Monday, December 11, 2017

Planned 2018 Runs

This article outlines the runs that I am planning to run for the 2018 Runner year.  As each run completes I will post a retrospective on the race so others can decide if it is something may be interested in trying and I can document for myself if I enjoyed it so I can remember to sign up again, or not, the following year.

Harrisburg Marathon

I had high expectations for the Harrisburg Marathon.  Within hours of finishing the Harrisburg Half Marathon I signed up for the full marathon.  I absolutely loved the half marathon event, everything about it.  The hotel I stayed in, the route, the bridges, the scenery and the support from volunteers and spectators.

For the most part, I wasn't disappointed at all, but there were a few things I wish would have been better.  As with the Half Marathon I stayed at the Harrisburg Hilton hotel.  In the case of the Marathon event, this is the event hotel.  They had a special rate for the marathon runners and they granted us all a 3pm check-out, which was great.  Plenty of time to run the race and get back to the room for a shower and a change of clothes before seeking out breakfast.

And therein lies one of the few low points of the event.  And it really had nothing to do with the event per say, but the hotel.  I love Hilton hotels.  I have points and I stay at them whenever I can.  You can read this from other runs I have done like the Baltimore races.

One of the three bridges crossed during the Harrisburg Marathon

However, in this case, they dropped the ball in my opinion.  They are the "host hotel", but for this race I am not sure what that really means.  Packet pickup isn't at this location, which in most cases is the case., but the race does finish about a block or two from the hotel, which is wonderful.  I excitedly made my way from the finish line, not really grabbing food, as I couldn't wait to get to the hotel, change and get downstairs for their buffet breakfast.  The same one I had after the half marathon only a few months before.

To my horror they didn't have it.  Wait, what?  You read that correctly.  Instead of having 30 linear feet of made to order omelets, waffles, fruit, muffins, veggies and other indulgences after a long race, they had only their menu items.  None of which appealed to me, which is why we got up and left, and worse yet ended up at Cracker Barrel for a better selection of food.  Now, I don't have anything against Cracker Barrel, but it isn't usually my first choice.

The menu on race day was comprised of items like a lobster omelet and pumpkin pancakes and a variety of brunch like items (sandwiches, soups, roasted veggies, etc.).  It was all very posh and very complex.  The kind of food I normally enjoy when I am out for a nice dinner, but not what I wanted after 26.2 miles.  I didn't get a "feedback survey" from my stay this time, so hopefully they do get some feedback and make changes next year.  Aside from the lack of "runner friendly food" before and after the race, I absolutely loved this event.

One of the really nice perks about the Half Marathon and Full Marathon in Harrisburg is that they both have an early start for walkers or anyone needing some extra time.  For the marathon race, they get an hour and a half head start, staring at 6:30am.  The event itself starts at 8am.  While they indicate that those starting early will not have race support for the first several miles, it turns out that they actually did have race support as early as mile 3; even thought they were still setting up.

We did start on time, promptly at 8am.  The course is open until 2pm which puts the race requirement at a 13 min/mile pace.  This is fairly quick, so the extra hour and a half does come in handy for first time marathons or folks needing a little buffer.  The extra time puts the limit at about a 17 min/mile pace.  Staying at the Hilton is very convenient given the start location. It was around 20 degrees or so when I stepped outside to make my way to the starting line, so having not to wait in that temperature was great.

Strava map of the Harrisburg PA Marathon

The course has a few confusing turns in it, especially in the last mile or so, but overall it has a lot of scenery to take in along with crossing three bridges in all.  As with the Half Marathon the race starts out heading South along the Market Street bridge before heading North/West along South Front Street and the Susquehanna River.  At mile 1.4 your turn right and go over the Harvey Taylor Bridge back into Harrisburg Proper followed by a wide loop around the Capital Building.  While it isn't easy to get a good view of the capital there are some other cool building and architectural elements to see along this part of the route.  In particular I really liked the entrance columns to the State Street Bridge.

After going around the Capital Building you make your make back along the Susquehanna River heading South East until Mile 5 at which point you head "inland" and around some industrial areas.  A few small (but somewhat steep) hills in this area.  By mile 7.4 you find your way back near the water along the upper walking path (Capital Area Greenbelt) headed towards Market Street Bridge which you cross and then exit down onto City Island.  After a lap around City Island you head back over the river on the Walnut Street Bridge and head North West along the water.

Some fall foliage along the Capital Area Greenbelt path

Around mile 10.8 you come up off the water to North Front Street.  You stay on this road until mile 13.3 or so and then you head into more of a community area for a mile or two before popping back out onto North Front Street around mile 15.  There are some really nice old houses along North Front Street so certainly worth looking around as much as you can.

At mile 16.3 we went under a stone arched railroad bridge that was full of icicles as the water was freezing at it dripped through the stone.  The road was starting to freeze as well so volunteers were frantically directing runners as other tried to break up the ice on the road.  Well done to all of them and thank you!  I had to stop and take a picture.

Icy railroad bridge underpass

At mile 16.8 we went through Fort Hunter Mansion Park.  What a beautiful old house and barn.  Certainly a place I would enjoy visiting when I am not running through it.  It wasn't possible for me to read the history on the plaques as I ran by, but I am sure it was interesting.  This is a long stretch of road so it was nice to have a few interesting things to run by in order to break it up before getting the 180 degree turnaround at mile 17.6.

After the turn around the trip back is largely the same until after you go under the Walnut Street Bride.  At that point you turn left and take the "switch back" at mile 25.2 up to the "Capital Area Greenbelt" trail near the river where you run until mile 25.8 before backing another U-turn back down North River Street until turning left on Pine Street as you near the finish line.  The finish is then a quick right onto North 2nd Street and your done!

Strava Harrisburg Marathon Elevation Chart

Overall the course seemed relatively flat with a few hills, but for some reason Strava showed an overall elevation gain of 1,558 feet.  So either running "up river" was a lot more than I thought during the moment, or Strava and/or my TomTom messed up.  My guess is there really was this much elevation as usually both Strava and my TomTom are spot on.

After crossing the finish line, you are able to claim your medal, get a drink and bottled water and get in the food line just outside the runners finishing chute.  As with the Half Marathon, the food was sponsored by Panera so they had three kinds of sandwiches (one veggie), chips, bagels and even hot soup.  I grabbed two bags of chips, but otherwise didn't partake as I was looking forward to the brunch buffet at the hotel which turned out not to exist.

Finishers Medal for the Harrisburg PA Marathon

Overall this was a very enjoyable race and I would certainly do it again.  I didn't have the time I wanted, but it was my third fastest marathon overall.  The race support was good, with water/Gatorade and gels about every 2.5 to 3 miles along the course.  While I did have Gu and Huma Gels on me, I didn't feel the need to carry water.  There were plenty of stops for that and I didn't feel that I Was struggling.  Perhaps if the race had been hotter I would have felt differently.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Baltimore Running Festival

This year was the second time I had completed the King Crab Challenge and I believe my fourth trip to the Baltimore Running Festival overall.  Given some other running events scheduled around the same time, I decided to run the half marathon and the 5k at this event instead of the full marathon as in previous years.

When you run both the 5k and the half marathon, you earn the BaltiMORON-a-thon challenge medal.  That coupled with the fact that I was doing the King Crab Challenge meant that I was on track to earn a total of five (5) medals at this event, and nine (9) overall as part of the entire King Crab Challenge series.  The details are as follows:

  • Frederick Nut Job - you earn three medals overall.  One for the 5k on Sat night.  One for the Half Marathon on Sunday, and then a "bonus" medal for doing both races called the "Nut Job".  Total so far, three.
  • Baltimore 10 Miler - you earn one medal, Baltimore Zoo Themed, for the 10 miler in and around Baltimore that starts and ends at the Zoo.  Total so far is now four.
  • Baltimore Running Festival - since I was doing the 5k and the half marathon I was able to get a medal for the 5k, a medal for the half marathon, the bonus "BaltiMORON-a-thon" medal, the Maryland Double medal since I also did the Frederick race, and finally the King Crab medal.  Final total is nine.

Now, the King Crab challenge has changed up the "bonus" gift in different years.  One year it was a fleece blanket.  Another year it was a small medal holder to display all the event medals for that year that looked like crab claws, and this year was a 2lb medal the size of my head.  I am not sure what next year will bring, but I do know the large medal was a big hit so perhaps it will be back.

The Five Medals from King Crab Challenge

Now on to the event itself...

There were several changes at this years event, several of which I did really like, and a few that I hope they will do better next year.  Since I am so late writing up this blog entry I already know that the start and finish venues will be the same next year, so they will certainly have the opportunity to make improvements, and I am sure they are already planning.

As in previous years I stayed at the Baltimore Hilton.  I really love this hotel and this year I was fortunate enough to get a concierge room which was great.  The lounge had some great snacks and drinks that we were able to take advantage of the evening before the race and after the race while we showered and changed clothes.  If you can get the right room, you can have a great view of Camden Yards.

View of Camden Yards from Baltimore Hilton

The Marathon race starts right in front of the hotel so if that is your race of choice, this location doesn't get any better.  The 5k used to start at the same location, but alas this year they moved it down by the intersection of Light Street and Pratt Street.  This is the same starting line as the half marathon and the same area as the finish line.  So, this is one of the positive changes in my mind, especially if you are doing the BaltiMORON-a-thon challenge as you start and finish in the same general area twice.  The only downside of this challenge is there is a long wait between finishing the 5k and starting the half marathon.  All in all the wait was about an hour and a half.  The 5k started at 7:30am, and the half marathon started at 9:45am.  All events did start on time.

5k Staring Line

Half Marathon Starting Line

The other positive change was the overall 5k course.  In previous years the 5k course had some good up hill climbs as you headed North into the city and then came back around and finished in Camden Yards.  This year the course stayed on the flat side along Key Highway towards the Under Armour headquarters, but doesn't go that far.  In fact, the Marathon course shares some of this route.

5k Strava Map

This was my first time running the 5k in Baltimore and it was a fun event,  Mostly because I ran this one with my daughter.  While we didn't set any speed records, we did it.  And we did it while in pain.  Well, she did it while in pain.  The previous day she had her toe hurt (or even broken) by a horse stepping on her foot during her riding lesson.  I was really pleased that she pushed through it and ran.  Although it was probably more for the medal than for me, but that's fine.  Whatever it takes, right?

Family Photo

The other really big change is that the finish area for all races was now McKeldin Square instead of Camden Yards.  The nice thing about finishing through Camden Yards and into the Ravens Stadium parking lot was there was lots of room for tents, food, and hanging out.  The bad part was it was a parking lot.  Not much to look at, and not many places to sit except the asphalt.

The down side of the new finishing area was that it was narrow and long.  While taking in views of the Inner Harbor was awesome, as well as having plenty of places to sit, stretch and hangout amongst the shops, everything was really far apart.  It was a long walk to get your beer (if you into that post run), get food, grab a smoothy, checkout vendors, or all the way to the very end by the Science Building to get your King Crab and Maryland Double medals.  Signage would have been better as well.  It was a hot race this year, and many runners were in need of a smoothy and didn't know where to go,  Since I had to walk the entire length for my medals I was able to give many runners directions, but signs would have been very useful.

Half Marathon Strava Map

The half marathon course, except for the finish, was largely the same as in previous years.  It is a nice course, but hilly.  According to Strava, the overall elevation gain was 1,089 feet.  You get to go through several different areas of Baltimore including, Little Italy, Patterson Park, Clifton Park and Lake Montebello.  On the far side of the lake is one of my favorite water stops as they have potato chips.  Right around that point I need the salt and they really hit the spot.  This year they had a much larger supply than in previous years, so my friends that were a little further back in the pack were still able to grab a bag.

Half Marathon Strava Elevation Chart

In the last third of the race going through some of the nicer old neighborhoods there is some great race support from spectators.  Lots of loud music areas and several "beer stops" are available.  I swear there was at least five opportunities in less than a mile.  The water stops are plenty and are fairly evenly paced out.  I never feel like I am struggling for water/gatorade along this course, even on a hot day like this one.  There really sins't a need to carry your own water, although I do see runners with anywhere from two to four bottles or large camelback backpacks on for some reason.  For a more detailed overview of the Marathon course you can review my post from last year.

The finishing area was very congested however, so I am sure they will be making changes to help in this area.  We were funneled down severely fairly quickly after the finish line to get medals, and then the area opened back up for water and snacks.  As in previous years if you exit the runners only area, you can only re0enter by walking around to the front entrance again,.  So, really, you need to take all the water and snacks you can carry with you the first time through.

The other area that could use improvement is the process for medal distribution,  I did like the fact that they had police offers helping hand out medals, but it was a little confusing which way to go for the half marathon, full marathon or BaltiMORON-a-thon challenge medal.  Better signage and direction to the BaltiMORON-a-thon area would have been useful and would have prevented folks from working their way side to side in this area causing additional traffic jams.

Overall, as with previous years, I would recommend this event.  It is scenic, challenging, well supported and energetic.  The hills are a challenge so regardless of your length it is important you train for this fact.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Harrisburg Half Marathon

I have to admit that I didn't have any real expectations for the Harrisburg Half Marathon, but I was looking forward to running over some bridges and I knew it would be relatively flat.  As it turned out it was a totally awesome race.  So much so in fact, that I signed up for the Harrisburg Marathon this November shortly after finishing the race.

I have never spent any time in Harrisburg so I had to do some online research to prepare.  My wife was also planning on running this event and since she had been sick for a few weeks prior, she was planning on taking advantage of the optional "walkers start" that gives runners an extra 45 minute head start.  Given that decision it made sense to try and get a hotel instead of getting up early and making the hour and a half drive to the race.

I found a reasonably priced room at the Harrisburg Hilton that was a short walk to several restaurants as well as packet pickup and the race start on City Island.  The Hilton was beautiful and the location was perfect.  The rooms were comfortable with great views of the river and the on premise food choices were great.  In fact, the Sunday brunch turned out to be perfect after the run.  The bar area had a really impressive wine display in a clear rack that was used to divide the dinning room.

Harrisburg Hilton Wine Rack

After arriving at the hotel and checking in, I asked for a late checkout.  The staff were great and honored my request with a 2pm checkout.  This was going to give us plenty of time to do the run, get back for a shower and then enjoy the buffet before heading home.  After dropping off our stuff in the room, we walked the half mile to City Island and picket up our race bibs and running shirts.  The Walnut Street Bridge is the route we took to the island and is the same bridge that acts as the last 2 tenths of the run before crossing the finish line.  The open grate floor was a little disorienting at first, but after walking on it for a while I go used to it.  Was glad I wasn't going to experience this for the first time during the run.

Walnut Street Bridge

For dinner we walked to McGrath's Pub just down the street from the hotel.  We heard from the bartender at the hotel that the food was good, and their online menu indicated they had a salmon dish which is a favorite of mine before a race.  The food was good, but I did find the salmon a little on the sweet side.

The weather was absolutely amazing for the two days we were in Harrisburg.  Couldn't have asked for anything better.  Since we were staying so close to the starting line, we were able to take our time getting ready and walking down to the starting line.  Since Trisha was starting early we got there in time to use the restrooms and make sure she got lined up with plenty of time.

When it was time for me to line up I planned on sticking with the 8:00/mile pace group.  This would put me right around my Half Marathon PR time.  While I didn't expect to really stick with this group the entire run, I did want to try and keep it close.  Using that pace I figured I would catch Trisha around mile 6 or so.

Starting Line Setup for Harrisburg Half Marathon

The course turned out to be fairly flat as I expected, with a total elevation gain of only 220 feet according to Strava.  In fact a good bit of the elevation gain comes in the first two miles or so as you make your way off the Market Street Bridge to the South and then hook around and head North over the Harvey Taylor Bridge.  I found it really cool how wide the Susquehanna River was.  And seeing all the various bridges during the run was really unique.  You usually don't see that many bridges in such a confined area; especially over such a large river.  There were usually five bridges in view at any one time.

Side view of Market Street Bridge

Harrisburg Half Marathon Strava Map

After crossing the Harvey Taylor Bridge the runner turn right along North Front Street.  The street was closed for this part of the run so that made it easy to navigate with the other runners.  At mile 2.8 we dropped down to the paths along the river off the road surface.  This was still paved and provided some great views, but there were a few potholes.  Just past mile marker 3.2 we get back on the roads and make a left onto Sycamore Street and then a right onto North Cameron.  There were a few short but fairly steep climbs here.  At mile 4.6 we made a J-hook onto a gravel trail called Capital Area Greenbelt.  The trail was fairly well maintained and didn't contain a lot of large rocks or roots.  At mile 5.4 we were back on the concrete river side surface.

Harrisburg Half Marathon Strava Elevation chart

I caught up with Trisha at mile 6.2 and while she was doing well, I decided to run/walk with her for a little while.  I had been maintaining a 8:06/mile average which wasn't bad, but I clearly wasn't going to PR, so made sense to hang with Trisha.  We ran together until mile 8.5.  For most of this time we stayed along the river and then eventually made our way back up to North Front Street.

As I started back on my own I only had to go to mile market 9.7 where we turned around and headed back the way we came towards the finish.  I tried to push myself some in order to simply work on my times for future races.  I was maintaining around an 8:00/mile pace plus or minus.  Running back along the river was nice.  On this side there are stair case like features along the water that allows spectators to sit, fish or simply view the scenery.  It reminded me a lot of Nottingham in the UK along the River Trent.

Running along the river with the Harvey Taylor Bridge in the background

At mile 12.7 you make a quick u-turn uphill to get onto the Walnut Street Bridge and head towards the finish line.  I was pleased to see that they were directing us to run on the sidewalk side of the bridge versus the open grated area, which suited me just fine.  I pushed hard as I crossed the finish line with an overall average of 9:37/mile.  Overall not bad and I got to enjoy several miles with Trisha.

Side view of Walnut Street Bridge

At the finish you were presented a bottled water along with the finishers medal.  A short walk to the City Island Carousel where the packet pickup was located was some great sandwiches provided by Panera.  At that point I relaxed as I waited for Trisha to finish a little while later.  After getting back to the hotel and taking a quick shower, we treated ourselves to the brunch buffet with fresh fruit, waffles, custom omelets and coffee.  They even had an acoustic guitar player singing some classic 80s songs.  A great way to end the experience.

Harrisburg Half Marathon Finishers Medal for 2017

Again, I highly recommend this event.  It was very well organized and was beautiful to run.  I am really looking forward to the Full Marathon event in November.  While I am running that event alone, I expect to see some great scenery again, including the beautiful capital building.  The host hotel is the Harrisburg Hilton, so I have already booked the room.  And of course they are offering all runners late checkouts, so hopefully I will have time to partake of the breakfast buffet once more.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Baltimore 10 Miler

The Baltimore 10 Mile is the second event in my King Crab Challenge series for 2017.  The event takes place in early June which is right on the cusp of when you might be able to expect a very hot and humid day, or a cooler more mild day.  Thankfully, this year, we had the latter.  It was warm, but not unbearable.  Certainly not what I experienced back in 2015.

The event is well run and managed.  The location makes getting to the event fairly easy with clear directions and parking information provided in the race guides.  The race starts in Druid Hill Park right near the Baltimore Zoo.  In fact, depending on where you park you may be able to walk by the Rawlings Conservatory which is very beautiful.

Rawlings Conservatory

The starting line is on East Drive which heads East out of the park past Druid Lake and over Route 83.  The first mile is basically down hill, so it is easy to get started out of the gate too quick.  After you cross Route 83 it is a half mile uphill climb on Wyman Park Drive.   As you pass through the South West corner of Johns Hopkins University you turn right onto North Howard Street which is a great downhill sprint before turning left onto 28th Street.

Starting Line

The course remains fairly flat for the next several miles as you work your way down 28th Street and then turn left onto Greenmount Ave.  Around mile 2.6 you make a right onto East 33rd Street which contains a few up and downs before heading slightly downhill as you make your way counter clockwise around Lake Montebello.  The trip around the lake is flat, great to watch go by and takes just under a 1.5 mile.  While there are water stops about every 2 miles on the course, the one I tend to look forward to the most is on the far side of the lake.  During the Baltimore Half/Full Marathon in October they usually have chips or other salty snacks which taste amazing at that point on the Full Marathon course, but alas for the 10 Miler they only have Gu.

Baltimore 10 Miler Strava Map

The course is largely an out and back, but there are a few differences on the return trip.  On of those is a quick detour on 542 as you come back East on East 33rd Street.  After this the return is the same until you get back into the park.  There is a good 1 mile climb that starts around mile 8.7.  Be sure to save something is reserve to maintain your pace.  Overall the total elevation gain according to Strava is about 505 feet.

Baltimore 10 Miler Strava Elevation Map

Just as you think you are almost back to the start/finish line you have to make one final detour to the right on Red Rd.  This will take you counter clockwise around St. Paul's Cemetery and then finally back around to the finish line.

Baltimore 10 Miler Finishers Medal

One of the most refreshing after run snacks they provide here as a tradition is sliced watermelon.  That along with the cool towel they hand you is a very quick way to get cooled back down.  There is plenty of Gatorade, snack bars, chips and water at the finish line.  The runners village is full of great vendors, massage tents, beer, food, live music, VIP areas and this year, for the first time, the King Crab Challenge tent.

The King Crab Tent was a private place for all King Crab runners (denoted by our bib numbers) to hang out after the race with our own stash of bananas, snack bars, chips, water and beer.  This was a nice place to relax while I waited for my wife to finish her run.

When I returned to the finish line to watch my wife cross the line, I was disappointed to see that they had started to run out of many of the post race snacks.  The only thing left when she finished was a few oranges, watermelon and snack bars.  The chips and bananas as well as the cold towels were all gone.

This event has a very liberal finishing time requirement which makes it an amazing event for runners trying out a new distance.  It is unfortunate that this effort can't be celebrated with the same variety of snacks and perks as I had when I finished the race.   Hopefully they noticed this and will attempt to correct it for next years event.

This race isn't as large or as "loud" as the Baltimore Running festival in October, but it is a great event.  It is a well run event (except for the one comment above).  It is well staffed with amazing volunteers and there was plenty of support on the course with water stops and spectators.  For a town as large as Baltimore, this event has a nice small town feel.

Monday, May 29, 2017

2017 Frederick Nut Job Challenge

This was my fourth time attending the Frederick Run Festival.  For the last few years I have been opting for the Nut Job Challenge, and this is the second time I am also doing the King Crab challenge.

The Nut Job challenge in Frederick is the Twilight 5K on Saturday night just after packet pickup at 6pm which makes this event very convenient, followed by the half marathon on Sunday morning.  This was the first year that the 5K event provided a finishers medal to all participants thanks to the generous support of Frederick Foot and Ankle.  I have used them a few times for issues and found them to be both effective, kind and very knowledgeable.  While they have several doctors in the practice I have been fortunate to deal with Doctor Brenna Steinberg.

The King Crab Challenge is in cooperation with the Baltimore Running Festival and provides for bonus bling for doing the Frederick Half Marathon, the Baltimore 10 Miler in June and then either the Baltimore Half or Baltimore Full Marathon in October.  You can also opt in for the BaltiMORON-a-thon which gives you an extra medal for doing the Baltimore 5K immediately before the Half Marathon; which I am doing this year.  So, all in all, if you max out on races and medals, you would get 9 in total.  Given for the following reasons:

  • Frederick Nut Job Challenge (3 medals in total; 5K, half marathon and bonus nut job medal)
  • Baltimore 10 Miler (1 medal)
  • BaltiMORON-a-thon (3 medals in total; 5K, half marathon and bonus BaltiMORON medal)
  • Bonus MD Double (1 medal for doing Frederick Half and Baltimore Half)
  • King Crab Medal (1 huge medal that is 2 lbs for doing the whole thing)

That is a lot of medals in total, so hopefully I am not calculating incorrectly.  You do have to be careful to sign up for all the special events to get all of these, not just the King Crab Challenge, so if you go for this next year, be careful.

I supported some family members this year, so it made the whole event a different experience.  In the past I have normally gone all out on the Frederick Half since this is the event where I hold my half marathon PR.  This year I ran the 5K with my daughter, and the half marathon with my wife who is training for a full marathon in January.

The 5K is a nice course and is basically and out and back with about 53 feet of elevation gain according to Strava.  As you can see from the map photo it is basically an out and back that starts and finishes on the horse track at the Frederick Fair grounds.

Frederick 5K Strava Elevation

This track is packed small gravel so if you are prone to getting rocks in your shoes, or you are a bare foot runner, keep this in mind.  All in all you will spend about a half a mile on the track.

Frederick 5K Strava Map
After you leave the track you head left on a relatively flat road until turning left on Monocacy Blvd just after the 1 mile mark.  After a few tenths of a mile you will benefit from a downhill run just under a half mile before making a 180 degree U-Turn and heading back up the hill the way you came.  There is one water stop on this hill at mile marker 1.5 or so.  This allows you to pass it twice (once downhill and then again uphill).  Once you re-enter the race track you head around to the left for the last tenth of a mile across the finish line.

My daughter and I on the course
There are a few photographers on the course and around the start and finish line.  This was the first year where photos were free to all participants which is great.  You can also purchase them at a very reasonable cost if you want versions without the banners.

The Frederick Half starts promptly at 7am on Sunday morning.  There is plenty of parking for this event if you arrive about an hour or so prior to the start time.  I really haven't had any issues in the past getting a space or leaving.  But this year, I did decide to park downtown in one of the parking decks since they are free on Sunday's until 2pm.  The closest deck off East street is about a mile from the starting line, so if you want a good warm up walk prior to running, I would recommend this.

As I mentioned earlier, I ran this event with my wife and followed her 30/30 intervals the entire time.  There is plenty of food and drinks on the course, so you really don't need to carry anything with you.  I did bring one Gu just in case.  Water stops are about every 2 miles (sometimes a little less), so again, no need to lug yourself down with water bottles on a belt or a hydration pack.  I saw many runners with both of these, and never understand why you would put yourself through that in a running event like this.

This is the second year of the new half marathon route, and even after my second time I still prefer the original course.  You can read last years post to get more background on why they change it if you are interested.

Overall the course is pretty flat given other events I do in the area.  According to Strava the overall elevation gain comes in right around 197 feet.  As you can see from the elevation chart below the gains are relatively spaced out with a noticeable gain right before mile 12.

Frederick Half Marathon Strava Elevation Chart

The Frederick Half is a great event.  It is very well run, organized and offers a lot of great scenery.  Crowd and volunteer support is off the hook and everyone is very friendly.  For those that like to indulge Dunkin Donuts provides small cups of Munchkins just past mile marker 4.

The course takes runners through some great areas.  After leaving the starting line in front of the fair grounds on East Patrick Street you make a left onto East street and start to head out of town.  You turn right on Monocacy Blvd going past Key Stadium and then right onto Stadium Drive.  You will find Mount Olivet cemetery on your left.  This is a beautiful area where Francis Scott Key as well as other well known figures are buried.

After passing the cemetery you will find yourself turning left and heading down the famed Frederick Market Street.  There are a lot of spectators in this section as residence are out enjoying coffee as you go by.  As you head further into town you will pass the numerous bars, restaurants and shops the town has to offer.

Frederick Half Marathon Strava Map

You work your way all the way north to 6th Street where you hang a left, then a quick second left as you go downhill on Bentz Street.  You then turn right onto Carroll Pkwy and wrap yourself around Frederick's largest park.  Just after mile 5 you make a quick left onto Kline Blvd and start to head into one of the small communities near the park.  This is a slight uphill grade for the next mile or so.  After turning right onto Fairview Ave you will begin to head back downhill and towards the park area again.

Almost back to Baker Park

You will make a right onto West 2nd Street and head back down the other side of the park area eventually passing the newly renovated Culler Lake.  The next couple of miles is fairly flat through the older area of Frederick just South of Hood College.  Just past the tennis courts you turn left onto Dulaney Ave and then a quick left onto 3rd Street.  You will pass some beautiful old homes in the downtown Frederick area during these 2 miles or so.  In fact, after turning right onto Upper College Terrace you will pass one of my two favorite houses in Frederick.

You will cross over Rosemont Ave and head into Hood College.  As you exit Hood College this is where the Half Marathon Relay exchange point is located.  This happens right around mile 7.7 so if you are doing the relay be sure not to get that leg of the race unless you are feeling generous.

After you leave the exchange area you turn right and work your way counter clockwise around Frederick Memorial Hospital.  You cross over 7th Street and go down a few back roads before making a right onto Fairview Ave again.

You cross over Motter Ave and then turn left onto the North side of Market Street turning right on 16th Street and heading East out of Frederick. Within this area between mile markers 9 and 11.5 things are relatively downhill.  After 16th Street you hang a right onto Schifferstadt Blvd.

In order to get the 13.1 miles in you have to do a quick out and back on South Street before heading right back onto Monocacy Blvd and up the last hill of the race.  This is the same hill you ran on the 5K if you participated in the event, so you already know you can do it.  At this point you take the same route back as the 5K except this time after entering the race track you go counter clockwise the long way before crossing the finish line.

Frederick Half Marathon and Nut Job Challenge Medals

If you did the Nut Job challenge you will be presented with the Half Marathon medal as well as the Nut Job Challenge medal as you enter the race area.  I didn't take a photo of the 5K medal but is is similar to the Half Marathon medal, just smaller.  The Nut Job medal changes about every two years.  This is the first year of this design.

Crossing the Half Marathon finish line
Overall this is a great event, in a wonderful location.  I highly recommend this race to all my running buddies that are within 2 hours.  It is totally worth the drive.  And frankly it is even worth staying over on Saturday night so you can do the Nut Job challenge and after the half go grab a quick shower and have lunch/brunch in one of the amazing local restaurants.  You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Cherry Blossom 10 Miler

April is one of the most beautiful times of year in the DC when the cherry blossoms are in bloom around the monuments and East Potomac Park inlet.  One of the best ways to see them, as a runner, is during the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler.  This was my second appearance at this event; my first time was back in 2014.

The race is a popular one, and as such is done as a lottery.  Be sure to sign up for the email notifications so you are informed prior to the start of the lottery process.  If you want to run as a group you can setup a lottery group and have your friends and family sign up under that group.  That way if you win, you all run together.  Signing up as a group for the lottery doesn't affect your chances of being selected, but it does make sure you all get to run together if selected.

The event hosts a 5K race along with the 10 miler for those that aren't yet ready for the 10 mile distance or might be concerned about the pacing requirements.  For those opting in for the 10 mile race, the pacing requirements is a 14 minute mile.  Most races tend to come in around a 16 minute mile, so this is one of the faster minimums.  I guess they can only have DC roads closed down for so long, and the 5K starts after all the 10 miler waves have left the starting area.

There is no packet pickup on race morning so be sure to plan ahead so you can get your packet at the Building Museum prior to race day.  Since the race is early and Metro isn't always running early enough (it did my first time in 2014, but not this year), it may make sense to book a hotel the night before.  This makes the race less stressful overall as you can get into DC, check into the hotel, get your packet and enjoy a nice dinner and some down time.

We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn off First Street NE.  It was a nice hotel right next to a Starbucks and was walk-able to the Building Museum for packet pickup.  The walk to the starting line from this hotel, that early in the AM, was a bit much so we grabbed a cab.  If I were to do it all again, I would book a hotel closer to the starting line well in advance of the lottery draw.  If I didn't make it into the race I would just cancel the hotel, but this way I would have a better location to walk to the starting area and walk back after finishing for a quick shower.

The DC mall at sunrise is really nice.  This time of year the air is usually cools and crisp and today was no exception.  The weather was perfect for running.  I had on an old sweatshirt I could discard right before the race to stay warm, and I had a change of cloths ready at the bag check when I finished.

Sunrise on the Washington Monument

Bag check this time around was really well done.  There were several tents marked with letters.  You simply walked up to any tent, preferably the one with the shortest line, and handed over your items.  They gave you a wrist band with the identifying information to pick your bag back up.  After the race you simply returned to that same tent, showed them your wrist band and they handed you your bag.  This made for really short lines and a quick turn around.

The flip side the Washington Monument

The race starts in waves that are all based on the honor system.  For the most part runners seem to keep it honest, but as you would expect there were several runners that were in corrals that they probably shouldn't have been in.  During the first two or so miles things are definitely crowded so if you are attempting a PR you have to be alert and identify clear paths ahead.

Still in the crowd at this point

Aside from the initial crowds the first few miles, the race is really flat and fast.  According to Strava the total elevation gain is only 34 feet.  That is by far the flattest race I have done to date.  Water stops are plentiful and are spaced out relatively equally about every 2.5 to three miles.  As with most races they provide water as well as Gatorade.  And just like back in 2014 the group handing out beer and Oreo cookies was at the tip of the inlet.  Apparently a tradition for many many years.

Strava Elevation Chart

Crowd support is actually really great for this event and after mile four you really start to see a lot of cheering fans.  The closer you get back to the starting/finish area the more people you start to see.  There were high school bands playing around the inlet as well as a small Jazz group.  As you start to see signs indication only 1500 meters remaining it is hard not to kick it into high gear.  There is a slight incline for the last half mile, but the crowds really get your adrenaline moving so pushing up that last hill isn't as hard as a normal practice run would be.

Strava Race Map

The course really allows you to see several different monuments and parks around the Washington Monument area including the Lincoln Memorial, the Arlington Memorial Bridge, Korean War Veterans Memorial, the FDR Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr Monument.  And of course the views as you go around the inlet are amazing.  Especially cool to look at is the housing/building for the Fort Lesley J. McNair facility across the inlet waterway.

Cherry Blossom 10 Miler Finisher Medal

After crossing the finish line you are provided some water and make the long walk back to the runners area entrance.  It is here you can grab some food and additional drinks and if you ordered a medal, you can pick that up as well at a well marked tent.  If you do decide to get a medal and pay for a premium shirt the overall price of the event does go up, but the shirt is worth it unless you like cotton t-shirts.

Cherry Blossoms after the race

Overall this is a great event, and for anyone that loves the 10 miler distance, or wants to try and set a PR, this is a great choice.  The event is very well organized, and the area is absolutely beautiful.  Granted the cherry blossoms weren't stellar this year with the late cold snap and snow in the area, but it was still worth seeing.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Mission 10 Miler

The Mission 10 Miler is a great Frederick, MD race.  This was my third time over the last four years; I took 2016 off.  The event is well run, with lots of great volunteers and supports a great cause that you can read about on their website.

What made this event so great for me this year was that for the first time my wife and daughter (16) both ran this event.  This was my daughters longest run to date and she did incredibly well for her first race.  For those that haven't tried a 10 miler before, it is a really great distance.  Longer than a 10k for those that have already concurred one or more of those, but aren't ready to tackle a half marathon.

The race is an out and back that starts at the Frederick, MD minor league ball park Nymeo Field at Harry Grove Stadium.  The home of the Frederick Keys.  Two great factors of this race is race day packet pickup and the fact that it is run on a Sunday afternoon.  No early wake-up required to take on this event since it starts at 2pm.  Arriving by 1pm is plenty of time to get your race packet, use the facilities and line up.

While there are not "formal" corrals, you do line up following an honor system and they do start racers in waves so that you avoid the huge initial staring line crowds.  They have pacers available as well for those that want to go after a PR or simply have a group of people to stick with.

Strava Map of Mission 10 Miler Course

There are three water stops between the start and the turn around point at mile five.  Each stop is full of volunteers with tons of energy and plenty of water and Gatorade.  The water stop at the turn around point also had Gu although I carried one with me just in case.

Most of the roads are open to traffic during the event, but police officers watch all the intersections and major turn offs to keep cars away as runners proceed through the intersections.  This is a chip timed event, so lots of runners are really pushing themselves.  I was doing really well until the last mile where I ended up slowing down some to run with a friend of mine.  I didn't realize that I was close to a PR at the time or I would have probably sprinted right by; although I have to admit the last two hills on the way back were getting to me.

Overall the course is relatively flat with a total gain of 225 feet according to Strava.  After the start you turn right onto New Design Road and have to traverse two hills as the road crosses over both Interstate 70 and Interstate 270.  Since this is an out and back run, you get to do them again around mile marker 9.2.  Between miles two and four you slowly climb about 90 feet, which is great on the way back between miles six and eight.

Strava Elevation Chart

During the hill climb between mile two and four you turn right on Elmer Derr Road right around mile marker 3.4 and then make another right onto Ballenger Creek Pike around mile marker four.  At this point you get a mostly downhill break until the turn around at mile five.

After making the U-turn over the timing mat, you work your way back up hill to the left turn on Elmer Derr Road.  At mile six you start your slow two mile decent while you turn left onto New Design Road until mile marker eight.  At that point you make a few climbs before turning left on Stadium Drive where it all started and cross the finish line.

Mission 10 Miler Finishers Medal

There are photographers on the course, but the only time I was captured on film was right before crossing the finish line, and lets just say it isn't a photo worth saving.  After I finished I quickly changed cloths since the air was cool and breezy (great for running) and I knew I would chill out.  After changing cloths I waited for my daughter and wife to finish.

After everyone was back at the start we went through the runners tent and grabbed some bananas, water, Gatorade and sandwiches provided by Jimmy Johns.  They had computers setup as well so you could check your time.

Again, this is a great event.  The size is relatively small with less than 800 runners, but well manned and plenty of water stops.  For a well run, medium distance run, with a small town feel, you can't beat the Mission 10 Miler.  And lets not forget about the cause.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Biltmore Backyard to Vineyard Challenge

For anyone that has read my running posts in the post or follows me on Instagram (@zarefoss) you know that I love the Biltmore Estate.  I have been visiting this sanctuary since 1995. When I started running and found out that the Biltmore hosted a Half Marathon and Full Marathon I knew that I would have to partake.

So, this year, as last year, I participated in the Backyard to Vineyard Challenge which consists of running the Half Marathon event on Saturday and the Full Marathon event on Sunday.  We arrived on Thursday afternoon to settle into the Inn at Biltmore and get an early dinner at Cedric's Tavern and visit the house.  Packet pickup was Friday afternoon at the Double Tree hotel in Biltmore Village.

Inn on Biltmore Estate

The weather on Thursday was a beautiful 72F.  The forecast had the temperature dropping each day through Sunday with a chance of snow on overnight Saturday.  At one point the total accumulation was as high as 12 inches but every time I checked it fluctuated wildly.  As much as I didn't want the marathon on Sunday to get cancelled I tried not to worry about it since it was clear no one knew what was really going to happen yet.

Friday morning was a lazy morning, I slept in, had breakfast at the Inn and relaxed.  I didn't go to packet pickup until about 2pm.  In past years I always went when it opened at Noon and it was always crowded.  This time I thought I would wait until after the lunch rush and it worked out great.  Although I had to wait about 15 minutes to get out of the parking lot to get back to the Inn, I was able to get in and out of the expo quickly.  There wasn't much merchandise I was interested in, although I did stop and get a jar of Betsy's Best almond butter with cinnamon and Chia seeds.  After taking a taste I couldn't say no.

Friday night was dinner at Cedric's Tavern and I was looking forward to their Salmon dish all day.  Salmon is one of my favorite dinners before a run.  While I have had this many times before, there had been some changes to the recipe since my last visit and frankly it wasn't as good.  While it wasn't horrible either, I don't think I will be ordering it again any time soon.

Running the Asheville Half and Full Marathon events and staying at the Inn on Biltmore Estate is a perfect match.  The events are beautiful, well managed and staffed, and challenging. Staying at the Inn allows you to simply walk down the hill about 30 minutes from the starting time.

The air was crisp and cool so I had to wear a hat and gloves.  The temperature wasn't going to rise high enough, or more importantly fast enough, to go without them.  After getting ready and putting a Gu in my pocket just in case, I headed down to the starting line about 30 minutes early.  Just enough time to get there, settle in and talk to a few fellow runners.

The Half Marathon started right on time and off we went.  Knowing I had to run again the next day, I made sure I didn't go out of the gate too fast and I wanted to maintain as consistent a pace as possible.  If you have never run around the Biltmore estate there are hills.  Lots of hills.  Very long hills.  And I knew I was going to get to do them twice.

Asheville Half Marathon Strava Map

As you can see from my Strava map and splits I didn't do too bad sticking with the "consistency" thing.  Even given all elevation changes between miles one and six.  This wan't anywhere near my PR pace, but again, that wasn't the goal here with the marathon the next.

Overall the course is great.  The start and finish marked on the map is beside the Barn near Antler Hill Village.  The start is a slight down hill before turning left towards the winery.  Around the first mile marker you make left and work your way up hill to the Deerpark Inn.  At this point you have crested your first of two main hills and also found the first water stop.

After the first water stop you turn left and head down hill for about a mile to the main entrance and ticket center.  While it is tempting to really make up some time here, I have to recommend that you pace yourself and save your energy for the second main climb of the day.  Once you reach the bottom of the hill you make a sharp right hand turn and start your way up Approach Road to the Biltmore House.  This is a 1.5 mile climb to start at which point you make a right into some parking lots and find the second water stop around mile 5.1.  You get to relax with some minor down hill sections before heading back up hill out of the parking lots and turning right twice to get to the Biltmore house.

Strava Elevation Map of the Half Marathon

If the weather is cooperating, and depending on your pace, you are seeing the house as the sun rises.  It makes for a breathtaking image.  The "U" shape towards and away from the house is just shy of a half mile and a nice break after mastering the Approach Road hills.  There are a few automated cameras around the house as well as a photography as you leave the house and turn right towards the gardens, so be sure to smile.  After that right turn you will also cross the 10k timing mat.

Biltmore House during Half Marathon

Leaving the house and running through the gardens is beautiful.  Depending on the weather in the area up until the event, the flowers could vary, but since there were some warm days prior to this, there were several flowers in bloom.  You also get to enjoy over a mile downhill through the gardens, past the bass pond, and over the brick bridge that was used in the movie The Last of the Mohicans.

At the bottom of the hill, right around mile marker 7.6, you turn left towards the equestrian center and you will pass water stop number three.  This stop will also have water, Gatorade and Gu like the second stop, but will also have bananas and oranges as well.  You do a quick out a back that is only about a half mile long on gravel, so you find yourself back at the water stop around mile marker 8.1.

At this point you head back towards the winery and Antler Hill village on paved roads.  As you approach the Lagoon you make a left turn and go around the Lagoon counter clockwise.  After making the left hand turn you are back on a gravel surface.  At the top of the Lagoon you will find another photographer taking pictures with the back of the Biltmore House over your shoulder.  Again, be sure to smile.  Or at least have someone behind you in a really good mood.

Lagoon during Half Marathon

There is another water stop around mile marker 9.3 with a variety of snacks and beverages.  This is definitely one of those racing events where you really don't have to carry anything with you.  While the spacing between the first and second water stops is long, especially given the long climb, in general there are plenty.

As you make your way along the French Broad river you will stay on gravel for several miles.  You will pass another water station around mile marker 11 where you do another out a back along the river.  You will find yourself back at this water station around mile marker 12.6 for your last water break.  As with most other stations this one will have Gu, Water, Gatorade and bananas.

Since coming down from the gardens the course has been flat, but as I mentioned most of it has also been gravel.  After passing this last water stop, there is a small climb that is about 3 tenths of a mile long before you turn right onto a paved surface and head slightly downhill across the finish line in the same manner you started.

Half Marathon Finish Line

According to the chip time, I crossed at 1:57:11.  About 13 minutes slower than my PR, but given my plans for running the marathon the next day, assuming the weather holds out, I was pleased with my performance.

The medals this year were once again wood, but this time they were simply slices of Walnut from the property that was laser engraved.  Very unique, and very cool.

Half Marathon Walnut Medal

I finished in time to get back up the hill to the Inn, shower and take in the breakfast buffet.  All I can say is made-to-order Waffles and Omelets are awesome after a run.

Since dinner the night before at Cedric's didn't go as well as we had planned, we decided to try Village Social for dinner Saturday night.  The food was good, but there wasn't anything specific that stood out at me as a must have before a really long race.  That being said I did grab a dessert which I never do.

When I went to bed the weather was still iffy and I wasn't sure what to expect so I set my alarm a little earlier than I had too so I could see how things were playing out and if there was a delay or cancellation.

When I woke up I was pleased to see only a few inches of snow on the ground and all the pre-treatment they had done on the roadways and walkways looked like it paid off.  I got ready and walked down about 20 minutes before starting time.  It was a lot colder Sunday morning than it was on Saturday morning so once again I was wearing a hat and gloves.

The walkway down the hill to the starting area was slippery and slushy so you definitely needed to be careful and use the grass in places to keep from falling.  Once I got down to the the starting area they had the portable propane heaters for runners to huddle around.  The roads around Asheville were covered in snow, so they gave folks extra time to arrive and the race started about 15 minutes late.

The start for the full marathon is the same as the half marathon.  If fact, the first 10.3 miles are exactly the same as above.  At mile 10.3 you make a left and go over the French Broad river to the West side of the property where most of the farming is done as well as the vineyards.

Full Marathon Strava Map

The one difference however was the snow.  Everything was covered in white, it was absolutely amazing.  The roads were slushy, but overall the staff on property did an amazing job keeping things relatively clear for the event.  I know everyone appreciated their efforts; I know I did.

A snowy Full Marathon

My photo near the lagoon wasn't as good as I would have liked given the snow but I bought it anyway.  I am not planning on running this event in 2018 given some other race commitments, and who knows if I would ever get the chance to do this one in the snow again.

After crossing the river to the west side, you are still on gravel and/or dirt roads.  There is a water stop  until you come back over the river again around mile marker around mile marker 10.9.  Shortly after you turn right away from the river and start your second longest climb of the marathon.  After doing the two climbs towards the house, this is another 1.5 miles up hill.  After passing another water station, you do a quick out and back that takes you over the 13.1 timing mat.  After passing the water station again, there is a nice 1.5 decline that gives you a much needed break.

Strava Full Marathon Elevation Chart

But just when you think you are rested up, there is a steep incline of about a half a mile as you go around the vineyards.  This was an amazing view covered in snow so I had to stop and take a few photos.

Snow covered vineyards

There is another water stop here, around mile marker 15.8.  Again, stocked with water, Gatorade, Gu's and bananas.  The volunteers at all the stops are full of energy and really help keep you motivated.

This is the last water stop on the west side of the property and your make your way slightly down hill into the woods and spend the next 2 miles on mostly flat terrain until you cross back over the French Broad river and then turn left following what you had done for the half marathon, doing the out and back, although this time the out and back is a little further (about an extra tenth of a mile).

However, when you come back towards the barn area, you don't get to cross the finish line just yet.  At this point you are at approximately mile marker 20.4, so just about a 10k remaining.  At least that is what I kept telling myself..."only a 10k remaining".

As I was running down the paved trail below the Village Hotel and Winery I saw my wife standing there with a big smile on her face.  Was nice to see someone cheering you on personally.  And to top it off she had some pancakes.  So I grabbed a blueberry pancake as I ran by hoping to get a second wind.

As you run along the trail back towards the Lagoon you are following a similar path as you did earlier in the day, except this time you are on pavement next to the Winery Road versus on gravel along the river.  When you finally get back to the Lagoon on gravel you stay along the river to the back side of the equestrian center and loop counter clockwise around the area you did the out and back on, past the water stop, then left again back to the river.

At this point you follow the same path back to the finish line that you just did from the barn where I got my pancake.  I have to admit that I was feeling it.  My right knee was barely working at this point, but I only had 2 miles left.  In fact, my knee started to hurt at mile 2 right after starting.  And having taken so long to write this blog entry I can safely say that it actually bothered me for about two weeks.  Four weeks later and I am basically back to my normal running schedule with no pain.

The downside of the marathon is that instead of turning right near the end and running downhill over the finish line, you turn right and run uphill over the finish line since you are coming from the other direction.

Crossing the Full Marathon finish line

After crossing the finish line I got my full marathon medal, again a slice of walnut from the property that was laser engraved.  They also handed me a nice blanket.  Since I did the Backyard to Vineyard Challenge I made my way over to the gazebo at Antler Hill village and received a nice wind breaker jacket and a third medal.

(left to right) Full Marathon, Background to Vineyard Challenge and Half Marathon

All in all, I love this event.  And while I am not planning on doing this event in 2018 at this point and time, I wouldn't be surprised at all if I change my mind at some point and sign up for at least one of the runs.  I highly recommend this event, especially if you have never visited the Biltmore Estate in the past.  It is definitely worth the trip.  And I can't stress enough that staying on property at either the Village Hotel or the Inn on Biltmore Estate.  The convenience of the location and the quality of service is totally unique.