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.