Rave Run: The 606 Chicago

After five-plus years of year-round running (and training) in Chicago, I often get bored with my same old routes.

I still adore my neighborhood and have a passionate love for the city’s Lakefront Trail, but I welcome changes of scenery with open arms.

606Milwaukee

The park at Milwaukee Avenue is one of The 606’s crowning jewels.

Enter The 606.

Chicago’s newest park was created from the remnants of the former Bloomingdale Line elevated train. At 17 feet above street level and 2.7 miles long, The 606 connects the Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park and Logan Square neighborhoods.

The 606 features parks, sitting areas, multiple access points, water fountains, and of course, a trail for runners, walkers and cyclists.

And so far, I’m loving it.

The nearest access point to my home is about a mile away and smack-dab in the middle of the trail, giving me the option to go east or west. Each tenth of a mile is permanently marked in the concrete, and 2-foot-wide blue rubberized shoulders are tailor-made for runners.

The flat, fast surface, unimpeded by pesky cars and traffic lights, even lends itself to speedwork. (I’ve done “light pole intervals” a couple times with great success and enjoyment.)

The majority of The 606 goes through quiet residential areas, but even when it crosses the main thoroughfares of Western, Milwaukee and Damen Avenues, the traffic noise below is not overwhelming. It feels peaceful.

606Collage

So much awesomeness.

But it’s also tight quarters up there. The trail is only 14 feet wide (compared to the Lakefront Trail’s 20 feet), so combined with access point blind spots and overall “newness,” The 606 can be a little dangerous to navigate during peak use times. Warning signs (and even trail etiquette signs) would be helpful. I’ve also only spotted two drinking fountains — both near the trail’s mid-way point — so I’d love to see more of those. Also, the lack of shade is an issue. Those newly planted trees need to grow faster, darnit!

I realize it’s a work in progress. The 606 has only been open to the public for a month, so many of the finishing touches are still being made. Landscaping/planting is ongoing, temporary wooden railings need to be replaced with permanent fixtures, and it’s quite possible my previous suggestions are already in the works.

The 606 is already a gem, so a few improvements will really make it shine. — Mags

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Race Recap: Vermont City Marathon

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Bad Angel Ninja Warrior.

*Guest post*

Run a race? Don’t mind if a do.
A few days after I finished my third Flying Pig Half Marathon, I saw a Facebook post from a good friend who would be unable to use his bib for the Vermont City Marathon. I looked at the calendar. The race was just weeks away over Memorial Day weekend. Twenty minutes, two excited Facebook posts and a flurry of texts and emails later, I was booked and ready for my fifth half marathon and first destination race.

Journey to the start line.
Race weekend arrived, and I flew into Burlington to sunny skies and a solid plan. I visited the running expo (which was small but stocked with goodies), picked up my gear — and some advice from the experts.

Because I was running the second leg of the two-person marathon relay, I would arrive at the start at 8 a.m., but I wouldn’t begin running my half until my relay partner finished (around 9:50 a.m.). I talked with some of the pros about how to dress and eat for the gap time. They urged me to dress for heat and humidity (despite the frost warning) and to bring something extra to snack on while waiting at the rely meet-up.

The morning of the race, I awoke after a fitful night’s sleep to a sour stomach. I grabbed two bottles of water, my Shot Bloks and bag of energy chunks, vowing to try and choke them down even though I had no appetite.

A wise person would have conserved energy before the race start while hydrating and fueling, so naturally, I walked around bathed in adrenaline, trying to take pictures and meeting friends. Oops.

And, they’re off!
The soloist launched into “The Star Spangled Banner,” and I got a little misty. I had lived in Burlington through my roaring 20s, but I hadn’t been back for a proper visit in years. I was thrilled to run in my old home away from home. My pulse quickened as the air horn blasted the start.

After the runners turned the corner, I headed to the relay point with plenty of time to stand around, try and eat (not happening) and drink more water. The relay meet-up was a huge open field with a live band playing the most mellow race set I’ve heard. Seriously, I think they played three Van Morrison songs.

As the time for my partner’s arrival drew closer, I took off the sleeves of my light jacket but left the rest zipped around me, creating a tight extra layer over my torso (more on this later).

And, I’m off!
Suddenly, I heard my number called and I was off! Loudly cheering as my relay partner finished his very first half marathon (Go Greg!), I quickly grabbed our relay bracelet, turned down the bike path onto the first lakefront mile and cranked up my music. Waiting three hours to run felt odd, and I tried to find my rhythm. I could quickly tell I was worn out. Bouncing around for three hours pre-race and not getting enough sleep was not a good combination.

At that same time, the storm clouds rolled in and we were treated to slight showers for the first 5K, which included the steep “Assault on Battery” climb. My long-time nickname (Ninja) was emblazed on my shirt in pink tape and several people yelled “Go Ninja!” to which I always replied, “How can you see me???” The joke killed. The kids loved it. I was in my element.

Rockin’ the suburbs.
After four miles, we were officially in the suburbs and the pack wound through two adorable sub-divisions. Residents were in the marathon spirit with small groups every few hundred feet handing out orange slices, watermelon chunks and Fla-Vor-Ice. Other neighbors stood in their driveways with  garden hoses poised, offering to spray runners as we passed.

Race with a view.
By mile six, the course was fairly flat as we headed onto the “lake” stretch and, frankly, the best reason to run the second leg. For several glorious miles we ran in and around the Burlington lakefront, passing beaches and running (sometimes solo) through wooded trails. I got to see parts of town I had never seen before, and I was distracted enough by the beauty to forget how hard I was pushing. Spectators were few and far between, but more than once I raced past someone I hadn’t seen in a decade. I was so glad I had personalized my running gear so I could have a few moments to see these old friends again.

Water stops also were becoming farther between (or perhaps I was just getting slower). I had long ago ditched my own bottle, and the overcast morning became a sunny, humid afternoon. Temps topped 80 degrees, with the sun out and almost directly overhead. Red-vest-wearing EMTs held signs reading “Moderate Health Risk! Take Water!” I took a few steps through water stops and tried to drink a full cup. It wasn’t easy, and I could barely swallow anything.

The wheels fall off the wagon.
By mile 10, I was in trouble. I was distracted and my head was fuzzy. My tongue felt thick, and I was running slooooowly; my gait barely above shuffle. I couldn’t focus on much. I slowed to a walk for about a mile as I sorted myself out. I calculated my remaining distance, found a few favorite songs and turned into the home stretch. I felt a lot of things but mostly low. I was having my worst race in my favorite place. Major bummer.

The last mile booted us from the lonely woods to the packed waterfront and a crowd of thousands to cheer us home. I flashed smiles and horns as I tried not to trip over my own feet. I heard folks call my name as I pushed onward and weakly waved.

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MyV!

Crash and burn.
I crossed the finish line and fell into the arms of two medical coordinators (they were only offering me a bottle of water). I mumbled that I wasn’t feeling great and I felt myself picked up off my feet, brought into the tent and placed on a stretcher. I hazily spoke with a nurse, EMT and doctor, who kept asking about my “corset.” I realized they were talking about my jacket. I tried to make jokes as I heaved into a paper bucket and attempted to choke down Gatorade. My BP was low, and my eyes were glassy. Two smiling faces plugged me into an IV and wrapped me in a blanked as I closed my eyes and endeavored not to be super embarrassed.

I wasn’t alone in the tent, not by a long shot. The weird weekend weather faked out a lot of people and some runners were brought in wearing full-length leggings or jackets. The medical staff members were all amazing and upbeat, joking that the Med Tent was an often-forgotten perk of the entry fee. All runners receive a T-shirt, medal and IV!

I emerged from the tent 90 minutes later, feeling better and hungry. As I packed my things, I asked if I needed to show my insurance card to anyone. My nurse laughed and said, “No, this is free healthcare. Thanks, Obama!” (Because this is Vermont, she actually meant it!)

What I learned.
For this weekend, the balance of wanting to run a good race versus wanting to visit with friends and enjoy my weekend away were too much for me to handle. Next time I travel to run, I need to make sure I stick to my race plan, and if I happen to run while traveling, I need to give myself a break and “run for fun.” I expected to be able to hang out with friends late into the evening, skip meals in favor of sugar-filled smoothies, get a good night’s sleep and miraculously PR. It wasn’t gonna happen and that hurt me mentally.

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Smiles for miles.

That was awful. Let’s do it again!
The Vermont City Marathon is not easy to get into, but the course is beautiful. There are a ton of spectators and they make their presence count. There is entertainment at nearly every mile, and I counted at least five drum circles (because Vermont). Unlike other race starts, this one had multiple food vendors with everything from coffee and bagels to full-on breakfast sandwiches and fresh lemonade for sale. I should have taken them up on this offer! I was unable to get out of the Medical Tent before the post race-party was over. Sad face!

Overall, I would absolutely do this race again, and next time, I’ll eat well so I can finish strong and crack open a Fiddlehead IPA in celebration.

Kelly “Ninja” Horan is a long-time, first-time recapper. She discovered running in 2012, and she has been an insufferable bore about it ever since. You can find her on the streets of Cincinnati’s Hyde Park and Oakley neighborhoods or on her comfy couch watching Netflix marathons to recover.

Dueling Race Recap: Madison Half Marathon 2015

What happens when you follow up a spring half marathon with 5K and another half marathon (within 10 hours of each other)? Maggie and Adrea found out at the Madison Half Marathon and Twilight 5K.

Twilight 5k: The Race Adrea says: Race logistics get a lot more complicated when you throw a couple kids into the mix, and I hadn’t had a good “reason” to run a 5K in a long while. Six years, to be exact. But what the heck? Here we were on a girls’ weekend in Madison, and there was a Twilight 5K that provided a perfect opportunity to do a shakeout run the night before Sunday’s half marathon.

As we started, I was a bit worried about Maggie, who was running kinda limpy and complaining about her heel/Achilles pain. Until that moment, I had forgotten she was nursing a thousand injuries and realized this shakeout run might be telling for trouble the next day. But we went out relaxed and easy, and after a half-mile, we were both comfortable and grinning from ear to ear. The weather was perfect, the course was nice, and Maggie and I rocked glow bracelets and temporary tattoos. I even got high-fives from some college dudes driving in a car on the other side of the road. Score! The race ended as soon as it began, and I felt pretty darn good.

Even my skin is neon.

Even my skin is neon.

Maggie says: Last year after our delicious carbo-load dinner, we wandered into the start of the Twilight 10K and then made our way to the finish line. It was rad. What a great idea! So when race organizers added the Twilight 5K this year, signing up was a no-brainer.

When the starting horn blared at 8 p.m., my dinner was still settling, my legs felt heavy, and my newly diagnosed plantar fasciitis was giving me hell. I knew it would be over soon enough, though, so I sucked it up and concentrated on the lovely Madison scenery and the joy of being in stride with Adrea during the first race we’d ever run together in almost 9 years of friendship.

Twilight 5K: What We Learned

Adrea says: Racing at night is awesome! Short races are great! OMG WHY DID WE HAVE RISOTTO FOR DINNER?!? I realized 5Ks are not the enemy I remember. Sure, they hurt when you push hard for the entire 3.1-mile stretch (which I learned while doing speedwork in my Flying Pig training this winter), but it’s over so quickly that you aren’t really any worse for the wear. I might actually like to run a few more of these bad boys this year. BRING ON THE 5Ks.

Maggie says: We had taken full advantage of the glorious weather in Madison that day and probably logged a solid 3-4 miles walking to the expo, around the farmer’s market and down State Street to do some shopping. Yeah, yeah, I know. It would’ve been better to rest up our legs for the 5K that night (and the, ahem, half marathon the next day), but you know what? This trip wasn’t just about the races; it was about getting away for the weekend with friends and enjoying the hell out of it.

Half Marathon: The Race

What a difference a few hours can make.

What a difference a day can make.

Adrea says: There are a million things I could complain about in this race recap, but none of them have to do with the race itself. The temperatures were mild, the sun was tucked away, and the light, misting sprinkles throughout the race actually felt nice. The course itself was challenging but beautiful. I was the problem.

I haven’t struggled through a race like this, well, ever. I’ve been unprepared for races before, but I had trained for this one! However, coming off the Flying Pig Half Marathon and the Twilight 5K just 10 hours earlier, my body was not ready for a half marathon. I never got comfortable the entire race. I wasn’t injured, I wasn’t in pain, I was just … struggling. For almost two and a half hours.

To her testament, Maggie stayed with me, or just in front of me, the entire race. She knew when I needed space and happily chatted my ear off when I needed the distraction. She offered both encouragement and tough love at the appropriate times. And by some act of the running gods, I managed to finish this race in one (very exhausted) piece. Thank goodness.

Maggie says: The ol’ race nerves were non-existent for this half marathon, and above all else, I was determined to have fun. Well, that, and to concentrate on the new and improved running form I’ve been working toward in physical therapy over the last month.

My heel bugged me the first couple miles, but it wasn’t nearly as wonky as it had been for the 5K, and my old lady hip felt a little tight, but it was completely manageable. It took a few miles to get into a groove — and to remember how to run hills — and then I was golden.

Double the races, double the swag.

Double the races, double the swag.

I also had committed to running with Adrea, no matter the outcome. So when she fell behind and started to struggle, I kept plugging along, waited for her at landmarks or water stops and hopped in next to her again. A couple times, I thought briefly about forging ahead and leaving her, but what would be the point? So I could finish a few minutes faster? In the grand scheme of my life, what would be more important, my finish time or the time spent with my friend? I chose the latter. Another no-brainer.

I finally separated from Adrea for the last .75 miles (“Less than a mile to go, no more walking,” were my parting words of encouragement), and I cruised to the finish with a smile on my face and my head held high. As I gunned it on the final stretch, picking off a half-dozen runners, I felt immensely proud of myself.

Half Marathon: What We Learned

Adrea says: Back-to-back-to-back races are hard. Like, way harder than I anticipated. I felt physically drained and didn’t have the emotional drive I needed to push through it. On top of that frustration, I had the added complication of feeling like a boat anchor. It’s one thing to be annoyed with your own performance, it’s another layer when you’ve got a friend holding back to help you through it. I really wanted Maggie to leave me for dead at more than one point during that half marathon. She wouldn’t let me give up, though, and I thank her for that. I guess sometimes you really do have to get by with a little help from your friends.

Maggie says: Two minutes after I crossed the finish line, I watched Adrea do the same, and I felt immensely proud of her, too. We, she, us, together, we did something that not everyone can do, something that only a few months ago, I couldn’t do. My injury has made me realize just how lucky we are to get to run and race and revel (FINISH LINE BEERS, Y’ALL), no matter how fast or slow we go.

Final Thoughts

Done and done.

Done and done.

Adrea says: This year’s spring racing season, which culminated with the events in Madison, feels rather anticlimactic for me. Oddly enough, I’m at peace with this. Once I had run The Flying Pig Half Marathon, I felt much differently than I had anticipated about running Madison. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to run, it’s just that I cared less about it. The pressure was completely gone.

This felt especially different when compared to how I felt leading up to the Madison Half Marathon last year, when I had so much more riding on it. This year, we spent more time planning our cheese curd eating strategy than we did planning our race strategy. The focus became more about the weekend as a whole, and since running is one of the things we enjoy doing together, it naturally became a part of the weekend.

I went into Sunday’s race feeling like I was going for a long run with a long-time friend. And, while it wasn’t the best run I’ve had (in fact, it was quite the opposite), it didn’t leave me physically injured or emotionally traumatized. I’m looking forward to the summer running season, and, man, I could really go for another round of cheese curds.

Maggie says: When we reached the 10th mile marker, the clock read 1:46:40. “If this was last year’s race, you’d be at the finish line right now,” Adrea said. I laughed and shook my head. Wow. Like Adrea, last year’s Madison Half Marathon was much, much different for me. I ran my butt off and hit my lofty PR goal and was completely stoked about it. However, I still walked away from this year’s reverse-PR race completely stoked. This was another important milestone in my comeback from injury and a great confidence-booster as I embark on my new challenge as a pacer for summer marathon training. In short, I’ve come a long way, baby.

Race Recap: Flying Pig Half Marathon 2015

When the alarm went off at 4:55 a.m., I was already awake. It was FLYING PIG MORNING, and I had been excited about it all week. The weather was shaping up to be absolutely beautiful, and as I slapped my running hat-turned-pig-head on my noggin, I was grinning from pig ear to pig ear.

I trained hard all winter in my quest to break the 2-hour half marathon barrier. My pace dropped, but the more I saw results, the less concerned I became with the actual number. I had begun to realize what I loved so much about running really had nothing to do with a specific finish time. So as I towed the line for my seventh Flying Pig Half Marathon, I was more concerned with having a good time than I was about running a good time.

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FIRE POWER!

As we started the race with fireworks (a new and awesome addition to this year’s course), I couldn’t help but be pumped up. I just kept telling myself to rein it in, run my race and avoid reckless miles. I knew if I ran at my long run pace, I’d have a Pig PR, and I was thrilled at that prospect.

It had been a few years since I had run a big race like the Flying Pig, and I forgot just how much I enjoy the enormity and pomp of an event on a scale like this.

The first few miles of a half marathon are always exciting and shiny and new, and this year’s Pig was no exception. The city looked beautiful, the crowds cheered loudly, and I cruised comfortably through the first half of the race.

Then, I started up the Eden Park hill. Man, that thing is a beast. I knew going in that my pace would slow down during this two-mile climb, but I didn’t expect to slow down that much. Holy molasses.

As we came off the turn at the top of the hill, a pair of girls passed me. One girl said to the other, “Only four miles to go!” as she gave her partner a high-five. Well hey, when you put it THAT way … And just like that, the smile returned to my face and my feet found their rhythm again.

This lil' piggy went wee, wee, wee all the way home.

This lil’ piggy went wee, wee, wee all the way home.

I flew down the hill at mile 10, and as I churned into the final 5K of the race, I was feeling pretty gassed. Instead of turning on the after-burners and pushing for what would have been a really painful 5K, I elected to keep a steady pace and finish the race conservatively. I had another half marathon coming up in a few weeks, and I cared more about enjoying both race experiences than I did about an arbitrary finish time.

So I shuffled it in to the finish line. That last mile hurt. Bad. I wanted to enjoy every minute of the Flying Pig, and I managed to do that for about 12 miles. That last mile was a blur, and when I looked up and saw the finish line within reach, I breathed a sigh of relief.

I crossed the finish and felt the elated swell of pride that comes with every hard-earned race’s end. I grabbed my space blanket and medal and looked around with salt-encrusted contacts — and a huge smile on my face.

This was the first big race I had run without my phone (another of my running resolutions for the year). The time I thought I would miss it most — at the finish line, trying to locate friends and family — was the time I missed it the least. Instead of burying my nose in congratulatory texts, logging my virtual miles or snapping post-race pics, I was able to enjoy the after party and really be present in it. I saw hugs, happy tears and throngs of exhausted, exhilarated runners.

Where pigs fly.

Where pigs fly.

So that’s what I’ll take away from this Flying Pig Half Marathon. Truly immersing myself in a race and embracing the experience. When people ask me how it was, I merely respond that it was awesome … because it was! Besides, most of my feelings about this race are deeply personal and hard to explain in a one-sentence answer.

While I don’t know how to translate this race experience into water cooler talk, I do know one thing: I love Cincinnati, and I love it in a way I never thought I would as a transplant from Iowa. And the city never shines as brightly as she does on Flying Pig Sunday. — Aidz

Race Recap: Illinois Half Marathon 2015

IllinoisHalfMedal

Don’t call it a comeback.

“Don’t call it a comeback …”

LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” blared in my headphones as I ran down Green Street near mile 2 of the Illinois Half Marathon, and I pondered the sentiment.

All along, I’d been thinking of this race as a comeback, my return to distance running following nearly seven months of ongoing injury and rehab. But maybe LL was right. Maybe this actually wasn’t a comeback because, like Mr. James Smith, I been here for years.

And then the song continued:

Don’t you call this a regular jam
I’m gonna rock this land
I’m gonna take this itty bitty world by storm
And I’m just getting warm

That’s it right there. This race was not a comeback; it was a warmup, a precursor of things to come. You guys, LL Cool J is a goddamn genius.

Pre-Race

In the week or so leading up to the race, I’d started experiencing pain and tightness in my right Achilles. Sweet. Just add it to the list of jacked-up body parts caused mostly by compensating for a bum left hip for months on end. My physical therapist showed me how to tape it up with Kinesio tape, which helped immensely.

My left hip flexor was stiff — typical — and I did my best to stretch and stay warm in the corral before the race. No small task, as it was a windy and an unseasonably cold morning in Champaign-Urbana. I also was bewildered by the pre-race DJ’s stylings. At one point, he played “You Can Call Me Al” and “Graceland” back-to-back. A Paul Simon rock block? Um, OK.

I then spied a guy with a “My First Marathon” bib pinned on his back, and tears began to well up in my eyes. Moments later, it was time for the national anthem, sung by University of Illinois women’s a capella group Girls Next Door. Cue the waterworks. (Also, cue me getting even more jazzed for “Pitch Perfect 2,” in theaters May 15!)

And speaking of waterworks …

Here Comes the Rain Again

All week, the forecast for race morning was calling for rain. A 100 percent chance of rain. There was no way we weren’t going to get rained on. The only questions were, how early would it start and how severe would it get?

Thankfully, the rain held off until pretty much the exact moment the race began. I’ll take it. Once you’re actually running, the rain doesn’t matter so much; what really sucks is standing around in the rain and cold before the race even starts.

The sprinkles turned to drizzle, and the drizzle turned to steady rain around mile 3. By that time, I didn’t care. I was already warmed up and in a groove. Soon enough, I was soaked completely through my clothes and shoes, though my shoes never felt squishy (I successfully dodged all of the big puddles). I could see the water rolling off my cap, and I silently mocked/lamented the poor saps who did not wear hats.

Every so often when the course changed direction, a gust of wind would take my breath away and chill me to my core. But otherwise, the rain didn’t faze me DURING the race. More on that later.

Stretch It Out

I knew this race was going to be another “reverse PR,” and honestly it was the first half marathon I’ve run that I truly did not care about my time. All along, the purpose of this race was to finish and, most importantly, to finish without limping across the line. So while I did wear my Garmin, I only looked at it when it chimed at each mile. I stayed steady, but that damn left hip flexor was still feeling stiff. I walked through the water stops, and I stopped three times to eat my Shot Bloks, drink water and stretch my hips and calves. And I’m so glad I did.

Tunnel Vision

Apparently, I am the only one enjoying myself.

Apparently, I am the only one enjoying myself at the finish line.

After my final Shot Blok at mile 11, I took stock of how I felt. Overall, I felt great. My cardio was strong, my Achilles was much less tight and the ol’ left hip pain was bearable. Then I saw the football stadium, and I realized two things 1) I was getting close to the finish, and 2) I was super effing stoked to finish inside a college football stadium. My iPod Shuffle must’ve read my mind because it delivered the perfect trio of songs to finish: “If Rap Gets Jealous,”  “99 Red Balloons” and “Shut Up and Let Me Go.”

The last mile, I picked up the pace — A LOT — and I was surprised by how fresh my legs felt. I turned the corner to enter the stadium, and wouldn’t ya know it, I got a little misty-eyed again. Then I broke into a dead sprint as I hit the grass. The finish line was at the 50-yard line, and cameras projected the finish on the stadium scoreboard. I threw up double horns and smiled my face off.

In fact, it might be the most joyful I’ve ever felt at a finish line.

By the time I retrieved my finisher’s medal and a space blanket, the men’s marathon winner was entering the stadium. Perfect timing!

The next challenge was ascending a flight of stadium stairs to reach the post-race food. SO CRUEL. I can’t even imagine how the full marathon finishers climbed those suckers. They had the concession stand in the stadium concourse set up with food — bananas, pretzels, granola bars, cookies, pizza and pasta — and it was a bit of a cluster in there. You know, just like stadium concourses always are on game day.

Quick Change

The eight-minute walk back to my car was brutal. I was soaked to the skin from running in the rain for two-plus hours, and my space blanket wasn’t helping whatsoever. Though, it did come in handy to cover me up while I awkwardly changed out of my dripping wet clothes into dry ones in my tiny Ford Focus with the heat on full blast. In no time, I had completely changed outfits without flashing a single person in the U of I stadium parking lot. Success.

I was responding to messages with my frozen claw of a hand and saw the runner tracking texts for my two friends, Elaine and Kelli, who were running the full marathon. I had about 30 minutes to dry off and warm up before heading back out in the rain to cheer them on. Again, I say, perfect timing.

Spectator Sport

I threw on my neon yellow raincoat and made my way the three blocks north to the 25.6-mile marker of the full marathon course. There were no other spectators on this stretch, only a couple race photographers, and the marathoners were coming through almost one at a time (it was a small race). It had been years since I’d spectated a marathon, and I have to say, it was just as enjoyable if not more so than running my race. I clapped until my hands hurt and called out runners by name.

“Looking good, looking strong!” “You’re getting close, less than half a mile!” “Keep pushing, you can do it!”

Around 10:30 a.m., a minivan pulled up and the woman inside told the race photographers, “they’re cancelling the race and asking all volunteers to clear out.” The three of us exchanged puzzled looks, and just then, a crash of thunder sounded. But the runners kept coming, so we stayed put, too.

Every time I runner thanked me for being there, for telling them how close they were to the finish, for standing in the rain, I almost burst into tears. I’ve been on the other end of that exchange so many times, it never dawned on me how it would feel to hear those thank yous. It felt amazing, just as amazing as it feels to have a spectator cheer your name when you’re THISCLOSE to finishing a marathon. It’s a symbiotic relationship, runner and spectator; we both need each other.

I saw my friend, Kelli, and jumped in to run with her for a minute. I waited and waited for Elaine, but somehow I missed her, because I got the text alert that she had finished. And still, I stayed out there in the rain.

The sky opened up and the steady rain turned into a downpour, so I scurried back to my car. I flipped on the radio and heard the news: Yes, the race had, in fact, been cancelled due to severe weather and several lightning strikes in the area. They were asking runners to clear the course and seek shelter while buses were sent around to pick people up. Crazy. All told, about 500 marathoners didn’t get to finish the race.

My heart ached for the people who didn’t get the chance to finish and for those to endured despite the less-than-ideal conditions, but my heart soared for the people who did finish — including myself — and endured despite the less-than-ideal conditions.

Man, I love races. — Mags

Race Notes

Best Signs/Spectators

  • Illinois Marathon today. Netflix marathon tomorrow.
  • Why is everyone running? Should I be concerned?
  • The university really took advantage of its captive audience, and during one boring stretch around suburbia development hell, it placed signs every 100 feet or so bragging up U of I graduates’ accomplishments. (i.e. “PayPal, YouTube, MRI. You’re welcome.”) I read every single sign. Brilliant strategy, Illini.
  • But by far the best was a spectator near the first water stop at mile 2. He was dressed in an old timey vendor’s outfit, paper hat and all, with a serving tray strapped around his neck. As the water stop volunteers called out “water!” and “gatorade!”, he called out, “Cigarettes! Runners, get your cigarettes here!” I laughed for about 5 solid minutes afterward.

WhyIAmRunningWall

Expo

The expo was small and not much to blog home about, save for a couple things.

  • The “Why I Am Running” Wall. It’s just what it sounds like — and I get weepy just thinking about it.
  • It was held in the University of Illinois’ Athletics and Recreation Center (aka ARC). Co-mingling with the students simultaneously made me feel like a college kid again and like an old lady.

Swag

  • The race shirt is the EXACT SAME slate gray Nike Dri-fit that was used for the 2014 Chicago Marathon. However, at least this one has some semblance of a design. (Can you tell I’m still salty about the weak-ass marathon shirts?)
  • I love the bag it all came in; yes, it’s another drawstring backpack, but this one has a separate small zip pouch and mesh on the back, perfect to use as an actual gym/running bag. Oh, and it’s bright orange. Bonus.
  • The finisher’s medal is dynamite. At first glance, it just looks like President Abraham Lincoln kicking it Lincoln Memorial-style. On closer inspection, you’ll see that he’s rocking running shoes and a racing bib that says “Abe 2015.”

Race Recap: Nashville Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon 2015

I remember snorkeling in the Caribbean once. I was swimming around searching for fish and coral, sponges and things, but I couldn’t see anything. All I could see was sand and the occasional rock. I was bored and annoyed, but I kept searching. Then I gave up; I just floated there in the water, breathing slowly and thinking, “what a waste of time.” Then, as I was floating there, barely moving, I realized I was surrounded by fish. The coral was there, right below me, and maybe it was there all along. I didn’t move; I just stayed in the moment, letting everything else happen around me.

What does this have to do with my Nashville Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon recap? I’ll explain.

Here’s how I race: gear up, fuel up, line up, run. I’m head-down, focused, and always, always at the threshold of pain and suffering. By the end, I’m dizzy with adrenaline and exhaustion. It sounds awful, but I assure you, I love it. I rarely deviate from this, partially due to habit, but mostly due to ego. I want to do my best; I have to prove my worth, and to do this, I have to run my face off.

Finishing happy!

For Nashville, I wasn’t prepared to race the way I normally do. Deep down, I don’t think I really wanted to; otherwise I would have trained harder. There are a million reasons why I didn’t (aka excuses), but I know me — if I had wanted to run hard, I would have trained hard. What I really wanted was to run with my friend, Anthea, the way we used to run. Where we talked, we laughed, and we went long stretches without saying a word because just being near her was enough. I didn’t realize what would happen when I just let go and ran. Just like when I was floating in the water, everything just appeared around me.

  • There are spectators lining entire race in Nashville, and they’re rowdy!
  • There are a lot of recording studios in town.
  • There are a lot of BBQ joints in town.
  • Belmont might be a university  my daughter could look at. Surely it’s not as expensive as Vanderbilt.
  • Seeing our husbands on the sidelines was fun. They could have yelled louder, though.
  • Running next to Anthea was exactly the way I remember. Comfortable.
  • People who volunteer at races are the best of humanity.
  • They hinted at canceling the race due to the weather forecast. It ended up being a cool, sunny day.
  • I wondered how our other friends are doing, I hope they are having a great run.
  • There is a HUGE farmers market in Nashville. I want to go there someday.
  • I was able to help others make it over the top of the biggest hills because I was running comfortably.
  • I was probably annoying because I was so happy and chipper (as Anthea put it).
  • Helping fellow runners might be more rewarding than a PR. It certainly felt that way when people thanked me. That’s right, this IS the last hill, and you CAN do it.

    Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 10.28.15 AM

    Just like the old days…

I’m not comparing my race to floating in water; it was much harder than that. But for the first time, maybe ever, I looked up. I lived in the moment. I had one of the best races I can remember. At the end, I crossed the finish line with my friend, turned off my watch and wiped away tears.

This is why I run. To feel alive, to accomplish something great, and to be part of a community of badass people. It can be lonely at the finish when you run with your ego; it’s nothing less than restorative when you run with your heart. — Amie

Flying Pig Half Marathon Course Guide

I’ve run the Flying Pig Half Marathon half a dozen times. I’ve run it in the best shape of my life, the worst shape of my life, and everything in between. And you know what? It’s dang hard every single time.

Half-Marathon-Elevation-ChartIt’s been four full years since my last attempt, but I remember the course like it was yesterday. Here’s my take on this hilly hog:

The Start (Mile 1)

2014 Flying Pig MarathonThe Flying Pig starts on the river downtown, just behind Paul Brown Stadium (home of the Cincinnati Bengals). It’s important to note that other than the finish line (which is just a few blocks from the start), this is the lowest point on the course.

Pro tip: This is a big ol’ race with a bajillion runners, so mentally prepare to wade through the sea of chaos when the gun goes off. Don’t waste energy bobbing and weaving. Go with the flow, and the crowd will thin out soon enough.

‘Tucky (Miles 2-4)

hjn050613flyingpig 23pAfter a few short twists and turns downtown, you’ll quickly head over the first bridge and into Kentucky.

The Flying Pig is famous for its hills, but don’t discount the bridges. They make for three slow, steady climbs.

The runners thin out a bit as the race takes shape, but the mass of runners still makes the third and final bridge shake like an earthquake as thousands of feet charge over the top.

Pro tip: The first water stop comes just after the first bridge, and it always feels too soon. Ignore this feeling and take water anyway. Trust me on this one.

Downtown (Mile 5)

Once you’re safely back in Ohio, you dip your toe onto the west side of town (barely) and head toward the heart of downtown. The buildings tower over you, and you really feel like a part of a momentous event. This part goes by quickly, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Pro tip: The downtown crowds are the loudest, thickest and most enthusiastic. Soak it in! This is the fun part, folks! You’re a celebrity!

The Climb (Mile 6-8)

Eden-Park-Flying-Pig-7772-JMWolfAround the halfway point of the race, the course starts to head up the hill that separates the girls from the women. All told, the hill lasts about two miles, and it burrrrns. This is a big climb, and it can be scary and intimidating. But there are actually a few breaks on the way up, so don’t give up and keep moving forward. Once you hit the gargoyles in front of Eden Park, you’re home free.

Pro tip: Don’t shoot your wad going up the hill. Your splits will be slower during this section of the race, and that’s OK. What goes up must come down, and there’s still quite a lot of racing yet to do.

The Split (Mile 9)

fhfgoPraise the sweet racing gods, you’re not going uphill anymore! As you turn right onto Victory Parkway and head toward Walnut Hills, it’s actually a slight decline. Here, you’ll meet big, enthusiastic crowds and some lovely scenery as you break away from the full marathoners.

Pro tip: This is the best place to rack up some high-fives. Treat yo’self.

Rolling Walnut Hills (Mile 10)

For me, this is always one of the toughest sections of the race. Not many people run in this area of town unless it’s Pig Sunday, and not many spectators come here to cheer, either. It’s mostly rolling hills, which wouldn’t be so bad, but coming on the heels of the Eden Park climb, it’s rough.

Pro tip: Crank up your tunes, repeat your mantras, do whatever it is you’ve gotta do to plow through this section. Stay steady, and you’ll be through it soon enough.

The Descent (Mile 11)

I’m flyyyyyyyyying! At last, the downhill section of the race! And what a relief it is! Better yet, you’re back in the land of the living. Spectators! Fellow racers! And guess what? Those suckers are still coming UP the hill.

Pro tip: Lean forward, run on your toes and cruise down toward the city. If you put on the breaks in this section, you’ll shred your quads and anger your knees, and you’re really going to need those to finish out the last mile and a half of the race.

Out and Back (Mile 12)

Just as that glorious downhill ends, you have to add on a little mileage downtown. You run down a long, straight stretch of Central Parkway (it’s only about five blocks, but it FEELS like an eternity), turn around and come right back up. Woof.

Pro tip: Home stretch, baby! Once you loop around on Central Parkway, it’s time to see what you’re made of. Give it all you’ve got because you’ve only got one mile to the finish.

The Finish Swine (Mile 13)

2014-Flying-Pig-finish-swine--14--JPGFor added fun, the finish line sits on an uphill slant. It’s not enough to write home about, but it does make your legs feel about 30 pounds heavier than normal.

Pro tip: Keep your head held high, look for the pink balloons and sprint until you pass a flying pig.

Godspeed, runners! — Aidz