Tortoise and the Hare Half Marathon (and 10k) 

It was a humid morning in Canton, Ga. I was still struggling with foot pain from an injury the week before, and made the last minute decision to drop to the 10k. This turned out to be a great decision. I had discussed this with the race director at packet pick-up the previous evening, and was told I could wait and see how I felt.

Boling park was the backdrop for this race, and after and out and back on the grassy field, we turned into the forest and onto the trail.

The trail was steep and knotted with stumps. I was glad I was not in a hurry. As tough as it was, it was truly beautiful – and for once I did not mind that fact I knew I would be walking a lot of this one!

There were some nice flat sections, but they were few and far between. Soon signs ahead pointed to what makes the Tortoise and the Hare half so unique: runners start from slowest to fastest, with the plan that everyone will arrive at the after party around the same time.

Inside this tree house, they playfully reminded us of the concept!


The course was incredibly well marked. At any point where there was more than one option of path, bright pink ribbons marked the correct way.

At mile three the rough terrain gave way for a mile or so of nice pine covered path. This was a nice break, and jogging was easier in this stretch.


This was followed by an even nicer stretch of soft clay path.

At a well marked turnaround, 10-K runners headed back. Half marathon runners kept going, and I was told that the additional 3+ miles out and back that they ran was the least scenic of the entire run.


Water stops were loaded with goodies from gels to cookies to gummy bears and other surgery sweets.

The last mile along the water with the amazing natural rock formations was my personal favorite.


The shirt and the medal were a cute design, with a spinning tortoise and hare. The medal was the same for the half marathon and 10k.

There were also special awards for the person that came in first and last for both distances.
  
There was A LOT of food at the finish, and the finish line was kept open for every runner. It had ended up being an exceptionally hot day, and the support for the last runner coming in was just as strong as for the first.


It was a good time. There are two groups of people I would strongly recommend this race to.

The first would be runners/walkers who care more about the scenery than their time. This course is not likely to be a PR for anyone.

The second would be anyone training for a competitive trail race such as the north face endurance challenge.   This race would be a great place to test your trail skills.

Overall it was a wonderful experience. The volunteers and directors of this event are kind, wonderful people who care about the experience every runner has, and it shows in all aspects of their event!

The hot almost summer: Running the ECHO Half Marathon

20140608-153726-56246067.jpg

Florida sunrise: Photo by Megan AKA “Megalicious”

 

I was in a bad mood. Sore and tired from a rough race and delayed flight the night before – I was looking for a reason not to run another race this weekend.

Luckily, I looked for it with my friend Megan, who would not let me bail, no matter how hard I tried, and I did try.

  • The shirt and medal would probably be lame – it’s a small local race which was very inexpensive to enter. NO – she saw them at packet pickup – a pink shirt an adorable medal were waiting for me.
  • It was storming and the race might be canceled. NO – the storms had passed and had actually cooled down the temperature.
  • I was hurt (a neck strain and blisters) from running in the rain yesterday – I might get swept. NO – there is a 4 hour time limit, making it a walker friendly race.

So I drove to Osteen, Florida (which it turns out, is only 30 minutes from my house, right next to the Sanford International Airport) for the inaugural ECHO Half Marathon. Runners parked in a large field as the sun rose over the trees on the horizon. Familiar faces from the Orlando running community greeted me, as my spirits rose, a little.

The race started down the quite road, and soon turned onto the paved trails of Green Springs Park. The tree canopies here were beautiful, and as I looked out over the calm waters of Lake Monroe – I remembered why I love Florida so much.

20140608-153726-56246634.jpg

Miles 9-11.5 were very hot – but in fairness, it is June, and it is Florida. The race directors not only had ample water at every stop – there were 14 water stops in a 13 mile race. In addition there were Icy Pops and Cookies at mile 5, and Gels at mile 7. Although I did not see them – other runners told me there were Jello Shots along the way as well. I cannot confirm this, but I would not be surprised by it!

At the finish line, the medal, which was indeed beautiful – was accompanied by an assortment of food and festivities. Dunkin Donuts had donut holes and coffee, while BBQ was provided with unlimited free beer and Ice Cold Strawberries. Shuttles took runners back to the start line, while those who has stayed at the host hotel near the finish (shuttles were provided to the start line) made their way back.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This race was started with the goal of raising awareness of the new East Central Regional Rail-Trail, which will eventually span 52 miles from Enterprise to Edgewater.

The organizers website explains that “The ECHO Grant has enabled the trails to be built. Local runners, walkers and bikers are utilizing portions of these trails every day thanks to ECHO. We want to ensure the publicity gets out about these trails and the importance of continuing the efforts to complete the rail-trail in its full vision”.

A friend of mine, who lives in the area noticed my Facebook check-in for the race and asked me about the trails, interested in biking them. He had been unaware they were completed. I realized in this small example, that the vision of this race was being realized.

It was a beautiful day, and I am glad I ran. Although I was still sore and tired, I left with spirits much higher than I had arrived with. I would run this race again and would recommend it to anyone looking for an often hard to find June half-marathon in the south.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What goes up must come down: Running Hospital Hill

 

20140608-144910-53350256.jpg

 

In its 41st year, the Hospital Hill Run has been ranked highly among the thousands of US Road Races, Including #11 by Runners World in 2013. With so many races to choose from this weekend, it was the addition of the Re-run challenge, where runners take on Hospital Hill during a 5K on Friday night, and then the half-marathon or 10k on Saturday morning which made me choose this as my final destination race of the spring 2014 season.

The expo, as well as the start and finish lines for all races are located outside the Crown Center, and easy walking distance from many downtown hotel options. We stayed at the Fairfield Marriott, who accommodated runners happily with late checkouts and a complementary early breakfast. Runners of the re-run challenge received a cotton tee, however breaking away from the tradition of the tech tee – the Hospital Hill Run gave all runners a high quality embroidered backpack. For those wanting a tech shirt, many were available in the official merchandise store.

This was my first visit to Kansas City, and friends had told me to visit the Power and Light District. After checking it out, and knowing we had an evening race, we decided to visit the Country Club Plaza area instead, enjoying a coffee at Starbucks (across the street from Tiffany’s) and taking in a movie at the  Cinemark Theater. Although this is an upscale area with many restaurants and great shopping, the parking garage was free and the movie was only $4.25 at a very nice theater!

The Friday night 5K was well-organized and a family friendly event, with a generous 90 minute time limit – ensuring that parents and children walking or running together (of which there were many) would finish without pressure. Young volunteers handed each runner a cold towel at the finish line, followed by a beautiful medal featuring the Kansas City skyline. After the race a Beer Garden and BBQ dinner were provided for all runners, along with the typical post race snacks of bananas, bars and chocolate milk.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The clear warm air of Friday night was replaced with a storm front that rolled in overnight. Runners watched social media as the race directors gave frequent updates of the status of the race. Staying dry in the Crown Center lobby runners anxiously awaited news. Informed that there would be only a 30 minute delay, many runners huddled under bridges and overhangs surrounding the start line. Finally we were underway, and although there was a significant amount of rain – the race went on with no further disruptions. The race director gave all runners the option to do the 10K instead of the half marathon if they felt uneasy in the rain – and ensured the crowd that everyone would get a medal.

A tempting offer, but I had come for the half marathon, and was determined to finish it despite the rain and wind. The familiarity of hospital hill from the Friday night race met runners early on, but that was not the end. Up and down we went – hospital hill, rockhill hill, 39th street hill, cherry hill, broadway hill, and finally… the very steep trinity hill.

By mile 9 the weather cleared, and I connected with another runner who was struggling with blisters from wet shoes and socks. We walked together for some time and talked, eventually running the last part of the race and crossing the finish line together. Collecting our HUGE half marathon medals and bonus medals for the Re-Run challenge, I prepared to head back to the hotel. With the race winding down and the complications from the weather,  I did not expect there to be any of the scheduled post race food to be available. To my surprise not only was there food left (a pancake and sausage breakfast) but they were being made by the staff from Chris Cakes who greeted us with an enthusiastic smile!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What could have been a disaster of a weekend became one I will never forget – largely due to the communication and spirit of the race director, staff, and amazing volunteers who made sure that we were safe and supported – while executing a world-class event.

 

 

Running for the Dream: 13.1 miles at Colonial Williamsburg

Arriving at the expo for the last half marathon of my summer road trip, my daughter and I were hit with a wave of nostalgia. We had been here when she was young, and the event, staged at the visitors center for Colonial Williamsburg, is centered in a city frozen in time.

The staff was exceedingly friendly and welcoming – giving runners their shirts and bibs – along with complementary attraction tickets included with the registration, and a pair of running socks from Soft Wick, which are wonderful and a personal favorite of mine. The value here was quite stunning, as the combined value of tickets for Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg is over $100, which is more the price paid for race registration.

We stayed at the Historic Powhatan Resort in Williamsburg, less than 15 minutes from the start and finish line. The accomodations and grounds were beautuful, and provided us with two bedrooms, a full kitchen and even a private hot tub.

Parking on race morning was at the same location as the expo, and a short walk to the start line. The Colonial Williamsburg fife and drum corps played as runners gathered around the start line, many wearing their shirts from the 8K the day before – which was part of the Patriots Challenge.

The National Anthem, sung with flawless precision by September Foster, cut through the cool morning air as Flag Bearers prepared to lead the runners.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The course itself was nice, winding through the colonial streets and then down toward Busch Gardens and ending at the College of William and Mary. Runners received there medals and made their way a short distance to the Sunken Gardens, where they were greeted with cold beer and warm BBQ sandwiches. After relaxing and socializing, shuttles took us back to the parking area.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Like many runners, we spent the afternoon at Busch Gardens, riding rollercoasters and enjoying the Food and Wine Festival. This was one time I wished we had a few more days there, and if I go again I will come early, participate in the challenge, and stay an extra day.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Running from Water to Wine: The Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon

After running 96 half marathons, it occurs to me races fall onto a continuum from support to beauty. Support races span the city scape winding through busy urban streets with enthusiastic volunteers and supporters lining the road. Beauty courses engulf runners in natures majestic splendor. The Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon was most certainly the latter. This came as no surprise as the start and finish line were at Doukenie Winery, about 45 minutes from Washington DC.

IMG_7817

Before the race began runners posed among the grape vines and took in the stunning grounds of the winery. Getting there was easy, although with a single road in, most runners arrived early. Parking was organized into two lots… Both equidistant from the start and finish line, but one dedicated for the runners and guests who were staying for the wine tasting festival after the race.

The first four miles of he race ran on a closed course, the only crowd support came from several enthusiastic gentlemen outside Stone Manor, a beautiful  Bed and Breakfast (which appeared to specialize in boutique weddings on their grounds) at the 5k mark.

IMG_7859

From miles 5-9 the course turned onto a hard packed “clay like” dirt road. The highlight came at mile 6 when runners ran up a long driveway to Hiddencroft Vinyards, where the water was turned into wine for a very unique (and my first) wine “hydration” stop. Runners took one or two (or four) small cups of a deliciously sweet white wine and then quickly got back to the race.

IMG_7871

A sweep van drove the course at a 16.5 minute mile pace and picked runners up who were falling behind this pace, however instead of pulling them from the race it drove them to mile 9.4 where the course turned back onto the paved road. While there were very few supporters on the course – there were an incredible amount of medical personal and enthusiastic police and firemen all along the way.

The race medal came with a wine glass charm attached – a nice and unique touch. After the race runners who had purchased their Riedel stemless wine glass ($20) entered the finish line festival for an exclusive wine tasting. Local laws do not permit this to be part of the race entry fee so it is a separate purchase. I was not able to stay for the after party as I was hurrying off to the expo for my Sunday Race in Williamsburg, however I will have “another round” of wine with Destination Races at the Napa to Sonoma Run in July. As I made my way back to my car the audible sounds of celebration coming from the tasting room indicated runners were enjoying the festivities.

IMG_7883

This was the fourth running of the Virginia destination. Runners interested in this race may want to follow announcements on their Facebook page for the earliest notice Registration opening for the 2015 Season, and any special offerings for the 5th anniversary.

Buffalo Finish to Start: A race review in reverse

Emerging from the medical tent, freshly bandaged and finishers medal around my neck, I was all smiles.

IMG_7442

I finished in just over three hours, this would have been better if I had not lost about ten minutes shortly before the finish reading the memorial markers and checking out the USS LITTLE ROCK in the Buffalo Navel Park. The split for the full had come immediately before the finish, and although the conditions were perfect for running a longer distance, I heard the sighs from a few runners around me who made the right turn with the finish line directly in their line of sight!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Miles eight to ten, leading back into downtown had run along the Erie Basin and Marina, (complete with a water salute from the Buffalo Fire department) was a stretch that had been simply breathtaking.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Before we entered the basin, the route had taken us out of the downtown area and through beautiful residential neighborhoods of Buffalo with wide streets, grassy boulevards, and majestic homes. These wide streets were a welcome relief to runners who had been crowded in narrow streets during the first two miles of the race. This was a new route for the Buffalo Marathon, which had struggled in the past with a train crossing the route mid race, slowing many runners down. Like any route, there is give and take, positive and negative. The narrow path of the first portion of this race had many runners hopping on and off the sidewalks to move through the crowd.

One of these runners had hopped off the sidewalk in-front of a parked car just before mile one and knocked me over. Instinctively breaking the fall with my dominant hand, I lost most of the skin on the bottom of my palm. Although I would blot it with paper towels at several water stops, it would continue to bleed until I had it cleaned and wrapped at the medical station after the race. Despite the injury – I had a wonderful race. Possibly this was due to the flag, hanging over the road held up by two cranes just before my fall at the .5 mile mark, which reminded me what this weekend was about. Memorial Day – a day of remembrance for all who have fallen so I can be free. In the shadow of that great sacrifice made by so many, my drops of blood left on the pavement seemed a small sacrifice for the life I am allowed to live.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I had arrived downtown early that morning to find parking and was fortunate to find it free along a side street close to the start line. The downtown hotels had been pricy, but staying at the Town Place Suites by the Airport gave me a full kitchen at a great price, and was only a 15 min drive away. The expo had been small but easy to find and navigate.

The night before runners had gathered for dinner – included with the race fee and $5 for guests. It was fun to sit and share stories with runners from all over the country. The pasta was not gourmet, but the experience was delightful, and the beer was included.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This was my first visit to Buffalo – but it will not be my last. So much history lies in and around this city. From the birthplace of Buffalo wings at The Anchor Bar downtown, to Niagara Falls  State Park just a short drive away, it is a great American city that needs to be visited, explored, and appreciated by all.

 

 

 

Longer distance, better bling: Looking back “Masters of all terrain” Inagural race

Finding summer races in Florida is hard, the heat and humidity can be brutal, keeping the distance running season confined to September – March. Last year when the opportunity for a half came around in July, I jumped at the chance to do the Masters of All Terrain Inagural Race. This year, one June 14th, they have expanded to not only include a full, but 50K and 50 mile Ultra options.

After many people asked me about my experience in the first year, I decided to revisit that review:

You got what you signed up for here. The race was called “masters of all terrain” so the grass, gravel and dirt roads came as no surprise.

I found the course to be incredibly well-marked.  Red flags indicated the turns, and pre-race instructions told us to keep these to the right.  At the few turns where there could have been confusion  there was either a water stop or bright yellow tape that you would need to step over to go the wrong way. The course ran long, I measured it at 13.8 miles, even running the tangents as efficiently as possible. This would have been a bigger deal if we had not been told before the race started that this was the case.

Runners received both a  custom sport-fit T-Shirt and Medal at the finish line. The t-shirt is of good quality – heavy and soft, and the Medal is better than many I have received at much larger races. Those that “Run for Bling” were beyond satisfied. Age group certificates were given out three deep, and custom trophies were handed out to the over-all male and female winner. In addition there was a massage tent with 2 tables doing post-race massages, as well as an optional fitness competition at the end, with no additional fee to enter. Plaques were given to the “fittest man”, “fittest woman” and “fittest team”.

When it came to organization and support, there were some struggles, but nothing that is not an easy fix for the next event.

There was a 35 minute delay at the race start, which is a pet-peeve among seasoned runners.  This was due to the lines at the porta-potty’s. Much criticism was made about the fact that there were only 2 available for 200 runners. According to Boston Marathon Race Director Dave McGillivray, you need one porta-potty for every 50-75 race participants. Before the race began the race director said, “I should have ordered 4, next year there will be 4”.  That said, the lines were not longer than those I have waited in at Disney, and they really only got long 20 minutes before the race started, so there may be shared responsibility with runners who tend to come to smaller local races at the last-minute.

The bigger problem, was the water. It was a very hot day, and the volunteers ran out of water after I was at the 6 mile mark. I was told that runners behind me had nothing after 4. This is the “unforgivable sin” of race day. Runners will forgive a lot, but dehydration is a tough one to overcome.  It should be noted that because of the heat, everyone early on took water, and most took 2 or 3, and sometimes 4 at each stop, dumping them over their heads. This made a shortage for those in the middle and back of the pack. The reality is simple, there needs to be so much water that running out is not a possibility.  Like the former issue, I am confident this will not be an issue at future races.

The saving grace for the race director was this. Where some would have (which I have seen first hand) hid and laid blame, the director and his team were frantically going back and forth to runners with jugs of water from the finish line.  While I missed the water at miles 8 and 10, the gator with cold water arrived to me at mile 11, this got me safely to the finish line.
4468174
So yes, there were some complications, but it was a beautiful day with great people from the running community. Runners are forgiving, especially when a director is new. Like I said, the things that went wrong are easy fixes, and June half-marathons, for those of us who wish to do them, are not an easy find. A good discount code, the promise of more water, and maybe slightly bigger bling will bring us back in droves!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking back at the Splash and Dash

Yesterday I received a discount code for the 2nd annual “Splash and dash fun run” at Lake Baldwin Park in Orlando. While I will not be going this year, several people have asked about this race, so I found my review and decided to repost it… the following are my reflections from a year ago:

This past weekend I participated in the Orlando Sport and Social Clubs first Splash N’ Dash event at Lake Baldwin. As I continue my review and reflection on the event, it is important to note that they are not race organizers, but social directors. Looking at their website, you will find the opportunity for several sports leagues, from football to kickball, as well as social events such as Bar Crawls and happy hours. The first thing I will say is, never have I seen so much food BEFORE a race, Lime Fresh was making Nachos and Tacos, Dunkin Donuts with coffee and donut holes, and Mini Subs from Jersey Mikes.  There were runners and their families milling about eating, and I indulged in a little pineapple salsa from Lime Fresh since it is one of my very favorite things, and I imagined it would be done by the time we finished running. 

 
I peered into my bag and saw the t-shirt (not technical) and some coupons, but no race bib. I looked around and noticed, no one has a race bib, this is obviously not timed… but how do they know who is supposed to be here?  It was hard to tell even by the way people were dressed, kids inflatable toys on their heads, a guy in a speedo, lots of costumes… this was indeed a “fun run”.
 
The race begins and we start running around Lake Baldwin.  I know it ends at the slip n slide, and I know it is 2.5 miles around the lake, so I already know this is not actually a 5K. It is hot and muggy, and I am actually looking forward to having some squirt guns pointed at me… then my mind begins to wander. There is no way of knowing who actually paid to be here, no identification for who belongs. Runners did bring filled water balloons for the fight which would ensue after the race… and by the piles of them, most of these people must have brought plenty. 

What the Orlando Sport and Social Club had created here, and what they work to create in all of their events, is community. Did it matter who belongs here? We all belong here.  On this hot and muggy Saturday morning hundreds and hundreds of strangers had come together for one cause: to have fun.  Fun is something we often forget to have in our adulthood.  When it is there, it is often calculated and organized… and lacks the spontaneity and exuberance of youth. The rest of the run I focused on one thing… the smiles on the faces of all of the people around me… all races and ages standing together letting their morning drift into enjoyment and laughter.

Food, Fun, and Firemen at the Splash and Dash Fun Run 2013

Food, Fun, and Firemen at the Splash and Dash Fun Run 2013


The end of the race came with a fire truck and a “real” fireman spraying us with the firehose (gently), which people seemed to love. The food venues were not out of food, in fact, a large van from buffalo wild wings had joined them with a BUFFET of hot wing selections.  People were laughing and dancing and eating and playing, getting ready for the water balloon fight. 

There are some things that could be done to make this race better next year… however this event reminded me of how the weekend is supposed to be, but often isn’t. I want to thank the Orlando Sport and Social Club for making me remember that sometimes, I take life a little to seriously. 

The 2014 race will  be held on July 26 – From their website:

Things are starting to heat up in Orlando and the best way to cool down is the 2014 Splash ‘n Dash on 7/26! Participants will experience SPLASH zones & DASH zones and a 75 ft slip n slide! Don’t forget to stick around for the HUGE post race water balloon fight, so prepare to Get Wet This Summer!

Save $10 on your registration when you enter the
Coupon code SNDFR410. Coupon expires Wed 06/18/2014.

Touching the Tundra: Running through Lambeau Field at the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon

This was no ordinary expo…. This was an expo at Lambeau Field. Born and raised in Wisconsin as a proud “cheesehead”, I bounced up the steps into the stadium with palpable exuberance. Packet pickup for the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon ran smoothly: bib collection at club level, race shirts and vendors in the atrium. I LOVED the Eastbay shirts for the half and full, as well as the water bottle and bondi bands given out as commemorative items for runners in celebration of the 15th anniversary of this race.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our room at the Spring Hill Suites was in easy walking distance. The start line for all races was just outside the stadium on Lombardi Ave., and the finish line was in the parking lot. There are slightly closer hotels, but the staff at the Marriott really catered to us. The rooms were huge, late checkouts provided, and they put out breakfast two hours early for the runners – including complimentary grab and go boxes with a banana, muffin, and a yogurt in each. It is also directly across the street from Brett Favre’s Steakhouse – where we chose to have our pre-race dinner.

The streets around the stadium are named after the greats who have graced the field as players and coaches: Holmgrem Way, Brett Favre Pass, Tony Canadeo Run, just to name a few. This area also features the Walk Of Legends: a one-mile area which featuring 24 statues celebrating the legends & history of Green Bay football. The project was created by Sandi Campbell, designed by Corrie Campbell & sponsored by the Oneida Tribe of Indians of WI.

The morning of the 5k had perfect weather. Mid 40’s and clear blue skies. Over 5000 runners, half of whom were children took to the streets, chatting about the final mile which would take runners into Lambeau, out the players tunnel and around the field.The finish line party for the 5k was amazing. Runners received 2 drink tickets and could choose from root beer, miller light, or Redd’s apple ale. Chocolate milk, sweet tea, fruit, cookies, and hot dog sliders were also provided.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The half and full marathons shared the same starting line, but the marathon, which ran a completely different course, started an hour earlier. The course for the half was nice, mostly residential, and also ended with to the final lap around the stadium. The full would end there as well, but also took runners past city stadium, which opened in 1926 – pre-dating Lambeau Field and the original home of the Green Bay Packers. Throughout the race there was great of crowd support and enthusiastic volunteers. The icy pop station was my favorite unexpected stop.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Collecting my beautiful medal, I wandered through the crowds. The beverages here were the same but the hot dogs were replaced with Oktoberfest Brats, dill pickle potato chips on the side. Making my way back to the hotel, the shadow of history behind me, I was grateful to have made this journey back home to run the 15th anniversary of this great race. It wont be an annual run for me, but the hope of coming back to run the full for the 20th anniversary is now on the horizon.

Medals for the Half Marathon and 5K

Medals for the Half Marathon and 5K

Running to the sun: 65.5 miles at Riverboat with Mainly Marathons

The sleeping giant of the Marathon/Half Marathon Running community might very well be the Mainly Marathons franchise. Under the direction of Race Director Clint Burleson, this group has multiple events which span 5-7 days each, most of which stage races in different states each day. Runners may choose to do one, or all of the days, in any combination of half or full marathons.

In my desire to “Reach the Sun” in the running group Half Fanatics – I was on a quest to complete 52 half Marathons in 365 days. My decision to register for the Riverboat Series, held April 12-16 in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana respectively was made in an attempt to help me reach this goal. As my schedule flushed out – it appeared that the last day of Riverboat would be my 52nd race.

I will admit that I went in a sceptic. I love races with large fields, enthusiastic crowd support, and a senic city scape. The mainly marathons races have none of these. Here there are a few dozen to a few hundred runners who do loops (often 1.31 miles each) in state parks. Rubber bands are handed out after each loop to help runners track their miles. Some are on trails, but most appeared to be on the paved roads of the park. However I was on a mission – and this was the fastest route to completion. So I loaded up the car with a weeks worth of running gear, supplies and food (including my coffee maker) and hit the road.

Gear for the week - and yes, I used everything.

Gear for the week – and yes, I used everything.

Arriving in Kentucky the first morning, I met my fellow runners for the first time. I had not stayed at the host hotel – and I knew only two other runner in the group. Many were greeting other runners whom they had run with in another series, but I watched the reunions as an outsider. We were given a Medal with a year charm, and instructed to pick up our Kentucky charm when we completed. Clint addressed us from his step ladder as he would each day, while volunteers set up more food and drinks on tables that I could have ever imagined would be available. That was something that changed for me over the five days of this series – I stopped using GU and ate real food every other lap… a slice of an apple or a quarter of a sandwich – the spread was amazing!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The loops began… and my spirits lifted. I found that passing my running team over and over as we looped in a figure-eight through Columbus Belmont State Park was really fun, and the time flew by. The second half of the loop was very off road and slowed me down, I ended up walking the last loop with a new friend discussing our dissertations, turns out we are both from Florida!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day two was at Meeman-Shelby State Park in Tennessee. I had opted to stay in Memphis, but unlike the first morning, I felt like I was meeting up with old friends. This day was an out and back… downhill on the way down, uphill on the way back… and again, it flew by. I picked up my tennessee charm and headed to the hotel in Mississippi where I was happy I would be staying for two nights.

A simple but beautiful out and back for day two in Tennessee

A simple but beautiful out and back for day two in Tennessee

Day three was rainy. I drove 45 minutes in pitch black darkness to Lake Chicot State Park in Arkansas, watching as the sky would periodically light up from the storm. Throughout the race we were told to take cover if we were worried – but the race would go on. For awhile the rain came down hard – but runners dug deep and pushed through – we finished successfully and left for the hotel to dry off and warm up, third state charm in hand.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day four brought clear blue skies. I arrived early in the morning to Leroy Percy State Park in Mississippi and was standing in the parking lot a fellow runner as we watched cars slowly pulling in, and joked it looked like a funeral procession. Everyone was tired – but I was amazed by the people who had been doing full marathons each day. I had been doing halfs and was tired. I knew I would be ok through 3 days – but four in a row was new territory for me. Surprisingly, this day was my best time yet.

Day five was at Civitan Park in Winnsboro, LA. It was a small park directly across the street from the Best Western, which was the host hotel. I had a spring in my step this day, and proudly wore my half fanatics jersey. I felt good – and every step energized me as I was closer and closer to my goal of reaching the sun. When the race was over – and I collected my last charm, I was given a bonus medal for running all five days. Clint also presented me with a sun medal for my accomplishment, and my friend Kelly gave me a beautiful box which she had made.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Loading my car up for the drive back to Orlando, there was no question I would do this again – and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves running. There are so many reasons to do it: Leveling up in half fanatics or marathon maniacs, 50 states, concern for time (there are NO time limits on these races – there is even an award for the person who comes in last)… or probably the best reason of all…. experiencing the feeling of belonging to a immersive running community… for just a few days.