Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Baltimore Marathon

The first thing I have to mention is that this was my first marathon race!  Prior to this event I had done the distance twice before as practice, but had never participated in a full marathon race.  At this point in my racing career I have done a few 5k's, 10k's, 10 milers and 11 half marathons.

The Baltimore Running Festival is a huge event in Baltimore and has amazing support from volunteers and the city in general.  Although I do think some of the motorists were getting annoyed at all the road closures.  The event offers a run for everyone across a wide range of abilities.  They have a 5k, Half, and Full marathon option as well as Kids Fun Runs.  The time limit for the Marathon this year was the standard 7 hours, but since the Half shares the last half of the marathon route, they were provided a full 5 and a half hours to complete, which is great for runners that may be slower or are attempting their first half marathon.  Overall there were over 24,000 runners participating in the various events, and we all raised over a million dollars for local charities.

The Baltimore Running Festival also partners with the Frederick Running Festival and the Baltimore 10 Miler and offers some fun incentives if you run all three like the King Crab Challenge which I did this year, or the Maryland Double if you do the Half Marathon in Frederick and at least the Half Marathon in Baltimore.

This year if you completed the King Crab Challenge you were awarded a medal holder with four crab claws for you to hang (from left to right) your Frederick Half, Baltimore 10 Miler, Baltimore Full/Half and Maryland Double medals.

King Crab Challenge Medal Holder

Close-up of King Crab Challenge Medal Holder

The Baltimore Marathon Medal (left) and the Maryland Double Medal (right)

This was the 15th anniversary of the Baltimore Running Festival so they went all out with the event this year, including ordering specially designed medals to represent Maryland's love of crabs, the 15th year, and Baltimore's nickname of "charm city".  The Marathon medal uses a crab mallet as the number "1", has a dangling charm of a crab in the "5", and is surrounded by crab claws.  Very cool, and substantial medal.  The Half Marathon medal was very similar in look, but was slightly smaller than the Marathon medal and didn't have the dangling charm.

Baltimore Marathon 15th Anniversary Medal

The Marathon started "on time" exactly at 8am.  The wheel chair division started a few minutes earlier to give them a head start, and then 4,000 marathon runners (event was sold out) were released into the streets of Baltimore.  In addition, there were 1,500 teams (also sold out) of 4 doing the marathon as a "relay" event.  Again, a great way for a beginner runner to get involved, and challenge themselves with a distance that might be more appropriate but yet experience all the excitement of a race environment.

Starting Line for the Full Marathon

After the marathon runners were released, the 5k event was held at 8:20am.  There is a 1 hour time limit for this event so that they can get the half marathon runners out the door.  The half marathon started exactly at 9:45am and was released in 5 waves based on projected pace.  There was a delay of approximately 3 minutes between each wave.   This was great considering the half marathon event was also sold out and had 11,000 runners.

One thing I didn't expect was all the hills.  I went to undergraduate school at Towson University and spent time at the Inner Harbor and Fells Point, but I haven't run much in Baltimore and for some reason I just figure the area around the Inner Harbor was flat.  Not so much as it turns out.

The first half of the Marathon runs North after starting near Camden Yards (Orioles Stadium) and you make your way to the Baltimore Zoo.  The first 3 miles are basically up hill until you turn into the zoo and catch a break with some nice descents and some happy zoo animals out to great you along with way along with their keepers.  One of the critters was a young penguin who looked very content at just watching us go by.  Of course there also had to be some ravens out there as well given this is Baltimore Ravens territory, not to mention the home of Edgar Allan Poe.

Baltimore Marathon Strava Map

After coming out of the zoo, the course heads East as you pass Johns Hopkins University, then South back down toward the Harbor.  This is mostly downhill at this point as you make your way along the Inner Harbor and around the Under Armour World Headquarters.  As you work your way back to mile marker 13 you run past the half marathon starting line where I could see runners preparing to leave.

Giving the Marathon runners a full 1 hour and 45 minute head start is as great idea for the competitive runners so they can get ahead of the half marathon runners.  I am not "that fast", so while I got there before everyone had left, the first wave or two were already on their way.  While we do join the Half Marathon runners, the first three miles are still slightly different.  The Marathon makes it's way along the harbor through Fells Point, and then heads North to Patterson Park.  We join the Half Marathon runners at the South East corner of the park (approximately mile 15.8), but the Marathon runners have their "own lane" for at least a half mile still in order to prepare to merge.  I have included the half marathon map as well so you can see the merge point highlighted with the blue arrow.

Baltimore Half Marathon Strava Map
After merging with the Half Marathon runners we share the remaining parts of the course make our way uphill for about 3 and a half miles to Lake Montebello.  Going around the lake is nice and flat and gives you a break before heading up hill yet again as you make your way West for about a mile and a half before heading South again back towards the Inner Harbor for the last 3 and a half miles which again is mostly down hill and very welcome at this point.

Overall, the elevation gain for the Marathon was a surprising 991 feet according to Strava.  I have included the elevation profile for reference.  For the Half Marathon runners the elevation gain is approximately 538 feet.

Baltimore Marathon Elevation Profile from Strava

The spectators for this event were amazing.  Not only were their a lot of people along the entire course, but they were full of energy.  Some were playing loud music to boost our energy levels, dancing in the streets, wearing costumes, holding signs and even handing out candy.  There were even a few beer stops long the way.  At one point the ground was littered with Swedish Fish, it almost looked like some kind of natural catastrophe took place.  Too bad I couldn't have stopped to take a photo.

There were plenty of water stops and several stations had Gu, Chews and even potato chips along the way to the help the various runners refuel.  Most of the water stop stations (perhaps all of them) also had port-o-potties as well.

At the end of the event after working your way down the runners chute, you received your medal, had water and gatorade available, were presented with a photo opportunity, and then made your way down the food line.  They had bananas, chips, oranges, bars, bagels and additional Gatorade available.  The one downside was once you left this area for runners only, you could not re-enter.  I left to get my King Crab Challenge Medal and Holder and to look for additional food options (unfortunately I had no cash, only a debit card, and all food vendors were cash only), then realized I couldn't get back in to meet my wife who was doing the Half Marathon.  I would also have liked to grab another water given I couldn't buy anything in the village area.

I tried not to go into this event with a preset time goal, but of course I did, I am competitive with myself that way.  I ended up setting a PR of 4:00:05 according to Strava and a chip time of 4:01:06.  I would have liked to come in under 4 hours, but with the elevation gain and this being my first full marathon event I just need to be satisfied with the effort.  It took several half marathons for me to settle into my 1:44:24 PR so I am sure the marathon time will continue to come down as I do more of them and get more comfortable with that distance, and better at managing my energy levels and pace.

Overall this was an amazing event.  I highly recommend folks look at the Baltimore Running Festival as well as the Frederick Running Festival for Half and Full Marathon options.  For the Baltimore event there is no race day packet pickup so if you aren't local, staying in a local hotel Friday night to get your race packet and then running the next morning is the best bet.  If you are local, I didn't have any issue with traffic or parking.  Traffic was well managed the morning of the event, just make sure you give yourself enough time to arrive and get there at least an hour before the full marathon start if that is your event, or just before 8AM if you are running the half marathon.

Friday, October 16, 2015

DC Ragnar Relay

If you have never heard of the Ragnar Relay series before, they are 12 person teams that work together to run about 200 miles.  My journey took me on the DC Ragnar Relay which started in Cumberland, MD and traveled about 200 Miles to Washington, DC.  You can see the details on the route, the runner legs and other great information on their website.

There are various ways you can pull your teams together, and there are various locations throughout the US in which to participate.  If you go with the full 12 person team, the team is broken up into 2 teams of 6 each in their own van.  Van 1 does the first three legs, then passes off to Van 2 while Van 1 rests.  This "leap frogging" continues until all 36 legs have been completed.  If you can only find 5 other friends to run with you, you have two options.  You can have the Ragnar staff pair you up with another "6 pack" to create a full team, or you can go all out and do the distance yourselves as part of an "Ultra Ragnar" team.

While Van 1 had to go to the starting line the night before the race since we had an 8:30am start time, we were able to follow later in the afternoon since we wouldn't start until around 2pm or so.  Once we got to the Van exchange point (Leg 7) we had access to the mandatory safety video/briefing, port a potties, and tents of merchandise, gear and giveaways.

Our starting location for our safety gear check and safety video as well as our first run

Seeing all the vans decorated in various themes was great.  I am sure there would have been more variety if the weather had cooperated and it wasn't such a downpour.  Vans had christmas lights strung up in them, designs and names written over the outside, mottos, and of course Ragnar provided temporary stickers of inspiration.

A inspirational van sticker

I was runner number 8.  Since we were a full 12 person team, I would run legs 8, 20 and 32 and would be in van 2.  While I didn't actually add up the elevations and distances for all the various runners, it seems as though I had the most elevation gain, or at least one of the top two.  Overall I would climb around 2,000 feet over my three runs in just over 20 total miles.

My first leg started North of a small town called Little Orleans, MD at around 3:30pm.  I would run just over 6.5 miles and climb just under 1,000 feet (Sideling Mountain).  What is cool for me is that I used to drive this exact route with my parents as a young child on my way from New Jersey/Maryland to my Grandparents house outside of Cumberland, MD.  I always thought the climb was impressive and fondly remember the "hairpin" turn at the top of the mountain.  Especially during bad weather and snow.  Being able to actually run this same route was cool.

A view of the mountain I was about to concur on Leg 8

According to the Ragnar rules for the race, this leg had no van support.  Some my van mates couldn't follow me along the route, jumping ahead, to provide water or other assistance.  The route did have one water stop setup by the Ragnar volunteers because of this limitation of van support.  The distances I was running didn't really require a lot of stuff to carry, but I did always have two Gu's with me along with my Skratch Matcha and Lemon hydration.

DC Ragnar Relay Leg 8 Strava Map

Since the course runs by my house (literally) I had my wife pick me up at the end of Leg 8 and drive me home. I was able to change cloths in the car, did I mention it was in the low 50s and pouring rain, then get a shower.  We went out to dinner, I packed for the next day and tried to get some sleep before my van picked me up again right before 1am.  I took off on Leg 20 around 2:45am

Leg 20 took me from the shopping center in Middletown, MD over Braddock Mountain to Route 340 for the next exchange.  According to Strava that was about 6.8 miles and just under 500 feet of elevation.  Since I live near by I had run this twice in the month leading up to the Ragnar to practice and get familiar with the route.  Of course running it in the middle of the night in the pouring rain was a unique experience.

DC Ragnar Relay Leg 20 Strava Map

As with my first leg, I had my wife meet me at the end of this leg so I could quickly change clothes into my running gear for my last leg and grab my bag for the trip home and my other supplies for the rest of the day.  The vans get crowded with the supplies for 6 team members, so this allowed me to have a minimum amount of stuff with me for the rest of the journey.

The rain continued and the so did the legs.  My team did a great job of getting things done and really pushed themselves along the course in the less than ideal weather conditions.  In fact, the rain had been going for so long prior and during the race that Leg 23 was cancelled due to fear of flooding.  After Leg 24 was completed we got to the next major exchange where Van 1 would be getting ready to start their last 6 legs and we would be on our break.  While we were in the middle of transition we were approached by a Ragnar volunteer that informed us we were allowed to get an early start on our last legs if we wanted too instead of waiting for Van 1 to finish.  This offer was being made due to the cold and rainy weather so teams could finish earlier in DC.

After a quick discussion we decided to take them up on this offer and quickly drove to our starting point at Leg 30.  My last leg took me from South West Bethesda to North West Arlington.  According to Strava it was a total of 6.9 miles and about 530 feet of elevation gain.  I was concerned about the Capital Crescent Trail and C&O canal portions because of all the rain.

Here is a shot of me from the Ragnar photographers as I head out on my last leg.  The rain had finally stopped and you only got wet at this point from wind shaking the water off the surrounding trees.

Shot of me heading out on my last leg

I expected large amounts of mud and puddles. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Capital Crescent Trail was paved.  The C&O canal was messy, but manageable with some carefully chosen steps.  The ascent off the C&O back to paved roads was almost straight up.  After already running through the night, I had to take a few walking steps and take a few deep breaths before I could push up that incline (according to Strava over 30% grade).

DC Ragnar Relay Leg 32 Strava Map

At this point I was done and could support the remaining runners on my team and relax as we made our way to DC for the finish line and festivities at the Navy Yard.  As we walked to the finish line area we passed the final one mile marker for the last leg of the race.  Each leg had these markers so we knew we were almost done our leg, so they became a beacon of hope.

The final mile maker for the DC Ragnar Relay

Once we got to the finishing area I took advantage of the merchandise tent and picked up a Ragnar jacket.  I figured I deserved it as a wearable memento.  Once our final runner arrived we all ran across the finish line together (which is customary), received our medals, and then headed over to the photo booth.  The Ragnar medals are huge and heavy.  A testament to the work involved in earning one of them for sure.  Additionally, if you turn them over each one is unique and can be assembled together as a puzzle.

As I put on Twitter, 12 runners, 12 medals, 1 goal
What an amazing experience.  I only knew one of my fellow van mates at the start of this adventure but ended up really enjoying the company of everyone.  Hopefully I as just as easy to get along with and get to know.

All 12 members of team "We Run Better Than the Government"

Would I do this again?  I think so. Better weather would be helpful as would a larger van, but overall an amazing experience.  Would be cool to run all the legs as part of a Ragnar race and make the complete trip, but that would take 11 more years.  Oh boy.

I will wrap this up with a link to a short video that shows some highlights from the 2015 DC Ragnar Relay.  I think it really captures the scenery, the comradery and the weather.  Enjoy!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Perfect 10

The Perfect 10 is a 10k or 10 Miler (runners choice at registration) that is organized by PR (Potomac River) Running.  It is held in Reston Virginia and starts/ends at the South Lakes High School.  Runners in both the 10k or the 10 Miler will receive a technical short sleeve shirt and a finishers medal (same medal for all runners).

All runners start at the same time and follow the same course for the first 6 miles at which point the 10k runners peel off into the high school and finish on the track while the 10 miler runners continue on another loop around the school and finish on the track as well.

As with all PR events, it is extremely well run and staffed.  There are plenty of food and beverage options at the end of the race, and free high resolution photos of the event on posted on the PR Running's Flickr page.

The routes are full of rolling hills and there are some great views of the lakes around Southern Reston.  After the start, the roads are open to traffic, but for the most part intersections are well staffed with volunteers and police to keep the runners safe.  There are a few entrances to development communities and apartments that aren't staffed, but in general I have found the residents to be reasonable as they wait.  However, this year I did have one driver get out fairly aggressively in front of me.  I had to slow down a lot and still could have slapped the back of his car.  But, this isn't a PR Running or event issue in my opinion.

The 10 miler makes two loops around Reston as you can see from the image below.  The roads are full of rolling hills which end up adding up to about 380 feet of elevation gain according to Strava.

Perfect 10, 10 Miler Strava Map
The 10k makes a single loop around Reston with a total elevation gain coming in right around 240 feet.  As I indicated earlier, and as you can see from the map, the 10k and 10 Miler share the route for the first 6+ miles.

Perfect 10, 10k Strava Map
There are water stops throughout the course, but if I had one complaint about the event it would be that they were positioned too far apart, at least for me.  At one point along the course I believe it was just over 3 miles between water stops.  I would prefer to see water station at least every 2 to 2.5 miles.  I believe it was like that the prior year for this event, so I am not sure why that changed.

Overall this is a great event and actually one of my favorite PR Running events in the year.  By late September the air is starting to cool down and the humidity is finally starting to wane.  The hills make this a fun and somewhat challenging course.  Given all that the 10 miler makes for a great half or full marathon trainer for the Fall.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Bird in Hand Half Marathon

What an amazing event.  Bar none my favorite half marathon to date.  Although I probably say that in almost every post, with each new race I am exposed to new scenery, new volunteers and new spectators.

This was the events sixth year, but you would have thought it was their 60th.  It was so well organized and so well staffed with volunteers that all aspects of the event were silky smooth.  Everything from the expo and packet picket, pre-race dinner, post race picnic and awards ceremony.

For those not familiar with this area, Bird in Hand, PA is right in the middle of Amish country near Lancaster, PA.  Seeing the horse drawn carriages, scooter bikes and Amish children everywhere was amazing.  A more kind and humble people you will probably never meet.

My wife chose this event as her very first half marathon, so I ran this one with her for support.  Since we live about 2 hours away, we decided to drive up the night before and spend the night.  Didn't want to add to any potential stress levels by needing to drive up the morning of the race.  Since there is no race day packet pickup, staying the night made even more sense.  There are plenty of places to stay right near the Expo and start line, but we opted for 10 minutes away at the Hawthorn Suites.  This put us right in the middle of a bunch of lunch/dinner choices as well as an easy drive, heading against traffic, to the event.

From the moment we arrived on Friday afternoon to get our packets we were treated to the beautiful country side and Amish lifestyle that we were so looking forward to seeing.

Farm near the Expo and Start location in Bird in Hand, PA
The expo location was on one of the Amish farms in Bird in Hand and had plenty of well marked parking and volunteers directing the cars.  Was one of the easiest races I have been able to get in and out of, both for the expo as well as the actual running event.  They had multiple entrance and exit points to ensure traffic heading west/east or coming from the north/south didn't have to wait.

Expo Tent during packet pickup Friday before the event

Of course we were treated to passing buggies on our way back from the expo to the hotel.  The Bird in Hand offers a 5k on Friday and the Half Marathon on Saturday so racers can do both.  They also have, what has become a coveted Road Apple Award, if you run the Bird in Hand Half in September as well as the Garden Spot Village Full/Half Marathon in April.

Amish buggies passing each other as we leave the Expo area
The expo had several vendors and food choices to look over as well as the medals and awards for the Overall winners and the age group winners.  One of the more interesting displays was for art prints based on your running map.  While she had several maps already done, you can send her a custom map from your running app and she will turn it into artwork.  You can see her work on her Shop Silver Box website

On race day we planned our morning to arrive about an hour before the start to give us time to get settled, stretch and use the port-a-potties.  What was waiting for us were several hot air balloons that were being setup and "inflated" for their lift off about 20 minutes before the start.  Was a really cool scene as the sun was coming up over the Amish farms.

Hot air balloons getting inflated before the race

They are all getting there; almost air worthy
Once they all took off they dotted the skies.  Unfortunately by the time the race started they were all long gone.  I am not sure if that was the plan, or if the winds were just not cooperating this time.

What I found really interesting, and unique, was the idea of motivational phrases in the port-a-potties.  There were 60 port-a-potties in all, and each one had a different phrase.  I was able to read two of them, but didn't have plans to try to see them all.  I am convinced that it added a few seconds to each persons usage however so they could read them, and/or take a photo like I did.

7:30am, time to start running.  The event started exactly on time.  They had pace groups for those targeting a specific time, but since this was my wife's first event we found a comfortable spot near the back of the pack.  Seeing the Amish running with us in their traditional clothing was a treat.  As we took off there was clearly a lot of excitement in the air.  The weather was nice and cloudy with a steady breeze.  It was a little more humid than I would have preferred, but overall was very pleasant running weather.  We did get to experience some rain for the last mile, but the down pour didn't start until after we got back into the car.

Amish farm right before the start of the race

Approaching the first water stop we realized that they would all be staffed with Amish families that volunteer for this each year.  Some were staffed by all boys while others were staffed by all girls.  Seeing the families sitting along the road was just priceless.  It was like running through a series of Norman Rockwell paintings.  At one farm there were about 4 or 5 little boys and girls sitting at the end of their driveway with their legs crossed and a puppy in one of their laps.  At another location there was a long line of several families all sitting out watching us go by.  They had their garden vegetables and pumpkins all out for sale.  As I looked over at the pumpkins I saw two little girls sitting between them...priceless.

Amish staffed water stop

As I mentioned before, the course is absolutely beautiful; so scenic and peaceful to run.  With lots of rolling hills, none too steep or too long to overcome, but for the "first timers" a challenge.  According to Strava total elevation gain was 419 feet.

Strava map of the Bird in Hand Half Marathon

At the end of the event runners are treated to one of the most unique medals you could ever earn.  The Amish take used horseshoes and turn them into runner's medals.  These are made by hand each year for the close to 2,500 runners that attend the event.  It was even called out in Runner's World Magazine as one of the coolest race medals available.  In addition, there was a free picnic lunch.  The line for this was long by the time we completed the event so we decided to head out and stop at iHop for carbs and protein (e.g. omelet and pancakes).  After a long race this is usually what I want anyway, along with Starbucks coffee.

Horse shoe runners medal

This was an amazing event, and a great first half marathon for my wife. While the course was somewhat challenging given the elevation gains, the scenery and rolling/curving course was a great distraction for her.  Thank you to all that volunteered for this event and made it such a wonderful race.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Hard Cider Run 5K

The Gettysburg Hard Cider run was a lot of fun and very well organzied. I really didn't know what to expect at all, and was pleasantly surprised by the entire event.  Hauser Estate Winery is a beautiful location and had plenty of room for all the participants, vendors and parking requirements.

The winery is located at the end of a very long entrance road up on a hill surrounded by its vineyards and its apple orchards.  They grow all their own apples for their Jack's Hard Cider which was flowing generously after the event.

The view from the winery itself is stunning.  There is plenty of patio space to enjoy a beverage and a small plate and look out over the hills.   You can see the line of cars trying to get into the event in the following photo.  If I can suggest anything it would be to arrive about early and be in the first waves (9am, 9:10am, etc.) so that you can beat the masses.

View from the Winery patio area

The run itself takes you around the estate through the fields, around the orchard and through the rows of grapes.  It is a trail run, and the terrain is hilly, grassy, rocky and has a few potholes.  The course had an elevation gain of 425 feet over the 3.1 mile course.  One of the climbs was insane at about 75 feet in less than a tenth of a mile; I pulled my wife up that one.  The course had one water stop just short of 1.5 miles with water.  At the end of the course were bottles of water, bananas and your finishers medal which is a nice treat for a 5K.

Strava Map of the 5K Trail

Here are some photos I took along the way of the apple trees and the vineyards.  It was a beautiful day with unseasonable cool weather and a bright clear sky.

Vineyards at Hauser Estate Winery

Apple Tree for Jack's Hard Cider

After you passed the first refreshment tent, a larger tent provided you a cider glass and you could select your preference for a free glass of Jack's Hard Cider.  They had four varieties to choose from.  I had the dry, and my wife had the semi-dry.  We enjoyed them both.  They were cold, light and very refreshing.

They had three food trucks on property providing lunch fare.  A wood fired pizza oven was our choice.  They were made to order and they have several varieties to choose from.  While pricey at $10 each for a personal pizza, they were delicious.  I had the margarita and my wife had pepperoni.  They also had a pretzel truck with fresh soft pretzels, pretzel dogs and sandwiches with pretzel bread.  The last truck provided boardwalk style fries with sandwich options like burgers, ruben's, etc.

One of the things we liked best about the event was that the line for runners to get their glasses and free cider were positioned far away from the band, food trucks and sitting areas.  This made the event feel very relaxed and enjoyable.  While there were thousands of people at the event, it didn't feel overly crowded at all, whereas the Destination Virginia event was crowded with all of the facilities very closely positioned.

Between the band stage and the food trucks were a few craft vendors and other related race information booths.  One of the vendors makes clocks, lazy Susan's, wine holders, and other items from used wine aging barrels.  They are amazing to look at, and of course we had to purchase a half barrel wine holder for the house (see photo below).  The maker, Eric, and his wife Jessie also make candles and soaps.  He is based out of Williamsport, MD and is hoping to open a store front soon.  You can read more on their Facebook page for Canal View Candles.

Half Barrel 12-bottle Wine Holder

Overall this was a really fun event.  Some folks got some amazing times given the conditions, but for me this is an event suited for enjoying the scenery and watching your step.  I wouldn't expect to set a 5K PR here, but certainly would expect to enjoy the views, the food, and the cider.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Leesburg 20K

The Leesburg 20K run by Potomac River Running (@PRRunning) was a great event.  Starting and ending in downtown Leesburg, VA in the Marketplace Square area, it is really easy to get in and out and parking was plentiful.  With a start time for the 20K at 7:30am you don't have to get up and out of your house too early.  The weather cooperated and was a cooler 62 degrees (or so) at the time of the start.

Most of the race takes place on the W&OD Trail which was shaded the majority of the way.  This was a nice surprise as the sun started to run during the event.  The event is basically an out and back on the trail with a few short runs on the roads going out and then back into Leesburg proper.  What was surprising to me was that the overall elevation climb was about 480 feet according to Strava.  Most of this was on the first half of the course with the last half net downhill.

Strava Map of Leesburg 20K
I tried to take advantage of the net downhill last half as I started to realize the first half was all up hill. I was conserving my energy at the start which was a change for me.  Like a lot of runners, that don't compete, I usually come out of the gate too fast.  I tried to stick to 8:00/miles and was doing well at first but as the climb continued from miles two through five I started to slow down and averaged closer to 8:30/mile.  By the time I turned around at mile 6.7 I was already tired from the miles during the week and a 4 mile walk the previous day.  I wasn't able to exploit the downhill at all and finished the race with an average of 8:39/mile.  This is actually off pace for me so I was a little disappointed, but I had been pushing my milage hard the last two weeks, so I should have expected a slower time.

The scenery along the trail was really beautiful.  As I mentioned it was mostly wooded/shaded and you passed several beautiful farms and homes along the way.  I saw several resting areas with picnic tables.  The trail would obviously make a great place for cycling or long runs.  By the time we got back into Leesburg on the trail the sun was in our faces and the temperature was on the climb.  You can tell from this photo how much sun there was.

Coming off the W&OD Trail in Leesburg, VA

The water stops were plentiful (about every 1.5 to 2 miles) and were very well staffed with volunteers from local cross country running teams and other folks.  Each stop had water and Gatorade and one of the stops had gel.  They lined both sides of the trail and were about 15 or so deep on each side so it made grabbing a drink fairly easy.  All the runners at this event used great running etiquette which is always great to see.

The last climb up to the finish line is about a tenth of a mile and had a great crowd cheering on the runners.  While we were doing the 20K they also had a 5K and a kids fun run, so there were lots of people hanging around to enjoy the event.  My wife ran the 5K and really enjoyed it.  The 5K started and ended at the same spot, and shared some of the 20K course after we left, but was more of a loop versus an out and back.  I came across the finish line with a chip time of 1:46:38 which was respectable I guess, but certainly not my best.  My half marathon PR is currently at 1:44:36.

My wife took this shot of me finishing

The post race food was great, but I really didn't stay to take advantage of it.  I grabbed two small waters and a gatorade along with a pack of crackers and headed to Starbucks for coffee and a sandwich.  But they had lots of muffins, bagels, snack bars, fruit snacks, and I think I saw beer kegs.  And of course one of the best things about all PR races is the amazing free high resolution photos.  I do a lot of races and for the most part the photos are way over priced and mediocre at best.  The one above of me coming off the trail is a photo from the PR Running Flickr site.

Overall I would highly recommend this event.  It is a great course, well run, and the 20K distance is unique.  I heard a few people comment that the medal last year for the 20K runners was a lot nicer than this years (last year was larger and a little more complex), but even for a medal freak like me it was fine.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Hundred Acre Woods 10 Miler

This was by far my longest running event to date.  I don't mean the actual time running, in fact, this was a PR run for me, but the overall time to get to the event, participate and get back home.

The Hundred Acre Woods running event is in the beautiful Oil Creek State Park in Oil City, Pennsylvania.  It took me just over 5 hours to get to the hotel where I stayed prior to race day in Cranberry, PA.  I have to shout out to the Holiday Inn Express in Cranberry.  It was probably the cleanest hotel, in this price range, I have ever stayed.  They were also very accommodating for a late checkout so that I could shower and change after the race before heading back home.

The drive from the hotel to the race location was a short 20 minutes.  It wasn't clear where we were suppose to meet up for the run/registration, so it took some time to get back into the park and find everyone.  Once there, the race was organized, but not well signed.  There was some exploring of the venue before I could find registration to pick up my race packet.  The event was small (about 100 runners in total for the 10 miler and 5k, so it had a really nice feel.  Cleary a lot of the participants knew each other and were local runners.  A fun atmosphere with lots of support and camaraderie for sure.

Overall the course was flat (only 67 feet of elevation) and ran along the river on what was a railroad line, but has since been converted into a paved bike path.  It was a cool morning (around 58 degrees) and the scenery was amazing.  I was pushing for a PR, but I kept trying to remind myself to actually look around.  Since the event is an out and back (5 miles each way), I was given two opportunities to check things out.

Hundred Acre Woods 10 Miler Strava Map

While the event was timed with disposable timing chips on the bibs, it was only a gun start.  Given the small size of the event, this was reasonable.  It wasn't going to take but a few seconds for everyone to get going as you can see from the start line photo.

And they are off!

There were plenty of support stations along the way (miles 1, 2 and 4; 6, 8 and 9 on the return) that had both water and Gatorade.  At the finish line, there was plenty of water, bagels and bananas for everyone.  Since the race was so small, I was able to come in overall in 8th place and finish what I thought was 2nd in my age group, but ended up being 3rd.

Crossing the finish line

While the medal was a little disappointing, the race was inexpensive and everyone got a medal, including all the 5k participants which was very nice.  Everyone also got a nice shirt.  In addition, there was a number of awards presented with trophies for overall 1st through 3rd, 1st place masters, and 1st place for each age group.  Second and 3rd place age group finishers received another medal.

There was some confusion during the awards presentation as the age groups changed from increments of 5 to increments of 10 starting at age 40.  Clearly this wasn't intentional, but I see on the website, that is how it was described, so the trophy company probably just followed that guideline.  Combining the 40 to 44 and the 45 to 49 age groups is what dropped me to 3rd in my age group, which is fine, but actually caused the winner to be announced in error.  After I left the race I realized that the person awarded 1st was really second by time and was simply given the trophy because he was in the 40 to 44 age group originally.  Not a huge deal, but certainly unfortunate.

Overall, this was a beautiful event, with a great small town feel.  If live near Oil City, PA I highly recommend it.  If you don't mind shelling out money for a hotel and gas I do highly recommend this race.  I would actually like to plan another over night there and do the bike trails to see the rest of the park at a more leisurely pace.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Baltimore 10 Miler

The weather couldn't have been any better, partly sunny and fairly cool compared to recent days.  Parking was plentiful with lots of volunteers helping get cars situated, and a short walk to the finishing village and the starting area.  There were plenty of porta-potties and no lines at all, at least when I made my way through that area.

It was hard to really tell how the finishers village was going to look since there was still a lot of activity setting up the various areas, but the pre-race information provided maps of the area to make finding tents easy once you crossed the finish line.

Starting line at Baltimore 10 Miler
The event started on time which is always import to me, and there was pretty good crowd support along the route.  With the temperatures starting to get warmer this time of year I could have used an extra water stop or two since there we some longer gaps without a stop, but I am sure that was just me.

In general the course is an out and back that starts in Druid Park near the "The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore" with a loop around Lake Montebello before heading back.  The course is hilly, more than I expected, and came in at 485ft of elevation according to Strava.  That coupled with all the runs I have been doing didn't allow for a PR this time, but I had a great time at this event and am now two-thirds done the King Crab Challenge.  Since I completed the Frederick Half and now the Baltimore 10 Miler all that is left is the Baltimore Half this Fall.

Baltimore 10 Miler Strava Map

After finishing the run, I walked through some amazing post race food in the finishing chute.  They had a variety of bars, chews, chips, pretzels and even very cold freshly cut watermelon which totally hit the spot after a warm and humid run.  My only complaint is that I didn't grab two water bottles when I went through the line.  I was far more dehydrated than I realized.

Baltimore Finishers Village

Since you can pick up your race packet/bib from various locations through the greater Baltimore area (I got mine at Sports Authority in Rockville), you get your race premium at the event after you finish.  So, I quickly made my way over to the Men's Medium line and grabbed by 3/4 zip long sleeve shirt.  Nice quality, thin for Spring/Fall, with the Baltimore 10 Miler logo embroidered on the left chest.

After grabbing the shirt I made my way over to the King Crab Challenge tent to get my Baltimore 10 Miler finishers medal.  Medals for the 10 miler were only available to those that signed up for the King Crab Challenge and I saw several people being turned away that were looking to grab a medal.  I even had a few runners ask me how I was able to score the bling, so I let them know the details and encouraged them to sign up for the King Crab next year.  Not sure how to make the challenge more prominent on the websites for the Frederick and Baltimore events, but perhaps there is an opportunity to market it more, I do think there is interest.

Baltimore 10 Miler Finishers Medal

I am not a fan of the free beer after running, but clearly the majority of the runners at this even are very interested in that finish beer.  The line for beer was clearly the longest line in the village, but the live music kept folks entertained as they waited.

After regrouping with my fellow runners we made our way back to the parking area and headed home.  Getting back out of traffic did take about 15 minutes due to the number of folks leaving, but that all depends on how long you hang around the village after finishing.  We passed some other venues worthy of a visit after the race if you have time such as Zoo and HP Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens.

Conservatory as taken from the car

Overall I would highly recommend the King Crab Challenge and even the Baltimore 10 Miler event as a solo event.  It was very well organized, challenging, and included some nice scenery along the way.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Destination Virginia Half (Virginia Wine Country Half)

Wine and running together?  Two of my favorite things...of course!

The first thing I have to comment on is how amazing the venue itself was.  The host winery for the start of the race was Doukenie Winery in Hillsboro, VA.  Seeing the sun rise over the vineyards before the race was a sight to see, and an old farm silo in the middle of grapevines was a new experience.  Very beautiful indeed.

Sunrise over the vineyards at Doukenie Vineyards 
Silo in the middle of the grape vines at Doukenie Vineyards

The race was well organized with regards to parking, plenty of porta-potties, signage and announcements.  They had breakfast food for purchase prior to the start of the race provided by a private catering company and they had free coffee.  The only negative was that the race started about 12 minutes late due to some late arrivals.  Now, this does annoy me, I have to admit it, I look forward to races starting on time, as do most other runners, especially the elite runners going after records and/or money.  Now, if the late arrivals were caused by traffic issues or coordination issues on the part of the event planners/volunteers, then I think they deserve the extra time.  If the issue was these people just didn't plan well, then frankly I think they should miss the race.  99% of the runners were able to make it on time.

Starting line for Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon

The course was a mix of country back roads with some great scenery and gravel.  Apparently I didn't read all the website information carefully and was surprised when I ran on 4 miles of gravel (from mile 5.2 until mile 9.1).  This isn't something I was expecting, and certainly not something I am used too in my own training.  I found that my feet and ankles had a real hard time with this, so if you plan on running this next year, I would recommend some training runs on gravel or trails to work out those small stabilizer muscles.  The elevation gain wasn't over the top, but according to Strava it came in around 440 feet, so there were clearly some hills.  In this case, lots of little ones versus just a few larger ones.

The scenery for the Virginia Wine Country Half was beautiful

The course isn't an up and back, but does share a little over 2 miles of the course (at the start and near the finish). Otherwise you get to see a lot of great country, farms, estates, equestrian centers, a few B&B's and of course the second winery (Hiddencroft Winery) at the lollipop in the map below (almost at the top of the map).  Between miles 5.5 and 6.5 the smell of honeysuckle was palatable.  Hiddencroft Winery is at the half way point, and along with the fluid stop they were handing out small samples of very cold white wine.  I do see a few runners take advantage of it, but I was waiting until the finish to sample all the wineries that came to the event.

Stava Map of Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon

There were plenty of water stops along the way which is always great to see.  But given the weather is usually hot and humid already in VA this time of year, it is almost a necessity.  For todays race we were luck to have mostly cloudy skies, so while it was humid, the heat wasn't unbearable.

There was a large contingent of people at the finish line cheering you on those last few meters which was great to see.  Since this is a wine oriented event, separate tickets could be purchased for non-runners to participate in the wine tastings that started at 9:30AM.  This may have contributed to large number of spectators but it made for an exciting finish.

Finish at the Virginia Wine Country Half

I have to say that the food for the event after the runners finished wasn't all that spectacular.  They had the standard banana which I always appreciate along with water and Gatorade, but otherwise it was small sample packs of gummies, pretzels, etc.  I am used to seeing bags of chips, bars, other fruit, watermelon or even pizza.  With wine tasting starting right away, I was really upset I didn't have any substantial calories to take in and since I didn't realize this in advance I hadn't really brought anything with me.  I will most likely do this race again and so I will be more prepared the next time.

The wine tasting area was very well laid out.  There were about 15 or so wineries pouring, and each winery had between 2 and 4 wines to try.  For those that signed up for the VIP tickets, they had a separate area to pick up their wine glass from the rest of us, and also had access to catered food.

Now, for the important part; the medal.  It is by far the nicest and most substantial medal I have yet received for any of my races.  As you can see from the photo below it is basically a wine stopper on a rope.  It is very well made and very heavy.  So, for those of you that run for the bling, this is one you should try and hit.

Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon Finishers Medal

Overall the event was really fun.  If you plan on attending just remember to bring some extra food/snacks for after the race.  Buy wine tasting tickets for your cheering section of age, plan on getting there early because apparently the smaller back roads do get congested, and enjoy the amazing scenary!

Vineyards during the Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon