Friday, March 31, 2017

March Half: Sam Costa

If you like the twists and turns of running on suburban neighborhood streets, you'd love the Sam Costa Half... and, there is something seriously wrong with you.

For my March half, 3rd of twelve planned for the year, I chose one close to home, and dear to my local running community: The 48th Sam Costa Half Marathon.

This race has been around for ever, a staple of Central Indiana running. It's named in memory of a Chicago Police Department detective who used to drive 200 miles to train with his Carmel, IN based running buddies. (You can read a more complete history here.)

The Costa is well run, has a nice local feel, is not too big, and not too small. Big enough that you feel like you're running a half marathon, small enough you can find a parking spot 20 minutes before the start.

Given that the race is traditionally late winter or early spring, the weather can be hit or miss, but this year, it was 50-ish, and the threatened rain never showed.

The only thing not great about the Sam Costa... is the course.

(Click to see the course in a new window.)

The course makes extensive use of nearby (lovely) neighborhoods. The first 3 miles is typical Indiana suburbia with lots of tight turns, some "multi-use trail", which is essentially a double-wide asphalt sidewalk, and some short stretches of decent road. With just 470 finishers, it wasn't crowded, but negotiating the turns and the transitions from trail to street and back kept you on your toes.

Miles 3 through 8 are the only miles not in suburbia. There were some decent stretches where you could get into a groove. Unfortunately, this year, those stretches seemed to always be dead into the wind. The northern most extent of the course was especially brutal... a long, straight, rolling beat into a stiff wind on a road frequented by gravel trucks and the accompanying ultra-fine dust sand-blasting your eyeballs.

From mile 8 to the finish, it was all twisty, turny neighborhood streets.  I felt like I was constantly turning, or preparing to turn.

On tired legs, 5 miles from the finish, you don't want to think about tangents and curbs and manholes and sewer inlets... you want your mind to drift off to a happy place, you want to fall into a groove and let those miles pass.

It might not seem like a big deal, but with every change in direction, you lose forward momentum. I'm not making that up, it's physics. And with every turn you have to work to regain that lost momentum. And there were so... many... turns.

Somewhere between miles 9 and 11, I questioned why on earth I'm running these stupid half marathons. I was not having fun.

Eventually we popped out of one of the anonymous neighborhoods into the street that lead to the church, the church perched high on a hill, the same hill where the finish line was. Finally, the end was imaginable.

Coming toward me, taking the course the wrong way, presumably on a cool down (uhg, I hate it when people trot by on their cool down when I haven't finished yet, especially when they are young, and thin, and have great hair), was a young man who urged me on, "looking good, just 200 meters".

I wished I'd stopped right there, turned around, and officially declared bullshit, right to his face. We were AT LEAST 600 meters out. Probably 800. This young, fast, thin dude with great hair was either being WAY too patronizing to those of us still running, thinking somehow that if we thought we were only 200m out  it was going to keep us from quitting. Or, maybe he was EXCEPTIONALLY bad at judging distance. Or perhaps both. To survive what must have been 23,000 turns and sand-blasted retinas only to be insulted and/or unfathomably misled by all that hair... it was just too much.

Fueled by self-righteous disdain I trudged up the stupid twisty (of course) hill to the stupid church parking lot and crossed the stupid finish line: 1:59:33. Again, inconsequentially under 2 stupid hours.

And then... I started to dry heave.

I was dry heaving as if it were the second phase of some disturbing duathlon, one in which I'd given up A LOT of ground in the 13 mile run leg and was determined to make it all up in the dry heave leg.

I haven't horked up nothing like this is ages. No idea why, but it was happening, and it was happening violently. So much so that twice... in two separate heaving episodes times just a few seconds apart... I was pretty sure I was going to pass out, because, you know, I was vomiting air, not inhaling it. This was some serious heaving.

Eventually, miraculously, it stopped... the tunnel vision cleared... I was ok to walk. I forced down a banana and a cookie, got my medal, and drove just 10 minutes home.

I love the idea of the Sam Costa. It's local running at its best. It's inexpensive, it's close to my home, the people are fantastic, the hosting church is a perfect venue, and hell, they even have actual Gatorade at the water stops. I'm glad I ran it again. But it'll be awhile before I'm back. I'll have to be in the kind of shape where I'm not counting miles-to-go in my head, when I can just run, and flow carelessly around all those stupid corners.

Next up, Carmel Half.

Good running,

Thursday, March 2, 2017

February Half: Gasparilla in Tampa

The take-away from half-marathon 2 of 12 for the year, the Gasparilla Half Marathon in Tampa: Mile markers are big fat liars. Always.

6,482 humans joined me in the dark early morning for the 6am start, wandering the streets of downtown Tampa, toward the starting line. And, is usually the case around a bunch of runners, these were super nice humans… everyone I saw was happy and cheerful and glad to be awake and walking around in the dark.
Sleepy? Maybe a little hungover?
The real question is why were the
photogs taking pictures this early

When the audio for the national anthem failed, the participants, unprompted, totally organically, started singing the anthem a cappella. It was NOT a particularly beautiful rendition, especially at that super high “rocket's red glare” bit, but insanely cool nonetheless. That’s the kind of people I was hanging around with. In the dark.

Once started, I could tell I was going out a bit fast. I was within myself, but it sure felt like I was going out a bit too fast.

Maybe it’s just me, but have you ever noticed that running in the dark feels A LOT faster than it really is? When my GPS blipped the Mile 1 alarm, I was WAY slow. S’ok, I thought, no worries… first mile is always a little wonky. Mile 2 will be better.

But it wasn’t. Still slow.

It was a little crowded. It was dark, really dark, like can’t-see-the-road-under-your-feet dark in some places. I’d flown in just the afternoon before, had a few margarita’s the night before. All or any of those could be slowing me down. Or maybe it just wasn’t my best day.

I saw the GF, who braved chilly* winds to watch for me at the only spot that had any spectators to speak of, just after the 5-mile mark. While collecting my high-five from her, and told her “I’m slow today.”

By then I was pretty much resigned to the fact that I wasn’t going to run under 2-hours (my soft-goal for these races this year). Just not my day. I settled into a groove and tried to enjoy the scenery.

With some fuzzy recall of the course map and a little math, I realized that the rest of the race was 4 miles out, 4 miles back. I’m not a fan of out and back, but this one, along Bayshore, which (no surprise) was along the shore, of the bay, was gorgeous, especially at sunrise.

I saw Meb Keflezighi, US distance stud and 2004 Olympic Marathon silver medalist fly by, heading the other way on the back side of the out-and-back, in 3rd place. I yelled “Go Meb”, but he didn’t seem to notice. He did continue to go, though, so, who knows.

Key revelation: I’d hit every water stop up to 8 miles, and there had been a water stop pretty much every mile. If I kept this up, I was definitely going to pee my pants.

After the U-turn at 9 miles, I started back with the math, counting back from 2-hours, dividing my miles left. And, critically, I started doubting my GPS, which seemed to always think it was at a mile mark before the mile marker.

Ok, I know… mile markers are notoriously inaccurate, but these weren’t just dropped off from a truck that morning. There were lines painted on the street. Real lines, with labels. It REALLY looked like someone had actually measured this time, taken care to be accurate.

Plus, there have been plenty of times when my GPS watch has gone off the rails, seeming to be way long, or way short. (I usually blame it on a satellite signal bounce off a building.)

So, I started discounting the mile-by-mile alerts from the GPS and focusing on the markers. As you'll see, not my smartest move. Maybe it was the margaritas...

This lady did NOT want my photo taken

Those mile markers were telling me consistently that I wasn’t going to beat 2hrs . At 9 miles. And at 10 miles. And 11. I was running a decent pace, but I wasn’t going to make up the time I’d lost in those first few miles without pressing the pace.

And, I just wasn’t going to press. I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t, not until I was strong enough to survive a “race” without injury. So, I cruised.

The scenery got even better on the return leg as the city was in view across the bay, and more importantly, was getting closer.

A little more math, because what else did I have to do, and I figured that if I was at mile 12 with 10 minutes to spare, I’d have a chance.

Mile 12 marker came... nope, 30 seconds over. Oh well… now I know for sure.

So, I just kept cruising, feeling just a little superior for not getting sucked into racing to a time.

Mile 13 marker: 1:59:00

Wait, what?!? I had a minute to cover 1/10th of a mile. How can that be?

Easy… Mile markers are big fat liars. Always.

I picked up the pace just a touch. Barely pressing, just a tad, for the last 60 seconds.

Checked the watch about half way… no problem… three quarters… yep, I can even back off a bit…

Don't you hate when they
get you checking your watch?

At the line I stopped my watch…. 1:59:58...

You’d think I’d thrust a fist into the air in triumph, right? After all, I’d just pulled "victory" from the clutches of defeat.

Nope, no fist in the air, not even a fist pump, nor a self-congratulatory "yes"... I started to laugh. I’m not talking a little chuckle to myself, I laughed out loud. People heard me. People looked at me.

I suppose I should have been thrilled, but I just wasn’t. Why?

Because in that exact moment it was clear to me how ridiculous that time was.

I beat 2 hours, my cruise-pace, minimum soft-goal, by 2 seconds.

Big fucking deal.

Don’t get me wrong… there are time barriers that are super important to us, that take us out of our comfort zones, that push us to new levels of fitness and confidence. For many, finishing a half in 2 hours is a huge accomplishment, and I get that.

People train hard and race hard to meet times, and that’s important to them. But let’s be real here… that’s not what this was. This was a cruise, and bad mile markers, and a slight change of pace over 58 seconds. For what? What does 2 seconds, over 2 hrs, finishing in the middle of the pack, mean?

If I’d finished in 2:00:02, would that have been any different? Really? Would it have been easier? Would I be less sore the next day?

If I’d had one less margarita on Saturday night, would I have run 1:59:56? Would that have felt different?

If someone had stumbled and I’d stopped to help, would a 2:00:15 be a bad result?

Race times are interesting, and, when looked at with a firm fuzzy-vision-inducing squint, can give you a rough idea as to how you are progressing, but let’s not obsess. Plus or minus two seconds, ten seconds, 30 seconds, over 13 miles, they’re all pretty much the same thing.

Post race snacks were plentiful. The GF walked me back to the room. We went to the post-race party, scarfed some BBQ. There were maybe 15 people there. I’m sure it filled out, but we had a beach, and more margaritas, to get to.

Next up, an oldie but a goodie, and close to home, the Sam Costa Half.

Good running,

*”Chilly” is relative… it was way colder in Indiana

Indy top, Tampa bottom... duh...

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

January Half: runDisney and Star Wars

RunDisney may be a cult. That may not be a bad thing, but it definitely may be a thing.

StarWars? Definitely a cult. My membership card says so, right on the back.*

For those unaware, runDisney organizes several Disney themed events, often entire weekends, all focused on running. It brings many, and by “many” I mean metric shit loads, of people to Disney properties for various runs, all of which include running within the Disney parks for some of the race.

I chose, for my first of 12 half-marathons in 2017, the StarWars Half Marathon - The Light Side at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. I wanted 1) a big event to kick off my year and 2) a race that  I could get excited about, and would stay excited about, as I trained for my first half in years.

I certainly got a race I could be excited about. Being a typical, almost trite example of a StarWars fan, I loved the theme. And, thanks to the custom of costumes in RunDisney events, I got to pretend to be Luke Skywalker, in training on Dagobah, with Yoda. In public.

"Uncanny" is the word you're looking for, pretty sure.

I also got a big event. The half on Sunday had 12,400 finishers. The weekend also included a 5K on Friday and a Saturday 10K as well as the “Rebel’s Challenge”, which requires runners to complete the 10K and the Half. For this accomplishment, they get a special medal, along with medals from the individual races. And that might be where the problems start...

Before I get too philosophical, let me state straight up… the StarWars Half-Marathon was a great event. There were some Disney touches, Disney moments that I’d just never get anywhere else.

The expo was decent sized with the usual suspects of vendors selling an equal mix of necessities and crappy gizmos, and there was an equal-sized Disney/StarWars area, complete with an official merchandise store that itself had managed, minded, down-and back-and-down again Disney-style queues, marked with masking tape on the floor, going in (to manage how many people were in the official merchandise area), and coming out (so you could wait in line to pay for your official merchandise).

The race-custom bib came with pins, of course… 4 pins… in their own tiny zip-lock bag. Somewhere there was a room full of people sealing up exactly 4 safety pins into individual zip-lock bags. Super nice, though wholly unnecessary, touch. But runDisney doesn’t shy away from unnecessary touches.
Bib, with the zip-lock bag with exactly 4 pins.

On race morning, I walked from my lovely, though a bit farther away than I’d thought, AirBnB to the race, costumed up like a boss...

Starting in Corral J, the last, and largest corral, coupled with use of wave starts, my race didn’t actually start until 6:30. So I wasn’t in a big hurry to get to the race right at the scheduled 5:30 start. When I got on Disney property, I was practically alone, looking a little lost most of the time. At one point, a Disney cast member directed me “Right this way Master Skywalker”.

(long awkward pause while your blogger composes himself)

That was a moment… it raised goosebumps on my arms, sent a tingle down my spine. Go ahead, call me a dork, I don’t care. It was awesome. But that’s what Disney does. They give you those moments, moments that take you out of your normal life, just for a second, and into a magical life. And you kinda love them for it. They’re pretty brilliant that way.

I turned to look back at the cast member after getting my shit together, “Hey man, thanks. And you can call me Luke.”

Anything Disney generally means lots and lots of people, and that leads to people management. RunDisney has a very strict policy toward corral assignment (which seeing the number of people running, and how narrow the course is in the park, I totally get), and, this being my first race longer than 5K in many months, I didn’t have a qualifying “seeding” race. So, that “J” on my bib meant I had to start at the back... the way back… the back of the bus… the back of the last bus kind of back, of lots of lots of people. (Picture to right is from the front of Corral J which vanishes in the distance.) Still, it was a gorgeous morning in southern California with a mass of StarWars geeks and runners… my kinda people.

After a good half-mile walk, I had plenty of opportunity to get to know my corral-mates. The vast majority of people in Corral J were young (20s), lots of couples, lots of family groups, well over half in costume. These folks weren’t the normal last corral people who would be walking the 13.1 miles, perhaps stopping for a coffee along the race course. Most of these were people like me who didn’t have a seed time.
Yoda was pretty chill in Corral J.

Disney rarely leaves you bored, and, as nature abhors a vacuum, Disney abhors silence. The hour until my start passed quickly thanks to the video screens and constant narration/interviews/hype-you-up talk from a couple of MCs. And as every wave took off, it was to the StarWars fanfare. Can you hear the StarWars fanfare too many times? For me, no... It made me smile every time.

Short video of the show before Corral J start

The start was, unsurprisingly, crowded. The route went almost immediately into the park, where the course was narrow. As we wound this way and that, I dodged scores of walkers. There was one group of 5-7 girls who thought it would be a good idea to walk side-by-side holding hands, I guess so they wouldn’t lose each other.  I suppose it worked, but they created a monstrous traffic jam behind them.

The first 4.5 miles was in and around the parks, often behind the scenes (“back stage”). The first real park scene we saw was the spectacular Cars venue Radiator Springs, in California Adventure. The perfectly scaled faux red rock with the backdrop of a just-blue sky from a not-quite-risen sun, was gorgeous. I knew it was fake, but still… it was jaw-dropping.

Radiotor Springs

The rest of the park section was ok. Super crowded, super slow. Lots of convenient restrooms was a huge bonus to which I availed myself (It was a long wait, after all). At several points I passed runners that had stopped and queued up to get a photo taken with a character. You don’t get that a other races. I’ve seen people stop for photos during races… “Yard of Bricks” at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Mini, one popular example, but waiting in line… during a race?!? Only at Disney. Oh, and super bonus... I managed to fake out the course marshals to snag a fountain, in Disneyland, during the race!
Mickey's Fountain in Toontown

Exiting the park, it was like any other big city race. City streets blocked off, masses of people moving along them. I was able to speed up a bit, but there seemed to always be people to dodge. And the crowd was quiet… to quiet. I’ve spent time at the back of the pack in large races before, and found lots of chatter and laughs and fun people there. Not this day, though. Not sure why.

My favorite bit of entertainment along the course was a group of Cos-players, people in serious costumes (think Comic-Con) lining the course at about the 8-mile mark. There were a couple dozen Stormtroopers, rebel pilots, a Darth Vader, some Jedi, and a couple cars that had been decked out to look like X-wing fighters.

Once back on Disney property, the finish line was way better than average, and the last quarter-mile or so was again scored by the StarWars theme. Still wasn’t sick of it. At the finish you got your insanely high-quality medal, water, Powerade, and another first for me, an individual, sealed snack box. Somewhere there was a room full of people, mayube next to the room with the safety pin people, packing and sealing an ass-load of snack boxes with excellent post-run snacks.

The post-race entertainment consisting of long lines for more photo ops, and a screen showing the finish line cam, I opted for an early exit, only to find myself having been funneled to the entrance to the parks. Again, Disney is NOT stupid.
I gave Yoda the medal... he earned it.
Back on track, exiting the Disney properties, I heard someone say “Congratulations, Luke!” Glancing over my shoulder, I recognized that that had come from the same cast member who’d made my day by calling me “Master Skywalker” a few hours earlier. Again, Disney deals in moments… moments that make you feel connected, moments that you remember, “magical moments” I would imagine they call them.

It took me a good 15 minutes to find my way back out and on a course to my AirBnB. A shower, and a walk back to the park, and I was happy to pay $119 for a day at Disney. What I didn’t know was that it was a “peak” day at Disney, in no small part thanks to the aforementioned ass-load of runners. The park was packed, claustrophobic at times. Between 11:30a and 5:30p, I made it to 4 rides. I’d hoped to grab some dinner and a beer (celebrating a post-race drinkation from Dryuary), but every restaurant had a long line, every bar was standing room only. With 2 Fast-passes in hand for 9:30p, knowing that, as tired as I was, I’d have no chance making it that late, I walked back to the AirBnB, a little less happy that I’d paid $119… for 4 rides.

Still, a great first half for the year. Disney doesn't mess around. They don’t screw up. But, you pay for all of that attention to detail, maybe more than it’s worth. The registration for the half, including all fees) was $197.21… for a half-marathon. The most expensive half I’ve ever seen, by a factor of 2x. On top of that was air, lodging, food. (Just FYI, my AirBnB, a lovely private suite, was $80/night. I don’t think you can get towels for that in a Disney property hotel).

So... back to runDisney.

These folks put on great events. Unique events that offer experiences you can’t get anywhere else. These events, coupled with the millions of Disney fans, attract countless new runners to our community. But at a tremendous price, monetary and perhaps physically.

RunDisney, like the rest of Disney, is fantastic at creating demand out of thin air. They create a sense of “must have” like no one else. For runDisney, they offer challenges that pair- or triple- or quad-up events. By registering for and completing challenges, you get additional, special medals.

These medals are the “crack” that runDisney deals.

2016 StarWars Half Light Side medals
Early registration for next year’s StarWars half (before fees and taxes) is $185. The 10K is $120. The aforementioned Rebel Challenge, which includes both the half and the 10K, is $330. You pay an ADDITIONAL $25 to complete in two events. I’ve been racing a long time, and I’ve never seen fees higher for combined events than when priced separately. The medal is nice, but not worth $25. And this is the tip of the iceberg.

There is a Coast-to-Coast medal for people who run events in Florida and California, and a special Kessel Run medal (a badass Millennium Falcon) for those who run both StarWars halfs (Light Side and Dark Side), again, in Florida and California. At Disney World there’s the Goofy (Half and Full marathon back-to-back) for $360 and the Dopey (5K, 10K, half, full on consecutive days) for $500. Let that sink in… $500 in race fees is a busy year’s worth of races. (Note also that these events have full sponsorship, meaning more money in the runDisney cash drawer)

2017 Disney Marathon Weekend early registration fees.

People are doing these. People are paying these fees. I saw lots of people wearing multiple medals. And, as these events span nights, many people are spending nights in (expensive) Disney resorts. Again, Disney's really good at generating revenue.

But, there's also this... in the short time I hung around the finish area after the 10K, I saw several people with Rebel Challenge bibs walking with ice on both knees. These same people were very likely on the starting line for the half the next day. They had no business running a half if they were icing knees the day before. They were being driven by a challenge they weren’t prepared for, and by a reward that they were overcharged for, but felt compelled to possess. Disney casts a spell, creates a desire to possess, regardless of cost, like no one else.

I love that runDisney has brought more people into our running community.

I don’t like that they charge insane prices for these events, but they have LOTS of people paying those prices, so who am I to judge them, or begrudge their success.

More importantly, though, I don’t like that runDisney lures these newbie runners into events that could be harmful to their running career. These new runners are entranced by the bling, thanks to the Disney spell, but they don’t know that they aren’t prepared for the challenges.

RunDisney isn’t going anywhere, it’s way too successful, and, frankly, it's doing way more good than ill for our community of runners. Still, a little advice...

To those new runners who have started with runDisney... first, welcome! We're glad to have you as a part of our community. Second, I ask you to run (and volunteer at) some races in your area. Experience the “magic” of your local running community. Further, consider running challenges with great caution. Remember, you get to run in the parks even if you only run one event. And sound knees, and hips, and feet are way more valuable than any medal.

To runDisney, thank you for expanding our running community, but please do so responsibly. I ask that you post cautionary warnings on challenges with recommended weekly training mileage minimums and training programs specific for the challenges. And if a medic is putting ice on a challenge runner’s knees, maybe they advise them to sit out the rest of the challenge.

And, runDisney, as a member of our community, I’d love to see you give back to it. It would be great if you would donate a reasonable portion of your more than ample proceeds to youth running programs, like Girls On The Run. Donating to Back on My Feet, and other running related non-profits would be a nice move, too. Or better yet, use some Disney magic to create a Disney youth running foundation that takes running programs into underserved neighborhoods.

Finally, to not-so-new members of our running community, give runDisney a shot, once. It’s expensive. It’s crowded. It’s fun. It’s extremely well run. And it’ll be the highest quality medal in your collection. But, don’t get addicted to the crack. It’s still just a race. Oh, and be damn sure to have a seed time.

Next up, Gasparilla in Tampa, FL.

Good running,

* In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a Star Wars fanboy. I am not a Disney fan, but not a hater either. I get what they do, it's just not something that gets me excited, or even interested, really. Nothing against Disney, or Disney fans... props to The Mouse.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Half a month

No, I don't mean 15 days.

Or two weeks.

I mean a half marathon, every month, in 2017. That's my goal, or more like project, for the year.

I haven't made a big deal about it, but I've been back at regular running for a few months. I've had several failed reboots, but this one seems to be sticking.

I don't know exactly what got me going, it may have just been a little extra time between projects at work. Being in a great, supportive relationship has certainly helped, too. Regardless, on September 1st, I started running regularly, with the motivational goal of running a 9min/mile 5K in October.

When I started, I could barely run a mile without stopping to walk.

And I was slow. Like 11 min/mile slow.*

So my goal of running 3.1 miles with an average of 9 minute miles was daunting.

It was also humbling. Me of not that long ago would have been ashamed of me now - slow, out of shape, carrying too much weight, and looking at 9min/mile as a goal?! "That's a cool down pace, not a race pace! What have you done to us?"

That embarrassment made it even harder to get out for a run, a run that I knew I wouldn't be proud of.

At some point, though, you have to decide to keep sliding down that slope, or turn around and make the slog back up and out.

I set a plan, 3 runs a week, and stuck to it. That's key kids... make your plan realistic for you, one you can stick to.

On October 29th, I destroyed my goal for the 5K (8:22 pace).

In less than 2 months, with consistency, and little else really, I was was able to get back to a level that I could be proud of.

That may be the lesson here... we don't have to be star athletes. We don't have to have super-human pace or endurance. If you can knock out 3 miles a few times a week, you're doing great, way better than the vast majority of Americans.

After the 5K, I thought about my next step. Now I was fit enough that I could enter a 5K, or a 5-miler, or even a 10K any weekend, and that was fantastic. I sure as hell didn't have the appetite for another marathon. But, I wanted to go up another notch or two. What I really wanted was to be in the kind of shape where could run a half-marathon whenever I wanted.

So, that's where the Half a Month came from. I'm still only running 3 times a week, for the most part. I started in November. I've been ramping up the length of my weekend run slowly... I did 12 on Christmas day. And I've been scouring race calendars for halfs - exciting ones, interesting ones, cheap ones.

The halfs I've registered for so far should be on the right side of the page. (I'm not sure what'll happen if your reading on a phone.) I decided I needed an exciting one in January just to make sure I stayed motivated. I picked the StarWars Half at Disneyland. Geeky, I know, but I'll be honest, I'm super excited for this one... and may even run in costume. (Bonus points to the reader who guesses the costume in the comments... no cheating if I've already told you.)

In February I travel to Tampa because I don't want to freeze my nards off, but after that I'm trying to keep the races local, though I have a fun one near Charleston scheduled for the last one, as a celebration I guess. I'm trying not to add any additional pressure of performance goals, though I'd love to keep them under 2 hrs... we'll see. It's not about pace, at least not for a while. And I'm assuming there will be many photo ops at the StarWars Half. (Chewy, say "Cheese").

So... that's the deal. A half a month. Should be fun.

Good running,

*I hate talking about pace. 11 min/mile is fast for some people, and that's awesome. I only put numbers in here to show the relative difference between where I was and what I was shooting for. So don't let anyone tell you you're slow, especially me.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Crossing the Ravenel

Charleston South Carolina is one of my favorite places to visit. I've been there 3 times in the last 13 months. I have dear friends there, transplants from Indiana, who are not only super fun, but also super generous and welcoming and willing to host me when I visit.

As much as I love to visit them, I also love the Charleston vibe. The food, the history, the ships... it is intoxicating. I also love the Ravenel Bridge.

I won't bore you with the history of the bridgehow it was built, or any other of my usual lecturing because, though I often forget myself, this is a running blog.

It's enough to say that the bridge is an iconic piece of the Charleston landscape. So much so that when I tell people of my visits to the city, they ask if I've run over the bridge. Not what restaurants I made it to, or what interesting people I met, what history I saw, or if I got to sail. Always the bridge.

I've run the city a few times and love it. But I'd never really considered running the bridge. I think mostly because I was usually in the city, and running the bridge would require a kinda silly over-and-back... crossing just for the sake of crossing.

On Thanksgiving weekend, however, 3 events cam together to offer a natural opportunity to run the Ravenel.

First, I needed to get a 10-miler in over the weekend.

Second, completely by chance, rather than staying at my friends' house, we all dog- and house-sat for friends of theirs on Sullivan's Island. Roughing it in a few-million-dollar beach house is how my friends roll.

Third, we were slated to crew a sailboat race on Saturday.

Combining these I had a reason to run from Sullivan's Island to Charleston, over the Ravenel.

So, early-ish on Saturday morning I left the beach house and made it as far as across the street. I hadn't visited the beach yet, and since it was our last day house-sitting, I figured it was my last chance.

It was lovely, but I had a long way to go and I was kinda in a pinch for time, so a couple pix and I was gone.

That's the bridge, way off in the distance...

I ran pretty much the entire length of Sullivan's Island, but I didn't take the time to notice anything. I was trying to get into a rhythm, going over my route in my head, and I was just a touch hung over. Just a touch. So I didn't even think to look for any of the cool sites like the Edgar Allan Poe library that's a converted bunker. I just plowed through the island.

To get from Sullivan's island to the mainland (Mount Pleasant), you take a "connector" with is, I think, southern for "long, straight, flat except for one drawbridge, road over swap land, consistently with a stiff head wind.
Connector pano... this is the most interesting bit.

 It was nice, for about 2 minutes... of a 20 minute crossing. But, there was an unusual, uhm... thing on the connector...

Possum with memorial

Yes, that's a possum. A dead possum. With flowers, an offering of Oreo's, a vigil candle, and a note. The note says:
 "To our friend! You were a great mom!!! #BlackFriday shoping accidend. Sorry little Opossum friend"

Uhm... 3 things...

  1. Creepy as hell
  2. also very sweet, little kids honoring the poor beast
  3. are we using hashtags in memorial notes now?

A little shutter to shake off the heebie-jeebies and I was back on my way.

After the connector, on a long stretch to the base of the bridge, I realized that in my hurry to get going, I'd forgotten to take on water. I like a good pint glass full before I head out. I realized it because it was hot, and sunny, and I was really thirsty. I'd survive, but I wasn't enjoying it.

A few more minutes cursing my thirst, and a few more minutes deeper into Mount Pleasant, I was pretty deep into suburbia. There were way more cars, the occasional street to cross, a running store with a water cooler set outside, a restaurant that smelled of... WAIT! What?! What was that last thing...

Sweet baby Poseidon!... Water!
I know lots of running stores serve our community on weekends with a simple cooler of water, but this one was right when and where I needed it! Next time I'm in town, I'll be stopping by Blue Sky Endurance to stock up on some gear... you totally should, too.

Properly hydrated, at about mile 7, I made it to the Ravenel. It's... longer than it looks...

But it is a spectacular run. The pedestrian way is wide and clean. And there were WAY more people out for a bridge walk than I'd expected.

The up hill is about half of that 2.5 miles, leveling out the closer you are to the midpoint. And the view is gorgeous.

This little pano doesn't do the view from the midpoint justice.

The down-slope into downtown Charleston is, and I apologize for the pun, a little anticlimactic. With the Copper River behind you, your view is pretty much industrial shoreline. But that's to be expected. Charleston is a busy sea port. The breeze also picked up as the wind was funneled down, and I got pelted with tiny bits of stone that were tossed into the air by passing cars. That only lasted a couple minutes, though, and soon I was headed down Bay Street. I picked up the pace for the last half mile or so.

When my GPS clicked over to 10 miles. Feeling immensely proud of myself (I hadn't run 10 miles at once in ages), I had little time to congratulate myself. I needed to get to the sailboat for the race! But first I needed food. I normally don't like to eat after a long run, but with a sail ahead of me, I knew I had to eat now, or it would be hours before I had a chance.

Just before I stopped, I'd passed East Bay Deli. I doubled-back to there, got a breakfast burrito (B+) and an OJ, and got moving again.

I had 14 minutes to find, and than catch the water taxi.

Yes, that's a real thing.

Aboard the water taxi.

For a few dollars, a boat takes you across the harbor. Or you can buy an all-day pass and ride back and forth.

As you can see from the picture everyone was bundled up. It was pretty chilly on the water, especially in running shorts and a running shirt. Luckily, it was a short ride, even with the intermediate stop at the stern of the USS Yorktown.

USS Yorktown, a retired aircraft carrier.
I highly recommend the tour.

During the stop I chatted with the first mate on the taxi. She knew the boat I was going to be sailing on. She knew the captain. She also knew my friends... had dog sat for them even. Charleston is a small town... that's easy to forget sometimes.

Anyway, I made it to the dock just as my friends and sister and sister-in-law arrived. We sailed, we raced, I learned a ton about flying a spinnaker. The only casualty was a brand new Sperry shoe. Not mine, another crew member's, thought there is a 50% that my foot knocked it off his foot while we were tacking.

SV Celadon 

Crossing the bridge was a thrill... way more fun than I'd expected. And I have to admit, that every time I see the bridge now, I think to myself (and sometimes say out loud) I ran across that bridge.

After the sail, we went back to the beach house, I showered, and we ate and drank at Poe's Tavern.

Thanks to the Howard's, and Deb and Laura, and to Capt. Steve for letting us sail with him and his crew. I can't wait to go back!

Laura, Deb, Robin Howard, and me.
Bill was doing something we probably should have been helping him with.

Good running,