Sunday, October 1, 2017

Chicago Marathon Training: Final Week

Wow!  This summer has flown by!  The past 17 weeks have been challenging and hot but Chicago Marathon is only one week away.  I'll be sharing with you the workouts I did to prepare for this year's Chicago Marathon.  You can see my other two training updates below.

Chicago Marathon Training: Week One
Chicago Marathon Training: Week Two and Three

To say that training didn't go as planned would be a huge understatement.  I unfortunately lost a toenail in the middle of July- my first ever toenail casualty.  The pressure of my running shoes against my nail-less toe hurt on training runs greater than 4 or 5 miles.  I used a lot of Aaptiv workouts on the treadmill during my early weeks of marathon training.

After a lot of discouraging pace runs, I picked up Pure Barre at the end of July for cross training.  This has been one of the best decisions I've made in a long time.  Directly from their website, "Pure Barre is a total body workout that utilizes the ballet barre to perform small, isometric movements, which burn fat, sculpt muscles and create long, lean physiques."  Pure Barre is definitely not a replacement for running, but it complements my training schedule and doesn't require shoes!  It was a great way to workout for 55 minutes without bothering my right big toe.  I definitely already see a difference in my muscles.  I've been going to Pure Barre about five times a week and am currently participating in my studio's 30 in 45 Challenge. 

In August, the OrangeTheory Fitness studio near my house opened.  You would think I'm crazy to not only have an unlimited membership at Pure Barre, but also OrangeTheory Fitness.  The classes are so different, and I feel that they both benefit my running in various ways.  I also attend OrangeTheory Fitness 4-5 times a week (yes, that means I've done many two-a-days in August and September).  The treadmill intervals have definitely helped with my speed.  When I started OTF, my maximum all out pace was 7.0 MPH.  This week, I got up to 8.0 MPH.  I love pushing myself on the treadmill and the trainers definitely encourage me to do better. 

So with all these fitness classes, where has that left my running?  Well, I ran a Half Marathon in early September.  I toed the starting line with a "just finish" mindset and ended up beating my PR by 23 seconds.  This race was by no means a push pace.  I set out with a run/walk ratio of 4:00/1:00 and maintained it the entire 13.1 miles.  I stayed under 12:30 min/mile the entire time, but I don't know if I will be able to keep that up in Chicago.  

My goal has changed from a 12:00 pace to a 13:00 pace.  I didn't get enough long runs in this summer to feel confident enough to pull off my original goal.  I'm surprisingly OK with that, too.  There will be many other Chicago Marathons in my future.  If I get in next year, I will be running the 2018 Chicago Marathon on my 30th birthday.  This year the race happens to fall the day after my birthday so I'm just going to enjoy the weekend in The Windy City celebrating my last birthday in my 20's.  I have a feeling there will be lots of champagne and kombucha consumed this weekend and I wouldn't have it any other way! 

If you'd like to leave me a message to see at miles 13 and 26, use the link below and search "Amanda Donnelly."  I'm going to need all the on-course encouragement I can get!

Messages of Inspiration


Monday, June 26, 2017

Chicago Marathon Training: Week Two and Three

I missed my update last week because I was at the beach so I'm going to recap weeks two and three of my Chicago Marathon training. As I mentioned in my first post, I'm using Hal Higdon Novice 2 and my goal pace is 12:00 minute miles. This will be my fourth marathon but it's the first time I have a time goal. If you missed my week one training update, you can catch up here. 

Week 2 included the same 2 three mile runs and a five mile run that week one included. There is no speed work included in the guide I'm following, but I'm going to occasionally incorporate it in just as an added benefit. This week I got rained out and took one of my three mile runs inside on the treadmill and I used a workout on the Aaptiv app. Aaptiv is an app with a ton of different workouts but I've only used it for treadmill runs. My favorite is Brit is Back, a speed workout set to different songs by my queen, Britney Spears. The workout is only 2.5 miles but can easily be bumped up to 3 miles by increasing every interval by .2 MPH and resuming the 5.0 MPH pace during recovery. This workout actually feels really good for me and my training because I have to hold my goal pace during recovery, despite being tired and out of breath from intervals. 

I hate that I did this, but I skipped my 9 mile run on Saturday because I was at the beach. The guilt I feel from skipping a long run early on is enough to ensure I don't skip another long run. The plan allows room for flexibility but it highly encourages not skipping or adjusting the long runs. 

Week three started out with a great track run. I ran my first mile in 9:52 and it's honestly been a month or two since I ran a sub 10:00 mile. I also found out during week three that I was selected as an ambassador for Asheville Marathon! I've never run Asheville Marathon before but I've read about the beautiful scenic course set on Biltmore Estate. I'm really excited for the scenery and Biltmore wine. As an ambassador, I've been given a friends and family discounts to share until July 31st. This rate is the absolute lowest I'll be able to share with you as a race ambassador and it's super simple to redeem. Register here and use the codes below for 15% off all distances and challenges. 


This plan also requires cross training once a week. I've currently been playing tennis and using Kayla Itsines Bikini Body Guide workouts on days I don't run, but I'll soon be switching to Orange Theory Fitness classes. I signed up for a membership in January for a studio opening soon by my house. I'm really excited to see how OTF classes will improve my running. I've heard wonderful things and loved the preview class I got to take at another studio in town. 

I'll kick things up in week four with an 11 mile run and I'm excited to see how that goes! I'll check in with you next Monday! 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Chicago Marathon Training: Week One

I'm currently training for the 2017 Chicago Marathon and wanted to share my progress weekly. I am 17 weeks out now and selected Hal Higdon's Novice 2 program. Having completed three marathons, I still feel like a beginner. This program is designed for beginners who have run an occasional 5k or half marathon and have been running at least a year. I felt like the Intermediate 1 program would've left me burnt out in the first month since it requires six days a week. Novice 2 requires five days of training per week. A long run and a day of cross training are included in every week of the Novice 2 plan. Below is the full schedule.

My first run was on Tuesday and consisted of an easy 3 miles on the track. I didn't intend for this to be a progressive run but the songs kept getting better and it just happened that way.

My Wednesday run was intended to be a 5 mile pace run. I got pulled over on my way to the track and by the time the officer let me go, I only had enough time to go home and run a 5k on my own. We had kickball playoffs that night and after winning our first game we ended up having a double header. It was probably best that I didn't run the 5 miles I was scheduled that day, anyways.

I ended up doing my 5 mile pace run on Friday. My goal pace for Chicago is 12:00. I started my first lap on the track at a 10:34 pace. I was feeling good on Friday so I had to add in a few walk breaks to get down to a 12:00 pace. I ended up running an average 11:51 pace. I'm going to re-evaluate my goal around week 7 and figure out if an 11:30 pace may be achievable. For now, I'm shooting for 12:00 though.

My last run of the week was an 8 mile pace run on Sunday evening. Everything about this run was bad for me. I know they say "the only bad run is the one you don't do" but I can't imagine this run helped me at all. I was slower than my goal pace and wasn't feeling well. Waiting until Sunday evening wasn't the best idea so I will not be making that mistake next week.

Other than Sunday's long run, I feel really good about my first week of Chicago Marathon training. After running this race in 2016, it easily became my favorite race. Knowing everything I have to look forward to in Chicago is motivation to train harder and smarter this year. 17 more weeks!

Monday, March 20, 2017

runDisney 2016 Lumiere's Two Course Challenge Review

As you may know, runDisney made many changes to their 2016 Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend.  Despite unfavorable weather in both 2014 and 2015, Wine & Dine Half Marathon was my favorite race.  I even preferred it over Princess Half Marathon which will always hold a special place in my heart as my first Half Marathon. 

These changes involved the addition of a 10k which also opened up the opportunity to run Lumiere's Two Course Challenge.  The challenge was a great addition, in my opinion.  In gaining the challenge, they sacrificed the Saturday night 10:00 PM start time to host the events on Saturday and Sunday morning, respectively.  I was skeptical of this change since the night run through the parks is what made Wine & Dine Half Marathon a unique race.  I won't elaborate on all the changes though because I'd prefer to focus on sharing my experience running the 2016 event, exclusively.  I will disclose that due to the changes, I contemplated back and forth whether to participate at all in 2016 and after running the event I can confidently say I am glad I didn't miss it.

My original plans for this weekend included running Lumiere's Two Course Challenge on November 5th and 6th and staying in Orlando for a week to run Race 13.1 Orlando on November 13th.  I unfortunately had to unexpectedly take some time off work in October which caused me to cut my vacation a little short, eliminating Race 13.1 Orlando from my race schedule.  I am pleased to share that they graciously allowed me to transfer my registration to Race 13.1 Durham with no problem whatsoever.  Customer service is very important to me when selecting races and Race 13.1 has always gone above and beyond to provide A+ customer service.  I hope to be able to share a review of Race 13.1 Orlando with you in the near future although they have yet to release an official 2017 date.

I arrived in Orlando early Friday morning and went directly to Epcot.  Orlando is approximately a nine hour drive from my current location so I like to leave my home around midnight and drive straight through.  I had not yet ridden Frozen Ever After and it was my top priority to get in line before it got too long.  I waited just short of an hour which I consider a win.  I would not wait that long again to ride Frozen, but it was worth it for my first time. It was also the perfect way to kick off a runDisney race weekend by frantically changing clothes in the parking lot and running to the gates. 

I then went to check into my hotel, shower and head to the expo.  runDisney expos are exciting and full of new things to do and see.  They host guest speakers and dozens of vendors for runners to experience and shop.  Official runDisney merchandise is also available at the expo.  I ended up purchasing a wine glass, a Lumiere's Challenge pin and a performance tank.  After the expo I went to Epcot for mango margaritas and fish tacos.  I swear I could spend all day in Mexico... That boat ride inside the Mexico pavilion is one of Disney's hidden gems. 

The 10k began at 5:30 AM on Saturday so I awoke bright and early.  The race began and finished in the Epcot parking lot.  Many of runDisney's events are held here.  The course was actually the same as the 10k course during WDW Marathon and Princess Half Marathon weekends.  The course goes through Disney's Boardwalk and the World Showcase of Epcot with several character stops along the way.  I stopped for several character photos, but many of them I already have.  While Pinocchio was on the course, I don't recall any other rare photo opportunities.  It's been years since I took a photo with Pinocchio! 

I spent the remainder of the day in Disney's Hollywood Studios.  Rock 'n' Roller Coaster was closed for refurbishment during my trip so there wasn't much to do other than walk around and enjoy some shows.  While I love Voyage of The Little Mermaid, my absolute favorite show is Beauty & The Beast Live on Stage with a margarita in my hand.  I don't typically drink before races, but I was in no way expecting a PR for Wine & Dine Half Marathon so I didn't let my "rule" stop me from having fun this weekend. 

After my birthday trip to Chicago for the 2016 Chicago Marathon, I discovered Giordano's Pizza and they conveniently have a location in Celebration.  Because I love to relive anything to do with my Chicago experience and carbo-loading is a favorite hobby of mine, I ordered a stuffed cheese pizza on Saturday night.  The epic cheese pulls on that pizza were just as glorious as I remember them being in The Windy City.  I stuffed my face while watching E! Network in my hotel room and went to sleep. 

Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend happened to fall on Daylight Savings which meant an extra hour of sleep.  Most runners were very appreciative of this convenient timing.  They failed to realize it essentially meant the sun would rise an hour earlier, causing participants to run an extra hour in the hot Florida sun.  I don't care what time of year it is, the sun in Florida is always bright and hot. 

The half marathon featured a brand new course, beginning at ESPN Wide World of Sports and ending in the Epcot parking lot. I prefer to start and finish in the same place though just to avoid waiting on transportation to my Jeep. For the most part, I enjoyed this course. It went through Animal Kingdom and then finished up with the same route as WDW Half Marathon and Princess Half Marathon, circling the World Showcase at Epcot.

I didn't run a great pace because I hadn't done much running since Chicago Marathon. I also didn't stop for any character pictures along the course on Sunday. After completing the race, I took a nap and spent some time in Magic Kingdom. I planned to get back to my room in time to freshen up and drink some wine before the post-race party at Epcot. Admission is included in the cost of registration to all half marathon participants as well as challenge runners. Because of the after party admission, I consider Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend to be the best value amongst runDisney races. Included with admission to the post-race party is also a $10 Disney gift card.

Out of pocket, I probably spent around $50 drinking and eating around Epcot on Sunday night. Between martini slushes, lobster roll with Chardonnay and my favorite, the Fisherman's Pie, I had a grand time in Epcot. I loved having the park to ourselves and enjoyed the very short waits. I think many runners returned home on Sunday before the party because it was much less crowded than previous years. For runners wishing to return home on Sunday, the modified schedule would definitely be a disadvantage.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

My January-February 2017 Whole30 Experience

I'm After reading 18 success stories, gaining 15 lb. and trying on 10 pairs of pants that didn't fit, I took the plunge and decided to commit to Whole30.  Just to clarify, I did not turn to Whole30 simply to lose weight.  I know how to do that.  I turned to Whole30 to change my life.  I was exhausted from going back and forth between dieting and extreme exercise.  I needed something that was going to last me a lifetime- something that would help me develop healthy eating habits and improve my relationship with food.  I needed these things and didn't even know it until Whole30 came into my life.  To be honest, I didn't think this type of balance was achievable.  Well, it is.  And I'm going to tell you exactly how I did it.

If you don't know what Whole30 is, I'll give you a brief description.  Their website and the comprehensive book The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom
are both great resources, though. Simply stated, you cannot have any alcohol, added sugar, dairy, legumes, soy or wheat for 30 days.  It is obviously much more complex than that but those are the basics.  To be honest, giving up cheese and wine scared the hell out of me.  You have to step out of your comfort zone if you want change.  I decided this extra cheese on my pizza habit needed to change and I was willing to trust the process.  You need this level of trust to successfully complete the program and make long-term changes.

So after having a pity party and a farewell to food tour, I asked my Mom to get me The Whole30 Cookbook for Channukah.  Looking back, this book is probably the best gift I've ever been given.  These recipes are shared directly from the creator of Whole30 herself, Melissa Hartwig.  There are endless resources online for Whole30 compliant recipes but the book was my absolute favorite source.  You can also read It Starts With Food and Food Freedom Forever.  Since completing my 30 days, I have ordered the latter but neither are required to start the program.

I decided I would begin my program on Monday January 16th.  I spent the weekend before Whole30 in South Carolina running Charleston Half Marathon during Restaurant Week and of course ate all the things.  On Monday, I meant business.  All I actually remember eating on that day was eggs for breakfast and potatoes with dinner.  I didn't keep a food log and in hindsight that was probably a mistake.  If you are new to Whole30, keep a food log.  I can tell you several things I ate during my 30 days, but it's certainly not an all-inclusive list.

So, the first few days of Whole30 are known to give you a massive headache from the sugar withdrawal.  Some people compare this sensation to a hangover.  Fortunately, I cannot tell you from personal experience how this feels because I experienced nothing of the sort.  While I do drink wine and eat bread and pasta, I do not have a sweet tooth.  I don't like sugary, sweet things.  I don't eat ice cream or cookies or donuts.  Occasionally I may indulge in one, but these are not weaknesses of mine.  Take me to a restaurant and I would rather get a cheesy, fried appetizer than splurge on dessert.  This worked in my favor because I never once felt deprived of sugar.  I cruised through the first week preparing lots of chicken and potatoes.

Week 2 presented new challenges because days 11 & 12 are said to be the hardest in the entire program.  At this point, the novelty wears off and a lot of people decide to cheat or quit altogether.  I'll admit my only mistake was on day 8 eating at Moe's.  I thought I was being good by ordering grilled chicken and all compliant toppings.  Do you know how hard it was to refrain from chips, queso and sour cream?!?  Well, come to find out their chicken was grilled in soybean oil and soy is off limits.  Some people suggested I needed to start over.  I thought that was unnecessary because my stomach hurt after the meal and left me extremely bloated.  I learned everything from that mistake that I needed to: soy is something I need to avoid on a regular basis.  I don't feel the need to re-introduce soy into my diet.  Also, don't trust restaurants!  They will sneak anything into your food.  Check labels and ask questions. 

Week 3 is really where the magic happens.  You get an immense amount of energy and focus, also known as "Tiger Blood."  There is pretty much nothing stopping you from reaching Day 30 once you've experienced Tiger Blood.  I was strong enough to go out to bars and turn down drinks in my third week.  While I'm pretty sure everyone appreciated me being a DD, the best part of week three was the feeling of liberation.  When alcohol and food no longer controlled me, I felt pure freedom.  Drinking water while watching a band play was just as relaxing as drinking a beer.  Tiger Blood gives you confidence and I was confident enough to sing and dance just like anyone who had been drinking.  Also, this bar was an outdoor bar that I like to go to during the summer.  Just thinking about being able to show off this body that I've worked so hard for in a sundress over the summer would be enough motivation to not drink.  I look at alcohol in a whole different light now.  Don't get me wrong, I still love it.  I just don't feel the insecurity to drink it every time I go out now.

On Week 4 I decided I was ready to give restaurants another chance.  I went to lunch with co-workers and refrained from bread and the cheesy, fried appetizer brought to the table.  I asked the server all the right questions and was able to enjoy a tuna salad.  Later that night, I went out to dinner at Outback Steakhouse with my family.  Outback is a great place to eat when you are on Whole30!  They have a gluten-free menu with slightly modified options.  I typically get the crab stuffed tilapia, but the server informed me that it contains breadcrumbs.  I went with the grilled tilapia found exclusively on the gluten-free menu and a side of baked potato.  I actually clarified my own butter at home and brought it along in a container so I could give my potato some fat and flavor.  I don't know what I'm more impressed with- my ability to turn down a bloomin' onion or the cleverness involved in bringing my own butter to a restaurant.  Either way, that entire experience was a win in my book. 

I'm now on week 5, day 31.  I've had countless people tell me they could never do it.  32 days ago, I thought the same thing.  If you want something as bad as you need air, you will find a way to make it happen.  In these last 30 days, I not only improved my relationship with food but also myself.  I'm pretty dang impressed with the strength and resistance I showed during this program.  I'm a proud Whole30 alumni.  I mean, turning down nachos during the SuperBowl?  That's something I've never done before!  I literally went to four grocery stores looking for compliant plantain chips I could eat with my guacamole and my Dad made me baked wings with no sauce.  Who needs to pound beers when Lady Gaga was giving the performance of a lifetime, anyways?

For most people, Day 31 is a re-introduction day.  The journey does not end after 30 days because you need to experience restricted foods individually to see how your body reacts.  The journey really never ends, actually.  I have a Half Marathon on Sunday so I am going to postpone my re-introduction period a few days and enjoy my Whole30 lifestyle a bit longer.  I didn't want to re-introduce anything this close to my race and I have the momentum to keep going.  A huge reasoning for deciding to do Whole30 had to do with my running.  I knew losing weight and fueling myself with proper nutrients would improve my running exponentially.  Well, I have lost 21.6 pounds so I'm excited to see how I perform on Sunday!  Yes, you read that correctly.  21.6 pounds in 30 days.  No pills, wraps, or extreme working out.  This is Whole30. I am Whole30.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Will Run For Pizza: My 2016 Chicago Marathon Review

Today I got accepted into the 2017 Chicago Marathon lottery!  I figured it would be a good time to finally share my first experience running in Chicago in the 2016 race.

Chicago Marathon has always been a dream race for me.  My Mother was born and raised in Chicago, but I only visit The Windy City once as a kid and that was in the late 90's.  So I did exactly what you would expect for me to do and registered for Chicago Marathon on a whim.  I originally said I would wait another year because it fell on my birthday weekend, but it appears Chicago Marathon ALWAYS falls on my birthday weekend.  My original plan was to head to Tampa for the weekend to see my alma mater ECU play USF.  My Pirates lost so Chicago Marathon was obviously the better decision.

I started experiencing FOMO when I saw many of my running buddies receiving their lottery acceptance emails.  I didn't enter the lottery for Chicago Marathon.  I know that Chicago Marathon actually reserves a large number of bibs for charity so my only option was to fund raise my way in to Chicago Marathon.  I signed up to run as a St. Jude Hero since I ran for them during my first marathon in this year's Dopey Challenge.  There is an extended list of charities who run for Chicago Marathon that are definitely worth checking out.  You can view a list of the 2017 participating charities here.

So after registering to run with St Jude, my boyfriend and I booked our flight and counted down the days until Chicago Marathon...

He did not run.  Just to clarify.

The night before we flew out of North Carolina, I was too excited to sleep.  I stayed up watching The Breakup because it's filmed in Chicago. Duh. This obviously led to more excitement and an even more difficult time getting to sleep.

Friday was my birthday and we woke up early and ready to leave.  My sister drove us to the airport and we surprisingly took off on time.  For anyone who knows me, you know I have the worst luck with flight delays.  We fortunately did not have any layovers and flew directly into O'Hare.  If you ever want your birthday to last an extra hour, take a flight out west.  Of course, I spent that extra hour on a plane but nonetheless I had a 25 hour birthday (who am I kidding- I normally have a month-long birthday)!

Upon landing, our plan was to take the train downtown to our hotel.  I was advised to purchase a three-day pass.  If you are staying downtown like we did, I actually suggest you don't get the pass.  I paid $20 for essentially a one-way ticket because I never needed to use the train again.  Our hotel, Hyatt Regency, was walking distance to nearly everything including the starting line.

We were able to check in early, nap, and freshen up before deciding what to experience first.  I decided I wanted to head to the expo before anything else.  There was a shuttle that conveniently stopped right in front of Hyatt Regency and was supposed to take approximately 15 minutes to get to McCormick Place.  Well, President Obama  happened to be in town and there was a road closure that backed up traffic and caused our driver to go a different route.  We were on the shuttle for an hour.  I'm not even exaggerating.  We saw the long lines waiting for shuttles when we got off and decided it was best to just take our time at the expo.

The expo was top-notch.  The venue, McCormick Place, is actually the nation's largest convention center.  From the vendors to the experiences, there was so much to do at the expo.  I started with a beer from Goose Island.  Maybe I'm sheltered from runDisney races, but I've never seen beer at a race expo.  I'm certainly not complaining.  That beer was my first of many Goose Island 312 IPA's that weekend.

The North Face had great gear at their booth.  I don't typically buy hoodies but I wish I had purchased one from them.  Chicago Marathon was a dream race for me, after all.  I left the expo without a hoodie and now I carry an immense amount of regret for not purchasing one.

We headed back to the hotel to figure out our next move.  Because I'm a planner, we already had dinner reservations for my birthday.  When talking to a fellow runner, she suggested RPM Italian, which happens to be co-owned by Bill and Giuliana Rancic.  She must've known exactly what I was looking for because because it was every bit of chic, elegant and upscale.  I made reservations one month in advance and there was only a 5:00 and 10:00 PM option.  Like an amateur, I went with the 10:00 option thinking we would have lunch and be able to wait that late.  Well, we should've stopped for a slice of pizza before checking into the hotel but we didn't.  And we were way too hungry when 5:00 rolled around to even fathom waiting another five hours for dinner.  So, I cancelled our reservation and opted for Giordano's instead.

There is a Giordano's in walking distance from pretty much any hotel so we walked to the Millennium Park location.  There was a 45 minute wait but we were able to order our pizza during the wait so it would be ready shortly after being seated.  My boyfriend and I split a pitcher of none other than Goose Island 312 IPA while we waited for our pizza.  The cheese pull on that pizza was everything.  I highly suggest you squeeze at least one trip to Giordano's into your trip if you plan to run Chicago Marathon.  Stuffed pizza is my new thing.

The next morning I woke up early and went for a 5k stretch run.  If I lived in Chicago, I would literally run everyday.  It's such an active city with beautiful surroundings.  We spent the rest of the day walking around Navy Pier and ate dinner at Lou Malnati's.  Their chicken alfredo was the largest bowl of pasta I've ever seen and it was like $11.  I ate every single noodle and drank another Goose Island 312 IPA because CARBO LOADING.  Then we headed to Wrigleyville to experience a Cubs game.

Being in Wrigleyville during a Cubs playoff game was the coolest sports experience I think I've ever had.  We didn't actually purchase tickets to the game but we hopped from bar to bar and decided we were officially Cubs fans for life.  Call me what you want, but I don't think experiencing a Cubs playoff game during my first Chicago Marathon and then cheering for them after I get home makes me a band wagoner.  If anything it makes me feel like I'm still in Chicago and experiencing Marathon weekend all over again.
I tried to get to bed early on Saturday night.  Sunday morning rolled around and it was tough to get out of bed but I walked to the starting line.  I'm still blown away at how well-organized the starting corrals were.  The race starts in Grant Park and its truly a phenomenal venue.  It was easy to enter and easy to make way to my corral despite there being 40,000+ runners.  I was in the second last corral so it took nearly an hour after the first corral for me to actually take off.  Once we started though, it was well worth the wait.  Well worth training in the hottest summer I think North Carolina has ever had.  And worth the very high price tag that comes along with flying to and staying in downtown Chicago.

The Chicago Marathon takes runners through 29 different neighborhoods and each one attempts to be more memorable than the others.  I don't think I can pick a favorite.  The crowd support was incredible.  From what I hear, its easy for spectators to get around.  I saw my boyfriend twice on the course and then again at the finish line.  Around mile 16 I got to see encouraging messages from my friends and family on a mega-tron.  I only saw three but I was later emailed everything my friends intended for me to see on the course!  Thanks, guys!

I crossed the finish line and there was Goose Island 312 IPA waiting for me. My phone died around mile 19 so I don't have a medal picture. After getting my medal and drinking my beer, I took a Lyft back to the hotel.  You can judge me all you want but I had zero desire to walk any further after that race.  I got back to my hotel and took a nap without even showering.  I decided it was best to just order pizza after my nap and I decided on Gino's East.  I didn't go out and do anything else that evening but I would've liked to.  I was just so sore!

So, here's my review of The 2016 Chicago Marathon!

The course: 10/10
Chicago is famously flat and their course is known to be a flat, fast course.  Chicago is also a gorgeous city so there's always something to look at.  With the vibrant neighborhoods and 1.7 million spectators, its difficult to get bored on this course.  I can't find anything to complain about.  Chicago Marathon has the perfect course.

The swag: 9/10
This year, Chicago gave participants neon yellow tech shirts.  There's also beer at the finish line and the expo!  Since it's a World Majors Marathon, they really don't need to entice runners with swag in order to sell out every year.

The medals: 9/10
I've seen past medals from Chicago Marathon and loved them.  The design this year was not my favorite, but because of the experience it's one of my favorite race medals.  The medals typically feature a Chicago icon and this year they went with the Picasso statue on Richard J. Daley Civic Center. This is apparently where the Chicago Marathon used to start, so I like the history behind it.  With next year being an anniversary year, I can't wait to see what they feature on the 2017 medal.  The Chicago Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park was on the 2015 medal and the iconic Buckingham Fountain in downtown Chicago was featured on the 2014 finisher medal.

Overall Experience: 10/10
I absolutely fell in love with Chicago and the Chicago Marathon this weekend.  It's my new favorite race by a long shot and the perfect way to celebrate my birthday weekend.  The food, the history, the culture, the fans.  They're all a perfect ten.  If I could do just one race again and again, this would be it.

Now that I've gotten home and been able to reflect on my weekend, there are a few things I would do differently.

First, I wanted to arrive on Friday because it was my birthday.  I loved spending my birthday in The Windy City but I would actually prefer to arrive one day later next time.  That will allow me to stay one day longer past the race.  There was so much to do in Chicago but I didn't want to drink too much or stay out too late prior to the race.  I would have really appreciated the extra time in Chicago when I didn't have a race to focus on.  Next year, my birthday falls on Saturday so I can arrive early in the morning the day prior to Chicago Marathon with plenty of time to make it to the expo and eat.

Second, I'm going to RPM Italian!  I heard several runners exclaim how delicious it was and I regret cancelling my reservation.

That's actually all that I would change.  I loved my location and I can't wait to experience another Chicago Marathon.

I love running for St. Jude but I'm relieved to not have to stress about fundraising for Chicago in 2017.  Now I can just focus on training to make the 2017 Chicago Marathon my best race yet!  My goal is to beat Katie Holmes' time from the 2007 NYC Marathon, 5:29:58.  Of course I'll update you on my training along the way!  Cheers to running Chicago in 2017!


Friday, September 16, 2016

First Race of Fall 2016: Carowinds Run & Ride Race Review

After a long hot summer of training runs for Chicago Marathon, I finally had my first race since early June.  It felt good to be back.  I feel like I'm in my zone on race weekends and I didn't miss a beat getting back into that element.  This was my third Run & Ride Weekend and second year running at Carowinds.  I walked the 5k on Saturday and ran the Half Marathon on Sunday as part of the Total Inversion package.  It was hot, but it was one heck of a weekend!

The races at Carowinds were actually supposed to be my second race weekend of the fall.  You know that means I've got a story to tell...  I had actually registered for Rock N Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon set to take place only seven days before Run & Ride Carowinds Half Marathon.  I had kinda forgotten about it and was running around like a chicken with my head cut off to make reservations last minute.  There was also the threat of Hurricane Hermine approaching the Outer Banks and I just knew with my luck I would book an expensive hotel room only to have the race cancelled due to weather.  Around Noon on Friday 9/2, RNR announced the One Mile Sand Run scheduled to take place on Saturday had been cancelled due to weather but the races on Sunday would still take place.  They later announced that runners unable to make it to the Half Marathon could receive a transfer to any 2016 or 2017 race.  I was SO tempted to transfer to Las Vegas and run the strip with one of my friends, but I'll be racing Race 13.1 Orlando that weekend.  So I did what any sensible girl would do- I TRANSFERRED TO NASHVILLE!  For the past three years I have felt intense amounts of FOMO when scrolling through my newsfeed the last weekend of April but that FOMO is NO MO'!  I'm packing my boots and heading west to Nashville, TN next spring!  Stay tuned for updates.

RNR Nashville excitement aside, it's time for me to share my excitement from my weekend running at Carowinds!  By the time I got off work on Friday afternoon, packed, and rolled into town it was too late for me to pick up my race packet.  Run & Ride sent out an email to all participants detailing the hours they would be available for packet pick-up and on Friday afternoon it happened to be from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM.  The email stated that packet pick-up would be available the morning of the races and that runners picking up packets on race morning should arrive no later than 45 minutes before the races were scheduled to start.  So I did just that and arrived to see quite a long line.  No worries!  It was my fault I couldn't make it the night before so I stood in line and received my packet for both the 5k and Half Marathon.  Although I was running two distances, I just received the Half Marathon shirt.  The Half Marathon shirt is a tech shirt- the 5k was not.  I didn't even want the 5k shirt because I wouldn't have ever run in it.  No complaints there!

I do want to call out the runners who showed up with only 15 minutes to spare before the scheduled start time, needing to pick up bibs.  This backed up the line, causing the race to start at 8:40 AM rather than 8:30 AM.  The delay was no big deal but it could've been avoided.  Just saying.  The Peanuts characters were out for pictures before and after the race started so that kept runners occupied while waiting to start.

I didn't run the 5k when I participated in the Carowinds Run & Ride Race last year, so I was excited to see that the entire course stayed in the park.  For the most part, it followed an abridged, backwards version of the Half Marathon course.  It was hot, but it was a lot of fun.  I walked it with a friend, stopping to take pictures at every opportunity.  We headed into the park for a few hours and left in time for me to watch some Pirate Football.  My East Carolina University Pirates beat North Carolina State 36-33 so that was just the whipped cream on top of a scrumptious key lime pie (I'm not a cake person so saying "icing on top of the cake" doesn't do my weekend justice).

I went to bed early on Saturday night while my boyfriend and his friends went out to Dave and Buster's.  They were getting into bed around 5:00 AM while I was waking up so I knew they were going to struggle to make it to the finish line to see me.  Spoiler alert: They didn't make it in time!

I arrived at the park about 30 minutes before the Half Marathon took off.  Runners are allowed to park right up front for free on race day so there's no traffic or parking issues to ever deal with.  Although I already had my packet and bib, I was relieved to see that there was no line for packet pick-up.  Since this race fell on the 15th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we took a moment of silence to honor and remember the victims lost and the sacrifices made on that horrific day.

This year's course for the Half Marathon was slightly different than last year's course.  They both consisted of two loops around the park.  Last year, runners went through the campgrounds on the first loop but not the second which resulted in a long stretch of parking lot at the end.  The second loop this year included the campgrounds, which shortened the parking lot stretch at the end by a lot.  There were bagels and fruit at the finish line, as always.  The temperature was definitely much hotter this year than last year so that was unfortunate.  Regardless the heat, I had a blast and won't ever forget this weekend.

I have zero desire to see my finish time for this race.  I was on pace to beat my PR up until mile 9 which was AWESOME.  I began to feel dehydrated though and there were not enough water stops to get me feeling normal again so I listened to my body and took the remaining 4 miles easy.  Although I voluntarily neglected to look at my time, there are many runners who crushed this course, broke PR's, tackled their first Half Marathon or accomplished so many other goals that couldn't see their times.  There was an issue with the timing chips that was far out of Rev 3's control.  I have ALWAYS had my results available to me at Run and Ride races immediately.  In fact, when I crossed the finish line at the 2015 Carowinds Half, I was able to walk over to a booth that printed out my official race results right then and there.  How cool is that?

The usual chip timing company was apparently unavailable this weekend so Run & Ride opted to use a local chip timing company to manage race results.  The company who makes the timing chips sent a faulty batch to the timing chip company and the problem was not discovered until runners began crossing the finish line on Saturday morning for the 5k.  For the most part, the chip timing company was able to problem solve and find a work-around by scanning bibs to match the tracker to the participant but this solution did not work in every situation.  Run & Ride is working diligently to ensure all runners receive recognition for their performance during this weekends' races.  Because of the timing issue, awards will be mailed to those who placed and runners have been offered a generous discount for future races.

I can confidently say this error is uncharacteristic of Run and Ride races and the experience they always provide.  Every time an issue popped up this weekend, race staff had a quick and effective solution.  The chip timing defect  was entirely out of their hands and they are still bending over backwards to make the situation right.  I think their actions speak volumes about how deeply they care about their runners and the pride they take in providing a great running experience.  For this reason, I will continue to run and ride with them as long as I can.  At the end of the day, I'm glad I have the health and resources to allow me to run Half Marathons and I would not let something as small as race results being delayed ruin my race experience.  I'm not downplaying the unfortunate situation, but there are far more important things in life and I'm glad I am able to recognize that.

Now comes the fun part- the race review!

The course: 7/10
For the most part, this course is flat and it's almost entirely in the park.  There are hills in Dinosaurs Alive and the campgrounds, both of which we had to run through twice.  I give the 5k course a 9/10 because there is no loop to complete a second time and the entire course provides a scenic route through the park and newly-expanded water park.

The swag: 10/10
As long as Run and Ride provides us with free tickets to the park, I will keep giving them a perfect score in the swag category.  Runners can elect to receive a one-day or weekend admission ticket with their registration.  Considering early registration is far cheaper than a park ticket, the race offers a significant value to runners.  In addition to the park ticket, 10k and Half Marathon runners all receive a ticket to skip the wait on the ride of their choice.  My group used ours on Nighthawk, a flying roller coaster that features a double corkscrew.  This ride typically has the longest wait in the park so I'm extremely appreciative of the opportunity to skip this line.  We stayed in the park until the late afternoon on Sunday and were able to ride every roller coaster with little to no wait.

The medals: 9/10
Run and Ride really came up with a unique concept when they decided to put Peanuts characters in roller coaster trains for their 2016 medals.  The ability to connect medals with the hidden magnets is my favorite part.  All runners can create their own train based on their races since all runners earn a unique combination of medals.  They will use the same concept for next year but will allow participants the ability to vote for other characters through social media.

Having run two locations this year, I wish there was a way to differentiate the medals by the park I earned them at. The ribbon on my 2015 medal has the Carowinds logo so I'm hoping they bring that back with the 2017 medals! 

Overall Experience: 9/10 
Run & Ride Carowinds will always be one of my favorite races.  It's the first Half Marathon I ran in my current state of North Carolina but it also crosses borders into South Carolina!  It's a fun, unique experience and provided a great amount of fun.  I met so many runners from social media groups this year and I can't wait to run with them again.  The heat was brutal, but the water park stays open one week past Labor Day for runners to cool off.  I need to remember to pack my bikini next time!

You can read my 2015 Carowinds Race Review here and my 2016 Kings Dominion Race Review here.  For a listing and description of all 2016 Run & Ride Races, click here.  There are still two more race weekends in 2016 for the Run & Ride Race series, and you can receive 15% off any race distance by using code RUNBARBIE15.

There will not be any new locations for the 2017 Run & Ride Race series, however, a Half Marathon will be added to the Kings Dominion race lineup making it a two-day event.  Registration will open soon for the events scheduled in June 2017.  Stay tuned for all 2017 Run & Ride details on the blog!