Sunday, May 20, 2012

Fargo? You Betcha!

Oofdah! I conquered North Dakota! This weekend, I traveled to Fargo with my friends Laird and Heather to take part in Fargo's marathon weekend. 
I chose to run the 10K, as I'm just building up my mileage after a winter break.  Since the 10K started at 7 am, and the marathon started at 8:15, it meant that I had time to run the 10K and then hightail it to an intersection along the marathon course to cheer for Heather and Laird.

The weather was a cool and rainy as I made my way to the start line. Thankfully the rain stopped before the race started! The course wound through the streets of Fargo near the Fargodome. It was nice to see spectators cheering for us even on parts of the course that diverged from the marathon route. Thanks Fargo residents! The finish line was actually inside the Fargodome - it was fun running into the stadium and seeing lots of people sitting in the stands cheering. Now that's a fun way to make every finisher feel like a rock star!
Laird and Heather midway through
Mile 18 and still smiling!

Laird and Heather ran the marathon together, in step, for all 26.2 miles, and had a fantastic 3:50 finish. Way to go! We celebrated our accomplishments with a night out on the town Fargo-style: dinner at Fargo's best restaurant, HoDo, which uses local ingredients to produce food that is "fresh, lively, adventurous and fun." That perfectly describes HoDo's extensive cocktail menu. :)

As always, I am running to support Girls on the Run. I have joined the Fundraising Committee of Girls on the Run Twin Cities, which just wrapped it inaugural season, and I'm the volunteer "director" of the Solemates charity run team, through which runners can raise funds for GOTR TC while training for their favorite races. What better way to lead the Solemates program than by example! So please consider making a donation to GOTR Twin Cities to help us expand our program locations througout the Twin Cities. You can make a donation using this link. If you are a Twin Cities local, we're celebrating our first season with a party and silent auction fundraiser on June 7 called Dollars For Distance. Please consider attending and sharing the invitation with your friends! Tickets can be purchased using the same link.

Also a charity runner, Laird ran Fargo as his 7th marathon of 2012 (!!!) in support of The Alliance for Children's Rights, Activision's Call of Duty Endowment and Children's International. If you would like to make a contribution to any of his charities, you can do so here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Good old fashioned country ass-whoopin'

Welcome to the Grand Ole Opry
Nashville...  The home of country music.... Music City.... A devil city when it comes to marathons.  About a week ago, Nashville's Country Music Marathon took me over its knee and gave me a serious whoopin' with it's never-ending rolling hills and 80 degree heat on race day.  I guess if you train in an area that has some hills, maybe the course isn't so bad.  But I don't.  I train in Chicago.  It's flat.  So for me, this was one of the hardest courses I've ever run.  The rolling hills really never seemed to stop.  And the heat kept creeping up as the race went on.  But I pushed through, motivated to get my sparkly record-shaped medal, and finished that race, even though it was the slowest race I've run yet.  After I finished, a wave of heat exhaustion nausea hit me, and I spent 4 hours back at my hotel lying in bed, watching a different kind of marathon - "Say Yes to the Dress - Bridesmaids" on TLC.  It sucks you in, trust me.

Despite the pain Nashville's marathon caused me, I discovered that Nashville is a really cool city.  The course was fairly scenic, running through the downtown, Germantown, past Vanderbilt, looping around Shelby Park Golf Course and onto the finish at LP Field, where the Tennessee Titans play.  The city has a vibe that you can't deny, with it's countless live music venues downtown on Broadway Street.  Even arriving at the airport, you see why it's called Music City, with live music playing throughout the terminal, and people picking up their guitars from the baggage carousels.

The Mansion
Slave house

My first stop though was Belle Meade Plantation.  I arrived between guided tours, so while waiting, I wandered around.  There was a gate with a sign that read: No Entrance Without Tickets.  But I discovered you could actually access the grounds another way, so I ended up doing my own self-guided tour (free of charge).  I toured the old slave house, a masouleum, and the mansion.  There were some novelty bits, like face-painting for the kids, and the always popular fill-in-the-head photo op.  Sadly I was traveling alone so had no one to pose with me. But to ease my pain, I ended my tour at the Belle Meade winery.  
Wine this way!

After some wine tasting, I decided to head downtown to check into my hotel. My room wasn't quite ready yet, so I went to the convention center to get my race packet.  In hindsight, that might have been the worst part of the marathon.  I hate those expos. 30,000 people trying to maneuver their way through mazes and booths, to get a bib, a t-shirt and a bag full of endless coupons. Nothing fun about that, but good for picking up a last minute over-priced hoodie when you forgot to pack one!

Immigrant housing in 1872
After some down time, I headed to Germantown for a walking tour, which I downloaded before my departure.  Nerd alert!!Unfortunately, due to some rain, my walking tour became a walking/driving tour.  It's still a quaint area, even in the rain, with it's cobblestone sidewalks, lazy porches and colorful homes.  It was originally a neighborhood populated initially by German immigrants (obvious from the name) and business merchants back in the 1850s to the 1870s. The neighborhood depleted over time, but in the 1980s the residents of Nashville decided to rehab the run down buildings and more shops and restaurants started to open.  I actually had dinner at the Germantown Cafe, which ironically did not specialize in German food or beer.  They still had delicious food, though. The best part was the bread they served.  It took me a moment to place the familiar flavor, then I pegged it... This bread was basically a doughnut, without the sticky sugar icing.  In other words...fried dough.  PERFECT for carb loading the night before a big race!  But the pork tenderloin medallions I had with plum sauce and mashed pototates were also a pretty good part of my pre-race meal.   The bartender, Jason, was friendly and invited me to visit him after the race at his Saturday night place of employment, Paradise Park, which is apparently a trailer park themed bar on Broadway.  I have to admit, I was intrigued.  Unfortunately, I didn't make it there, but I did walk by and it appeared true to form. 

I already mentioned the marathons on Saturday, ones with and without bridesmaids. So after my 4 hour respite, I decided I should eat something.  I ended up at this cool place on Broadway called Merchants.  I was starving so I devoured a plate of deviled eggs, sitting on top of tiny pickles (I love pickles) and fish tacos.  The bartenders all wore suspenders and vintage styled sort of newsie caps. I always prefer to eat at the bar when traveling alone, it's the best place to meet people.  Unfortunately, as a a bar, you end up being a target to men who are also the bar.  This guy from New York who ran the half-marathon came over to talk to me, but then awkwardly wouldn't leave when my food came.  I felt sorta like he was there lurking over my shoulder watching me eat... Creeptastic.  But there were some very fun and friendly ladies next to me at the bar who had also run the race and thankfully started talking to me.  The guy finally took the hint and left.  These women were from Atlanta and one of them had even qualified for the Olympic marathon trials. She only did the half-marathon this time but she finished second for the women, although she mentioned the heat had gotten to her too.  Even though she was an Olympic level marathoner, she still gave me so much encouragement and kudos for completing a marathon, albeit a slow one.  Insert warm fuzzies here.

Old timers with banjos. And sequin trimmed hats!
After dinner, it was off the the show that made country music famous... The one, the only... The Grand Ole Opry!   I will admit, even as a non-lover of country music, the Opry was still pretty cool.  Some of it wasn't quite my style, but when the old-timers were playing their fiddles and banjos, it was pretty impressive. And unbeknownst to me, they had square dancers!  Plus the solo clogging champions were making a special appearance there.  One thing I found really strange about the Opry though, is the parking lot.  The speed limit was 24. Not 25 or 30. 24 miles per hour.  How does someone even decide on that?  I wonder if it was a misprint of the signs and they just went with it.

I would love to return to Nashville when I'm not running, and just take some time to enjoy the live music along Broadway.  Sadly, I didn't really get a chance to do that.  Of course, I will remember to pack my "uniform" for Nashville - cowboy boots and a dress or skirt.  Almost every woman I saw was wearing that combination.  I guess I didn't get the memo.  Next time I'll be prepared!