Tuesday, October 14, 2014

2014 Bethel Half Marathon

 

Do you have the means to travel to Canton, NC? Do you have legs, $35, and like awesome free stuff and delicious food? If you said “yes” to any of these questions then you should absolutely add the annual Bethel Half Marathon to your bucket list!



Finding a truly great half marathon is like finding your soul mate; you know it when you see it. As far as road half marathons are concerned, I think Bethel might be my soul mate. The race has been going on for over two decades, so the organization of this event is a well oiled, efficient machine. From the informational webpage, to registration, to information emails, to packet pick-up, the race organizers told me everything I needed to know when I needed to know it, and with a flair of Southern hospitality.



On race day, there was ample parking, REAL bathrooms, and runners were greeted with freshly brewed coffee, various breakfast breads, and a cheerful bunch of volunteers. Even more impressive was the “swag table” where I got to pick not just one, or two, or three, but 5+ pieces of swag gear from the very generous race sponsors. I’m not talking stickers; this swag table had t-shirts, hats, wallets, bags, and more.



And then there were the prizes! Everyone loves a trophy or a pint glass, but it is so much cooler and more meaningful when prizes come from the heart of a community. At Bethel, local artisans provided handmade jewelry, cutting boards, and ceramic candle holders (perfect for yourself or for re-gifting over the holidays) for all the fast people who earned age group prizes.


And the course itself was second to none for road races, complete with breathtaking views! Western North Carolina is a world class destination because of its scenic beauty and picturesque farmscapes. The community of Bethel is a perfect representation of all that is great about my home state, and as I ran the course I couldn't get over the eye candy I got to see (pictures cannot do it justice).


Of course, if you are reading this you probably want to know more about the elevation profile of the course, to which I can say it is accurately described as the flattest half marathon in WNC. There are some climbs, but nothing too crazy. I got my third fastest half finish which is AMAZING! I’d say it is a course to PR on for sure.


 


And then there is the after-race reception. Most half marathons provide finishers with beer,  but if you get out of WNC - which is a delicious micro-brew Mecca - races give you disgusting bullshit like Miller Lite. I’d rather suck on my sweaty shirt than drink a Miller Lite. But even though Bethel doesn't give you beer, it gives you something you probably need more, which is delicious food! They know what’s up and provide a  smorgasbord of soups (potato, chicken noodle, vegetable, or tomato), cookies, cupcakes, sweet breads, sweet tea, and Gatorade. Yum! I’ll take a congratulations, medal, smiling volunteer face, and bowl of piping hot soup over a big city name and a crappy beer ANY DAY!
 


Overall, the Bethel Half Marathon is probably THE BEST half marathon WNC has to offer. I encourage each and every person out there with legs to run this unbeatable race sometime in their life. You won’t regret it!
 

Happy Running!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Run for the Horses Ultramarathon Recap

 

Nine months ago I was suffering from a crippling back injury, sure I would never run again. But as of yesterday (September 20, 2014) I’m officially an ultra marathoner! Want to know how I did it? Keep reading…


When Latisha and Deanna first asked me if I was interested in running a 50k (31 mile) race with them, I said “No!” Or maybe it was, “Hell no!” But the more I learned about the Run for Horses 50k/50mile race, the more I was convinced that I was meant to run it. Not only was the race for a good cause (Hope for Horses works to to find quality homes for the many unwanted, neglected and abused horses in the WNC area) but the race was to be held at my beloved Biltmore Estate! I actually took horseback riding lessons on the estate for nearly 10 years back in the day and have many fond memories of that time. Not only that, but the race itself was for both horses and runners. We would all be traversing the same trails over the course of the day, providing me with plenty of opportunities to get my horse fix. So yes, I signed up!



But what about my back? Since coming back from my injury I have been very careful to stick to workouts that minimize damage, which means running just 2 days per week and Crossfitting the other days. But can you train for an ultra marathon on just 2 days of running per week? Apparently, I can! Even before my final, longest distance training run before the race (25 miles) I knew that I could finish the race with no pain, so I thankfully arrived on race day full of confidence and energy.
 


The Run for Horses 2014 attracted over 100 riders and 18 runners. Of us runners, 10 did the 50 miler and 8 of us did the 50k. I did the 50k which was a “two loop” course where we ran a 15.5 mile loop, ending at the start line where all of our gear was, followed by another 15.5 mile loop to the finish (aka, the start). My goals for the day, in order, were to (1) Have fun, (2) Finish. To ensure my success I had talked my wonderful friends Jessica and Misty into meeting me for the second loop to run with me and make sure I didn’t give up. I had prepared an exhaustive list of things to bring to the race, I knew I was well trained, and so I slept really well the night before the big day.


The race started promptly on time, and me, two great friends of mine from the Black Mountain Running Posse, and a new friend named Sean took off together. The weather was perfect for a long time, cool and breezy. Though I had worried about the directional signs for the race, the course was very well blazed and the aid stations were spread out in just the right increments.



The first loop of the course was GORGEOUS! I couldn’t get over it. I have been to the Biltmore Estate hundreds of times, but 80% of what I got to run for this race was brand new to me. I happily chatted away with Sean and Latisha as we cruised along, clicking off miles 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9,....and then mile 10 happened. Our day went from being delightfully crisp and cool to sweltering hot in a manner of 30 minutes. I tried not to let it bother me though. I had prepared for this. My 25 mile training run had been brutally hot and I knew that trying to run through the heat was a recipe for nauseating disaster, so I let Sean run ahead and did what I needed to do to make it back to my half way checkpoint and pick up my “squad” of pacers (e.g., Jessica and Misty).


Have I ever mentioned how important it is to have supportive people around you when you run? If not, let me say now that having people you love there to support you through a race can be a make or break kind of deal. After inhaling watermelon and an Ensure waaaaay too fast at the halfway point, I relied on Jess and Misty to entertain me, motivate me, and keep me calm as I pushed through the all too common “cranky stomach” problems that are notorious for distance runners as we tackled the second loop. But lo and behold, after a few minutes/miles, a Sprite, and my angels (again, Jess and Misty) offering to hold my running vest, I started to feel myself again. Granted, the sun was still a-blazin’ in the sky and making me curse the summer, I kept on moving.


The middle miles of the race, from 15-22 seemed to fly by, not because I was moving quickly, but because I was trying to savor and really appreciate what was going on. Somewhere in this timeframe we caught back up to Sean and the four of us - Me, Sean, Misty, and Jessica - became a team of adventurers exploring the estate. Of course, soon after mile 23 both Sean and I began to fade. Where Sean was very stoic in his looming fatigue, I let my inner sailor come out.


I was glad there wasn’t an elevation map included in the original maps of this race because I was under the impression that it would be as flat as a pancake. The first loop (pre Jess and Misty) was “rolling,” but the second half was m@t%e$ f*#k!n hellaciously mountainous. At one point, with the sun beating down on me and my legs positively burning from exertion up a hill I turned to Jessica and said “I think i’m going to cry when I finish. No, scratch that, I think I might cry now.”  But Jessica knew me and empathized with my situation and was able to calm me down and help me rally.


I remember exactly when my GPS watch rolled over past the 26.2 mile mark. “This is the g@d&!mned furthest i’ve ever run!” I said, sailor mouth still on. “That finish line better be m@t%e$ f*#k!n close.” Waves of the desire to cry kept creeping up on me, but I tried to remind myself that I didn't actually feel that bad; I was just toddler-grade tired. Jessica encouraged me to keep my caffeine level up (which helped a lot!) and Misty kept me nice and distracted by initiating conversations about topics I LOVE to talk about (like Crossfit!). 


The hills became ever more frequent and brutal, so Sean and I made a pact to run on the flat and downhill sections, but to walk on the uphills, or if we were somewhere directly in the sun to save our energy. We pointed out cute dogs, cows, lambs, deer, grape vines, and the spectacular Biltmore House to one another, but  mostly I think we were beyond ready to be done. Around mile 29 (back in the full blast of the sun) I took a firm stance on walking but could tell that Sean still had some ultra shuffle left in him. Jess, Misty and I encouraged him to keep going. He couldn’t be bested by a girl! And I kept plugging along how I needed to finish the race.


It was Misty I think who made me realize that I was just prolonging the inevitable. I might feel tired and cranky and hot, but wouldn't it be better if I was tired and cranky and hot but moving faster? Yes! Somehow I managed to pick up my pace with a little help from my 2 Chainz Pandora station, and shuffle over the finish line.
 


Talk about surreal! But crossing that finish line surrounded by the people who knew from experience what I had gone through to make it to that point (Jessica, Misty, Pete) was so much more meaningful to me than a crowd of thousands of strangers could ever be! And no, I didn’t cry then (too much caffeine from my GUs!) but when I hugged Jessica and Misty later as I thanked them for coming, I really did have to choke down some major tears of gratitude!


My official finish time was 7:08:00 (6:45 moving and the rest spent taking memorable pictures and eating more junk food in one day than I have in the past year). This was good enough for a second place female finish! Granted, like I said before, there were very few runners on the course. Still, I bet if the weather would cooperate I could knock off an hour, and I seriously look forward to taking on that challenge!
 


Thank you so much to everyone who made this day one of the best and proudest moments of my life. I will remember and cherish you all forever!

Happy Running

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Color Rave 5k Review


Prior to running the Asheville Color Rave 5k I had run two color runs and one night run that involved glow sticks. I had lots of fun on all three, and I was looking forward to this run, but I also think I had some i'm over color themed, non-timed, novelty runs thoughts in the back of my mind on the day of the event. And, even though I had a great time at the Asheville Color Rave, I think those niggling over it thoughts might color my review (pun intended) of this race series. Still, if you're thinking of running this race find out all of the important details below.


Description
The color rave website calls itself  "a night time 2.5-3.1 mile fun run where runners, artists and insomniacs unite." The party starts when it gets dark outside. The run is unique in that it winds runners through a course peppered with fancy sound systems that ignite colorful light displays with the beat of the music. There are also intermittent foam stations. Before and after the run there are plenty of vendor booths to check out, music to jam to, and dancing to partake in. This is NOT a race. If you're looking for a "race" in the traditional sense of the term, look elsewhere. This is more of a PARTY where you happen to burn some extra calories as you travel from dj booth to dj booth on a fun run.

Race Swag
This race is pretty pricey for what it is ($50-ish), though there are plenty of ways to get discounts on your registration fee. Because of the price, I suppose I was expecting more to come in the race packet. The race fee must have gone to all of the sound systems involved in the race instead though because all you get is a unisex t-shirt and a minimal amount of glow garb. There is certainly plenty of glow gear to purchase at the race (glow paint, glow hair, glow jewelry, glow wands) but they aren't exactly offered at wholesale prices.


 


The Course
Like other races that travel from town to town, the directors of this race were probably constrained by permits and safety and chose to relegate "accurate distance" to the bottom of their list of priorities for run site location choosing. Still, I know a person can easily run a 5 mile loop around Carrier Park so the directors had no good excuse to cut the run down to a measly 1.5 miles! Boo! Of course, there were all of 10 people manning the race so no one stopped me and my friends when we decided to do the course twice. I didn't pay no $50 ish bucks to run 1.5 miles!

Brevity aside, the course was...dark and confusing. There was an announcer at the beginning of the run repeating the directions over and over again, but you know runners! It's up to the people in the very front to listen and the rest of us just follow. Plus, there should ALWAYS be a person or very visible signs pointing the way. Alas, the Color Rave didn't get that memo. Large sections of runners went in opposite directions around the course, causing many a dark collision. Yes, the light/music stations were fun, new, impressive, and playing great songs, but it's difficult to notice the stellar self-automated dj booth when you're trying really hard not to fall all over yourself on an unlit trail in the dark into oncoming people traffic.

Water Stations
Wait! What? Where? I guess I missed it...





After Party
 Rave anyone? Like I said before, this isn't a race but a party. Sadly, i'm not a party-er so I self-selected to miss out on what was probably the "best" part of this experience. The people who did stay seemed to have had an AMAZING time. The dj's were extremely skilled, the location was second to none, the lights and toys brought that sense of a carefree summer that us adults need so badly in our lives, and for the night owls, once the party stopped at the park there was more fun to be had at a local, hot club. But like I said, I'm not a party-er so I went home like a big nerd after my 3 miles.

Tips and Tricks
  • Bring a flashlight!
  • Between the foam and the colored powder, it's a good idea to wear shoes you don't care about too much.
  • Bring your own glow supplies. The brighter you are, the more fun you'll have

Overall I give this race a 7 for novelty races and a 3 for races overall. Feel free to argue with me about my scoring if you think i'm being too harsh or lenient.

Happy running!