Thursday, January 29, 2015

Race Report: Rock 'n' Roll Arizona 5k and Half Marathon

I headed straight to the airport after work on Friday for my 6:30 flight out to Phoenix, getting to my gate just as the plane started to board.  It was gonna be a long flight, and I wouldn't arrive in Phoenix 'til well after 10pm.  Upon landing, I got my car at Hertz (after a 30 minute long wait... apparently EVERYONE on the flight was getting a rental - though my attendant liked me and gave me a huge upgrade from a compact to a nifty silver Dodge Journey mid-size SUV!), and then drove the half hour out to my friend Audrey's for the night.  I got to bed close to 1am and had to get up five hours later to head to Tempe for the first race of the weekend.

Photo op with Jamila, Hollie,
and Taara, before the 5K
(Photo by Jamila Williams)
6am, the alarm goes off, and I get myself out the door for the inaugural race of the 2015 Rock 'n' Roll season - the Rock 'n' Roll Arizona 5k, the first of its kind with this yearly race.  It started at Tempe Beach Park, crossing the Mill Avenue Bridge that goes over Tempe Town Lake around Moeur Park, and then back over the Mill Avenue Bridge to the finish line down near the south end of Tempe Beach Park.  The race started off a bit chilly, which surprised me while being in Arizona.  Granted, it's January, but it really can be brisk when the sun hasn't risen yet.  I met up with Hollie from Portland, who I met through Donna in Las Vegas a couple months earlier, and her two friends Deb and Jake, who had come to cheer us on.  I gingerly de-frocked my track pants and track jacket to reveal my bright orange singlet (the Skechers Meb one that I wore in Florida) and my orange arm sleeves... I was a vision in ORANGE.

With hottie pro marathoner, Ryan Hall!
Just as we were prepping to get into the start corrals, Hollie and I run into Jamila and Taara (and Taara's dad, running his first 5k!!) who I met the week prior in Mississippi!  We posed for a quick picture and then we were off... it was a nice start to the weekend, and the sun definitely warmed us up over the course of the run.  After finishing, I stuck around to meet professional marathoner Ryan Hall, and then took the Valley Metro Rail into downtown Phoenix to retrieve my bib for the half and have some lunch.

The PF Chang's dragon and fellow
Team Nuun member, Jeremy Heath!
The expo was pretty sizable, in the massive Phoenix Convention Center.  While exiting the Brooks apparel area, I ran into Jeremy, a local runner and fellow member of Team Nuun, and we headed off to find the Nuun booth, as well as pose with the PF Chang's dragon (PF Chang's has sponsored the Arizona race for many years)  After spending a bit too much money, buying yet another pair of shoes (partly my fault for only packing one pair with me for the long weekend) and a new roll of KT tape, I headed off to get lunch at the nearby restaurant owned by rockstar Alice Cooper, called Cooperstown, and ordered the massive 22" long hot dog (with cheese and chili, of course), lovingly dubbed the Big Unit, which I got through half of, before having to call it quits and under massive time constraints take the Metro back to the park to get my car so I could get to my tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West in Scottsdale.  I spent the rest of the day being quite touristy before driving across town to Peoria to visit with my friend Mark, performing in Arizona Broadway Theatre's production of The King and I, then heading back to Audrey's for dinner and turning in for the night early because of an early morning wake up call for Sunday's big race.

My lunch after Saturday's race.  I got through half of it!

With Half Fanatics at the start
(Photo by Rachel Edwards)
The next morning came bright and early, and I got back to Tempe at roughly 6:30am to park my car in one of the free parking structures on Arizona State University's campus.  I had luckily gotten the information for parking from the expo and picked the parking structure closest to the start corrals, which apparently no one seemed to pay attention to - and there were a ton of spaces still available when I arrived!  Since we weren't getting together for Half Fanatics and 50 States Half Marathon Club pictures until 7:15 or so, I decided to catch a few more z's in the car, which I did.  After pics at a decided-upon meeting spot, I headed off to my corral to get myself in the zone for the race.

The start line...
Yet again, the start was a little rough for me.  The first 7.5 miles of the race are super flat, and I spent the first three miles still trying to get my legs in a good rhythm.  Our first mile was a straightaway down E. University Drive, before turning left onto S. McClintock Drive, and I was just in a real strugglebus, trying to wrestle away the kinks that my right foot and left calf were forcing me through.   At mile two, we crossed into Scottsdale.  Miles 2-4 went down McClintock, and I finally started to feel better after hitting the 5k mark.  I knew I was feeling a bit better when I was singing along again with my music.  At mile 4, we turned onto East McDowell Road, with a slight detour into ASU's Scottsdale Innovation Center/SkySong, where we got to run underneath this cool tented looking thing.  This is also where I started to notice a difference with the way that the Arizona course is laid out - the center lanes of the street were where the runners were, leaving one lane in either direction at the edge of the street to minimal vehicular traffic.  I thought that was pretty genius, without creating too much disruption for drivers needing to get places while the marathon was going on.

Fifty staters before the start...
(Photo by Beth Rusher)
Mile 5, we headed up Scottsdale Rd, made another turn at the mile 6 mark onto E. Thomas Road, and then hit mile 7 with a turn onto N. 64th St.   This was where it started to get "hairy."  A little bit onto this road, you start to feel the hill, because in about a mile's length, you've already gained 40 feet of elevation.  A little past the mile 8 mark, you make a turn back onto East McDowell Road, where you see that it's an out and back, and people are headed back in the other direction.  You gain more elevation, and soon, you're at the 9 mile mark, with an incredible view of Phoenix at your disposal.  Right around here, my iPod shuffle decided to give me the best moment of the race... and at this point, I was LIVING - singing along to the music, and just coasting down the "back" of the out-and-back... to J. Lo and Izzy Azalea's "Booty."  People got a kick out of that.  And then, I kid you not, my SHUFFLE decided to play "Bubble Butt" by Major Lazer.  We turned onto the Galvin Parkway for the harrowing 150 foot climb for the next two miles through Desert Botanical Park up to mile 11, which I climbed with ease... after all, I was feeling good!  And the views were so gorgeous! At this point, I managed to pass the PF Chang's dragon, being carried by a team of runners.  Once I hit mile 11, it was smooth sailing for the last two miles, coasting down a 200 foot elevation drop before hitting the finish line in 2:18:02, which I was happy with considering I had a rough start - and it was better than both of my half times from the double in Mississippi and Alabama the previous week!

The PF Chang's Dragon making its
way down the course!

All four medals from the weekend!
#victoryheadstand in AZ!
After the finish, I grabbed my "Desert Double Down" medal (a limited edition Heavy Medal given to finishers of both the Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Half in November 2014 and that day's Arizona race), and my remix medal for finishing two races in two days - a total medal haul of four for the weekend! I stuck around to meet back up with Hollie and pose for some more pictures, and then headed back out to Audrey's for a much needed shower and lunch before more adventures in Arizona -- I spent another entire day further north in Prescott and got to see Montezuma Castle National Monument, the red rocks of Sedona, the Chapel of the Holy Cross, Slide Rock State Park, and the old mining town of Jerome, before heading back out to the airport for my redeye back to NYC on Monday night! All in all, another great weekend seeing the sights of a new state - and marking off my 17th lifetime half marathon and 14th state in the process!

One of my pics from my last day in Arizona,
sightseeing up in Sedona...  just GORGEOUS!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Race Report: Servis 1st Bank First Light Half Marathon

We left Jackson in the early afternoon for the three hour trip to Mobile, Alabama, with expected stops in between.  We stopped in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, looking for Mississippi Mud Pie and came up short at the first place we went to, plus a couple others we had called - so we went to Chili's to have a quick snack and drink (and also introduce Hema to the wonder that is Chili's).  We found out a restaurant in downtown Hattiesburg did have the iconic dessert, and that they were opening at 4pm, so we headed over... to be told that the restaurant wasn't open until 5pm, and that their website had been advertising it wrong due to a recent change in their opening times.  Luckily, they were kind enough to accommodate four strange New Yorkers in pursuit of sugary goodness, and made us a mud pie to share... and it was SOOOO worth it.  We gobbled up every last bit of it; and even took home some white chocolate beignets that the waiter had told us was actually their "signature" dessert.  In any case, if any of you happen to be passing through Hattiesburg, Mississippi, definitely stop at Vicki's on Walnut, and partake in the most scrumptious-tasting pie you'll ever get your mouth on.

My Back2Back Challenge Canvas
created by Lucy!
With the sun setting, we proceeded on to our final destination, but with an important stop at the state line to grab a photo with the "Welcome to Alabama" (and a perilous u-turn in the other direction to get a "Welcome to Mississippi" sign, as well!)  We made it to Mobile at around 7:00pm, just as the vendors were taking down their booths, but still with enough time to collect our bibs and goodie bags from the First Light organizers. 

There are permanent signs along the
course!  Pretty nifty :)
(Photo by Kimberlee Lafferty)
The Servis 1st Bank First Light Marathon and Half Marathon is in its 14th year of existence.  Proceeds from the races go to L'Arche Mobile, the local chapter of the international federation of communities, L'Arche International, in which people with intellectual disabilities and those who help them can live, work, and share their lives together.  The medals were all handmade by members of the community, and Back2Back Challenge Participants got a special canvas artwork, also handmade by a member of the community. On the back of the canvas, there was information on the L'Arche member who created the artwork - mine was by Lucy: "Lucy is known to be the community diva. She takes pride in looking classy and feeling good. Lucy enjoys arts and crafts, especially making beaded jewelry and coloring bookmarks. When she is not focused on her work, she can be found dancing and singing to her favorite soul music."

This cute kid with a funny sign.  I
 saw him twice on the course!
(Photo by Kimberlee Lafferty)
After grabbing our bags, we drove to the hotel to check in and drop our stuff off before meeting the rest of "Team Renegade" - our friends who are also dual Half Fanatics and 50 States Half Marathon club members - at The Royal Scam, a restaurant that just happened to be on the first floor of our hotel's building.  We got together for a late-ish dinner and then headed off to bed, since we had an early morning.

50 Staters before the First Light Half
(photo by Kimberlee Lafferty)
We got up around 6am to get ready for the race - and Donna had just arrived from waking up a bit earlier to drive out to the Florida/Alabama border to capture a state sign photo!  We headed out to the start line, a short walk from our hotel, to meet up with other Fifty Staters and Fanatics for a quick photo, and I managed to get interviewed by the local CBS affiliate, WKRG, and featured in their article and video which you can find here!  The race didn't use chips, so it was a gun time, and we handed off a strip from our bibs at the finish line to record our official finish time.

Mobile National Cemetery gate
(photo by Lynn Robertson)
I started off rocky.  My knees were not completely ready for another 13.1 miles and stiffened up at the start.  Less than a mile in, as we took off down Government Street, I already had to stop and walk a bit to shake my knees out.  I started to run again as we turned down S. Broad Street, and then another half mile later a little more walking.   We made one more turn, and I continued to do some walking, watching several more people pass me, as we got to the corner of the Mobile National Cemetery.  Right around here, my knees started to understand that we were going to go through another race, and I finally loosened up a bit and picked up the pace.  I ran around the outskirts of the cemetery, and into the residential neighborhood for the next mile, picking up the pace little by little, before coming back onto Government Street around the 4.5 mile mark. 

Stopping for a quick twerk before the 10k
(Photo by Kimberlee Lafferty)
There was a long stretch down Government Street for a couple miles where I caught up with my friends Loan and Kimberlee who were running on the Galloway run/walk method.  I chatted with them and captured a couple photos - even got a little buttslap and so I twerked for them in the middle of the course (as I do...) and then continued on my way!  About mile 6 was when my music was finally getting me in stride, and I started to sing along to my playlist, amusing people along the way.  It's always a blast getting people to join in on my "Let It Go" remix! :)

A home in Mobile...
but not a mobile home, in that sense...
(photo by Lynn Robertson)
Look at these gorgeous trees! 
About 8.5 miles in is where the course finally splits with the marathoners turning left and the half marathoners continuing ahead before turning onto another long stretch, curving into a beautiful residential area again, covered with canopy of humongous live oak trees, reminiscent of Savannah, before heading straight downtown down Dauphin Street to the finish line. With a mile left to go, I notice my friend Donna just up the way so I speed up just a little to come join her.  We are able to finish the race hand in hand, and together!

Finish photo with the 50 states crew!
(photo by Lynn Robertson)
After getting through the finishers chute, we grab some of the tasty red beans and rice they have for finishers after completing their races... As more members of our clubs finish we start to assemble for our photos... I ended up doing my headstand about four times after this race! We hobbled back to the hotel for much needed showers before heading to the airport for each of our flights back to NYC.  What a fantastic weekend!

With all the weekend's bling, at the Mobile airport!

Guest headstander Sophie and I!

With the Mobile Azalea Trail Maids!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Race Report: Mississippi Blues Half Marathon

I made it to Mississippi!
I didn't even bother to really prepare to pack, LOL.  I still had a suitcase with a few running items in it from when I went home two weeks ago and ran the disastrous Operation Jack KC Run in the Snow, and I never really unpacked.  So, the morning of Friday, January 9, I woke up and took some things out and replaced some items, probably overpacking (which, I did... there were a few items I didn't even wear over the weekend!) for the Back2Back Challenge weekend running the Mississippi Blues Half Marathon in Jackson, Mississippi on Saturday and the Servis 1st Bank First Light Half Marathon in Mobile, Alabama on Sunday.  Literally, got up at 8am, threw stuff in my bag, and then was out the door by 8:45.  Being so close to LaGuardia, I knew I'd get there quickly - but not realizing, "oh... it snowed an inch this morning."  Nevertheless, I schlepped my rollaway bag six blocks to the bus stop, where, just my luck, a Q70 was waiting for me, and we were whisked off to LGA.  The security line was minimal so I got through in less than three minutes, and I made it to the my gate maybe 25 minutes after leaving my apartment.  Yet another score!

Pre-race dinner with 50 States HM
and Half Fanatic Clubs -
here are members of both...
dubbed "Team Renegade"
And then... a delay.  The inbound aircraft was a bit delayed getting back to NYC due to the weather, so we were now slated to leave an hour later at 11am.  But, no biggie - I scheduled my layover in Atlanta with some padding, just for an instance like this.  My flight to Jackson left around 3PM and arrived less than an hour later, and shortly, I was picked up by my friends Donna, Hema, and Lynn, who had arrived earlier in the day, had already gotten their bibs and other race accoutrements at the small expo at the Jackson Convention Center, and managed to fit in lunch and even a 45 minute drive out to Vicksburg, Mississippi, to grab a photo of the state signs of Mississippi and Louisiana at the border!  Efficient folks, my friends are :)

Great friends at the Fifty States dinner!
So, after picking me up, we headed to the hotel to check in, drop our stuff off, then headed off to the expo so I could pick up my bib and goodie bag, and then walked over to the Marathon Maniacs/Half Fanatics Meeting and Dinner at the Mississippi Museum of Art.  After eating and visiting with friends, many of whom I had never met but had only interacted with on Facebook, we scooted off to another meet-up with the Fifty States Half Marathon Club folks, who were meeting another short walk away at a local restaurant, Hal and Mal's.  Our small group of four had grown to seven, adding Kimberlee from Idaho, Loan from Texas, and Maria from California - and while all of us were Half Fanatics, we were also members of the Fifty States Club... so we dubbed our group, "the Renegades."

At the start... very cold!
We had a blast at the smaller meet up with the Fifty States folks, and got to chat about upcoming races and suggestions for future races to check off states from our lists.  At 9pm, we headed home, feeling like it was midnight - probably all exhausted from the travel.  Either way, we had an early morning ahead of us on Saturday, so it was best that we get back to our hotels to rest up for the first half of the weekend.

With members of FRNY
in Mississippi!
5am came far too quickly, but I got all myself ready for the race.  It was going to be a COLD one, very unusual for Mississippi regardless of the time of year.  The temperature was well below the freezing mark (low-mid 20s), and it was smart to be wearing several layers - I went with a short sleeved tech tee under a long sleeved heavier-fabric half-zip, with my FRNY tech tee on top of that; and two pairs of tights, but since this was a race in Mississippi, I went with my jean leggings (or "jeggings") layer on top, for some southern style :)  We got a few photos with the Half Fanatics and Fifty States groups, and I also got a pic with five other fellow FRNY members who made the trek down south to run both states' races before the gun went off to start the race.

The Old Capitol Building
(photo by Kimberlee Lafferty)
And man, was it a hilly race.  It started forgivingly, running westward on Pascagoula Street and onto the campus of Jackson State University.  I ran with Donna and Hema for the first mile or so, before I decided to take off on my own to manage the hills as best as I could.  When we made the first loop  back eastward along Banks Street at mile 2, we got the first taste of Mississippi hills.  We progressed back down Pascagoula Street eastward, past the startline and then turned onto the rolling hills of North State Street, as we passed the Old Capitol Building, Millsaps College, Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium, and the University of Mississippi Medical School.  Just after Mile 5, we passed "Jackson Brace and Limb Co." which I thought was ironic to be running by on a half marathon/marathon route.

The course along the Frontage Roads of I-55.  Not the most scenic.
(photo by Kimberlee Lafferty)
I ate one.  It was good.
(photo by Kimberlee Lafferty)
We turned at about mile 6.5 onto Lakeland Drive and then proceeded onto the Frontage Roads of I-55.  It was like a wind tunnel here, as we ran along the frontage road northward before crossing underneath the overpass to the southward-bound frontage road.  Unfortunate that we had to go through some not-very-scenic areas for nearly two miles of the race, but alas, there were still a few folks who came out to cheer us on, braving the cold weather.  At mile 9, we had to cross the busy Lakeland Drive, which had backed up car traffic both eastbound and westbound due to the race.  Sucks for those drivers.  We then skirted the edge of Lakeland Park before crossing a bridge over the highway into a residential area.  Here is where we got more of the spectactors along the route, with people sitting in front of their houses cheering us on - some leaving food out (which I took advantage of... can't pass up a free donut hole or oreo!) and some even stoking a firepit!  By mile 12, we were headed southward on North Street back toward the Art Museum, and made our way to the finish line to grab our spiffy medals!

We all finished!  And we got this spiffy medal!
#victoryheadstand in Mississippi!
I finished in 2:19:22, negative splitting each of my final two miles!  After finishing, I came around to the finish line to cheer on my friends as they each finished their first half of the weekend - and then proceeded to do my customary #victoryheadstand... on concrete nonetheless!  Once we all arrived, we headed back to the hotel for much-needed showers and to pack up and check out.  We grabbed food at a delicious barbecue place (Pig and Pint... go to it if you're ever in Jackson!) and then proceeded on our way to Mobile for race #2!

Gosh, what a gorgeous medal...

Friday, January 2, 2015

2014: A Look Back

2014 was my first full calendar year pounding the pavement.  At the beginning of the year, I never would have thought I'd complete as many half marathons as I did, let alone finish the Chicago Marathon, my first full, in less than five hours!  In all, I finished over 300 miles of races, with even more in training miles: One 1-mile race, eleven 5K races, one 5K mud run, one 4-mile race, two 5-mile races, four 10K races, one Ragnar Relay, fourteen half marathons, and one full marathon!  It's been a whirlwhind of a year.

With all of my medals earned in 2014!
(Photo by Lynn Robertson)

  1. 1/11/2014 Joe Kleinerman 10k
  2. 2/2/2014 NYRR Gridiron 4M
  3. 3/2/2014 Washington Heights Salsa, Blues, and Shamrocks 5K
  4. 3/16/2014 NYC Half Marathon (first Half Marathon!)
  5. 4/5/2014 Scotland Run (10K)
  6. 5/4/2014 Prairie Fire Half Marathon
  7. 5/17/2014 Brooklyn Half Marathon
  8. 6/4/2014 PPTC Al Goldstein Speed Series #1 (5K)
  9. 6/18/2014 PPTC Al Goldstein Speed Series #2 (5K)
  10. 6/21/2014 Out-Fit Challenge (5K Mud Run)
  11. 6/22/2014 Queens 10K
  12. 6/28/2014 Pride Run 5M
  13. 7/2/2014 PPTC Al Goldstein Speed Series #3 (5K)
  14. 7/16/2014 PPTC Al Goldstein Speed Series #4 (5K)
  15. 7/19/2014 Rock 'n' Roll Chicago 5K
  16. 7/20/2014 Rock 'n' Roll Chicago Half Marathon
  17. 7/30/2014 PPTC Al Goldstein Speed Series #5 (5K - PR)
  18. 8/2/2014 NYRR Team Championships 5M
  19. 8/30/2014 Rock 'n' Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon
  20. 9/12/14-9/13/14 Ragnar Relay Washington DC
  21. 9/28/2014 Rock 'n' Roll Montreal Half Marathon
  22. 10/4/2014 Bay Head Shark Run 5K (Age Group Award - 3rd place, M 30-34)
  23. 10/12/2014 Bank of America Chicago Marathon (first Marathon!)
  24. 10/19/2014 Rock 'n' Roll St. Louis Half Marathon
  25. 11/1/2014 Dash to the Finish 5K
  26. 11/8/2014 Rock 'n' Roll Savannah Half Marathon
  27. 11/9/2014 Rock 'n' Roll Savannah 5K
  28. 11/9/2014 Rock 'n' Roll Savannah 1M
  29. 11/15/2014 Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas 5K
  30. 11/16/2014 Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon
  31. 11/22/2014 Annapolis Running Classic (Half Marathon)
  32. 11/23/2014 GORE-TEX Philadelphia Half Marathon
  33. 12/6/2014 Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio 10K
  34. 12/7/2014 Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio Half Marathon
  35. 12/14/2014 Best Damn Race Cape Coral (Half Marathon - PR)
  36. 12/27/2014 Operation Jack KC Run in the Snow (Half Marathon)
So where am I off to for 2015?  The calendar is already beginning to fill up.  Already, I'm signed up for 18 (!!!) half marathons... and that's just for the first HALF of 2015!  Here's a sampling of where I'll be the next couple of months:
  • I'll be starting off the year with a double, heading down to Jackson, Mississippi to run the Mississippi Blues Half Marathon on January 10, and then driving with a bunch of people to Mobile, Alabama to run the Servis1st Bank First Light Half Marathon on January 11!  This Back-2-Back weekend is also the reunion for the Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics clubs.  I'll be leaving with three medals, including the highly coveted "blues guitar" medal from the Mississippi race!
  • The following weekend, I'll be spending the weekend doing the first Rock 'n' Roll of the year, the Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Half Marathon, which runs through Tempe, Scottsdale, and Phoenix, on January 18.  I'll also be doing the Remix Challenge, running a 5K the day before!  I'll be leaving with four medals - the half, the 5k, the remix challenge, and the Desert Double Down (for also having completed Las Vegas in November 2014!)
  • As if January had enough races, I'll be heading out to New Orleans the weekend after, and doing yet another Rock 'n' Roll race, the Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans Half Marathon on January 25!  I am planning on doing a WHOLE lot of Rock 'n' Rolls this year - just you wait and see :)
  • Thankfully I'll have a three week break, but I'm back out pounding the pavement in Myrtle Beach for the Dasani Myrtle Beach Half Marathon on February 14, which is also my 31st Birthday!  I'll be doing a 5K the night before too for extra bling :)  This state will effectively mark off every state in the Deep South for me!
  • The week after, on February 22, I'm trekking up to Hampton, NH, and crossing that state off my list at the Half at the Hamptons!  It'll probably be super cold, with wind coming off of the ocean - but good thing is it's flat, and I'll have another state off my list!
  • And another week after that... I'm heading down to Little Rock, Arkansas, to do the Little Rock Half Marathon on March 1!  I'll obviously be very envious of the marathoners' humongous bling, but I'll be happy to have a sizeable one of my own for the half marathon!
  • I'll have another two week break after that, but I'll pound out the pavement again at yet another double... the Rock 'n' Roll DC Half Marathon on March 14 in Washington, DC, and then the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon on March 15 right here in New York City!  This will also mark my one year anniversary of running the half marathon distance - and I'll be finishing halfs number 22 and 23!
And I'm super pumped to also announce that I will be running for Nuun Hydration, as a member of their competitive athletic team, Team Nuun, in 2015!  I'll be promoting and supporting Nuun hydration products, electrolyte enhanced drink tablets designed to keep active people optimally hydrated, either in lifestyle or athletic endeavors, and in daily life!

In addition, I am still an active member of Front Runners New York , and continue to be hard at work as the assistant director for the 34th Annual FRNY Pride Run, which will be held on June 27, 2015!

Race Report: Operation Jack KC Run in the Snow Half Marathon

Ninja runner!  Balaclava on!
The goal of "14 halfs in 2014" was planted in my head by Kimberly Markey.  I wasn't sure if I could do it because of the lack of halfs in the cold weather months of November and December - but I definitely filled up November (four races!) and had Texas and Florida for December.  Through my research, I found the last race I could do without requiring extensive travel costs was to either Springfield, MO or Kansas City, KS, when I was home for the holidays - ultimately, the KC race, so I could meet up with friends Amanda and Shanna while I was up there.  It was actually tentative up until Christmas Day that I was even going to run that last half, since I wanted to make sure I was up for it.  I went online to register, but online registration had closed, so I e-mailed Sam Felsenfeld, Race Director for the Operation Jack KC Run in the Snow Half Marathon, and he said that it was totally cool to do walk-up registration the morning of the race!  So up I was at 5am on Saturday morning, to take the 2.5 hour drive up to Kansas City to run the race.

And we're off... the starters of the Operation Jack KC Run in the Snow!
(photo courtesy of Autism Society of the Heartland)
The Operation Jack KC Run in the Snow is actually a satellite race of the Operation Jack Marathon, an annual race that started in 2010, intended to be a one-time event to help Sam Felsenfeld complete his goal of running at least one marathon a week that year (ultimately, he did 61 total and two ultras!)  Sam and his wife Tiffany have three children - his middle child, Jack, was diagnosed with autism shortly after his third birthday.  After watching his son struggle day after day with his condition and going through constant therapy and treatment, Sam decided to do something to make a difference in his honor.  He started Operation Jack and the Operation Jack Foundation as his "never-ending quest to help causes in need, one charitable act at a time," and to generate attention to raise funds and nationwide awareness for Train 4 Autism, an organization that works tirelessly to raise money for Autism charities.  In 2010, he raised more than $90,000, and since starting has grossed nearly $300,000, all in honor of his son and to encourage parents, relatives and friends of those struggling with autism to find a positive outlet by leading an active lifestyle that promotes awareness and raises funds for autism-related charities.

Leaving Wichita shortly after 5:30am, I got on the drive toward the Kansas City area, and mind you, it was already cold.  The sun was obviously not up yet, and wouldn't rise until I was more than halfway through my trip and only an hour away from my ultimate destination.  My old high school car, a 1996 Mitsubishi Montero that my parents still use today, had an outside temperature gauge that measured between 25 and 27 degrees Fahrenheit for the entire drive.  I had enough gas to last me up to Ottawa, around 135 miles in, and ended up getting gas (at $1.99 a gallon!) just off I-35 on the exit toward Garnett, KS.  I ceremoniously pumped $13.10 worth of gas to last me the rest of my trip and a drive out toward Kansas City, Missouri, and then continued on my way.

With fellow Fifty State Half
Marathon Club members!
I made it to Shawnee Mission Park at about 8:20, and registered at the table set up in the parking lot with Sam, and then met up with fellow Fifty Staters Dan and Paula (local, from the KC area), their friend Margaret visiting from Toronto, and Karen (who drove in early that morning, just like me, from the St. Louis area).  We posed for a quick photo in front of the gates to the Shawnee Mission Theatre in the Park, and then got ourselves ready at the start line for the race.

Finishing, struggling...
But done!
(Photo courtesy of Autism
Society of the Heartland)
We got on the out-and-back course at 9am.  Felt fine, albeit cold, at the start, and clocked a 9:11 first mile, which wasn't bad.  But then, my leg muscles started to stiffen.  By the time I hit mile 2, I started to feel a bit of pain in both of my legs, right around the shin area.  I proceeded to walk-run for the next four miles, through the paved trail that snaked through Shawnee Mission Park.  While it was a really beautiful run, it was super painful.  Many people passed me, and some even expressed their concern as they saw me struggling.  But I powered on through, especially through a tough uphill at mile 6, and made it to the turn around on the 6.5 mile mark.

The awesome 4" long dog-tag medal!
At that moment, I walked for a bit and then started to feel a little better in my legs, but still some pain.  I ran conservatively for the next 5k, down that hill I had gone up not long before, and through some areas I had originally walked.  I was doing pretty well, made all the aid stops where I stretched as best I could.  There was even a point that I was running and about five military helicopters were flying overhead headed northeast in a V formation, which I thought was kind of cool.  I hit mile 11 or so, and got back to the first aid station just past the lake, and immediately began to hit a wall, slowing down significantly, but still managing my run-walk.  I knew early on when I started feeling the pain in my legs that this was not going to be a good race - and I was going to post my worst time at the half marathon distance.  I was ok with it... I mean, only two weeks earlier, I had posted my best - and finishing was really my only real goal, so I could say I got my 14 halfs in 2014.  I struggled all the way to the finish, finishing 50th out of 61 finishers, in a time of 2:42:47, nearly thirteen minutes slower than my previous "PW" or personal worst.  Yeah, it was not a great race for me, but you know what - even though I did this race for my own personal goals, I felt content that my participation was actually something that would mean a lot to the families and friends of people who deal with autism everyday.  I ran through the pain and got through all of those miles not only for myself... but also for them.  The pain I felt after the race pales in comparison to the day-to-day that kids with autism have to deal with.  Sam works tirelessly for his son, and I really commend him for putting on races for four years running, to raise money and to raise awareness for a disability that affects far too many young people.  I was happy to be able to be a part of this year's Operation Jack Half.

In an odd twist of fate, my home state of Kansas now has my two worst times for half marathons.  I visited with Sam at the end, who kindly took my ritual victory headstand photo, and then headed back to my car to warm up and get in touch with Shanna and Amanda to meet up for lunch.

#VictoryHeadstand in Kansas City, despite my struggles!
14 in 2014, DONE!

Yum, chimichanga!
I drove out to Westport to meet up with them, very slowly and painfully walking from my car to the restaurant, and had some delicious Mexican food at Port Fonda.  Luckily, when I got back up, the pain in my legs had subsided significantly, and then I decided to get on my way back to Wichita.  I found a gas station only five miles away (in a not-so-safe neighborhood, I learned later from my dad) that posted $1.85/gallon gas, and then drove home with a quick stop at Caribou Coffee for a wake-up.  The drive back at sunset, while at times blinding with the sun glare, was gorgeous, and made me nostalgic for the Kansas sunsets I grew up with.  But in the end, I finished my 14 in 2014, an awesome accomplishment that I was proud to have completed!

WHAT?! $1.85 gas?  I haven't seen this since I was a kid!

Bye, KC!  The Plaza is so pretty during the holidays....

A Kansas sunset is hard to beat... this is now my phone's wallpaper!