Been Talkin’ Bout Jackson

Nothing about Jackson, Mississippi was the same from last year except maybe the city. You see, this was my return trip to the city that always makes me think of the wonderful Johnny Cash song (as it well should).

We’ve been talkin’ ’bout Jackson, ever since the fire went out.
I’m goin’ to Jackson, I’m gonna mess around,
Yeah, I’m goin’ to Jackson,
Look out Jackson town.

I was putting Jackson on look out after a poor performance last year! I was ready to run it in much better shape this year. Last year I drove down to Jackson with my aunt and ran a 3:35 with what felt like a broken leg and a constant limp. I remember putting some drug on my leg to stop the pain and it held for about 23 miles. Those last three were awful and who threw in the uphill ending? Then to put insult to injury the third place in my age group was a 3:21 or so. If I put in an average race? I would have age group placed and got an excellent trophy to boot!

The day did not start well with travel problems and me arriving in town four hours later than I should. Since my goals have changed I was aiming for a sub 3:30 in Mississippi. If I achieved that I would be down to nine states where I had to achieve that similar goal. I liked that idea a lot. However I was also going with two good friends, Jennifer and Ethan, and was looking to very good times with them! We have run more than a few good races together and they are always fun. So I was upset to have my travel delayed as it meant less time with them and less time at the expo. Ethan had his goal of trying to run a 4:30 and prepare for a 50 miler. I think Jennifer always goes into every marathon with the goal of just having a good time and she never fails at that.

I arrived into town and went straight to the expo where I ran into Steve Walters. Steve and I are very evenly matched runners and I am always thrilled to see him in a competitive way. Courses change but runners rarely do. If I can finish within five minutes of Steve I know I put in a good effort. I am sure he feels the same way too. Also Steve is an awesome ambassador of running and it is great to get a chance to see and talk to him. We did have much time to talk however as Ethan was picking me up in a few minutes so I was in a hurry. I went upstairs. Like any good marathon, Mississippi Blues had expanded their expo this year and moved it into a much larger area. It was much more convenient and though I got very little time there, it was great to see lots of race swag, free bananas and the Louisiana Marathon representing!

I was not able to stay long as Ethan was picking me up and then Jennifer to go over to Hal’s and Mal’s to eat local before our big run the next day. I was able to run into Sherry Ricker just before I left and talk to the Louisiana Marathon girl (who did not try to talk me into the 5K… foreshadowing for another blog). And the second I walked out the door Ethan was waiting for me. Perfect timing! We picked up Jennifer who was not her usual bubbly self due to drinking too much on the flight and it was a bit of a somber drive. When we go to the restaurant which was highly recommended by the race, we were afraid there was going to be a long wait but we were seated immediately.

Unfortunately the food did not live up to what we wished for as it was rather mediocre but we had went the safe route going with burgers so it was nothing too stomach upsetting in any case. Ethan ate healthier than Jennifer and I opting for a salad. Sometimes I think if you take Ethan’s fantastic training habits, Jennifer’s health and ability to get over an injury quickly and my sheer determination you may have a perfect runner! Instead you have three very fine runners. After that, Ethan dropped us off at the hotel and I was able to finally see my room. We were at a Hampton Inn so it was bound to be a nice stay. Jennifer made the reservations and she did a great job.

At this time I was able to finally open up my swag bag and find out what the Blues had to offer. There is not a doubt in my mind that the Blues year in and year out offers the greatest swag of any marathon. Last year they had one of my favorite cinch bags and this year they switched it up and gave us a nice heavy duty reusable grocery bag. The harmonica returned this year in a very fitting blue color and a free CD as well. And the shirt was switched to a light jacket with minimal extra advertising. It was like they threw away the entire design for the shirt last year and redid it! Though with some marathons I would love this, with the Blues there was just no need to. But they did it and the result was fantastic! I have a feeling this jacket will get a lot of play around April. Jennifer ended up having a zipper problem but they switched out her jacket the next day no questions asked.

And then Angie Whitworth Pace posted on the Marathon Maniacs page, “Just wait until you see the medal!” Jennifer and I were thrilled. The medal last year is still one of my top head turners when people go to see the collection. I was officially excited.

Jennifer went to bed early but I stayed up a little later to meet Cathlin who had travel issues as well and arrived much later than the rest of us. I had never met her before and even though we were only just in a conversation on Facebook about this marathon, I had to get my new friend out of the way. She walked in the door around ten and like a true marathoning traveler unpacked, brushed her teeth and was in bed in less than ten minutes. Marathon Maniacs is such a small and great community she asked what bed she was sleeping in. I told her with Jennifer of course and she said that she would have been fine either way. We had never even met before and the trust was implicit due to mutual friends.

Cathlin is an emerging member of our group and really good friends with Ethan. She is an accountant at his gym, which trust me, sounds and looks like the greatest gym in the United States! Not only that but she is a good marathoner and a future member of 50 sub 4! Ethan is already a member and Jennifer will be a member if she ever puts her mind to it and decides to run quickly. Cathlin is a runner I am looking forward to seeing in the future.

The next morning we woke up and immediately went down to breakfast. It was easily one of the nicer spreads I have seen before a marathon and though I do not eat, there were over 30 marathoners down there getting their fill. Cathlin had met a new friend the night before on the plane ride and we had to squeeze five people in on the ride over but it was not even uncomfortable. Other new friend showed up in jeans. He would say he had a friend that had jogging pants for him but I think we were all concerned he would end up running in those jeans. His story seemed a little off. Later reports stated he did find some jogging pants. Too bad. It was perfect shorts weather!

And after we left the car it was time to get to the pre party! Cathlin had to pick up her packet in the morning so we arrived an hour early. And honestly there was not much time wasted in that hour. The first thing I remember is walking into the packet pickup area and running into a girl. Somehow the conversation turned to her being from Vermont. I told her she had to run Louisiana next week! They had yet to find a Vermont runner and were nearly begging for one. By the end of a ten minute conversation I had her very interested (and not so shockingly enough she ended up being their Vermont runner so they could claim all 50 states were represented). I am a bit proud of that moment.

After that I was able to talk with many runners including Glen Anderson, Eddie Vega, Larry Macon, Lauren Farkash, Abby Auger and so many others I cannot remember them all (sorry to those forgotten). There were pictures, a quick bathroom trip and lots of people asking who was all going to day two of the double. Glen was telling me the Louisiana Marathon girl had talked him into running the 5K the day before the marathon and I was suddenly interested in this.

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I lined up to run and we took off after my favorite version of the Star Spangled Banner yet. It was a solo guitar version reminiscent of Hendrix. Thank you Mississippi Blues! The race started seconds after. The course had changed from the year before to be a bit easier with less hills rumor had it. That is fine and all, but then again I think too many marathons change their course to be Boston qualifiers. I was a bit happy that this course still had a bit of a fight in it. And I was a bit interested to see how it would play out.

It showed up immediately at first as we made our way to Jackson State University and running through the campus. As I watched the students cheer us on I knew it did not matter what else they changed – the changes were definitely for the better. And the course stayed flat as we turned around, ran through downtown again and made our way to Mile 5 with relatively no elevation changes. The past year I remembered going straight into hills at Mile 1. The hills did start in at Mile 5 and impeded my moving forward past other runners. Suddenly the runners in front of me were not getting closer but pulling away. I knew it would happen and actually it did not bother me. I just had that one number in my mind – 3:30. I had to run my own race.

When we made it to Mile 10 a group of three runners passed me looking great and then I heard a bicycle creep up behind me. He caught me by Mile 11 and I knew it meant only one thing – the lead female was right behind me. She would catch me and we ran together for a little bit and as we hit a decline I pulled a little bit ahead of her. Then as we turned around to go back up it, she and the bicycle disappeared. I felt good and hit that hill with gusto! That and the knowledge of the course kicked in too. I knew it was coming and was able to handle the long incline. And actually took off after that passing three more runners up to Mile 17. I was noticing the course from the year before and the familiarity was working for me.

Unfortunately I eventually did start to slow down but even by Mile 20 I was still passing runners. And then finally at Mile 21, the 3:15 pacer passed me. Oddly enough, this was the part of the course I did not remember. And eventually the first female caught me too. I totally fell apart at that mile and the hills were really taxing my leg. I really remember the last five miles as flat from the year before. It did not come to pass this year. And after Mile 22 the next three miles of hills really hurt my left leg so I took it easy knowing what I had to do the next day (another marathon). The hills quit about Mile 25 and I put in a great run in the end and crossed the finish line which was not uphill this year! I got back to a last fast mile and crossed the line in a very respectable 34th overall. Don’t worry about the age group placing though – think I finished just outside of the Top 10 in my age group even at 3:23. There were no worries of not hitting that 3:30 goal on this day.

The finish line festival was as fantastic as last year offering lots of great bottles of Pepsi, Gatorade and chocolate milk. The new ending location was in an art park and it was a beautiful setting. A band was playing already. There was Michelob Ultra flowing freely like wine and people all over the place. There was pizza, cookies and some soup. It was so much it was almost ridiculous. And the medal? Well it did beat the last year by a mile. Fantastic! I was able to see Steve come in seconds after me and then greet some other runners as well including Glen and Cathlin as they crossed the line.

We had a great time but had to take off quick after the race because well, we had a marathon the next day. Cathlin, Ethan, Jennifer and I took a great picture by one of the guitars and took off after that. We annoyed the cameraman as we kept looking at Jennifer’s camera and not his. Sorry, I can’t even remember the last time I bought a race picture.

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But in retrospect, one thing about Jackson, Mississippi always sticks out whenever I visit and after talking with everyone after the race this year it was as prevalent as ever. Jackson has really fallen on hard times. The people there did not seem happy to see you so much as THRILLED to see you. More than a couple people heard shout outs of “spend money here!” Several potholes had been filled in with the words “citizen repaired” spray painted on them. The downtown is a ghost town even during the week. The streets seem and are dangerous if you wander too far out.

As you run through the neighborhoods there are fantastic houses but there are a lot of downtrodden areas as well. I see very few local businesses in the downtown area and was told a Nissan plant 40 miles up the road was the major employer. I am not sure how these hotels even fill on any given weekend or even during the week – because hotels seem to be mostly what is in downtown. Well that and art museums. There is a reason why the swag is so fantastic and creative – they know a reason must be created to visit this marathon. And they do a fantastic job putting on a quality event.

However whenever I visit, oddly enough I just want to return. I want to return greatness to Jackson. I want to make it that town that Johnny Cash once sang fondly of. I do believe there is greatness in Jackson and thank you Mississippi Blues for proving that every year. I hope they can carry that spirit to bring greatness to this city again.

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Running Las Vegas – Part Two

The next day did not start out as well as planned either. I did want to eat after noon so tried to get an early breakfast as I was famished! However, surprisingly enough unless you are looking for a buffet, breakfast is hard to find on the Strip it seems. We had our hard time finding something but finally settled on Asian breakfast fusion – it was a little different. I may have been the only person at the table who enjoyed the meal. Then after a ten minute nap it seemed like it was time to eat again for a place off the strip. Then back to the hotel. And then? Well the real reason the late start time kills a runner is not the actual time to start – it is the wait. What do you do? You are in Vegas but you can’t really do anything out of line with your normal routine! It is too cold to swim and all I could think about was did I eat too much and did I give myself enough time???

Well somehow we made it to three o’clock and made our way down to the start line. There was a picture scheduled for 3:30 but as we made it to the main entrance we just knew there was no way we were going to make it. Karen had chosen to take the same day packet pickup and actually that was pretty easy to find in that mess (there was a half hour wait just to get in the staging area) and that included dropping her bag off. Everything was well marked once you got in. However by the time we got in we were late for the picture (I heard three people made it). Then, the most shocking thing of all happened – we ran into Mike Chewar! That may not seem like much but considering he wanted to be there for my 50th and there were over 40,000 runners? Incredible! I think Mike was thrilled to find us as well if for no other reason we took him back to our hotel for a quick restroom stop. Seriously, the lines were over 30 long in the waiting area! None of us wanted another half hour wait.

We made our way to the starting line after the break and as we got closer our corrals started to come up. Mike was up first in Number 17 or so. It was sad to leave Mike behind in his corral. He could have easily slipped up a couple corrals to hang out with me but he was honest and stayed where his bib said. I really respected that. And Karen felt the same way stopping in her corral 7 instead of moving forward. I was sad to let them go but we had less than 15 minutes to go by then and I usually stand by myself for the last five minutes anyway. But on the way to the front at corral 5 I got another surprise.

I ran into almost all my other remaining friends I had wanted to see – Brian, Tony, Rob and Missy! We were able to take a couple pictures together and talk about the run ahead and ones in the past. Tony was pacing the 3:30 group and I was able to meet a couple newer marathoning girls as well. We talked about what we were hoping to do and compared plans after the race. It was about this point that I ran into new friend Ted Barron! Ted is from Michelle’s hometown and she had told him I was out here celebrating my 50th. It was pretty amazing that we met each other in all those people and at the same time I was with my other friends. I do not get into many situations where I feel stretched thin but between my friends, Ted and the two new girls, my head was on a swivel answering questions.

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Finally I made my way up to my corral and snuck in next to a couple Marathon Maniacs from Washington. They were both running Nevada for the first time however I do not think the States was one of their goals. It was a tiered start and the gun went off for the first wave. We moved up. The gun went off for the second and then we moved up to the start. The gun went off a third time and… it was awesome to get out there and running! The first thing I noticed after going was a few walkers off to the left. The second thing I noticed was a lot of people running up onto the ground dividing the center of the street. I was confused by those going to the right. I would find out later a little too late for me that they were taking pictures with the Welcome to Las Vegas sign. That was a great idea. Kind of wish I knew about it beforehand. Good picture opportunity!

The walkers are another issue and something I am seeing more and more of. I do not mind people walking marathons or taking them slowly. However when people make their way up to a fast corral and then start walking I am seriously torn on this matter. On one hand I think it an awful thing to do – they do get in the way and slow down the marathon. This is why corrals were created. On the other hand I really understand – if you know a run is going to take you six hours why would you wait an hour to take off on top of that? As divided as I am on this subject, there is one thing I will say for sure – please make it to a mile before you start walking. When you start walking at the start you are only making it more dangerous for everyone.

At Mile 1 I passed another slower runner I have seen before. I do not know his name or where he is from. I just know he is not really that fast. He has a large orange Mohawk and a few facial piercings. He is considered somewhat of a celebrity runner and can get free entry into marathons due to his celebrity status. That is fine – get it where you can. But honestly what is the use of a celebrity runner I thought to myself. Do people sign up when he goes to a marathon because he will be there? If that is true shouldn’t someone who ran 33 marathons in 2013 know who he is? And more importantly, I got at least ten people to sign up for Vegas and why did I not get a thing?

Yes there was bitterness at Mile 1 already folks! It did not last but to be honest I am still a bit miffed at the folks at Rock N Roll for not giving me any fanfare at all. And meanwhile others were important enough to get distinction. Where is the line and how does one cross it? Perhaps I will try to become the next T Rex Runner and blog my way to being a somebody? Then again, you only hit your 50 states once so the need to be a more popular runner may be a thing of the past. I hope I take it a bit easier in the future.

The run down the strip is fantastic and as it is night, you can clearly see why they choose to do so. Would this run be half as cool at six in the morning with just the sun light? No. And to be honest they have moved the start time up so that we don’t have to be out all night. I may gripe about a four thirty start time but it really does get the best of giving you some night afterwards and also seeing Vegas at its best. I really don’t have any specific sights to talk on the run about other than I think the Fountains of Belagio were going off as I passed them. That was cool, but not cool enough for me to stop and watch – I had a time goal!

We ran down the strip and into downtown until Mile 10 and then did some running around some pretty dark streets (I tripped even) and then made our way back to Fremont street. The halfers took a left and we took a right and the next thing I knew we were running right back onto Fremont and it was seriously the coolest part of the entire marathon! We were running through a pedestrian mall area and they had roped off the entire area for us to run through it! It was so funny to see the looks on people’s faces. Either drunk and stumbling or dazzled and fumbling, they had not a clue what was going on for the most part. They were mostly in the background as other people were standing there cheering us and I got a little excited about that cheering back for them.

And then sadly enough, the best part of the run was followed up by the worst. I have heard it was much improved from years past (rumored that you were sent out to the desert for 12 miles in the middle of the dark night) but as soon as we hit Mile 12 it was pretty much running down deserted streets. Now, some people really complain about the nothingness, but this does not bother me that much. I am pretty used to the second half of a marathon being run out into the middle of nowhere and really not much to see. Now this section of Las Vegas may have been beautiful but in the middle of the night – who can tell? And at least there was some light to make my way.

I was running a real good race about the time we went down the long strip that would become a turnaround. However the course started to turn more and more and, I started to slow down and stopped for my first water at Mile 16. I ran through the stop but unfortunately the water was not helping either. I could not put my finger on what was wrong but out there on those long marathon miles the mind wanders. And soon enough I came up with an excuse. By that time I realized I was getting real close to my bedtime back home. Could I be slowing down just due to my daily schedule? Honestly I think that was it and not just excuses because it was some pretty inspired running before that. The band at Mile 17 was inspired (especially considering the venue), but did not help at all and I started to slow even more.

The course doubled back on itself. I slowed even more until… soon enough we got back down to Fremont where I made a scene of myself as the crowd cheered us on. They helped speed me up again! By this time I could not wait to get back on the Strip and going towards Caesar’s Palace and the finish line! The neverending crowd would help push me through! But alas, like almost every marathon, there was another turn off before we got back to the Strip. And then finally after another mile and with one last turn; we were on the Strip with about two miles to go! And the funny part? I was not a fan of that part. The volunteers did a great job yelling out to the half marathoners to stay on the left but mostly due to the fact there were so few marathoners they kept wandering over to our side! It was frustrating, to say the least, navigating my way around. I was sure I would have a 3:25 but the fatigue kept holding me up and the distractions were no help either.

When I got to the last .1 or so I held up my hands with 5 on one and 0 on the other to symbolize my 50th state and happily crossed the line and got my medal in 3:25:07. I was a little hurt by the race so I was grabbing plenty of Gatorade and chocolate milk. And as I staggered over to the chain link fence, who was there? My family all found me in that mess! There was a chain link fence between us but I could not have felt closer. There was my brother Cale telling me about the day in sports. There was my sister and her husband taking pictures of me and the Dora bandaid that had made the entire journey on my knee. And there was my Mom and her friend Parker just looking proud. It was the perfect ending. One quote I loved was “Dora, got a speedy tour of Las Vegas!”

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I was then lucky enough to flag down Rob and soon enough Tony. We all stood there aching. Tony’s first pacing gig was a bust as he did not feel well enough to get the 3:30. The girls we met at the beginning did not finish the race with him either so I never found out how they did. Also Ted ended up finishing with the one friend I wish I did not run into, Teresa, and I missed both of them this time around. I only found out later on Facebook that they had finished together.

And 15 minutes later I was disappointed. Karen had yet to come in and I was sure she did not have a sub 4. Based on the other finish times it was just obvious she had missed her goal and a sadness came over me. I told my family and they were mostly excited for me but I could tell that Karen’s goals meant something to them as well. Finally I saw Karen and she was hurting so I walked up to her (and selfishly grabbed a Gatorade as well) and asked, “How did it go?” She could only show me her watch. 3:59:54! She made it! My family took off soon after that asking us to meet them at Fremont Street, which I was now looking much more forward to. We were able to see Brian come in shortly thereafter. He did not look good either and all in all, none of us had a good race.

And with a good night of drinking ahead of us, Karen and I took off back to our hotel. After a short cab ride, it was a fun filled night of drinking with my family and I did not pay for a drink all night (I don’t think anyone would let me). All in all, it was an experience that can never be duplicated and even though I may have missed some noriety finishing in Vegas, having so much family and friends there with me to celebrate more than made up for it!

Weeks after as I look back to this race, it is not the final steps that finished that last run I remember. I remember the journey and all the great times and friends along the way. I wish I would have celebrated them more as I led up to this moment and thanked them more for helping me get there. Though I may have reached and completed my goal on that wonderful November night in Las Vegas, there are too many other times to mention that made this goal not about that night but the entire journey. Thank you everyone.Image

Loving Las Vegas – Part 1

Every journey has an end I suppose – perhaps some just do not finish the way we intended. When I made my way to Las Vegas on a noon flight this last November there was a very strong feeling it was going to end just the way I wanted to. It was my 75th marathon and 50th state with not a single Did Not Finish and only 3 total 26.2 distances over 4 hour marathons. The course was relatively flat and though it started at four thirty in the afternoon, I had picked up a midnight marathon and a noon run as well along my way so I was not too concerned about the start time. I hate to say it but as I loaded that plane, there was sadness inside me as the journey felt over already. Sometimes there really isn’t much to running – put one foot in front of the other. Repeat. In my case – do it at a better than nine minute pace.

I got off the plane in Vegas and made my way to the hotel where Karen had booked us – Mandalay Bay. She had chosen it as it was close to the start and finish – always great planning by that woman. We would later find out that the finish had moved but the beginning at the start would turn out quite useful. I checked into my room and decided to make my way down to the expo.

Thoughts crowded my head as I made my way down the street. Not many people on the street would ask you why Vegas would be the last place you would finish your 50 states quest however many a marathoner just might. Though it sounds fantastic to run down the strip at night and enjoy the sights and celebrate, Vegas is just too big an event to care about most individual runners. I told their staff at least twice I was finishing my quest there. I could say they acted like they cared but even that would be untrue.

On top of this, the event is too crowded and any friends you hope to see are not going to happen unless you are lucky. So really it is not the celebration one may hope for. You have to declare a place to meet afterwards because honestly you are just not going to see anyone at the finish. Forget finding people at the start or seeing them cheering you on as you go down the street. Not to mention the fact that larger events are not good for speed goals as sometimes the navigating can really slow a runner down.

There was another complicated factor for me in my trip. Most of my family was staying in downtown Las Vegas so my family had decided to meet in downtown Las Vegas after the race. If everyone else is staying on the strip (and yes they always are) they are not going to go to downtown Vegas to celebrate with you. And as I talked to my friends along the way where we were going I could sense the hesitation.

And lastly the four o’clock starting time is nearly impossible to prepare for. What do you do? Sure you can stay in your hotel room but how often do you get to go to Vegas? On top of that, halfway through the race fatigue sets in as most runners go out in the morning and not at night. And with a time goal in mind mere seconds can be so vital! So, all in all, when you are choosing your last state and course, I can understand why Vegas would not be on the top of your list!

I knew all these factors as I made my way to the expo but it all did not matter to me. After choosing Vegas as my last state three different friends and 15 family members elected to go as well! So as I made my way down the strip, I figured it would be an easy walk and family time would be afterwards. Actually that is quite wrong. I found that out in my first day when I decided the expo would be an easy jaunt for me that first afternoon after getting off the plane. I thought well it can’t be much further than Wynn and I would like to see that! Granted it was not much farther than Wynn but yes it was also a one and half hour walk. It said one hour ten minutes when I pulled it up and I thought I could take time off of that. Um yeah, no.

So after a lengthy walk I made my way to the expo and it was fantastic as always for a Rock N Roll event. The scariest moment of my journey did occur just as I was going to get my number though. I could not find my name! I had to see three different people about it but it ended up they transversed my names. It is kind of funny in hindsight to think someone has the first name of Remsburg but at the time it was not that funny at all. To travel this far and then not run my final race?!? Inconceivable! There were many vendors on display. Brooks had a fantastic display and I hurried through it and enjoyed the new Jamba Juice energy drink. I would be their sponsor for free I love them so much. There was also a fantastic Amway display. A nice little Sport Beans stand and a bunch of the regular stand-bys including Geico. I put in a reason why I run to Geico. Still have yet to hear from them. I always wonder who exactly makes the cut in those “this is why I run” sponsorship deals. Not me I suppose.

After that I left the expo and got a chance to walk with a new friend as we walked down the strip. He was from San Francisco and on his second marathon. But his first one was just about a month ago. He was hooked already. And as you watch these newbies get to running multiple races, you know these are the new batch of runners that will be replacing most of us. Sure some of us runners will keep doing this for years and complete their states over five times and that is very noble. However I am not sure if this is where I see myself going. The marathon circuit has its share of celebrities and though I am not a major one, I am known. I just wonder how long that shelf life will be for me? Will I keep going or will I have discovered my quest and end these weekends sometime soon?

After some wandering down the strip for a little while, my brother texted me to ask where I was. I was simply just enjoying the view. People think I am crazy but I just love Las Vegas for the views. By the time I would leave the town I would never spend a dollar gambling or see a show but I would walk up and down that strip at least three times including the entire day Monday. Yes I would imbibe, but hey I am only human! I was able to meet them all at the Tropicana.

When I got to the Tropicana I was thrilled to see my brother, mother, sister, Parker (my mother’s high school friend), my sister’s husband and my brother’s wife. They had all arrived the day before me and were all having great times. I could tell I made the right choice for my last state just by how excited they were. Not all of them would choose Vegas as a destination but they were thrilled with the experience. We went on a short walk to eat that night at an Italian Restaurant named Hole in the Wall. It was one of many unique and fun eating excursions I would have in the town. Huge platters of food and bottomless wine could define the experience.

I was a little down at that point though. I had thought Ginger and Karen Poolman would be there. They had been two of the three amigos of running the last couple years. Ginger would find a marathon and talk the other two of us into it. We had quite a few adventures along the way and I thought they would love to be here. I was even under the impression that the restaurant was Ginger’s idea but she never did show up. I knew I was not going to see them before the big race now. I was a bit disheartened even if I was surrounded by excellent company.

It was plenty late by the time I got back to the room to catch up with Karen Andersen. Karen was there and had eaten in the hotel. She got in about the time we went out and could not make it with us. She had made the reservation at the hotel on the strip and though it could not have been better, I was already conflicting with the rest of my family. My aunt likes going to Vegas and always stays downtown. She had convinced at least ten others to go with her and that really just left me and my brother on the strip with the rest of the family out in Downtown.

Karen had her entire itinerary set up for that trip. She wanted to stay up late, sleep in late and try to emulate a regular marathon schedule. It was a good idea. These things matter so much more to her. When you consistently run at about 3:55, you have to set the odds in your favor. Heck, even when I have a bad race it is a 3:40. I was really looking for a 3:30 but Sub 4 was the real goal. The only issue I was having was everything seemed a little off. Then even though we went to bed around 1 AM I still got up at 5 AM. Not even five hours of sleep = not good. I was not sure how this was all going to go and nothing was really pointing in my favor. This is when you start questioning how things were going heading into the run. I was getting more and more nervous as time went by…ImageImageImage

Running to Find A Reason – Springfield Missouri

One time a friend of mine posted on Facebook that he was running a marathon in Missouri to be there for a friend and help him run his 50th state. A non-running friend (I assume) commented that was the strangest reason to ever run a marathon she had heard of. I read that post and thought to myself, she would probably not want to see the reasons I run a lot of my marathons! And Springfield, Missouri this December was filled with those half reasons. The marathon is annually at the end of December just before New Year’s Day and by December first I had come up with plenty half good reasons to run it so I signed up.

The first reason to run the annual Run for The Ranch event was to avenge my worst marathon of the year in 2012. I had a horrible day a year ago finishing in over 4 hours and had a good time helping another runner finish but that day is still sticking in my craw. The second half reason is if I did not run in late December it would be over a month between marathons! Unheard of for me nowadays. Another reason to run was to see the excellent folks at Ozark Mountain Ridge Runners – the local running club in Springfield. They have a great group that travels the country and it is nice to run their local race and support them. Also good friend Karen Andersen was going and though she can handle her own, it would be nice for me to go there, drive her around, and share expenses. I suppose I came up with a couple other reasons along the way but honestly sometimes I think I am just searching for a reason to go on these runs. Cheap plane ticket! Cool shirt! A friend will be there!

So I took off a little early from work and drove the five and half hours to Springfield on Friday night. I had enjoyed the set up the year before for Run for the Ranch. It was a Sunday marathon with a noon start time and a Saturday packet pickup. Well, that may be case, but this year it was 100 times better! A Saturday race at ten AM with packet pickup in the morning worked out much better. This meant I could go to the race, enjoy drinks afterwards and not take a day off. Plus the start time was earlier so we did not finish in the dark this year. I loved all the changes. And I stayed later in Springfield as well helping out the local economy.

So I arrived in town at 10:15 PM and just a ten minutes early to pickup Karen from the airport which worked out perfectly. After a small snafu with my car’s GPS we made it to the hotel and though it was later than my usual bedtime due to the late arrival, the ten o’clock start time let me sleep in late. I even ate in the morning due to late start time and we both enjoyed some waffles.

When we made our way to the run that morning, I felt good and really there was no true goal this year other than to improve. I wanted to do better than last year but I was also sure that was going to happen. Karen on the other hand was a little nervous. I had met Karen the year before at this exact race and it has been a great year running with her. The funny part is her goals have completely changed in the meantime. Last year, Karen was thrilled to just knock off a Midwest state. Now, after completing 8 of her last 9 marathons in under 4 hours and joining the 50 sub 4 marathon club, Karen is more than willing to repeat any state she has not run a sub 4 in. Missouri has 6 other marathons and all of them are known to be tough so Karen figured Run for the Ranch was her best shot at getting that sub 4. It is relatively flat and has good support and cooler temperatures – perfect conditions for Karen. She did not want to pay for the plane ticket to come to Missouri again!

The drive to the race was short and I was lucky enough to run into friends Lacey Firecracker and Scott Griffin almost immediately. Scott was a photographer for the run on this day and stopped to snap me a couple times. Lacey was trying to get her first sub 4 but she had been feeling ill all week and seemed resolved she would not get that goal. Brian Wright was there after just completing Hawaii and becoming finisher number 51 in 50 sub 4! It was awesome to see him and he explained how getting faster is now his ultimate goal and he had transferred to the half so he could get in a good training run. Paul Maness the soon to be president of the Ozark Mountain Ridge Runners was running in the marathon and I found out we have a couple runs coming up together as well. Paul has really started signing up for more races now that he qualified for Boston.

I was also able to say hi to Cara Whitney who did not have a good day but finished – always the main accomplishment. Stephanie Davenport was there running her 50th half marathon – good for her! Lyle Robertson was there to cheer on his friend who came with him from Oklahoma and was the overall female winner! And I was able to meet a new friend in Dennis Hafford. Dennis is who I want to be like when I grow up. He lived in Wisconsin and that was too cold so he moved to Missouri. That was still too cold so he is moving to North Carolina later this year. Scoff if you must but I would certainly train more if I lived in more welcoming weather conditions (seriously a high of 9 today in Iowa?).

The race started and like last year I was near the front of the pack. And just like last year one runner sped out in front of all of us. He was so fast I figured he had to be in the half marathon. And as I looked around I noticed only one other runner was doing the full so it was possible I could do very well at this race! The course is 8 loops of just over 3 miles and I felt really good for the first loop. I was passed by two other marathoners on the first loop but still I was feeling good and putting in some speedy miles and fourth overall. I did not care if I won but I did want to have a good race day. On the second lap we started lapping people already so that is where the fun of a race where multiple laps is. It is people just all over the place running with you. The course even has runners going both ways at the water stop so you see each other several times possibly.

Lap 2 and 3 were uneventful but still fast as the course is relatively flat. I was lapping quite a few people by now but I also noticed that Karen was still out there just behind another friend Randy Acklin. Randy has been trying for over a year now to get a sub 4 so I was really pulling for him. Seeing him just in front of Karen is a very good thing. She is a master of running a 3:55 or so to get just under the mark.

Lap 4 stayed fast but there was a problem. As much as I like coming back to Springfield, Missouri and seeing friends, this course is not my friend. The water stops are plentiful. The volunteer support is great. The event is done well but there is one issue – 18 turns per lap. And by lap 4 my hip was aching! The night before Karen had asked me if all the turns would affect my hip. I told her that was a good question and that so much had gone wrong in 2012 I was not even sure if my hip hurt or not. Well on this day it did and it was only going to get worse. I watched just at the end of the 4th lap as Lyle’s friend went smoking by me and knew it would be a very good idea to stop at 13.1.

But I did not. I could only think about it. I came up with one other reason to run a marathon on this day. This would be my 78th marathon. I had to get to 100 soon and if I only ran a half that would be one more run to complete my goal and how hard could the second half be? I was at 1:32 at the halfway point and was certain to have a better day than the year before. And 1:32 was a great time, I could be exaggerating.

Well I am not about to go into the gruesome details but suffice to say I had two more good miles and then after Mile 15 water stop breaks were more frequent, walking was healing so I relied on that, runners I had lapped passed me and I ended up dropping down to 11th. I was sure I could get a 3:30 but even that goal took a hit as the last lap just turned into a walking extravaganza and I came in at 3:38. It was a bad day. And though you always hope everyone has a great day, there is comfort when others do not do well either. Otherwise you would start questioning why you were so off. Running is so mental – you cannot question yourself.

Fortunately or unfortunately, more than a few of my friends had bad days as well. Jeff Wehling came in just behind me and we were both disappointed in the day. Brian realized how far he had to go to get a Boston qualifying time as even his half time was not on pace. Paul did not even get his 3:30. One of the three marathoners that passed me in the first lap stopped at the halfway point. Even Lyle’s friend was hoping for a much better time and thought of this race as a step back for her.

The weather was perfect so it could not be blamed. So what happened? Two factors come to mind. I think that course can play havoc with all those turns and the ten start time could be an issue as well. I am not used to running that late. And honestly, I have never had a good race time that started after 9 AM. And my hip does hurt worse than it did a month ago so I was affected. Don’t get me wrong – the start time is perfect for this time of year and to capture better temperatures and I do plan on returning next year as well – should be Brian’s 100th Marathon!

After finishing I was happy to chat with Chris Revoir who has been the race director the last couple years – thank you for a race I always want to return to! I was also happy to see a newer runner Lee Lowdermilk come in – his third half marathon! And then as the clock hit 3:55 I went around the finish line to see if Karen and Randy could get their sub 4’s in. Karen showed up at 3:56 and easily cruised in at 3:57 – no need to return lady! But then at least 5 of us held our breath. This was Randy’s 25th marathon and his training was no secret and looking good – constantly hitting five miles in under 35 minutes. How could sub 4 possibly elude him again? He turned the corner at 3:58 and change and we were all scared for him not really sure how long it would take to run that last .1 but he crossed the line with 30 seconds to spare! It was a fantastic reception for him and he was overcome with emotion.

After that, Brian came up with the idea of going to a bar on the course and eventually Karen, Lacey, Brian, I, Dennis, Paul, Randy and Jeff all enjoyed a drink as we watched the rest of our friends come in. When people finished they would just walk over and join us. Afterwards we all went back and had some rest before going out for dinner that night. No, it was not my best race again however it was great to be there when Randy got his goal. And with that I found another reason to go run another marathon.ImageImageImage

Travelling to Tucson

The states are finished. The goal is complete. What to do next? I once read of a runner who said, ‘just ran my PR at Chicago, 50 states are done, only Boston to go and then I will retire.’ I always thought that was one of the saddest things I ever read. Maybe not everyone would view it that way, but you think of all the friends you have made, the journeys you have had, and to top it off you may be improving and you want to quit? Just toss it in? I suppose the saving of the money would be nice. I still think that if I met the right gal I may just go down to ten marathons a year but give it up? No. Not until I am injured and cannot go on. There is just too much out there to run for – the friends, the times, the tee shirts, the good causes we give to, and even the medals.

When the December 8th weekend came up a year ago I was just positive I was going to run Memphis again. The funds go to St. Jude and it is just an awesome feeling to run through the hospital and see those kids and high five them! Really there are very few other race moments that compare to it. I have to do that again! However in order to ensure a spot this year, you had to secure $500 in charity funding to get in. And I am not saying my friends are not charitable but I will say I think they would be a bit silly to give even $10 for me to run another marathon. When you have already run 32 marathons in one year, it is a bit of an excessive habit. So next I looked into Dallas. I love Dallas. The course is nice and such an underrated city to visit and everything is so easy to get to from the airport. I ran it last year as well and that was a fine event. I had a good time due to some nice heat (and seriously after the last couple weeks I could use some warm weather) and it turned into a perfectly planned trip with no taxi even!

But tickets to Dallas were $400 even in June! I only spent $300 last year. So after talking to a friend, Allison, at Casper I decided that maybe a nice trip to Arizona and to see Tucson would be a good idea. I looked the tickets up and at $275 (sweet!) it would be on the cheap side and I booked it almost immediately. It was also a nice addition that my good friend Michelle had signed up already. The only downside to booking such a trip would be I would have to get my own hotel but I was sure something would come up. And a week later Karen told me the only place she could travel on points that weekend was to Tucson so sure enough I never even had to worry about the hotel either.

Then another horrible and odd thing happened on my way to Tucson. Severe weather hit most of the US and both Memphis and Dallas cancelled their marathons! The three of us had to agree we had made the right choice that weekend to run (though I am sorry for those that did not get the opportunity to do so). I arrived first to the airport and after what was a messed up run in the airport parking lot with my backpack strapped on, I was ready to run the marathon the next day as I waited for Karen and Michelle. On a side note I have been run streaking for over six months and sometimes you get your miles where you can. Someone reported my backpack so I was forced to carry it. Michelle had booked the rental car and both had gotten rooms at the host hotel so it was going to be an easy weekend. Plus all three of us left Monday morning so we were even able to get some sightseeing in as well. Perfect planning.

We got to the hotel and checked in. Then since the expo was at the host hotel (not uncommon for a smaller race) we just walked over and went to the expo after checking in. The expo was in the tourist attraction part of the hotel which led to plenty of great pictures and a fun time. I think it was supposed to be outside as it was very cramped but the temperatures in the 50’s made that a hard sell. And the cramped conditions made it hard to spend too much time there. That was okay – the hotel we were staying at was incredible. It was a resort with six different swimming pools, 16 tennis courts and a golf course to go with three restaurants. I still don’t want to see the bill!

After that it was pretty close to dinner, so we just went back to our rooms and readied ourselves for the next day. I was wearing my new lucky shirt I had worn at Oklahoma and had gone back to my shoes from Nevada. I am not one of those runners that has a superstition or anything like that. I just wear what I have based off of cheapness more than anything else. I think when you run 20 marathons a year it can be harder to justify spending extra money on separate outfits every race.

We went to dinner that night and Michelle, Karen and I were joined by Allison (who made another appearance after her recommendation) and three new friends Sally, Jeanette and Danielle. Sally is another fellow 50 states finisher who is trying to run every state in under four hours now. She will officially be the new friend of this race! She is also having a Super Bowl party this year that we both found out at that dinner I had been invited to by fellow runner, Marina, who invited me to Surf City in February. What a small world we runners have! And yes, Marina talked me into Surf City and then told me to go to a Super Bowl party afterwards that Sally just happened to be having. Even saying it twice over seems confusing.

I ordered a pizza at the suggestion of our waiter and Michelle and Karen went completely healthy and got some good looking and somewhat healthy pasta. Karen and Michelle were very excited about the course and could barely contain their excitement. It was pretty much a straight downhill with one rather drastic uphill at Mile 23. I have to admit I was excited as well, but by this point all I really wanted was below 3:30. I have now made my new goal to hit all 50 states in under 3:30 and if Arizona turned out well I would only have only 10 states to repeat after this weekend! Yes, there was an excitement to get a Boston Qualifying time for 2015 at such an easy course, however I figured I would do this soon enough and it would be nice if Karen got one. She was only six minutes away in August. I was not trying to get too optimistic but a lot was on my side…

After dinner we went straight back to our rooms and got in a good night’s sleep for the night before. It is usual to pretty much always be on the go so the night before the big run most runners go to bed as early as 8 or 9. I have issues sleeping before 10 but even I can nod out as early as 9:30. However at 1 AM I got a rude awakening by a very upset stomach and it did not leave for a full two hours. Worsening the matter was that we were getting up at 4 to make a 7 AM start. So now I was in full blame mode about the greasy pizza. And I was not too happy about the run in the airport with my backpack either. It was a little much to run 2 miles with it on. On top of that it was freezing. Where was my warm weather marathon?

Maybe freezing might seem a little extreme a statement but hey it was snowing when we got to the start. We all went to the restroom and lined up for the picture at 6:30 which in hindsight was way too early as everyone ran back to the buses afterward. It was cold! Finally the start came and we took at least another ten pictures as we went to line up. And as always, we were off in no time at all. Funny how it seems like you can go from we have to stand here for five minutes in the cold to leaving in no time at all.

And the downhill kicked in quick! I was cruising for the first mile passing all sorts of people and feeling really great! There actually were more hills on the course than any of us would have guessed and the ones around Mile 3 really affected me as I watched ten runners pass me. I would get them back I thought as I reached the top of the hill. The problem was… I never did. The cold temperatures and cross winds were really affecting me and as I ran a long downhill two runners ran behind me the entire time using me as a wind block. I did not think it mattered that much but as soon as we hit the bottom one of them cruised past the other two of us no problem at all. The wind really was a factor and I let them use me up – rookie mistake.

Then on top of that, it was pretty demoralizing to see at this smaller event when I started counting runners at the turnaround? I was not even in the top 50?!? Wow. Just wow. I was running near seven minute miles and there were 50 people in front of me. Maybe this run was a lot more downhill than I had thought or maybe this was a real fast crowd! I looked great until Mile 16.5 when my stomach kicked in again and this was not just a cramp unfortunately. I was lucky enough to see a port-a-potty just in front of me at Mile 17and was able to get right in with no wait. However by this time I got out, I was passed by the 3:15 pacer and even more people had passed me. I caught up with them again but it was a lost cause. I just had nothing in me at that point and every Gatorade stop was nirvana. I walked them drinking every drop of that liquid gold. The uphill at Mile 23 was brutal but I walked it as my gait was really off on the uphill and even the last mile was filled with two walking stops just due to exhaustion and a general feeling of off. All in all I came in with a 3:24 which was really good considering and actually just what I wanted.

I had seen both Michelle and Karen at the turn around and was impressed with where they were. I thought I may be hearing about a couple personal records! I was right about Michelle as she broke 3:30 for the first time ever! Fantastic! And after talking to her and a couple other friends in our 50 Sub 4 club, Glen and Becki, we saw Karen come in with her second best time ever! Everyone there seemed to have one of their best running days except for Sally and I. Sorry Sally that I am reporting this. But you actually made me feel better and not so alone! Glen and Becki are finishers as well and prove to me that even after you finish there is still plenty to do out there – to go and run. Glen had a top three performance for him too.

It was still way cold so we got on the bus sooner than we may have wanted (it could have been much sooner grumble grumble) and went back to the hotel. We decided to go to a National Forest just outside of town and I have never seen so many cacti in my life! It was beautiful and there were pictures aplenty, including one cactus that actually looked like Homer Simpson. Even as I sit here writing this I do not feel like I can describe it quite accurately, it was certainly the highlight of the trip.

After that we made our way to the local Fleet Feet store to check out any running goods and then a fantastic dinner and a few beers at a Mexican restaurant. I really wished I had gone there the night before. It was recommended by Allison as well and she was spot on about this one. We had a few drinks that night and Karen and I went to the hot tub where we met a couple from New York. He had came in 17th overall and she had run a 3:45. Karen spent some time trying to talk them into joining 50 Sub 4 and I just marveled at his sub three time – still a goal of mine.

But as we sat there talking I knew that was what I had to keep running for – not necessarily my own goals but for others. I was there when Michelle finished her states in New York. And now I know I want to be there when she finishes all of them in under four hours. I know I want to be there whenever Karen finishes her quest (in her case hopefully together). I want to meet new people like I did on this trip and make new friends. I want to get to know other people better like new friends like Marina, Glen and Sally. In short, why would I want to stop? I had the worst day of any of my friends but I could still smile and have a much better weekend than I ever would at home. It is nice to have the Sub 3:30 goal but maybe what I need to focus on more is being there for other people’s goals. Those always end up being much more fun.

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Oklahoma! Oklahoma! Oklahoma!

So after completing my last state (that blog will come later when I feel like having time to reflect – I have had time I just don’t feel like putting that kind of thought into today) what could I possibly do next? That’s right! Run another marathon the very next weekend! A long time ago my friend Karen had asked me to run Tulsa, Oklahoma because she was afraid that everyone had ran it the year before and no one would return. I told her that wasn’t true because EVERY year Oklahoma is a huge gathering place but signed up for it anyway. It was such a hard endeavor for me. Signing up for Tulsa really is not a large deal to me. It is a driver (I can drive to it – in less than seven hours even) and it is on a Sunday so I don’t even have to take a day off from work. Double win!

Tulsa though does seem to have one huge problem. Two years ago I ran Tulsa and had described the event as the worst marathon I had ever run until well, Tulsa this year. Now mind you it was not horrible or out of control or anything like that. Since I do not mind running in the heat (actually prefer it – my PR is in July after all) only cold weather marathons bug me. And two years ago it was cold and with just a hint that it may rain. I remember telling my aunt afterwards, “I don’t care about the damn marathon maniacs reunion, I just want to shower and get warm!” Then last year it was really cold at the start (seriously bad shivering issues going on) and when I got done it was not comfortable. I watched other runners come in and had a good time drinking free beer but I remember thinking, “Can we leave yet?”

But this is Tulsa and it is never cold so those two years just had to be some sort of odd occurrence that would not happen three years in a row, right? Right?

Wrong. So so wrong. As soon as Vegas was done and in the rearview mirror, I pulled up Oklahoma’s weather hoping to get more goodness but it was not to be had. I could not even believe my eyes! It said low of 22 the night before and high of 34? That was awful! And as the week went on rain kept coming in occasionally plus the temperature kept dropping and it was pretty much known if it did hit the 30’s that was not happening until the afternoon. Just great. In Tulsa where it always feels ten degrees cooler? I was not a happy camper. Karen was ecstatic all week goading me on Facebook posts and messaging me about how she loved the weather forecast. She was funny but this was not. I was actually quite upset.

So why would one risk warmth for a marathon? What people should really know about Tulsa is they treat us frequent marathoners right! They give us our own area before and after the race, free food and alcohol after the race and free booths to both the Marathon Maniacs and 50 States Marathon Club at the expo where we can meet and have general fun. This year they added a few new quirks as well. They had a bullhorn at the expo and were announcing what you were when you got it such as “Marathon Maniac”, “Ladies and Gentlemen we have a 50 stater” or “Another first timer!” Just awesome.

So after a not so long drive to town and picking up two friends, Karen and Alison, at the airport and a quick lunch at a decent Mexican place we made our way to the Expo. We parked free – just have to say this always a good sign of a marathon that cares. Never like ones that try to charge you for the race and then bilk you an extra five to park at their expo. I understand race morning – most spots can be private parking and it can be a mess to find a spot but typically there is no reason to charge for the expo. Thank you Tulsa! The three of us went to the expo and saw several great people and had great conversations including fellow blogger Danielle, Jennifer (like 4 of them), Brian, 50 Stater Steve Boone, and Dave Mari. There are others and I am sorry but if I listed them all we would be here for the better part of a paragraph and my memory.

After that we drove around town for a little bit and checked out the center of the universe (a spot in Oklahoma where only you can hear your voice echo – it is a bit freaky), had a really good beer at a local watering hole and went to a very well planned dinner at a fantastic joint. It was really a hip looking place and the food was all organic and raised locally. It was impressive and reminds you that you don’t have to go to Portland, Oregon to get a real good meal where they care about such things. Just search them out in your own town!

At dinner Michelle presented me with the gift of a 50 sub 4 finisher shirt. It was so incredibly nice. She has to be the most considerate runner I know of and if you do not know her it is your own loss. And yes it is the Michelle that goes by Mom O 6. A 3:40 marathoner and mother of six – she proves that only our negative thoughts of “I can’t” hold us back. She just keeps getting more consistent and I have never hear her utter such words. It was also nice to meet Stephanie, my new friend for the trip, at the dinner and to get to know some other new runners as well. Mike was there and I did not have time to ask him about the course changes as I did at other races – and it was just as hilly as ever so I am glad I did not. I did meet a Jennie who lived in Richmond and threatened to stay at her place if I ever ran the race. She never blinked. I guess that is what is so great about our community – there is just that level of trust.

We went back to the house we were staying at that night. Alison was really concerned already. We were freezing just getting to the house! She may be from California and I from Iowa but I agreed – this was no weather to run in! Karen was happy as always whenever it gets below forty degrees and as I laid my clothes out that night, there was just not enough. I think only a snowmobile suit would have been appropriate.

We headed out the next morning and sat in the car until someone absolutely had to go to the bathroom and then waited far too long in line to go. Seriously folks when standing in line at the port a potties, pay attention other people will steal the open one – that is all. The temperature was 26 degrees race morning and it never feels even that warm in Tulsa (experience talking her folks). Thankfully, we were able to make our way to the Maniac area before the race. Everyone had already lined up for the picture and I will be completely honest and say that is one picture I am 100% fine that I missed.

I lined up in the A corral and could not even move up as far as I wanted. It really did not bother me as at least it was warm in the crowd. Concern about being lined up behind the 3:50 pacer? Nope, not at all. I had a sweatshirt on and it was covering my race number. I fully expected to take that off in the first few miles. I also went with shorts and compression socks leaving my knees uncovered. It caused some lady to make a snarky comment about people who wore shorts in weather like this. I have not a clue why she thought she was such an expert on such matters.

The race started and I was stuck swimming upstream fighting through other runners. I breathed in the cold air and it really stifling me. Cold weather running will never be my style – I don’t even like breathing that stuff in! And I was lucky enough to run into a couple friends as I moved up including Ethan, Michelle and Vincent. The race did not mean much to me as my goals for the year were already complete, but I kept moving forward trying to outrun the cold. Finally at Mile 5 I thought about stripping off the Iowa sweatshirt hoodie I had on but I knew Mile 10 would be open to wind and I wanted to keep it through there. The experience of running the course was coming in handy.

Mile 10 did come and I was happy to have the sweatshirt still on. By that point the hood had fallen down and was no longer covering my head prompting one other runner to quote “Cade running a 3:20 marathon in a hoodie. No big deal.” I had to laugh when I heard that one. Even I thought at that point I would have really been affected – I was pretty damn cold! I pushed on running with two shirtless runners for the next three miles. It was a little different than my first miles where all I heard was “Go Iowa!” because now all I heard was “You guys are crazy!” The one was running just the half and dropped off around Mile 12. He had to be hurting. Usually halfers make a surge. However the other surged and I never saw him again after the halfway point. I hope he made it – without a shirt I cannot be certain.

The real drama did occur at the halfway point! I ran over the chip timing mat at exactly the half way point and no beep. Nothing. Silence. I ran on but majorly concerned. There were two issues here. Number one, this may mean that my time was not being timed the entire race. Number two my bib was covered due to the cold and the fact I meant to throw off my sweatshirt so if I argued it? Race officials may point out that I was not supposed to cover my number. They were right but the conditions were such that this was not a good race to do this. I seriously did consider turning around for the half but kept going instead.

There really wasn’t much more to report after that. I slowed down a bit and asked a race official what to do – they told me to go on. Another one thumbed up that I did trip his scanner (I did not believe him) and really not much else… Oh wait! I guess you could include the icicle that formed on my hat and was hanging off my head! Yes about Mile 18 I noticed a rather not small icicle forming and hanging off my head! It was shocking to say the least and it kept growing the more I sweated I guess. I was lucky enough to have someone take a picture. And would later argue, “How much faster could I have been without that extra weight?”

The real reason I noticed the sweatsicle was because at Mile 18 I did consider taking the sweatshirt off again but this time I noticed the ice was melting and dripping on my sweatshirt. I thought it may be a good idea to not leave just one layer for ice cold water to be dripping on. I thought that was a key idea. Moving on the Mile 25 was the Center of the Universe Detour (the place where only you can hear your echo again). I looked at my watch and knew that I had a real shot at a 3:20. However, the real decision was that I was feeling chilled again. I just could not see running 26.5 instead of 26.2 with how I felt. I decided to forgo it and saw a guy I had passed earlier running out. I thought of the cool coin he got for doing so but it did not matter – I was happy to move on past it.

I made it to Mile 26 and a for the first time a spectator commented on my icicle! “Iceman!” he yelled out. I had to admit it was pretty creative. I was smart enough to pick up my sweatshirt so my number could be seen and I ran in at 3:20:15 by my watch but would find out later the chip timing never worked and would be credited with a 3:21:15 or so. It didn’t matter… until Karen told me I placed third place age group and did so by about 20 seconds! I was pretty happy I did not take the detour!

A short trip to the timing tent did confirm I never got a chip time. A volunteer kept staring at my icicle until she took it upon herself to break it off. Finally I tried to go to the Maniac area and have a good time but that lasted less than five minutes. It was just way too cold. I picked up my special medal and left (another Tulsa perk). I got on the bus, sat next to a nice lady who told me to go to the Cowtown Marathon, got off at the wrong stop and walked back to my car. The ride home was excellent.

Afterwards I got the news from others. Karen got a sub four (that is all she really cares about). JC did too. That is really nice – he has been on a roll! Dave got the icicle picture to me. Jennifer and Danielle had a good time and most everyone finished save poor Alison. She had a stress fracture and should not have been out there in any case and when she got to Mile 17 the pain was intolerable. And it was too cold to walk the last nine miles. She had to stop and not finish. She had told me a couple times that she should not even be there. The leg plus the weather was too much for her. However she was right the Route 66 marathon in Tulsa, Oklahoma is not one to miss even if it is so cold I had to run the entire race without taking off my throwaway sweatshirt!

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Rhode Island

When it comes down to the toughest state I ever ran on my way to 50? I am sure most would point out that Georgia came in 15 minutes slower than any other state. It was a tough day and a friend recently told me that when she passed me she thought I didn’t look like I should be walking much less running a marathon. However the reason I would not agree is that by the halfway point I had already banked enough time I was sure I could run it just under four hours. I did run a 3:58 and the shuffle I did the last three miles could qualify as running… but just barely. I knew I was going to make it and it was never in doubt. The situation in Rhode Island… well that was just a little different.

Rhode Island is a small state in the Northeast as I am sure most of you are aware and due to the small size of it and the fact that the majority of 50 staters live far from these small states, they double up their Newport Marathon with the Hartford Connecticut Marathon on the same weekend every year. I was at dinner the night before Hartford and when friends asked me if I was going to sub 4 at all my last four states I told them there was a 1% chance I would not. Call me smug if you will but I do not believe in letting doubt enter the mind when I was just four states away!

I finished Hartford in 3:25 or so and actually would have been faster however some stomach cramps really slowed me down and forced me to walk. I do not like to give excuses but I did find walking was the one way to get rid of them. I also found out that running and drinking can cause them – and I mean water. Heck if I drink a beer during a marathon I stop and enjoy it! Besides party fouls exist whether during 26.2 or a house party! Anyway, after the race finished I showered up and met with Suzy and her fiancé to drive over to Rhode Island. I do not drive the Northeast very often but let me assure you if you ever do drive it? Give yourself an extra half hour because it seems like you will always need it!

Some of it was due to bad GPS, some was due to not quite knowing the area and some was due to traffic but we made sure to make it to our location with only an hour to spare. The line into the expo was massive! However guess what? Half marathon line was massive and the full marathon line was only about two minutes! Ha! We may have to wait longer to cross the finish line but at least we get to do it running! Payback halfers! Seriously half marathoners do from time to time have some hideous lines to wait through. I wish it wasn’t that way – only so many volunteers I suppose.

And just after that Suzy had lined up a free place to stay with a friend of hers named Jim. When we got to his place and I saw in the basement Boston Marathon medals and various other running and military awards I knew we would all get along. Suzy and I were both there to run the double marathon and her fiancé had run a messed up 5K the day before leading him to not feel like running on day two. He was considering the half but that line would have talked him out of it if he had not already decided against it. Jim and his wife made us a fantastic spaghetti dinner on the spot and were great conversationalists.

That night Jim had some great talks about running really stressing the importance of loving running and running every day. He leads up a running group and really believed the strongest runners were the ones who ran the most. And I told him how much I agree with him pointing out that most of my personal records come during the summer when I am loving the higher temps and my practice runs are at all time highs. I really wanted to stay up later and talk with him but it was the night before and I was somewhat tired. I would like to point out that my friend Karen did text me around ten and said I should not be reading this and be in bed already. Sorry Karen, I was quite up. I just wasn’t that tired! I saved that for the race…

And the next morning I was not overly tired either. We arrived at the drop off spot and I was able to drop off my bag with my friend Jennifer so I could get a ride back to Hartford with her and her friend. We got on the bus and rode over and I was able to meet Beth on accident. Beth actually is the person who certifies all finishes for the 50 States Marathon Club. We had actually been emailing all week regarding my finish and to meet her was really nice. She was doing the double as well and I believe finishing her second tour of the states.

One the bus dropped us off, there were so many people I knew, I just spent the entire time talking and getting along with other runners. These double events can be more social than anything else for us 50 staters and maniacs. With about 15 minutes to go I realized I had lost Suzy and glanced over to see her walking by herself. Hartford had been tough on her. It had hurt her and this race had a six hour time limit. She was more than a little concerned. I almost made my move to go talk to her but I stopped myself. Suzy seems to me to be a fierce independent spirit. I thought I bet she is psyching herself up and needs the alone time. I let her be.

However my concerns would just not go away! Stomach cramps set in just before the race again and as I walked through them, I started to cough. I got scared and now I was near vomiting! After getting red in the face and feeling okay, I just said screw it and got in the starting area.

I was able to talk to a great friend who I do not see enough in Patti who was nice enough to offer me a place to stay in Tulsa (that is one way we can keep travelling prices down from time to time) and I wanted to stay and talk but I was pretty far back and did not want to start quite that far back. When I run a marathon on back to back days I try to start out easy on day two so starting in the crowd is fine however I usually find I just streak out and pass a bunch of people by mile 2 in any case so starting behind the four hour pace people is not where I want to be.

I did find my way up to a group including my friends Lacey and Adam and we all had a good time talking as we waited for the gun. It was a delayed start and considering I was on a semi-tight schedule I was not happy! My friend Jennifer had already warned me she thought there would not be much time to spare in getting me back to the airport by five. I kept trying at convincing her we had plenty of time but she was not convinced.

And then we were off. I ran as I always do – picking off people left and right after finding a groove including another Marathon Maniac who was trying to run back to back Sub 4’s as well and the immortal Larry Macon (over 1,000 marathons completed) and talked with both briefly. I felt not great but I was going and still passing people until the Maniac caught me by Mile 8! I had just passed him three miles earlier?  Eventually on a double I will start to slow down, but eight miles in? Inconceivable!

At first I thought it had to be the wind! I am not used to some coastly gusts and I would catch him! Just wait. But then we got to inside town again and there I was not catching him. I could still see him but lots of people were passing me too! Excuses were made – they had to be halfers and besides we were on a hill! But even when it switched to downhill I was not gaining speed – I had lost my gust and then the worst thing of all happened. We got to the finish for the half marathon and I kid you not when I say the finish was not more than ten feet from where I had to run. So not only was I fading but I got to see all these other people happy and finish? It was completely demoralizing thinking I was just halfway done.

I now had to hit 16 miles by two hours (to ensure the sub 4) and instead I settled for 15.2 miles. The gusts picked up again and were pushing me around and then I had to break for water and that meant walking and that wasn’t helping anything. And then the pain of running 44 miles in two days kicked in and there was more walking. All I could see was 3:30 gone and pretty sure about the sub 4 but it was not going to be pretty or a surety. Just when I thought it was a really rough day, another runner stopped and walked next to me. He was going for a 3:42 PR. He had wanted better but it was not his day either. We got along and soon enough we were on the same rhythm. We were pushing each other. Half my spirit was back! I fell behind due to a hill and then the next thing I know I see him cramping and hurting!

I asked him if he was okay and he told me to go on. I believed he could do it and moved on to my fastest three miles to finish and passed over ten runners along the way. I made the most of the day I could and was relieved to be done.

The 3:42 I got was bittersweet as I had lost my friend and his PR was a 3:43. If he could have stayed with me, he would have made it. I watched him cross the line in 3:52 and was impressed he stuck it out. I watched all my friends cross the line – they all looked like the toll of the double had got to them as well. It was almost humorous as some runners who do not typically come in fast came in way before other friends. And lastly as I got back to the car I saw Suzy finishing up way before six hours and still running up the big hill – she looked great! I knew all she needed was that time alone with her thoughts to be okay. And I made it to my flight on time with two pit stops to spare!

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