Narragansett Fall Half Marathon

In the past 6 weeks, I have spent 3 of them on our race courses and the other two on my sons’ cross country courses.  On the 6th one – what do I do? Test my own legs with a half marathon!

I haven’t raced a half in 2-3 years, I haven’t even run longer than 7 or 8 miles since June.  But the Race Director for this race is just a great guy, I have heard nothing but wonderful things about his races.  So I wanted to give it a go – both to see what I have personally and see what he has professionally!

I feel that I have to continue to race other events so I know what works from a participant point of view.  While the runner doesn’t care how the aid stations get set up at 4 am, they do care what side of the road they are on, how protected the course is, how much fun the post race festival is and what kind of medal is given out.

So my expectations were low for myself and high for the race – both proved out to be awesome!  The race was a great course of beautiful back roads and neighborhoods.  I don’t think I passed a car on the whole course.  It helps that it was FREEZING and early Sunday morning – but both work for me as a runner!  While running, I was looking at both how the race is logistically executed and how I should execute my own race! I picked up a few good ideas for our races but ended up having a great day of running of my own.

The finish line was in the parking lot of a mall, but he had it decorated so wonderfully with barriers, pumpkins, hay bales, corn stalks – you forgot you were in a parking lot instead of a farm!  Lots of music and excitement greeted you as you came home.  I was 12th overall so it was still a bit quiet when I arrived but ramped up quickly after I ran back to my car to get my jacket.  The finish had pie, cider and beer as well as a few vendors.  Very fun!

Personally – I PR’d by nearly 5 mins, finishing in 1:32 and 3rd overall female.  I enjoyed a yummy DownEast Cider (beer at 9:30a on a Sunday seemed wrong – Cider is practically Apple Juice, so that’s ok!), I hung out with some of my Rhode Island Runner peeps and headed home to shower and warm up.

I have been running for nearly 30 years, I thought my day’s for PRs were behind me – gave me a new confidence to think there are still some ahead of me!  I focused on feeling positive and without pain, feeling light and fast. This article hit home because it epitomized how I focused on feeling comfortable.

http://running.competitor.com/2015/10/training/how-perception-of-effort-can-make-or-break-a-race_137729/2

So in the end – a well executed race, I picked up a few ideas to improve our races AND I had a self-confidence boost with a new PR.  Winning all around!

For a really fun race – check out the Narragansett Half Marathon Summer race in Easton, MA!

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Ocean State Rhode Race (aka Why I love our Rhode Crew)

Our last race of the year is usually a big one.  We start and finish the season with a full marathon.  While this year’s race had a new location, we were still going to end on a high note.  Controversy had dominated this race in 2015 and we just wanted to get back to our running roots and execute a race that celebrates Rhode Island.

To begin – we honored the original Ocean State Marathon by contacting the race director and asking permission to use a portion of this name.  Additionally – that race incorporated Narragansett in the course and we elected to have our race start and finish in this beautiful seaside town.  We created a course that had beautiful shore line, stone bridges, quiet back roads and the most picturesque run along the Narrow River.

To end the race – we had the authentic RI blues band – Neal and the Vipers playing as the runners rounded the last corner, we served Del’s Lemonade and Chowder at the finish and it was just a gorgeous day to have our post race festival at the iconic Narragansett Town Beach.  Our race participants were so loyal this year and we hoped that we were able to provide a race that celebrated running in Rhode Island.  We are extremely grateful to everyone for joining us in our new location and we are humbled that you joined us.  

A special note of thanks goes to our Rhode Crew.  On race days, these guys start working at 3 am and often don’t stop until 7 pm.  They do anything that needs to be done, no matter what.  After the mesh banners are rolled up, the barricades are put away and the DJ has stopped bringing the runners home, the Rhode Crew still has to go back and do the dirty job of cleaning up and unloading the trucks, pushing their bodies past the point of exhaustion.  They do all that is asked of them (even if we don’t ask), they do it very well and they keep us laughing the whole day.  They are the most generous and kind group and we could not execute these races without them.

So to Greg, Mike, Mike, Neil, Sean, Scott, James, Riley, Kyle, Matt, Keith and Byron – THANK YOU for another great racing season!

Jamestown Half Marathon

Jamestown is my favorite “Rhode Race.”  We often refer to it as the red-headed step child of the 4 races – it doesn’t get as much notoriety of the bigger races but the course is just stunning.  The majestic beauty of the downtown harbor as it overlooks the Pell Bridge with its peaceful sailboats bobbing in the harbor, the historic Watson Farm and the silent windmill, the peaceful ponds and fields and the rolling hills – to me, Jamestown is quintessential Rhode Island in its quiet charm.

But it is a challenging course.  And you can see none of the above with pea soup fog like we had race morning.  🙂

For the third race in a row – we had weather related issues.  The fog was a new one.  It precluded our participants, spectators and volunteers from truly seeing the beauty of the course (as well as some other key locations – like the start!).  We hadn’t prepared for it so it did present some challenges on race day – but it was still a great day.

We had a new start and finish location at Fort Getty but this location was going to be much better – it allowed us to avoid off-island parking and provided a stunning first and last half mile with Mackeral Cove now being incorporated into the course.  Finally – the Pavilion at Fort Getty was a natural shelter for our participants with amazing views of Narragansett Bay. But with all new things – it is hard to predict what can happen and how best to problem solve in advance.  We do sit down before each race, go over our wrap up notes from last year and brainstorm what can happen this year – and what we can do to prevent or prepare for it.  

With the new finish location and in order for the course to be truly 13.1, the start had to be a ways from the finish.  We didn’t anticipate this being a problem as you had to go right past it to get into Fort Getty.    However – with the fog, our runners were unable to see much past their windshields. We also did have some shuttle issues – one bad driver and it affects a NUMBER of people – but next year, we should be able to avoid shuttles all together.

But in the end – the race is still my favorite and was a success.  The new start and finish is much more conducive to the post race atmosphere.  The medals were bling-worthy, our food was plentiful and appropriate for such an early morning start.  And the course is still gorgeous and challenging – after completing it, participants have such an overwhelming sense of accomplishment – they are truly beaming.  It is so incredible to help people achieve these goals.

Jamestown is just a hidden gem and we are always so excited to show it off in the best way we know how – a Rhode Race.

The Wine Run

Well, as seems to be the case this year – it rained on our parade again. In spite of that, this race is my favorite of all our races (don’t tell the other races that!)  Running, cross country, wine, food, acoustic music – all this goodness in one race! It is perfect.

The race starts and finishes right at Newport Vineyard, the first mile loops amongst their grape vine varieties. The next 2 1/2 miles are in the Aquidneck Land Trust – corn fields, winding through woods, fields – hazards and all, truly a cross country course. I usually drive the course a few times just before the race to shovel the horse “droppings” off the course before the runners start. It is a challenging course not for the hills – it is pretty flat, but because most runners have never run off road before. You have to watch your step on every part. It is always a bit visceral running through nature like that. It is a different experience for many, and a much better one.
After you finish running through the vines and fields, you can hear the music and see the vineyard as you approach the final turn.  Nothing makes some people finish faster than knowing there is a glass of wine waiting for them at the end. You literally get handed a custom wine glass as soon as you cross the finish line!
Then the party can begin – BBQ and acoustic music on the Vineyards stunning patio, bordered by the vines on one side and the gorgeous stainless steel vats on the other.
The Age Group winners are awarded custom labels bottles of wine!  I have won my share of trophies but this would be my favorite!

Every year we do this race, we learn something new about how to improve it. Next year we will add mile markers on course. We can tweak the food a bit and shorten up the waves so there is more time to linger after the race. We send out post race surveys because we truly want to know what works and what doesn’t so we can make it better.  For me – this race is everything that I love – running, trails, wine, music – I want this race to be AMAZING and learning from our experiences will help make it so.

Here is some cool drone footage from some of the last waves of the race:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/136355655@N03/22050611961/in/datetaken/

What I have learned from Back-of-the-Packers (i.e. I have the greatest job in the world)

DreamFar is a inner city group that trains for
road races in hopes to keep kids off the streets
and away from drugs.

We just returned from upstate NY for a 5k, 10k and half marathon at a casino.  This is always a tough race to execute due to the distance – we work crazy hours cramming a week’s worth of work into 3 days, (we enjoy the casino nightlife), get up at 3:30am and produce the race, then drive the 5 hours home and unload the trucks at 9pm at night.  We are all beat by the end as it is always a very physical job.  But this year it was all worth it.

This year, we had a woman in the half marathon who was amazing to me.  We have a time cut off with our races as we do need to open roads back up, let our volunteers go home and allow the community to get back to their business of the day.  We knew this woman wasn’t going to be able to make that cut off.  But as the sag vehicle trailed right behind her all day, she never gave up.  This woman could have gotten in our truck at any time (it was right behind her, taunting her even…..) and had a ride back to the finish.  Even when I talked to her about how we had to pull up the cones and wasn’t sure we would be able to keep up the finish arch, she wanted to finish the race she started.  Her tenacity and will power was inspiring to me.  She finished that race, under police escort, on her own and under that finish line arch – she never gave up.

This woman had been in Boston during the bombing and had
been diverted before the finish.
She was able to finish her marathon with us and she was so moved.

As a race director, we often talk to the back of the packers that are not going to make the cutoff times – 95% of them do not want the ride back, they WANT to finish, even on their own.  The few people that ask for the ride back are in pain and often in tears.  We hear such amazing stories as to why crossing that line is so important to them.  It may be they are running for someone who no longer can, they have battled disease or abuse (mental or physical), they have this life long goal they need to achieve, they want to prove to their family that they can, for their own self-esteem – everyone has a story when they toe that start line.  Because running 13.1 or 26.2 miles is HARD – but that battle is mostly mental.

When you direct a race, you throw a lot of balls in the air and hope they all come down at the right time.  Most of the time, they do not – nothing ever goes as planned.  But when I start to get overwhelmed during the race about what is going wrong (I am a perfectionist so I don’t want ANYTHING to go wrong) – I take a moment and I stand at the finish line and I watch everything that has gone right.  All those stories come to fruition at the finish line – tears of joy, of pain, of self fulfillment, of goals being attained and life long dreams are satisfied.  A finish line of a race is truly the happiest place on earth.

And in some small way, I helped them achieve that.  So for me – I have the greatest job in the world.

 

Timberman #11

While I don’t get to race as often as I used to, I still love getting out there – not just to test myself, but also to look at how someone else is doing it.  My favorite race every year, with my race streak staying alive for its 11th year in a row, is the Timberman Triathlon.

The Timberman is right next to our place in NH.  I watched the tri during its first year, volunteered at it the next two years and then, after watching some of the participants and thinking – I can do that! – I gave it a go in 2005.  I had never done one before and I wasn’t sure how to pace myself – I SUCK at swimming and just wanted to make it out of the water.  Additionally, I only had a crappy 20 year old hybrid bike so I was sorely undertrained on the bike but I knew I could run.  It was only a sprint, after all – 1/3 mi swim, 15 mi bike and 5k run, I figured if I could survive the swim, I could muddle through the rest.

My first year in 2005 with a borrowed bike
Not super proud of the way I was looking back then.
Notice the difference in the race site

Looking better 11 yrs later.  🙂

 So I finished it, and it was a lot easier than I thought it would be.  And I LOVED it.

Flash forward 11 years later and there have been many changes to this race.  I have done both the long course and the short course and while the logistics have changed dramatically, this race is still the “ideal” for me.  This race defines what I want to be as a race director.  But it may not be what you think.—–

The original race director was Keith Jordan and the race was nicknamed the “Woodstock” of tri races.  Keith organized a number of events both in NH and in TX. The races under Keith’s direction had a crazy cast of characters – a “devil” at the top of the monster hills, a large man in a blond wig wearing a bright red dress and fully endowed, drums, encouraging signs and an awesome swag bag.  He used a lot of local vendors and businesses and it had a hometown feel.  The charities that manned the aid stations made them fun with music, decorations and costumes.  It was super fun, low key but well organized and just a great day for new and experienced triathletes alike.  You never knew what was going to come around the next corner.  The tri started selling out sooner and sooner – it would open in September/October and sell out in November.  It was welcoming to newcomers, it was super fun and incredibly exciting!  They made you feel like part of the experience, part of the family.

This race truly changed me life.  Set my professional career on a new course.

A few years into existence and after rapid growth, Keith got an offer from WTC (World Triathlon Corporation) to sell the race, as well as a few others, so that it could be an Ironman 70.3 series race.  Please don’t get me wrong – if they offered me that kind of money, I would have accepted it too.

But the race is no longer a fun little race.  Entry fees are between $300-$400.  It doesn’t sell out and it is a “big business” race.  The T-shirt sucks, goody bags are lame and the check in process is Disneyland-esque – the way they dumped you out in the merchandise tent.  All the little details are gone – no local artist designing the t-shirts, no fun aid stations, no crazy dressed up course marshals.  Granted – there are certain benefits to competing with such a highly efficient machine as the WTC – very impressive finish lines, super tight check in process, pro athletes, big booming emcees and loads of fencing and banners.  It feels like you are competing on the big stage!  But you sold a little bit of your soul to do it.

When I race this race – I notice everything.  How did they mark the course, what are they serving for food, who is their t-shirt supplier, is the RD is out the next morning cleaning up all those damn gel packets, etc etc.  There are literally thousands of details about putting on a race and I take in all of it – as an RD and as a competitor – what is working efficiently and what isn’t, what do I like as a competitor and what is missing.

Every race is professional development for me.  What can we do better?

But the evolution of this race clearly defines what kind of races I would like to execute.  I want to take the local vibe of the grass roots event and the professionalism of the WTC race and give our participants the best of both.

So I won’t bore you with a long race report as this is more about what sort of experience I have on the inside of the coned running lane and how it can make the other side better.

But I will tell you this happened…… #winnerwinner

After coming close all these years, I FINALLY won my age group (my birthday was the day before the race!).  As my husband will attest – the most expensive bottle of maple syrup ever!