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!

If everybody ran…

Tonight, like so many runners, I hit the pavement and marked my miles on social media with #nationalrunningday. As I drove home from the park I realized how very different my life is today than it was a year ago. Before this season, I was a solitary runner. I traveled to races alone – and talked very little about my goals.

One year ago, on national running day 2013 I sat at my computer and signed up for a dozen races. I had set a seemingly impossible goal of running 40 half marathons in a year between my 40th and 41st birthdays. I had just joined Half Fanatics, and a new online friend told me about running for the Sun, by doing 52 half marathons in a year.

Half Fanatics gathering before a race

Half Fanatics gathering before a race

In several Facebook groups I was making new friends… Megan, Sue, Kelly, Jamila… women across the country who shared my passion and fears, dreams and ambitions. Over the next months, I met these women in person, and it seems crazy to me as I sit here today that a year ago I did not know them – now I talk to them daily.

 

Just some of the wonderful women that have become my best friends

Just some of the wonderful women that have become my best friends

I connected with the organization Black Girls Run, and run frequently with my local chapter. Tonight, my run was with these fantastic empowering women who have become my sisters, my family on and off the road.

Some of the wonderful women from the Orlando Black Girls Run Chapter

Some of the wonderful women from the Orlando Black Girls Run Chapter

In the past year I have run 57 Half Marathons. My schedule for the coming year is already fairly full – and I am turning my attention to training for full marathons – starting my season in October with Chicago, Marine Corps, and NYC.  My goals are more aggressive than ever, but as I face them, I do so with a community of support.

Mizuno has been asking the question “What if everybody ran?”. This sport, which embraces all races, genders, ages and skill levels has the transformative power to change lives. It has changed mine.

So to all my running friends, thank you. Thank you for encouraging me, celebrating with me, and making me see a version of myself I had not yet met, one who knows anything is possible if I take the journey one step at a time.

 

 

 

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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.