Sunday, October 30, 2011

Two Mile Bunny: Grand Avenue Pumpkin Race 2011

Today I ran my second race of this week, the Grand Avenue Pumpkin Two Mile Run/Walk. Here are my observations.

This race was held last year and I had a blast. The race organizers encourage people to dress up in costume for the race--I was the only adult in costume last year, but that changed this year. I saw a man dressed as an orange traffic cone, a mother-daughter pair dressed as cop and prisoner (mom was the cop, the daughter was in the prison stripes), and folks dressed as pumpkins. I was a bunny this year (as compared to last year's tiger). I had bunny ears, which miraculously stayed for the entire race, and a fluffy tail to shake.

So many more people came out this year than last (which means I was shut out of the awards this go-round: last year I took third in my age group and won the costume award). A lot of folks signed up on site, which the organizers weren't expecting. It took a while to get everyone registered. Some didn't get a T-shirt, which I heard a little whining about here and there. I always send my race registrations in early, so I got one.

This race is only two miles, which causes some runners to underestimate it. I was actually torn on doing this race again since it is so fast. There are folks who can tear it up speed-wise (the winner was in at 9:53); if you try to keep up with them, you're toast without butter. Though I loved doing the race last year, I do remember sneezing and coughing A LOT afterward. It was if I had hay fever after. This year I was a bit slower than last (16:02 last year, 16:17 this year), and the sneezing and coughing, while present, was nowhere near as bad. This sneezing/coughing reaction does not happen to me after 5Ks, so I can only speculate that running faster than I'm used to for such a short time brings on this reaction.

My favorite moments during the race? I heard someone say ruefully as I passed them early in the race, "I just got passed by a bunny." As I was running the final stretch, I heard someone yell out "Yeah, Bunny!"

The race was over very quickly, but there was a raffle/award ceremony that took a while to get coordinated. The young women organizing the race (check their website here: must have been overwhelmed by the onsite registrations. Though I didn't win, place or show in my age group, I was really happy to be in the 16s, which I did not expect to happen. Speed is amazingly relative, isn't it?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

10K the Army ROTC Way: SIUC 5K Run/Walk and 10K Run

Today I ran the SIUC Army ROTC 10K race. Here are my observations:

1) I haven't run as many 10Ks as I've wanted to, simply because that race length isn't offered a lot where I live. There are lots of 5Ks (usually charity races), but 10Ks are few. This race, sponsored by my university's Army ROTC unit, is in its third year. It consisted of a 5K Run, a 5K Walk and a 10K Run. Prior to the race, I spent some time looking at the Illinois Patriot Guard's Fallen Heroes Wall, a traveling exhibit of all the young men and women from the state whose lives were cut short by the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. A sobering sight--so many young beautiful faces looking out from that wall. By the way, a portion of the proceeds from this race will go the Anna Illinois Veterans Home, so that was something to be proud of and feel good about.

2) The race gave out some sweet swag: a Camelback water bottle and a technical shirt with the winners of last year's races on the back, all in a black tote bag.

3) The 10K runners were lined up a distance behind the 5K runners, and the walkers were lined up after the 10K folks. I thought we were going to have staggered take off times because of this, but we all started at the same time.

4) The alternate name for this event could have been Cadet Fartlek. The cadets were stationed along the course to direct us and encourage us. So I was basically running from one cadet to the next, asking for directions (I am way directionally challenged). The biggest challenges on the route were the two pedestrian bridges on campus--we ran up one on the way out and came back on the other as we headed back to ROTC headquarters on campus.

5) I finished first in my age group and got a PR. I was pretty certain that I came through the chute at 53 minutes, which would have been fabulous. At the award ceremony, the captain in charge of the race read my time off as 54:03, which would still be a PR, but I wouldn't be as happy with it. Did he transpose the numbers? Did I see the time on the electronic sign wrong? The announced time for the gentleman I was following was 52:14 and I finished behind him. So 53 minutes makes sense to me. This was not a chip-timed race, by the way. I know I shouldn't get obsessed with time, but like a lot of runners, I am. 53:04 sounds a whole lot better than 54:03 [NB: Final posted time on 10/30 was 54:03]. And I don't want to deceive anyone about how fast I run--including myself. But I was able to put aside my selfish concern about time long enough to donate to the Fallen Heroes Wall, which is privately funded. Whatever my own personal political views or convictions may be, I wanted to honor those beautiful young faces on that wall, those lives lost.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

When Your Finish Time Doesn't Matter: iRun Homecoming 5K

I haven't run a 5K for a long time--one, because I've been concentrating on longer distances, and two, because they are painful. They are painful if you run them as quickly as you can, attempting to better your time each time. My fastest 5K time is 25:23; my slowest is 28:52. Today I ran this particular 5K at 26:56, not bad--good enough for second in the 41-45 age group at this small local race. But the most important thing I took away from today's race is to respect all distances, because you never know how your body will react.

First some background: this race was a fundraiser for Unite for Sight, an organization that helps prevent blindness in countries where eye surgery, for example, is not affordable for the general population. (More info at There are college chapters all over the country sponsoring races to raise money for the elimination of preventable blindness. The students who put together this race are to be commended--it's not an easy thing to put on a race, especially on Homecoming Weekend, a time where people would rather tailgate and party.

It was a cold morning and I tried various means to warm up: drinking hot chocolate, jumping up and down and dancing to the pop tunes coming out of the PA, etc. I noticed a young couple as I was prancing around: he was brown-haired, lean and handsome, she was blond, perky, slim and cute. I assumed they were a romantic pair, since they looked good together. They were doing drills and high kicks to warm up. I thought, surely those two are fast!

The race was over pretty quickly and I kept a good pace throughout--not too fast, but fast enough to pass some people. Why does the third mile of a 5K always feel like it's going on forever? I made it through the finish chute in under 27 minutes, which was what I really wanted today. After a bit of a cooldown, I noticed the blond girl from the couple. She was not breathing right after finishing the race, and then, she slowly melted down to the ground--not a full faint, but definitely a case of the jelly legs. I went over to her and asked if she needed some water, and she kept on breathing raggedly. I don't usually touch complete strangers, but I patted her back and tried to soothe her as it was apparent that she wasn't recovering right. A burly bald gentleman came to her aid quickly too--fortunately, he was a personal trainer and knew what to do. He had her lie down to try to recover her breathing and asked her friend (turned out they were not boyfriend and girlfriend) questions about her health. She slowly got her breath back, but kept on shivering. By now a crowd had gathered with all sorts of people offering help: the onsite massage person checked her pulse, and a group of women runners (from Chix in Training kept a watchful eye over the young woman. The young woman kept saying that her chest was aching, so the group got her into the young man's car and they went to the emergency room, just to be safe. I hope that she's all right, and that it was just a case of the unexpectedly cold October air getting to her. It was scary seeing someone that young becoming that vulnerable after a race.

After the couple departed, I realized that your finish time doesn't matter--what matters is running and racing safely. I tend to take for granted my new fondness for and ability to run (I was never a runner until two years ago this fall; tomorrow is my "runnerversary.") I often feel like I don't run fast enough, but that's not the point. This young woman's situation brought home to me how vital it is to stay aware of your body's needs before, during and after each run--whether it's a training run or a race. Take good care of yourself, and never take your abilities and health for granted.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Notes on a Seventh Half Marathon: Evansville IN Half Marathon

Today I ran my seventh half marathon, the Evansville Half Marathon, in 2:06:36. Here are my observations from today.

1) Get on the bus.
This was the first race where Jon (husband and runner support) couldn't just drop me off at the start line. You had to go to certain drop-off points in E'ville to board a shuttle bus. We live relatively close to E'ville, but we don't know it well. I made it just in time from our hotel to get on the last shuttle bus. The shuttle buses took us to Reitz High School, which is high on a hill with little parking around it. So the whole set-up made sense--glad I made it.

2) You don't know a city until you run it.
I've been to Evansville plenty of times, but it's once of those cities dominated by one main expressway that everyone seems to use to avoid actual city neighborhoods. This half had me running through mostly city streets, though there was a smallish portion of on the city's bike trail. I know now what the neighborhoods in this city look like.

3) Volunteers once again make the race.
This race had a lot of volunteers helping out along the course: giving out water, gatorade and orange slices, yelling out splits, and offering applause and encouragement. There were spectators as well, not as many as in Madison, but quite a few there to root on particular people. Volunteers were also responsible for interesting signs along the way: chalking the names of cities participants had come from to run the race on the bike trail path, putting up signs with factoids (58% percent of the runners at this race were female, for example). One of my favorite slogans I saw today was also written in chalk on the bike trail path ("That's not sweat; it's LIQUID AWESOME!")

4) A race can take you to unexpected places.
At one point we ran into a minor league baseball stadium. I looked around and realized the stadium was where they shot the movie "A League of Their Own!" I love that movie, especially when Tom Hanks as the manager says "There's no crying in baseball!" There's crying in running, but that's because the sweat keeps running into our eyes.

5) Music, or not.
I didn't turn my music on at all. Seemed too much of a bother. There was music along the course though, both recorded music ("Staying Alive"? har-dee-har-har-har) and live acts. My favorite was the drumline that appeared just when I was lamenting the distinct lack of funk among the music selections I was encountering. Nick Cannon would have been proud.

6) Sometimes race directors don't lie.
The description for this half said "primarily flat." Thinking of what sadists race directors/planners can be, I thought "yeah, right." But this was mostly flat, far flatter than either my Cape Girardeau half or my half in Lebanon, IL. That flatness helped me get a great time (second fastest half ever).

7) Sometimes a goody bag, sometimes a bucket.
One of the fun things about doing races is what you get in the "goody bag" besides your race number and your timing chip. This half gave its participants a bucket (not a tote bag or a drawstring knapsack, but a pail you might mix paint in). This, I thought, was very weird. Runners from Evansville told me that this was standard practice for this half. One of the sponsors of the race is a plastics company and they provide the buckets. But still, a bucket is weird.

8) Return that timing chip or it's $35 bucks.
This race had a timing chip that looked like a mini hotel key with four holes punched in it. It came with a little orange twist tie. You were supposed to use the orange twist tie to put the chip on your laces, but I didn't realize this until I saw everyone else's twist-tie-and-timing chip combos. I put my laces directly through those holes and didn't use the orange twist tie. At the finish, the race volunteers just snip off the twist tie. Except for me, I had to unlace my sneaker to give them back this chip, which had I lost would have cost me $35 bucks.

9) I had gels before, but not during.
Tried two new to me brands: Accel Gel (I actually liked it) and Hammer (not so much). I had gels with me on the course, but didn't bother to use them, since water and gatorade were abundant, thanks to the race volunteers. I never had to fight to get a drink of either. And a first: ice pops, courtesy the Evansville Icemen, a minor league hockey team in town. They had their cheerleaders (skategirls?) handing out tasty ice pops. I was too eager to get my ice pop to consider whether or not their outfits were skanky or not. I just wanted one.

10) This was fun; let's do it again.
I liked this flat, fast half, as did a lot of people. The fastest times today were 1:11 for the top male and 1:25 for the top female. I also liked getting to know this city better, seeing the non-strip mall part of it. And the post-race lunch at Stoll's Country Inn? Delish, though I may have made up all the calories I burned racing at their buffet. But can you resist apple butter? I think not.