2017 Grandma’s Marathon Race Recap

Grandmas - Run Superior

I didn’t grow up an athlete. Running was a sport I took up in 2010 for a one-and-done half marathon. At the seven year mark, I’ve now run four marathons, twenty-four half marathons, and more 5ks + 10ks than I can count on both hands. This past weekend I finished my fourth marathon with a 40-minute PR, and while it wasn’t the time I was hoping for, Grandma’s Marathon is hands-down my favorite race to date.

Race Morning

I’ve always struggled with eating breakfast in the morning before a race. I’m generally not hungry in the morning ever, so that coupled with minor race nerves usually results in me trying to eat something I have zero interest in. This has been completely fine for half marathons as of late, but I worried a couple bites of eggs and potatoes just weren’t going to cut it on Saturday.

Race Morning

Lora and I left our hotel in Canal Park just before 6am to catch the bus to the starting line in Two Harbors. We were both a little concerned with how calm we felt and the fact it didn’t feel like we were about to run 26.2 miles, but figured we should probably run (quite literally) with it. We arrived at the start around 7am leaving us with 45 minutes to kill. We immediately hopped in line for the portapotties which were super long but didn’t matter because, 45 minutes.

My main (C) goal for this race was to PR. It wouldn’t be hard, considering I was in much better shape than I was for my previous three, but the A goal was 4:45 and B goal was 4:59. The weather was not ideal, with temps creeping into the seventies and humidity at 95% from the minute we woke up. It was going to be a tough day, but these are variables you cannot control so you have to make the decision to either manage the conditions or let them ruin you. Running is a lot more mental than any of us care to admit.

Starting Line

Miles 1 – 8
10:38, 10:50, 10:57, 10:48, 10:42, 12:21, 10:55, 11:23

I wanted to start out slow, but thoughts of banking time filled my mind. I knew once the sun came out it was going to be a game changer. Unsurprisingly, the first mile was my fastest of the entire race but was still in the realm of where I wanted to be. I felt pretty solid through mile 8, taking my first Gu at the hour mark and a salt pill shortly after.

Miles 9 – 16
12:37, 10:38, 12:29, 11:42, 14:34, 13:12, 16:17, 11:31

Grandma’s will go down as the most sporadic splits in my racing history. At Mile 13, my body decided it was not interested in handling Gu. Apparently the sugar and my stomach were not getting along. Best news EVER with 13 miles to go and a mediocre breakfast under my belt. I took bathroom breaks at miles 13 and 15, and immediately felt better. Runners around me though? They were not doing so well. Everyone was walking and I watched so many struggle with cramps and nausea, some eventually dropping out. I could barely stomach my second Gu, but relied on salt pills (six total) through the rest of the race.

Miles 17 – 26.2
13:39, 12:30, 11:38, 14:13, 13:12, 15:07, 14:27, 12:14, 11:40, 11:27

These splits still make me laugh. I knew it was warm so I tried to be smart by walking when I needed to based on current heart rate and keeping the pace around 9:30/10:00 while running between breaks. My stomach was still a bit uneasy but it was manageable. I ate an orange at one point because I thought it was a good idea to consume some calories, but my stomach said NOPE. Legs still felt great, which is a complete 180 from every other marathon I’ve run. They didn’t need the walk breaks, but the last thing I wanted was to end up in a med tent because I pushed too hard.

Run Superior

Mile 22 is where Lemon Drop lives. Under normal circumstances, it’s a hill you’ll probably cruise up and then crush the downhill on the other side. But at mile 22 of a marathon, it’s the goddamn devil. The downhill afterwards still felt amazing and I passed a ton of a people.

We had arrived in downtown Duluth and the spectators were out in full force. It’s exactly what we needed at the end of the race. I was STARVING at this point which was the worst, but there was nothing I could do about it. Just before mile 25, I started to feel the rain and within seconds it was a torrential downpour. My sunglasses were covered in large raindrops but taking them off wasn’t an option. I figured the faster I finished, the faster I’d be out of the rain. So I kept the legs moving.

 

Grandmas Finish

Official Finish :: 5:26:04

Of course disappointment sets in when we set out with a lofty goal and don’t achieve it, but all things considered I’m incredibly happy with my finish time. I ran a smart race for once and my legs appreciate it. Two days after the race I was almost completely back to normal and could probably even run today (but won’t).

I always thought I’d be someone who needed a large marathon, with the camaraderie of fellow runners around me and spectators three rows deep. While Grandma’s doesn’t have the smallest field (roughly 9,000 full marathoners), crowd support through mile 20 was pretty sparse. HOWEVER! Those who made their way out to cheer along Highway 61? Super enthusiastic. Many cities loathe races shutting down their roads, but from Twin Harbors to Duluth, residents appeared to be overjoyed to support the insane runners who chose to run 26.2 miles for fun on a Saturday morning in June.

Canal Park

Overall

The course was gorgeous! I was worried running almost 19 miles along Lake Superior was going to be incredibly boring. It actually was very peaceful and the slight breeze coming off the lake was perfect. The left side of the course was a little more shaded, but it also made running the tangents pretty difficult. You have to pick your battle there. I loved finishing the end of the race in downtown Duluth, although could have done without the 4 turns in mile 25.

Lora and I ran the Great Grandma’s Challenge, which is a 5k on Friday night and the full marathon on Saturday morning. While this may seem delusional to 97% of the population, I LOVED it. We received a finisher’s shirt + medal for both the 5k + marathon, a hoodie for completing the challenge, a pair of Grandma’s Marathon socks, and a 1/4 zip tech shirt for registering early. From the start through mile 20, there were aid stations every 2 miles with water, Powerade, ice, and sponges soaked in cold water. After mile 20 the stations switched to every mile. I’ve never run a race with an ice station but good lord, I think dumping a cup of ice into my sports bra every couple miles saved me. I really wish warmer races (ahem, Houston) would do something similar because it would make all the difference. I don’t know how they kept it from melting, but the fact I could still grab it at mile 24 made me unbelievably grateful.

It’s really hard for me to fault Grandma’s Marathon for anything. The execution of everything was flawless from the moment we arrived at the expo on Friday afternoon to when we left the post-race Rock the Big Top party Saturday night. Honestly, I cannot wait to come back in 2018. Oh and yes, that’s happening – we already booked our hotel room.

 

 

 

 

Downhill to Downtown to Deep Eddy

The 3M Half Marathon would be the first half I’d run solo in almost three years. Not even sure I can count the number of lackluster 13.1s on two hands in that span of time but holy crap, they were all terrible. I went into each just hoping to survive and finish with my legs still attached. Training for those was half-assed and the pace was slooowwww. It was a time in my life where I didn’t give two shits about running and really just did it because it was something I had always done. I lost the spark, the desire to really push myself, and those race times really reflected that.

But 3M was going to be different. Sure, my training could have been better and long runs, well, longer. But I don’t think there’s been a single training cycle which coincided with the holidays that went according to plan. I didn’t stress over it and convinced myself that, YES, I could do this. I would put in a solid effort and see what the past few months of Orangetheory + running really did for me. The bar wasn’t set high with hopes of a PR so the pressure was off in that department. I wanted to cross the finish line with a respectable time and not have to take any walk breaks. Seemed easy enough.

On Thursday Paula trumped my prior last-minute decision with an extremely last minute decision and booked a flight to Austin to run 3M. She joined me Friday night at happy hour where we discovered the magic of Deep Eddy Sweet Tea + Peach Vodka shots, and continued the party down on Rainey Street at Bar 96. Ended up being a later night than it probably should have been, but .. #YOLO [yes, that’s making a comeback]

Bar 96

Saturday we hit up the expo so Paula could actually register for the race, had mimosas at Moonshine, and then lunch at Silo on 7th. After inhaling a couple burgers we walked around at the Domain, bought things at MAC we didn’t need, and picked up groceries for dinner. The rest of the day was super productive – we started the most recent season of The Mindy Project and proceeded not to go to bed until finishing the entire thing. Overachievers.

RACE DAY

So many factors were working against me at 3M: I wore something new, didn’t eat breakfast, and didn’t take any gels / chews during the race. Basically [stupidly] threw caution to the wind. Race morning was a chilly 39 degrees but didn’t stop me from wearing a short-sleeved top and skirt. I had a throwaway zip-up hoodie but it lasted all of a 1/4 mile before I ditched that thing. So on to my race plan… I started much further back than I wanted, probably almost at the back of the race. I’m well aware of my propensity to haul ass in the first mile, try to hold on to said too-fast pace, and then burn out around mile six. So I marched myself to the back of the corrals in an attempt to rein it in and race smart for once in my life.

Miles 1-6 were uneventful. Here’s the thing: the 3M course is boooooring. It’s through residential areas, side streets, and pretty much wherever there’s nothing to look at except runners around you. Still for some crazy reason I love this goddamn race. It’s net downhill but don’t be fooled – there certainly are some hills. And each one crushed my soul a little. The one on 45th was more painful than I remembered in previous years. I focused on keeping an even effort on the uphills and recovered on the downhill.  After we hit mile 6 my brain slipped into a bit of a dark place where all I could think about was how I had to do the distance all over again – and then some more. My iPod volume was forced up a few notches and I kept moving.

The second half of the race was tough, but doable. I really didn’t want to walk but my right calf was super tight and desperately needed a stretch. After the water stop at mile 8 I pulled over to the side to give the calf some relief on a curb. I limited myself to about 25-30 seconds but it definitely helped. Once I hit mile 10 I started to get hungry but it would have been too late for a Gu to actually do anything – so I didn’t bother. Still not really sure how I made it through without breakfast or any fuel during the race… Also around mile 10 was where I resolved not to walk, even though when we were heading through the UT campus nearly every person around me had slowed to walk. So I kept running and took advantage of the opportunity to pass a ton of people. The final hill up MLK hurt like a bitch but the finish was just around the corner so I threw on my pain face and kicked up the pace.

Official Finish Time – 2:25:33

3M Half Marathon

Like I said, not a PR, but overall one of the strongest races I’ve had in recent years. This is my 2nd fastest half marathon ever [plus a negative split!] and I’m still not sure how I pulled that off. Coming off such a great time at the Rogue 10K, I’m still really high on running and excited for the next few races coming up. I have two weeks until the Austin Half, where I will likely walk 30 times and also cry a bit while crawling up the hill on Enfield, but if I can somehow squeeze out a course PR – I’ll take it!

Post-race we spent many hours at Jack Allen’s Kitchen destroying their buffet and enjoying pineapple mimosas followed by Deep Eddy cocktails.

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Mid-afternoon Paula rudely forced me to take her to the airport so she could head back to Florida. I only agreed because there’s already a Southwest flight booked to Orlando in March for another weekend of running, eating, and drinking.

My legs and liver cannot wait.

2014 BCS Half Marathon Race Recap

10401509_682998915098996_8724804038291868205_n I’ve heard nothing but good things about BCS over the past few years and decided in 2014 I’d finally make the trek out to College Station to see what the hype was all about. It’s touted as the “Best Race in Texas” by MarathonGuide.com and spoiler alert: it was pretty damn awesome.

College Station is roughly two hours from our house so initially we had planned to leave Austin super early on race morning. Unfortunately race day packet pickup was non-existent so we ended up getting a hotel room that night. Since it’s a college town there were plenty of options to choose from and we ended up booking a room at TownePlace Suites which was approximately 1.5 miles from the start. The full kitchen allowed us to have breakfast and coffee in the room on race morning – super convenient. Two hotels were already sold out when I was looking in September so I’d recommend booking early to be safe.

BCS Marathon Finishers Shirt

Race Registration: Once we finally pulled the trigger on registration in October it was $90. This is generally more than I like to spend for a half but in hindsight it was a great value. Registration included a long-sleeved cotton participant shirt, a short-sleeved technical New Balance finisher’s shirt, medal, a pair of Swiftwick socks, beer and food [more on that later] at the finish. I would gladly pay that price again, but when registration opens in May the fee is much cheaper. Sign up early and save yourself a few bucks!

BCS Marathon Expo

Expo: It was small and efficient. We picked up our shirts, bibs and socks in less than 5 minutes despite it being pretty busy. I gave a couple pairs of Hoka One Ones a test drive but ended up not buying either. We probably spent 20 minutes total at the expo and it was more than enough time to see everything.

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Race: The course is flat and fast, running through and around the Texas A&M University campus. Spectators in the last two miles were a little sparse which was disappointing but we were still riding the high from the crazy students screaming on campus. There were plenty of water stops and all of the volunteers were great. The finish is a sweet, sweet downhill and it was glorious. Both of us were pretty happy with the course and definitely will be back to run it again in the future.

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Post-Race: This was probably the best post-race party I’ve experienced. There were pepperoni pizza rolls, a variety of breakfast tacos, cheeseburgers, margaritas, and beer. And not the crap beer that most races have; this was real, legitimate beer like Karbach’s Hopadillo Black IPA and Mother in Lager. And everything was free – EVERYTHING. It was fantastic.

Overall: I can’t recommend this race enough. Austin has a couple super hilly races in December but I don’t care for either of them [Decker has forever traumatized me]. BCS is held the same day as the Dallas Marathon so if that’s your usual December race I’d encourage you to stray from your comfort zone and give this one a try. The race director pours his heart and soul into this race, updating the Facebook page updated daily and personally responding to every question. Every aspect of this race is excellent.

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photo credit: BCS Marathon Facebook Page

2014 Aramco Houston Half Marathon Race Recap

I’ll start with this: going forward, it’ll be tough deciding whether to run 3M or Houston every January. 3M has always been one of my favorites: a net-downhill course, comfortable field size (6-7K), perfect weather, affordable registration fee, and a start line less than 20 minutes from my house. Living in Austin, running 3M is a no-brainer – especially if you’re interested in a PR.

Then Houston happened and I’m not sure I can put into words how awesome this race was. From the beginning it seemed like your standard “big box” race in a busy city, complete with the pricey registration fee and a lottery for runners not meeting the qualifying times. But “big-box” race it was not. It was the complete opposite of what I expected.

Aramco Houston Half Marathon

Pre-Race: Our original plan was to take the rail into downtown on race morning. Then the Pats/Broncos were announced as the early game on Sunday and we wanted to be on the road back to Austin ASAP post-race. We ended up parking in a garage near the GRB / finish area. I used the distance to the start as a warm-up jog and settled into Corral B just before it closed.

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Race: Well, this was certainly the most painful race I’ve ever run. My arches were killing me pretty much from the get-go, an issue I haven’t run into since last March. I’ve been running/training in the same shoe model (Brooks Ravenna) since April and my current pair has ~100 miles on it, so they should have been fine. No idea what the problem was on race day. I saw Brad (and Luke!) cheering on the side of the course in the first mile or so and somewhere during mile 2 heard a familiar voice yelling my name. I turned to see Courtney on the right side of the course running with her friend Cateline. Seeing her smiling face was just what I needed at that moment because I was super pissed about my arches ruining the race for me. We chatted excitedly for a couple minutes before wishing one other good luck and heading our separate ways. Wish I could have stuck with them for the rest of the race!

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Despite the fact I was hating life, I fell in love with this race. It was flat, shaded with beautiful trees, and the spectators were packed deep along both sides of the course. I truly believe the friendly & enthusiastic spectators are what kept me moving forward in the race. My arch pain resulted in the internal “do you want to run this race or do you want to run forever?” debate. I REALLY did not want to end up injured. Around mile 7, I stopped attempting to run (which was more like a shuffle at that point anyway) and worked on perfecting my power-walking skills. And took the opportunity to pet every.single.dog I came across. And cheered on the marathoners hauling ass to the finish, trying to qualify for Boston. If I couldn’t run, I was going to enjoy the final miles and race experience in Houston. And it was in those final miles where I decided I’ll be entering the lottery for 2015.

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Crossing the finish line was bittersweet because while I was super happy to be done, I was also disappointed in my finish time. But it is what it is.

Post-Race: Immediately after the finish line, you’re ushered into the GRB where you can grab food, collect medals, pick up your finisher shirt, etc. Everything was really spread out and not congested at all, which was great.

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After receiving the medal for the half, I grabbed a bottle of water and an ice cream sandwich <—- weird, but it tasted amazing that morning. Then I waited in line to pick up my second medal for running both the half and the 5K on Saturday. The booth behind it was for the finisher shirt so I picked that up and made my way to the HEB Food Court for the free hot breakfast. Eggs & Sausage > Doritos & Granola Bars

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Overall: I’m struggling to come up with anything negative about this race. For such a large event, they seem to have all of logistics nailed down. I’ve run comparable sized races which have fallen short in countless departments so I went into Houston with low expectations and ended up very impressed. The Houston Marathon and Half Marathon is everything the Rock n Roll races should be but can’t figure out how to execute.

The lottery opens on June 4th for the 2015 race … who wants to head to Houston with me?

Weekend in Houston & the ABB 5K

On Friday afternoon we headed down south to Houston for the weekend. We should have been pulling into the race expo around 4pm but due to congested highways and the population of Houston being incapable of operating a vehicle correctly, it ended up being just after 5. When traveling somewhere new, you should definitely experiment with using the maps app on your phone without turning the GPS on. Turns out all of the GPS usage and iHeart radio streaming on our road trip to/from Florida in December drained the crap out of our data for the month and we had to navigate downtown Houston GPS-less. It was REALLY fun.

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The expo was massive and super organized. I loved how a volunteer could scan the barcode from my confirmation email on my phone rather than having to print out a hard copy. We picked up our 3 (5K x2 & the half for me) race packets in less than five minutes and were released out into the sea of vendors. I chatted all things Oiselle with Sara at the Fleet Feet booth, browsed the USTAF merchandise, and pretty much breezed through the rest. Skechers, a new sponsor for this year, provided all of the official race merchandise. The LE shoes created specifically for Houston were pretty cool and a lot of the apparel looked great too, but I wish there would have been other items like pint glasses or magnets. Something cheap that wasn’t clothing-related. A Skechers employee working the area said they’d keep it in mind for next year. Luckily on our way out I saw Chevron putting free magnets out on their table so I snagged a couple.

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I saw the Nuun booth but it was pretty busy so I skipped over it, only to realize later that night they were giving out Texas-specific water bottles with the purchase of two tubes. Now I need another water bottle like I need a hole in the head, but guys: this one said Texas on it. Somehow this justified the purchase and we went back the next morning to grab one.

Nuun Hydration - Run Texas

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After the expo we made our way to the hotel. Initially I booked the Residence Inn downtown so we wouldn’t really have to drive at all and could walk to the race start both mornings. After a little research, I realized I could move us out to a SpringHill Suites near Reliant Park and save $300 on the hotel/parking. It was about 10-15 minutes away and only two blocks from the rail station. I don’t regret this decision at all – $300 is $300.

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The next morning was the ABB 5K, which was by no means a goal race for either of us since Brad was coming off a sprained ankle and I had the half the next day. We grabbed coffee in the lobby and took the rail downtown.

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The race was a super flat out-and-back and the weather was perfect. Beautiful morning for a run! We were pretty surprised with how many spectators were out cheering but it got me excited for crowds the next day. The National Guard handed out medals at the finish, which I thought was pretty cool.

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We had lunch at Freebirds and then went to see Lone Survivor. Okay, so I had heard this movie was pretty intense. I imagined intense like Act of Valor. Definitely teared up at the end and it was sad, but I was able to compose myself in less than five minutes. Let me just say that “pretty intense” does not even begin to describe Lone Survivor. I don’t cry at anything (owner of a black heart) and no amount of sniffling or deep breaths could get me back to normal before the lights came on. It was heart wrenching. Incredible movie, but heart wrenching.

For dinner I had my heart set on Italian and luckily there was a Carrabba’s only a few blocks from the movie theater. Once we cracked open the menus I realized we were at the most expensive Carrabba’s in all the land. Had I done a little research I might have noticed that this was the original restaurant and not under the same management as the chain. But since we were already there and every other Italian restaurant in town was probably swarming with runners, we stayed. At a normal Carrabba’s our exact dinner would have cost us $54 plus tip but at the original we were hit with an $85 bill. Good thing I saved a few bucks on the hotel.

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After dinner we returned back to the hotel so I could buy more songs on iTunes, tweak my playlist for the billionth time and try to get to bed early. Pretty sure Brad fell asleep before I did, but what else is new?

Next up, the Aramco Houston Half Marathon Race Recap

Running on a Formula 1 Track

This recap will be short since we didn’t actually “race” the 5K but I thought the newest race to hit the Austin area needed a little attention. HITS Endurance may have held its first event in Austin last weekend, but this wasn’t their first rodeo. They have many other events, including Napa Valley, OKC, Lake Havasu, and New York.

HITS Endurance - Austin

The Formula 1 track in Austin hosted their first US Grand Prix in 2012. RunTex launched a Formula Run race several weeks before the Grand Prix where runners could do one full lap around the F1 track [slightly under 3.5 miles]. The race didn’t fit in with my training for Philly so I figured I’d run it in 2013. When it came time to register, the fee was $50 or $60. I get that you’re paying for the experience, but that still hurts the wallet a bit for such a short race. Austin Runners Club was promoting the HITS Endurance race and I ended up only paying $25 for pretty much the same course as Formula Run.

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HITS had multiple distances [1M, 5K, 10K, Half & Full Marathon, Sprint Duathlon] and the start was staggered. The half / full marathon started at 7am, the 5K / 10K started at 11am, and the duathlon started at 2pm. I really thought I’d love the delayed start but it ended up throwing off my day. I wanted to enjoy my coffee and relax, but instead I was trying to chug the coffee and chase it with Nuun.

We left the house around 9:45 to head out to Circuit of the Americas in Del Valle. It was a windy and chilly morning, bringing back painful memories from Shiner. Parking was plentiful [the venue does host the F1 race, after all] so that wasn’t an issue. We found an area to huddle inside near the start to get a break from the wind. That was definitely a nice perk!

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At quarter to 11 everyone began lining up at the start. The 10K runners were released slightly earlier than us since both distances were an out-and-back and they needed to get a jump start on the course. Just as the 10K was about to kickoff, a marathon runner came flying into the finish. It was weird to see an athlete running towards us, but I guess that’s what happens when using the same area for start/finish.

The course had a fair amount of hills, including a killer climb the second you crossed the starting mat. Although since this was an out-and-back, it gave you a super fast downhill finish. There was a water stop just before the turnaround which had water, gatorade, and candy – yes, candy. Pretty strange, but I’d be lying if I said I turned down that KitKat.

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One thing I thought was cool for this race was that a checkered flag was handed to the lead runner for each distance in the final 800m so they could cross the finish line with it.

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I will say that the medal for the aforementioned Formula Run race was much cooler than the one for HITS, which was a little generic. But $25 cooler? I’m not so sure. In any case, it was pretty awesome to run on a track where cars race at 200mph!

2013 Shiner Beer Run Race Recap

Shiner Beer Run

We almost didn’t run this race. All week the forecast called for high winds, cool temperatures, and rain. 38 degrees isn’t exactly standard Texas weather, considering it was 89 on Thursday evening as I drove home from work with the A/C on. And I don’t mind running in the rain when it’s warm, but when it’s that cold? Eh, not really that interested. I took a few polls on Twitter and changed my mind more times than I can count between Wednesday and Saturday. Crazy thunderstorms Thursday night had me saying “no freakin’ way!” but the calm, somewhat dry morning on Saturday at 3:30am helped me make the final decision: we were heading to the Shiner Beer Run.

Race Day Wear: Poppy Lux Layer, Oiselle singlet, Lesley Knickers; also added a throwaway sweatshirt and gloves, neither of which I was able to toss. Definitely warmed up in a mile or so, but once we started running into the wind there wasn’t a chance in hell I’d part with the extra layer.

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The city of Shiner is two-ish hours from our house so we left at 5:30. Packet pickup was available during the week at 2 locations in San Antonio or the Shiner brewery itself, but since we live so far away we opted for race day packet pickup. The ride out to Shiner was long and boring, with a lot of country roads and views like this:

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Pre-Race: We were able to score a perfect parking spot across the street from the brewery, allowing us to sit in the car until 5 minutes before the start. This was clutch. Also pre-race I made a quick bathroom stop and somehow the drawstring of my pants disappeared inside of the waistband. Massive fail. I spent the ENTIRE RACE hiking up my pants. ugh.

Swag: Awesome, some of the best I’ve seen. The shirt was a Brooks Podium tech tee and I loved the design – AND the color. Glad some races are starting to move away from white shirts. We also got koozies, an iron-on decal, bandana, and pretty sweet cups at the finish line to hold our beers. And it should come as no surprise that the finisher’s medal doubles as a bottle opener.

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Race: Ugh. The first two miles were through town and neighborhoods, but after that? Absolutely boring. Very hilly with lots of cows, horses, and farmland. Miles 2-6 were uphill into the 20mph wind. Even though you were running, you actually weren’t moving at all. We ran with our heads down, holding onto our hats and headphones. The wind was an issue pretty much the entire time (unfortunately never at our backs) and light rain came in later miles. The race coordinators had reminded us repeatedly of what to expect at mile 6/7 and I expected to hate it… but it was actually my favorite part of the course. They were on a gravel/dirt path and my legs welcomed the change from the asphalt. The last 3 miles of the course resembled the final miles of ZOOMA Texas and were basically a death march. To be honest, the entire race was a death march.

There was a fair amount of spectators lining the course despite the weather and the course being somewhat inaccessible to cars. Everyone was super enthusiastic, offering high-fives and words of encouragement. There were plenty of water stops and two fuel stops: one had GU gels and one had GU Chomps. The course was clearly marked, with markers at every mile and arrows painted on the ground to ensure you wouldn’t make a wrong turn.

Post-race: What we’d been looking forward to for 13 miles!

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Each runner gets 4 (yes, 4!) beers at the finish. Shiner had a few of their regular brews on tap, as well as limited edition White Wing and seasonal Shiner Cheer. I loved the options!

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As for food, everyone received two huge smoked sausage links: one on a french roll and one in a tortilla. Strange, but hey – this was a Texas race. There was also potato salad but I wanted nothing to do with food that wasn’t warm.

We went on a tour of the Spoetzl Brewery and had the rare opportunity to see production in progress (usually it’s shutdown on Sat/Sun, but was kept open due to the holiday next week).

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After the tour we grabbed another round of beers and checked out the race merch tent. It was all Brooks items so while that meant great quality, it also meant higher prices. Last year’s race tees were on sale for $10 but seemed like an odd purchase for someone who didn’t run in 2012. Our final stop was the brewery’s gift shop, where we were able to grab a beanie and two coasters for $20. Pretty affordable for touristy items!

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Overall: Unless you’re a freak of nature and hills are your jam, this really isn’t a PR course. The weather is Texas is so unpredictable (as previously mentioned, comparing Thursday to Saturday) and last year’s race was hot and humid. My recommendation is to approach it as a fun run with friends and enjoy the post-race party. It’s super organized for only being in its second year. If you love Shiner Beer, you’re going to love this race – PR or not.

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2013 Challenge Nation Austin Race Recap

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Last weekend Brad and I headed downtown to take part in Challenge Nation’s event here in Austin. It’s not any ordinary race though: it’s an urban scavenger hunt similar to the “Amazing Race” which can be completed in teams of 2 or more. In any normal race, speed is most important. But for Challenge Nation, you have to figure out the clues quickly and strategize the best route – and THEN speed comes into play.

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Check-in ran from 11:30 to 12:45 and since there were over 140 teams registered, we arrived at Scholz Garden around noon just to be safe. Everything was organized very efficiently: pick up your bib, sign a waiver, grab a shirt, done. Quick and painless.

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Just before the start of the race at 1pm, all team captains gathered outside of Scholz Garden to receive the clues and go over the rules. Basically you receive a list of 12 clues and you must complete 11 of 12. You can run or use public transit (in Austin’s case, this is limited to buses) but no taxis, cars, bikes, etc. All of the captains counted down from 10 and then were allowed to (walk, not run or trample) rejoin their team members.

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I started at the top of the list and Brad started at the bottom. Once we had an answer for each clue (except for the one we planned to skip), we hit the ground running.

Here’s a few of the clues we had to solve:

“This is a clue that’ll ask you to be creative: for four decades, one of the most famous and well-attended festivals in ATX was the Aqua Fest, which last was held in 1998. To complete this clue, recreate the Aqua Fest with your team: take a photo with at least one teammate in an active fountain, in a shower, in a lake… or if you can’t find those, simply dump a bottle of water on a teammate’s head in the photo.”

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Thank you fountain on UT campus, sorry to disturb you. Check!

“This Challenge will test your team’s ability to make friends and coordinate: with one other Challenge team, pose in front of any theater in town and act out any scene from a movie set in Texas with the whole group.”

Friday Night Lights, coming right up!

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“THIS CLUE IS ONLY AVAILABLE UNTIL 2:30. Between the statues of two Confederates in Texas history – one you’ve probably heard of before and one who shares a last name with a more contemporary President – you’ll find a Challenge Nation staffer with some rings to play with. Have everyone on your team grab one, making sure this iconic Austin feature is in the background of your photo, then do the obvious activity for 2-3 seconds.”

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“Texas is the live music capital of the country, and to mark that fact, you’ll need to find these props at one of the four gates to the Capitol. Which one? You’ll find a Challenge Nation staffer at the gate along the street that matches the # of the President who won office by promising to annex Texas. Once there, grab your neon-colored guitars and find your team’s inner rockstar when posing for this photo, with the Capitol in the background.”

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We were down to our final clue and ran into a bit of trouble finding it. We definitely wasted too much time searching for it and then even trying to get creative with it, so we ended up having to go back to solve the one we initially planned on skipping. After a bit of Googling, Brad found out it was right around the corner from the finish line. Wish we would have figured that out from the beginning (the race started at the same place) because it would have saved us a TON of time.

It took about an hour and twenty minutes from the time we started working on the clues until we crossed the finish line. The official results aren’t posted yet so I’m not sure what place we came in, but it definitely wasn’t in the top 5 so no prize money or free bar tab for us. We grabbed a couple beers and chatted with a few fellow racers before heading home.

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Overall, we enjoyed the race. We only went south of the Capitol building once and 5 or 6 of the clues were all on UT campus. I guess this works well if you’re trying to win the race, but I would have liked to see a little more trivia about the rest of the city. On the other hand, a few of the clues were things you really had to search for (like someone wearing a shirt with a city name NOT in Texas and NOT sports related – this one was hard, especially when all of ATX is decked out in burnt orange on Saturday) and we liked how challenging those were. The time constraints on a few of the clues also made it interesting.

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If I had to choose between the Urban Dare and Challenge Nation, I think Urban Dare would have a slight edge. Although, registration for Challenge Nation is more affordable. Both races are a lot of fun and a great way to break up your normal race-for-a-PR schedule. It’s nice to rely on your brain every once in awhile before you rely on the speed in your legs!

Interested in the Challenge Nation? Find out here if there’s an upcoming race near you!

Live in or near Orlando? Enter Paula & Michelle’s giveaway by midnight tonight (10/23) for a free entry to the race on October 27th!

2013 IBM Uptown Classic 10K Race Recap

Last weekend was the 19th Annual IBM Uptown Classic and my 4th time running the 10K. This was one of my very first races in Austin back in 2010 and I make a point to run it every year. The weather is always great, the course is fast, and it’s the perfect event to kick off the fall racing season.

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The morning started off fairly early since we needed to pick up this girl from downtown. She mentioned possibly taking a cab to/from the race and I immediately suggested being her chauffeur for the morning. That would have been a pricey trip and I was fairly certain Amy wasn’t an axe murderer. Can’t really say what she expected of Brad and I, but there wasn’t much hesitation as she hopped in my car at a downtown street corner. From internet friend —> IRL friend, in .05 seconds. I’m always surprised how awkward it isn’t when you meet someone IRL and already know everything about them from their blog and/or Twitter. I mean, it should be really weird – but definitely isn’t.

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We met up with Jeanette and Trinity pre-race and talked about how last year at this time we were just starting the Austin Distance Challenge. Overall that was a really fun experience, but I’ll never do it again unless Decker pulls a Houdini and disappears. That half marathon stole a significant piece of my soul.

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Brad and I didn’t have a race plan since we were using it as a training run, so we took it mile by mile. We spent much of the race leapfrogging Jeanette and Trinity, crossing the finish just behind them. No PRs for any of us but it was still a great morning. I specifically remember cruising along at mile 4 with a giant smile plastered on my face, truly enjoying every step of the race. It’s runs like these that remind you just how much you love the sport.

One note on the course: it definitely changed from last year. I remember seeing a note about it on the website and at packet pickup, but didn’t look into it. The race usually starts at the IBM complex, runs through the Domain, and winds back around to IBM. This year’s course was in the same general vicinity but unfortunately doubled back on itself several times. Definitely wasn’t a fan of that.

I’d like to think this will be fixed for 2014 but have heard rumblings this might be it’s last time at the Domain. Not sure why, but I have a feeling it has to do with the race being a part of Run Austin’s plan to turn the city into a premiere racing destination.

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One of the reasons I like this race so much is that it isn’t downtown. Not as far from my house and the course is different. Don’t get me wrong, I love downtown – but a majority of ATX races (Austin Half, Cap 10K, Turkey Trot, etc.) run the exact same route. This girl is a fan of variety!

Either way, I’ll be back next fall. If this one isn’t on your racing calendar, it needs to be.

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2013 Austin 10/20 Race Recap

On April 14, 2013, I ran the second annual Austin 10/20, a ten-mile race in North Austin featuring twenty live bands along the course.

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I crossed the starting line with a bum arch, low performance expectations, and a killer playlist. The race was only a few weeks before the Long Branch Half so I needed to get in 10 miles, but this definitely violated my “quality over quantity” racing rule I put in place for 2013. Oops.

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Weather: 61 degrees and 90% humidity (apparently Garmin Connect logs the weather now?) The humidity was surprisingly bearable despite how high it was but once the sun came out later in the race it felt a bit warm.

Course: The course was very similar (if not identical) to last year’s, although I don’t particularly remember the out-and-back on Mopac. I’ve made it pretty obvious that out-and-backs are my least favorite so you can imagine how *pleased* I was around mile 8ish. Especially since that’s when the sun decided to come out. In any case, it’s possible I completely blacked out during the Mopac portion of the course last year.

The course is partially a combination of the IBM Uptown Classic 10K and 3M Half Marathon, starting in the Domain, running through the IBM Campus, out on the Mopac access road and finishing back in the Domain.

If you’re interested in a course tour, I uploaded all photos to a race album on my Facebook page.

One of the best things about this race is the amount of local, energetic bands spread out over the ten miles. Unlike most of the big box races I’ve done, all of the bands on the Austin 10/20 course were actually playing when you ran past them. What a novel concept.

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Candlebox played at the post-race after party. Did you know they were still together? And releasing albums? I had no idea.

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I met up with a couple friends at the finish to watch the band but we dipped out shortly after in favor of a bottomless mimosa brunch. I’m fairly certain we replenished our calories (and then some) in record time.

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Overall: Once again, the Austin 10/20 put on a fantastic race. I’m not sure how they do it, considering they’re only in their second year, but it’s quite impressive. If I had one complaint it would have to be that they ran out of wet towels on the course. It didn’t bother me this year since it was still pretty cool at that point but had it been any hotter I think runners would have missed them.

Last year I said I’d be back in 2013 for redemption. With my arch issues I wouldn’t exactly call this year redemption. Maybe there’s a shot in 2014. Third times the charm?

California friends: the 10/20 race series is coming to SoCal! The course runs through Del Mar, Solana Beach and Encinitas. Registration is $65 and race day is February 16, 2014. Austin 1020 California