the older I get, the more I hear my father’s voice in mine.  He never met a stranger, and I’m beginning to see that same trait in me.  Not bad for guy who was a total wallflower as a teen, eh?  🙂

The gun fired, and almost four minutes later, we crossed the start line.  As it ends up, these ladies were walking at the speed of my trot, so I eased into a walking stride, and continued talking with them.

And we talked, and talked, and talked.  Quickly, we were a mile in, and then two.  In fact, the course just seemed to melt behind us as we chattered about a little of everything.  In short order, we were headed down the final hill, aimed toward the finish line.  Suddenly, we all hit a big gear, and ran across the finish line in the same stride.  It was awesome!

That’s the first time I’d had someone to chat with through a race that long, and it really made a difference.  Obviously, I need to find me some folks to run and walk with.

It was a great weekend, and I nabbed three more medals for the wall — nothing wrong with that!  I survived the heat of Friday night, and had a great 10k race, meeting some new folks along the way.  It was a great race weekend!

This race benefitted Unbound, Heartstrings Community Foundation and the Love Fund for Children.

Race Courses

5k

10k

#114 and #115 – Gasparilla Distance Classic

15km8kmBuckle up, kids.  This is gonna get long.

This past weekend, I took a leisurely drive to Tampa — a little over a thousand miles from here — for the Gasparilla Distance Classic.  This is a series of four races — 5K, 8K, 15K, half marathon — over the weekend, with several combinations of them bundled as challenges including the extra swag of a jacket and challenge medal.  Very cool passel of stuff.

Wednesday

Anyone who’s read my ramblings knows that I love good food, and that Lambert’s Cafe is high on the list.  Knowing that I was generally headed in a southerly direction, I lined up my travels to carry me through Sikeston MO, and a stop off at Lambert’s for dinner.  If you’ve never been to Lambert’s, you should go.  It’s a perfect blend of delicious home-style food, and some crazy sized portions.  Select your meal, and while you wait, servers come around with “pass arounds” — fried okra, macaroni and tomatoes, black-eyed peas and fried taters and onions.  With the exception of the okra, you have to have already been served your meal — those remaining pass arounds need a plate to land upon.  For the okra, though, just rip off a paper towel from the roll at your table, and eat ’em with your fingers!

Lambert’s touts itself as the Home of Throwed Rolls, and they live up to that.  Every few minutes, servers tour through the dining room, pushing carts of freshly made rolls.  Raise your hand, and they’ll lob one at you, sometimes from over twenty feet away.  I drop a little butter on my roll, and wait for the trailing server to come along with the sorghum molasses and apple butter.  There’s truly no bread better than this.

For me, my loves are frog legs and hog jowls.  Of the two Lambert’s I’ve visited (Sikeston MO and Springfield MO — there’s another location in Alabama), Sikeston is the only one with frog legs, so I usually get those.  They’re Olympic swimming frogs too… The legs are huge!  They’ve got a light batter on ’em, and really go down easy.  Along with the legs, you get a couple of big sides.  Through a delivery accident, I got cucumbers and onions, which I’d never tried before.  Surprisingly, these were really tasty.  The cukes sit in some kind of sweet liquid, so when they’re served, the onions don’t overpower them.  I was really surprised!

After stuffing myself like a tick about to pop, I drove on to Paducah on the back roads of eastern Missouri and western Kentucky.  It’s been a while since I’ve done that drive in the dark, and I was reminded just how driving down a quiet country road in the dark can be very refreshing.  There’s little traffic on the two-lane between I-57 and Paducah — although a lot of speed zones as you cross through the little towns on the way — and that lack of traffic can make you feel like you’re the only person on the road.  That’s kinda the way my races go!

In Paducah, I stopped at the Drury Suites.  I kept thinking it looked familiar, and realized that this was the hotel we stopped at when we first brought Roxy to her new home.  What’s funny is that some of the staff remembered us from that stay, and loved seeing photos of her at her seven-month size.  That was cool, and made me feel right at home.

Thursday

I got up early, and headed down the road, planning to land in Macon GA for the night.  I figured that would make for a short drive on Friday.  And once again, I had gastrotourism on my list for the day.

I grew up in Chattanooga, home of Krystal’s restaurants.  To folks north of the Mason-Dixon Line, Krystal’s are similar to White Castles, but with some differences.  Krystal’s have a much less soggy bun, not having been swimming in the onion soup that Castles uses.  They also lack the five holes in the meat, and have a dollup of mustard.  I like ’em better, but that’s probably because those are the belly bombers I was raised around.  Whenever I head into the South, Krystal’s are on my list, and this morning was no exception.  I crossed into Tennessee, and stopped at the first Krystal I found, in Clarksville.  With a sack of breakfast bombers riding shotgun, I headed on down the road.

Nashville seems to be in a state of perpetual construction, and it’s rare that I get through there without some kind of delay.  There was a little bit of a slowdown, but not as bad as I’ve seen in the past.  I got through town, and saw signs pointing me down I-24 toward Chattanooga.

I spent most of my childhood in and around Chattanooga, and for most of my adult life, I’ve pulled off at Exit 155 to go visit The Mountain.  This trip, I pulled off there, but only for gas, driving on into downtown Chattanooga.  I don’t usually get this view of my former home, and it’s impressive to me how much it’s grown.  I’ve moved away from Chattanooga twice — once in the 80s and once in the 90s — and now I look at the town, realizing it’s turned into an amazing Southern city, while still retaining its small town charm.

Just before I crossed in Georgia, I picked up I-75, my fourth interstate, and the only major one I’d need until I got to Tampa.  North Georgia is some really beautiful country, with just the right mix of hills and valleys for me.  You also start to notice changes in the trees, with denser groves of forests lining the road.  It’s really a nice place, but there’s an element of NASCAR speedway to I-75 as you head toward Atlanta, passing through the carpet capital of the universe.  Southward I continued.

Growing up in Chattanooga, you always heard about things in Atlanta, and it seemed like folks in Chattaboogie always looked south to Atlanta for what they should be doing.  Part of that was The Varsity restaurant, and the next stop on the gastrotourism express.  This is a hamburger joint that is steeped in antiquity, and serves up some awesome food.  The only one for a long time was in north Atlanta, but their success has allowed them to spread out.  I stopped at the one in Kennesaw, and had a tremendous burger, onion rings and an ice cold soda.  I was lucky at hit this one at an “in between meals” time, so there wasn’t a crush, and was able to just kick back and enjoy the experience.  It’d been decades since I’d had a meal at The Varsity; hopefully, my next one won’t be so long down the road.

I got to Macon, and stopped at a Sleep Inn.  There were a lot of choices, but I really didn’t need anything incredible, just a roof, bed, and TV.  And against that criteria, I had the best room on the planet.  In reality, it wasn’t quite as great as all that, but it did what I needed for one night, and gave me great access to food for dinner.  Stop number four on the gastro tour was Zaxby’s.

We don’t have Zaxby’s in Da Lou, and I’d never eaten there until our stop at one near Memphis on our drive to New Orleans last year.  They have very good fast food, and certainly know their way around a chicken.  I had a small dinner of some kind of honey-sweet boneless wings, and toddled back to the room for the night.

Friday

In the morning, I once again set my sights on a little gastro fun.  Next door to the hotel was a Waffle House.  I love Waffle House’s hash browns, and knew that I had to have some this morning, along with diner-style bottomless coffee.  I was the only person in there, and was really taken care of by the staffers.  One of ’em kept the jukebox fired up with soft jazz, which was a perfect start to my morning.  I wrapped up my breakfast, and pointed the Lil’ Red Rubicon south once again.

I really enjoyed watching the transition in the landscape as I drove toward Tampa.  The land flattens out, and trees change, with a gradual change to pines and palms the further south I went.  It was a beautiful transformation, and one you’d never see from the air.  This was the first time I’d been to Florida — the state of my birth — since my “I just kicked cancer’s ass” vacation in late 2012.  It was so awesome to crack the windows, and smell the change in the air as the salt air started to filter in.

Daytona is a figure eight?
Daytona is a figure eight?

I stopped at a rest area just across the Georgia/Florida border, and got my free cup of orange juice.  Tasty!  This was the same weekend as the Daytona 500, so the rest area I stopped at had a small display commemorating the race.  I think someone entirely unfamiliar with the race set this up!

I cruised into Tampa around lunchtime, and began meandering toward Harbour Island and my stay at the Westin.

(BTW, for folks in the Tampa area, just how many bears are involved for you to use TWO S’s for Bearss Road?)

Have I been here before?
Have I been here before?

I hit the hotel around 12:30, and knew I was early for check-in.  I reached the counter, and was told there were no rooms available yet, and that I was 25th in line for a room.  I expected that, so I left my bags with the front desk, and walked over to Convention Center to pickup my race materials.

I was really impressed with the packet pickup.  The last big race I attended — the Route 66 in Tulsa — had really long lines, and it seemed to take forever to get my stuff.  The Gasparilla folks had this ironed out, and I had my goodies in no time.  They had a pretty good sized health expo, and although there was nothing I really needed, I think you could’ve picked up anything you might have needed for the weekend’s races.

I'm famous!
I’m famous!

On one wall, the race committee had hung up a huge banner, with the names of all the pre-registered racers.  It became sport to try to find your name, and take a photo of it.  This banner was about thirty feet long, with really small print, and while it took a while to find me, I did, and shot a photo for posterity.

I walked back to the hotel, figuring I was probably getting closer to having my room ready.  Alas, that wasn’t the case.  And I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  And I wasn’t alone.  Finally, around 2:30, I asked what my status was.  I was 2nd from the top — woot!  And I waited some more.  One of the staff walked by around 4pm, and was surprised that I was still waiting.  He went to check on my room, came back, and told me the cleaning staff were prioritizing the cleaning of rooms with more than one bed.  He apologized profusely, and promised to get it sorted out.  Fifteen minutes later, he had a room key for me — along with two lackluster drink coupons for the bar — and told me I was getting one of the best rooms in the building.  Cool!

View from my room
View from my room

I went up to the room — along with two other groups whose rooms had finally been made ready.  There was a sign on the wall bragging about this being a Starwood Preferred Customer floor, and I expected great things.  I walked in, and frankly, was a little underwhelmed.  It was just a room.  Admittedly, it had a great view over the bay, but the room itself was just a room, and no where near the quality I was expecting.  There was a note in the room indicating that there were big renovations taking place, and to “pardon their mess.”  It was usable, but certainly not what I thought the best room in the place would look like.  Guess I should’ve been happy it wasn’t one of the average rooms!!!

There was a group from Moon Joggers that were planning to meet up at the races, and I’d made arrangements to have dinner with one of them over at the Sheraton.  I had a great time, and enjoyed some tasty seafood — one of the things on my list being in Florida.  It was a great way to unwind, knowing the I had my long race ahead of me in the morning.

Saturday

I typically don’t sleep all that well before a big race, and this race was no different.  With an early start, I got myself ready, and aimed to get to the 15K start line early, which is my typical M.O.  I got in the elevator, and already in the car was US Olympian Meb Keflezighi!  He’s got a great story, and is an inspirational figure in racing.  And frankly, he was a nice guy.  It was cool to share the only part of any possible traveling where he and I would be neck-and-neck.  🙂

After crossing the bridge from Harbour Island, I made my way closer to the starting corrals, knowing I needed to get toward the back.  To say folks were packed in like sardines was an understatement.  I finally made it to the back of the pack, where the crush of runners let up.  I stretched out in the darkness, and waited for the start of the race.  It was hard to hear, and I gently heard the Star Spangled Banner being sung, and I stopped, doffed my cap, and sang along quietly.  I know it’s hard to hear, but I’m always surprised at these big events when folks continue chatting and carrying on during our national anthem.  It bugs me a little, but I do my part, and pay the respect I feel our nation is due.

The start line!
The start line!

I heard the signal to start the race, and five minutes later, I crossed the start line, hitting the course in a throng of turtles, just back of the 15:30 pacer.  I really had it in my heart to keep up with them through as much of the race as I could.  That lasted about fifteen minutes.  🙂

In truth, I knew I couldn’t pace myself to keep up with the pacers, so I just ran my race.  At times I ran, at times I walked.  Looking at my splits, I was actually pretty consistent right around 10min/km for the first 10k.  That’s a good pace for me.  However, after the beautiful sunrise over the bay, the temperature climbed.  I really don’t do heat very well, so that was taking a toll.  And I could feel a blister forming on the bottom of my left foot.  As much as anything, this slowed me to a crawl, and my splits began to get worse and worse.

When I only had a few kilometers to go, I noticed the 5k racers had kicked off, and were coming down the outbound leg on the race course.  The last kilometer was truly tough, but I finished it like a boss, and ran across the finish line like I owned it.  And I finished just before the folks from the 5k were finishing.  I didn’t get passed by the winners of the second race of the morning!  🙂

I grabbed my medal, and hobbled through the runner recovery area, gathered up fruit and yogurt, heading back toward the hotel.  I was beaten up, but I was successful, and pleased with the fact that I had gutted out a race in more heat than I cared for, and with a blister that was impacting my walking significantly.

Thinking back on the race now, I was impressed with the number of water stops along the way.  This probably kept me in the race, and I made sure to drink a couple of partially filled cups of water at each stop.  Learning from Tulsa, I did grab a little Gatorade at one stop, but that didn’t hit me as well as I had hoped.  It kinda just sat in my stomach.  Blecch.

I was beginning to try to figure out what to do for lunch, and had made some plans to potentially hook up with some friends that had moved from Da Lou a couple of years ago.  We made a plan, I took a shower, and hobbled downstairs in my Ugg houseshoes.  I’ve discovered those are crazy good recovery shoes, and I’m not shy about wearing them out and about.  Clyde and Shauna, along with Shauna’s father, Jimmy, picked me up, and we headed to Ybor City.

More legs for speed!
More legs for speed!

Ybor was a very cool place, steeped in the old world.  Our target was the Columbia Restaurant.  After a lengthy wait, we were seated, and prepared to embark on a multi-hour meal.  We had their famous 1905 salad, prepared at the table, and a big ol’ pitcher of Sangria, also prepared at the table.  I had some paella, stuffed with loads of great seafood — scallops, crab, calamari rings and bodies, and some dense fish.  It was amazing!  And it wouldn’t be a trip to Florida without some key lime pie, which was a stellar example of a great pie!  After a lonely finish at the race, and faced with the prospect of sitting in my hotel room by myself, this trip out with familiar faces was just what I needed.

Sunday

The next day brought the next race of the Cactus Lime Challenge — an 8k race.  Now, having done the 15k, I was pretty optimistic, but I knew I had two things working against me.  This race started at 9:30am, so the heat was already starting to climb.  And, I still had that stupid blister.

I’d discovered, reading the race booklet from the health expo, that the 8k folks had to be off the streets by 11am.  Now, I know that I could finish up on the sidewalk, but I really don’t like feeling the pressure of the clock on my runs.  I was bound and determined to finish ahead of 11am, and not be swept off the course.

I bandaged the blister, trying to insulate it from any rubbing that might aggravate it, and after dressing, made my way downstairs.  This race started in a different location than the 15k, and after some wending around, I finally found the starting corral area.  The half marathon had started early in the morning, and the fastest finishers were already hanging around, sporting their medals, with more coming across the finish line.

While I waited, a lady named Bobbie walked up and started chatting with me.  Apparently, she’d be been behind me in the 15k on Saturday, keeping pace with me.  It was nice to talk shop with someone before the race, and kinda keep my brain off the race at hand.

Another start line!
Another start line!

We formed up, and the race started.  I ran ahead, and thought I was gonna have a pretty good race.  My blister was tame, and there were some spotty clouds.  This was playing into my hands.  However, the clouds disapated, the temperature rose to about 75°, and I started to wither.  And after about 5km, my blister started to let me know it was gonna make life miserable.

For the second time in two days, I was hobbled for the last quarter of the race.  Just like the day before, though, I gutted it out, ran across the finish line like I owned it, and got both the medal for the 8k, and for the Lime Cactus Challenge.  And to top it off, I’d beaten the sweepers, finishing around 11:05am.

I pulled out my 15k medal — I took it with me for photos — and started clangy-clanging through the finish area.  I had my photo taken with some pirates, and worked my way toward the recovery area.  Columbia Restaurant was catering the post race meal, but the lines were long, and I was done, so it was back to hotel for me.

Once again, I was facing a question of what to do for lunch.  I had a chat with the front desk staff, and they suggested having New York New York Pizzeria bringing me some food.  I dialed ’em up, ordering a small meaty pizza, garlic knots and some hot garlic wings.  The pizza was good, but I have to really scream about the wings.  That hot garlic sauce was amazing!  I think they started with a hot buffalo-style sauce, and added loads of diced garlic to it.  Some of the chunks were enormous, and I really think there was almost an entire head of garlic in there.  So very tasty!  I got into the garlic knots, which were also tasty, and noticing the extra wing sauce in the container, I started using the knots to sop up the wing sauce.  That was the most brilliant idea I’ve had in a long time!  Needless to say, I was a happy camper, and was able to relax before beginning my big drive home on Monday.

Monday

I awoke ahead of my alarm, and figured I’d go ahead and hit the road.  I’d packed up the night before, and was ready to go, so inside fifteen minutes, I was in the lobby, checking out, and heading toward the Jeep.

Tampa was quiet in the pre-sunrise morning.  Getting ahead of their rush hour put me in great position to keep ahead of the rush hours to come on this long driving day.  As with the beginning of the trip, I found a Krystal in north Florida, and got me a little breakfast. Yum!

I was also on a quest for a little citrus to bring home.  I found a stand atop an exit off I-75, and picked up a sack of oranges and grapefruit.  They also had some local honey, and given my love of the stuff, I picked up a couple of squeeze bottles to carry along with me.

Truthfully, the drive Monday was pretty uneventful.  I hit rain in southern Georgia, which followed me all the way to central Tennessee.  I drove through Atlanta around lunchtime, and scooted through with no issues.  Chattanooga came and went shortly thereafter.  I’d intended to stop somewhere in central Tennessee, but I was having a great drive, and it looked I could get through Nashville just before their rush hour.  I got to the I-24/I-65 split right at 4pm, and after waiting to get through the construction traffic there, I zoomed on my way.

Finally, I decided to stop in Paducah.  That’s only about three hours from home, but I was tired, having driven 700+ miles already, and knew I wanted to have some dinner somewhere.  I checked into the same Drury Suites that I stayed in on the front end of the trip.  I didn’t realize they had a dinner buffet included with the room, so I was able to get a quick, filling dinner before heading to my room and crashing for the night.

Tuesday

My last morning on the road started with me awakening before the alarm again, and getting myself on the road quickly.  The drive from Paducah to Da Lou is short, and it goes by pretty quickly.  It seemed like I only blinked, and I could see the Gateway Arch in the distance, welcoming me home after a long trip, and two successful races.

Epilogue

It’s a week down the road from the Gasparilla races, and I’ve had time to think about the race, and to ponder what’s next.

My snowy booty!
My snowy booty!

Knowing that I have a big weekend in Chattanooga coming up, I’d intended to keep up the longer miles.  Unfortunately, I’ve been down with a cold ever since I got home.  I ran in the snow on the Monday before the hot Tampa races, and the day after I returned, we had six inches of snow.  That back-and-forth weather rollercoaster has left my head all tangled up, and mired my running shoes in the closet.  I’m hoping that I can get back on the road for at least a few miles before I head to Chattanooga on Friday.

Someone asked if I would do the Gasparilla races again, and I really believe I would.  There was an incredible amount of support during the race, and really good logistics.  I love the pirate theme, and the fun medals.  The course is crazy flat, and if I were ever to be fast, this would be a fast race for me.  It’s a long way to go for a race, but there’s plenty of challenge with the race, and lots of opportunity for me to grow into it.  If only they could solve that heat problem!!!

The inaugural Chattanooga Half Marathon is coming up next weekend, along with a 5K event to kick off the weekend.  I have no worries about the 5k, but I truly don’t know what to expect on the half.  I’m finding that my experience with the two 15k races and one half I’ve run have shown that I can complete the event, albeit with a slow time.  The first 10k seems to go pretty well, but my performance falls off quickly around that point.  I have no idea what next weekend will hold, but I’d love to exceed my expectations, and finish the half in better time, and better condition, than I did at Tulsa in November.  In reality, it is what it is, and I have to keep my wits about me, and race neither the clock, nor myself, and just enjoy the experience!

These races benefitted St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital Foundation, The Joy FM Team Freedom, and Richard’s Run for Life.

Race Courses

Race #93 – Hot Chocolate 15K

Ya know, you’d think I’d learn my lesson about signing up for long races!  🙂

Back in June, I’d gotten wind of the 2015 Hot Chocolate race series.  I’d pondered running this one before, but at the 5k distance, you get a bib, and that’s about it.  And anyone who’s followed this blog for a while knows that this kid gets paid to run — I want a medal!

So, to get a medal, it’s a 15k race.  And with that, I also got a nice bowl of chocolate (more on that later) and a comfy running jacket.  One nice perk was that by signing up early, the jacket would have city-specific stuff embroidered on it.  I’m a sucker for swag, so that just made the decision easier.  I signed up.

One of the things that really had me questioning my running this race was the pace.  The race organizers were advertising that you had a keep a minimum 15min/mi pace.  That’s right where I live on a 5k, but across 15k, I wasn’t confident I could keep that up.  However, I signed up anyway, figuring that they could sweep me up, or hustle me to the sidewalk.  As long as they were still handing out medals and chocolate, I’d get finished, albeit a little behind their desired pace.

Lonely Train Platform
Lonely Train Platform

In fact, a couple of nights before the race, I got an email from the race folks, titled “A Note About Pace”.  They mentioned my slow expected pace, and reminded me that I was projecting to be right at the limit of the course.  They weren’t worried, but reminded me that I might not have support on the course at some point, including road closures evaporating, and possibly having to move to the sidewalk.  No pressure, eh?

All week, the weather prognosticators had predicted monsoon-like weather… in early December.  As it ends up, the big rains held off, although it drizzled and sprinkled through the whole race.  However, the temps were in the low 60s, which made for perfect conditions for me.

No Walkers!
No Walkers!

I did my normal downtown race day routine — up early, drive to the Brentwood MetroLink station, and arrive downtown about 6:30am.  There weren’t a lot of folks there, but it did fill in pretty quick.  As I was standing in the back of my corral (Corral H — with a sign for No Walkers!), I found someone I’d run with years ago in Fleet Feet’s NoBo program.  It was great to catch up, and chit-chat before the race.

The Throng
The Throng

The corrals started moving toward the start line, and about twenty minutes after the speed demons hit the course, I was on it as well!

I’d decided to break this course up mentally into 5k segments, much like I did the Route 66 Half last month.  I knew if I hit 45 minutes per segment, I’d be right at the course limit.  I also recognized that I’d probably slow down during the race, so I targeted about 2:30, thinking that would be close enough to the course limit that I wouldn’t get swept up or have to move to the sidewalks.

I started the first 5k, and kept up with the pack — well, I could see them in front of me.  I got passed by a lot of folks in the first mile or so, but I kept running my race.  If I were to get caught up in the speed, I’d be setting myself up for some pain down the road.  The first 5k was much of the same course I’d run for the Go Halloween race in October, so it was familiar territory, including an incredibly mean run past Pappy’s Smokehouse.  Frankly, if you’re gonna have the BBQ pits fired up that early, you should be handing out samples as the runners go by!

I got to the first “sweet station”, and had a couple of chocolate chips and a cup of Gatorade.  I suspected that in the Route 66 Half, I drink plenty of water, but wasn’t replenishing my electrolytes.  I made a mental note to grab Gatorade wherever I could in this race, knowing that I had plenty of water on my hydration belt.

I got to the split for the 5k course and the 15k course.  I’m sure there were plenty of folks that made a game time decision to finish at 5k instead of 15k, but I wanted to do this distance.  When the 5k folks peeled off, the course got very lonely, with few people around me.

My first 5k was completed at 49:44, which was about 80 seconds faster than my first 5k in the half.   So far, so good.

The second 5k proceeded through downtown, hitting another sweet station.  This time, it was strawberry marshmallows and Gatorade… and the place looked like it’d been hit by a swarm of locusts.  There were cups and dead marshmallows all over the ground.  But, there were people still there, handing out goodies, and I took that to be a good sign, knowing that at some point, I’d likely run past a sweet station with no goodies to hand out, and no one home to cheer us on.

I got to the halfway point, and pretty well on target for the time I wanted to see.  It was then that the 15min/mi pacer passed me, followed shortly after by the pacer carrying the “sweeper” sign.  I figured my time on the course was about to come to an end, either by moving to the sidewalk so the roads could reopen, or by being picked up in a SAG wagon.  I kept trudging on, thinking that if I looked like I was running more than walking, they’d leave me alone.

And every intersection I passed through after that point still had barricades up, and race volunteers cheering me on.  It’d stay that way the rest of the race.

I got to the third sweet station, fully expecting them to be exhausted of everything.  They weren’t!  They must’ve held back some goodies for us slow folks, so I grabbed a handful of M&M’s, some Gatorade, and headed back out.

The course dropped south into Soulard, on roads I’ve never driven before, much less run on.  I kept chugging toward the 10k point, which was the turn around to head back toward downtown.  I hit that at 1:41:14, a full two minutes faster that the same point in the half, with my time for that 5k only about 51:30.  Again, good news.

Once I made the turnaround, I could see the folks that were behind me — and there weren’t many.  I saw the running friend from the start of the race, and farther behind, a police escort for the last two folks on the course.  It became clear to me that the race organizers were doing their best to keep the course open for the slower runners.  This was fantastic to see, and really put a little extra spring in my step.

The chug back toward downtown had one more sweet station — this time chocolate marshmallows and Gatorade — with plenty of folks around cheering us on.  The volunteers really made this race special, and they were there all the way to the finish.

My speed was starting to wane, and I walked more than I ran of the last third of the race.  I kept getting closer and closer, and made the turn toward the finish line, triumphantly crossing!  My time was 2:35 — about five minutes slower than I’d hoped for, which was fine with me.  And I was a full five minutes faster than I was at 15k in the half.  I was really happy with how I’d run my race, and how well I felt afterwards.  I was annihilated after the half, but this time, I was back to “functional” pretty quickly.  I have no idea how that would’ve been had I continued on for another 5k, but I suspect it would’ve been better than I felt after Tulsa.

I got my medal — a big one! — and walked toward the chocolate tents to get my bowl of goodies.  The custom bowl had a cup of hot chocolate, and a compartment of melted chocolate, along with a banana, Rice Krispie treat, pretzels and a candy cane to dunk in it.  This was a great treat, and I gobbled it all down!

All in all, this race was really successful for me.  I took some of the things I learned from Tulsa, applied them here, and found some improvement as a result.  I don’t know that I’d sign up for another 15k tomorrow, but I can definitely be comfortable knowing that I can tackle that distance, with the right weather and a flat-ish course, and come home a finisher!

This race benefitted Ronald McDonald House Charities of St. Louis.

Race Course

Race #90 – A Christmas Story 5K

First off, let me say that I love this film.  I mean, love it big.  I saw A Christmas Story in 1983 when it hit the theaters, and knew I had just witnessed the birth of a new Christmas classic.  Every Christmas season, I watch it.  Frequently.  In fact, when TBS does their 24 Hours of A Christmas Story event every year, I just leave the TV on.  It’s a film you can just walk into and out of, and never miss a beat.  I suppose that’s part of what makes it so magical.

Earlier this year, when I heard about the Christmas Story 5K, I knew I had to go run it.  The race was in Cleveland OH, however, and I knew that Cleveland in December could be a really cold, cold race.  I hadn’t been to Cleveland in over a decade (that was a bowling team trip to watch the Cleveland Indians play), but much like Raphie and his Red Ryder BB gun, though, I knew I had to chase after this race.

Bad Ice Day!
Bad Ice Day!

I bundled up Friday morning, and pointed the Lil’ Red Rubicon toward Cleveland.  It was a facinating drive, with freezing fog surrounding me all the way across Illinois.  By the time I stopped for gas near the Indiana state line, I had a good bit of ice on the Jeep’s windows and front.  I get a kick out of that ice buildup, because it’s so much different than ice you see just collecting of surfaces.  It’s almost like the ice is having a “bad hair day”!

When I got to the Renaissance Hotel after nine hours of driving, I dropped the Jeep off with the valet service, and got chceked in.  The Renaissance is a beautiful hotel, and has been the site of lodging for 200 years.  It didn’t exactly look like an old building, and was more than enough hotel for my needs.

The Ralphie Theatre
The Ralphie Theatre

Since I’d elected to lodge in the host hotel, I just wandered downstairs to packet pickup, making this one of the easiest packet pickups all year.  And at 4pm on a Friday, it wasn’t very busy at all.  However, if the lines got long, the packet pickup folks planned ahead, and had a big screen setup, playing … A Christmas Story!  🙂

Poor Flick
Poor Flick

I moseyed back up to the room to lay out my running duds for Saturday, and realized that the hotel was showing A Christmas Story on the in-hotel channel… on an endless loop.  It’d stay this way until I checked out on Sunday morning.  Way cool.

Saturday morning came, and with the late start of the race — a luxious 9am! — I decided to try out the hotel’s breakfast buffet.  Normally, I’m a English-muffin-with-peanut-butter-and-honey guy on race morning, but there were two-and-a-half hours until race time, so I figured I could go big.  The spread was outstanding, and I think I may just have to add smoked salmon to my race morning nutritional plan!

The Jake and The Blind Man
The Jake and The Blind Man

I got dolled up in my racing wear, and made my way to the start line, which was about two blocks away.  It was chilly, but not really cold, so I was warm enough, despite the moisture in the air.  And again, on a big screen at the start line, the race folks had A Christmas Story blaring down the city streets.  I really think you’d have to love the film to be surrounded by it so much… and I totally do!

A Bandit!
A Bandit!

There were all kind of Ralphies, Randys, leg lamps, fra-gi-lay boxes, bandits and every other character from the film you could think of.  I didn’t get dressed up, although I wasn’t alone.  There were about 4000 runners all lined up, awaiting the starting blast, about half in some kind of costume.  Next time I do a themed race, I’ve gotta do some costuming!

Starting Corral
Starting Corral

We got started on time, and the mass of humanity began chugging through the start line, and onto the course.  Those first few minutes on-course are generally the most concerning for me.  There are so many people crammed into such a small space, and many of them are jockeying for position.  Faster folks for some reason will place themselves at the back of the pack, and try to zoom through little holes in the compressed crowd to move forward.  I can’t imagine what their driving must be like!

The first part of the course was atop the Hope Memorial Bridge that eventually crossed the Cuyahoga River.  This was a long bridge, with giant pairs of sculpted art deco statues on either end, called the “Guardians of Traffic”.  They are mammoth, and looked down on the bobbing throng as we moved along.  I love deco stuff, and really appreciated the chance to see those at slow speed.

Korean Catholic Church
Korean Catholic Church

After exiting the bridge, we crossed under I-90, paralleling it for a while.  One thing that stood out to me about this stretch of the race was all the churches representing so many denominations.  It seemed like every block had yet another church, each with their own personality.  This is the kind of race environment I love, stretching through old neighborhoods with so much to look at.  It keeps my brain occupied while I’m running and makes the race go by faster.

Feliz Navidad
Feliz Navidad

Eventually, we turned into Tremont, the neighborhood in which Ralphie’s house sits.  It occurred to me that all these little houses, one by one, had so much character, each similar to the one next to it, and yet, completely different.  Visually, that was a very cool neighborhood through which to run.  And it was great to see folks in the neighborhood cheering us on.

Sacks of Ovaltine
Sacks of Ovaltine

I got to the finish line — right at the the A Christmas Story House and Museum, collected my major award, and started working through the post race line.  As you would expect, they were serving Ovaltine, both warm and cold.  At the Renaissance, I had seen race helpers carrying cases of Ovaltine for this, and it was sure tasty.  I noticed that they had pre-prepared bags of Ovaltine, making it simpler to distribute so much Ovaltine to so many folks.  And in case you’re interested, I really preferred the cold Ovaltine, even on a cold morning.

The Line Stretched to Terre Haute
The Line Stretched to Terre Haute

After making my way through the snack line, I found the line for the museum.  With each race entry, you got a free entry into the house and museum.  The line stretched well over two blocks, and I waited in it for at least an hour.  The pot of gold at the end was worth it, though…

Electric Sex in the Front Window
Electric Sex in the Front Window

I was standing on Ralphie’s front porch, and eventually wound my way through the house!

Ralphie's House
Ralphie’s House

I was struck by just how small the house was, as compared to how it was represented in the film.  It just seemed like a huge house on the big screen!  I walked though the front room, the kids’ bedroom, the infamous bathroom and the kitchen, taking photos, and enjoying being on the “set” of one of my favorite films.

Decoding
Decoding

And when I exited, the line to get in still stretched over two blocks.  Wow.

The Old Man's Olds
The Old Man’s Olds

I walked across the street, and strolled through the museum.  It was interesting, with lots of goodies from the film.  And like any good museum, it dumps you into the gift shop, which here, meant walking next door to yet another house.  The sales floor was huge, with loads of stuff from A Christmas Story, Elf and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  I had a great time in there, and found a few things that had to come home with me.

I Was Triple Dog Dared
I Was Triple Dog Dared

This was my last destination race for 2015, and probably the one I enjoyed the most.  I didn’t set a PR, and I didn’t accomplish any big feat, but I got to enjoy immersing myself in one of my favorite films, and there’s certainly nothing bad about that!

This race benefitted A Christmas Story House Foundation.

Race Course

Race #71 – Rock ‘n’ Roll 5K

In the second of my back-to-back downtown weekend runs, today I completed the Rock ‘n’ Roll 5K here in Da Lou.

This race started out with some crunky packet pickup woes.  For some reason, the folks that run the race only had the expo open on Friday from 1pm to 6pm, with no same-day packet pickup… for a race that started at 8am on Saturday.  To say the least, this was pretty inconvenient, given that I work for a living, and live about 30 miles away from America’s Center, where the expo was held.  However, knowing I wanted to get this one done, I took off from work a little early, drove to the train stop, and rode Metrolink into town.  The only nice thing about having to deal with this on Friday was that it allowed me the opportunity to pick up train tickets for this morning, and to fill up the Jeep in preparation for the race.

The clock went off this morning at 5:20, and I started my normal race day routine — big glass of water, and an English muffin with peanut butter and honey.  I’d gathered everything up last night that I’d need, and got on the road at 6am, knowing that I had two hours to get to the race site.

I arrived at the Brentwood Metro station, and waited for the train.  And waited.  And waited.  Eventually the train came, but only after I learned that there was track maintenance going on downtown, and that I would have to change trains in order to get there.  This made for some long delays, causing the other runners on the train to wonder if some runners conspired against us by sabotaging the train system so there’d be less competition!  🙂

I got in place in my corral just about 7:30, which was cutting it a little closer than I’d care for, and I awaited the start of the race.  I’d re-aggravated a minor foot injury this week, and with that in mind, I knew I was gonna take it easy today, so I went over my game plan for the day.  I was gonna walk a lot of the course to lower the potential for really tweaking my foot, and be happy with anything just above fifty minutes.

Sunrise on the Start Line
Sunrise on the Start Line

Quickly, the race start time approached, and just as the National Anthem began to play, folks began to move up in the corrals.  I stood still, hat over heart, and facing the flags around us.  I know this is the grumpy old man in me rearing his ugly head, but it really bothered me that folks weren’t respectful of the anthem and flag, and were walking around, chatting among themselves, and carrying on.  It wasn’t exactly like the recording was being played softly!

Once I got past my little grumpy event, the corrals started being released.  I was in the third (and slowest) corral, and got to watch the expanse of folks in the other two corrals ahead of me.  By the time we were released, people stretched for almost a kilometer, in a head-bobbing mass of running humanity.  Pretty dang cool to see.

I crossed the start line, and jogged as I started.  And with no pain in my foot, I kept jogging.  Quickly, the first kilometer was behind me, at just under nine-and-a-half minutes.  Not wanting to press my luck, I slowed to a walk for the second and third kilometers, each of which were around 10:30.  However, the landscape changed, and began to be mostly downhill as I headed to toward the river and finish line.  And with that slight downward incline, I kicked into a jog again, with my last two kilometers coming in at just a wiggle over nine minutes each.

Finished!
Finished!

I’d expected a slow race, and had prepared myself for something just over fifty minutes.  As it ends up, I cruised into a finish just under 49 minutes, which I was thrilled with.  I grabbed my medal, and started making my way through the “secure” runners area.

There were a couple of disappointments on the course.  First, the one and only water table was just before 4km into the race, which is far too late to be worth much.  The second was the availability of snacks at the finish line.  I had a bottle of water, a bag of pretzels and a banana by the time I’d walked through the line.  Frankly, that was a little disappointing, as I was really expecting chocolate milk at the finish.  The chocolate milk folks had a huge display at the expo, which led me to expect chocolate milk would be lying in wait at every corner.  Ah well.

A Year Ago - Race #17
A Year Ago – Race #17

What’s kinda interesting is that Facebook reminded me that a year ago, I was running the first of two back-to-back Rock ‘n’ Roll 5K’s.  It’s kinda nice to reflect on that race weekend, and contrast it against this one.  That was the first time I’d run two 5K’s back-to-back, and it was tough.  I suffered through that first race, finishing just barely under 51 minutes, and feeling lucky for that time.  The second 5K on Sunday was nearly ten minutes slower.

This year, I cruised through the course, finishing easily under 49 minutes.  And that coulda been much faster, had I not been taking it easy.  I’ve talked about this before, but I think plenty of practice this year has bred some real self-confidence.  By the time of the RnR last year, I’d only run nine races all year.  This year, the RnR was my 50th race of the year.  I’ve learned to be comfortable in my running skin, and know that I can do this.  I’ve figured out a nice pace that works well for me, and I’ve really gotten focused on making a race plan, and running that, regardless of the folks who pass me.  Shedding all that mental baggage has helped me enjoy running, and look forward to every run.  And yeah, it’s nice to see some improvement in my times, although that’s not really the goal!

This race benefitted Our Little Haven, TASK, and Unlimited Play.

Race Course