Posts Tagged ‘race report’

Racing in a kilt? Bring it!

warrior-logo-300x217This post gives you a runners perspective on the Perth Kilt Run in Ontario, Canada. This is one of my favorite community races, here’s what to expect if you go. It has a number of unique aspects that make it worth the trip.

Here’s what you need to know about running in a kilt, the Warrior class (running with shield and sword anyone?), and the race in general.

The kilts

Do you actually race in a kilt?

1200px-Guinness_World_Records_logo.svgYes. All runners are required to wear a kilt. This includes the 200 meter Wee Lads and Lassies race for 2-4 year olds. They are so cute!

It started out as a Guinness world record attempt: the most runners in kilts. The race in Perth, Canada would compete with the race in Perth, Scotland to try and set a record for the most runners in kilts. It’s a hassle bringing in Guinness to judge world record attempts, so now they just have everyone race in Kilts because, well because why not!

Where do I get the kilt?

picture of four different color kiltsEven if you have an actual kilt, I recommend ordering one when you register. The race kilts are much lighter than real kilts. I think this year it was $35 to purchase a kilt with registration.  If you do the race again, or you have a friend of similar girth who has run the race in the past, you can just re-use a kilt from a previous year. I keep convincing different friends to try the race, and they often give me their kilts afterwards. I now have about 7 different kilts from friends which I loan out to various runners every year. The kilts change color every year, which adds to the pageantry. You see a fine assortment of kilts at the start line.

Do people wear the kilts in the um… traditional fashion?

Not recommended…. chafing is real…I recommend wearing running shorts under the kilt.

NOTE: If you do the warrior challenge you will have to wade through the water. Most warriors lift their kilts to keep them dry. Speaking as someone who enters the warrior challenge and may meet you crossing the water in the other direction, I ask you to please NOT wear your kilt in the traditional fashion. Once seen, things cannot be unseen.

Does the kilt bother you when you run?SusanKiltRun.jpg

No, you won’t even notice it, but it does make for fun race photos

What are the distances?

it varies from year to year but this is definitely a race designed so that the whole family can participate. And yes ALL races must be done in a kilt.

  • 5 mile/8 km race – The main event
  • 5 mile/8 km Warrior Challenge(more on this later!)
  • Wee Lads and Lassies (in 2018 this included 200m for 2-4 year olds, 200 m for 5-6 year olds, and 1 km for 7-8 year olds)
  • Wee Warriors (a 1 km warrior class division for 9-12 year olds)
  • The royal km (formerly royal mile), a 1 km race for those who aren’t up for 8 km

There was a half and full marathon in 2017, but it is unlikely they will do that again.

Warrior challenge

What is it?

100356-8fb1a5-1002856260The Warrior races include obstacles. The kids warrior class must be completed while carrying a sword. The adult warrior race must be completed carrying a sword and shield.  I haven’t done the wee warrior, but I have completed the 5 mile warrior challenge. It’s a little confusing the first time you do it “Meet by the horse statue at 5:30 PM to get your sword and shield”… uhhhh where is this horse statue? So if you try it, look around for others wearing Warrior challenge bibs and they can help you figure out where to be and when.

The warrior challenge has a limited number of spots and usually sells out. Warriors are usually one of two types of people. People who are competitive and think… awesome I get to race AND carry a sword how awesome is that! and people who are not competitive at all but think oh cool you get to run with a sword and do silly things on the way, sounds fun.  I’d say it’s about 50/50 split between the two.

How hard is it to run with a sword and shield?

Not as hard as you might expect. You can still set quite a good pace if you want to. Each weighs about 3 lbs. You don’t really notice the weight until about 5 km (3 miles) into the race then you start to feel the weight, but even then it’s manageable.

The sword and shield are both made of wood. You pick them up half an hour before the race starts and you return them at the finish line.

You can put your sword and shield into the same hand so you can still get water at the water stops.

Once you start running it’s easier to carry the sword by grabbing it mid blade (it’s not a metal blade) than by the hilt so its evenly balanced. but make sure you hold the sword by the hilt when you pass the race photographers for the best photos.

I have run the warrior challenge 3 times and never got blisters from the sword and shield, but my friend Randy did get a bit of a red spot on his arm from the shield this year (disclaimer: Randy is a little competitive, and was running hard)

What are the obstacles?

These are not your typical mud hero/Spartan race obstacles. Remember it’s a kilt run, so they are inspired from highland games type activities. The obstacles could change in the future, but the past 3 years they included20180623_201254

  • log carry
  • spear throw
  • rock throw
  • hammer throw
  • caber toss (NOT a full size caber!)
  • wading across a stream to a small island to do a shot of scotch

There are prizes for the fastest overall warrior, the best hammer throw, spear throw and rock throw. They used to have a prize for best costume, but I think they dropped that category this year.
The prizes are not your typical race prizes. Prizes include a buckler shield, an axe, a mace and a hammer!

What’s great about the race?

The finisher ‘medals’

20180630_095850One of the things I love about this race is usually they don’t give out finisher medals. One year they did give out medals and I think all of us complained. Over the years I have received a finisher kilt pin, socks, a quaich, flask of maple syrup, a spurtle, and a celtic cross.

I was disappointed this year not to get free shortbread at the finish line. I always looked forward to the shortbread.

The water stops

This race is only 5 miles/8 kilometers but they have multiple water stops. I believe when they started the race local groups could earn a donation by running a water stop and the best water stop got an extra donation. I don’t know if they still do that, but for a small community race the water stops do frequently surpass expectations with a dance team or Minion costumes and great cheering.  I think there were at least 3 water stops this year, which is pretty impressive for such a short race.

BagPipers

Okay, I know some of you are thinking nooooo not bagpipes. Come on it’s a kilt race, of course there will be bagpipes! They have bag pipers along the route (they used to have one at each km marker, not sure if they still do that) and there is a march to the start where all the 5 mile/8 km runners march to the start following the bag pipers and the warriors banging on their shields with their swords

The age categories

Most race provide awards for 1st, 2nd or 3rd in 5 year or 10 year age groups 40-44, 45-49, etc… The Perth Kilt Run only recognizes 1st place in each age group, BUT, your age group is your age. For example if you are a 72 year old guy you are competing against other 72 year old guys, If you are a 17 year old girl, your age category is 17 year old girls. So you might have a better than usual chance of placing in your age group!

Free race photos from Zoom Photo

100356-b30e0d-1002856190In 2017 they did not have free race photos, but in 2016 and in 2018 Zoom photo did the photography and electronic downloads of your race photos are free! I think this is brilliant! I am so sick of being asked if I want to pay $25 for one electronic download. Unless I’m running the Berlin on New York marathon for the first time, it’s highly unlikely I’ll pay that much for a picture. I assume the race pays a fee so we get the ‘free’ photos and builds it into the race registration cost, but I really like this model.

In particular, this is a race where the race pictures can be a lot of fun, run in a kilt, get your face painted, wear a costume or enter the warrior challenge and brandish your sword yelling Freeeeedoooom as you approach the finish line.   My most recent Kilt Run photo is my current Facebook profile picture.  It’s a brilliant bit of marketing really, because the race logo is a watermark in the bottom corner and most of us end up sharing the pictures on social media.

The pre-post race atmosphere

I think one of the things I like about this race is all the little things

  • 2018-07-05_9-00-39Live band
  • Free face painting so you can put on your best Scottish warrior face or tattoo, they always have lots of blue face paint (PRO TIP: Don’t forget you will be sweating, so if you don’t want face paint getting in your eyes mid race, you might want to keep the face paint below the eyes)
  • Beer at the finish for those over 19
  • Haggis Toss competition (this is earlier in the day)
  • Watching the kids races (in kilts of course)
  • They used to have a medieval demonstration in the park, but sadly that was not there this year
  • A decent number of port-a-potties
  • The town crier welcoming you to the race just before the start (sometimes with a little prayer, I’m not religious, and was a little surprised by this, but figure hey roll with it, it’s probably in character for a Scottish town crier)
  • Live fiddle music at the start line to keep your energy up just before the gun fires

Running through the campground

Okay for some reason, I always get a kick out of the stretch of the route that takes us through the campground. Campers sit in lawn chairs beside their RVs and cheer us on. You can smell the burgers on the grill as you go by. Not sure why, but for some reason I always look forward to the campground.

Spectator friendly route

If you have friends or family cheering you on, it’s easy to see you multiple times on the route.  The residents always come out to cheer as well, this means a better than average number of spectators for a community race.

The town of Perth

Bib pick up ends at 5 PM and the race is at 6 PM. This means you are going to have a little time to wander around. Main street has some nice little shops and is very pretty. There is also a nice park with a stream running through it.

After the race you are likely going to be hungry, so take advantage of that walk down the street to scope out a spot for post-race food, and make a reservation if you can. You won’t be the only one looking for food after the race. They are also a great place to sit and relax with nibbles and a drink pre-race as well.

What could be better?

This is a community race, so it’s not perfect, and the experience varies a little bit from year to year. Not sure if that’s because they have different organizers, different sponsors, or different relationships with the village of Perth.

The weather

Because this is a night race (the 5 miler starts at 6 PM) and it’s at the end of June it is frequently hot. Very hot!  The race organizers know it and so do the local residents. Every year I have done it there is a fire truck spraying water and a misting station to help you cool down along the route, and on hotter years you might find a friendly resident with a  hose or sprinkler as well. Given the race is only 8 km, that’s pretty good support.

Organization of awards and results

Trying to find out if you won your age group or if they are giving out awards is always a little confusing. You can look up your race results at Running Goat Timing after you finish but you have to scroll through all the previous finishers results and check their ages and genders to figure out if you actually won your age group.  They usually have the results with age groups posted online in the next day or so. In the past they used to give prizes to first place in each age group but you had to hang around a long time to figure out if you had won and claim them. I have a very nice embroidered towel I won my first year. I don’t actually know if they had prizes for the age groups this year. I had 3 friends who won their age groups but only found out two days later.

If you enter the Warrior challenge you have to wait until the Warrior class organizer (the guy in the brown leather warrior costume who gave you the instructions when you got your sword and shield) has a chance to figure out the results and gets on stage to announce the winners. It’s usually pretty obvious who the fastest male and female runners are, but the only way to find out who won best hammer or spear throw is to wait for the announcements.

Parking

Perth is a small town, so plan on finding parking on the street and walking about 500 meters or so to the start area.

The route and the hills

The hills aren’t really that bad. I have certainly run hillier courses. But I just want to make it clear this route is not flat. It changes a bit year to year, but you can count on a decent number of rolling hills through the neighborhoods.

The 5 mile route does some odd little loops and out and back stretches. Great for the spectators, because it allows them to see their runners multiple times, but a little odd for the runners.  It’s tough trying to set up a community race without disrupting traffic in a small town completely.

If you are a true “road” runner be forewarned there will be a stretch on gravel path or dirt road, and this year for the first time there was a short stretch on grass. Personally that doesn’t bother me, in fact I rather enjoy the change in terrain, but I know some runners prefer 100% pavement.

Another note, the course claims to be certified… but (thank you Randy Chafy for the leg work on this one!) it was the 2012 and 2013 routes that were certified as an 8 km. In 2015 it was certified as a 5 mile race.  The two distances are very close but not exactly the same (8 km is 4.97 miles, 5 miles is 8.04 km). They changed the route in 2018. It looks as though the course was a touch short this year, maybe closer to 4.9 miles than 5 miles. For most runners not a big deal, you are just out there to have fun, but if you are trying to set a personal record or are really measuring your splits, it’s something you might want to know.

Overall

If you are looking for something fun and different I recommend the kilt run. It’s a good race for competitive runners, casual joggers or walkers. This year’s top male runner finished the 5 mile in 26:30 but the last finisher came in at 1 hour and 47 minutes. I have done this race with friends who are very competitive and with a friend who had never walked 8 km before. Bring the kids to do the lads and lassies races, bring granny and grandpa to walk, race or spectate (depends on the grandparent!) or just come out on your own for a little fun.

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Surf ‘n Turf Relay (Trenton)

Surf n Turf Trenton Race Report

DSC_7592Relay races are a great way to break up the routine! The Surf n Turf in Trenton gives you a chance to really mix things up with a run/canoe/bike/run/bike/run/swim/run.

One of the great things about being part of a running group is you can usually find allies for relay races. Our coach, JR ran this race years ago. When he told Randy about it, entering became a foregone conclusion (for Randy the tougher and more interesting the race, the better). You can enter teams of 8 people, but since the legs are relatively short, we decided to enter a team of 4 so each of us could complete 2 sections.

Leg1 – 7.5 km trail run (Randy)

DSC_7611Randy was looking forward to the trail run, he is quite happy leaping over logs and splashing through mud. After seeing the route he decided to swap his trail shoes for his road runners. It turns out the trail is basically a packed dirt path. The timing chip is attached to a Velcro strap you put around your ankle so it can easily be transferred to the next team member at the transition zone.

Leg 2 – 4 km  Canoe/Kayak (Judy & Susan)

DSC_7640The second leg is a canoe or kayak. You can only use a kayak if you enter the tin man/tin woman (where you do the race solo) or the tin mate (teams of two).

You drop off your canoe or kayak between 6 and 7:30 AM at the transition area. You have to mark the front right hand side of the canoe with a bib or tape since the bib you wear will be covered by your life jacket. The canoe must contain a buoyant rope, a bailer, a whistle, and a lifejacket for each person. You leave the canoe on the grass (separate section for the kayaks) until it is time to hit the water.

Judy and I used to do a little canoeing growing up, we know how to steer a canoe, so we volunteered to do the canoe leg. Randy crossed the timing mat and Judy ran forward to get the timing chip. We ran to our canoe, carried it about 20 feet into the water and we were off.

We quickly discovered two things: #1 – four km is quite a long way in a canoe; #2 we are slow! Judy and I both have decent upper body strength (she is a swimmer and I do strength training) and we were both putting a fair effort into the paddling but we were passed steadily the entire way (we have decided to blame our paddles, we had wooden beavertail paddles and we saw several paddles with wider blades,  they allowed non wooden paddles this year.) Our time was 56th out of 66 teams on that leg… Well, I guess we have our work cut out for us the rest of the race.

When you exit the water, you have to carry your canoe up the path and then bring your timing chip to the cyclist who must wait in the transition zone. This caused a lot of concern for the tin man/woman/mate entrants who would therefore have to carry their kayaks alone up the path unless they had a support team. Apparently last year you could leave your boat in the water. James was waiting on his bike, but Randy was allowed to come down and help us carry the canoe. Judy ran up to James handed him the chip and off he went on his bike.

We saw a few people carrying their canoes back to the cars right away, but James only had 25 km to go on the bike so we focused on getting to the next transition zone to ensure we’d be ready to go when he got there. The parking lot for the canoe/bike transition zone is about 1 km from the t-zone.  When they arrived, Randy and James rode their bikes from the van to the t-zone.  After James left on the bike, Randy rode his bike back to the van and then drove back to pick up Judy and I as we were still walking towards the parking lot. It’s a bit of a hike and we were wearing water shoes and sandals that were not designed for running or jogging to the car.

In the captains meeting they said you could leave your canoe in the t-zone and come back for it anytime up until 3 PM and their would be volunteers keeping an eye on it….more on that later…

Leg 3 – 25 km bike (James)

DSC_7655There is a map of the bike route on the mobile website, but you can’t zoom in on that map, so the road names were too small too read. They showed us all the maps in the PowerPoint presentation at the captain’s meeting. We thought we would have printed versions of those maps in our race guide, but that was not the case. The only printed map provided was a map showing the recommended driving route for support vehicles to get from one transition zone to the next.  We were slightly worried James might miss one of the turns.

You are not allowed to drive alongside your cyclist since the roads are open to traffic. But we drove the route ahead of James just to make sure the turns would be obvious. If there was a confusing turn we figured we would park and stand there to make sure he did not miss it. (this is a tactic we have used successfully at the Park 2 Brew running relay). As it turned out there were either police or volunteers at all the turns. But we did get a chance to observe a lot of cyclists working hard on the hills!  That’s a pretty hilly 25 km ride, and some of the roads have very little shoulder so you need to be comfortable riding alongside traffic.

James arrived in the transition zone about 10 minutes after we arrived. He was parched, there were a few stretches in the heat where it was hard to take a drink of water because of the climbs. Judy took the ankle strap with timing chip and off for the cross country run.

Leg 4 – 5 km Cross country run (Judy)

DSC_7670Judy brought her cross country shoes complete with spikes. But after seeing the terrain for Randy’s “trail” run, she was concerned she would have stretches on concrete for the cross country run. She removed the spikes. It turns out that was an excellent decision. The last 500 m was along a road and the rest of the race was actually a trail run. Cross country running is usually across fields, maybe up and down a few ditches. This leg turned out to be a proper trail run. Judy arrived at the finish with splashes of mud on her legs from running through puddles and convinced that she would have poison ivy (she saw lots of it on her run) Randy & James who enjoy trail running were quite jealous.

20180614_190228FYI – They mentioned the risk of poison ivy at the captains meeting and said they make an effort to clear it where they can. You have to sign a remarkable waiver for this race with an exhaustive list of risks that includes risk of choking, drowning, hypothermia, heat stroke, allergic reaction to insects, and being struck by a kayak or other participant. We were amused to discover that they missed poison ivy 🙂

The transition zone from cross country run to mountain bike was a bit chaotic. By now it was mid-day and hot. The only shady place to stand was on the road. Every minute or so a car would come through and we all had to move over (it wasn’t clear if these were racers who hadn’t parked and walked up the road like we did or others just using the road). So now you have the team members on their mountain bikes waiting to go and a hundred or so teammates hanging around the finish area moving further out onto the road trying to see if their runner is coming, the end result is a frustrated group of race organizers and volunteers desperately trying to keep the road clear.  If you run the race, make sure you park before you reach the pylons that mark the last few hundred meters of the cross country run so you don’t have to drive through all of that.

Leg 5 – 8 km Mountain bike (Randy)

Randy had his bike helmet and safety glasses as required by the race (we found out at the captain’s meeting that they permit sunglasses as safety glasses). Judy ran over to give him the timing chip and off he went! We knew there was at least one good climb on the route.  None of us do much mountain biking so we really did not know how it would go.

Off to the next transition zone where we all clustered under one big tree, the only shade around. You could see the bikers coming down the last trail, legs covered in mud (clearly a few good puddles on this leg). Randy arrived muddy but happy and James took off for the road run.

We sacrificed a blanket to keep the mud on the bike from getting all over the inside of Randy’s van and took off to the next transition zone.

Leg 6 – 7.5 km Road run (James)

At the captains meeting they referred to this leg as the death run. James listed to the description along the roads through the town. It did not sound particularly nasty, so he asked why she called it the death run. “You do this run at the peak of the day’s heat, all on pavement,  and there is absolutely no shade”  She exaggerated, James said there was a tree that provided at least 15 feet of shade along the route. Yes they did have water stops.

Leg 7 – 500 m swim (Judy)

The swim is 20 laps in a pool. No diving, feet first entry only. The swimmers either need to shower or get hosed down before entering the pool area. We weren’t sure if Judy would have time to change into a swimsuit at the transition zone, so she wore her swimsuit under her running gear for the canoe and the cross country run. A volunteer with a hose washed the mud off her legs. When James came around the corner, Judy grabbed the ankle strap, put it on, and went inside to the pool. They have volunteers to help you keep track of your laps which is great.

You are welcome to go to the viewing area to watch your swimmer as long as you are clean (i.e. if you did the cross country or mountain bike you’ll need to get hosed down).

Your last runner waits at the far pool door. It’s nice not having to rush off to another transition zone. It also means a teammate can hold the swimmers clothes, sunglasses, towel, or whatever.   They call out the bib numbers to the waiting runners when the swimmer comes out of the pool so you have about 15-30 seconds warning before they arrive at the door.

Leg 8 – 3.5 km Run (Susan)

DSC_7679The last leg is a pretty straightforward road run. No shade. Flat except for one the hill that takes you to the finish line.

The last run is only 3.5 km, which means if you want to see your runner cross the finish line you’ve got to get moving. The parking lot for the finish area is about 500 m from the finish line.  I caught up to James, Randy & Judy at the bottom of the hill about 300 m from the finish. Being the awesome teammates they are, they immediately ran with me up the hill clutching their cameras and phones and we crossed the finish line together.

The finish area

The finish area is a good set up, they posted results quickly, they have music, they have ice cream, and instead of the usual post race BBQ burgers and dogs there were some very tasty beef sandwiches and watermelon. My only complaint would be the shortage of water. They had juice boxes and a server yourself cups of water from a drink cooler which ran out.

James calf was giving him trouble so he signed up for a massage. We realized 20 minutes later that each massage table had their own waiting list or line up. When we figured this out, James was still #6 on the list for the table where we had signed up and another masseuse had only 1 person waiting. So if you want a massage make sure you check out the lines for each table, you may save yourself a long wait.

Results were posted quite quickly. We had finished 10th team overall, 4th masters.  So no need to stick around for the award ceremonies. Randy and Judy had gone to pick up our canoe while James waited for his massage. Unfortunately when they got there they found out all the canoes and kayaks left behind had been moved to a tennis court near the finish line. When they got to the tennis court, the gate was locked and we couldn’t find anyone to unlock it.

While they tried to sort out the canoe, I had gone back to the other car to get our draw tickets (strips of paper in the little bag with the safety pins). I wrote down our names on the slips of paper and asked a volunteer where they go. They sent me to the main building in the finish area. Once inside I realized the system. You drop your slip into the bag for the door prize you hope to win. We entered the draw for the local micro brewery and the bike.  We didn’t win, but I will say they had an impressive number of draw prizes this year.

Just after they completed the draw prizes, they announced a volunteer was at the tennis courts so we could retrieve our canoe. All the paddles, bailing ropes, and bailers were in piles to the side. I *hope* I grabbed the correct paddles from the pile (remember we borrowed the canoe and paddles and I had left them in the canoe, I didn’t think I’d be digging through a pile of canoe paddles trying to find them again). Our bailing rope was not in the pile :(, someone else must have mistakenly taken it. Our most excellent tide laundry detergent container/bailer was not there either, I am assuming someone took care of putting it in  a recycle bin for me 🙂

In Summary

Surf N Turf is a fun race. Trenton is a nice town. Try to find a place with a patio by the river for dinner! The race would be easier if you were a local, a lot of directions at the captain’s meeting assumed you knew the neighborhood. I think it would be easier the second time you compete and know what to expect. We managed a respectable finish in our first attempt. Next time I would recommend you print the maps from the website at home before you travel to the race, since it’s hard to read the maps on your phone and the race kit only provides a printed map of the driving route from transition zone to zone.

This race is organized by the military, so they take safety and safety guidelines seriously. That also means the majority of the teams are made up of military teams fighting for bragging rights.  This race is reasonably competitive, not a lot of ‘my first 5 km’ runners. But you don’t need to run a sub 5 minute km to have fun at Surf n Turf… we may be back 🙂

20180615_174120_001

Here the rest of my running related posts and race reports.

 

 

Big Sur Marathon Race Report “Beauty and the Beast”

(just found this post in my drafts…apparently I forgot to publish it last year :))

Apparently the Big Sur marathon is nicknamed Beauty and the Beast. I can’t think of a better nickname! If you run marathons, I highly recommend adding it to your bucket list.

I recently ran Big Sur with 5 members of my running club: Faye, John, Mike, James and my sister Judy. James suggested we all do Boston 2 Big Sur this year and at the time it seemed like a good idea 🙂

Tip #1 Give yourself a little time to explore the area

We arrived Friday in Monterey.  The race was Sunday. California lived up to its reputation for great weather. We had lots of sunshine. Yet it was cool enough in the morning and evening for a light jacket and warm enough in the afternoon for shorts and a t-shirt.

We took advantage of the views and the weather to rent bikes and ride along the coast, stopping to take pictures along the way. A sneak preview of the views to come on race day perhaps?
20170429_113910

You won’t regret having a little time to explore the area. You can visit the Monterey Aquarium, check out the shops and restaurants along Cannery Row and  fisherman’s wharf.  The municipal wharf is a good spot to look for sea life and to see fishermen at work (we spotted sea lions and sea otters).  Rent a sea kayak and explore the shoreline. Walk, drive, or cycle to the coves where the seals have their pups. It would be a shame to arrive, race, and leave.

20170501_082834.jpgTip #2 Wear your race gear around town

Big Sur race weekend has everything from a 3km race to a marathon. As a result it seems like everyone in or around Monterey has either run Big Sur or has a friend or family member who ran Big Sur.  Because we were wearing race shirts we ended up meeting a fisherman who tried out for the US Olympic marathon team and got free dessert at a restaurant in Carmel from a waiter who ran the race last year. It’s a great way to meet other runners and to connect with the locals!

Tip #3 Don’t worry about long lines at the expo

20170428_162620

The Big Sur race expo is very small. Don’t worry, it has the essentials for everyone who forgot to pack something for race day: gels, body glide, water belts. It has some nice Big Sur souvenirs including coasters, shirts, and socks. You can buy posters with the names of all the marathon runners. You can meet the pianist who plays the piano at the half way mark of the marathon and buy his CD. They had runners doing seminars. They had Big Sur jewellery. My personal favorite had to be the booth with the Big Sur International Marathon wine! Bottle of red, bottle of white, it all depends upon your appetite! (for the record I picked up a bottle of the Pinot Noir)

Tip #4 Make reservations for dinner Saturday night

With an early start Sunday morning, Italian restaurants are popular places around 5 PM Saturday all across Pacific Grove and Monterey!  We found a fabulous little Italian place in Pacific Grove (my sister said it was the best Pasta Primavera she ever had!). Our restaurant was packed with runners.  Fortunately we made a reservation well ahead of time. Many runners enquiring by phone or in person left disappointed or informed that they could get a seating at 8 PM or later.

Tip #5 Stay on Eastern time

Or if you aren’t travelling from the East to race Big Sur, just go to bed early. The only way to the start line of the marathon is by bus. The buses leave at 3:30 or 4:00 AM. Allow time for your pre-race wake up and prep routine and time to make your way to the location where you board the bus and you should only have to set your alarm for somewhere between 2:30 and 3 AM!

Tip #6 Research where to stay

You can stay in Carmel, Monterey, Big Sur, Pacific Grove. You can stay in a Hotel, a motel, or rent a house.  There are options for different budgets, different comfort levels and different wake up times (If you stay in Big Sur or at the Marriott you can catch a later bus to the start).  If you stay in Carmel you have an easier ride home after the race. We rented a house in Pacific Grove and some of our friends had rooms at the Red Roof Inn.

Tip #7 Bring your phone

No20170430_075603t for phone calls or Facebook updates because you won’t have cell reception at the start area, but this is a race where you can set a new PR (photo record).  Yup, if ever there was a race where you want to take pictures this is it! Whether it’s the awesome caricature signs along the route or the amazing views there is a good chance you will want to take  a picture at some point. They even share photo etiquette in the race program (if you wish to take a picture during the race move onto the should of the road on the left side to take your photo, but don’t move too far to the left!) Apparently a number of runners spotted a whale just off shore in 2017! I am told whale sightings are not a common occurrence.

There are a variety of musical acts all along the course, and unlike most races you can hear the musical acts from quite a distance since the only other sound on the road is the pounding of 20170430_090210runners feet, birds chirping, and the waves.

There are points along the route where you can see the road winding for miles ahead of you (which can be a bit depressing knowing you have to run all that way, but try to enjoy them :)). But wow, talk about gorgeous views. Driving the Pacific Coast highway is a bucket list item for many. We have it all to ourselves for this race with nothing but the occasional race vehicle sharing the road.

Tip #8 Bring clothes to wear in the start area

Many people live under the illusion that it’s always hot in California. Well if it’s 5:30 AM and you are sitting in a park in the dark, you may find that a singlet and running shorts are not enough to keep you warm.

Tip #9 Do your hill training

Did I mention the Big Sur has hills? Lots and lots of hills. Big hills. I knew about hurricane point, the big climb in the first half, but I did not realize that the second half of the marathon is basically continuous hills. The good news is after each uphill climb is a good downhill. So practice running uphill and practice recovering as you run downhill.

Tip #10 Forget the PR/PB and just soak up the atmosphere

You can run a good race at Big Sur, but running a personal best or personal record would be quite a feat given the hills and some years, given the winds. They joked at the start line that the PR you set at Big Sur is a Photo Record for the most pictures taken along the race course. The atmosphere is different from any race I have ever run. Because spectators can’t get onto the closed highway it’s just you, the other runners, the race volunteers, the musical acts, and a few locals who live walking distance from the course.  I saw a runner get startled by a mooing cow. The loudest cheer I got from a spectator in the first 20 miles was a lady with a wooden stick running it around the edge of a bowl of burning incense chanting “gooooooo  goooooo gooooo slowwwwww”

You can hear the Japanese drummers at the bottom of hurricane point from about a quarter mile away.  Someone told me you know you are approaching the top of hurricane point when you can hear the piano at Bixby bridge. I remember hearing the song “walking on Sunshine” well before coming across the lone guitarist singing in the field.

The water stops are small, but it’s a small race and I had no trouble getting water. They even had a bit of a local/small town touch because there are volunteers with water pitchers who will refill your water bottle if you wish.  One of the later water stops is famous for its fresh strawberries.

It’s a small race but even a slow marathon runner will pass others because there are lots of people who walk the shorter distances you pass along the way.

Don’t get me wrong, all those distractions and views are great but those endless hills in the last half are brutal.

If I have one complaint it’s that the start are was way too small for the number of runners. trying to figure out where the line for coffee begins is a challenge. Fighting my way through the crowd to the bag check was a challenge. On the other hand the start area had an impressive number of port-a-potties and each port-a-potty had a silly sign taped onto them such as “shoelace repair” or “luxury bathroom facilities”.

I would run Big Sur again. That’s not something I say often. Marathons require so much training, and I only get to do one or two a year why would I do the same races over and over again.  Been there, done that got the t-shirt, got the finisher medal, move on. But, if a friend asked me to do this one with them, there is a good chance I would go back.

I was in the finishers tent, exhausted, clutching a chocolate milk and a cookie, clay finisher medal around my neck, looking for a place to sit down, when someone (who I later discovered was the race director) asked how was my race. I said “that was gorgeous but evil!” He laughed and said and that’s why it’s nickname is Beauty and the Beast.

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Mud Hero (Ottawa) race report

100207-4e5a19-1002625903Mud races or Obstacle course races can be fun! In this post I’ll review the Mud Hero in Ottawa so you have an idea what to expect if you decide to try it.

I’ve run 4 different Mud race/obstacle course type races: Warrior Dash (San Diego), Prison Break (Ottawa), Tough Guy Gal (Rotorua, NZ), and now Mud Hero (Ottawa). Be forewarned, yes, I am one of those runners who thinks this sort of thing is a lot of fun.

I did the Mud Hero ultra 10km , which is the same as the 6 km race but with extra trails and obstacles. There is also a kids race for the smaller tykes. My race day was perfect weather: cool, dry and sunny!

Mud meter 5/5

In some obstacle course races it is possible to do the race and come out with nothing more than muddy feet and legs. The Mud Hero race is well named, if you are not comfortable swimming through muddy water I would sugSusanInMudgest you find a different race (or plan on skipping a few obstacles). There was one obstacle where you walk through a pool of muddy and somewhat smelly water which was around 6 foot deep. I had to swim. In addition the final obstacle this year was a second mud pit that was so thick at the bottom, wading did not work. You basically had to swim in the 2 or so feet of water above the sludge.  If you do all the obstacles, there is zero risk of coming out with a clean shirt.

Level of difficulty – Footing 4/5

I ran this race in running shoes not trail shoes. If I wanted to be more competitive in the race I would definitely wear trail shoes next year for better traction in the muddier sections.  If you are just out for fun, you can absolutely complete the course in regular running shoes, just take your time on the more slippery bits

207635_10150150457676583_1064723_nThe trail sections are uneven with an assortment of logs and roots. The weather was sunny and dry but there were sections of the path that were extremely muddy and boggy. Some sections were extremely slippery mud, others were the  suck you in kind of mud that threatens to pull your shoe right off your foot. Pull those laces tight and use a double knot! Ask my friend Christopher about the dangers of elastic bungee laces and mud races, those are his feet in the photo to the right :)) Obviously it would have been muddier if it had been raining, and the mud gets worse with each wave. So for the best footing, enter an early wave, and stick to the sides of the trail.

Level of difficulty – Hills 1/5

Many obstacle course races are up and down ski hills. This course is basically flat. There were a couple of very short uphills that were basically meant as natural obstacles to clamber up.

Appeal for different levels of ability 5/5

This is the first obstacle course I have run where there were different levels of difficulty for certain obstacles. Mission Swing Impossible had a hard and easy lane (which I appreciated because monkey bar/rings is one of the few obstacles that I still struggle with). Avalanche (the ramp) had an easy lane with ropes to help get you to the top. Walls to clamber over were available in different heights. If all else fails, you can simply skip any obstacles you don’t want to do without any sort of time penalty or burpees.

Appeal to the competitive spirit 4/5

If you are a competitive racer, then the first thing you usually want to know is can Mud Hero be used to qualify for the World Obstacle Racing Championships. The answer is Yes. If you are curious to learn more, check out the OCR World Championships Qualification requirements for Mud Hero and other Obstacle course races. If you want to qualify for OCRWC you must complete all the obstacles. There are volunteers at the obstacles who track the bib numbers of those who do not complete obstacles.

The waves are timed, so age group and overall results are all posted and available, but since there is no time penalty or burpee penalty for skipping obstacles it would be very tricky to do any sort of prizes or awards fairly. This race is meant to be primarily for fun. So there are no award ceremonies or prizes. Just bragging rights!

Photos 5/5

I rate the photos 5/5 for a few reasons

  1. You can search by wave or bib number searching by wave is often necessary since your bib number is likely to be somewhat obscured by the end of the race!
  2. You can search for other photos that match your face That’s how I found that lovely photo of me swimming through the mud. (Nicely done Zoom Photo!)
  3. They are free! How awesome is it to NOT be asked to pay for your race photos!  I am sure my race registration fee was higher as a result, but personally I prefer paying a little more to register and having the option to download any pictures I want from the race.  Especially on something like a mud run, many people run these races with friends or family and the photos become a wonderful and sometimes treasured (Terri , thinking of you and your dad!) souvenir of a shared experience.

Don’t miss the Mud Hero meter photo opportunity right after you finish the race 🙂 I totally messed up by not stopping there for what clearly would have been my new Facebook profile pic!

Swag 4/5

Swag was pretty typical for one of these races, t-shirt, medal and a beer 🙂 They do sell t-shirts and sweatshirts and towels (that’s smart!) on site as well.

Energy level/Party atmosphere

They had DJs,  music, BBQ and beer. 5000 runners came through on Saturday.

I don’t feel I can evaluate the energy level/party atmosphere of the race out of 5, because I ran the 8:30 AM race on Sunday, which was probably the quietest time of the entire weekend and I left shortly after finishing.  All the serious runners do the first wave to avoid lines at the obstacles.

Cleaning up post-race

There are showers to clean up, and change tents for the ladies and gentlemen, but one thing I did not expect, was the $5 fee to check a bag.  It’s for charity, but I would have preferred they just include a  couple of $ in my race fee for the charity and not charge me to check my bag. You are not allowed to use the pond to clean off your mud (and there are snapping turtles in there, not the best place to go wading around!)

I am deliberately not rating the clean up post-race out of 5 because I ran the first wave Sunday, and I was in the first 50 or so finishers. So I had no trouble getting to the showers and there were only 3 of us in the ladies change tent by the time I got there. There may have been line ups for the showers later in the day and the change tents may have been quite crowded, I do not know.

How did my race go?

20180603_094027Well if you are curious. I entered the 10 km ultra 8:30 AM wave Sunday, since my friend Randy was already registered for that wave. Serious OCR (Obstacle Course Race) racers enter the first wave to avoid lines at the obstacles, and yes there is such a thing as a serious OCR racer! There are even classes you can take to get better at OCR. Randy competed at world OCR championships last year. There were clearly a number of runners in that first wave who were taking the race pretty seriously, but still lots of people just doing it for fun as well!

I lined up just in the corral just behind the serious racers. I haven’t run an OCR in 5 years or so, but I’m a reasonably fast runner and I don’t completely suck on obstacles. When we started I found myself passing a fair number of runners because the first few km has a lot of running and not many obstacles. I passed a guy in a red shirt in the woods and said “you’ll probably pass me on the obstacles” sure enough, next obstacle he passed me and called out “I am sure you will pass me again shortly kiddo”. Woo hoo I look young enough to be called kiddo! FYI I never caught him 🙂

In general, I passed and caught up to people when running. I gained a little ground on the obstacles where you had to pull or carry a weight.  I generally lost a little ground on the climbing obstacles. I also lost time on a couple of obstacles where I arrived and there was no-one else around and I wasn’t sure what to do. I guess the advantage of the early wave is no lines at the obstacles, but the disadvantage is you don’t always have someone to watch in front of you to show you what to do. Not every obstacle had a volunteer.

There was a girl right behind me for the first few kms, I could hear her breathing. When we hit the slippery slope (a wall climb in the water). Neither of us could get over it, so we worked together, I gave her a shove to get her over the top and she reached over to try and pull me up.  Unfortunately that was not enough, GettingHelpso I had to call over some guys to give me an extra boost to get me up and over. That is one of the good things about these races, if you are stuck and ask for help, chances are another runner will give you a hand, even in the more competitive waves. Memories of the Tough Guy Gal race in New Zealand where I reached this wall of clay at the end of a pond, there was nothing to grab onto,  I thought to myself how on earth do I climb this? At that moment some strangers pushed my butt and up and over I went! I guess that answered my question… Thank you strangers! If you are a little sensitive about someone sticking their hands on your butt, you can always turn around and request they push you from your feet or sometimes someone can pull you up from the top, but it is much easier to push someone up than pull someone up.

The lack of trail shoes wasn’t a problem until the muddy stretch of trail after the deepest mud pit. A dozen runners must have passed me on that stretch as I focused entirely on staying upright.

There was one tunnel crawl that was hard on the knees, should have worn running tights apparently. But in the end only 2 small scrapes on the knees. Nothing that needed more than anti-biotic cream and a band aid.

The giant slide was a little steeper and faster than I expected, but still great fun. I was more than a little surprised when the event photographer said “Hey Susan is that you?” to the mud covered racer100207-865059-1002625889 wading through the waist deep water after the slide. I wasn’t even wearing a K2J shirt (K2J is my running club and we usually wear club shirts for races, but I wasn’t going to sacrifice my K2J shirt to the mud) Always great to see Joe from Zoom Photo! That made me smile!

It’s a shame the final obstacle is that swim over the sludge because it wasn’t a very fun way to finish.  I think it would have been better to finish with the giant slide splashing into the water! But, I won my age group and was quite happy with my race. Randy won his age group and finished 3rd overall securing him a pro spot at this year’s world OCR championship. My last race was a disappointing marathon, this was just what I needed to remind myself to get out there and have fun running again! Thank you Randy, for that 34417980_10156499856433054_5908170743388045312_olittle nudge to get me out there!

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The best laid plans of mice and marathoners…

Often go awry

There’s your one sentence summary of my race at Grandma’s and perhaps a reminder to all of us that not matter how much you prepare there will always be factors outside your control, and you have to learn to accept it.

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Deep eh? Well you have a lot of time to think when you are running 26.2 miles. Although some of those thoughts are not suitable to reprint here Winking smile. If you want a race report that tells you what to expect if you run Grandma’s check out my more official race report here. This post is a more personal tale of my 2016 race at Grandma’s to share with friends, family and fellow runners, and also a chance to me to look back at the race.

Today is Monday. Two days ago I ran Grandma’s marathon in Duluth Minnesota. A cool little town on the shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota.That’s a picture of me admiring the lake on Friday, the day before the race. My goal was to finish a solid sub 3:50. That would mean a personal best, and it would also give me 5 minutes under my Boston qualifying time. Since the marathon was in June I had completed a long training plan, and I was running well. I had set a PR on a 5km, and a 10 mile race. I was running well on the track. I completed three 20 mile runs during my training. Physically and mentally I was ready.

The race I didn’t run

My alternate race was Ottawa race weekend, which turned out to be a rough weekend for a marathon. There were heat advisories in effect, not a good weekend to try and PR, race officials were asking runners to slow down and take care of themselves during the race. I ran the half marathon that weekend, and was thinking to myself how frustrated you would be if the Ottawa marathon was your goal race. (If I correctly recall my high school English, in literary terms that last sentence would be called foreshadowing)

Getting to Duluth

I landed at MSP (Sorry, I travel a lot so I refer to airports by their codes, MSP is Minneapolis) on time and met Karin (who would be running the half) by the gate. Christopher (Karin’s husband who would be running the full) was late so we passed the time until he landed, meeting a few other racers along the way, then picked up our rental and made our way to Duluth about two and a half hour drive. Along the way we checked the weather forecast for race day, chance of thunderstorm at 7 AM starting temperature of 16 degrees 26 by peak of day.  Hmmm not ideal, we could get a storm waiting for the race to start, but that could easily miss us.  A little warm, hopefully that will change!

Settling in

I was fortunate that Christopher and Karin went to college in Duluth and have run Grandma’s before. I couldn’t ask for better tour guides. Christopher sorted out the rental car, booked our accomodations and even sorted out our dinner reservations Friday night.

We stayed at the university of Minnesota Duluth residence.  I wasn’t too sure how I felt about sleeping in a door room with no AC, and shared showers and bathrooms down the hall. but it was actually a pretty great set up! I had an entire room to myself, it was quiet, everyone around was runners. I never had a wait for the shower, and there were some unexpected perks.

First of all there was a hospitality suite at the residence, which had junk food, pop, water, bananas, apples, oranges, bagels, jam, peanut butter, a toaster, course maps, postcards, even drawings by local schools kids welcoming us to the race!  I loved that!WP_20160617_14_44_09_Pro

There were also lounge areas, so Christoper, Karin and I were able to settle in with a laptop, bluetooth speaker and our junk food to psych ourselves up by watching Spirit of the Marathon. It’s possible our allergies may have kicked in from time to time. That movie sums up all the emotions, all the ups and downs of running marathons, and I love watching it the week before a race. (at the Chicago marathon do they have a small orchestra playing that theme music at the start?)

The day before the race

We went to the race expo early hoping to beat the crowds. Loved the truck with the names of all the runners printed on the side!

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Picked up our bibs and wandered around the expo picking up samples of chocolate milk, and looking for any must have t-shirts with clever running jokes. I almost picked up the “I run for wine” t-shirt. But finally settled on a fridge magnet, hat, pin, and a couple of laptop stickers. My laptop sticker says 26.2 Grandma’s marathon and I picked up one for Trevor that says 0.0 Grandma’s marathon Trevor still doesn’t understand this strange urge my family has to race Smile, but luckily he is still supportive of this shared insanity and is a tireless supported and spectator!

Christopher really enjoys meeting the celebrity runners in the race expo. We were practically stalking Shalayne Flanagan in Boston, and at Grandma’s it was Dick Beardsley who would likely be issuing the restraining order. He was speaking at 4 PM, so we figured we could come back then to talk to him after his presentation. As we were walking around the expo they announced “Dick Beardsley is inthe building at the North End of the expo”. Of course expo race PA systems are terrible so that was all we caught and we spent the next 20 minutes hunting through the expo, outside the expo, asking the info desk trying to figure out where he was. Just as we gave up they made another announcement. This time we listend carefully and caught the booth name “Essentia Health”. We went to what we thought was their booth, but no sign of Dick. But when we asked they pointed us down another hallway and there he was! We had walked past him 3 or 4 times and hand’t even noticed. It was so low key that hardly anyone had seen him! That worked out great because there were only two runners in front of us waiting to talk to him. He took his time and chatted with each runner and also dashed out to hug and chat some familiar faces walking by. When we finally reached him we had a good 3-5 minute chat, he signed our bibs and Christopher got a picture. All I can say after meeting him is Wow, what a great ambassador he is for the sport! He held the course record at Grandmas for 33 years! 2:09:37!

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Christopher had a PR on this course 3 years ago and warned me that the finish was a little misleading. 25 miles of the course is straight, but the last 1.2 miles winds through side streets and just as you see and hear the finish they turn you away down some road and loop you around a building then finally back to the finish. So we walked that last mile so I would know what to expect race day. We did find the 26 mile marker which made a great photo op! It was a gorgeous day, nice breeze, high of about 24 degrees or so, not too humid. Would have been a great race day! (there’s that foreshadowing again…)

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Food was cheap and easy to find. French toast at Perkins for breakfast Friday. Sandwiches for lunch at Erbert and Gerbert (handy to have friends who know the town). An early supper at Va Bene, a wonderful little Italian place overlooking the water that was completely ready for the rush of runners looking to carbo load.

By 8 PM we were well fed, rested and back at the dorm.  I checked the weather forecast one last time: chance of thunderstorms at 5 AM and 11 AM (hey that’s better we wont’ get soaked waiting at the start), starting temperature of 16 degrees and about 24 degrees by noon. Not cool, but manageable. I laid out all my race gear, set my alarm for 4:45 AM and was soon fast asleep.

Race day

My alarm woke me up, and I stumbled out of bed, slowly started to get into race mode. Body glide, compression sleeves, take a bite of my banana, have a sip of water, turn on my GPS to get a signal and so on.

Karin left earlier to catch the shuttle for the half marathon start which is at 6:15 AM. The marathon doesn’t start until 7:45.  Yeah I know the half starts before the full, weird eh? That’s because the half marathon runners start half way down the marathon course so they want the half marathon runners  off the course before the elite marathoners come through.

Christopher and I met at 5:30 and made our way to catch the shuttle. We were on the first bus, and soon we were trundling along, trying to distract ourselves so we wouldn’t think about how every mile covered by that bus we would soon be doing on foot!

A statue of Paul Bunyan marks the turnoff for the start. They dropped us off and we trundled down the road to the start area and foudn another photo op. Yup those are my the same stylish pre-race PJs I wore in Philly! I keep thinking they work because I can throw them out, but I keep throwing them in with the bag check, so there they are again! You can also just make out my fine work writing my name on my tank top with electrical tape. Apologies to my K2J folks, that tank top is my best hot weather tank top and I chose function over K2J fashion for this race.

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It was neat being amont the first buses and seeing such an empty start area. Is this what it is like for people in the first wave at Boston?

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We laid out our garbage bags on the grass and settled in. We put on our sunscreen, and generally took it easy. It wasn’t long before there were 15-30 minute waits for all those port-a-potties as you can see in the background. (See I did bring K2J gear to the race! Had to make sure I had at least one good K2J Photo op!)

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We did the mandatory last trip to the port-a-potty line and made our way to the stop. The temperature warning flag was green (low risk). We were good to go!

20160618_062029I had a mild panic when I got to the bag check because there was only one bin left for my bib number range and it was already overflowing. No sooner did I stuff my bag in they started to roll it away and bags were falling out.

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But no time to worry about that, time to find the 3:45 start point. No corrals here, just signs to indicate suggested starting points in the corral. For some reason all the pace bunnies were way down bythe front of the main start (they have a sub 2;25 start and then the everyone else start). In the end I had to fight my way down to the 3:45 bunny. I found at later that Christopher was at the 4:00 mark confused looking for his pacer along with many other runners, they didn’t know their pacer was at the front with mine.  This was my only real complaint with the race, whether that decision was made by the CliffBar pace team or the race we may never know but if you were trying to PR and planned to follow a pacer that could have thrown off your entire race…it also caused a lot of clogging near the start.

The announcer started gave us the 5 minute warning. “It’s a gorgeous 72 degrees out there right now, great day for a run”. I don’t speak Farenheit so I took his word for it (turns out that is apparently 22 in Canadian)

The race started, we slowly moved towards the start line. My GPS of course decided to go into power save mode, so I had to to restart finding my locataion again,but it was ready before I crossed the start. Let the race begin! I had my pace wrist band, my pace bunny, my belt wth gels and two water bottles I was ready!

1 km 5:20 pace – perfect exactly on track for 3:45

2 km 5:07 pace – well not surprising very crowded tough to keep up with the pace bunny

3 km 5:11, 4 km 5:06 – glad I brought water with me, first water stop isn’t until 3 miles

5 km 5:14 and the first water stop, the flag is now yellow (moderate heat risk) . ottawa race weekend I ran a half marathon with red flags, I can handle this. I dump water on my head.

6 km 5:20, 7 km 5:12, 8 km 5:14 – the pace bunny is going a little faster than I would like, but I’m okay, starting to get to know the other runners in the 3;45 pace group, still pretty crowded.

9 km 5:22, 10 km 5:14 – the first mat! I am about 90 seconds ahead of my goal time here, anyone tracking me online is thinking ‘ okay great Susan didn’t go out too fast in the first part of the race, sticking to her plan’

11 km 5:15, 12 km 5:26, 13 km 5:16 – wow there are way more hills on this course than I expected, this is not flat. Okay they aren’t really steep hills, but there do seem to be a lot of them

14 km 5:28 15 km 5:27 – you know given this race is along the water there isn’t much breeze, these darn trees are blocking the breeze from the water! Oh wait there’s an open bit, yeah that breeze can we have more of that?

16 km 5:29 17 km 5:43 – Why am I doing this. Marathons are stupid. I should just run half marathons. Yeah I am never running another marathon I mean seriously this sucks

18 km 5:34 – You know what Mr Pace bunny, you can go ahead, I’m okay back here.

19 km 5:40 – wait a second that’s a red flag (high risk) at the water station, maybe that’s why this seems so hard. Another runner comments that dunping water over her head has caused water to drip down her legs into her shoes.  Doh! Why did she have to say that, I hadn’t noticed my socks and shoes are completely soaked.

20 km 5:34, 21 km 5:46 – hey red balloons that means walk the water stops, dump ice in the sports bra, and take a sponge. These water stations are awesome! they have ice and sponges at every single stop. Oh look a timing mat, only a couple of minutes off my goal pace… bwahaha anyone tracking me online will still think I might have a personal best little do they know…

22 km 6:07, 23 km 5:46 – just get to the next yellow balloon (mile marker) then walk, just get to the next balloon then you can walk. I wonder if the 4:00 bunny will pass me and if so will Christopher be with him, if so good for Christopher.

24 km 6:11, 25 km 6:01 – okay big curve, cut the corner, why is no-one else cutting this corner it will save a good 100+ meters… oh wait they are all staying on the side of the road with shade. Didn’t think of that

26 km 5:34 – downhill yay! Oh look I can see the lift bridge at the finish line in the distance. Christopher warned me about that. Still got 16 km to go, that sucks.WP_20160617_10_09_34_Pro

27 km 5:57, 28 km 5:49, 29 km 6:43 – uhhh wait a second that was a black flag at the water station (extreme risk) are they going to close the course with me still out here?

30 km 6:35, 31 km 6:01 – then again if they close the course I could stop. Look there goes the 4:00 pace bunny, bye bye pace bunny.

32 km 6:18, 33 km 6:18 – what was that loud bang!?! Oh that is the blue balloon mile markers for the half marathon exploding in the heat. Oh look a timing mat, anyone tracking me online is going to look at this mat and say ‘whoa something went wrong on that stretch’

34 km 6:50, 35 km 6:03 – hey look, someone else from the 3:45 pace group – Hello Michelle shall we run walk this together? A volunteer hands me water and says “Go Susan you look great” I smile, pat her on the arm and say “ You lie so well”

36 km 8:23 – foot about to cramp, calf about to cramp, F**% thank you Michelle for walking with me, okay we can run again, no wait now Michelle has a cramp. Hey look orange slices and strawberries.

37 km 6:40, 38 km 7:24 – run walk run walk run walk, well slow jog walk really, hey look there is the restaurant we ate at last night. Look another pace band on the side of the road someone ripped off in disgust, tried to rip mine off but too much effort.

39 km 5:44 – wow awesome crowds on this stretch yelling “Go Susan” “Go Susan’s friend” thank you! So glad I put the tape on my shirt

40 km 6:34 – one last water station! Great crowds lots of cheering.

41 km 6:34 – Michelle says she is slowing me down (the idea that anyone could slow me down at this point is highly entertaining) and sends me on my way. I wonder if can get through the last mile without stopping… Hey look there is the one mile photo op, would it be rude to flip him the bird, cuz that’s pretty much all I want to do right now. Wouldn’t that be a great race photo?

42 km – S*(%#@ there is a hill here, that’s just cruel, use the arms, use the arms use the arms. There’s the 26 mile spot where we took our picture .2 miles to go, come on, use the arms, use the crowd, just keep moving, there’s the finish, oh f$@*& my calf is about to cramp up I am 100 meters from the finish line don’t let me collapse with a calf cramp now! Don’t let me be that runner who collapses and crawls across the finish line or has other runners helping them limp across

42.2 5:49 for that last km by the way – the finish line, once again I am sorely tempted to use my middle finger for my finish photo. The words going through my head in this photo are not suitable for younger viewers

WTF

It’s over! Thank god it’s over. That sucked. I don’t care what my time was, it’s over! Thank you I will take that medal and my finisher shirt. Wow this medal weighs a ton. All around me finishers are looking at each other and simply saying, glad that’s over! I mention I need salt and I need it now, he hands me a leftover salt tablet. Thank you sir yo uare my hero! Michelle appears behind me we hug briefly, it’s over. I stumble to the gear check, they find my bag, I stumble to the chocolate milk station I find some chips, I find some shade.

Recovery zone

Karin finds me, I ask about Christopher, he’s still out there. I lie immobile trying to stretch what I can, drink what I can, eat what I can. I text Karin, Christopher has crossed the 25 mile marker. I stumble towards the finisher shirt pick up. I see Christopher, one shared look says it all ‘who cares about the time today, we finished!’ . We hug in mutual exhaustion and I take him to Karin. The three of us take a group finisher photo with our medals. Karin takes care of Christopher getting him chocolate milk, then water as he just stands there. We both just had our worst ever marathon finishing times, and neither of us cares at all. Today was all about finishing without ending up in the med tent!

We head to the change tents (great concept! ladies and mens change tents at the finish line so you can get out of your soggy nasty race gear!). I discover I still have a sponge stuck in the back of my running bra. Christopher walks out of the tent clutching a blue piece of paper he was given at the finish, his drink ticket. Instead of the finisher shirt he has changed into a red shirt that says “I didn’t run this far to drink fizzy yellow beer”. Clearly our next destination is pre-determined.

I don’t drink beer, but I can get a Coke with my ticket, but the coke is luke warn just put it into the cooler. I’ll take a Sprite. We collapse a bit. I sit, Christopher is afraid if he sits on the ground he will never get up again. Lunch is proposed, after considerable struggle I managed to get to my feet. As we walk along, we spot the race car with the names, hey cool the half marathon names are on the other side of the car we just never realized it! Photo op for Karin!

20160618_134240We find a nearby restaurant. We order food. We have a booth, look I can lie down on the bench, that feels good.

We finish lunch, we walk towards the shuttle buses, we cross the race course and OMG there are runners coming in! Have they been out there this whole time!!! Cheer, clap, cheer some more! You are amazing! Wow!! Seriously! they look pretty good for people who have been on the course for about 6 hours in this heat!

Apparently it peaked at 78 F which is *only* 26 C, but it was also 80 % humidity and there was not a cloud in the sky. So trust me when I say it was hot. There was a running group from Tampa Florida in our dormitories. They were complaining about the heat as much as we were.

So no personal best, no Boston Qualifying time, all that training and preparation, but Zeus (or whichever god controls the weather) was not feeling kindly towards the runners today. 9500 runners registered in the marathon. 7500 finished. We don’t know how many started.

It may be my worst marathon finishing time to date (4:07:42 if you are curious) but I will wear my Grandma’s marathon jacket with pride! Done and done Smile I never want to run another marathon again!

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But… my time from the Philly marathon in November is a theoretical BQ . With the Ottawa and Grandma’s races being so hot maybe less people will have qualified and my time may get me in to Boston 2017, a chance to earn another Boston jacket, and my running group, K2J, was discussing trying Boston Big Sur next year, so just maybe… Damn it! here we go again… so when does the next K2J clinic start?

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Last but certainly not least a huge thank you and big hugs to Christopher and Karin, who suggested this race in the first place! Hey Christopher it took what 5 years? but we finally ran a marathon together! Let’s not wait 5 years for the next one.

Grandma’s marathon–Is it worth the trip?

Grandma’s marathon is a big race in a small town. 9,500 people registered for the marathon and about the same for the half marathon (which sells out fast). If you haven’t heard of it, you may want to add it to your bucket list.

WP_20160617_14_43_40_ProWhen is it? Late spring

On a Saturday in early June – So the weather could be a perfect cold and misty, a hypothermic cold and raining, or an exhausting hot and humid.

Where is it? Duluth!

It’s in Duluth, Minnesota. Where is that? It turns out Duluth is on the shore of Lake Superior about a two and a half hour drive from Minneapolis. Minneapolis is a major airport, so if you live too far away to drive, there are lots of flight options. From Minneapolis airport, you can take a shuttle bus or rent a car to get to Duluth. If you stay in recomended race accomodations  with shuttles, you can manage in Duluth without a car. The biggest advantage to renting a car is the ability to stop at Tobies. Tobies is a bakery in Hinckley (about half way between Duluth and Minneapolis.) Tobies is known for it’s cinnamon rolls and pies. home made donuts, baked breads, rolls, cookies, and more! After all one of the perks of running a marathon, you probably aren’t counting calories, so this is a great place to load up on indulgences.

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One of the first things you will see in the distance when you arrive in Duluth is the lift bridge. The lift bridge is a remarkable feat of engineering. Duluth is a shiping port and you get some big ships. Instead of the typical draw bridge, they have a lfit bridge that literally lifts the entire span of the bridge to make room for ships coming into port.  This is the same bridge you’ve seen on Grandma’s marathon website, race medals, and race gear. You have arrived at your race destination! You will learn to love and hate this bridge. It’s a great landmark for the finish line, in fact it’s such a great landmark you can see if miles and miles and miles away. It taunts you on the race course looming in the distance.

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Where to stay? Reliving your college years in a dorm perhaps?

Like all big races, there are recommended race hotels. If you want to stay at a hotel that is close to the finish, you want to stay in Canal Park. Any hotel in the Canal Park area is close to the lift bridge, the finish and race expo. The race expo is in the DECC (Duluth Entertainment and Convention Centre). Canal park also has bars and restaurants so you don’t have to go far to find food. Like all big races, hotels will book fast and expect hotels to jack up their rates on race weekend, so you will pay for the convenience. There is no point in trying to get a hotel near the start line. There is no parking at the start, and there is no drop off at the start. Everyone must go to the start using shuttle services (more on that later).

Grandma’s offers an interesting alternative to expensive hotel rooms. You can book a room at the college dorm! There are two bedroom appartments with their own kitchenette, and the standard small dorm rooms with two single beds. We stayed at the University of Minnesota Duluth residencces. We were slow making our reservation so we weren’t able to book one of the two bedroom residence rooms with its own kitchen. Instead we got the more traditional university dorm room with two beds, two desks, and a dresser. Bathrroms and showers down the hall. There is no air conditioning, tu you can open the windows to cool down if needed. It was hot the weekend we were there (more on that later) but I was still able to get a good night sleep. I never had to wait for a shower, and there were a few great advantages to staying at the dorm. The price was reasonable ($100 USD a night), you could get a shuttle bus to and from the expo area (which was also near a number of restaurants), there is also a shuttle directly from the dorms to the race start. 20160616_22050720160616_220513

The nicest surprise was the hospitality suite! There was a big room with race course maps, postcards, brochures, and more important bagels, fruit, water, soda, even junk food. I particularly liked the drawings on the tables by some local kids welcoming the runners! We could have completely skipped our grocery store run for pre-race food! The smaller dorm rooms are a little small (though bigger than some of the hotel rooms I have spent $300+ a night during Boston marathon weekend). A couple can stay in one comfortably, but if you are bunking with a friend, you are definitely going to be stepping over each others smelly sneakers.  There are also a number of lounge areas where you can hang out if you want a little more space to hang with fellow runners. In theory no alcohol is allowed in the common areas. We found the lounges a great place to chill and watch Spirit of the Marathon to get psyched for race day.

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The race expo – free chocolate milk, I’ll take that thank you!

WP_20160617_09_58_53_ProWe drove down to the DECC in Canal Park where they host the race expo. We got there early so no problem parking. The parking lots were getting pretty full by lunchtime, so if you are going later you may want to take the shuttle instead. The first thing you see in the expo hall is the setup for the spaghetti lunch & dinner. What a great setup! You can have your pasta dinner anytime during the day. So if you prefer to carbo load at lunch instead of supper, or you want a 3 PM dinner you can just wander in with your ticket, and tuck in! This also makes it easier to dine with a large group, so great for running groups travelling together to the race.

I did find it odd that you have to walk through the entire race expo to get to bib pick up. This made the narrow pathways through the race expo a little crowded. But once we fought our way to race packet pick up they were quick and efficient. Men’s kit pick up and women’s kit pick up are split up. If you happen to register for the 5km & half marathon challenge, look for the challenge kit pick up separate from the 5 km and half marathon pick up desks.

The race expo itself, was decent. If you forgot nipple guards, gels, or body glide, you can pick up what you need. If you want free samples (chocolate milk, Old Dutch cheese curds, hot sauce, granola) you will find those too. The usual “I run for wine” or “In my dreams I run like a Kenyan” shirts, stickers, and glasses. There is an impressive selection of official race gear as well, and not as expensive as I expected. There are Grandmas marathon sweatshirts, hoodies, pint glasses, magnets, pins, stickers, posters, jackets, hats, etc… I picked up a magnet, a 26.2 laptop sticker, a 0.0 laptop sticker for my husband the spectator, and a hat. My race partner picked up a nice hoodie with the course map emblazoned on the sleeve.

Mandatory photo ops – where is Dick Beardsley?

Make sure you take your picture at the car with the name of every single runner (marathon on one side, half marathon on the other) printed on the side.

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When we were walking the last mile of the course, we found the 26 mile marker on the road, which made for a great shot since the finish line wasn’t set up yet when we walked by.

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There will be runners speaking at the race expo. *The* runner to meet at Grandma’s marathon in particular is Dick Beardsley. Beardsley is known for his 1982 Duel in the Sun battle at Boston against Salazar. Beardsley was born just up the road from Duluth in Minneapolis, his course record 2:09:37 at Grandma’s stood for 33 years! This is his race! He is a fantastic ambassador for the sport and if you do get to meet him, he will always find time to chat. This means the line up moves slowly, but when you do finally meet him you will be glad you made the effort. He is usually one of the speakers, but listen carefully to announcements at the race expo. We managed to catch up with Beardsley at a booth in the expo, but because the announcements were hard to hear, and the booth stop wasn’t posted anywhere, there were very few runners waiting to meet him, chatting with him was a treat!

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All runners need to pose at the lift bridge either before or after the race!

The start area – great shuttles, no shade

There is no parking at the start, and there is no drop-off at the start. All runners and spectators must use shuttles! Sounds scary, but the fact is the shuttles are very organized. So just look up the shuttle schedule, head down at the appointed time and hop on your bus. It won’t be long until you see a statue of Paul Bunyan watching over the start.

 

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One of the really cool options is a train to the start! We were very tempted to take the train. You have bathrooms on the train, you can stay on the train a little longer if it’s raining to stay dry. But the train only holds 1000 people and it only leaves once, so we were concerned we might not get a seat. We also read that one year the train arrived a little late to the start making it a rush for runners to drop off their gear at the bag check and get to the start. So we chose to play it safe and use the shuttle buses instead, which worked perfectly. We hopped on the first shuttle and had lots of time to settle in at the start. I have never seen so many port-a-potties with so few runners. This must be what it is like for runners in Wave 1 at Boston. 20160618_062236The start area filled up quickly and it wasn’t long until you had the usualy port-a-potty lines.  For the record the train arrived in plenty of time for the runners on the train to disembark, drop off gear and get to the start this year. WP_20160618_06_50_01_Pro

They had lots of water available in the start area as well, but there really wasn’t any shelter or shade so pack appropriately! We had a sunny day so we didn’t need our garage bags to stay dry, but they were handy to sit on the grass still wet from dew. In 2015 they got hit with a downpour and there were a lot of wet runners (one hid in a port-a-potty to stay dry and was very unpopular when he was discovered).

The start – Where is my pacer?

We made our last port-a-potty run and headed to gear check and the start. The gear check is a clever set up, self service. A bunch of labeled bins on wheels. Just toss your bag into one of the bins labelled with your range of bib numbers. We screwed up and waited too long to drop off our bags. By the time I reached it, there was only one bin left labeled for my bib number range and it was already overflowing! I jammed my bag in as best as I could, and it was waiting for me at the finish line. My bad for waiting too long to drop off my bag. Waiting too long also makes getting to gear check a challenge since it is in the start chute, so lesson learned don’t wait until the last minute.

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They don’t have corrals which is a shame given the size of the race, but they do post signs suggesting where to line up for different finish times and most runners were respectful of those signs. I walked up to the 3:45 and looked around for my pace bunny. The Cliff Bar pace team was at Grandma’s and I had seen the pace bunnies arrive, including my 3;45 bunny but there was no sign of the pacer.  Then I realized almost ALL the pacers were standing much closer to the start, somewhere around the 3:15 mark perhaps? I though perhaps they would move back down the corral to where we were gathered, but they didn’t. I had to fight my way up through the crowd to my 4:15 bunny. I was lucky, I was close enough to see the pacers. Runners at the 4:00 and 4:15 mark never realized their pacers were so far ahead. This is my only real complaint about Grandma’s marathon weekend. They organization really was fantastic, but that was a terrible place to put the pacers and it caused a lot of frustration and bunching near the start.  I don’t know if that decision was made by the Cliff Bar pace team or by the race organizers, but I will certainly share that feedback in the race survey. We even chatted to the pacers at the expo and they never mentioned they were going to meet runners there. So if you plan to follow a pacer, ask where they will be at the start!

The course – Not as flat as it looks

Don’t let the course map fool you, this race isn’t flat! It’s not hilly, but it’s not flat. It’s a continuous set of light rolling hills. It’s quite a good course to try and PB, because the rolling hills are probably easier on your legs overall. The only *big* hill is lemon drop hill, at mile 22, which is not as tough as most of the *big* hills I have encountered at other races. The course basically follows the road along the lake into town. It’s a shame that the trees block the view of the lake most of the course, but on the other hand those same trees provided much needed shade on my race day. Views of the lake are a mixed blessing, because as gorgeous as they are, they also tease you, it isn’t long before you can see the lift bridge in the distance even though you still have a solid two hours of running to get there!

Grandmas

I loved the mile markers, great big yellow balloons floating in the air for the marathon, blue balloons for the half marathon. Since all water stations are at mile markers this also made it easy to see the water stations well in advance so you could take your gels just before a water stop.

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The nastiest part of the course is actually the last mile and a half. I am so glad my training partner and I walked this the day before race day. The last mile is one of those twisting turning finishes, where you turn a corner and think hey I can see the finish and then you turn away from the finish to add a few hundred more meters. If you aren’t expecting it, you might kick a little early and regret it. After a race with almost no sharp turns along a sweeping highway for 25 miles, suddenly making 90 degree turns left and right and being sent through parking lots is a strange way to finish, but it’s the last mile, you are almost done, you’ll get through it and the last .2 miles is straight to the finish through throngs to help you forget your pain!

The water stops – All other races can learn from Grandmas!

I LOVED the water stops at Grandmas. They did a fantastic job! I was a little surprised the first water stop wasn’t until 3 miles out, after that they had stops every 2 miles. When you reach mile 19 you have a water stop every mile.

Here’s what I thought they did better than any other race I have run. Every water stop was on both sides of the road. They had lots of volunteers. Every water stop followed the same pattern: Water, Powerade, ice, sponge, water. Even when I was still running (it was hot for my race day so by mile 13 I was walking water stops) I was able to get everything I needed without really slowing down. Having ice and sponges at every stop was particularly important on our race day. The original forecast had called for a warm day, but it turned into a really hot day and the fact they had ice and sponges at every water stop probably kept a lot of us out of the med tent!  There were a couple of Cliff Gel stops on the way as well, but I carry my own gels so I don’t remember exactly where they were.  There were also two stops with orange slices and strawberries.A huge kudos to the race organizers for having such great water stations along the way.

If you needed it, there were several aid stations en route as well, I saw more than one runner pop over to get some vaseline or help mid-race.

The spectators – What a finish!

If you have family and friends cheering you on, ask at the race expo about the spectator train. This was so cool! They have a train at the start line which spectators can ride back to the start! It will stop along the way so they can cheer the runners along the course! Such a cool concept!

The crowds will vary depending on the weather. If it’s pouring rain, don’t expect many crowds for the first 18 miles. Pockets of spectators will appear to cheer you on but mostly it’s just you and the other runners. I ran on a gorgeous sunny day (i.e. hot!) which was not great for my time, but resulted in a great turnout for spectators! There were certainly stretches where we just had the occasionaly family at the end of their driveway clapping as we went by, but there were other spots seemingly in the middle of nowhere with big crowds making lots of noise cheering us through.

It’s the last 6 miles that really rocks! Personally that’s where I need it most! Once you get into Duluth you will find more and more crowds cheering you on, once you hit the cobblestone streets it gets even louder. My best pace in the last 10 miles was on the cobblestones as the cheering carried me through.  Of course I had no qualms about using electrical tape to write my name on my shirt so people could cheer me by name. Even when I am tired, or walking, I still enjoy hearing that cry of ‘you can do it Susan’ or ‘Go Susan’ . They don’t put the names on your bibs, so if you need that extra oomph, find a way to help the crowd cheer you on(though electrical tape it appears can cause chafing according to my male running parner who had to remove his name from the front of his shirt at mile 24 and paid the price for all tha cheering in the shower post-race)

Race swag

It’s all about the t-shirt! and medal right? I happened to run this race on the 40th anniversary, so I got a great jacket, and the medal is some serious hardware! I am not sure the airline would allow it as carry on! There were also official Grandma’s marathon race socks in my race kit. One of the things I like about this race is you don’t get your t-shirt until you cross the finish line. They don’t give you a race shirt, they give you a finishers shirt. Since I am one of those superstitious runners who refuses to wear my race shirt until after the race anyway, this worked out great for me! However the one drawback is that they do sometimes run out of sizes by the time later finishers cross the line. In particular ladies XS seems to be a popular size. So if you see a shirt you realy like in the race expo, splurge.

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The finish area

Youv’e crossed the finish line, you can barely walk, you’ve got your medal, your shirt, and your thermal blanket, and most important your drink ticket (don’t lose that, and if you are one of those rare runners who like me doesn’t drink beer you can get a soda instead). You can pick up your bag from gear check (volunteers will read your bib number and go off to find it for you, so you don’t have to think). There are bagels, chocolate milk, water, potato chips (hooray for salt!), and all the usual goodies in the finish area. If you are waiting for someone else to finish, it is possible to leave the secure area and come back to meet them in the finish area as long as you still have your bib.

Another great aspect of the finish areas is the change tents. That’s right you don’t have to try and change your shorts inside the port-a-potty! Go ahead and pack a full change of clothes in your bag check and then head to the beer tent feeling a little less sweaty and smelly.

There is a beer tent with a band (tip: the line for drinks is shorter inside the tent than outside) and when you have recovered enough to need real food you can stumble aroound Canal Park until you find a restaurant with available seating. We only had to walk about 3-4 blocks to find a restaurant which could seat us immediately. After a late lunch we hobbled back to the DECC and found the shuttle bus which took us back to the dorms for a nap and a shower (in that order!) We came back to Canal park for supper to eat at Grandma’s restaurant and to take a picture by the lift bridge, a fitting ending for Grandma’s marathon.

To sum up! Because that was a long race report

Grandma’s is an extremely well organized race, a nice course, and nice atmosphere. If the weather co-operates you could definitely PR on this course, in fact it’s one of the top ten races for Boston qualifying times. Getting there was a little more expensive for me because I had to fly in, but the meals, souvenirs, and accomodations were cheaper than other big races I have done, so it worked out. It has the feel of a big marathon but it’s held in a small town which makes for a really nice atmosphere. Register early and book your accomodations early. Grandma’s is waiting for you!

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Here the rest of my running related posts and race reports.