Saturday, October 31, 2015

Get down and assume the position!

The Planking on the Fly CHALLENGE...get down and assume the position!

Are you a planker?  Do you want to become a planker? Do you want to become a better planker? If so, read on! It's time for the Planking on the Fly CHALLENGE!

Planking is a great way to work (and strengthen!) your core. Did you know your core serves a valuable purpose, not just for running, but also in your everyday life? Having a strong core helps you with your day-to-day activities by enhancing your balance and perfecting your posture (just to name a couple).

So, how does one "plank?" There is more than one way to do a plank, depending on your strength and fitness level. The main thing to remember when planking (no matter which position) is to focus on your form...abs held in, butt squeezed tight, back kept straight (not hunched or rounded), and try to keep your head level with your back (not up too high or bent way down). Flexing the leg muscles will help you to stay in position. Also, I recommend you wear shoes to protect your toes. Doing these on a yoga mat will protect your elbows and keep you from "sliding." And when you start to feel your form failing, it's time to stop. It will take time to build your strength and stamina, so be patient but persistent.

Here's the basic plank. You balance on your toes and hands for as long as you're able:
It also helps to have a dog to spot you....

This is basically the same plank, but a little more challenging...balancing on your forearms and toes:

Again, with the dog. His name is Max. 
Even more challenging is the Chaturanga position.....down in a push-up position, just inches from the floor:
This position will take some time to perfect....and you probably will not be able to hold it for as long as the other positions

You can plank on your side, balancing on your hands and feet:
You can also stack the top foot onto the bottom foot, but I prefer it this way. Be careful to hold your upper hip up (and don't let it sway downward) 
You can do a side plank while balanced on the forearm and feet. This position is more difficult and you will really feel your hip flexors working:
Again, keep the hips UP (and not swayed downward)

So, what is happening with the Planking on the Fly CHALLENGE? I'm challenging YOU to plank every day. Set a goal for a total number of #Novemberplankingminutes for the month of November, and work towards reaching (or surpassing) it.  Set the number high, and do a little each day. 

My goal? I'm shooting for 200 #Novemberplankingminutes in the #plankingontheflyCHALLENGE. Sounds like a lot, huh!  Breaking it down, I have to average just under 7 minutes of planking each day. Of course, that means I will need to get down on the floor more than once every day (hello? a 7-minute plank? not happening for me...yet). Every morning, I plank for 2:30 while my chai latte' is heating, so that's my starting point. Lately, I've been doing a longer plank in the evening as well...anywhere from 4-5 minutes in length. If I'm not feeling like doing that long plank in the evening, I can do a couple of shorter planks instead. Or, I can do a few random short planks during the day. All of the minutes add up.

So, my challenge to you is to give it a shot! I'll try to do a nightly post, sharing my stats on Facebook at Running on the Fly  and Instagram at @runningonthefly and I invite you to share/post your stats as well (and remember to use the hashtags #Novemberplankingminutes and #plankingontheflyCHALLENGE, so we all can support and encourage each other). If we all do this together, it will be that much easier to be accountable. And we'll all be stronger for the effort!

Are you ready to get down and assume the position? What is YOUR goal? Do you have a dog to monitor your progress?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

OOFOS...a total treat for the feet!!

Comfy and stylish!

Oh my, these are so sweet on the feet!!!!

Coming off a summer spent with on/off Plantar Fasciitis, I have a renewed appreciation for TLC for my feet. I had seen several reviews of the OOFOS, and wondered if they were all they were hyped up to be.

Typically, when I finish a long race (especially if it's a hot summer day), the first thing I do as soon as I reunite with my belongings (from the bag check) is take off the running shoes and icky socks.

I inherited a discarded pair of Crocs (when the oldest daughter no longer wanted them), and those have been my post-race go-to shoes. They're comfy and airy, and feel great on tired feet after 13.1 miles. Truth be told, even though I love the funky colors, the Crocs are kind of lacking in style.

The pink and orange Crocs....

Enter the OOFOS. I received a pair of them in the mail, ironically an hour before leaving for the expo for my recent half marathon (how's that for timing!). Even though it was a chilly day, I promptly kicked off my cheetah-print flats and slid on these shoes.

Check out that arch support!
Immediately, I was in love with them. SO comfy, they felt like pillows under my feet. Excuse the cliche,' but it literally felt like I was walking on air. I have a new appreciation for arch support (thanks to the PF), and these have ample support.

They felt so good, I wore them to the expo that first day.

 I have walked the dog (numerous times) in them.

Taking Max for a spin around the block....

 I prefer them to my carpet slippers. They are fantastic!

Who needs slippers with their pajamas?

There are multiple styles (for men and women), and some are available in different colors. I was sent the OOlala style, in black. I usually wear a 9-1/2 ladies size shoe, and the size 10's of the OOFOs are great. I appreciate the tapered toe (since I have narrow feet). Granted, they are more of a casual shoe than a dressy sandal, but the tapered toe design gives them a much less "chunky" silhouette than other exercise/recovery sandals.

This is what the tag (pictured below) says about the OOFOS products:
* Created and engineered for true recovery and recharge
* Arch support for all foot types
* Lasting function and comfort
* Lightweight and flexible
* Machine washable (cold water only)
* Durable

You can check out their website HERE. They also have a Facebook page you can visit to see updates on what's happening.

****Disclaimer****  I was given these in exchange for my blog review,  but all opinions expressed here are authentically my own.

Have you tried OOFOS yet? Do you wear recovery shoes after a long race or training run?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

IMT Des Moines (half) Marathon weekend : Part 2 - the 13.1 Reality Check

I'm always eager to do new events and races, but the IMT Des Moines Marathon keeps pulling me back year after year.

In 2008, I was new to the sport of distance running. I ran Dam to Dam in May, but that was a 20K at the time. The IMT Des Moines Half Marathon was my first official 13.1 race. The course was beautiful, the crowd support was amazing, and I finished in 2:05...and my husband and three kids were there at the finish line to celebrate with me. And I was hooked.

Approaching the finish line in 2008
I didn't return to this race until 2011, but I've been there every year since.

in 2011, I captured my first sub-2 hour finish!

In 2012, I bested my sub-2 hour with a brand new PR!

In 2013, brrrrr.....there was some major wind!

In 2014, I upped the ante and ran the full marathon!
And, this year I was one of the participants in the inaugural Half Marathon/5K Combo (there also was a Combo for the full marathoners, and also for the relay team runners). In previous years, the Principal Financial Group Road Race 5K had always been held on the same day (Sunday) as the half and full marathons. Moving the 5K to Saturday allowed for a much less-crowded start line, and opened the opportunity for two days of racing.

The 5K went well (you can read all about it HERE). I was happy to have none of my usual first mile aches or pains. I was really excited with my finish time of 24:33 (even though the course actually was 2.8 miles...a tad bit short of the 5K distance). That would have been a major PR for me, but I know I'm not THAT fast (and I probably would have compromised my performance for the next day). So that was Saturday.

The next morning started with a 5:15AM wake-up and a 6:00AM departure. We (myself and my friend, Barb) arrived just before 7:00 and had plenty of time to find an indoor restroom (thank you Embassy Suites!), and meetup with a few peeps. I was especially hoping to find Sheryl (a gal who was embarking on her first 26.2 race), I wanted to give her a good luck hug and wish her well.

A quick pic with Barb, Amy, and Sheryl (in the light green) before the start of her first 26.2!
Barb and I headed to the start line area, and found a few other local Grinnell folk in the crowd.
With Andrew and Linda
As we made our way towards the timing mat, I pulled off a glove so I could hit the start button on my GPS watch....only to see an unfamiliar screen on the watch. In a moment of panic, I hit the back-space button and that lost everything. I hit the restart button and it went back to the unfamiliar screen. UGH! No time to play around with it, so I hit start and relented to the fact that I would at least have a stop watch. I really didn't need the GPS,other than to have it record the mile splits for me.

Ready to go!
Then, as I'm trying to slide my glove back on, it hits the ground....mind you, I'm also attempting to run at the same time. Another UGH! Have you ever tried to back track a few steps (at the start of a race) to pick up a dropped glove? It was not easy, and it was not fun. Yes, I was one of  "those runners" stopped in the middle of the road, causing a huge parting of bodies as I retrieved the glove.

Mischief managed, I wove my way through the crowd and caught back up to Barb. We hung together for the first couple miles, then she gradually pulled ahead. I ran the first few miles in an approximate 8-minute pace (according to the elapsed time showing as I crossed the mile markers). Again, UGH. Although it didn't feel that difficult, that is a fast pace for me. Not good. There was no way I'd be able to maintain that for another 10 miles, so I slowly eased back and was able to keep a solid 9-minute pace for the next several miles.
This little itty bitty piece of PlowOn gum would help me get to the finish line
I was using PlowOn gum and Tailwind as my energy and fuel sources. That meant I had the fuel belt strapped to my waist (not my favorite option, but manageable). It was cool at race time, so I was wearing a thin windbreaker and gloves over my tank and arm sleeves. By mile 2.5 the gloves were off, and the jacket was waist-tied by mile three.

Overall, I was feeling pretty good. The usual stiffness was there (glutes & hamstrings), but not unbearable. The weather was absolutely beautiful!

The first few miles took us through the streets of downtown Des Moines, before working our way towards Water Works Park. This part of the course, though very scenic, is probably my least favorite segment of the race. We run a large loop through the park, and every year this loop seems to take longer and longer. It is exciting, though, seeing the fast racers coming out (as they approach their 8-mile mark) as you're going in (approaching mile 4).

I'm not quite certain when it started, but it was around mile 5 when I felt the beginning stages of something not feeling "right." I'm still kind of a newbie using Tailwind (powder that is mixed with water) for my fuel. It tastes great, but I am not a fan of carrying my own water, in a handheld or on a waist pack. Although the waistpack/fuel belt worked alright a few weeks prior (at the Quad Cities Marathon), I was in a tank and shorts than day, and I didn't have a waist-tied jacket competing for the limited available space around my torso.
It felt like I had everything but my bathtub tied around my waist
I had been sipping a few swallows of the Tailwind every couple miles, and had gradually slid the holster on my belt more towards my right side than across my back, in an effort to make it easier to access the water bottle. I pulled the bottle out just after the 5-mile mark, and noticed the pop-top was missing. The bottle was wet and sticky from the water splashing out (and, therefore, my hand was wet and sticky as well). SERIOUSLY? I had filled the bottle about half way full, giving me approximately 10 oz. of water for the duration of the 13.1 miles I'd be running. With some of the water gone (from splashing out of the bottle), I had no idea how much water I had actually consumed at that point. I didn't want to drink the remaining contents all at once (porta-pots, anyone?), but I didn't know how much more would be leaking/splashing out if I tried to continue with the bottle in my belt.

And the pop-top is...missing #frustration
I ran a short ways with the bottle in my hand, but it's not an ergonomic-shaped bottle (and I did not wish to run eight more miles like that). So, I put it back in the holster, and made a quick wish for a miracle.  Fortunately, my pace was still keeping steady (just under a 9-minute pace), so I was still on target for my sub-2 hour goal ...but I was secretly hoping for a PR (1:57 or faster).

I made it out of Water Works Park, and was SO happy to cross that 8-mile mark! Next up was Grays Lake Park, and the five remaining miles to the finish line.

Although, my pace had stayed pretty steady, I could tell things were slowing down. I tried sipping the Tailwind water, but I felt like my last ounce of mojo had disappeared. My energy felt good, but my legs just did not want to move. I kept glancing at my watch, and by the time I made it to the 9-mile mark, I knew the PR was not going to happen. The watch showed 1:25....there still was a chance of knocking out a sub-2 hour finish, but with my failing leg power it would be tough. I pulled over and walked for a few quick seconds. Usually a quick walk is all I need to rally and get back in the race with renewed energy. I tried to resume running, but felt like I was moving in slow motion.

Even more disheartening, I noticed the 2-hour pace group. For a split second, I felt a twinge of elation...and knew if they could do this, I could too.  Then, reality hit. I realized I was not catching up with the pace group, but instead, they were passing me. I tried to shake the negativity out of my head, and continued running. If I kept with the group, I'd be alright. Right?

A short while later, I could tell the pace group was inching away from me....and despite my sheer will to stay with them, I just could not do it. My legs were shot. And my spirits took a nose dive.

As I approached the 10-mile mark, I accepted the fact that the sub-2 wasn't going to happen either. There was a short incline, which would take us out of the park, and I decided to let myself walk. There were no tears, but plenty of frustration in those 2-3 minutes of walking.

As much as I was hoping to smash my PR (or at the very least, finally claim a 2015 sub-2), the reality is that I am more of a runner than a racer. I really truly LOVE to run races, but I detest the competitive aspect of said races. I admire the runners who can focus on their pace, and not hold anything back until the finish line....but I am just not one of them. I like chatting with others, and high-5'ing the kids. I enjoy the scenery and making eye contact with the crowd. I want to laugh and smile. That's who I am, and trying to be Competitive Susie Racer is not being true to myself (and it's oh-so-frustrating). I sacrificed the better part of this beautiful race course by worrying about my finish time instead of actually enjoying the race itself.

With that revelation, I broke back into a comfortable pace, and made it to the finish line with a smile. My finish time was 2:04:21.....still a decent finish time, especially for a klutz like me who can barely walk without tripping. I know I can run 13.1 miles faster than that, and it's OK if I don't do it every time I pin on a race bib. After all, there was a time when I couldn't run a 5K race without walking.

An Army soldier smiled at me as he put the medal around my neck, and I thanked him for his service (as well as the other Army soldier helping him). I found Barb immediately afterwards. Also my cousin, Jessica, was there. We chatted for awhile and all took turns stretching. It turns out all of us were exhausted, and somewhat sore. The wind had picked up, and since we were no longer running, we all felt cold.

Another 13.1 race completed with my buddy

A short while later, we bumped into another friend from Grinnell, Dave. This was Dave's first-ever half marathon!

We were so proud of Dave!

A very cool feature of doing the Half Marathon/5K Combo was how the medals from each race came as a set. The medals had magnets, so you can either keep them separate or you can attach them together.

Aren't they pretty?

So, my final thoughts? Overall, I am satisfied. Sure, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed with the elusive PR eluding me (again), but it's pretty conceited to whine about a 2:04:21 finish. I know there are many people who would love to run a half marathon, but are not able to do so. Every finish line is a victory, and I am choosing to celebrate this one. The results showed I finished 66th out of the 278 women in my age division, I'm quite alright with that.

I think I started out too fast (when will I ever learn?), and the fuel became an issue with the broken water bottle. By the end of the race, the back of my shirt was a saturated mess, so I have no way of knowing how much Tailwind water I actually drank (I'm guessing not enough). There were Gu gels available along the course, but I didn't want to take any of that and mix it with the Tailwind I'd already consumed. I never felt thirsty while running, but I was a puffy, bloated mess for several days afterwards (which usually indicates dehydration). I have another half marathon in a few weeks....I'm not sure if I'll be able to find a replacement bottle (or a new pop-top lid) for my belt or if I will have to resort to a handheld bottle. I have had good luck using Tailwind, I just need to figure out an efficient way (for me) to carry it. And I love the PlowOn gum!

So, there you have it. The 2015 IMT Des Moines Marathon to join me next year?

Have you ever done an event that involved two consecutive days of racing? Did you get bonus bling for doing more than one race? Ever have a water bottle malfunction?

Do you prefer to run or to race?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

IMT Des Moines (half) Marathon weekend : Part 1 - the 5K

Let's start at the beginning...

This past weekend was the IMT Des Moines Marathon. 

I have participated in this great event five times, running the half marathon in 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2013, and, last year (2014), I ran the full marathon.  

The expo is always a huge endeavor with lots of  excitement and plenty of vendors. A neat feature this year was the appearance of Kathrine Switzer. Most of us know who she is.....the first woman to wear a bib at the Boston Marathon (in 1967). She was bullied on the course, and one of the race directors tried to pull off her bib and force her out of the race. She persevered, stayed the course (so to speak) and finished the race that day...and in doing so paved the way for women to not only be runners, but racers as well.

It was an honor meeting Kathrine Switzer

Saturday morning arrived with cold temps! Yes, this is Iowa, and we do not have tropical temps, especially this time of year. But, Holy Yikes! A little bit of a transition would be appreciated, Momma N! It was in the mid-30's as we climbed into the car and headed towards Iowa's capital city.

This year, my friend, Barb, and myself were participants in the inaugural Half Marathon/5K Combo (there also was a Combo for the full marathoners, and for relay team runners as well). In previous years, the Principal Financial Group Road Race 5K had always been held on the same day (Sunday) as the half and full marathons. Moving the 5K to Saturday allowed for a much less-crowded start line, and opened the opportunity for two days of racing.

Ready to line up with my sis, Lisa, and my favorite running buddy, Barb

After much persuasion, my sister Lisa agreed to register for the 5K, and joined myself and Barb (my usual race day companion). Lisa has done some running, but this would be her first time pinning on a race bib.

Desperate times call for desperate measures...running tights!

Due to the chilly temps, it was time for pulling on the running tights, wearing gloves, and donning a fleece headband. Actually, this kind of weather makes for a perfect race (after the first 10 minutes or so). The course was flat, we had no wind and plenty of the race day conditions were perfect.

ready to roll...

We heard a beautiful saxophone rendition of the National Anthem, the gun went off, and we were moving! I had mixed feelings on how to run this race. Given the flat course, this would be a great opportunity to try for a PR. Though the temptation was overwhelming, I knew it would not be wise to push myself too much with a half marathon on tap in the next 24 hours (and THAT was the race where I was really hoping to chase a PR).

I made it to the 1-mile mark, and my watch showed I was just under an 8:30 pace. The course was an out-and-back, and by the time I hit the turn-around I was feeling warm. As I approached the 2-mile mark, my watch showed I was just over 15 minutes of running....which would have meant I ran that second mile around an 8-minute pace. Although it was one of those mornings when the run felt effortless, I really didn't think I was going that fast. I made it to the finish line and felt great.

The race went well and I was happy to have none of my usual first mile aches or pains. I was really excited with my finish time of 24:33...but I suspected the course was not quite a full 3.1 miles (we later learned due to a mis-communicaton with course set-up, it was actually 2.8 miles). That would have been a major PR for me, but I know I'm not THAT fast. I ran it well, but I definitely was not "sprinting."

Barb had finished ahead of me, and I found her immediately. She agreed that the course seemed a little short as well. It wasn't long, and we saw Lisa coming through the finish chute. I had asked if she wanted us to run with her and she told us to do our own thing. She wanted to focus on running and wouldn't be "talking" to either of us anyways. OK then.

She said she felt winded (it was 35-degrees, after all), but was able to run the entire race! (spoiler alert--on the way home, she admitted that she wanted to do another race!)

Despite the issue with the course length, this event was well organized and very well attended. There was a total of 1080 participants (640 females, 440 males). My stats were decent - 8th out of 61 in my age division, 76th among the 640 women, and 211th overall.  I'll take it!

All participants received a nice finisher medal, and check out the cute hat! I have done similar events where there are multiple races, and it's a nice change to get a hat instead of a second shirt (really, how many shirts does a racer need?).
I'm totally in love with the hat!!

As mentioned, there was a discrepancy with the course length. To show what a top-notch event this is, we received a follow-up email, apologizing (again) for the problem, and all 5K participants were given a discount code to use on any of the races at the 2016 venue. As if I needed an additional incentive to return!

Have you ever participated in a mulit-day racing event? Did you "race" all of the events, or try to save yourself for one of them?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Virtual Running of the perks of social media

Sure, running in and of itself does a body, mind, and spirit good. But add in that little platform of social media and it's become a whole new ball game for me.

I have been running for more than 10 years, and have made some great friends along the way. In January of 2013, I created my Facebook page Running on the Fly and started blogging about my training, races, triumphs, setbacks, goals, and (moderate) aches & pains.....and my world suddenly shifted.

The bulk of my "real life" friends aren't runners (and I'm quite OK with that), and most of my Facebook friends (at the time) weren't runners either and I sensed they were growing tired of my constant status updates at finish lines and selfies with the latest addition to my increasing hardware collection.

So, I found an outlet where I could talk all things running (and fitness)...and suddenly had a captive audience that not only shared in my passion for running, but they encouraged me to tell them more!  When was my next race? How will I train for it? Are there any doubts in my ability to make it to the finish line? Yadda Yadda Yadda.

I became "virtual" friends with a lot of like-minded people, who also wanted an outlet to talk running. Several of these VRB's (Virtual Running Buddies) also were embarking on training for their first marathon.....and, wouldn't you know it? They all convinced me to dive in and train for my first marathon as well.

My first VRB was Fran from I Run Long. We instantly hit it off and shared a lot of laughs (via the computer screen). We got the crazy idea to try to meet up and do a race together....and due to a little finagling, we made it happen in St. Louis at the Rock'n Roll half marathon in October of 2013.

Fran and myself, just after the finish line in St. Louis
Next there was Karen from Trading in my Heels. Her and I have a lot of coincidental things in common it's almost like were sisters. After two years of virtual fun, we finally got to meet in person and ran the Drake Relays half marathon together in April of this year.

One of many pics with Karen during our half marathon
Then there's Penny (formerly of 26.YIKES)...she's the first VRB I got to sit down and share a meal with. I was in Chicago for the Fight for Air Climb in March of 2014, so she found me after the climb. It was just like being reaquainted with a long-lost grade school best friend. I ventured back to the windy city in July of that year, and her and I did the Rock'n Roll Festival extravaganza...running both the 5K on Saturday and then the half marathon the next day.

Penny and I with two of our RnR medals in the windy city
This past spring, I met Amy from Running on Faith and Coffee...a gal who lives an hour away. She also writes a blog and manages a Facebook page, and recently became a half marathoner!

With Amy at the Lucky Run
There's also Tammie from Life is ALWAYS better in running shoes...another Iowa gal who loves her distance running. We met up after an especially cold Dam to Dam, and we also found each other after a very hot Bix 7 race. No doubt we'll be seeing more of each other!

with Tammie after Dam to Dam
In June, I met Kelly from Bubblegum Runner while in Duluth, MN for Grandma's Marathon.....and she qualified for Boston! I wish I could have witnessed her victory at the finish line...but she was much faster than me.

It was so fun meeting Kelly!
In July, I ran my first ultra....and I did it with some of the most wonderful VRB's a gal could ask for. This race will always hold a very special place in my heart for the sisterhood ties that were built, strengthened, and solidified in the six hours of non-stop running (overnight) in extreme heat, humidity, rain, lightning and Christmas lights. I not only was re-aquainted with Karen and Penny, but also got to (finally!) meet Teri (from  Reinventitude), Michelle (from This Momma Runs) and Maggie in person. Also, even though she wasn't able to run with us, Wendy fromTaking the long way home showed up at the finish line with donuts for all of us!

Can you tell we just spent 6-plus hours running?
This is only a sampling of some of the wonderful peeps who never would have entered my life had it not been for social media. I'm in constant contact with these gals, several of them on a daily basis. We're not just runners, we're genuine friends. We have shared training tips, we have encouraged each other, we have laughed, and we have cried. Most of us trained for and ran our first marathon (virtually) together.....and anyone who has done a marathon knows you're never the same after that finish line.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Quad Cities Marathon with a relay team

This past weekend, I journeyed to the Quad Cities for the Quad Cities Marathon and all the subsequent festivities. This was the setting of my first marathon (in 2013) and I was eager to revisit this magical place again.....only this time, I was part of a relay team.

I was recruited to join the team (of Kristi, Carie, Eleanor and Lynn) by reference of a mutual friend. I knew it would feel strange to not be running the entire distance myself, though. I have done other relay events before, but they were for much longer distances that I wouldn't be able to complete on my own. This would be a new experience, and I was eager for the adventure.

Having recently run a half marathon (with a very satisfactory finish time), I kind of wanted to see if I could run another with just as good (if not better) finish time. I had agreed to be the first runner for the relay, and my leg of the race was 6.6 I'd already have more than half of the distance covered. Hmmm...maybe I could hand off the "baton" to our second runner (Eleanor), then continue on to the 13.1 finish line? I inquired to the race officials, and they informed me it would be allowed, but I'd need to also register for the half marathon (and have an additional bib for that particular race). As it turned out, Eleanor  had a conflict arise, and asked me if I'd be willing to run her 5.6 miles for her instead. It wouldn't be quite 13.1 miles, but it would be a substantial distance (12.2 miles) none-the-less. Although I really wanted to do the half marathon, my loyalty was with my team, so I agreed to run the first two legs of the relay and take a pass on the half marathon. The half marathon and full marathon share the same route for the first 8.5 miles before they split and go separate directions, otherwise I could have done both without issue. Besides, I could still try for a decent "pace PR." I have run many 20K's (12.4 miles), and I could try to better my (approximate) 20K PR (1:55:19).

most of the marathon two legs of the race would have me finishing in Rock Island (lower left ), near the 12-mile mark

Having never met any of these gals (other than group messaging via Facebook), we decided to meet up at the hotel where myself and Lynn were staying. Lynn had arranged to get us matching shirts (and had given my shirt to me the evening prior so I could "get crafty" with it), and we also needed to get our race packet stuff from Kristi, our team leader.  After that, we headed to the race site (about a 20-minute drive) and arrived on the scene a good hour before race time.

With Kristi, Lynn, and Carie...our "before" team pic

Relay-bibbed up and ready to run!

We spent a few minutes walking around, checking out the start line excitement and getting a few team pics. Carie commented that she liked how my shirt had turned out, so I offered to customize her shirt for her. Lynn also asked me to fix hers as well. So we headed back to my car (#havescissors #willcraft), and we did some quick crafting and cutting in the parking lot.

 Before long, I had to head to the start line. Everyone wished me well as I climbed over the fence (#longlegs) to sneak into line. I knew I'd see Lynn at the relay exchange, but didn't know if I'd see Carie or Kristi until the finish line.

Fuel Belt in place, let's go!

I had great luck using Tailwind for my fuel during my last race, so that was my fuel of choice again. Not wishing to hand-carry it (Tailwind is a powder you mix with water), I opted to dig out the Fuel Belt that has a holster for a water bottle. UGH. I have used this for a few long training runs, but never for an actual race (since there's always water stations along the race routes, I don't usually need to bring my own). This belt is very useful, but I have not (yet) grown to love it. It feels heavy (when the bottle is full of water), and cumbersome because I have to wear it high on my waist (and as tight as possible) to keep it from it bouncing. Not an ideal set-up, but manageable. I also was using PlowOn gum (for my energy source), so I popped that in my mouth as I waited for my watch to secure a satellite.

Ready for the start line

The Star Spangled Banner always gets me teary-eyed. Also, I was feeling very excited and nostalgic. It was surreal to be lining up in the exact spot where I'd run my first marathon two years ago. I still have a hard time believing I've not only run one marathon, but four (and one of them was an ultra!). The gun went off, and my feet started moving.

We can see this enormous American flag from the start line, and we pass under it just after the start of the race and right before the finish line

I kept feeling that awkward, giddy smile on my face.....where you're so overcome with emotion that you can't tell if you're about to laugh or cry. I could feel my eyes welling up, but was able to keep it together. The first mile is very crowded as all the half marathoners, full marathoners, and (first leg) relay runners make their way across the first bridge.

Just around the second mile mark, we begin the ascent of the only major hill of the race. There are a few small "rolling hills" along the course, and every time we cross a bridge there is some substantial climbing involved. For the most part, though, the course is pretty flat (and also fast, for those who are attempting to BQ).

My usual stiffness was pretty much gone by the time we started the hill, so it felt great to just let everything go. I didn't have to pull over at any of the water stops, which is a freedom I don't usually enjoy. I could tell my legs had loosened up because everything was feeling effortless.

Miles 4-6 take us on a path along the Mississippi River, working our way from Bettendorf towards Davenport. Before long, I had made it to the 10K mark and was still keeping a solid 9-minute (average) pace. I kept grabbing the water bottle out of the harness every couple of miles. I was pleased to realize that once I got going, the belt really wasn't that bothersome.  

Before long, I came up to the place where the half marathoners split off from the full marathoners' route. Next, we had a short out-and-back segment, finished the ninth mile, and then begin climbing another bridge, this one taking us to Moline. I had been running pretty strong and steady, but was starting to feel a little tired when I made my way into this next town. Mile 11 felt slow and a little sluggish. I knew I had run some of those mid-point miles pretty fast, and it was coming back to haunt me.

Just before the last mile, I had to walk briefly. Looking back, I probably could have kept running, but at the time I really was zapped of energy. As usual, a brief walk (10-15 seconds?) was all I needed to recharge and finish strong. I rounded the final corner, and could see all the other relay runners lined up, waiting for their turn to take to the streets. I immediately spotted Lynn waving at me, so I unsnapped the slap bracelet and had it ready to hand over to her.

There you have it! Almost a PR ;-)

It felt so awesome to finish strong and then pass the bracelet to Lynn. I wished her good luck told her to have a great race....and then I took a deep breath. My watch said 1:53:19.....and my GPS said 11.98 miles. WHAT??? I thought I was going about 12.2 miles? I was well under the targeted time of 1:55:19 (by an entire two minutes!)...but if I didn't run quite as far, that would mean I didn't run quite as fast either...right?

And then, almost instantly, I stopped the "Numbers vs. Pace vs. PR" game that was playing in my head. Geesh. Yes, I was hoping to run this race just as fast (if not faster) than I had run that 20K a few years ago (which, incidentally, was an entire different route, and mostly downhill)....but a few years ago I was not running marathons (or ultras) and dealing with Piriformis Syndrome and angry hamstrings, nor had I ever heard of Plantar Fasciitis. Geesh (again). Although I did not beat that 20K PR, I came pretty close, and I felt awesome in doing so. And, given the fact that I have had long distance races the past two weekends (and also ran those well), I'm calling my Quad Cities 11.98-mile performance good.

Anyways, after that brief pep talk, I realized just how hot it had gotten. I was lucky to have cloud cover until the final mile couple miles, so I hadn't really noticed how humid it actually was. I took off the fuel belt, and my shirt was a saturated mess. I noticed water dripping around my ankles...and realized it was sweat dripping from my elbows (ewwww!). I finished off the remainder of my Tailwind water (I had started the race with about 10 oz. water in the bottle), and walked around for a few minutes (and stretched) as I searched for the shuttle bus to take me back to the finish line area.

The buses were running every 20 minutes, so I didn't have to wait long. Once on the bus, though, it seemed like it took forever to get to our destination. I was one of the (not so lucky) ones who had to stand, so I held on for dear life to the strap hanging from the overhead grab-bar. It was a bumpy ride!

I couldn't even get a clear pic from all the swaying...

When we arrived back to the finish line area, I grabbed some water and stretched for a few more minutes and rinsed out my bottle (from the fuel belt). I knew it would take Lynn about an hour for her leg of the race, but I didn't know how long it would be before she'd return from her bus ride. I decided to head to my car and switch out my shoes and socks for flip flops. I also did a quick baby-wipe-clean-up on my arms and legs. I figured it would be a couple hours before Lynn, Carie, and myself would need to meet up and wait for Kristi to come in so we could all run that final stretch to the finish line as a team.

By the time I made my way back to the finish line, about three hours had elapsed since the race had begun. All of the elites had long since finished, but now all the "non-elite" fast racers were starting to filter in. Wow. I will never be in their caliber...finishing 26.2 miles in three hours? I clapped and cheered for all of them. I tried to read the names on their bibs, but they were clipping along pretty fast towards the finish line. And most of them we very focused, and kept their gaze steady towards the finish line.

After awhile, I decided to wander back and grab a snack. I never have much of an appetite after running, so I hadn't eaten anything since finishing my run. I realized one of the downsides to being on a relay team, is that even though you have run and are done, you don't get your finisher medal until the team crosses the finish it felt kind of awkward to be walking around, partaking in the post-race festivities when you technically haven't finished the race yet. 

Knowing I'd need to start searching for Lynn, I headed back to my car and put my socks and shoes back on. By this time, it had been more than an hour since I'd been back and I knew she'd be returning soon. From where I was situated, I could see the 20-mile mark (the runners then had an out-and-back segment for the final 6.2 miles) and I spotted Carie as she made her way towards the exchange point (to hand off to Kristi). A short while later, Lynn and I found each other. Next, we just had to wait for Carie to return from her leg of the relay, and then watch for Kristi.

If you want inspiration, just plant yourself near the finish line of a marathon. Sure, it's breath-taking to see the fast runners as they come blazing through...but honestly, I LOVE seeing the "average" and the "slow" runners. They are the ones who truly inspire me. They are the ones laughing, crying, limping, and high-5'ing the crowd of onlookers. They do not take any of those final steps to the finish line for granted. Most of them were emotional, and so was I.
I took 3 or 4 pics...but this is the only one that showed up on my phone...

Carie found us, and a short while later we spotted Kristi coming towards us. All of us joined her, and TOGETHER we crossed the finish line. Even though I had not run the entire marathon that day, there's something about retracing my steps from two years ago that had me in tears. I could hear the people cheering and shouting, I could see the finish line, and I could feel the electricity in the air.

There's the finish line up ahead!

Our team's "after" pic....WE did it!
My stats? Overall, I am pleased with how the the (almost) 12 miles went for me. There were some fast splits in there, and it's obvious my pace took a nose-dive at the end. I felt great the entire time I was running, though, and most of the race felt effortless and pain-free.

Mile 1--9:15
Mile 2--9:25
Mile 3--9:19
Mile 4--8:56
Mile 5--8:58
Mile 6--9:12
Mile 7--9:14
Mile 8--9:07
Mile 9--9:07
Mile 10--9:26
Mile 11--10:10
Mile 12--11:36
(9:28 average pace)

This beautiful medal shimmers & sparkles (and is almost bigger than my hand)
This experience on a relay team was fun, although I did spend the majority of the morning on my own. Had we had our fifth runner with us, my alone time would have been much shorter...but not a big deal. The relay team option is a great way for non-distance runners to take part in the marathon experience, though. And it's very affordable...we registered about 4-5 weeks prior, so we didn't get the "early bird" discount, but it still was only $175 for the team ($35 each)...and that comes with all the perks the individual racers get (the finisher medal, race shirt, and all the food and fixins' at the finish line).

Hands-down, this is the most amazing race shirt I have ever received....awesome color, and very cool graphics on the front and back!

Have you ever returned to the course of you first marathon? Ever participated on a marathon relay team?