Monday, November 11, 2013

Trenton Half Marathon

After my disappointment with last year's inaugural race and my experiences as an ambassador for this year's race my expectations were quite low. When the race started 15 minutes late (which, yes, was better than last year's 45 minutes late, but still late) I was still questioning my sanity -- especially since it was 33 degrees at the start.

I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by some changes the race organizers made this year. For starters, they changed the route to include a loop through Mill Hill between miles 3.5 to 4.5. Yes, it did add a hill (Mill HILL), but it also added great scenery and crowd support. The change in the route was so pretty I went back the next day to take pictures. I love the old gaslights in this historic neighborhood. I am most impressed they were able to convince the residents to move their cars so we had a clear path. That's not so easy when you don't have a driveway. Yet, they still came out to cheer us on.

That change meant we spent less time running up Route 29. We still had a few miles south on Route 29, but not as many going north.

Another huge improvement was the addition of water stations. They had a few last year, but this year there seemed to be one about every mile. Some, like the one going into Mill Hill were used both on the way in and on the way out. Great use of volunteers. Many of the water stations even had port-o-pots. Very few had lines, which is appealing to a runner. At least half of them (or so it seemed) had Gatorade.

Another change (not sure if good or bad) from last year was the spacing of when I bumped into the 10K runners. Last year the elite runners intersected with me around the first bridge. This year, as I crossed the first bridge I was passing the back of the pack 10K run/walkers. The difference is how long the lag was between the start of each race, plus we did that loop through Mill Hill that the 10K runners did not do. I think personally I preferred passing the pokes than being blown past by the speedy runners. Still thinking about this. Either way, there was great crowd support and energy all through Morrisville, PA.

The swag was nice. I really like having my name on my bib and hearing complete strangers cheer me on by name. The long sleeve pull-over will get a lot of use on these fall days. The medal is enormous -- even bigger than last year's medal, which was huge, and colorful.

2012 vs. 2013 medals

There are lots of benefits to doing a local race. There are no travel expenses. Packet pick up is a breeze. You are familiar with the area, so parking is not a challenge.

The best part of a local race is you see your running friends!!!

Michelle (who ran the Perfect 10 Miler with me) came out to do her first half marathon. She had hurt her back the week before this race, but still rocked it!

I bumped into new friend of a friend, Stacy, at the start. We met briefly before the Rutgers race in April, but connected through Sharon on Facebook earlier this month.

As I was starting the course, Gabrielle blew past me saying "hi" and that she was running late. Even with having to push us slow pokes out of the way, she still rocked it.

My neighbor said hello to me. She always recognizes me on races. We should actually meet sometime when we are not mid-race!

I enjoy running past places I know. I felt this way during the Columbus Half Marathon last year because through all of our trips to Columbus, I've gotten to know the city. Still, nothing could compare with running through a town I used to live in (we did not pass our old neighborhood, but we did pass Debbi and Mike's old home).

Michelle, Don and I had a plan. He would follow along on his bike, take pictures of us and keep an eye on us. Well that plan fell apart quickly! Don could not find Michelle in the sea of runners wearing mostly black (one of the reasons I wear my Sparkle Skirt is for visibility). By the 2 mile mark his camera battery was dead. The next time I saw him (before mile 3) I gave him my camera so I could focus on running. 

Then I regretted giving him my camera. History was made at this race. The world's youngest person to complete a half marathon, Anthony Russo, age 5, completed the race in 2:22 (yes, I am slower than a 5 year old). 

After crossing the Calhoun Street Bridge (where Don was able to snap a picture) I came across another amazing runner. Mark, who is blind, was running with two guides. I thought of my cousins Laura and Allie who lead musicians from the Ohio State School for the Blind through their half time routine. What an amazing gift these runners were able to give Mark. It was his first half marathon.

I saw Don again in Cadwalder Park. I had really hoped that our detour through Mill Hill meant less time in Cadwalder Park, but I was wrong. We did the whole loop. When I came to the end of the loop, Don was there with his upside down bicycle. Uh oh! He told me to go on. Offered me the car keys (which I decline, but I did take my camera back) and told me he didn't know how we would meet up again. Fair enough. I was still on course for a PR and was not planning on stopping for a conversation, or to be weighed down by his keys.

I'm glad I had my camera so that when I saw Marshall, I could snap his picture. Marshall was at the Princeton Half Marathon. He was way back there. Don was impressed by him. I snapped this picture as a way of reminding myself to tell Don I saw Marshall again. We'll be keeping an eye out for him at future races.

The wheels nearly fell off of my race about the 10 mile mark. According to my watch, and the watch of runners around me, we ran about 1 1/3 miles between mile marker 9 and mile marker 10. Considering some of the earlier markers were more like 8/10ths of a mile apart, this was hard to take mentally. Was the finish line going to be around 13.1 miles on my watch or 13.6 (as it seemed to be shaping up). The former meant my PR was definitely on course, the latter meant I would probably miss it by a minute or two. I told myself to keep pressing on and see what happened. In the end, my watch read 13.2 miles, which is fair. The time on the clock was 2:36 -- which meant a PR! Subtract 2 minutes for me to get to the start line, and my time was actually 2:34:30.252 -- or 9 minutes faster than my old PR, and 18 minutes faster than my time in Princeton a week earlier. Very, very happy!

I staggered off the field, took some water and my lovely new medal and realized we had no plan for ever meeting up again. Oops. I looked for Michelle, didn't find her and just sat down in one of my favorite seats at Waterfront Park (not my "usual" seat, but still a nice one). Within a few minutes Michelle walked up to me. Before I had a chance to explain that Don was MIA, he walked up to where we were. all worked out without any worry on my part.

Overall, a much better experience than last year. I might even consider doing it again in 2014. 

A couple of downsides:

1) The race still started 15 minutes late

2) I found three runners who did not see the 10K split and were heading towards doing the half marathon (one was at the far end of Cadwalder Park having a melt-down, I left her with another runner and ran ahead to find someone who could help her). They could have used a volunteer whose sole job was to look at bibs and point the red bib (10Kers) on the right path. 

It was a brisk 33 at the start, but not windy! I was glad I ditched the long pants, but was glad I kept my sweatshirt. This looks like the outfit I wore last week, but I had a long sleeve shirt on under the sweatshirt this time, and wore earmuffs instead of a hat. I'm not used to wearing the same outfit for back to back races.

A new PR and tired legs.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Princeton Half Marathon

Lots of fun discussion between friends as to whether or not HiTOPS could call this year's half marathon the inaugural race since last year's race was washed away by Superstorm Sandy last year, but it was still the first year the race happened.

Last year I did not sign up for this race. I was concerned about running this and the Trenton Half Marathon only six days apart. I just did not think I had it in me. Then I heard people referring to it as the "Mercer Marathon" -- two half marathons in the same county within a week. It is probably the only way I will ever run a "marathon." 

So I registered.

Then I started hearing comments from my running friends. Comments along the lines of "oh I'm not doing that race it's too hilly" or "too hard." That's when I started to panic. I knew there were hills, but "too hilly" for my serious running friends? I'm not serious. I'm just out to have some fun.

Don volunteered to be a race marshal and be the "lead rabbit" as he called it. To prepare for the race, Don downloaded the course map into his new GPS gadget and did the whole course a week earlier. It took him just under an hour to do all 13.1 miles. We figured the fastest runner would be 1:10 tops (it was also the day of the NYC Marathon). After his trial run, Don said "you do know this course is hilly, right?" 


He assured me the worst of it was Washington Road. I thought that was odd since running friends were complaining about Herrontown Road, but who was I to argue with him, after all he had just done it. I took myself out for a training run up and down and up and down Washington. Yes, it is steep, but the pain is over in less than half a mile. 

I felt a surge of confidence that I could do this without dying and before I being kicked off the course.

Day of the race came faster than I ever anticipated. It was the first day of the time change. In theory an eclipse was happening at 6:30 AM. I never saw it.

Don woke up at 5 and cycled to the start. He had to be there by 6:30. As a runner, I wasn't due there until 7, so I drove. I parked near the start / finish line. The course is a giant figure 8. It is a really nice course. 

My goal was sub-3 hours. I'm hoping to PR next week (sub 2:43) in Trenton, but this was not a PR kind of course, at least not for me.

Start/Finish: Paul Robeson Place, two blocks away from HiTOPS. Don is at the start/finish line in the picture. The Monday before the race there was a fence along the right-hand side and the road was being repaved. The day of the race there was no sign of construction. They lined us up according to our anticipated pace. They started on time. We were all past the start line within 90 seconds (or so). It was very smooth. I felt as if I was in the exact right place as I did not pass many people, nor did many pass me. It was one of the best starting experiences I have had.

First mile: Past very expensive, enormous old-money homes in Princeton along
Hodge Road. We turned right onto Library Place, and past Princeton Theological Seminary. It during this mile when I met Liz. Liz and I started chatting and didn't stop until the end of the race when we met up with our families. For the first half of the race we kept to a 2 min walk/1 min walk, with walking uphill and through the water stations.

Second mile: Right on Mercer Road and past Einstein's home towards Battlefield Park.

Third mile: into Battlefield Park, past the off-spring of the giant tree that had been there since Washington's era. It is starting to look big enough to merit its large fence. I still think of it as a seedling. This took us off road -- and the part where Don was most needed since the police cars were not allowed on the trail. Based on what people were telling me just a week ago, it looked like the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) cleaned up the path. I did not see any holes, ruts, acorns or giant black walnuts.

Fourth mile: Came off of the trails and through the IAS. We passed the Nassau Swim Club. Never knew that was tucked back there.

Fifth mile: back on a trail. I did see a giant hole on this one, but still not as bad as warned. Went up Alexander Road past my first office. A month after I started to work for The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation the office moved to its current location near the train station. Just before the office building I saw a couple of women dash behind a giant fir tree for a potty break. 
Sixth mile: went past a couple of campus police officers on Faculty Road who told us we were about to go downhill. Um, sure. Technically there was a slight downhill, but the forewarned hill on Washington Road was just around the corner. Before reaching the corner, we hit a water station being manned by members of the Girls on the Run. Liz stopped for a break, but I lingered taking pictures and we caught up with each other again, which was nice. Here we go -- uphill through Princeton University, past the Woodrow Wilson School for Public Policy (not to be confused with my first job). 

Whew! We made it.

Seventh mile: I felt like a rock star as the police stopped the cars so I could cross Nassau Street. By this time the 1000 runners were dispersing. We turned onto Wiggins Street about a block away from HiTOPS. Here we faced another water stop. It was MUCH appreciated after that hill. Looked like it was in someone's front yard. We turned left onto Walnut Lane and passed Westminster Choir college. This was the first of two times I tried to go a different way, but was put on course by the kind police officer blocking traffic for us.

Eighth mile: Continuing past Westminster Choir College. This is where the miles begin to seem longer than the ones in the beginning. This is also the area I am not as familiar with. Don was done with being the lead runner. He finished in 1:21, then Don ran some messages. I was around mile 6.5 when the lead dude finished. Up until Washington I had a perfect 12 min mile pace going. That was shot! Then again, that was the plan. I knew I had to maintain an average of a 15 min mile to be allowed to finish the race. I also knew I didn't want to jackrabbit too much in the beginning. The plan worked.

Ninth mile: Hooked another left, this time on Clover Lane and began the giant uphill I was worried about. We met Sandra. Sandra was running her first half marathon (as was Liz). Prior to the race, Sandra's longest run was 4 miles. She still beat us.

Tenth mile: Still going uphill. Thankfully there was a water stop along here. I felt like sitting down, but knew I'd never keep going.

Eleventh mile: Can you tell it is all blending together? Somewhere along here someone said the last water stop (which I knew was at mile 11.2) was "just around the corner." I think we also heard more "it is all downhill from here" <-- liar, liar pants on fire! In theory this is when we went "down" Mt. Lucas Road. It still seemed like an uphill, so we turned around to convince ourselves it was a downhill.

Twelfth mile: We finally made it to the final water stop, and port-o-pot. Less than two miles to the finish. Don reported to us that the last runner was a mile and a half behind us. Looking at my watch, we knew we had sub 3 in our grasp.

Thirteenth mile: I thought it was supposed to be all downhill after mile 10.25? We kept having rolling hills. 

The last bit: Liz's family surprised her and went to the finish line with her. I picked it up and ran the last bit alone.

My final time: 2:52:27.502, a 13.09 min mile pace. Yeah! Only 9 minutes slower than my PR last year in Columbus, Ohio. I finished 801 out of 824 finishers. No word yet on how many started.

Looking over my watch later I was even more pleased. I did not tank. My slowest mile was an uphill 15 and change. There were miles I went slower, but managed to pick up my speed on the next mile. 

It was supposed to be 20 degrees colder at the start than the race I did the day before. When I woke up, I was glad it was a little warmer than that. I was comfortable running in shorts and a sweatshirt. I had gloves just in case, but only wore them while waiting for the race to start. 

The crowd support was amazing -- even for slowpokes like me. Though I did hear one woman say "oh, there are more!" Yes, the gap had grown that large.

The volunteers, all 240 of them, were amazing. Running is the easy part of it. Handing out water or telling cars they can't go on the road just yet can't be that much fun.

The weather was great -- a bit chilly to start, but not humid or raining. The fall foliage was at peak.

I nearly left my camera behind so I could focus on the running. Who is kidding who. I needed the distraction on the hills. Since I finished before being kicked off of the course, I'm glad I had it with me.

Once again, I was only one of a few people wearing a sparkle skirt. It helped Don find me in the crowd, and kept my tush a little warmer.

It was my first time being on a committee for this race. I enjoyed seeing what goes into something like this. On Monday I stuffed packets. 1000 runners doesn't sound like that much (compared with some races) until you start to put together 1000 packets. Yikes! In each packet went a bunch of papers, and a box of baking soda. That's what you get when Arm & Hammer is a major sponsor. Though we laughed at it, we all agreed that is one item that will get used.

Planet Princeton Press:

2013 Beauty and the Beach

Now that I have been running for a few years I'm starting to repeat races. Two years ago I ran the Beauty and the Beach Run, a 5-mile women's only race in Long Branch, NJ. Two years ago I wasn't blogging as much and my race recap was tied in with other races I ran that fall, including my first half marathon.

Last November I planned to repeat the race. This time I would run with Sharon, my running buddy. Then Sandy hit. Much of the course was washed away. Many of the volunteers running the event had major damage done to their homes. It was just not possible to hold the race less than a week after that storm. Of course everyone understood.

To make it up to those of us who registered last year, they offered a huge early bird registration discount. My thought at the time was that the long-sleeve tech shirt with the thumb hole alone was worth that price, let alone the fun of participating in this race. The flip flop necklace finsher's "medal" was icing on the cake.

About the same time I registered for that race, I also registered for the Princeton Half Marathon. Sounded a lot like a repeat of the Double Double Dare (10K and half marathon in the same weekend), but without the extra bling or Disney characters.

I'll admit, part of me was getting a little nervous about doing two races in one weekend. I'm not a serious enough runner that I enjoy waking up before dawn two days in a row to drive and race. Then my friend Diadra asked me a question I couldn't resist -- would I be willing to walk the Beauty and the Beach Run with her at her pace. 508 days before the race, Dee had her ankle replaced. The doctor told her she couldn't run again, but she could build up to walking. To be able to walk all 5 miles was a huge deal for her. To have me keep her company meant a lot to her.

The weather turned out to be perfect. We were all a bit concerned about a cool breeze off the ocean. Instead we had sunshine, temps in the 50 -- or about 20 degrees warmer than when I did it in 2011.

Our goal was simple -- not be the last women to finish. We made that goal by at least 20 women. Our overall pace was 17:18 a mile, finishing in 1:26:31. When we got to the finish line there was no pushing and shoving to be first, just high fives on a job well done, and made lunch plans at Sissy's to celebrate.

Though many runners and walkers wore pink, and some wore boas, I was one of only a few wearing a sparkle skirt. I got a lot of compliments on my skirt.

As a bonus, I bumped into "Perfect Princess" Debbie. We keep missing each other at races, so this was a treat. Actually she kept spotting me. Debbie blended in with so many other women wearing lavender.
Other thoughts for my running friends: the course is pancake FLAT. Easily 90% of the course is along the ocean. The start and finish lines are the same. There were 3 or 4 water stations. It is for women only, which means the tech shirts fit us, and are in girly colors, and the swag bag included nail polish. The atmosphere is very positive and encouraging. Near the 4.5 mile mark I saw a woman in tears talking to EMT personnel. I stopped and gave her a hug. She thanked me. It is that kind of atmosphere.

I look forward to doing this again next year.

Disney's California Adventure

Two months later I'm still writing about our trip to California. It had been two years since our last visit. Almost since our first visit to Disneyland in May 2005 California Adventure was enshrined with walls with promises that it would be much, much better. 

At that time California Adventure was less than 10 years old and already declared a flop. In order to boost "first gate" counts, cast members had to sign their friends in at California Adventure before they could then go to Disneyland. It was the park people went to when Disneyland was too crowded. It was the park I would go to when the food lines were too long at Disneyland, I'd hop over, buy lunch and come back in less time than standing in line in Disneyland.

Over the years we saw a few glimmers of change. Our favorite was when they opened Toy Story Midway Mania -- a ride that has since opened in Walt Disney World and Tokyo DisneySea, and which we rode in both parks. You are the ride! 

Last June the grand unveiling finally took place, but we did not have any plans to go to Disneyland. I saw pictures, and read blog posts, but it wasn't until August when we saw it for ourselves.

We went to Disney seven of the days we were in California. The seventh day was the tie breaker. We ended up starting that day in Disneyland. The parks are so close to each other, it doesn't really matter where you start, but the first couple of days I wanted Fast Passes for the new Radiator Springs ride.

First big change ... they removed the CALIFORNIA letters at the main gate and replaced them with something that looks a lot like the entrance to Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida.

The first noticeable change is that once you walk through the gates, you feel as if you are transplanted into the 1920s -- the era when Walt Disney first came to California. The gift shops look like department stores. When we were there, it was still decorated for Fourth of July and Labor Day. We popped into Guest Services and First Aid and even they had a classic transformation. The gift shops now sell Oswald the Rabbit merchandise (Walt's first character, who looks a lot like Mickey Mouse).

Even the classic characters (Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Chip and Dale) were dressed in 1920s attire. This just made me want to take more pictures with the characters. Ashley tolerates my habit, but when she hung out drawing pictures in the Animation Studio, I was able to stand in line and have cast members take pictures of me with the characters. They also have people dressed in 1920s attire. It is just a lot more fun.

The best is that they have a statue of Walt and Mickey called Storytellers. It is a nice compliment to the Partners Statue in Disneyland.

Once we left Buena Vista Street, Ashley naturally turned left to see the schedule at the Animation Studio. I'm sure there were other subtle changes to this area, but the one that meant the most to Ashley was being able to see which characters were to be drawn at which times and plan our day around this schedule. I've raved about the ones in Florida and Tokyo, but this is where Ashley first got hooked on drawing. This addition makes it even more appealing.

Cars Land was the other major addition since our last visit to California. The whole section feels like Radiator Springs. It is even more magical at night. Their new big E-ticket ride is Radiator Springs Racers. You race another car through Radiator Springs. Fast Passes disappear within a couple of hours of park open, or you can stand in line for over an hour. The theming is pretty amazing, but only went on it twice. The entire area was very crowded just about all the time.

California Adventure really stepped up their entertainment since our last trip. There was a constant stream of street shows (like they have at Hollywood Studios). There was a Newsies-style show on a trolley car that alternated with Five-and-Dime, a jazz show. Both fit in beautifully with the 1920s theme. Over near Soarin' Over California, Minnie Mouse has her own show, too. It is lots of fun hearing music throughout the day.

Overall, it feels like a whole new park, one worthy of a one-park one-day pass.