Sunday, November 9, 2014

Advance Token to Board Walk - if you pass Go, collect $200...and a giant medal

Atlantic City...located on the Jersey Shore.  Famous for Miss America....The Boardwalk Empire.  Well, we are all aware of the reality....those Boardwalk Empire days are gone.  Casinos are slowly closing one by one.  The Showboat Casino...closed.  The Revel casino, which looked like it was built yesterday...closed.  Trump Plaza...closed.  What's left on the Boardwalk?  Ballys, Ceasar's, Taj Mahal, the Tropicana.  Will those slowly shut their doors as time goes on?  I blame Snooki, JWoww, Pauly D and "The Situation" for the downgrade Atlantic City has taken. And possibly for the downgrade of American society overall. ; )

Showboat... Closed
In my opinion, Atlantic City has a lot of potential.  Unfortunately, the city has a reputation of being run down, and a little sketchy.  But the boardwalk itself is well maintained, and even in the beginning of the off season, was still lively. But maybe that was because there was a giant Herbalife convention going on.  Shops were selling Herbalife shirts. Herbalife reps were everywhere. I'm pretty sure I had to weave through several of them when making my way to the finish line.

Any way, one part of town that was a little less lively was off the boardwalk between my hotel and a famous Atlantic City lighthouse.  I took a walk down Pacific Avenue to visit the Absecon Lighthouse (by the way, walking around Atlantic City is like walking around a real live version of Monopoly!) In hindsight, maybe walking from my hotel to the lighthouse might not have been the best idea.  The walk wasn't far, maybe 5 blocks or so, but it was pretty desolate, walking past the shuttered Showboat and Revel Casinos, and as a female traveling alone, not a good idea to be in desolate parts of town.   Any way, I made it safely to the lighthouse, which is the tallest in New Jersey, at 171 feet and one of the oldest, first lit in 1857.  The same weekend as the marathon and the Herbalife convention was also the Lighthouse Challenge, which is a two day event where people climb to the top of the state's 11 land based lighthouses.  Souvenirs were aplenty! Absecon Lighthouse has a lot of steps,  228 to be exact.  I think walking up them is not a good idea to do the day before running a marathon, but the muscle fatigue was well worth the view and the amazing breeze that hits you when you're up there (you really work up a sweat climbing 228 steps).  I even got a little card as proof that I made it to the top!

Taj Mahal
Surfer dude
Rather than walk past the shuttered casinos back to my hotel, I opted to walk down the boardwalk instead.   Much, much nicer.   I walked past the Taj Majal, which is still open (for now.)  I walked down to the beach where I caught part of a surf contest.  Very cool to watch.  And I'm always a sucker for the beach, especially on a warm, picture perfect day.  I mean, can you blame me?

All that walking made me hungry, so I stopped for lunch at Empire Burger on the boardwalk.  As in any place where there are casinos, you are guaranteed to encounter interesting people. One of these encounters occurred here.  There was a couple in front of me in line, and the wife was back a bit from the counter as there wasn't much space for her motorized cart.  So her husband was ordering for her. First she barked to him that she wanted a hamburger.   But then she barked that she would like a hot dog.  And then she wanted a hamburger, with fries.  Then without fries..then with fries, and she doesn't need a drink, but wait, she would like a diet pepsi, and did he order her the hot dog? Wow was all I could think. 

I continued down the boardwalk until I got to the last of the casinos and realized I had a long walk back to my hotel.  I always find myself doing too much walking the day before a race as I'm sightseeing.  I took a break on my way back to buy some salt water taffy.  How could I go to Atlantic City and not buy any? Seriously... Eating it brings to mind the days of beach vacations and families frolicking in the surf and sun along the board walk.  Some buildings are still reminiscent of this era, with turquoise seahorses and deep blue accents. Picture Beaches during the beginning of the movie when Bette Midler and Barbara Hersey are kids.  Great image, right?  Disturbingly, my mind then goes immediately to the horror of a giant man-eating shark terrorizing the beach.  My parents let me watch Jaws way too young. 

I went back to my hotel and relaxed a bit before heading away from the boardwalk for my pre-race dinner.  My pre-trip research led me to the Atlantic City Bottling Company's dining room, called The Iron Room, which is apparently a nod to the recently retired Monopoly game piece.  Did anyone else know the iron game piece was retired?! Me either, until I read the restaurant's website. (Wonder what is in the new Monopoly games?) This place has about every whisky, whiskey, or scotch you could imagine, a respectable beer list and several wines.  You can also dine at a table in the store area and drink what you buy, or buy what you drink...however you want to put it.   I popped in there to buy myself a post-race beer for the next day.  Food was also great, I had this amazing seared endive, romaine hearts and asparagus salad.  Whoever thought to sear some romaine lettuce is a genius. I also had a Korean BBQ hangar steak with sweet and sour brussels sprouts.  Also delish, although they could have eased up a bit on the sweet and sour sauce, I prefer my sprouts a little less saucy. 

So....I'm beginning to notice that these coastal races tend to be a bit blustery.  (revisit Providence post).  The wind gusts on race day were up to 30 mph.  If I haven't mentioned it before, I hate running in wind.  Actually hate isn't strong enough, despise is a better fit (revisit Providence post). Unless of course it's behind me.  Then I LOVE running in the wind.  Alas, this rarely seems to be the case.  (why is that?)  So it was windy, and it made me tired.  But I will say, it was a lot less painful than running 15 miles down a canyon!  The course wasn't too bad for one that was pretty much out and back.  You run out to some of the farther casinos, like Harrah's and Borgata, past some large elephant statue named Lucy, and you also run a fair chunk of the race on the boardwalk itself as that is where the start and finish were.  The bizarre thing it that it was still open to pedestrians as usual.  Not a big deal in the morning since not many people were out then, but you had to sort of weave around people on the way to the finish as there were more people out and it seemed to be lunch break time for the Herbalife convention. But overall, not a big inconvenience as the race itself was a small one.

View from the Shoppes at Ceasar's pier
So I finished the race,with not my best, but certainly not my worst time.  The finish had some pretty decent food, some hot clam chowder, chips, beer.  I always appreciate a post race party with more than bananas and plain, dry bagels.  And while the photo doesn't really provide much perspective, the medal is huge!

Sucker for the beach at sunset
For this race, I broke from tradition and did not have post-race oysters, although I seriously considered it.  Instead, I had the half price happy hour sushi at Nero's in the Ceasar's hotel and casino, which had a great view of the ocean. The staff was very friendly as well, and sushi was pretty good.  Although I didn't really feel completely full after eating some.  (Later, I ordered Papa John's delivery to my hotel) Yep, that's how it is when you've run a marathon and didn't really eat lunch.  You are disgusting and eat dinner, and THEN order pizza after that. of the first casinos on the boardwalk
After dinner numero uno, I walked back to my hotel along the beach since it was so quiet and serene.  And who doesn't love a beach at sunset?  I also knew that when I got back to Chicago, it would only be a matter of time before it was winter, and it would be a while before I could be on a beach, with an above freezing breeze in my face.

Sunday night on the boardwalk is pretty quiet.  But honestly, it was pretty nice just walking along, smelling the ocean air, and taking in some of the glitz of the casinos that are still hanging in there. 

So would I recommend this race to other runners?  Definitely yes.  Pass go. Collect $200... and your giant medal. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Marathons, Mountains, and Mormons, Oh My!

Big Cottonwood... It touts itself as a scenic, fast race, one full of Boston qualifying times and setting personal records.  Well, for me, only 2 out of 3 of those held true.  It was incredibly scenic running down those 15 miles of canyon.  And  I set a personal record.... for the most painful marathon yet.  When you live in Chicago, it's pretty darn hard to train for a race that's more than 50% down a hill at altitudes ranging from 8700 ft to 4800.  My legs felt fatigued more than usual.  Staying hydrated was harder than usual.  For me it was all harder than usual.  

Arriving at the start, sparkles of Mylar
But I finished!  And can say that I was part of the experience that is the Big Cottonwood Marathon.    

So you start the race at the Brighton Ski Resort  You hop on a bus and head up the canyon, ears popping as you creep up.  I arrived at the start area around 6:30 a.m.  (the race didn't end up starting until 7:30).  It's pitch black and about 40 degrees.  They do give you gloves and mylar blankets in your goody bag, which helped, but I was bundled up like I was ready to run on a snowy winter day. I had three layers on under my warmest running jacket.  I shed the jacket at the start and slowly shed the other layers as I made my way down the mountain.  Maybe some of you might remember a certain pink Miley Cyrus hoodie I purchased at an Arizona Wal-Mart before running the marathon in Phoenix.  That hoodie brought me luck in Arizona.  Ran my fastest race there.  But Miley certainly failed me here.  Maybe it's because she was more pure back in 2011.  Now the hoodie is clearly tainted.  I ditched it at mile 6.  Good riddance to you Miley hoodie. 

Fortunately the sun was up by the time the race started, but we were still in the shadows of the canyon running down.  I gotta say, it was really beautiful seeing the sun hitting the tops of the mountains as it made it's way up.  And there were some parts of the race where a river was running alongside the road.  I took out my headphones for some of those stretches just to enjoy the sound of the water making its way down the canyon. 

After 15 miles downhill, you're at the bottom, where you now have the pleasure of running a 7 mile out-and-back stretch of highway of rolling hills, sunshine, and limited spectator support.  By this time, it was probably in the mid-70s.  (Wait, wasn't it just like 30 degrees cooler?)  This is the point when I realized this race was flipping hard.  In every single marathon I've run, there is always a moment when I realize that I'm incredibly tired, and stopping would feel amazing. A common misconception is that if you run lots of marathons, it starts to feel easy.  Wrong.  It never does. At least not for me.  But rarely do I think to myself, I don't think I can finish this race.  Well I thought that here.  So I walked. And then I ran a little here, a little there.  Then I stretched. And walked some more.  This cycle repeated from about mile 18 to the finish line.

My favorite the part! The end!  Big Cottonwood = Big A$$ Medal. 

This is the first race that I've actually done an ice bath afterwards.  Downside of traveling to run a race by yourself.... no one is there to get you more ice when the ice in your ice bath has melted.  It's a shame the hotel didn't just fill their pool with ice, as it was filled with runners later in the afternoon who would have all appreciated it I'm sure.  Yep, I spent about 2 hours laying poolside post race.  It felt awesome.  

That was probably the last time I felt close to awesome until about Wednesday following the race.   To give you an idea how crappy I was feeling, for those of you who know me, I had purchased 2 individual beers of Utah brewed loveliness, and I couldn't even finish one.  The horror!  Hopefully housekeeping enjoyed the second.  

The day after the race, I wasn't real ambitious, but I slowly made my way to downtown Salt Lake
Shady nap view
City to make a visit to the Mormon Temple Square.  It was a beautiful warm and sunny afternoon.  I ended up spending the entire afternoon there, walking slowly (the only speed I was capable of) through the park filled with fountains, flowers, and sister missionaries.  (Don't stop and stand still for too long...they'll catch up to you.)  I was still not feeling great so I laid in a shady spot in the grass and ended up dozing off.  I woke up just in time to catch an organ performance in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.  This was no ordinary organ.  This thing had 5 panels of keys, 32 pedals, and 11,623 pipes.   The best part is they back-light it and it changes colors based on the song.  So the first song was an ominous, horror-movie-sounding piece.  The organist starts up, and the light changed from blue to red.  Babies started crying.  It was fabulous.

Just a tiny portion of the conference center
The gold speck on top is the Angel Moroni
I always hear how everything is bigger in Texas.  Now I wonder why no one says that about Utah.  They've got big canyons,  big organs, and really big temples and conference centers.  Maybe it's just the Mormons who like to do things big, but all the buildings seemed enormous.  And also beautiful.  I was a little disappointed that while taking pictures I wasn't chased away by guys in black suits and ear pieces like Bill Maher was in Religulous, but maybe that's for the best

Although I couldn't walk comfortably for 3 days following this race, I'm glad that I chose this one to run in Utah.  And guess what?  With that being state #20, I'm 40% of the way to my goal of running a marathon in every state!  I plan on countering all that Mormon purity by heading to the Jersey shore for my next race in a few weeks.  Snooki, get yourself a sitter and lets hit the town!
Where to stay: I highly recommend staying that the Cottonwood Marriott Residence Inn.  They had a great breakfast spread for the runners, shuttles to the start and from the finish.  They were awesome, and I had a fabulous view of the mountains from my room.

Where to eat:  Pallet Bistro, in downtown Salt Lake City.  The building was built in the early 1900s and served as the loading dock for the Salt Lake Valley's first creamery.  They try to keep with the era by using 100 year old reclaimed wood.  I recommend trying the lamb. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Providence, RI.... the real Windy City

Tiny lighthouse in Providence Harbor
Living in Chicago, you might think that I'm used to wind.  Well, I might be used to it, but that doesn't mean I  like it.  And I certainly do not like it when I'm trying to run a marathon.  On May 4th, I ran the Cox Providence Rhode Races Marathon, and while there were inklings of rain in the forecast, the rain held off and it was a sunny 60ish degree day.  But there was the wind.  Oh, the evil, evil wind.  Gusts were up to 45mph according to the National Weather Service.  And just like Chicago, no matter which way the course turned, it always seemed like it was blowing right at you.  Well, actually, for much of it it was blowing at me from the side, as we ran along the Providence Harbor where the wind was coming off of the water.  But at least you could smell the salt water and there was even a tiny lighthouse. (don't you just love the ocean smell?) 
Coastal homes

 To go along with that ocean smell, the course took us through a part of Rhode Island that certainly had the feel of being in a little harbor town.  If you've ever been to the small towns outside of Boston, a little bit of that feel.

I arrived in Providence in the late afternoon before the race and had some time to walk around the downtown area.  Speaking of races, I had some difficulty finding a bar with a t.v. so I could catch the Kentucky Derby.  I did find a small burger bar that was airing it on the one TV in the whole place, and I caught it just in time to see my horse Chitu loose the $5 I bet on him.  (insert sad trombone here). 

Back to sightseeing...  After walking around a bit, heading across the river towards the Brown University campus, I noticed that I was walking primarily uphill...and a steep ones at that.  I began to develop this sense of dread about the following day, not realizing at the time that the course did not head that direction.  (woo hoo!!)  So fortunately my hill climbing was limited to sightseeing, which was fine by me.  By the way, visiting the Brown campus made me feel incredibly old and of course made me wonder, did I act that ridiculous when I was in college? Wait..yes I'm sure I did.  It was nice to see though that even the Ivy Leagues are not devoid of vomiting college students on a warm Saturday afternoon. 

Old courthouses, old bank; new capital
Fleur de Lys (upper left) Circa 1885 and Victorian style houses
One thing Providence has a lot of are old Victorian houses, and old government buildings that reminded me of being in London.  (I guess they don't call it New England for nothing).  And a bit of trivia, Providence is home to the First Baptist Church in America!  Circa 1638.  Old. 

Providence is also home to an old historic art deco-styled movie theater, the Avon Cinema.  I had already seen the movie showing there (The Grand Budapest Hotel) so I didn't take in the movie, but it reminded me a bit of the Logan Theater for those of you familiar with Chicago (which is coincidentally where I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel).

Old baptist church; Asian food fest; Avon Cinema; Riverwalk
The area just east of downtown was fairly lively, probably because it's proximity to Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design.  There was an Asian food fest sponsored by students that had an insanely long line to get in (or I might have tried it) and that area also has a nice little river walk area.  I had dinner at a place called New Rivers, which I'd recommend.  Diner Alert: Don't get the appetizer portion of the pasta thinking, "Oh, I'll just order this because I don't want to eat a whole giant portion of pasta."  The real portion of pasta is actually a normal portion and the appetizer portion is...well, a true appetizer portion.  The server put it in front of me and my first thought was, well, where should I go eat after this?  Fortunately I had also ordered a salad, so I ended up satisfied.

The day after the race I ended up visiting the Swan Point Cemetery.  For some reason, I am always a big fan of cemeteries.  Maybe it's because they are always so peaceful and quiet. They have majestic monuments, and there is always a lot of fresh flowers, and who doesn't love that? Swan Point Cemetery is pretty huge and rumor has it, has security guards who get angry if you take photos.  I will attest to the fact that they do have security guards and, while no one yelled at me for taking photos, the security guard was driving around the grounds like a mad man.  A little fast for a cemetery where people are walking around and trying to reflect upon stuff, if you ask me.  

After the cemetery, I decided to visit the Federal Hill neighborhood.  It definitely had a different vibe than other parts of the city.  Some really cool architecture, but it seemed a bit rundown.  I ran into an older gentleman in a popular plaza (well, in the summer it apparently is a little more lively).  He informed me that I shouldn't wander too far from that area.  Oops, already had been wandering around in the parts where he told me not to go!
Federal Hill

Overall, I enjoyed Providence and would love to revisit Rhode Island to take in some of the beaches.  After all, it is the Ocean State!  The race was a good course, but if you are a person who needs a LOT of crowd support, maybe not the best one for you.  And with that, race number 19 is complete!  Looking forward to a short break before starting to train for my next race in the fall.  Number 20 isn't 100% decided yet, but I'm thinking the Big Cottonwood Marathon in Utah.  Mostly downhill! Weeeeee!  (but how do you train for that in a flat city?)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Running of the Derby...... Festival Marathon

They say it's every jockey's dream to run the Kentucky Derby.   And while it may not be every runner's dream to run the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon, maybe it should be. OK, so I might be exaggerating a little, but this is definitely a race that is worth the trip.  The course is beautiful, plus you get to run into the infield of Churchill Downs.  Even though it's a couple weeks before the Derby itself (can you imagine blocking off roads during the Derby???), the excitement in Louisville in the weeks building up to the Derby is palpable.  Plus, Kentuckians are pretty darn friendly, and you can tell they are incredibly proud to be from Kentucky, especially during Derby season! It's endearing and hard not to love. 
Humongous bat
The Downs
First off, the weather was per-fect.  Sunny, with highs in the 70s.  It was in the 50s when the race started and slowly warmed up so to me it never felt too hot.  You get to run by the ginormous Louisville Slugger bat and, as I said above, into the Churchill Downs infield where were already setting up for the festivities on race day.  They sell an unlimited number of tickets to the infield on race day, and it fills up with tens of thousands of really sober people (a little bit of sarcasm for ya).

One of the hills
Coming up to the halfway mark, you run through Iroquois Park, which is beautiful, but also the hilliest part of the race.  I swear this hill is MUCH bigger in reality.  

You also get to run a little bit through the University of Louisville's campus, past a row of fraternities and sororities.   I passed my sorority, Chi Omega's Louisville chapter house, along with the other frats and sororities, and it was obvious that either they were all on spring break or had stayed out the night before as there was not one single frat boy or sorority girl out there cheering. And this was at mile 19ish, so it wasn't THAT early in the morning. I mean, it was at least 11:00 a.m.  Side note to the Louisville Chi-O chapter...make cheering on the runners a Hootie Duty.

Note the absence of sorority girls
 This race was combined with the half-marathon, and the vibe certainly changed when the course split off.  There were probably about 10,000 half-marathon runners and a little over 2000 marathon runners.  But for being such a small race, there were very few areas devoid of supporters, which was a nice surprise.  

Unlike some races I've done, where the crowd waits for their family or friend to run by, to me it seemed like they were cheering for included.  So thank you citizens of Louisville!  And if you were in the need for some additional inspiration, there was this guy.  Running in full firefighter gear for charity.  Pretty awesome, huh?  Speaking of charities and being awesome, if you wanna donate to the Autism Society, click on the link on the right there that says Autism Society and it will take you to my fundraising page. Thank you in advance!  

If you're looking for a great place to eat, head to Harvest in the neighborhood I think they are calling NuLu.  According to Will at the Beer Store (also a great place to stop) it is really called Butchertown because that is where all the slaughter houses used to be.  This sounds a bit morbid to me, maybe because I've been watching too many episodes of American Horror Story and The Following.  But Will says NuLu is the city's way of making the area cool and hip.  It does have a bit of a hipster vibe to it, but if you are anti-hipster, it's still a very cool part of town.  But I digress.... So to get back to Harvest, this place is a farm-to-table joint which sources it's ingredients pretty much entirely from a 100 mile radius.  There is a map on the wall where you can see where the food is coming from and all over the walls are the smiling portraits of the farmers supplying you with the delicious meal in front of you.  And their drinks are also fabulous.  Grab a beer afterwards at a place a couple doors down called "the garage" where they have lit up ping pong tables and fake grassy ledges to sit on.  It's lively and great people watching.  Another cool spot to hit up if you're into dive bars is a place downtown on Broadway called Freddie's.  The place has been open forever and the owner is a former WWII Navy vet.  I hear he's in there everyday at some point in the afternoon, but I was there in the evening.  And if you're from a place like Chicago, you might experience a bit of sticker shock from the prices....because they are so low!
Inside Freddie's. Copyright Todd Winters Photography

I also recommend a trip to Bardstown, which is about 40 minutes from downtown Louisville.  It's quaint and historic with some distilleries in the surrounding area. There is also a shop where you can get yourself a stuffed longhorn head for about $3,200 from probably the friendliest cowboy this side of the Mason-Dixon line. His dog Cheyenne is also incredibly friendly but apparently has a drinking problem since her dog dish is labeled "bourbon water." 
Barrels of bourbon. Copyright Todd Winters Photography
As always, thanks to everyone who supports me in running all these races.  I feel like I should give a shout out to Healthsource on Milwaukee here in Chicago, Drs. Kari and Robert who keep me injury free!   And and a huge thanks to everyone who has donated to my fundraising site and for your awesome words of encouragement.  I truly appreciate them and they certainly keep me motivated to continue moving forward on this goal.  Which is great, because I've got another one coming up here next weekend, on May 4th, in Providence, Rhode Island!
Kentucky, check! Copyright Todd Winters Photography

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Spring training? Not exactly.

Happy St. Patrick's Day weekend!  I've been a bit MIA since the new year as I started a new job in November and have been trying to adapt to my new surroundings.   So to catch you all up, I've been training since the end of December for my next race, which will take place this April in Louisville, Kentucky.  The Derby Festival Marathon!  (does not take place during the Derby, btw).  So while I am training for a spring marathon, I would not call this spring training.   Not even close.   As everyone is aware, this winter, especially in Chicago, has been a rough one.  (last count I saw was over 75 inches of snow overall).   Here are some scenes from my training runs this winter....

 OK, so I did get one weekend in Florida thanks to a work-related trip earlier this month to Tampa. I'm not gonna lie, the sun felt awesome  But for the most part I've spend a LOT of time on the treadmill.  On the upside, I've really gotten into The Following, season one, and have had the opportunity to watch SEVERAL episodes on Netflix while on the treadmill. 

April is Autism Awareness month so I thought it fitting to dedicate my 18th marathon taking place in April to raising support and awareness for the Autism Society.  My inspiration for this comes from a good friend who has a son with autism.  This actually was something that I wasn't entirely aware of until I read a blog she wrote last April.  I already knew she was an overall cool and amazing person who appreciates fine music like JT, Bell Biv Devoe, and other classics like Keith Sweat.  But after reading her post,  I was in totally in awe of the challenges she and her family face daily, and how they face those challenges with a lot of humor and a lot of love.  Running a marathon seems easy in comparison.  Please take a few minutes to read her post, it's really fabulous and eye-opening.  (Kelly, I hope you don't mind me sharing).  She's also a frequent blogger for Quad Cities Mom's Blog and hilarious, so read her stuff. : )

Please help me in supporting the Austism Society, which is dedicated to helping those affected by autism and also to helping those of us who haven't experienced autism first hand gain a better understanding of the condition.   Please head to my link to donate to the Autism Society.    I appreciate your support as I continue training for Louisville  next month and as I continue to train throughout April for #19 in Rhode Island the first weekend of May.

And if you live in the Quad Cities, you should consider participating in the Royal Ball Run this year in Milan. Here's a link for ya!    Don't worry, it's not a full marathon.  It's a 5K.  : )

Now to head down to that treadmill for a 10 mile run (it's currently 21 degrees outside and "feels like" 5).