Thursday, April 26, 2012

2012 Blue Bell Fun Run - Race Review

On Saturday, April 14, I ran the 34th Annual Blue Bell Fun Run in Brenham, TX.  This race is sponsored by Blue Bell ice cream, which is headquartered in Brenham, TX, about 90 miles east of Austin, TX.  This event included a 5K, 10K and 10K relay event, as well as a 1 mile run for kids.  I did the 10K run, which was scheduled to start at 8:30am and cost $20.  The race start and finish was held at Brenham high school.  This was a very family friendly event and I noticed a lot of kids and parents participating in the events.

Packet Pickup
Packet pickup was handled on site prior to the race inside Brenham high school.  Race day registration was available.  Packet pickup was very well organized, and despite lots of people was handled very efficiently and took just a few minutes.  Volunteers did a great job.

Ample parking was available at and around the high school, where the event was hosted.  Parking attendants were present and once a lot was filled, cars were directed to the next lot.  I got there just before the high school lot filled, so I got a great spot.  However, getting out of the parking lot after the race was a SLOW and arduous process.  Too many cars from too many different places all trying to exit on small roads, so it took about 30 minutes for me to get out.

Because Brenham is about 90 minutes outside of Austin, I had to get up pretty early for this race (5:15am) and was out the door at 5:45am.  This gave me plenty of time once I got to Brenham to park, pickup my packet, use the indoor, high school bathrooms (a nice perk!), do a warm-up jog of 1.3 miles and stretch.  It was another warm, humid morning, high 60s and 90% humidity, so I was sweaty early on.  Although the race was supposed to start at 8:30am, it got off a little late.  The kid's 1 mile and 10K relay start were scheduled before the regular 10K start, and because the kid's run took longer than expected, everything was shifted slightly and we started a few minutes late.  Signs with per mile pacing (sub 7 minute, 8 minute, 9 minute etc) hastily went up, and participants were encouraged to file in accordingly.

The Course
This course is very pretty and mostly flat, with just a couple of small, rolling hills.  The roads were completely closed to traffic and we left the high school, running on downtown streets and quickly approached quiet, neighborhood roads with pretty houses and big green lawns lining either side of the street.  The 10K has an extended loop that turns back and meets up with the 5K route at about 5 miles.  The extended loop takes runners on some back roads with small farms and grazing animals on either side.  It was picturesque.  The course ends with a pretty long uphill (about half mile), followed by a quick downhill for the last 0.2 that brings runners back to the high school and finish line.  I did have one complaint regarding the course; the 5K and 10K merge with about 1.2 miles to the finish.  Because the 5K starts after the 10K, most of the 5Kers that I merged with were moving at a much slower pace than the 10Kers and a lot were walkers.  They took up the entire road, forcing 10Kers to literally weave around them to keep moving forward.  Although the road was wide enough to split 10K and 5K with cones, the race directors did not attempt to do this and I think that it would have improved the experience for everyone involved.

The atmosphere after the race was very festive!  HEB was a sponsor and provided sliced oranges (which were delicious), granola bars and bananas.  Blue Bell was the major sponsor and had a big ice cream truck with boxes and boxes of ice cream sandwiches and other frozen treats on a stick.  I was expecting to have to skip the ice cream (as I am vegan) but was delighted to find a strawberry fruit bar with no animal products in it.  The frozen snacks were especially delicious on such a hot day.  The high school remained open for people to use clean, indoor bathrooms, and the field house was opened up for people to shower.  That was pretty neat!

The Race Stuff
Participants received a technical t-shirt in the size of their choice.  This was the first year that the race switched from cotton t-shirts to technical shirts, even though the race is only $20 to register!  In addition to the shirt, race bags included lots of coupons (related almost exclusively to businesses in and around Brenham) and a packet of TX wildflower seeds, perfect for spring!

My Race
As I mentioned, I had to get up quite early to drive to this race, 3 hours before the race start.  Because my legs were pretty sore, I wore my newly purchased compression socks (will discuss in upcoming post) the evening before and on my drive to Brenham.  They definitely helped with tight calves.  This was another host, humid race and my time was an uninspiring 56:38. I definitely did not run my best and even had to take a walk/stretch break around mile 3.  I think my poor performance was a combination of weather (what happened to spring, TX?), hamstring soreness and problems, and running much later than I am accustomed to.  I usually start my run within 30 minutes of getting up in the morning, which mean no later than 6:30am.  The three hour gap between my alarm going off and the race starting was definitely not something my body was used to and this time period was long enough for me to start getting sleepy and lethargic again.  In fact, on my drive back to Austin I felt completely exhausted, which is not good when one is driving alone!

All in all, I enjoyed the Blue Bell Fun Run, although I wasn't impressed by my own performance.  It was a fun event, well organized, inexpensive, geared towards family and is a pleasant course.  That being said, I do not expect to do it again, because the drive is quite long coming from Austin.  In fact, there were two other events that same weekend in Austin (Longhorn Run on the same day and Austin 10/20 on the following day), which might be better options for me next year.  That being said, $20 for a 10K and technical shirt is a good deal that should not be ignored!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

2012 ZOOMA Texas Half Marathon - Race Review

I realize this race review is long overdue.  The primary reason for that is because I had a pretty crappy day and have had a hard time motivating myself to summarize it in gory detail.  Nonetheless, I hope this race report is of some use to others interested in this particular race!

I ran the ZOOMA Texas Half Marathon on Saturday, March 31 2012.  It took place in Bastrop, TX and the start and finish were at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort.  This race was geared towards and marketed as a race for women, although men were allowed to run.  There was also a 5K race that started just after the half marathon.  Half marathon entry was $85 at the time I registered (may have been $80 for very early entry).

Packet Pickup
The packet pickup process for this race was not well organized, and I would say this is my primary complaint.  Because it was a Saturday race, it seems logical to me that runners should have been allowed to pick up their race packets just before the race.  This was not the case, there were only two narrow windows to pick up packets; 3-7pm on Thursday and 2-8pm on Friday.  Thursday afternoon the packet pickup was in downtown Austin, TX in a location that has has high traffic density and is very difficult to get to during rush hour.  Friday, packets could only be picked up at the host resort in Bastrop TX, a location even harder to get to during rush hour traffic than downtown Austin, especially considering Austin residents were the primary demographic participating in the race.  I think any Saturday race should allow day of packet pickup, as most people work during the weekdays.

The race started at 7:30am and on site parking was only available for participants staying overnight at the Hyatt.  The rest of us had to park near the Austin airport and take shuttle buses back and forth from the Hyatt. I was initially very annoyed about this and thought it would be a disaster, but the race organizers did a great job with the shuttling process.  There was plenty of parking near the airport, it was free, and no one was waiting for a shuttle.  Non-runners (family members, significant others) were allowed to take the shuttles as well, no extra charge.  The downside is that it did mean getting up earlier on race day and added time on the return trip.

Waiting for the race start was pretty nice.  There was a bag check, but I elected not to use it.  The Hyatt allowed any runners that wanted to wait inside and use indoor bathrooms, but it was a very warm morning, so I stayed outside.  I found some pristine and unused porta-potties with no line, which was a nice perk.  In fact, porta-potties were ample for this race and lines were less than 3 minutes.  The race had pacers every 10 minute interval, starting with 1:40 finish.  The race started right on time after a few quick announcements from race sponsors (including Sara Hall).  It was a warm and muggy morning, low 70s at the start, 90% humidity and no cloud cover.

The Course
The first 10 miles of the course left the Lost Pines Resort and meandered along neighboring, 2-lane, back country roads.  It was very picturesque and beautiful because we were mostly surrounded by green fields filled with wildflowers, which are in bloom that time of year in Central TX.  Although quite pretty, the course was tough, with hardly any flat terrain and constant rolling hills.  This was probably the hilliest of any race I have run in TX and would be hilly by New England standards too.  The last three miles of the course are back on the Lost Pines Resort, meandering through their gold course, which is also pretty.  This part winds a lot though, so you think you should be done and there are three more turns you can't see.  Water was available about every mile, along with Cytomax Sports Drink and GU gels were given out at mile 8.

Post Race
The post race for this event was very good, one of the best I have seen.  They hosted an "Expo" on the Hyatt Resort, with lots of vendors and swag (bike, apparel, jewelry companies etc.)  I thought that was interesting to do it after the race and seemed like a nice family affair.  The location was beautiful too, so I think that added to the appeal of hanging around with family and friends.  HEB provided post race food, including bagels, water, oranges and bananas.  I thought the food could have been better but was pretty pleased that they gave out reusable shopping bags.  Muscle Milk recovery drink was the primary sponsor, so they were handing that out as well, but because I'm vegan and they use casein, I passed.  Barefoot wine was also a sponsor and they were doing a tasting.  It was hot, early in the morning and I was very dehydrated so I did not partake in that either!

The Race Stuff
This race gave all registered participants a black technical t-shirt with the race name, logo and sponsors on it.  This shirt fits nicely and is true to size.  Finishers of the half marathon received finishers necklace in silver with a turquoise charm.  This is the first time I have received a necklace in lieu of a medal and I think it is a nice change of pace, especially for a women's event like this one.  However, the necklace is not very good quality and not something I will wear much, so I wouldn't want one from every race I do.

My Race
To make a long story short, I had a personal worst (by far) of 2:18:03 that included many, many walk breaks and a few stretch breaks for cramping legs.  Although the course was beautiful, the day just wasn't mine and I bonked.  In fact, only a few miles in it became apparent to me that I was going to have a tough finish.  I contemplated quitting several times and am proud that I resisted the urge and pulled myself through all 13.1 miles (especially when my thoughts of quitting came as early as 2.5 miles).  Why did I have a bad race?  Well, number one I haven't been training correctly.  I hadn't done sufficient long runs and my training had been inconsistent.  I also haven't done speed work in a long time and that really showed in my recent races, with significantly slower times than in the past.  I am working on turning that around, but it will be a many month process.  Second, the weather was pretty awful.  I consistently run better in cool, dry weather and although out of my control, it definitely played a major role on the day.  This also led to dehydration, nausea and some stomach cramps late in the race.  Finally, the course was much hillier than I expected.  I have been having a lot of problems with tight calves and hamstrings, which are easily aggravated by uphills and downhills.  If I run the course again, I will plan hill training that mimics this course.

Overall, this was a well organized, nicely run and reasonably priced half marathon.  Although I did not have a great experience day of, I would recommend it to others and even consider doing it again.  I would like to see packet pickup available day of and maybe even an earlier start (7am) to combat unpleasantly warm temperatures that central TX often gets in March and April.  The Hyatt Lost Pines Resort is beautiful and a really nice choice for the race location.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Missing Boston: The View from Austin

Yesterday was Patriot's Day, which means it was the running of the 116th Boston Marathon.  Because I grew up in MA and went to college there, Patriot's Day was always a holiday, that is until I moved to TX.  Although some businesses are not closed in MA on Patriot's Day (especially those that only observe banking holidays), the schools and colleges give the day off.  Not only did that make this Monday special because of a long weekend, but I grew up close enough to Boston that I would always go into the city and spectate (except the two years I ran as a qualified runner, 2006 & 2007).  Spectating is a big deal on Marathon Monday, there are tens of thousands of people who do it every year, regardless of the weather, and it is truly a wonderful and fun experience.  There is nothing like the excitement of the world's best runners and all the energy that comes along with it.  Plus there is swag.  In high school, I would have to hurry home as the race was winding down for an evening track practice.  Even though school wasn't in session, we still had practice.  In college, the day was one long party with maybe a little time devoted to finishing problem sets.

Joshua Cassidy wins the men's wheelchair division of the 116th Boston Marathon, react on  the April 15, 2012  in Boston, Massachusetts.
The big news of the day with J. Cassidy breaking the push
rim course record.
Now that I am in TX, my enthusiasm for the race has hardly waned, but people around me just don't have the same appreciation that my fellow Bostonians did.  While my family members headed into Boston and Hopkinton to volunteer (proud of them!), I watched the live streaming coverage provided by Universal Sports online.  At least as much as my work allowed me to.  I was really pleased with their coverage, although it just focused on the lead finishers in each race and did not talk about any "mid-packers," and unlike in previous years it was free!  I also charted the progress of all my friends that I knew were running and the new mapping feature that the BAA had was excellent.  Like every Boston marathon I have watched, the 116th was no exception in making me feel inspired and nostalgic.  In fact, it makes me very much want to focus on re-qualifying so I can run a third time.  As they showed sections of the course, I was reminded of the many long training runs I did on the Newton hills or Beacon St in college.  And while I really enjoy trying new marathons, I firmly believe that Boston is the greatest marathon in the world.  Of course, I am probably biased because it is firmly embedded in the culture I grew up in and attending those races year after year is what inspired me to run a marathon in the first place.

There is something magical about Patriot's Day in Boston and I hope everyone who wants to gets to experience that someday.  Congratulations to all who ran the race yesterday in some very tough conditions.  I think you deserve some honorary TX status after that heat!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Love at First Run

I am a big fan of New Balance running shoes and have been wearing them for the last decade, pretty much exclusively.  In fact, the only time I cheated on NB and wore another brand was when I won a pair of Brooks shoes from a local 10K trail series.  The bad (and good) thing about NB shoes is that they retire their shoes very quickly, sometimes every year they make a new model.  This is definitely disruptive if you have found a model that you like and want to keep buying, forever and ever.  The positive thing is that it means that unsold old models end up at a reduced price at places like Joe's New Balance Outlet.  If you are at all a fan of NB stuff, I strongly suggest checking out this site, which has some great deals on shoes and apparel.  The catch is that it is all NB brand.

New Balance 101
NB 101T, $36 on sale
The other day, I bought another pair of running shoes from Joe's New Balance Outlet.  They had an extra 10% and free shipping over $50.  They also still had these shoes in, which I really love, so this is the 4th pair I have bought.  They were $36 after the discount.  Badass, I know.  Downside? $36 didn't qualify me for free shipping, so I did what any good running addict would do and thought about what other running stuff I wanted/needed.  I had recently, finally caved in and decided to retire an old pair of bright yellow nylon shorts that chaffed me terribly every time I ran but for the longest time couldn't muster the strength to throw away.  Therefore, I rationalized that I should get a new pair of shorts.  I looked at what was available in my size and inexpensive, and settled on the 1107GBL (sometimes the NB numbering scheme seems like overkill, right?) or Run Short.  They were $18.  Here is the description:

New Balance NBx Run Short
NB Run Short, $18 on sale
This short was made with the most active runners in mind, with creature comforts like reflectivity, ventilation panels and a music-friendly pocket. Featuring X-Static® fabric and a comfortable waistband, this 3" short will keep you cool and comfortable no matter how long or far you push your limits.

That sounded good to me.  I bought the black and blue trimmed pair.  When they arrived, I was skeptical.  Three inches is very short and I hadn't accurately envisioned that length.  They are also tight, kind of like boy shorts and hug my thighs/buttocks.  Well, turns out the NB Run Short was Love at First Run.  I took them out for a spin and they were magically comfortable, lightweight and there was no chaffing.  Despite the significant amount of sweating I do in TX spring weather, they did not get heavy and wick very effectively.  Also important, they have a nice pocket in the middle of the back which is big enough to hold a key and/or ID card.  I think it was designed to hold an MP3 player, but I always clip mine at my waist.  Other snazzy benefits: special silver fibers to reduce odor (they do smell very clean after washing, but they haven't had many wears yet), reflective stripes on the front and back and an ICE strip built into the pocket (you can put emergency information on it).
All in all, a very good purchase if I do say so.  I intend to wear them in a 10K road race I am doing tomorrow, which is looking like a warm and sweaty start at 75F and 90% humidity.  Yup, that's TX.
A few days ago, I bought a pair of Pro Compression socks for $30 (regular price of $50).  I have never tried compression socks before but often get sore calves and have heard they can really speed up recovery if worn between workouts.  I am excited to give them a whirl and hopefully won't feel that I wasted my money.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Race Review: GSA 5K

On Sunday, April 1st, I ran the 2nd GSA 5K.  Proceeds were dedicated to UT graduate student travel grants. The event took place on the roads of UT campus.  The first event was held in 2010.  This was a small local event.  I cannot find the results online, but I think 150-200 people were registered.  It was open to runners, joggers and walkers.  Registration was $25 for UT affiliates and $30 for members of the general community.  This included chip timing (although results aren't online...), a cotton t-shirt and a wide array of post-race refreshments.

Because this was a dog friendly event, Boyfriend and I took Ike and Bailey with us.  The race started at 8:30am.  Because we live close, we jogged approximately one mile from home to the race start.  We made sure both doggies did all their business before we got to the start, which facilitated a smooth and pleasant event for both humans.  Instead of porta johns, the student activities center was open and we were able to use indoor, clean bathrooms.  That was definitely a nice plus of such a small event.  It was also easy to pick up our bag when we arrived and would have been easy to register on the spot.
The event started a little later than advertised, closer to 8:45am than 8:30am.  The weather was mid 60s but quite humid and I was feeling very sweaty.  My legs were also sore from the previous day's half marathon. Boyfriend and I lined up with the dogs along with the other runners.  Walkers were given a separate start after the runners.  Although I was concerned that Bailey would be lackadaisical about the run, it couldn't have been farther from the truth.  Apparently she is highly competitive!  She took off in sled dog style when the race started and literally pulled me through the crowds.  She very much did not want people in front of her.  I was wearing my Garmin and for the first mile, we fluctuated between 6:30 mile pace and 8:00s.  Although my legs were tired, I made every effort to go at her pace and just pumped my legs and held on.  The course makes two loops around the football stadium and then in the third mile takes an out and back along 24th street.  You can see the course here:

Despite being a short race, the route had quite a few uphills with 238 feet of climbing.  Each loop around the stadium has a steady hill and the out of the out and back is uphill.  I think Bailey made some classic new racer (it was her first) mistakes; she went out too fast and had a hard time holding the pace on the hills.  I was feeling tired too :)  Ike caught us on the 2nd loop and we ran right near each other for the rest of the race.  In the end, though, his stamina and experience reigned supreme and he crossed the finish a second or two in front of Bailey and I.  They finished first and second dog!  My Garmin read 25:14, giving us an 8:08 pace.  Not bad for a warm, muggy double header weekend and Miss Bailey's first race!