Closing out February with a Single Double

While Rhonda continued to take some necessary time off, I headed out for a double the last weekend in February.  I approached this one pretty relaxed because of the short travel distances.  My husband and I left our GA home mid-morning Friday and within a couple hours had arrived in Valdosta, the area where Saturday’s race was scheduled.  After a little shopping and checking into our hotel, we made the 20 minute drive to Dasher for packet pickup for the Hospice Half, which is a fundraiser for Hospice of South Georgia.  This was clearly going to be a very small race with a table set up in the parking lot of the local church/school.  I later learned there were 56 runners in the half marathon, but there was also a 5K color run that followed it with many more participants.  Packet pickup took all of a couple minutes and I was super pleased to receive both a long-sleeve cotton t-shirt and a pullover hoodie sweatshirt for the small registration price of $40. 

On the return trip, we stopped for a burger and shake at Steak and Shake, making my tummy quite happy.  Back at the hotel, we settled in and I began my routine of getting my clothes and gear ready for the morning.  Suddenly my husband asked where his phone was.  Ummm, it’s your phone…..after a rather frantic search and continued attempts to call it, we decided to go back to the restaurant and yes, luckily, they had found it and put it in the back.  WHEW!!!!  First Rhonda a few months ago, then Bud; I sure hope I’m not next.

I slept really well that evening and was refreshed and ready to go on Saturday morning.  It was a warm morning and I was already down to a tank top by the 7:00 am race start.  That is very uncharacteristic of me as I usually have multiple layers.  This did not bode well for the next couple hours.  We were lucky enough, though, to have cloud cover for almost the entire race.  Therefore, it wasn’t quite as bad as it could have been.  But it was rather humid.  The weather definitely slowed me down some, but not significantly.  This was “just another race” – although I tried to keep up a good pace, I was not pushing every single minute.  In fact, at one of the water stations, I stopped and washed of my hands from carrying a sticky gel packet.  The volunteers were rushing around trying to help me and I told them not to worry, “I’m in no hurry.”  The strange looks I got!  I clarified, “Sure I’m in a race, but I’m not really racing; just running it.”  LOL.   It was an out and back course and I was able to enjoy the views of the Georgia countryside.  Traffic control, law enforcement, and volunteers were plentiful and I realized again how much more enjoyable small races are for me.  Crossing the finish line, I was pleased to see 2:17:43 on the clock.  One of my best times over the past few years.

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Hot, sweaty, and tired I filled out my card, collected my medal, drank some water, ate a banana, and grabbed a pack of cookies and headed back to my car for the 20 minute drive back to the hotel, where I showered, changed and we hit the road again for another two hours on our way to Gainesville, FL.  We went directly to the expo for the Five Points of Life Marathon/Half, another race with a worthy beneficiary.  Here we had to fill out a medical information form before we could get our bibs validated.  No problem, but a small section made me chuckle.   

“How many races of this distance have you completed?”  Ummm, not sure, sixty-something .

 When was the last one?  Six hours ago.

It was then on our way to find the hotel.  OooEeee!  Traffic, confused GPS, and other issues made for a long and trying trip of only a couple miles.  I was starving and starting to get a nasty headache, so we had to stop along the way.   After finally making it to the hotel, checking in, and getting a little rest and regroup, we went back out and found a much shorter/easier route to the race location (same as expo) and an abundance of shopping.  The only store we went into was Trader Joe’s – one of my favorites and I seldom get to visit.  CiCi’s Pizza for dinner (mistake) and we were back in for the night with no phone mishaps.

This race was definitely larger than the day before (pretty much had to be, huh?), but still not a large race. I believe there was somewhere between 500-750 total runners between the half, full, and relay.  It was still a comfortable size race.  However, the temps were quite a bit cooler than the day before, making it quite comfortable for running.  Only about a mile into the race, I spotted a 2:15 pacer who was running intervals and asked his ratio, to which he replied 3/1 – running 3 minutes/walking 1 minute.  Hmmm, maybe I could do that.  Whoa, it’s amazing how changing up a ratio can be so different (I normally run 2:30/:30).  He walked at a quite leisurely pace, but when he ran; HE RAN!  We did jackrabbit for most of the race, but I slowed and lost him over the last few miles.  Throughout most of the race, I was feeling good, so decided to keep up a good pace as long as I could.  That was probably not a smart decision.   Running a race the day before and the hills on this course took more out of me than I thought it would.  It was not really a hilly course, but there definitely were more hills than I anticipated.  There aren’t supposed to be hills in Florida! When I finished the race only 20 seconds longer than the day before, I was still feeling relatively good considering what I’d put my body through the past couple days.  However within only a few hours the knee pain started to sit in and has not completely subsided yet.  Yes, hills are my downfall.  Hills and my periodic bad decisions. 

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This, too, was an enjoyable race and geographically very easy to complete as a double.  I would definitely recommend both to anyone who enjoys smaller races and is looking for a simple way to execute a pair of races in two different states in one weekend.  I had a good time running both, but missed my Sole Sister by my side.  I can’t wait to be back by her side for our first race together in March.

Two Weeks……Two Islands

February is in full swing and our running is following suit.   

On Saturday, February 4, I (Sue) made a two-hour early morning trek northeast to Tybee Island in the Savannah area.  Since the race was not scheduled to start until 8:30, my wake-up time was actually not much earlier than a normal race morning.  Overnight rain, the temps forecast to stay in the 40s, and steady winds in the 20mph range all led to my decision to dress warm and bring extra layers for before and after the race. 

The drive was uneventful and after taking advantage of the free parking at the YMCA, I walked the 1.3 miles to the start.  There was parking available closer, but fees on Tybee are a bit pricy and I didn’t want to get mixed up later in the day trying to get out with races still going on.  The concept of the Critz Tybee Run Fest is somewhat unique and intriguing with a series of races starting with a 5K on Friday night through a one-miler Saturday afternoon.  If you run all five races, the total mileage adds up to 26.2 or a full marathon.  I, however, chose to run only the half marathon on Saturday morning.  Once at the start area (which was also the finish for the 10K which had started at 7:00, I picked up my bib and shirt and watched the 10K runners come in until just a few minutes before the scheduled start of the half.  I then begrudgingly removed my extra warm layers, checked my gear bag and wrapped myself in a mylar blanket I’d saved from a previous race for just this purpose…shedding that only a minute or so before the gun sounded. 

The race itself had little of interest to relate.  To me, the course was mediocre and it seemed we were just weaving back and forth and across approximately the same two to three square miles, with the cold headwind around every other corner.  Ironically this same race last year was my first in the quest to complete 60 for the Sole Sisters Running 4 ALS endeavor and the weather was almost identical.  I believe this could be an enjoyable race if it was warmer and calmer, but all I could do is count down the miles in my head until I’d be finished and able to put my hoodie and extra pair of warm running pants back on.  My iPod died about a month ago and I haven’t managed to replace it yet and I didn’t have Rhonda by my side, so there were no distractions to make the time go any faster.  But eventually I heard the familiar cheers and my name called out as I crossed the finish line in almost exactly my “usual” time even if it seemed like nearly an hour more.   I retrieved my gear bag and found a somewhat sheltered corner to add the layers back on, eat a banana, drink some water, text my husband and Rhonda and then walk back to the car.  Another one in the books!

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The following Friday (February 10), I packed my bags and got back in the car to cover many of the same miles, but this time to meet Rhonda (YAY!) on Hilton Head Island.  The trip for me was again two hours, but almost twice that for her.  We met up at our hotel right around 3:00pm and just in the nick of time as our hydration efforts and lack of facilities enroute were having an effect.  Stop lights and traffic were Rhonda’s nemesis that afternoon.  Once we were checked in and settled in our room, we drove over to the hotel hosting packet pickup for the Hilton Head Island Marathon/Half/8K.  There was no actual expo, so once they opened the doors, it was a very quick turnaround.  Although it was still early, we realized we were both quite hungry so we set about to find some pizza and bruschetta at one of our favorite places, Mellow Mushroom.

Bellies full, we got back in the car and decided to scope out the race location on our way back to the hotel.  I kept missing either the entrance or exits to various traffic circles and the GPS would “recalculate” eventually sending us down a good portion of the route we would be running in the morning, even if we didn’t know it at the time.  Back at the hotel, we followed our usual routine of prepping clothing, gear, and fuel and hydration for the following morning then settled in early as usual.

On Saturday we followed our usual race morning routines and left the hotel on time for the short drive to Jarvis Creek Park.  The thermometer read 50 degrees, yet it seemed much warmer and we were both happy we had chosen short-sleeved shirts with arm sleeves we could take off, rather than long-sleeved tops.  Anyone that knows me knows that for me to say I was not cold in 50 degrees is an oddity.  We had timed our arrival so that we stood around before the start for only a short five minutes or so.  Unfortunately, we were in that park for only the first two miles (a one mile out and back), then it was out onto the Cross Island Parkway (four lane highway) for another out and back section that was well over half the total distance of the race.  We did run through another park and some additional scenic areas at the far end of that section also, but it was quite disappointing that we were running a race on Hilton Head Island and most of it covered major roadways with little to no scenery to speak of.  I felt sorry for those running the full marathon that had to cover that same portion of the course a couple more times.

Earlier in the morning my stomach was feeling upset, but after popping a couple Pepto tablets, it had mostly settled down.  But a couple miles into the race, Rhonda’s started acting up and eventually she had to stop drinking or eating to keep it settled.  Hmmm, maybe we need to rethink this pre-race pizza thing.  Although neither of us was on top of our game, we were happy to be together and able to chat and support each other through those 13 miles.  We again entered Jarvis Park and after a few turns, crossed the finish line, collected our medals, grabbed water, juice, fruit, trail mix and donut holes. Then back across the street to the car and a short return trip to the hotel where we cleaned up, packed, checked out and met up again a few miles down the road for breakfast at IHOP.  The weekend – or actually less than 24 hours – had passed much too quickly and it was time for a hug and goodbye.  But we’ll be back together in three weeks.

Slipping and Sliding Into 2017

After a few weeks off from running, Rhonda and I were scheduled to be back at it with a double in Mississippi and Alabama on January 7 & 8. Rhonda had run both races a couple years ago and loved them, so I was excited to run them with her and add two states to my list.  Bud and I had left home in Michigan earlier in the week and drove to Rhonda’s in South Carolina.  We left our husbands there and on Friday and headed toward Jackson, MS for the first race of the two – Mississippi Blues.  The weather was cold with possible rain/ice in the forecast, but the race was still a go at that point; so we went.  Most of the drive was uneventful with some rain off and on, but that changed an hour or so out and poor Rhonda was white knuckling it through freezing rain and slush into Jackson.  We found our way to the packet pickup/expo location, picked up our bibs, bags with some nice swag, and wonderful full-zip jackets, and then headed out to find our hotel.  When we spotted a Whataburger just a block from the Hampton Inn, Rhonda made a quick left turn and voila – dinner!  Now we would not have to venture back out once we checked in.  The evening was spent fervently checking for updates on the race and trying to decide what we would wear IF  it actually happened. But as the temps sunk, so did our hopes; and although disappointed, we were not surprised to be notified around 9:00 pm that the race had been cancelled.

When we finally ventured out the next morning, it was crystal clear the race director and committee had made the right decision.  Streets, sidewalks, everything were glare ice.  There is no way a safe race was possible in those conditions.  After the dust had settled and the race organizers had time to process the entire situation, they certainly did right by us and offered several options to make up for canceling.  We chose to apply to run another race this spring; hoping both our requests will be granted and the logistics will work out.  And although it won’t officially count, we have both committed to running our own Mississippi Blues virtual race to maintain the integrity of accepting the medals and displaying them with the appropriate disclaimer.

Realizing traffic could start backing up, we decided the quicker we got out of Jackson, the better off we would be; and that was certainly the case as we crept up an icy slippery on-ramp, dodging semis and two-wheel drive trucks with wheels spinning.  We had made it in the nick of time. Looking at the ramps on the opposite side of the interstate, it was solid lines of stopped traffic as far as we could see.  Again Rhonda expertly maneuvered through traffic and along the route to Mobile, AL.  Luckily we drove out of the poor weather and road conditions relatively quickly and had a pleasant drive that day.

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Once again we went directly to packet pick up where we saw several familiar faces of other runners who had been in Mississippi and signed up for this back to back series.  We all had interesting tales to share of sliding along the sidewalks, traffic issues, airport and car rental snafus, and a multitude of other issues that pop up when a race doesn’t go as planned.  The expo was small, but quaint.  The First Light Marathon’s main beneficiary is the L’Arche community and the finisher medals are hand made by the members.   Even with the cold temps I was looking forward to it since Rhonda recommended it highly.  But cold it was…more on that in a minute.  We then drove over to our hotel where they allowed us to check into our room early.  We followed our now usual routine of piling a luggage cart high and finding our way down the hall and elevator to our room with a few stray bags over the shoulders.  When you stop to think about it, it is never a light trip when we are traveling for our runs.  A little down time in the room and we decided to find dinner.  We ended up at Mellow Mushroom for one of our favorite pre-race meals of a meat lover’ pizza and a yummy bruschetta appetizer.

These two wild ladies were back in our room, in jammies and bed by 7:00pm. We chatted and did a little race planning while the Detroit Lion’s game played in the background.  About an hour later, Rhonda said good-night and what seemed like two seconds after that I turned to say something to her only to learn she was out like a light.  I think that poor girl needed a good rest after all the stressful driving.  The next morning we woke up to temps in the 20s – NOT the kind of weather either of us likes to run in.  Layering was the name of the game. I was most concerned about my hands as they often get cold even with running gloves on.  As a last minute thought before leaving home in Michigan, I had grabbed a couple pair of wool mittens out of the closet.  That turned out to be one of my best decisions.  Although my dexterity certainly took a hit throughout the race, the only time my fingers got cold was when I took them off toward the end to be able to stop my Garmin when crossing the finish.

We had found a convenient parking lot only a few blocks from the start and sat in the car until it was time to make our way over.  It was cold – there’s no denying that at 26 degrees and windy; but as usual, we acknowledged being cold for a short time was nothing compared to what those with ALS and other disabilities endure on a daily basis.  The start gun sounded and we began the now very familiar task of trying to settle into a pace while working our way through a pack of very different paced runners at the start.  Luckily, this is a smallish race, so the field soon opened up and we felt comfortable enough to start our normal 2:30 run/:30 walk intervals.  Other than being really cold (have I said that enough?) the race was rather uneventful.  I am sure I would have thoroughly enjoyed it in warmer conditions.  As we clicked off the miles, Rhonda’s back began to tighten up…probably exacerbated by tensing up in the cold.  By the last few miles, whenever she would slow for our walk break, it became increasingly painful to start the run cycle again.  Although we always start and finish together, I knew I would not be comfortable running straight through the last 2-3 miles but also knew she needed to.  She finally agreed to keep going and meet up at the finish after I almost threatened her with bodily harm if she did not.  I knew I would only be a few minutes behind her.  And she was right there to greet me once I collected my hand-crafted medal.  She had already met up with Kevin, a fellow Half Fanatic and  100 Half Marathon Club member, and the three of us took a quick picture together before making our way to the food line.  Warm red beans and sausage over rice, corn bread, various other goodies and hot chocolate were just what we needed.

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We then headed back toward the car, stopping to take a few pictures at Mardi Gras Park.  Back to the hotel, shower, change, pack up and hit the road for the long drive back to Rhonda’s house.  We arrived later that evening and after relaxing and visiting with her family and my husband, went to bed relatively early.  We already knew school had been cancelled the next day for her kids because of the lingering icy patches in some areas, so we all slept in a little before Bud and I decided to get up, packing our car and completing the final leg of our journey to our winter home in Georgia.  It’s time to rest and regroup before we start up again next month.

Final Race for 2016

Dec. 10th, I, Rhonda ran my final race for the 2016 SoleSistersRun4ALS campaign.  Lisa and I traveled to Kiawah Island, SC.  Kiawah is a private gated community and breathtakingly beautiful!  It is also the home to world renowned golf courses with the PGA  Championship being held here again in 2021. 

We arrived on Friday and were staying in a condo.  We made a few stops for food and water, then packet pick up and quickly got situated for our evening.  We went out for a delicious dinner at King Street Grille and with full stomachs we were ready for bed.  Because we were within walking distance we didn’t have to get up quite as early. 

We woke up to a cold SC morning!  It was around 34 degrees at start and I was freezing!  I was still nursing that sore ankle so told Lisa to go get her PR as I needed to take it easy.  Once we started I realized that my IPOD was officially dead (I had washed it in the washer after our Southwest Adventure and it never recovered although it appeared it had).  Bummed I didn’t have any music, it did give me time to really think about all the different races Sue and I have ran this past year in honor of Tim Shaw.  I am still in so much awe of him and the inspiration he gives me to go on race after race. 

Around mile 2 I recognized a dear friend, Andrea, and caught up with her for a couple of miles.  It was really great to see her and it always amazed me when I run into someone I haven’t seen in a while from another part of the country at a race.

The race was otherwise uneventful which is not a bad thing.  I finished up and went in search of Lisa.  I stopped by the amazing food tent.  Kiawah Island Marathon and Half knows how to feed its runners!  I then found the results station and saw that Lisa was not only done but had smashed her PR!  I was so excited for her.  After not finding her I decided to head to the condo……where we ended up meeting each other in route.

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After a shower and a yummy breakfast, a nap was in need.  We took full advantage and slept for a bit.  We then decided to go get an early dinner so we could come back and relax before heading home the following morning.  We chose to go to Red’s and it did not disappoint.  We even got to see the boats decorated  with Christmas lights cruising the harbor.  It was the perfect ending for the weekend.

The next morning we made the trip home to our wonderful families.  I am so appreciative of my family’s support over this year and am so thankful they were able to meet Tim as well.  They supported my racing from Day 1 but meeting him gave them some perspective as to how devastating ALS is. 

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As we close out our 2016 running year, please remember why we are doing this…effective treatments and a cure must be found for ALS.  We would be honored for you to make a contribution to our fundraising toward ALS research at www.classy.org/20for20

“Soldier”ing on to the Southwest

We decided a few months ago to try our hand at 7 half marathons in 8 days.  With a lot of planning and support from our families, we got it mapped out.  Our adventure began on Nov. 10th when Rhonda packed up and headed to Gardi, GA to spend the night at Sue’s.  After an amazing dinner, we settled in so that we could have an easy start to Columbus, GA on Friday as we were running one of our favorites – The Soldier Half Marathon at Fort Benning, GA.  The trip to Columbus was uneventful (thankfully).  We went straight to packet pick up and then a quick shopping spree at Bed, Bath and Beyond followed by dinner at Mellow Mushroom.  With full bellies we were off to check into our room and prepare for the morning. 

Saturday morning came too early but this was to be our norm for the next week.  No time like the present to get used to it.  We found a decent parking spot and made our way to the starting line.  This time, Rhonda was prepared for the cannon start and didn’t hit the ground.  Using the Galloway 2:30/:30 ratio, the miles clicked off and we soon found ourselves running through the finish line.  We grabbed some drinks and snacks and made our way back to the car and hotel so that we could get on the road to Rhonda’s house in SC. 

Sunday morning came WAY TOO EARLY!  Wearing our Thelma & Louise tee shirts, we arrived at the airport at 0400.  Delirious from the lack of sleep, Rhonda realizes her choice of attire was not the smartest – a belt, tennis shoes, jacket, a laptop computer…..everything that takes time at the security checkpoint.  We got to the security checkpoint only to find out we were selected for pre-check which would mean no issues going through – unless you’re Rhonda.  As we get to the pre-check TSA agent Rhonda says “well that makes it easier since I am security’s worse nightmare today”.  The TSA agent looks from Rhonda to Sue and says oh crap and jumps back about 20 feet.  Rhonda, then realized what she had said.  Her and Sue bust out laughing and say oh no not that way…..as Rhonda stumbles with her words to explain.  The TSA agent, being a good sport is laughing and then we point out our shirts as to which he cracks up even more.  Yes, an eventful morning for the small airport.

We flew to Atlanta, grabbed a quick breakfast and then were back on the plane to Las Vegas.  The flight was interesting with the guy sleeping next to/in Sue’s personal space and the kid kicking our seats.  Once arriving in Vegas and getting the rental car we started our trek to St. George, Utah where we were staying.  We stopped in Mesquite, Nevada for lunch at a 50’s style diner – Peggy Sue’s.  Each ordering a meal (only to find out the portions are HUGE).  After eating we were back on the road to St. George.      We had some time to kill before packet pick up so we did what most people would do – we went shopping.  Packet pick up was located at the race site at Sandy Hollow State Park in Hurricane, UT.  We got our things and learned that Hurricane is pronounced “herri-kin”.   We headed back to St. George to get some rest and to soak in the hot tub.  Imagine our surprise when we got to the hot tub only to find there were no lights in the pool area……or at least no light switches.  We finally said oh well and got into the hot tub.  It felt so good on our bodies and as we were in there the lights (which must be on some sort of timer) finally started to come on.

Monday, Nov. 14th and we were running the first of 6 days in a row with the Mainly Marathons Southwest Series.  It was actually a very pretty place to run and to catch a glimpse of the super moon just prior to race start.  During the pre-race potty stop, we ran into a couple ladies we’d met at the Appalachian Series in October.  It is easy to see how this group of regulars becomes close friends.  We then ran into Phebe, a friend of Rhonda’s from SC.  Yes, it can be a small world.  The laps ticked off and we were soon finished running (for the day).  It was then back to the hotel to shower, change, pack up, and since we had extra time, did a little more shopping before heading back south to Mesquite, NV for the next couple days.

Once there, we did a quick drive by of our hotel and the race site for the next couple days and then what else – but more shopping.  This, however, was a Wal-mart stop for necessities such as water, breakfast foods, and other supplies; including a small coffee pot, as we knew the room we’d booked did not provide one. By that time we were able to check in and get our room set up for a very welcome two-day stay…a luxury when traveling from race to race for a full week.  A little relaxing, dinner, gear set up, and it was bedtime.

As usual, morning came too early on Tuesday, Nov. 15th, but we are becoming accustomed to our race morning routine and things went smoothly.  We even arrived on time, ha ha.  You see, this series had us moving back and forth between the Mountain and Pacific time zones, so it was confusing.  This course was set up at a community sports complex and pretty much had us meandering around soccer and football fields. There were also several areas of cement with sharp turns along the course, which we believe led to the beginnings of a few twinges that continued throughout the rest of the week.  Our finishing times were about 10 minutes longer than the previous day, but that could have been because of the awesome food that awaited us each time we completed a lap.  We love munching on Norm’s French toast as we head back out on the course.

Back at the hotel and after showering and a yummy breakfast of Belgian waffles with fresh strawberries and real whipped cream, how else were we to capitalize on the fact that we didn’t need to pack up and move out other than to take a rejuvenating nap?  Stinky running clothes were next on the list and luckily there was a laundry facility on site.  Clean and fresh clothes repacked, the next day’s gear set up, and some personal business for each of us out of the way and it was time to think about eating again.  That evening it was back to Peggy Sue’s; but we played it smart this time splitting a burger, fries, and a yummy chocolate malt.

The morning of Wednesday, Nov. 16th was a repeat of the previous day, with the exception of Sue’s constant whining about the absence of the French toast.  This is when Rhonda really started to feel the pain in her left foot.   Sue was also having some issues with her left knee.  Again, as in so many races, we were quickly reminded of the daily struggles those with ALS must face.  Those little reminders give us perspective and help us quietly soldier through.  We finished up in almost exactly the same time as the previous day, gathered our belongings and headed back to the hotel to shower and pack up.

Mourning the fact we didn’t have time for a nap that afternoon, we made the nearly three-hour drive across the desert to Laughlin, NV where we would be spending the next two days.  Although our hotel was in NV, the race site was just across the Colorado River, in Bullhead City, AZ; therefore we made the obligatory drive to scope that out as soon as we arrived.   The next stop was Wal-mart to replenish our dwindling supply of water.  As we waited for the elevator in the hotel lobby, Sue carrying a 35-pack of bottles and Rhonda with two gallon jugs, an elderly man standing next to us gave us the strangest look.  Rhonda just shrugged and said, “We like water!”  The look on his face was priceless and we both stifled a hearty laugh.

We seem to be getting pretty good at this routine and quickly had the room set up and the next day’s gear and clothing set out.  Dinner, down time of reading, talking with our families, and soon we were feeling the effects of an early morning, running and traveling; so it was lights out at 8:00pm!

Day 4 of the series on Thursday started out chilly, so we bundled up knowing we could easily shed layers later.  This is just one more perk of the Mainly series.  Although you are running several repeats of the same loop, it has its advantages; such as being able to stop at the “home base” and either leave or grab extra gear or clothing you may or may not need.  They lay out a tarp and most runners bring a bag for their individual needs.  It works well and you don’t have to plan to bring “throw away” layers as we do at many of the larger races.  Most of this course also ran along the scenic Colorado River and in a park with benches, native plantings, and descriptive markers.  Unfortunately as the morning progressed, so did the wind speed, making conditions less than desirable…particularly with blowing sand.  As one marathoner later described: “It was like a 26.2 mile full-body dermabrasion.”  Layers earlier shed were soon back on covering our full heads, sometimes with only eyes peeking out in an attempt to protect ourselves from this little sandstorm.  The final rubber band signifying another finish was welcome more that day than any other. 

We made our way back to the other side of the river and quickly lost an hour by crossing the state line. But it really didn’t matter since our afternoon agenda consisted of cleaning up, organizing, and the obligatory nap when staying in the same hotel for two nights.  We had planned on doing a great deal of race planning with the extra time, but the hotel wi-fi was basically useless, so that was a wash.  We followed pretty much the same routine again that evening and soon it was Friday morning, November  18th.

Knowing our schedule would be somewhat tight after the race to meet the hotel check-out time, we did our best to pack everything we wouldn’t need later that morning.  We decided to bring a load down with us when we headed to the car to leave for the race that morning.  Weighted down with coffee pot, water, miscellaneous food, and a few other things, we headed out.  Just before the room door closed, Sue asked, “Do you have the keys.”  Rhonda patted her pocket saying, “Yup, right here.”  This was a pretty big hotel with a large parking lot, so it took awhile to get to the car and our arms were getting tired just as Rhonda says, “Oh no! I don’t have the car key.”   Sue stayed at the car with our pile of goodies while Rhonda RAN back to the room, only to find out that her room key didn’t work.  RUN back to the elevators and down to the desk to get a new key.  RUN back up to the room.  RUN back down through the hotel and parking lot.  WHEW – she’d already run a race before we got to the starting line. 

Even with all that, we made it with time to spare before the race started.  Day 5 was held at the same location as Day 4, so we knew what was ahead.  And it was windy that day too, so not the most pleasant.  But we finished up and headed back to the hotel, got cleaned up, checked out, and on the road to Needles, CA.

We stopped for a leisurely breakfast on the short half-hour drive, then tried to plan what we could do with the extra time we would have before we would be able to check in to our hotel.  So after the routine quick check of race location and a short drive down the portion of Route 66 that is in town, we decided to look for a place to hang out.  Rhonda remembered seeing a sign for the Valdez Mexican Grill on our way into town.  Why yes, a margarita sounded pretty good right about then.  Hmmm…were we sure we wanted to go in?  The exterior of the building was dark and unremarkable and there was a huge adult book store sign on the adjoining building.  But the online reviews were exceptional, so we decided to take our chances.  It was like a complete turnaround the moment we opened the door.  What appeared dark and sketchy from the outside was bright and clean on the inside.  A late lunch crowd consisting of mostly families with children were finishing up their meals and we were quickly escorted to a booth on the back wall and immediately found complimentary homemade chips and two salsas in front of us.  You’d think we had not just eaten a large breakfast/lunch if you saw how we scarfed them down.  We were served our freshly homemade margaritas and yowee! Arguably one of the best margaritas ever…with a significant kick.  Eek   At some point we were going to have to confront the results of our eating habits this week.  But not that day!  Next up – Mexican Fried Ice Cream – Oh my!  YUM!!!  

After an hour or so, we decided we should probably leave and check in to our hotel. We were happy to have a good visit, lots of laughs, and significant down time that afternoon/evening prior to our last of these seven days of running.  Needles is a small town which appears to be struggling and the hotel was a pleasant surprise where we were quite comfortable. 

Saturday morning November 19th arrived and we were both relieved and a little sad that this would be our last run of this series.  Our bodies were telling us it was time to take it easy, but our hearts wanted to just keep going.  Although Rhonda’s ankle was feeling a bit better, there was still a constant nagging – especially when she ran, and Sue’s knees and hips were just asking for a short break.  Our luck, this course had the worst terrain we’d encountered thus far this week.  In the beginning we ran around a rather large parking lot, then out across a loose gravel area onto rutted gravel “roads” that lead to a train yard.  There was a lot more walking this day with our eyes focused down, so there weren’t any missteps that would lead to a twist or fall.  On top of that, both our Garmins measured the course nearly a half mile long.  Yes, we know all about GPS inaccuracies, but this was more than usual for either one of us.   It just wasn’t the day to be running even a little bit more. – lol

We had worn our 20for#20 tanks that day and after taking off our jackets ran past a woman who we had passed on all the courses in this series and also last month at the Appalachian Series, we heard her say rather quietly, “ALS? My father died of ALS.”   We stopped in our tracks and Rhonda asked, “What did you say?”  And the story poured out.  By the end of Pam’s story, there were tears streaming from six eyes and it had nothing to do with the physical conditions.  As always, we were in awe of the connections, the stories, the sheer number of people affected that we are learning about while on this 16 month journey.  In reality, we will always be on the 20for20 journey.

With our final race behind us, we picked up our last two pieces of the series medal and said our goodbyes until the Independence Series in May.  Back at the hotel, we cleaned up, donned our medals for photo ops, packed and hit the road for Vegas.  We stopped only a couple times…for lunch, snapping some pictures of Joshua trees, and for Rhonda to stock up on a little jerky.  We arrived at the Embassy Suites early and went in to verify check in time, but were pleasantly surprised when we were told our room was ready.  After settling in, we went downstairs and caught the hotel shuttle to the Strip.  Who can go to Vegas without at least wandering the Strip for a few hours?  Let’s just say we packed a lot of activity into that day with running, traveling, eating, sightseeing, and walking – lots of walking. Especially after calling for the hotel shuttle to pick us back up, we were told it was “down” and would be at least an hour, we decided to walk the distance back to our hotel. That may not have been the brightest move when we discovered we’d logged nearly 50,000 steps that day. 

Interestingly enough when all was said and done after a stay in Vegas and four nights in other casino hotels along the route, neither one of us gambled even one penny.  A glass of wine and dinner at the hotel and we were back in our room organizing and repacking for our morning flight.  Everything went smoothly on Sunday morning and to our surprise, we were again granted TSA pre-check, but luckily Rhonda behaved this time.  Our seat mate from Vegas to Detroit was a well-mannered young man who made the trip pleasant this time.  We had a quick layover in Detroit where we gratefully enjoyed the comfort of the Freedom Center, a hospitality center for military personnel,  which we were able to utilize with Rhonda’s retiree status. 

The last leg of the journey was soon upon us as we settled into our seats for the short flight to Greenville.  Once up in the air, we heard the little girl in front of us crying and her father trying to soothe her.  It didn’t take long to figure out what was wrong, when the poor thing suddenly and explosively began to vomit.  So much for Sue’s carry-on which she had stored under the seat despite Rhonda’s repeated suggestion to put it in the overhead bin.  We arrived shortly before midnight very happy to see both our husbands pull up to the curb to load up our luggage and weary bodies.  We made the short trip back to Rhonda’s house and quickly went to bed.  The next morning Sue and Bud loaded their car and we all said our goodbyes as they headed north to Michigan. We all look forward to meeting up again in January.

The Weekend Before the Excursion

More than anything else on Saturday, I missed having a running buddy by my side.  I have never been fond of large races and for me they are that much less enjoyable when running one alone.  With well over 10,000 runners at the start, you can imagine it was rather crowded and I don’t necessarily like crowds…guess that wasn’t really the place for me. Having said all that, I will say Savannah Rock n Roll did a very good job of managing the runners and all the logistics that go along with it. 

My husband and I took the 1.5 hour drive up to Savannah on Friday afternoon and headed directly to the expo.  Bib pick up was smooth and quick and I spent a little time shopping there, managing to pick up a new running belt with two detachable bottles.  I am hoping this one will finally work for me as I have difficulty finding one with bottles that is comfortable.  I have always loved my Spibelts, so I have high hopes this will be the winner.  After leaving there, we did a little shopping, had dinner, and settled into the room for the night. 

It was another early morning wake up because I chose to buy a shuttle ticket between my hotel and start line to alleviate the transportation issues I knew would be present had I tried driving downtown that morning.  Doing so meant standing around the start area for nearly two hours, but it truly was the lesser of two evils.  A little before the 7:30 start, I made my way to my corral and actually crossed the official start line around 7:50.  From there, it was a relatively uneventful race for me.  As expected with the large number of runners, I had to do the “bob and weave” quite a bit around large groups or those who would stop dead in front of me, but all in all, it was not as bad as expected.  The on-course support was excellent and there were tons of individuals out to cheer on all runners.  That is one thing I do love about this race.  It has some of the best spectator support I have ever experienced. 

As the miles ticked by and I would glance at my Garmin, I knew I was keeping a good pace and feeling good throughout.  I was pleasantly surprised when I crossed the finish line a full two and a half minutes faster than my finish a couple weeks before in Myrtle Beach.  I had again posted my best time since my ankle and knee injuries & surgeries well over four years ago. It was somewhat amusing since this is the race that pretty much started that ball rolling in 2011 when I ran the inaugural Savannah Rock n Roll on what turned out to be a fractured ankle.

ankle

I collected my finisher medal, water, chocolate milk and various snacks and then made the long walk to gear check to grab my bag and get a warmer jacket on.  Then it was all the way back to near the finish to catch a shuttle back to my hotel.  While waiting for the bus to fill, I checked my texts and saw Rhonda’s great news!

sav2

While, Sue was busy running in Savannah, Lisa and I were doing another Carolina double but this time in reverse.  We started our weekend in Florence, SC with the Run Like a Nut Half Marathon which is part of the Pecan Festival.  We arrived on Friday and picked up our packet at Fitness Forum.  It was quick and easy.  After dinner, we relaxed in our room and prepared for the morning.  Race morning was a little chilly but nothing that we couldn’t manage.  We headed over to the start.  We had driven the course the day before so we knew what to expect – at least that is what we thought.  Not sure what we drove but it WAS NOT the Half Marathon course!  We were actually thankful as that was boring…..this course was through beautiful neighborhoods.  I somehow managed to not get my GPS started on time so my timing on my watch was off.  We had a great pace going and then at mile 1 Lisa’s right knee buckled.  We stopped and then walked a minute but she insisted she was fine.  I was feeling really great and just felt like running.  I threw the intervals out the window and went with my body.  The race was fairly flat until mile 11 when they threw in a few hills for fun.  We headed for the finish line and I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I FINALLY had a new PR!  September 2013 was my last PR.  I have only been close a couple of times to breaking it but today, I beat it by 2 min and 15 sec!  I was beyond elated!  We also found out that Lisa placed 3rd in the age group!  A great morning indeed. 

lisaag

We showered up and headed to Wilmington, NC to pick up our packet for Sunday’s race – the Battleship North Carolina.  Packet pick up went quickly – once we went to the right building.  We ended up in the Civic Center in the middle of the Marine Corps Ball practice…..oops.  After getting our packets, we headed to get breakfast for dinner and then to the hotel for a night of disappointing football.  Morning came and the temps were much lower than we had prepared for!  Because we had to park and then take a shuttle to the race start we left a little earlier than normal.  The shuttle went smoothly and we had plenty of time to use the port-a-potty before the race.  I chatted with Sid Busch (a fellow Navy retiree who has run over 200 marathons) and we both agreed it needed to warm up quickly!   

We started the race knowing that today we were taking it slower, using the 2:30/30 intervals, as neither of us wanted to have any possible injury.  Well, 1 mile in and Lisa’s knee buckled again!  I knew this was not good.  She walked it off and then at 1.5 it did it again and this time I saw the tears forming.  I was prepared to put her on a medical vehicle or walk the entire race.  We ended up walking for a bit as the bridge we had to cross had metal grates.  First of all – I am not a fan of bridges.  Secondly – I am not a fan of heights.  You could see through the grates!  As my knees were turning to jelly, I just knew I was going to vomit everywhere.    I didn’t and we made it across without incident.  Taking it nice and easy we ran a gorgeous first half with the back half being a tad boring.  Then we headed back across that dreadful bridge!  I still felt sick as we walked it again.  Once we crossed over and the sigh of relief came all I could think about was the finish line and the fact that United States Marines in dress blues would be giving us our medals.  My heart hurt just a little as I was wishing my son, Brian, would be one of those Marines but I knew that wasn’t possible.  We rounded the corner of the last ½ mile or so we something caught my attention and I saw MY SON’S vehicle parked at the bottom of the hill!  It has distinct markings so I KNEW it was his!  I was so full of emotion.  I hadn’t seen him in a while and with tears blurring my vision I desperately searched the crowd for him.  Then with the finish line in sight I saw him!  He was standing right past the finish line.  I ran through, got my medal and got the best prize ever (even better than a PR) – a giant hug from my son.  I was crying. Lisa was crying.  It was amazing!   

Next up, Sue and I, in true Thelma and Louise style take off on a 10 day excursion together with 7 races in 8 days! 

Sue’s 50th Half in Nashville

Where do I start to tell the tale of an awesome and inspiring weekend?  How about the beginning?  Yes, but I also need to condense or we’ll be running #60 for Tim and I’ll still be writing about this one (#29 of my 60). 

After a good amount of driving and an extremely frustrating car rental experience the previous weekend, I decided to fly instead of drive to Nashville to enjoy Birthday Bash Weekend.  Birthday Bash Weekend has become an annual tradition between myself (Sue) and Sharon (Tim’s mom).  As background, Sharon and I met when she moved with her family to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan the beginning of our fifth grade year.  Living in a very rural area with few others my age nearby, I quickly forced her to become my best friend – LOL – honestly, we just hit it off from day one as I recall.  I could fill pages and pages of our escapades and evolving friendship, but that would be totally off-subject and unnecessary.  Suffice it to say our bond is still strong; no matter how our separate lives have evolved in the decades since.  In an effort to insure we actually see each other periodically, a few years back we decided to establish a tradition of getting together somewhere near our birthdays in September and October…that tradition has become the Annual Birthday Bash.  When I finally found a Nashville race that fit my schedule this year and it fell in October, it only made sense to incorporate the two.

On Thursday, October 27, Sharon picked me up at the Nashville airport at 8:30 am; yes, that means I had been up since 2:30; so after a marvelous homemade breakfast at their house, a nap was in store for me.  The remainder of Thursday was pretty laid back just hanging out with Sharon, Tim, and John.  Later in the afternoon, we took a short ride to pick up mine and Rhonda’s bibs and shirts and a quick stop at the mall and grocery store.  After dinner and before Tim left for the Titan’s game, we got together for a quick family and friends photo session with my #20for 20 tank since both Tim and John would be out of town on Saturday.  Later that evening while watching the Titans game on TV, Sharon showed me the running scrapbook she is creating for me.  I am telling you, this woman is artistic! I laughed, smiled, cried, and was totally in awe as I perused the pages she transformed from a pile of pictures handed to her last year. 

On Friday morning I was awakened by the scent of another scrumptious breakfast creation from Sharon.  After breakfast and more down time, Sharon and I headed out to lunch. Oh—M—GEE!!!  The Chocolate Covered Strawberry is quite the find.  Not only is the food marvelous, but the atmosphere and décor are unmatched…transforming a large old home into a quaint hideaway.  An amazingly delicious lunch of soup and sandwiches and dessert, fruity drinks, and take-home cheesecake had us almost rolling out.  If ever in the Nashville area, I highly recommend it.  Every plate is adorned with a one-of-a-kind chocolate covered strawberry.  A stop at Kroger and we were headed back to their home knowing Rhonda and family were pretty close, and they did arrive within the hour.   

Can I just say again how excited I am every time Rhonda and I are reunited?  This time was extra special because the girls and hubby were with her.  We all had a good visit; Rhonda’s girls thoroughly enjoyed playing with Hawk, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, last year’s rescue dog for the Shaw’s.  Laughter was plentiful when Tim asked how Rhonda and I met and after an awkward moment of silence we coughed up the true story.  We’ll reserve this for another time, but Tim’s comment to Rhonda’s daughters probably says it all: “Now girls, listen.  These are all the things you should NOT do.”  In all reality, he was right, but sometimes you just gotta go with your gut and trust God.  If we hadn’t, none of this would have ever happened.   

During that time, Tim showed us the trackers he wears and the computer program showing his progression – one of the ALS TDI projects he is involved in and why we continue to run and ask you to donate to our fundraising site.  It was absolutely fascinating and fortified us to continue forging ahead.  Speaking of the ALS TDI fundraising, since this race was to be my 50th lifetime half marathon and it was special since I would be running it in Nashville, I had put out a plea for donations dedicated specifically to this run.  I am excited and pleased to report that several of you rose to the challenge and exceeded my request.  In total, we raised $365 for ALS TDI that weekend!  THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!! 

Soon it was time for Rhonda and family to leave so they could get to the home of their friends where they would be staying over the weekend.  But not before a couple pictures of three people now bound forever – two friends who run for a reason and the man who inspires them.

After yet another delicious home cooked meal (do you see a pattern of food here?  I think I gained five pounds in five days), later that evening I had the pleasure of attending a high school football game with the Shaw’s where Tim’s younger brother is on the coaching team.  It was a nail-biter between two rival teams, and Ensworth (our team) pulled it out with a 21-20 win in the last 25 seconds of play!  I even caught a glimpse of Tim McGraw in the stands.  After the game, we went back home and I quickly headed to bed for my normal race morning early wake up. 

Saturday, race day, came and it was pretty much a normal weekend morning with waking around 4:00 am, prepping and gearing up, then Sharon drove me to Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park where I met up with Rhonda and we made our way to the start line of Race13.1 – Nashville.  It was literally a matter of minutes before the national anthem began and the start gun was sounded and I was again enjoying a run with my best running buddy.  The 13.1 miles passed quickly as we chatted and enjoyed the scenery.  It was a nice course which covered a variety of venues.  An attempt at a selfie in front of the Titan’s training facility was not as successful as we hoped due to the angle of the sun.  But hey, the sun was shining, so no complaints!  We wound around a clean industrial park area, a golf course, and another park before heading up along the river walk where Sharon and Hawk were waiting to cheer us on.  It started to warm up and the water stops dwindled, causing fatigue and the beginning effects of dehydration.  Luckily there were several stations in the last 1.5 miles to help begin the rehydration process – a little late, but better than not.  We raced to the finish line and it truly felt surreal that I had just done that for the 50th time.  Fifty half marathons, what?  I distinctly remember just six years earlier crossing for the first time and saying “Never Again!” 

And the best news of the day…Rhonda has a brand new grandson!!!!!  How exciting is that?  She headed back to be with her family and to check on her daughter and grandson and Sharon and I went to her home so I could shower, eat, and relax.  The afternoon and evening were spent mostly watching football and visiting.   

On Sunday Rhonda and family headed home to South Carolina while Sharon and I attended the morning church service then headed downtown to enjoy a tour of the Country Music Hall of Fame.  Before I knew it, Monday had arrived and I was boarding a plane back to Savannah.  Another enjoyable Birthday Bash Weekend was over, this one with an additional special memory attached.