Saturday, March 15, 2014

Roll Tide Run: 13.1 miles in Tuscaloosa

Rolling into Tuscaloosa on an emotional high from a few days traveling through Georgia and Alabama, the excitement brewing for this race was boiling inside of me. I do not know why I had so been looking forward to this race, however, I had been counting the months, weeks, and days to the Tuscaloosa Half Marathon for over half of a year. 

Checking into the Marriott, one of the host hotels, I was pleased to discover that the expo was being held at a sporting goods store in close walking distance.  

After a quick and easy pickup, I was directed to a tent in the parking lot to retrieve my race shirt. 

In addition to the usual vendors, There was a delicious, and generous, assortment of food from both Jim N' Nicks BBQ and Taziki's Cafe

The swag bag had a surprising assortment of items including GU Energy Gel, salted caramel chocolate, an ice pack, and vouchers for more free food from Jim N Nicks and Taziki's.

The drive to the race start was a quick three miles in the morning, and parking was well-marked, free, and ample. The start and finish line were staged at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater. 


Wandering around the grounds with plenty of time to spare, I found what is the nirvana of the runners morning routine... real restrooms.  The rows and rows of stalls brought a smile to my face and the runners, one after another, all commented on how many stalls, clean, and wonderful the facilities were. We runners are an interesting group - but those who have been at many races, some with few too many port-a-lets. 

Excited about the perfect running conditions, clear skies and cool air, runners soon hit the pavement winding through the streets of Tuscaloosa for the first three miles. Settling in the middle of the pack, I could often see either the runner in front or the runners behind me just a few blocks away, but these miles went quickly as I took in the sights and archetecture in this new city. 

Even though this was only the second year of this race, the locals in this college town enthusiastically offered their support to the passing runners. These gentlemen on their rooftop seemed especially excited to watch us run by!

After the first 5K the route passed Bryant-Denny Stadium, Home of the Alabama Crimson Tide.

The the next five miles wove throughout this impressive campus. 

The history was palpable on these grounds. Established in 1831, with an opening class of 52 students, growing to 154 in 1861.

The University was almost destroyed by the Union Army in 1865. 

After reconstruction, in 1893 women were allowed at the University. In 1963, the first two African American Students attended UA, one of whom returned in the late 90's to receive his Ph.D. Today there are over 20,000 students at the University. 

As an educator, spending miles on this ground held special meaning, but the beauty of the architecture was not lost on those whose hearts are not immersed in education and history.

The ninth mile presented a steep climb, and in the heat of the late morning, this stretch felt long… 

however the payoff was a powerful one with the final miles running downhill towards the finish line.

The final mile was along the Tuscaloosa Riverwalk, were local crew teams could be seen practicing on one side, while students and locals enjoyed the view from the coffee shops and restaurants on the other. 

It was here that I met another runner, a beautiful young woman, struggling slightly. About to pass her I slowed to talk for a moment. Her name was Terri, and she told me her story. 

Recovered from heart surgery, she began running to reclaim her health. I learned that this was her first race and she just hoped to finish. I encouraged her to walk, to lift her head up, and enjoy the sights around her. 

I shared with her that I had learned long ago that the minutes or seconds I might gain by pushing through pain could not match the gift of letting my self enjoy the blessing of the sights around me throughout the race. 

We finished that last mile together, walking a little, jogging at times… but the smile on her face, and the hug from a stranger after we crossed the finish line filled me a joy I do not know if I would have in my life if running was not a part of my journey. 

The finish line festival was held inside the amphitheater. 

A band played as runners enjoyed BBQ and Frozen Yogurt, Beer and laughter. The race organizers had a raffle and many prizes, of great value were given away including watches from a local jeweler and art from a nearby gallery. 

This was my 76th half marathon… and one I will not forget. 

I will make the trip back to Tuscaloosa in the coming years.

Every time I look at my beautiful finishers medal, I will remember Terri, and all the men and women like her that I have been honored to meet on the many steps of this sweet journey that I run. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Learning the quick step: 13.1 miles through the wetlands

I arrived at the Orlando Wetlands Park, located in Christmas, Florida (only about 40 minutes from my house) for race morning packet pick-up. Parking in the dark was daunting, but as the sun came up and cast it's rosy glow on the row of parked cars, I was reminded how short the journey is to explore the native state of the central Florida ecosystem. 

This was not a race I had been planning to do... for months my schedule had me going to Hilton Head for a much anticipated run, but after several days of fighting a cold, I acquiesced to the reality that sleep needed to take precedent over driving all day Friday - so I found this local race on the Running in the U.S.A. site and registered the day before. 

I have done several races with EPIC Sports Marketing, so I had a pretty good idea what do expect - not a lot of frills, but a reasonably priced and well organized event. The fact that I could sign up just before the race for under $50 is almost unheard of at established races lately - and the quality of the T-Shirt for this event surprised me, although most of the races I have done with EPIC in the past have been 5Ks. Under the pavilion where friendly volunteers distributed race bibs was the assortment of post-race snacks - fresh fruit and breads, peanut butter, jelly and nutella all awaiting the famished runners that would soon return. 

As runners wove on dirt roads through the wetlands, I realized this was a great local run for trail practice, on terrain which was not too aggressive. A welcome break from hard pavement without the challenge of loose sand or tall grass. I marveled at my surroundings, content that my recent illness would require a lot of walking during this race. I had no reservations about taking it slow... this was one of those "run to finish" days.... and then I saw the sign...
Now, as a Floridian, I know there are Alligators, but seeing them is not one of my favorite activities. I found myself taking quicker and quicker stems as I watched the eyes bobbing just above the water line. These were not small alligators either, and the one pictured above was way to close to the bank for my liking.

As I curved around the water, contemplating all I knew about running from gators (which basically consisted of zig-zagging) I spotted a dozed trees in the distance with hundreds of birds perched on their bare limbs. Were these vultures? GREAT.... waiting for the gator to finish with me I supposed... my quick steps got suddenly quicker.

This was a double loop course, so this journey happened a second time, and I was incredibly happy to see the finish line and receive my medal for the 10th Annual Orlando xTreme Half Marathon.... having seen the creatures I encountered along the way - I believe now it is the perfect name for this race.

This isn't the run for everyone, and I am not sure I will do it again, but I will continue to run many of the runs offered up by this race group, and am excited to see that each year they continue to add new races of varying distances to their schedule.

Runners in the mist: 13.1 miles at the Melbourne Music Marathon

In this world of simplistic photo manipulation... There may be the need to add #nofilter to the above photograph. These were the conditions through much of the race at the Melbourne Music Marathon.  

The heat this weekend was nothing to take lightly, as runners of every caliber struggled with hydration issues. Thankfully the organizers at this race had ample water along the course with stops almost every mile. 

One of the hallmarks of this race are the beautiful views from the bridges, however due to the fog, the view was obstructed, luckily the many bands and wonderful musically inspired running quotes lining the track provided entertainment along the course. 

There was a strong showing from the Half Fanatics and Marathon Maniacs at this race, which always provides and extra boost of encouragement throughout the race! 

If there were awards for sweetest and saltiest stops along a race course, the Melbourne Music Marathon might win both of them... sweetest for the official HARIBO Gummy Bear station... and saltiest for the Pucker Up Pickle Juice Stop!

I am not a huge fan of the bottle opener race medal trend, but this one was done with class and style. 

A short walk from the finish line was the post-race festival, with water, pizza, muscle milk, beer, and a dunkin-donuts station. It was a family friendly and welcoming event on this hot Florida "winter" day. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Of fog and fellowship: Running 13.1 miles at the BEST DAMN RACE

It is this sunrise  that beacons runners to the west coast of Florida... that perfect glow over the calm waters behind a cascade of swaying palms... the serene beauty which provides the backdrop for a southern winter race.

Runners gathered anxiously in the sleepy streets of Safety Harbor, FL for the self titled "Best Damn Race". The signature of this brand is that the entry fee is tiered starting at $1 for for the first 10 registrants, going to $5, $10, $15, $35, $55, and finally $65. They offer a 5K, 10K, 5+10K Challenge, and Half-Marathon at this event. The races are very family friendly and there is bonus bling for challenge participants. For many Floridians, a big draw for this event is the race day bib pick-up option. 

Much of this race was run in the streets of this small town, but they were well marked and supported. This being an exceptionally warm winter, the humidity provided an extra challenge.

This was my first year running in Saftey Harbor, however runners from the first year remarked that the race medal was upgraded significantly this year. 

As I pulled away the humidity and fog were diminishing visibility, with another coastal race in the morning, I was doubtful that the weather was going to improve. These are the challenges of Florida running, but with a nation covered in snow, sympathy for extreme heat is hard to uncover! 

Friday, February 7, 2014

My almost paleo life: Cauliflower "bread" with chicken sausage

It all started when I saw this bag of Cauliflower Florets in my fridge. I would be going out of town so I needed to eat it, and while I love roasted cauliflower.... I just wasn't in the mood. I have made Cauliflower mashed potatoes before, but that didn't feel right, and then I remembered a recipe I had seen for mock "bread" sticks.

So out came the cutting board and my good chefs knife. While my oven heated to 450 degrees I chopped the florets into a fine consistency, patted it dry, and put it in the food processor until it showed a mashed potato like consistency. 

I did not remember the exact seasonings the original recipe called for - but seasonings are a matter of taste. What I did know is I needed 1/2 cup of shredded cheese and two beaten eggs. 

I chose to use 1/4 cup Cheddar and 1/4 cup Parmesan.... and also 2 cloves of minced garlic, some cracked black pepper, a pinch of salt, and a generous teaspoon of red pepper flakes. I realized now I was mimicking the flavors I enjoy in focaccia bread! 

The "dough" was then mixed into a ball, and spread on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. The thickness of the dough will impact tenderness of the "bread" after baking. 

I should note here that you could just spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray - but my time in culinary school made me partial to always cooking with parchment paper. 

The formed dough went into the fully heated oven for 17 minutes, until the top was golden brown. 

I cut the bread with a pizza cutter into slice and while it was cooling just slightly, heated a fajita seasoned chicken sausage. 

Paired together this was a delicious combination, a small arugula salad would be a wonderful addition as well. The "bread" was gone before my sausage and I decided to get another slice. The best part is I could do this guilt free because the whole pie has only 420 calories... 

This is one I will make again, and would be wonderful for a girls luncheon. I will play with the spices and seasonings, as well as the cheeses I use. I know the dairy keeps this from being true paleo... however it is a great alternative than bread! 

Feel free to let me know how this turns out if you decide to make it in your own kitchen, and what masterpieces your medications produce! 

Here is to another day of happy healthy eating, and remembering to always #postthepositive parts of our lives! 

***** dinner time update!!!! You might wonder "but how will it reheat????" I just threw on a touch more cheese, some mini turkey pepperoni... And put it under the broiler for a few minutes and my "paleo pizza" was to die for! 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Sunday Celebration: 13.1 miles in the "Town that Disney Built"

As a long time resident of Central Florida, I remember the talk when the Town of Celebration was built in the mid 1990's. Designed by architects commissioned by The Disney Company - the town was developed to be practically perfect in every way. 

The race director and visionary team for the Inaugural Town of Celebration Marathon and Half Marathon put together an event that held true to this very high standard. 

Often an inaugural race is plagued with difficulties, but this one ran like a well-oiled machine. Pre-race communication with runners was excellent, from how to switch between distances (at no cost) to where to park on race day. 

Arriving at 5:30AM, the volunteers were set up and handing out beautiful tech tees in an organized, indoor space. A mobile DJ played music and an announcer gave detailed instructions about the course. With no delay, the race started right on time. 

The course was varied and interesting. Much of it wove through the beautiful homes nestled throughout Celebrations 16 acres, on developed pathways, and over several miles of boardwalks. 

The instructions to stay to the right and pass on the left through narrow areas, given at the beginning and repeated on signs throughout the race was respected by runners. While the pathway was often narrow, runners of varying speeds were able to move through it without difficulty. 

In addition to the informative signs, there were a variety of funny ones, some made by spectators, and some put out by the race itself. 

My favorite - poking fun at the Disney Race so many of us ran just two weeks ago, is pictured above. 

None of the worries runners have with inaugural races were an issue here. 

  • There were plenty of bathrooms, at the beginning and throughout the race. 
  • There was A LOT of water, more than most, almost every mile. 
  • There was energy gel provided at one of the stops
  • There was enthusiastic volunteer support from beginning to end. 
  • The path was safe, well marked, supported, and interesting. 

Speaking of which, the medal was beautiful, and the ribbon it hung on was stunning. 

At the finish line festival, runners were handed a food and beverage card. In addition to the water and soda found at any race - there were samples (of substantial size) from the many of the restaurants around the Town Center. My favorite was the Garlic Knot from Upper Crust Pizza Cafe, and of course some Starbucks Coffee

The finish line festival was still hopping when we made our way back to the car, but this wonderful event reminded me that I should visit this charming local spot more often. 

There are many races I would do again, this one I am excited to do again. I would recommend it to anyone... but it sold out fast this year... so those who are interested, may want to follow their Facebook page for the announcement about next years race, I have a feeling year two will sell out in record time. 


White sand and blue skies: Running the Clearwater Halfathon

It was a chilly morning, and gathered in the glow of the dawn were thousands of runners ready to "Conquer the Causeway" in Clearwater, Florida. The race, scheduled for 7:05AM started off about 20 minutes late, so by the time the runners were moving, the sun was up and the warm gulf breeze was starting to set in.

The Halfathon, which is the Half-Marathon, is joined by a Full Marathon Option as well as a 5 miler, and a 5K. This is the third of four races in the Florida Gulf Beaches Road Race series, and will be expanded to include a 50K in January 2015. 

The race had very little ocean view... a quarter mile or so on the way out and the same on the way back, but the glimpse was enough to remind those of us that live a few hours away why this coast can beckon - the sand is white and the water is blue... and even on a cold morning such as this it looks so inviting. 

Runners soon learned that they would conquer the causeway multiple times, four times (twice over two different bridges) in the Halfathon. While challenging, this does provide some of the best views during the race. 

Much of the race was an "out-and-back" on a fairly busy road, much of which was a single track and difficult for runners to pass. This did not prove problematic during the halfathon, however several runners running the marathon (within the time limits) remarked that by the time they were headed back the police support had been pulled at the end and runners were getting lost, and the traffic was very heavy. 

The medals for the Clearwater Running and Fitness Festival, as well as all of the races put on by Chris Lauber, the Race Director (who often mentions the evolving designs are the artistry of his wife) are a huge draw for these events. They are both playful and high quality, and match the long sleeve heavy weight cotton tee. The shirt was one of two options, runners could also opt for a short sleeve technical tee. 

After the race, runners were treated to the normal post race snacks: Bananas, Beer, Water, Soda, Cookies, etc... but at the end of this line was a pasta station with two delicious options. As part of my, ahem, "blogging duties" I sampled both.... and both, I am happy to report, were quite delicious!

Once home I engaged in a new post-race ritual: The Detox Bath. 2 cups Epsom salt, one cup baking soda, and some essential oils are added to hot water. A 30-40 minute soak, while I re-hydrate and read restores my joints and leaves me feeling fresh, but very relaxed. 

This seems to be helping with all of my double race weekends... I was ready (and did) hit the gym on Monday with little soreness!