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This is an EPIC tale, EPIC failure, and EPIC accomplishment. I doubt it will sound as incredible as it felt, but here is my story…

I’m a member of the Half Fanatics club. It is related to the Marathon Maniacs, and is sometimes seen as the younger sibling, while others view it as a completely different kind of animal (since the half marathon and marathon are totally different races). Membership requires completing a specific number of races in a certain period of time, and there are different levels/ranks you can move up as you complete more races.

In 2002 after I finished the Portland Marathon, I said I would never do another marathon. “Never say never” came to bite me in the butt as the 2014 Dopey Challenge included my fourth marathon. Anyway, while I said I would “never” qualify for the Maniacs I realized that the earliest level “only” required two marathons within a 16 day time frame. Since I had already decided to run the Dopey Challenge again, all I needed was to find one marathon within two weeks of the Disney Marathon that had a generous time limit and I could qualify. It would be a one-and-done, I thought. So I reached out to the running community for suggestions.

Eventually I settled on The New Years Double in Allen, TX. This is the end of a race series, and offers a 5k, half marathon, and marathon on 12/31 and on 1/1. You have the option to run on a single day, or to run both days. If you do a race on each day, that’s a double. There is also the option for the “Double Double,” which is a 5k each day followed by either a half or a marathon each day. All of the past participants who nominated this race had good things to say about the race and the director/organization. Since I was going to spend the cash to get all the way to Texas, why not do two marathons? I registered as soon as I had decided, because these races sell out early every year.

Preview: I have nothing bad to say about this race.

Pre-race communication was excellent. Questions posted to the race’s facebook page were answered promptly, and the race director was very polite to those asking very stupid questions (and yes, there is such a thing as a stupid question). The race director was even very polite to the whining runners who decided to drop out of the races because they didn’t like the medal designs. (No, I’m not kidding.) Other participants chimed in to answer many questions too (many of them should have ended with either “…just like it says on the website” or “…as stated in the email dated…”). Instead of one massive pre-race email, information was doled out in three shorter messages during the weeks prior to the event. All deadlines, including refunds and drops, were clearly stated.

Pre-race planning was also great. There were special prices at multiple hotels near the start. Medal and shirt designs were revealed. There was plenty of parking and even a printable .pdf map for the parking lots, plus a specific address for GPS direction purposes (the races start in a park, and putting in the park name doesn’t necessarily lead you to the parking). Locals had multiple opportunities to pick up their packets before race day (and to drop off old shoes for Soles4Souls), and there was also a Friday packet pick up opportunity; packet pick up was also available before each race, and after the race starts on 12/31.

Leading up to race day, I thought I was pretty well prepared. While I didn’t put in as many miles as suggested by the recommended training plans (available on the event website), I had spent plenty of time cross-training the back line of my body–after many races I finally figured out I needed to add strength to my glutes and hamstrings (I’m a quad-dominant runner). Despite the fact that I lived in Texas for years and should know better, I had this silly idea that Texas would be hot. Not so much. I’m thankful one of the pre-race emails had the predicted temperatures (30s and rain) and reminded us to check the weather to pack accordingly. I loaded my suitcase up with my Sugoi fleece-lined tights (for Eve) and my CW-X compression tights (for Day). I packed two beanies, extra socks and shoes, and layers for both days. I packed snacks, an extra space blanket, recover compression to sleep in between races. The flight in was uneventful, I enjoyed a lovely dinner out with my Aunt Elaine and my cousin and his girlfriend, and my roommate and I completely hit it off. I slept terribly, but that’s the night before a race for me.

On race day I got up early and layered up, grabbed a mocha and a croissant from the hotel, and went to pick up my Eve bib and shirt. I planned to arrive extra early in case there was a line for bibs, and to put my drop bag in the tent. (The course is in loops, and there is a drop bag area where you can leave supplies.) Then I looked around a bit and headed back to my car because I was freezing my butt off.

"It is 33 degrees outside. What have I done?!?!?"
“It is 33 degrees outside. What have I done?!?!?”

The New Year’s Eve Marathon. I carried my giant orange flower, since part of the point of doing two marathons back to back was to see what my legs would feel like; this is in preparation for the MS Run the US, during which I’m running 160 miles over six days. (Click HERE to donate your latte money.) The course is four loops for a marathon and two for a half, with a large part of the loop forming an “out and back” such that you pass by other runners on your way in and out. The first two loops were pretty awesome. There were a ton of Maniacs and Fantics in the house, and loads of people waved and shouted about the flower. For the second loop I walked most of it with a sweet guy who had just planned to relocate to Austin who was finishing the half and ran him through the chute. I spent some time talking to another great guy living in Hawai’i who was working on the 50 Marathons in 50 States. I had planned to take it easy–no need to burn out on the first day, right?The third loop had significantly fewer people, which made it more challenging. By the fourth loop I was pretty much the only runner left. I finished in 7:06.

Along the way I had a variety of thoughts. I’m awesome. I can feel the strength from the cross-training. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that Pilates class on Monday. I’m really doing another one of these tomorrow? Runners are the nicest people. I’m freezing. I’m an idiot, what was I thinking? This isn’t so bad. If Mom can deal with chemo, I can be cold for a little bit. I’m a sad, sad sack.

"Quick! Somebody call Bon Jovi! #halfwaythere #runnerd #runthisyear"
“Quick! Somebody call Bon Jovi! #halfwaythere #runnerd #runthisyear”

And then I finished. Almost last, but DONE! I picked up my finisher’s medal, a heat sheet, and my drop bag before limping towards my car (halfway, the guy driving the golf cart picked me up to finish the trudge, which was super nice). There was one woman behind me. Turns out running in the cold makes me much slower than I thought, though I was trying to take it easy, and came in at 7:06. My Bia told me SIUBC and it took me awhile to figure out what that meant.

A quick stop at Walgreens for a rain poncho (and a scarf, and warmer gloves, and some disposable hand warmers) then I drove to the hotel where my roommate wisely steered me directly to the hot tub. Funny thing, when I first got in I felt VERY cold and the hot tub felt VERY hot. In about 15 minutes, I felt like both of us were about the same just-below-room-temperature. Hm. A quick shower, a wiggle into my compression tights, and I was off to dinner with my roommate from Georgia and the nice guy who had just made plans to move to Austin. He chose the venue, a delicious place called Napoli’s Pizza (1512 East Exchange Parkway, Allen, TX 75002 in case you’re planning for next year). Great place–locally owned, delicious everything especially the garlic knots, and friendly customer service. From dinner we basically headed straight to bed–at the geriatric hour of 9:00 p.m. It must have been New Year’s Day somewhere.

"I totally earned this carb-fest!"
“I totally earned this carb-fest!”

The New Year’s Day Marathon. I double-checked my phone and the weather app at least 10 times due to the forecast–20s and freezing rain. My roommate looked out and said the sidewalks looked dry. Liar. As I went to take my luggage out to the car, I was pelted with rain and stopped to add a layer and put on the poncho. I picked a larger mocha and a muffin and drove over to pick up my bib and shirt (which came with a plastic bag, multiple faux tattoos, and a box of Advil cold and sinus for which I am very thankful!). I set my drop bag down and huddled under the drop bag tent with a much, much smaller number of starters than the Eve race.

Along the way I realized that running in the cold is miserable. This is why when I wake up for a race and look out the window and see rain, I STAY HOME. I dislike being soggy, and I really dislike being COLD and soggy. It was in the 20s to low 30s, and during the first loop there was ice on the tree branches. The pants I had on top of my compression tights got wet and sloshed in a swingy way as I was running. It was fun to have people cheer for the orange flower–and I remembered to bring my runner cards to hand out–but it got soaked and heavy, and the water made the fake fuzzy stuff come off of the stem and it started to chafe, so I dropped it after the first loop. After the first loop I also dropped the Hokas I was wearing–and good thing I could not feel my feet, as they gave me the craziest ugly blisters on the last joint of my big toes–put on dry socks, and changed into Brooks Adrenaline. During the second loop I realized that not only could I not feel my feet, I couldn’t feel my thighs either; I was having difficulty steering when I was walking, much less running. The hand warmers started to kick in around the start of the third loop, but there were fewer and fewer runners, and I couldn’t see most of them anyway because of the rain covering both sides of my glasses despite the visor partially shading them. I spent a good portion of the first two loops thinking just a few thoughts: This is miserable and I am so cold I can’t stand it; If I feel this bad on the second day of running, how on earth am I going to do six days, oh man I hope Nebraska is warm in June; I can quit after I finish this loop; I can’t believe I came all this way for an expensive DNF. It is really cold and I did this why??

I also repeatedly talked to myself, out loud and everything: I CAN do this. I WILL do this. I AM DOING this. I am strong. I am brave. I am unstoppable.

During the “out” portion of the out and back segment of the third loop I was fortunate enough to meet a runner named Dexter, who has got to be one of the finest human beings on the planet. At first we were both walking and we chatted a little bit, but then when he said he also still had one loop left, I remember how hard it was to do that cold fourth loop alone and decided to tag along. Dexter is a runner from Loma Linda, a Marathon Maniac (#5473), and had helped Mike (another runner) finish the Eve race. Dexter has many, many more marathons under his belt and I am certain he could easily have looped me and finished a LOT faster but he chose to stay with me and help me on the course. I’m so thankful, so lucky, and so blessed to have met Dexter. Seriously, if you know of any award for best exemplar of a runner who is also a kind and generous human being, please let me know so I can nominate Dexter. We had a great conversation, which effectively distracted me from the cold and the pain. When we hit the end of the third loop the announcer told us we had missed the cut-off to start the final loop (the same thing I’d heard the day before), and then the race director stopped us to make sure we knew they were going to shut down the aid stations at a specific time and we might miss them, Dexter said, “They don’t scare me,” and he promised me we could finish.

This is Dexter. If you see him, say hi and tell him he's a rock star and a hero!
This is Dexter. If you see him, say hi and tell him he’s a rock star and a hero!

The fourth loop was hard. Harder than hard. My hardest race or run. I stopped to use the bathroom and told Dexter to go ahead, I’d catch up. (Note: pulling compression tights on is even harder when they are wet.) I ran, walked, ran, walked, and ran some more, and could see Dexter’s bright orange hat bobbing in front of me. At the final aid station–the one right at the turnaround point–Dexter was waiting for me. “I was worried about you!” he said. Again, he could have kept on going and finished much earlier, but he didn’t. The Allen Lady Eagles Lacrosse Booster Club staffed that station, and had left us a pizza and several cups of electrolytes and water. (One of the moms there turned out to be from Livonia, MI which is where I lived until I was six.) Dexter carefully pushed me to keep going. On the way back I had to take several dead-stop breaks, mainly because I was having serious trouble breathing. I was beyond snotty, all of my accessory breathing muscles were sore, and my throat felt about three sizes smaller than usual. Dexter kept on pushing me.

As we crossed the finish line–pretty much desolate–Dexter borrowed the Mile 26 sign from the UT Dallas Alpha Phi Omega crew who were tearing down the course. I posed for some pictures with Dexter while trying my best not to burst into tears (which I did as I limped over to my car). I drove over to Dexter so we could trade contact information. I expected just a business card, but Dexter also handed me some chocolate covered macadamia nuts from his native Hawai’i and a medal from Loma Linda. Seriously, nicest human being ever. (For my friends who are wondering: he’s older and happily married. You are not off the hook.)

photo 3 (3)

photo 2 (4)

It took quite a bit of time for my car to warm up, which is okay because I had to cry a little more and wipe off my glasses. I wrapped a space blanket around my legs and took off my wet mittens. The drive to my aunt and uncle’s place in Coppell took longer than I’d anticipated, but that was quite likely the most amazing hot shower I’ve ever had. Followed by catching up with my Uncle John and then a delicious pasta dinner made by my Aunt Elaine (such a creative cook–corn bisque and toppings, pasta with vegetable ribbons in a lemon caper creamy artichoke sauce, and homemade cupcakes with homemade gingerbread icing and homemade Andes mint icing). I phoned home to say hi to Dad, and crashed early.

To give you an idea of how much harder and colder Day was, race organizers reported 1404 timed finishes on Eve, and only 1073 on Day. Many, many thanks to the race organizers and the volunteers: Boy/Cub Scout Pack 811; Team in Training with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society; Allen Lady Eagles Lacrosse Booster Club; The Collective for Orphan Care and Education (providing resources for those in need in Kenya); and UT Dallas Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed service fraternity.

This was probably my only year for this race (as there are multiple other New Year race I want to hit), but it was great. If you are looking for a challenge or back-to-backs, I highly recommend the New Years Double in Allen, TX.

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Have you heard of the Spartan Races?

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If you have, and you thought something along the lines of, “Oh, that’s just another mud run,” you’d be wrong. I used to think that too. I’ve volunteered for the Warrior Dash series (while watching my co-workers run the course) and tried out the Gladiator Run (which left me quite tired of climbing into and back out of shipping containers). There are numerous other mud/obstacle runs too–Muddy Buddy, Dirty Girl, Tough Mudder, Battle Frog, Rugged Maniac–but the Spartan Races stand out.

When the Spartan Race came to AT&T Park in San Francisco this past summer, I decided to volunteer.  (Volunteering at a race is a great way to check out a race–think of it as dating before you make the big commitment–and sometimes you get a free or discounted entry.)  All of the volunteers received a t-shirt and snacks, plus a free entry to either that day’s race or a future race. Volunteers who stayed all day also scored a sweet hoodie, and they fed us lunch. When I pre-registered to volunteer I managed to luck into the BEST volunteer gig ever, handing out bottles of CorePower to athletes after the race.

Spartan Races come in three lengths/difficulties. Spartan Sprint is the shortest distance, approximately 3+ miles (think 5k) with 15 or more obstacles. Spartan Super is the middle distance, approximately 8+ miles (think a 10k with extra laps) with 20+ obstacles. Spartan Beast is much more challenging at approximately 12+ miles (think half marathon) with 25+ obstacles. The Beast is aptly named, if what I’ve read on other blogs is true.  (I’m going to have to rely on that, as I’m not doing one!)

Oh, and there are some “bonus” lengths… If that’s not enough, there is also a Spartan Ultra Beast of marathon-length (26.2 miles!) and more than 50 obstacles. It’s so popular that the Vermont race, which isn’t until September 2015–is already 50% full as of mid-December 2014. There’s a Hurricane Heat 12-hour race, with teams. Sooo many choices!

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Spartan Races don’t necessarily involve mud. Sort of. The main reason I’m over “mud runs” is that the one I did had me carrying an extra 15 pounds of mud. After the race I hosed off–with an actual hose–and when I set the nozzle inside my sports bra at full blast, at least 10 pounds of mud came out. There was another 5 pounds in my shorts. I hosed my clothes down again at home, and filled another bucket with mud. Even after running them through the wash, my clothes were still trashed. Much to my absolute delight, the stadium sprints do not have any mud! (I’m told all of the other races do.) So I’m working on upper body strength to get ready for the 2015 race at AT&T Park. (By the way, I typo-d that last sentence as “for the 2105 race” and I’m not sure if that’s a subliminal message!)

Spartan Races have obstacles that make sense. At this summer’s San Francisco race I had the opportunity to watch the race. While there were some limits due to the venue–as an attorney I’m pretty sure there is a gazillion-page lease involved–this Sprint made clever use of the stadium itself, in addition to building out some obstacles. When I say the obstacles “make sense,” I mean they are physical challenges that you can train for, they relate to athletic strength. If you choose to skip an obstacle or can’t finish it, you don’t get mocked, but you do have to do some burpees. At the stadium, some of the obstacles took advantage of the stadium architecture, for example stair sprints, sections of jumping up via the benches, and wall jump-up and jump-downs. Others were hauled in and built, such as a a rope net a-frame, and a set of climbing ropes. While the exact obstacles for each race are technically a secret until race day, you can see some of them on the Spartan Race pages.

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Spartan Races celebrate everyone who races. My favorite experience volunteering was learning that there is a Spartan tradition to cheer-in the last finisher of every Spartan race. The race director gathers up the staff, volunteers, and anyone else who happens to be hanging out, and corrals them all over to the finish line to cheer for the last runner. That’s kinda awesome, as I’ve been to MANY races where the finish line is already torn down and packed up long before the last runner finishes. Another thing I love is that while the Spartan Races do have their fair share of ultra-fit athletes, there are also numerous repeat Spartans who don’t fit that mold. Some have lost a significant amount of weight, improved their health, and changed their lives through Spartan Races. ALL are equally celebrated!

Spartan Races bling you. Each race has a finisher medal. Each type of race–Sprint, Super, Beast–also comes with a wedge-shaped medal that you can combine with the other two medals to form a tri-colored Spartan medal. It’s called “The Trifecta,” and you can buy a special display to hold it together.

spartan trifecta

If you’re a mega-competitive athlete, there are rankings and a championship. In 2015, the championship course is in Tahoe!! Mark your calendar for Saturday, October 3, and book a rental near Squaw Valley. For those of us who are not crazy competitive, there will also be a Sprint. Maybe I’ll see you there?

spartan tahoe

Spartan Races have a kids’ division. Part of the Spartan Race philosophy is that “fitness and adventure should involve the whole family.” Coolest thing ever, watching the kids run through their very own course! It wouldn’t make sense (or be safe!) for the half-pint sized kids to be jumping up and down the stadium benches (since that’s waist-height for bunches of them). Instead, the San Francisco Sprint kids’ course was built inside the concourse. There were stairs, ramps, and flat runs, among other obstacles. Parents, volunteers, and Spartan staffers all cheered on the kids as they ran the course. Every finisher got a kids’ race medal and shirt, too. It was great to see kids wearing their medals right there with mom and dad wearing theirs–the kids were so proud!

spartan kids

Spartan Races have a devoted following. How devoted? You can buy an annual pass to run as many times as you choose–that include running the same race multiple times on the same day. I saw a guy at San Francisco who ran the course at least 10 times during the day. There is an entire online community, too. Spartan and Reebok have partnered up for a line of athletic wear, and you can also buy Spartan training gear (such as the weighted Spartan “pancake”).

Spartan Races give back to the community. Military and first responders always get a 25% discount on registration. There is also a charity partners program where charities can get a unique code to earn 15% of all of the registration fees from that code. More on the Spartan website

Spartan Races isn’t just a race series, it’s a whole Spartan Lifestyle. Joe De Sena, athlete and founder of the Spartan Race series, wrote a book, and it isn’t just about sports. The title is Spartan Up!: A Take-No-Prisoners Guide to Overcoming Obstacles and Achieving Peak Performance in Life. It covers willpower, nutrition, exercise, and a variety of other topics related to kicking butt in life. I haven’t read it yet though it looks like a good read (but if anyone reading this wants to send me a copy, that would be awesome). He also started a podcast.

spartan podcast

To get to the Spartan Podcast, click on Spartan Podcast (sorry, not yet HTML-savvy enough to make the graphic above click-able).

There is a Spartan e-magazine, and you can read it for free. The latest issue is here, click on Spartan Magazine. Inside you’ll find race re-caps, travel guides for the Spartan destinations, and articles on fitness and nutrition.

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But why just read about it? There is a free Spartan Race workout tour. Unfortunately for me, the Berkeley workout is January 10 and the San Jose workout is January 11 (and I will be otherwise occupied running The Dopey Challenge at Disney in Florida). Check out the entire tour HERE

Want more? There are certified Spartan SPX coaches (see the website for a list). If you’re a fitness professional, you can take a certification workshop.

Spartan Coaching Mission:
The mission of Spartan Coaching is to create a community of coaches and participants that embrace the Spartan lifestyle. Through this program we will help each individual reach their fitness goals and adopt a healthier lifestyle. We will do this in an encouraging environment that welcomes individuals of all abilities and fitness backgrounds. We will work tirelessly to help all that seek better health, through the application of Spartan values.

You can join the mailing list for the Spartan WOD (workout of the day), or read them online. You can join the Spartan Cruise, hosted aboard the Norwegian Sky. complete with a (land-based!) Spartan Race.

Upcoming California Spartan Races:

January 17, 2015 So-Cal Beast at Vail Lake (sold out!)

January 18, 2015 So-Cal Sprint at Vail Lake (sold out!)

January 24, 2015 So-Cal Super at Vail Lake (80%)

January 25, 2015 S0-Cal Sprint at Vaile Lake (75%)

June 6, 2015 Monterey Super at Toro Park (50%)

July 18, 2015 San Franciscio Sprint at AT&T Park (50%)

Dates TBA: Sacramento Super, Sacramento Sprint; Los Angeles Stadium Sprint

There are, of course, Spartan Races all over the country. (I just happen to be living and blogging in California, so it’s the center of my universe right now.) For a full listing of events, check out the Spartan Race website.

Spartan Races need volunteers! Not ready to run? (Or think you’re not ready to run but just might be convinced if you could take a peek at it first?) Volunteer! Like I said, volunteers were treated really well, and even got a free race entry. You could spend your morning volunteering, and then race in the afternoon.

ARE YOU READY TO RUN?? If you can’t wait, head over to the Spartan Race website (HERE) and register using code SPARTANBLOGGER for 10% off any race. If you’re feeling lucky, enter to win a FREE entry!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

A few weeks ago, just before getting my Thanksgiving feast on, one of the local racing companies sent me an email about their upcoming races, and included the following invitation:

An invitation

Since I was intrigued by FlyWheel already–I’d heard about it, but never tried it–and the price was right, I decided to RSVP. Now I’m not a cyclist of any kind (unless toodling around Alameda on my no-speed red cruiser bike with the built-in baskets counts), despite being a proudly certified Real Ryder instructor.  Cycling is way the heck out of my wheelhouse (har har har). But I keep going back, in equal parts because (1)  I know some day I’m going to get talked into a triathlon, (2) everyone keeps telling me that cross-training in another discipline is a good idea, and (3) as a teacher I recognize the importance of doing things I suck at so that I can empathize with my students. Still, I don’t like it. I don’t even Facebook-like it.

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From the minute I walked in, I knew that I was in for a completely different fitness experience. First, it took exactly zero minutes for one of the Flywheel staff to welcome me and get me started with the check-in process. Assuming you made a reservation before class–a good idea, because there are a finite number of bikes–you check in on a tablet. (See the schedule up there? You can make another reservation too!) It tells you your bike number (yup, assigned seats!) and you collect your cycle shoes from the appropriately numbered slot below. While you can bring your own, every Flywheel class comes with free use of the shoes and towel service, plus all the filtered water you can guzzle. During check-in you can also confirm whether you want to be on the “Torq Board,” an electronic display system that lets you compete against other riders (if you want). The front desk has hair elastics too, in case you forgot to bind up your locks. After a quick studio tour, I went to the locker area to store my stuff. Flywheel has those modern electronic lockers, the kind where you choose your own PIN to lock and unlock it each time.

Speaking of electronic, why yes, that IS an outlet to charge your phone inside the locker while you are getting your sweat on!
Speaking of electronic, why yes, that IS an outlet to charge your phone inside the locker while you are getting your sweat on!

To the right of the lockers there is a white board where you can jot down which locker you chose, since it is likely to vary each time. I tell you, they did NOT miss a beat!

While waiting for class to start, I checked out the retail area, populated with cute Fly-gear. Or is that fly Fly-gear? Dunno, I’m not cool enough to wear most of it yet.  Anyway, there is also a map outside the studio door so you can figure out where your bike is.  The bikes do have little sticker numbers on the front stem–which I understand the cool kids refer to as a “head badge”–but it is nice to know where you are going before you get there. I also talked with some of the other newbies (that was all of us except for one or two people who I think were Stanford students from back East) and we were all nervous.  “Just don’t point and laugh when I fall off the bike, okay?” I asked them. The doors opened, students left, the doors shut.  We waited some more. The doors opened and a crew with wet mops and cleaning supplies emerged.  I thought, Holy crap, what I have I voluntarily agreed to do? How carefully did I read that waiver??  But it was too late to turn back, and in we went.

Once inside, I took a quick look around. The room was set up like a tiny auditorium, with a little elevated stage in the middle with the instructor and the sound system. There was a center aisle leading to the exit. On either side the room had three rows of bikes. The room was mostly black, with a huge flat-panel TV/screen hanging from the ceiling on either side (the “Torq board”). I’m one of those people who will always choose the aisle seat/spot in class, but I didn’t mind being in the middle at Flywheel.  It was plenty spacious.

For my first ride, I got help setting up my bike. Since they are custom made for Flywheel, I wanted to make sure everything was properly adjusted. Frankly I also needed help figuring out how to put my shoes into the pedals and get them back out again. The Flywheel staff was really helpful, and took all my newbie questions in stride. The bikes resemble other stationary bikes in the Spinning style, except for two features.  One, there is a little rectangular dashboard on the left side, above the wheel and below the handlebars. This is the “tech pack” (I thought it was the “tech deck,” but the website just corrected me!).  It displays the torq (basically how much resistance you’ve added to the bike) and your power output, both current and what you’ve done in class so far.  If you are participating in the Torq Board you can see your total power output up on the board, but even if you aren’t, you can view your class performance online in your private account after class. Your account includes specific data for your last few rides, including an estimated calorie burn, as well as aggregate data over your last ten rides.  (There are prizes for hitting the 3000 mark in a single calendar month, in case you need an incentive. For me, that would take like 20 classes. Maybe I’ll try that next summer.)

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This bike was greeting all of us at the studio grand opening.

Two, there are two blue-tipped bars in special slots on either side of the wheel.  If you’ve ever worked with a Body Bar in a gym class, this is the same idea (only a little shorter).  While waiting for everyone else to set up I put my water bottle in the handlebar-mounted cage, draped my towel over it, and played with the knob to adjust the torque and with various positions on the bike.  Oh, almost forgot to mention, you can also borrow a nice padded saddle cover (in case you’re like me and have a butt that is firmly opposed to a hard seat).

A better shot of the "tech pack" and bars
A better shot of the “tech pack” and bars

Then class started, and away we rode! Our instructor, Aina Williams, was a total top-notch rock star! From what I understand, Flywheel expects EVERY instructor to deliver the same type of performance. After introducing herself, she explained that during the ride, she would recommend a number for torq and a number for power output; the torq number was optional, but the power output number was non-negotiable. A Flywheel instructor is part DJ (music literally drives the class), part cheerleader (let’s face it, this is NOT a class for sissies), and part happy drill instructor. Aina is also in incredible shape.

We started with a warm-up that had me dripping on the floor, and then progressed to a ride with hills, sprint intervals, and a HUGE amount of energy. I dripped all over everything despite making frequent use of my towel. Since I’d driven all the way to Sunnyvale for class (and note to self: check the 49ers schedule before choosing a class) I did my very best NOT to wimp out. I couldn’t keep up 100%.  The hardest part for me was breathing; I literally ran out of breath and had to spend a lot of time focusing on breathing properly (inhale, belly poof out; exhale, belly suck in), which is more challenging than I expected it to be due to being in a cycling position, half bent at the waist. My diaphragm hurt the next day. (Also the day after.) Still, I had the feeling we were all “in it together” and I took little breaks but kept on pedaling.

After the hard-core part of the ride we continued to pedal with a lower resistance while using the mini Body Bars for upper body work. I picked up the four pound bar and tried to do the whole workout with that, expecting it to be kind of a cake walk compared to the ride itself, but ended up doing about 2/3 of it. This surprised me, because I hadn’t worked out my upper body that day and I don’t believe I’m that much of a wimp. (Maybe every bit of energy had leaked out of my body through my legs?) Meanwhile the guy next to me was doing the workout with BOTH of the Body Bars. He definitely deserved the post-ride high-fives more than I did!

Class ended with a surprisingly decent off-the-bike stretch. Admittedly I am a bit of a snob when it comes to the post-class stretch (I blame it on my yoga teacher training, which also has me try very hard not to be a judgmental-rhymes-with-witch during that part of class). It felt SO SO good. After the stretch I slowly hobbled out of class, put my shoes in the already waiting shoe bin, and refilled my water bottle from the designated taps (filtered water in cold or room temp). Then I asked Aina to indulge in a post-ride selfie.  She’s so nice, she said yes. Even though I was a hot sweaty mess, and had a hard time getting my phone to put both of us in the frame.

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Then it was off to a well-deserved shower. I earned it. Flywheel Sunnyvale has four showers, separate from the bathrooms. Since many of the riders left without a shower (I assume most live much closer than I do), that was plenty. Each is a self-contained and locking unit, complete with fluffy towels and fully stocked with Bliss spa body care. So really all I need to take to future rides is a shower scrubby poof.

After a sweaty ride, this is heaven!
After a sweaty ride, this is heaven!

In addition to the shower products, the showers also have Bliss body butter, spray-on deodorant, cotton swabs, and a laundry hamper. Other than the moment where I forgot there was a bench in the shower and kicked it (hard) with my left big toe, I think that was the best shower I’ve had in my life.

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See that thing on the left? That’s a plastic bag dispenser. (I told you, they didn’t miss a trick.) Good thing too, as my workouts clothes were thoroughly drenched, so much so that I could wring sweat out of them.  Icky.  Anyway, on to more pleasant things…outside the shower area is a vanity with hairdryers, hair spray, and other stuff for those more stylish than me.

To celebrate the grand opening the studio had some nice swag giveaways for all class attendees. I scored a tote bag and a ball cap (handy for covering up my mop of wet hair). Then I grabbed a quick snack and finished coming back to reality.

Fresh fruit for a post-ride snack
Fresh fruit for a post-ride snack

Again, I’m NOT a cyclist and this is pretty far out of my comfort zone.  BUT…I had a great time. Even feeling awkward, wimpy, uncoordinated, and sweaty. Flywheel comes with a great post-workout euphoria, and I plan to go back again. It doesn’t hurt that the parts of me that were sore (other than my diaphragm) are the parts I know I most need to work: glutes, hamstrings, and that elusive glute-hammie tie-in.

Have you tried Flywheel?

If you are in the Sunnyvale area, or northern California in general, give it a try. Click here to create an account and sign up for your first ride: http://flywhl.me/cfm- (Note: this is an affiliate referral link. You’ll get the same or better deals you’d get from going through Google, and have the satisfaction of supporting your friendly neighborhood blogger.)

(Photo above by Las Vegas News Bureau and used with permission)

This is my second year running the Rock n’ Roll Las Vegas half marathon.  Even though I wasn’t running it for the ultimate Rock n Roll bling (the Rock Idol “Heavy Medal”) I had so much fun last year that I almost immediately signed up to run it again.  Seriously, who doesn’t want to run down The Strip at night?  (Where else can you run after sunset and still be able to read your Garmin without using the backlight?)

Some of the festivities were the same, but 2014 brought some new twists to the race.  For example, this year there were a ton of running options: 5k, “half of the half,” half marathon, and full marathon, plus the Remix Challenge (5k Saturday night plus the half of marathon on Sunday night).  (Yeah, I was going to do the remix…but when it was time to register for the 5k I had no cash, and when I had cash the 5k had sold out. Boo.) Like last year, there were a ridiculous number of really great discounts and freebies for runners, including VIP club admissions and special drink menus, and discounts on massage and spa services. Next year, I swear I am planning ahead so I can go run the Remix, go clubbing, and make it to the spa.

I started the weekend by arriving just over an hour early for my flight. At the wrong airport. Oops. Fortunately I am loyal to Southwest, and they took good care of me, ensuring that I made it to Las Vegas even though I apparently can’t read my own reservations. The flight was blissfully uneventful, and I met Jeanne and Debbie in the airport. Initially we thought we’d hit the expo Friday, but since my boo-boo had me arrive an hour later we decided to skip that plan and go straight to our hotel, the Mandalay Bay. Jeanne scored a great deal on a room, and I was glad to be staying right next to the starting line (since last year I literally ran through the race to jump into my corral before it started).

Dinner started with the most amazing garlic fries, fries so deliciously garlicky that I thought I might still be sweating garlic when I hit the pavement Sunday night.  Thank you, Slice of Vegas!!  If you’ve never been there, I highly recommend it.  Not only does it feature the garlickiest fries and a menu with salads, sandwiches, and other fare, it also has a full vegan menu, including pizza (topped with delicious Daiya) and a meatless meatball sandwich. Of course they have a full bar–it IS Vegas–and I finally got to try an Ace pineapple cider (technically a melomel, but who’s really paying attention?). A quick trip to Lush followed dinner, and Jeanne and I were fully stocked with all the DIY spa treats we needed for a race weekend, including bubble bars for Jeanne and a cupcake face mask and slice of snow cake soap for me.

Saturday we slept in, ate breakfast foodage at Raffles (one of the Mandalay Bay restaurants). Not creative, but by that point we were starving. After some lazing around we met up with Debbie and her husband Mark and headed to the expo by way of Aria to pick up tickets for “Zarkana.”  (FYI, the Aria is not really on the way.)

The expo featured the usual wide selection of products and services for runners, and had booths for upcoming running events.  (Phoenix Marathon, I’m really, really tempted.) Terryberry, official jewelry of the Rock n Roll series, now has Heavy Medal charms for Rock Star and Rock Legend, so I had those added to the bracelet I made last year, which has charms from each Rock n Roll race I ran to get to Rock Idol.  (No word on a Rock Idol charm yet, which is just as well–there are no more open links on my bracelet.)

 

Rock Star is on the left, Rock Idol on the right
Rock Star is on the left, Rock Legend on the right

I was glad to see Trigger Point Therapy and CorePower, two of my favorite Austin, Texas businesses, representing. There were also some relative newcomers like Lorna Jane, and contests and freebies from race sponsors like Geico, Chocolate Milk, and Transamerica. After stocking up on Handanas–one of mine had an unfortunate run-in with the grate on my floor furnace–and slurping down a Mama Chia, I ran into my friend from the Spartan Race series and we caught up a little. Mark was very tolerant of my yammering on about different kinds of compression and why The Grid is the best foam roller, among other nerdalicious topics. There was just enough time to meander down the last aisle before we had to head off to “Zarkana.”

I’m a huge fan of Cirque du Soleil, and have been following them since before they had resident shows. I try to hit one each time I come to Vegas, so I was thrilled to see “Zarkana.” It’s hard to pick a favorite act, since each featured stunts and tricks I’d never seen in any other show. I particularly enjoyed the dual-level trapeze team, and the depth and richness added by the extensive use of projections. After the show it was off to bed.

Since we sort of skipped dinner, Sunday we hit up Raffles for breakfast.  Not original, but the line was shorter there than at the other options serving breakfast food. Sure, I know carb-loading has been debunked as a useful practice for us athletes-with-a-day-job, but that did not stop me from eating French toast (aka birthday cake for breakfast). Afterwards I lazed around for a few hours and then it was time to throw on the running duds.

Debbie looked just as good after the race. I was quite a bit more wilted!
Debbie looked just as good after the race. I was quite a bit more wilted!

Unlike last year, and unlike pretty much the rest of the year in Vegas, it was COLD.  I’m so glad I checked the weather before I packed!

Jeanne and me (before I "borrowed" the sweatshirt)
Jeanne and me (before I “borrowed” the sweatshirt)

Last year I wore a Sparkle Skirt and a singlet, with a long-sleeved run shirt for just part of the race. This year I wore full-length tights, a long-sleeved run shirt, and a running pullover.  I was still so cold at the starting line that I snagged a zip up hoodie from the fence at the starting line and wore it for the first two miles (after which I put it back on the fence as I passed by). The cold was exacerbated by gusts of chilled wind that made me wish I’d packed my polar fleece Run Happy beanie instead of my Berkeley Half Ambassador hat.

A little identity crisis, Corral 40/36? Or is that a pant size?
A little identity crisis, Corral 40/36? Or is that a pant size?

Since I started in corral 41–not the end of the corrals!–I waited in the corral for over an hour before starting. During that time the sun went down, and the temperature dropped noticeably.  Even though I’m prepared for the temperature to drop at a night race, I wasn’t expecting the cold. The switchback after the famous “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign meant that I got to watch at least the first 35 corrals run past on their way down The Strip. When we finally got to start, I ran the first mile with Jeanne and Debbie, and then mostly ran with some walk breaks for the next few. Around mile 3 it seemed clear to me that they were pushing for a faster time than I was, so I told them to go on and stop waiting for me (since my usual pace is “stop and pet the cute puppies” pace). I was still trying to push for more running time though, as it seemed to help keep me from freezing up again and my legs didn’t feel as “dead” as they often do mid-race.  I’m attributing that to the CW-X tights, since I’ve run cold races before and not had the same fresh legs experience.

#StripAtNight
#StripAtNight

It isn’t every course where you get to see a volcano explode.

Volcano to the left!
Volcano to the left!

Around mile 6 I realized I hadn’t taken any Energy Bits, and knew I’d be sad if I didn’t eat the serving in my belt. At the next water stop I stepped off the course to the sidewalk so I could set my cup down and get my Bits out.  As I was gulping down the bits, Lisa saw my flower and ran over. (Lisa and I belong to the same running club but live half a country apart from each other, so I only see her at big races. We last crossed paths at Nike DC.) Lisa, badass that she is, is one of the runners who ran the new Disney Avengers-themed races at Disneyland this weekend. Sunday morning she ran the Avengers half, then hopped a plane and landed in Vegas in time to do the Rock n Roll Half. Oh, and she did the Avengers 5k on Saturday.  Pretty amazing if you ask me. We passed the praying mantis at the container park, but I didn’t manage to get a shot of it shooting flames.

A Bug Lfe
A Bug’s Life

We finished out the race together, mostly walking but with run breaks (every time we saw a photographer, of course!). At the second-to-last chip timing mat we both sprinted to the finish line. I imagine I looked like a total dork, arms flailing to propel me forward without hitting anyone with the giant orange flower I was carrying.  I ran as hard as I could bust it out at that point and Lisa Ms. Two-Half-Marathons-Today beat me!

[adorable selfie forthcoming]

I finished in 3:12 (says my Bia), just in time for my iPhone to die. Thankfully Woot! had a special on the Urge rechargers earlier this year, so I had one waiting for me in my bag. (Why don’t any of the running magazines recommend these things?) So while Nike+ (which hasn’t sync-ed since they updated their website/app integration this spring, to my great annoyance) now thinks I ran 23 miles, at least my Bia collected the right data.

Orange Flower is getting ready to retire, but I think Orange Flower II will launch for my role in MS Run the US. Perhaps I’ll sell petal-naming rights to help raise the $10,000 I committed to bring to fund research for a cure.

Orange Flower and the glow-in-the-dark bling
Orange Flower and the glow-in-the-dark bling

Did YOU run the #StripAtNight?  What was your favorite part? Are you going to run with me next year??

Come join me for my next two runs: Run 10 Feed 10 (Sunday, October 26 in San Francisco) and the Berkeley Half Marathon (Sunday, November 9)!

Run 10 Feed 10 San Francisco is one of the three races in the Run 10 Feed 10 series.  There are also a series of fun runs and the option to “run your own” as a virtual 10k. The series, presented by Women’s Health Magazine, raises funds to solve the world’s most solvable problem: childhood hunger. Children who come to school hungry have a hard time focusing and fall behind in school.  Some researchers are exploring the connection between childhood food insecurity and adult obesity–because how your nourish your body as a child affects your body’s systems as an adult. Kids can’t help themselves, but we can help kids; and the FEED Foundation’s partnerships with locally-rooted non-profit organizations stretch your dollars even more than you could.  Every registration automatically pays for 10 meals.  You can also fundraise or make a donation. (Both are optional, but every dollar counts.) You can donate to my fundraiser here (click): Run 10 Feed 10 Registration; and use promo code WHBAIN

If you’re not registered to run the Berkeley Half Marathon, why not? Go register! You can even save a few bucks using my ambassador code BHM2014ELIZABETH All of the details are at The Berkeley Half Marathon home page;  This year (the race’s second) the course will go through the UC Berkeley campus (or “the Cal campus,” for those of you who grew up around here). The course map is online, along with the elevation profile (two mini hills and then a nice flat piece). It’s a back-of-the-packer-friendly race, with four hours to finish (that a pace of over 18 minutes per mile–much more generous than the Disney runs). A portion of your entry fee supports the Berkeley Public Schools Fund, and if last year was any indication, it’s going to be a great run! Last year we had gorgeous weather, and seriously who doesn’t love a race that ends in a beer garden?  (Right, I know, I don’t drink beer.  But still, it’s the idea!)

If you ran the San Francisco Half as well, you have special bling waiting for you at the finish line:

Berkeley half medal

Would you like to run the Berkeley Half Marathon?  I’ve got ONE race entry.  The prize is ONE half marathon entry only (no travel, no lodging, no other promises). The winner will receive a code to register for the race for free!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES After the blogger brunch, it was time to delve into the race proper. I was lucky to hit a lull in the packet pickup line–I learned from volunteering last year for two days that there is a huge ebb and flow–and there was literally no line after brunch when I walked over to the big tent. It took all of ten minutes to collect my bib, packet, and shirt. I really love the colors for this year’s D.C. race (the plum of the runner shirt, and the turquoise used for many other things) and via facebook and Instagram already had my eye on a plum colored pullover. But before I headed to the Nike Store–a practically mandatory pilgrimage before any Nike Women’s event–I went over to the Expotique. SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES The coolest thing about the Expotique was entering the tent. The welcome screen displayed messages for each individual runner by name, presumable triggered by the timing chip on the back of the bib. Perhaps I’m spoiled from other races, or maybe it is that I remember the San Francisco Expotique from my first Nike race as bordering on magic (no line, massage, manicure, smoothie samples, games with prizes from sponsors, and a guaranteed prize area for Nike+ users where I scored some headbands), but the Nike Expotiques at both D.C. races have seriously disappointed me. This year there was a huge line for Nike+ people to have a treadmill gait analysis (something available to me at most of my local running stores), a few mannequins with new Nike fashions, hair braidin by Paul Mitchell, cheer sign making with Luna and some Luna bar samples, the Team in Training station, and a big wall-like poster/cutout for all of us to sign. I think I was in and out in about five minutes.

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On to the pilgrimage to the Nike store in Georgetown. Every Nike Women’s race has featured a wall with each runner’s name on it; naturally, it’s sort of a thing to find you name and pose. Almost obligatory.

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The store itself was much better managed this year, in that it seemed like there was more merchandise constantly brought out (everything was available in every size on the floor), and many more registers open. The Nike store tends to get slammed during these events because of (1) race-specific merchandise, and (2) limited edition race-specific shoes. They’ve never had the race shoes in my size–I wear a 10, and for larger sizes there are often just a few pairs available–so I’ve pretty much given up on ever owning a pair. Too bad, they’re very nicely done. The race displays include course maps and the infamous Tiffany necklace. A quick note on that necklace…Nike Women’s races have had firefighters (or similar) handing out those little blue Tiffany boxes since the races started. The “necklace reveal” is part of the pre-race festivities every year. It is part of the draw, and there are even morale signs along the course that say “That necklace is mine!” so I was VERY disappointed in Nike’s pre-race behavior around the prize this year. Previously the registration forms and publicity all referred to the Tiffany necklace. This year not only did the D.C. pre-race materials omit all mention of the necklace (the lottery registration form had some vague reference to a “finisher award,” or something like that) but Nike’s responses to inquiries on all social media before the race were dodgy. (Specifically, Nike categorically refused to answer the question, “Do D.C. finishers get a Tiffany necklace this year?” multiple times. I know because not only did my question get blown off, I watched the official facebook page where Nike also refused to answer several dozen other variations of that question.) WTF, Nike? While speculation ranged from Tiffany not wanting to be associated with the race, to the possibility of such a high trademark usage fee that Nike wasn’t willing to pay to use the name Tiffany, to Nike doing a little marketing test to see if the same number of runners would enter the lottery, after seeing the necklace my own theory was that Nike or Tiffany waited until the last minute to have it commissioned. While it looks a bit better in person, and the design has grown on me, my first impression was that it looked like an Easter egg and the New Year’s Eve ball from Times Square had a baby. (In other words, Meh.) Despite my love for plum, the aqua color suited me much better so after I grabbed my 1/4 zip pullover I headed to the hotel to relax.

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I met my Philadelphia runner buddy (who used to work for Nike, when we both lived in Portland) and had dinner with some other runners at Buca di Beppo. Because, you know, any excuse to eat more pasta, right? Race day morning I was pleased to be staying at one of the Team in Training host hotels (though I wasn’t with the Team for this race), within walking distance of the start and with coffee on the way. I bumped into a fellow lost Half Fanatic, and together we failed to find the group photo and instead grabbed a groupie.

Nike DC HFs Nike DC HF

The race itself was pretty glorious. The course was essentially the same as the inaugural course last year, only run in reverse. (I’m not sure what the complaint was, but apparently Nike made this change in response to feedback from runners last year.)

Nike DC course

The weather was perfect, and once I again I really enjoyed running through all of the monuments and sculptures and greenery that is the very best of the District of Columbia. Well-stocked water and aid stations met me and the other cheap runners (we’re not slow, we’re “maximizing the value of our entry fees”). After I collected my little blue box–without the cheerleader-like lifts some women performed with the firefighters because I’m about twice cheerleader height and weight–I was delighted to see Nike upped the ante at the finish line.

Nike DC near finish line

First, no disposable water bottles.

Nike DC fillable water bottles

Instead, individual refillable bottles (already filled, but with gigantic water refill stations at the read), followed by bags to collect only the snacks we intended to eat (allowing one to leave behind anything you don’t like). There was a great refresh tent, where after I grabbed one of the refreshing face wipes (but didn’t partake of the other beauty items available), I spent some quality time with a foam roller on a yoga mat. Nike DC post race stretch Nike DC stretch 2014 From there, I went to the mocktail bar and enjoyed some rehydration. (Initially I spent a few minutes in the finisher boutique merchandise line, but it was insanely long, and there was no shirt or jacket in the world cute enough for me to wait that long on my feet.) After I added my name to the haircut list–I needed one, the line wasn’t long, and the proceeds went to charity, to it was like all kinds of win–I sat and watched the rest of the runners finish. I enjoyed a lovely haircut, then walked back to my hotel (grabbing another mocha on the way). Nike DC finisher merchNike DC finisher red jacket The best part of this race, for me, is definitely the course, followed closely by the national participation (meaning my runner-friends from all over attend it). I actually enjoy the D.C. course much more than San Francisco, the Nike race in my ow backyard. Sure, it is an expensive race, but part of the entry fee goes to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and few races have such great scenery. I’ll be back for 2016, if they will have me. (Team in Training has automatic entries, as do college students–a nice touch, supporting younger women in their running–but the rest of have enter the lottery and cross our fingers.) So…fingers crossed!

One of the best things about being a runner is meeting other runners. (I sometimes joke that I’m not sure if I “like” running, but that’s how you get to meet all the cool kids.) At the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in D.C., I was lucky enough to score an invite to the unofficial Blogger Brunch hosted by Stephanie of Cat Lady Runs http://www.catladyruns.com/ and Roaen of Love Life Logistics http://lovelifelogistics.com/ About twenty running bloggers met at Sequoia, a sweet brunch spot right by packet pickup, where the waiters quickly informed us that there were bottomless mimosas and brunch drinks (cost: same as two flutes of mimosa). Score one for the bloggers!

The other women were pretty amazing! I happened to sit right by Lizza (of http://xoxolizza.com/ ) and Kathleen & Lauren (of http://sistertosisterrunning.wordpress.com/ ) and really enjoyed getting to know the women behind the words. Of all the women there, I think Cynthia gets the prize for best blog title: http://www.isignedupforwhat.com/  After a few sips (or drinks) and a quick order, Stephanie and Roaen started handing out the goodies from our sponsors.

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I had never heard of The Racer Wall Frame, but as soon as I saw it I knew exactly what to do with it. The design is pretty brilliant—the curvy edges are aesthetically pleasing, but more important allow me to frame stuff without obsessing about whether it is perfectly centered—and I love that the frame is easily “reloadable.” Once I got it home and opened the box, I found instructions and an easel stand built right into the box. Seriously smart. There is no glass (perfect for me, and any home where a wandering housecat might knock it over), and it comes with a lifetime guarantee.

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photo 2The gift bags came next, painted to match the event (thank you, I will be reusing this one!), and filled with treats from the event’s sponsors. My very favorite discovery was an adjustable headband from BaniBands. You’ll be hearing more about them on this blog in the near future, but for now you can read more at http://www.banibands.com/ I love them because apparently I have a giant melon of a head, and when you combine that with my slippery hair, most headbands go flying off of my head. In fact, I am so fond of BaniBands that I am begging them to be an ambassador. (Okay, not literally begging, but definitely applying!)

Everyone received some individual nuun samples and Honest Tea’s bottle tea and something new (to me, anyway) a canned Honest fizz. Great to have some post-race rehydration on hand, as I flew in and TSA security theatre would have removed anything bottled I tried to bring with me. There were bicbands, Sweat Pink shoelaces, Sparkly Soul headbands, Papa Steve’s protein bars (a huge score, since I got chocolate coconut crunch, the best flavor combo ever), and Action Wipes (perfect for the immediately post-race pre-shower dust off). There were also discount codes from Magical Miles: The Runners Guide to Walt Disney World and Zensah compression (my favorite sleeves), among others, and a free virtual race from Jost Running.

NWHM-BB-Sponsors-500x500

We were still chatting up a storm and pawing over the goodies when brunch arrived. Can I just say nomnomnom?

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Next came the raffle (mostly for items impractical to donate in 20s). This was the first time I’d encountered Red Fox, which donated a variety of cool race electronics (wireless earphones, portable blue tooth speakers). There was a bag from Apera, which donates bags to Special Olympians; an Arm Pocket; xx2i racing sunglasses; and all manner of other loot. As each number was pulled the winner got to choose from the sponsors’ generous donations.

My first pick was a delicate running necklace from Scott James sport jewelry (http://www.scottjamesjewelry.com/ ). Since I’ve caught whatever disease it is that compels one to sign up for more and more races, running has permeated my wardrobe choices (running shirts are acceptable work attire) to my hairstyle (no more fancy layers, they won’t stay in a ponytail), and it seemed appropriate I should choose running jewelry. A little something to keep my Nike Women’s Half Marathon finisher bling company, you know?SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

 

My second pick was a racing tank from X Race Wear (http://xracewear.com/ ). I’m excited about this one because the chief design feature is a zippered mesh pocket that can hold your race bib! This means for a mud run or obstacle run, you don’t have to risk losing your bib or getting stabbed. I’m a huge fan of black, but blue and pink are also options (in the women’s sizes).

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe blogger brunch was a great way to kick off my race weekend! Many thanks to Stephanie and Roaen for their hard work in putting on this event, and for allowing me to attend.

If you’re a Disney runner, you want to be “Perfect.” If you’re a Nike runner, you want to be a “Legacy.” Many races have some version of this title, where a runner has run the race every year since its inception. First, it’s pretty cool to be able to say you have been there for every race. More important, races tend to provide special swag for these runners—sashes, special bibs, distinctive ribbons on the medals, gifts—as well as recognition in the program or on a banner. So running an inaugural race has its potential drawbacks, but also the potential for great reward. (True confession: I was thrilled to get an email from the Berkeley Half Marathon offering the Legacy runners an early registration opportunity!)

RnR SF shirt front

Last year I ran the Inaugural Rock n Roll San Francisco half marathon. While I had my complaints about both the race (a hill right before the finish line and seriously could it have been any colder?) and the series (discontinuation of the elite athlete program and additional fees for Tour Pass holders—both reversed after enormous public outcry), I couldn’t pass up the chance to eventually become a Perfect-Legacy-Whatever of the rock n roll world. (Okay, full disclosure: because the race sold out last year, I signed up to run 2014 at the 2013 expo—before the race.)

The 2014 publicity announced all sorts of changes. The biggest deal was the course change from a loop to a point-to-point. I’d expected a course change, since I heard Rock n Roll series was “stuck” with the 2013 course after purchasing the date and permits from another race organization. The new starting line was out by the beach, a public transportation dead zone (not that there is public transit that early in the morning anyway), and both the parking situation and the need to ride a shuttle to the start made me a little queasy due to less than ideal past experiences with both at other races. Fortunately the pre-paid parking I purchased at the Expo worked exactly as it should—I show up, there is a place for me to park—and the shuttle worked rather well. (My only shuttle complaint is that I didn’t ask for the number of the cute guy who sat down next to me.) As I got off the bus, I was MUCH less worried about the race. Grade: A.

RnR SF shirt design

But wait.

The starting line was a madhouse like any large race, but with plenty of porta-potties. (This is a factor NOT to be underestimated!) The race directors decided to allow the last corral to start first, giving them some lead time before the elite runners and the rest of the pack and to prevent them from getting swept on the Golden Gate Bridge, which had a hard re-open time (and at least a chance of hitting the finish line before the chocolate milk ran out). This seemed like a good idea to me, since the Rock n Roll races usually put about five minutes between corrals in order to keep the runners somewhat spaced out along the course. Sadly, it was the organizing team that spaced out, and not only did the last corral not leave early, it left after the published start time for the race. This was a critical error, but making it worse was the decision to not leave as much time as usual between the corrals. As a result, the last corral (which started first) was still thick and clumped together as the elite runners came speeding through, dodging and weaving to avoid taking out the slower runners. As a result, the first few miles were a big, hot mess. Grade: A for effort, D for results.

I wasn’t feeling particularly speedy and found myself trudging up San Francisco’s famous hills. Fortunately I plodded forward far enough to find my friend Lillie Goker. Lillie is one of the people I added to my personal circle of athlete-ninjas last year during my race to Earth in the Half Fanatics club. She noticed that we were both part of typically non-overlapping Facebook groups, and last year at the Rock n Roll Portland half marathon she introduced herself (“Bain? Hi, I’m Lillie!”) as she ran past. (On each of our best days, Lillie is much faster than I am.) We ran into each other at multiple races, from the Rock n Roll races in Seattle and Vegas to Disney World where we ran part of the Dopey Challenge races together. Since I went to many races only knowing 1 or 2 people from my immediate running group, it was great to get to know Lillie as we criss-crossed the country (simultaneously, but independently) and shared runs, usually bumping into each other randomly somewhere along the way.

To the average person, Lillie does not look like an experienced runner (marathoner!). Right now she doesn’t have a body like the Karas or Laurens of the world. During some races she takes extended walking breaks or does not run at all. What the average person can’t tell from looking at Lillie is that even though she’s still in her 30s, she has Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT) and Atrial Fibrilation (AFib)—two potentially life-threatening heart conditions that she must vigilantly self-monitor—and the meds that help keep her safe aren’t exactly figure-friendly.

As it turned out, Lillie was not having a great race either. The San Francisco weather was cooperatively not freezing, and the skies were clear enough to reveal gorgeous views from the Golden Gate Bridge, but Lillie’s heart was acting like a feisty two-year-old complete with choruses of “I DON’T WANNA!” Since I pretty much only see Lillie at races, and I know it sucks to be all by yourself and having a hard race (been there, got the tech shirt) it was a total no-brainer to me: forget running hard, and enjoy the morning with Lillie (who reminded me multiple times that really, she’d be fine without me…it took me a few to determine she was concerned she was “ruining” my race, and not annoyed by my yapping!).

It would be exaggerating to say that EVERY other runner passed us, because we did not DLF (dead last finish); but when we reached the finish line, the chocolate milk was gone and the beer tent was populated by fewer than a dozen other runners (who had not, fortunately, consumed all the beer). That said, we both had as much fun as one can have at a race. We waved at Dr. Dribble as he ran by with his basketballs, I introduced her to my “Got The Runs?” crew as they came through, and I had a brief conversation with Pavement Runner (another athlete-ninja, but a fast one!). Lillie actively managed her heart condition and we enjoyed the day.

A good race for me is one where I enjoy myself and get to spend some time with friends. I can run faster on any day I want, but I can’t always see Lillie. Besides, I was having a pretty crappy race until I ran into her. Misery loves company? Maybe, but I’d say misery vanishes in the San Francisco sunlight in the company of friends. I’d say it was Perfect.

RnR SF Finishers Medal

There were not enough porta-potties at the starting line.

You read that right: not enough porta-potties at the starting line. (I only know this because I was talking to one of the nearby merchants after the race, and he said runners were asking if they could pretty-please use the bathroom in his store.  Like the welcoming town Livermore is, said merchant allowed them to do so.) For an inaugural race, that’s pretty high praise–the lack of porta-potties was the absolute worst visible gaffe throughout the entire race experience.  Bravo, Inagural Livermore Half Marathon!

While I would have preferred some race day packet pickup, I understand the logistical mess that could have been.  There were two pickup options, one on Thursday at the Livermore 24 Hour Fitness, and one on Friday at the pre-race Expo in downtown Livermore. Fortunately work had me driving home through Livermore on Friday, so I stopped by the Expo.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

A printout of all of the race numbers was taped down to the tables in front, and after looking up my number I walked right to the pick-up tables–no lines–for my bib and shirt. True to the promise in the pre-race advertising, this is a cute shirt I will actually wear.

 Livermore Shirt  Livermore shirt back

The Expo itself was somewhat small, with tables for maybe 8 vendor-exhibitors.  These included Vega and Culligan, the on-course hydration support team, a few services (chiropractic, massage), a Stella & Dot vendor, and the San Francisco creation “Go Cuff.”

Livermore Half Marathon GoCuff sign

Then I discovered the Artistic Table–turns out they were one of the post-run RunLiv festival sponsors–where I had a delightfully crispy light red while finshing up some work for the week and awaiting my friend Sandy.

Sandy and I had a pre-race pasta fest (yes, I know the science behind carb loading says us weekenders don’t need it, but I like pasta!) at Strizzi’s (http://www.strizzis.com). I would have eaten (and sipped!) more, but I still had to drive home (making Sandy the smarter of the two of us, as she booked a hotel).

Race day morning, I experienced the usual difficult prying myself out of bed.  Arriving in Livermore just about ten minutes before the start of the race, I was thrilled to find ample, FREE, convenient parking.  Score another one for Livermore. During my warm-up jog to the starting line I fastened my SpiBelt and stuck the timing tag to my shoe. As I hit the back of the pack, the race started and I turned around for the run.

The run was beautiful! I’d previously run the Grape Stomp, also in Livermore, but this course was entirely different.  We started right in the middle of downtown, at First Street and Livermore Avenue. From there we ran through some neighborhoods, then through several parks (Independence Park, Sycamore Park, Holdener Park, Robertson Park), and past multiple wineries and vineyards (notably Wente, which I love for its support of numerous charitable endeavors). The weather was perfect, and the surrounding beautiful: verdant green hills surrounded us on all sides! The on-course support was well-staffed and well-executed.  I honestly felt like the entire city of Livermore was quite happy to welcome us.

At the finish line I received my inaugural finisher medal, pretty and with a nifty wine glass spinner in the center.

Livermore Half Marathon medal selfie

More important, I received my RunLiv festival wine glass! It’s a good thing I have a photo of my ID on my phone, since I’d left the car in a hurry to get to the starting line.

Livermore glass

The remainder of the chute area sent us runners through all the typical post-race refreshments, such as Muscle Milk, bananas, and donuts.  (Yes, donuts! I’m not ashamed to say I snarfed my coconut covered old-fashioned…but perhaps I shouldn’t have eaten the second one.) From there it was a party! Live music, a dance area, and about a dozen wineries (plus a brewery) pouring tastes for runners.  Non-runners who purchased a ticket were also welcome to join in the fun.

 

 

 

Shops lining the streets also got in on the action. Caratti Jewelers handed out adorable little gift bags with jewelry cleaner and the new Pandora catalogue inside.  (Learn more at http://www.carattijewelers.com/.)  Pretty awesome, since I have a lot of tarnished silver earrings–thanks, Caratti!

Since the field was reasonable but not huge, I easily found my run club friends at the festival. After we sampled as much wine as seemed reasonable at the time–and stopped by to sample the official event wine for RunLiv–we grabbed some hot slices and watched as the rain started to come down.

Livermore RunLiv Party

(Hey Dianne, how much stuff did you have in that bag, anyway??? Kidding!) On the way back to my car I grabbed a cup of coffee to keep me warm on the way home.

Not only did I have a fantastic time at a race that seemed nearly seamless and flawless, I was stoked to find discount codes for the upcoming RunOak and RunSF events on the back of my bib.  With an inaugural race this good, of course I’m siging up for both!  Now, let’s see if the organizers decide to throw in some bonus bling for those of us who run all three.

Livermore Half Marathon http://www.runlivermore.com
The Town’s Half Marathon http://www.runoak.com
The US Half Marathon http://www.runsf.com

And seriously, about that bonus bling…

 

Technically I live in Alameda, but I work in downtown Oakland and consider the Oakland Half Marathon my hometown race—not to sound too much like Sarah Palin, but you see can Snow Park, site of the start/finish and after-party from my office window.  Earlier this year, Runners World magazine featured a two page story about the Oakland Running Festival.  The Festival is more than a half marathon.  Runners can also choose a full marathon, marathon relay, 5k, or kids’ run (which is, as the name implies, for kids). New for 2014 there was also a “We Run The Town” challenge—run both the 5k and the half marathon, receive an extra piece of bling—for those ready to bump it up a notch, but perhaps not up to the full marathon.  When I shared the Runners World photos of the Raider Nation guys dolled-up in their Oakland best to my running roommate Kirstin, she knew them! Already registered for the half and excited to run it again, I then committed to memorizing their names so I could surprise them as I ran by.

RunnersWorld article on ORF

This should not have been a great race for me, since I had not run a single step since the Glass Slipper Challenge at DisneyWorld some four weeks earlier.  (True story! Hey, work kept me busy and out of town and on airplanes most of that time, and I spent more time trying to figure out which time zone I was in than where I could plan to run.) There’s  no way I was going to miss the race, but I did decline the inaugural “We Run TheTown” challenge…while anyone who knows me knows just how much I love my bonus bling, I thought it best not to press my luck, you know? Since I am currently on a much tighter racing budget than I was last year, I decided to go to the expo almost as late as possible. My thought was that there would be fewer temptations that way, both in terms of fewer things to eat and fewer things to buy.  (Yes, it took all my willpower  to NOT sign up for Santa Rosa at the expo—a race I’m pretty sure I’m going to register for later anyway—but I was afraid it would be a slippery slope!) Thankfully the half has a relatively late start, so I was able to semi-sleep in, drive into Oakland, and still find parking.  This year there were multiple free lots, a nice perk for those used to running in San Francisco (where “Free Parking” only exists on Monopoly boards). I set myself up in the back of the pack, expressed admiration for a very pregnant runner, snapped a selfie with another Half Fanatic, and wondered if I was going to keep over mid-course from lack of training.

The first few miles felt great! I love that the mayor comes out to wave the runners through the starting line, and I love running through the mix of architecture that is downtown Oakland.  After a few miles one of my GTR friends snuck up on me from behind, and with the assistance of her interval timer we played  leap-frog until about mile 6 (first she’d run ahead, then I’d catch up and pass her, and when I stopped she’d run ahead).  According to Nike+, my first few miles were great, and I broke my own PR for the 10k (which, incidentally, I set last year on the same course). Eventually my hammies yelled UNCLE! And around mile 7, I couldn’t see her ahead of me anymore. The course was very similar to the course last year, and was great for all of the reasons I wrote about on the Women’s Health Action Hero Blog (which, if you missed it, you can read here: http://whplanofaction.com/actionheroes/how-to-win-a-half-marathon/) The after party was just as much fun as 2013, with live bands, an assortment of food trucks, beer from 21st Amendment Brewery (http://www.21st-amendment.com), and wines from Barefoot Wine (http://www.barefootwine.com). I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to sip on some sparkling California wine!  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Along the 2014 course I was happy to grab an orange from the crew at The Brown Sugar Kitchen (http://brownsugarkitchen.com) which also had a DJ and other treats; and this year I had the forethought to throw both hands in the air while running under the arch of flames—literally, an arch with fire on it—set up by local industrial arts non-profit The Crucible (http://www.thecrucible.org) which also put out a dragon belching flames and a few other combusting delights.  Raider Nation rocked the underpass with a DJ and high fives all around, but there was no sign of Azell Afrodesiac, Gorilla Rilla, or the Senior Raider (happy belated birthday, Sean!), all of whom were clearly playing hooky just to mess with me.

About midway through the half, the marathoners join the same course as the half-ers and we all finish the race together.  My legs started to talk some serious smack at me around mile 7, and I was definitely dogging it for most of the rest of the race, humbled as a steady stream of marathon runners—people who already ran the length of my entire race and then some—passed on by. I started to see more and more pairs of runners, one older and one younger, in nearly matching shirts, eventually learning that they are part of Running For A Better Oakland (http://www.rboakland.org), an organization that pairs volunteer adult runners with kids for the race.  Their Mission Statement:

Running for a Better Oakland (RBO) is a non-profit organization that encourages Kindergarten – 12th grade Oakland students to develop healthy lifestyles through running. By building confidence, setting goals, providing training and encouragement, RBO will give students the values for achievement and hard work that they can draw on for all areas of their lives.

Seriously, how cool is that?  Very cool, until the middle school kids and their coaches start to pass me, two by two, on the loop around the lake!

I felt a little bit like the unicorn, solo and left behind as all the others made it back to the ark. For the last mile and a half, I played a slower, less methodical leap-frog with one determined running girl and her coach. The runner seemed to be maybe middle school or early high school age-ish, and by mile 11 was clearly SO OVER this race.  Her feet hurt, and she was tired.  Her coach was a peppy slip of a woman who still had more energy than Tigger, cheerleading and pacing a faux-fartlek from light post to light post. I learned that Runner was doing her very first ever half marathon (and at that point was sure it would be her last). I told her I was proud of her for training and starting, because so many people never even try to do a race.  As the gap between us and the finish line slowly shrank, Runner told me she was going to wear her medal to school the next day. I told her once she crossed that finish line she would know that she can do anything, as long as she prepares and sets her mind to it.

The last little snip of the race course is uphill. Good times. (Not.) I broke it into three pieces: run, walk, run. Runner and her coach—and several other two-by-twos—ran right past me to conquer that finish line. Some photographers were posing them, with their medals, as I walked through the chute.  I’ll never forget the transformation I saw in Runner between first meeting her at mile 11—pink in the red-faced and worn-out kind of way, dragging behind her coach—and the gigantic and genuine grin gracing her from head to toe as she posed with her medal: a new athlete with the entire world in front of her.

A new athlete?  (obligatory post-race sweaty selfie)
A new athlete?
(obligatory post-race sweaty selfie)