Lessons Learned

My spring racing season has ended.  That is probably a good thing.  In a period of 58 days I ran seven half marathons.  I almost want to say that I over did it but in actuality, I really enjoyed myself.  I saw many new places, met interesting people, and had many new running experiences.  I thought I would share some of my observations as well as lessons learned.

I ran in races of all sizes, from 160 runners (Veterun Half Marathon) up to over 19,400 runners (New York City Half Marathon).   Looking back, the Lincoln Presidential Half and the Garmin Half were probably tied for my favorite races – both of them had between 1,700 and 1,900 runners.  The Kentucky Derby Festival Mini-Marathon, which had 10,458 runners, comes in close behind just because I discovered what a hidden gem Louisville is.  I learned that I really enjoy the smaller races.  There is something more relaxing about a race where you don’t have to do a lot of bobbing and weaving like you have to do on a packed course.  I plan to consider the size of a race in the future when deciding which races to enter.  Bigger does not always mean a better running experience.

It was still cold when I ran the races in March and even the first one in April.  It rained during the other two races in April.  Given a choice, I will take running in the cold over running in the rain anytime.  Through experience I learned techniques to deal with running in wet weather.  Unfortunately, I learned these techniques after I needed them.  I learned that if you duct tape the toes of your running shoes, your feet won’t get as wet.  I learned you need to wear extra Body Glide or Aquapor because chafing is a big issue when it rains.  I learned new ways to put slits in plastic bags so they become more effective rain gear when running.  I also learned to bring extra plastic bags to pack wet running clothes in for the trip home.

I like races where I can walk out the front door of my hotel to the start line and then walk back easily after the finish.  Being close to the start and finish lines means I don’t have to bother with gear check.  Plus I don’t have to worry about getting stuck in traffic trying to get to the start or where to park my car when I do.  Although I enjoy a point-to-point race, getting on a shuttle bus either to get to the start or to get back from the finish can be a hassle, especially if you are really cold at the finish.  The course layout and how I can get to/from the race are other things I will consider when picking races.

Some runners enter races with the best medals.  I have heard many runners talk about the medal for the Little Rock Arkansas Marathon.  The full marathon medal is about the size of a dinner plate – no kidding.  Me, I like the shirts (more practical).  I get really disappointed when the shirt doesn’t fit me.  It is like not getting a medal.  So I like races where they either let you pick your shirt size at the packet pick-up or at least let you exchange it for one that fits (preferably not on race day when I don’t have it with me).   It is also helpful when the registration process includes a size chart or at least identifies who the shirt manufacturer is (I can search the Internet and find out how their sizes run).  The Garmin race was great – they let you pick the size shirt you needed plus the design was really cool with Wizard of Oz characters:  Dorothy and a Flying Monkey.  I won’t shame the races where I brought home a shirt that ended up on the donation pile because it didn’t fit me and they wouldn’t allow exchanges.

I learned how to be resourceful during a race.  I didn’t have my cotton gloves with me during the Mini-Marathon in Louisville.  My hands were getting very cold early in the race.  As I ran down Main Street, I saw a pair of cotton gloves that someone had tossed lying on the road.  I turned back and grabbed them.  I held onto them for the whole race.  I can’t say that I would have done that for lip balm but as they say, never say never.  Desperation makes people do strange things.

I discovered that there are other runners with superstitions.   There was a man I met in Louisville who wears the same shirt in every race because he did really well in one race.  He wants to keep the good luck going.   I still wear new socks for every race and the same running bra.  I was disappointed to learn that it is common for runners to be less than honest about their estimated finish time so that they can get better corral placements.  I don’t think that is considerate of the other runners who are probably faster than them.

One of my blog readers saw my post about the Garmin race and mentioned that the Santa Fe Trail went through Olathe, Kansas.  I went back and looked at the pictures I took along the race course.  One photo was of an outdoor sculpture called “Going West On the Old Santa Fe Trail” and was near where this reader had seen a Santa Fe Trail marker during a visit to Olathe.  A little late but I connected the dots.

Going West On the Old Santa Fe Trail by

Going West On the Old Santa Fe Trail by Kwan Wu in Olathe, KS

I try to take as many photos during a race as possible so I can share them with you.  But taking pictures slows me down and my finish times have increased.  I have decided that I will have to find a way to balance taking pictures with being competitive in a race.  Truth be told, I would like to improve my half marathon time but I can’t do that if I stop every mile or two to take pictures.  Some of the races that I have run have a big bell you can ring if you get a PR (personal record).  I would like to ring one of those bells some day.  I will have to work on that.

I am taking a break from races.  I am back in training mode, preparing for the Berlin Marathon.  I have started looking at the 2016 race calendar and which races I want to enter as I continue working on my 50 State Endurance Challenge.  I have my eye on some fun ones.  I have completed 20 states already and hope to complete 5 more this year.  While some people say goals are for losers, this is one goal that I enjoy.  I have gotten to see places I probably would have never visited and had a lot of fun in the process.  Maybe you will decide to start your own 50 State Challenge.  If so, I hope to see you at a race sometime!

Running In a Lemonade Stand

I have seen many costumed runners while running races.  I am amazed at how creative some runners can be with their outfits.  I plan to write about costumed runners in general some time but this post is about one very special runner, Bernadette Lack.  Saturday’s Preakness race made me remember meeting Bernadette during the January 2014 Disney World Marathon Weekend.  So why did a horse race in the Triple Crown make me think of Bernadette?  Perhaps it was just another of those Rube Goldberg-esque ways my brain connects all the memories that I have.  But here it is.

In 1997, just two days before her first birthday, Alexandra Scott was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, the most common type of cancer in infants.  Alex endured many painful treatments in her battle against her cancer.  She met other kids in the hospital who were also fighting that beast.  When she was 4 years old, Alex decided to open a lemonade stand to raise money to help other kids with cancer.  With her older brother’s help, her first lemonade stand raised $2,000.  Alex kept selling lemonade and making money for her cause.

News eventually spread about this little girl doing her part to help fight childhood cancer.  She was featured on Oprah and the Today Show.  When asked what her goal was, Alex said she wanted to raise $1 Million.  Lemonade stands started popping up all over.  Inspired by Alex, other kids were raising money for childhood cancer and helping Alex reach her goal.  Some corporations even kicked in large donations.  Just a few weeks before her death in 2004 at just 8 years old, she did it – she had raised $1 Million.  Following her death, her parents started the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation to carry on her dream of helping kids battling cancer.

The owners of the racehorse Afleet Alex had heard about Alex.  (In case you were wondering, the horse was named for the son of the principal owner.)  They  wanted to honor Afleet Alex’s breeder who was diagnosed with colon cancer and they felt a connection to Alex and her cause.  They pledged a percentage of Afleet Alex’s earnings to be donated to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation.   In 2005 Afleet Alex competed for the Triple Crown.  Although he finished third in the Derby, Afleet Alex won the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes – no horse since 2005 has won both of those races.  During the Preakness, another horse veered into the path of Afleet Alex and the horses clipped heels.  Afleet Alex nearly went down but his jockey, Jeremy Rose, was able to recover and keep the horse running.  Afleet Alex went on to win the race with one of the fastest final three-sixteenths in Preakness history.  Jeremy could not explain how the horse went from near-tragedy to winning the race.  He honestly believes that Alex lifted them up.

The sport of horse racing joined in the cause.  Lemonade stands were set up at race tracks across the country.  Even last Saturday at the Preakness, there was an Alex’s Lemonade Stand raising money for the foundation.

In 2014 Bernadette and I both ran the Dopey Challenge, which is 4 races in 4 days – 5K, 10K, half marathon and full marathon.   Even for the best trained runner, the Dopey Challenge is physically demanding.  It took a lot of effort for me to run those races but Bernadette raised the bar.  Bernadette ran three of the four races in the Dopey Challenge – over 22.4 miles – wearing an Alex’s Lemonade Stand to raise money for the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation.

Bernadette Lack in her Lemonade Stand (credit Bernadette Lack)

Bernadette Lack in her Lemonade Stand (credit Bernadette Lack)

I had seen Bernadette during the 5K and 10K races.  It is hard to miss someone running while wearing a lemonade stand.  When I got on the bus to return to the hotel after the 10K, I sat down in the last seat next to a young woman.  It turned out it was Bernadette.  She asked me about my Ishan Gala Foundation shirt I was wearing.  I explained it was a charity I fundraised for and whose focus is finding cures for neuroblastoma.  That’s when Bernadette told me she was running for Alex’s Lemonade Stand and for Alex who died from the same cancer.  She said the lemonade stand was in the storage area underneath the bus.  Bernadette had rigged the costume so that it hung over her shoulders like a sign board but she still had to carry it.  The chilly weather during the race had caused her hands to cramp up, making it even more difficult.  I don’t remember what I said to her but I am certain that I didn’t expressed how inspiring she was to me.

Shortly before her death, Alex asked her mother “Help me get over that wall so I can run.”  In all her life, Alex had never run.  To think that an 8-year old died without ever having run a step in her life is sad beyond words.  Afleet Alex, Bernadette, and all the other runners who run for the foundation have made up for it.  They all ran for Alex.

When I see runners at the start line in costumes, I always think back to Bernadette.  She took running in a costume to a whole new level.  I am also reminded about Alex who, despite her own failing health, worked to help other children with cancer.  While some may have thought her goal of raising $1 Million was just the dream of a little girl, Alex proved them wrong.  In fact, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation has raised over $100 Million to fund research projects; to help support families of children receiving treatment; and to develop resources to help people everywhere affected by childhood cancer.  She may have lived a short life but Alex left her mark on the world.  I won’t look at a lemonade stand the same way again.

Want to see Afleet Alex’s historic performance at the Preakness?  Check out this video on YouTube:

Alex Scott was a child any parent would have been proud of.  Here is a short documentary about her life.  

Want to know more about Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation?  Here is a link to their web site.  

When Pigs Fly!

For years I have heard other runners talk about how wonderful the Flying Pig Marathon is.  Runners get very nice gear with their entry and the race is considered to be one of the best in the country.  I decided that it was time I ran this race and experienced it for myself so off to Cincinnati I went.IMG_1920

On the drive from the airport to my hotel, Jake, the shuttle driver, told me the history of the winged pigs.  At one time Cincinnati was nicknamed “Porkopolis” because it was the country’s chief hog packing center, and herds of pigs often traveled the streets.  For the city’s bicentennial, Andrew Leicester, a renowned artist, was commissioned to come up with some way to capture the city’s history as an in-land port and industrial center.  He designed four steamboat stacks topped with winged pigs that were placed in Sawyer Point Park along the Ohio River front.  Apparently there were mixed emotions about having pigs in one of the city’s parks.  But since Cincinnati had been the final stop on many a pig’s earthly journey, winged pigs seemed to be most appropriate.  Rather than hide their past, the citizens of Cincinnati decided to embrace the pig.

When they were looking for a name for the annual marathon race, the Flying Pig was the obvious choice.  Something about a winged pig makes people smile.  They carry the pig theme all through the races too.   Corrals are “pigpens”.  The finish line is the “Finish Swine”.   For the kids races including the diaper dash, the participants are called “piglets”.  Volunteers are called “Grunts” and many dress up with pig noses and ears too.  There is no escaping the pig.

The Flying Pig race weekend had several race events.  On Friday, there was the Little Kings Mile (whose participants are called “Brew Hogs” and enjoy lots of beer after the event).  On Saturday there was a 5K and 10K plus a 2-mile “Flying Fur” event for dogs and their owners.  The full and half marathon were run on Sunday.

For runners who just can’t get enough racing, they had the 3-Way and 4-Way Challenges (named by Skyline Chili, the sponsor of the events, after two of their menu items).  For the 3-Way Challenge, a runner had to complete the 5K, 10K, and half marathon.  For the 4-Way Challenge, a runner had to run the 5K, 10K, and full marathon.  I was glad that I didn’t know about those challenges before I travelled to Cincinnati.  I might have been tempted to enter the 3-Way Challenge just to get all the extra medals and shirts.

For an additional fee, runners could enter the Pump N’ Run that combines weight lifting and running.  Participants had to bench press a percentage of their body weight (based on their age and gender) to earn a time reduction for each bench press repetition that they completed –  a 30-second time reduction for each bench press repetition for the 5K and 10K, or a 2-minute time reduction for the half and full marathon.  The maximum time reduction for the 5K/10K was 15 minutes (i.e., 30 reps) and 100 minutes for the half/full marathons (i.e., 50 reps).  The weight lifting was done at the Expo.  I wondered if I could do this and shave off enough time to qualify for the Boston Marathon.    If this appeals to you, apparently the Flying Pig isn’t the only race in the country that offers the Pump N’ Run option.

Pigippides – the porcine version of Pheidippides

This year’s Flying Pig had the largest number of registered participants for all the events – 37,770.  There were 4,458 runners registered for the full marathon and 12,422 for the half marathon.   This race is so popular that they had runners from all 50 states and 22 countries!

The Expo was fairly large.  All the runners received a technical shirt, a back pack, and a poster depicting this year’s race theme.  This race has an incredible number of sponsors like Proctor and Gamble who gave out free product samples including shampoo and tissues.  I was glad that I came with a fairly empty suitcase – I was going to be filling it up with lots of loot.  There was a Goodwill pop-up shop that was selling running clothes for $2.  What a brilliant idea!  I realized when one of the vendors recognized me from the Expo in Louisville that I probably have been racing just a little too much.

Goodwill Pop-Up Store at the Expo

Goodwill Pop-Up Store at the Expo

The weather was pretty good on race morning – upper 40s/low 50s.  Before the start, I was chatting with other runners about the course.  I had seen an elevation map (or, as I refer to it, the EKG map) of the course at the Expo.  It didn’t look that bad to me.  I just didn’t see how it could be worse than the Caesar Rodney race in Wilmington that was uphill from Mile 6 to Mile 9.  I thought that race was pretty bad.  But a runner who had done the race before cautioned me that it is much worse than it looks.

Maybe I should have spent more time studying the scale on the left

Maybe I should have spent more time studying the scale on the left

The race started along the river by the Cincinnati Bengals stadium.  As we headed out, I heard squealing.   I looked ahead and saw a man with a pig on a leash.  I saw him and the pig several times along the course.

A Man and His Pig

A Man and His Pig

We crossed the river into Kentucky and ran down to the next bridge to cross back to Cincinnati.  When we got to Mile 4, the crowds were huge.  All the people who had been cheering at the start line had moved to this part of the course.  It was exciting to have so much crowd support at that point in the race.

Our adrenaline was pumping as we left the downtown area – good thing because it was up hill after that – from about Mile 5 to Mile 9.5.  It seemed like it would never end.  We were running uphill and would come to a turn, expecting that things would level off but they didn’t.  We just kept climbing.  I learned later that Cincinnati is also known as the “City of Seven Hills”.   I got to know that one very well.

Now that is a high five! The Walnut Hills Football Team was voted the best water stop on the Half Marathon course.

Now that is a high five! The Walnut Hills Football Team was voted the best water stop on the Half Marathon course.

As they say, what goes up must come down.  After we got past all those climbs, it was time to head to the “finish swine”.  It was 3 miles downhill.  The first part was a very steep grade.  That made me remember something that Jake, the shuttle bus driver, said  “Running uphill is better than running down hill.  There is less impact to the knees running uphill.”  He was right.  My knees started screaming at me at that point.

I was never so happy to see a course split before!

I was never so happy to see a course split before!

After I crossed the finish line, I came out to the most impressive selection of runner refreshments that I have ever seen.  In addition to the normal water, Gatorade, and bananas, they had fruit cups, squeezable yogurt, apples, power bars, crackers, and cookies.  I couldn’t carry everything so I was stuffing things down my shirt.  (I forgot about my loaded shirt when I went for my picture with my medal.  Oops.)

IMG_1929As I headed back to my hotel, I thought about how difficult the course had been.  When they say that the course is worse than it looks, they aren’t kidding.  I decided that this one was a once-and-done race.

A few days after the race, I started to think about how much fun the race had been and less about the climb up to Mile 9.5.  There was great course support with lots of cheering people and plenty of water stops, port-a-potties, and refreshments.  The fun was trumping the pain I went through during the race.   I learned that the 2011 Flying Pig Marathon women’s division winner was Amy McDonaugh, 34, mother of three and legally blind.  Now that is inspiring!  After considering the challenges that Amy faced running the full marathon and winning it, I decided that I should come back and run the full marathon myself.  The 20th anniversary of the race will be in 2018 and they will probably have great bling for that one.  If I trained for the hills, I could do well.  I guess you could say that this pig will fly again!

And They’re Off!

Saturday was the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby.  There were a few favorites in the race but it ended up being a race between 3 horses – two horses from the same trainer, American Pharaoh and Dortmund, and one with a seasoned jockey, Gary Stevens.  I have admired Gary since his role in “Seabiscuit” (one of my favorite movies).  So when Gary was fighting to keep the lead, I was screaming at the TV, hoping that the 52-year old jockey could enjoy the winner’s circle again.  He hung in there but American Pharaoh had more in the tank at the end of the race.  But Gary can be proud.  It was an exciting race.

IMG_1701The Derby was one of the last events of a month-long festival in Louisville that included hot air balloon events, a beerfest, a winefest, a steamboat race, a bed race, a parade, the Tour de Lou bike event, and a full and half marathon.  The marathon course included a lap through the infield of Churchill Downs.  How could I pass that up? I signed up for the half marathon (also known as the miniMarathon).  Of all the half marathon races that I have run so far this year, I have to say that this is my favorite.

That is one big bat!

That is one big bat!

I arrived in Louisville two days before the race so I had time to wander around a bit.  There was plenty to see within walking distance of my hotel. I visited the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory.  I am not a baseball fan (I like rugby) but it was interesting to see how the bats are made.  (FYI – the major league players will be using pink bats on Mother’s Day.)  At the end of the tour, they gave each of us a small bat as a souvenir.  I stopped in the museum that included memorabilia from Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, and Derek Jeter plus the all-female baseball league made famous in “A League of Their Own”.  They had a small collection of bats that were used by Mickey Mantle, Cal Ripken Jr, David Ortiz and Johnny Bench that you could hold (wearing gloves of course).

I next headed down the street to the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience where I learned about the history of bourbon and how it is made including a tour of their artisanal distillery.  I didn’t know this – one third of the world’s bourbon is made in Louisville!   At the end of the tour, those of us of over 21 enjoyed a tasting of three different Evan Williams bourbons plus bourbon balls.  I am not much of a drinker; I enjoyed the bourbon balls more than anything.


Gallopalooza horse

One of the tree protective fences along Main Street

Louisville hands down wins the prize for the best urban street art.  From the Gallopalooza horses to the bike rack/sculptures to the tree protectors, I was taking more photos than I thought my cell phone could handle.  I didn’t want to get sidetracked during the race on Saturday so I tried to get all the pictures that I could.

One of Louisville's bike racks

One of Louisville’s bike racks

The miniMarathon was a fun race.  The course was relatively flat and I was able to enjoy the beautiful architecture of the old buildings.  We didn’t have the best weather.  Although it was dry when we started, by Mile 9 it was starting to rain.

Kentucky Derby runners in their hats!

Kentucky Derby runners in their hats!

Women usually get all dressed up for the Kentucky Derby.  Some of the runners dressed up for the race too.  I saw two young women in  fancy hats and one woman who was dressed as a jockey on a horse complete with a tail!  I can’t imagine how her outfit fared in the wet weather.  I think running with a water soaked tail would weigh you down.

Runner dressed as a jockey (note the googles and horse on top of her head plus a rose garland around her neck)

Runner dressed as a jockey (note the googles and horse on top of her head plus a rose garland around her neck)


The tail of the runner

The tail of the runner

One of the things that runners do that really annoys me is spitting.    I don’t understand why people have to do that.  Around Mile 6 I came up alongside a woman just as she spit.  It landed on my shoe.  I looked at her but she never apologized for doing it.  If my shoes hadn’t gotten soaked later in the race, I would have left them behind in Louisville.

I saw a few horses being exercised (or breezing) while I was running through Churchill Downs but probably none of the ones entered in the Derby.  I had heard on the news that most of the Derby horses were exercised the day before; the trainers didn’t want to run them in the rain.

As we headed back downtown, we ran down 3rd Street, past the beautiful 19th Century mansions in the Old Louisville historic district and the University of Louisville campus.  It was raining pretty steadily at this time.  I tried to avoid the puddles but despite my best efforts, I seemed to hit them all and my shoes were soaked.  Each step was more and more uncomfortably wet.

As I approached the finish line, I remembered what Meb did at the end of the Boston Marathon where he grabbed the hand of another runner and together they crossed the finish with their arms raised.  I decided that would be a fun thing to do.  I spotted a runner ahead of me and sprinted to catch up to her.  I told her “Let’s pull a Meb!”  I don’t think she really understood what I said at first.  When I grabbed her hand and raised her hand, she knew.  We crossed the finish with our hands in the air.  (In case you are wondering, I had to do it with my left arm.)  I could tell that the photographers were snapping away.  It was a spontaneous act but it was fun.  I hope the woman thought so too.

My "Meb" moment at the finish line

My “Meb” moment at the finish line

Back at the hotel, I rode the elevator with another runner who was also soaked from the rain.  She pointed to her shoes.  She said she had taped the toes with duct tape and it helped keep her feet dry.  I am definitely trying that the next time I have to run in the rain.  I hate wet feet.  Come to think of it – I should duct tape my shoes in case someone spits on them again.

Despite the rain, I really enjoyed Louisville and the miniMarathon.  The people there are incredibly friendly and polite.  I would definitely run this race again.  I would love to go back with my husband and do the bourbon tour.  Louisville has another interesting race called the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon in October.   I have to think about that one.  Maybe by then I can learn how to pronounce Louisville like a native!

All the ways to pronounce Louisville

All the ways to pronounce Louisville