Friday, September 30, 2016

Friday 5: September Runfessions

Here we are at the last Friday of the month again and time for Runfessions!  I'll be linking up with some of my favorite bloggers for this one (check them out) Marcia, Cynthia, Courtney, and Mar.  I have to say that this may have been the fastest month in the calendar so far - wasn't it August yesterday?  However, without further ado, here are my 5 Runfessions for this month.

1. I am completely off of my marathon training plan, which gives me anxiety.  I started with a plan that was too hard, I modified it, and I'm still off of it.  I really don't think marathons are for me, but I'm now getting into "just survive" mode.
2. I have not run outside nearly enough.  I'm not sure about where you live, but here in Nashville, it sure doesn't feel like Fall.  We're just now getting out of the 90s.  While leads me to ...
3. I runfess that I am a fickle runner.  I complained all summer about it being too hot and humid, and now the minute we see temps in the 70s, I get sad about it being cold.  Who am I? Goldi-run-locks?
4. Despite #1, I actually considered two insane things this month: running the Walt Disney World Marathon AND running the Dopey Challenge (because if you're there, why not run all the races).  This is because they released the medal designs, which are AWESOME.  I may have a problem.
5. I was doing an okay job of throwing in a little strength work for a while, but I've gotten off that plan as well.  Strength and stability are so important to us as runners and I am doing my body no favors by neglecting it.

So there you have it - a rough go for me this month!  October has to be a "getting it together" month!

What do you have to Runfess?
Did September go by as fast for you as it did for me?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

You Know You're a Runner When

I get lots of emails with running articles, races, things for sale and I have to say that MOST of the time, I don't read them.  I know, shame on me.  Today though, one from Active actually caught my eye - You Know You're a Runner When. You can click on the link and I promise it's short, mostly witty one liners with funny pictures about the crazy things we runners do.  And that got me thinking about that moment we realize we are runners.  For me, there have been a few signs over the years, among them:

1. When I started stockpiling running shoes once I found that "perfect" one.
2. When I started arranging trips to see my family around races (thankfully, they're runners).
3. When friends stopped asking me to do things on Friday nights because Saturday long runs were the priority.  Planning your social life around running is totally normal right?
4. When I actually thought about which medals I would prioritize removing from my house if it was on fire (after I got my animals out of course).
5. When I was injured and experienced major jealousy watching people run on a treadmill at the gym.

I've sent messages or talked to people I've coached at pivotal moments telling them, "you are officially a runner."  Those reasons are varied (and usually funny):

1. When one person described their injury as "just a little tendinitis" that she was totally able to run through.
2.  When NOTHING is off limits to talk about during a run, including bodily functions.
3. When we have planned the next race while running a race.
4. When they have realized that carb loading isn't REALLY necessary the night before a 5k (but it sure is fun).
5. When the weather no longer dictates their outdoor activities.  Bring it rain!

I guess all of these quirks are why they say running is more of a lifestyle than an activity.  And once you're hooked, there's no looking back!

So when did you realize that you were a runner?
What's the best/weirdest thing about being part of the running tribe?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Charity Spotlight: Catch A Lift Fund

This month's charity spotlight is one that hits close to home because I am a charity runner for Catch A Lift Fund.  The charity was founded in the memory of Christopher Coffland who was killed in Afghanistan while serving his country.  A great friend and supporter of others, CAL was designed specifically to help our post 9/11 combat wounded veterans.
(Catch A Lift Fund)
After time in the military (and often multiple tours), a return to civilian life isn't easy.  That return is even harder for our wounded veterans.  As runners, we understand the positive effects of physical fitness - a routine, physical and mental well-being, building connections with others who are interested in their health.  CAL supports veterans by fostering a connection to fitness by proving them access to gym memberships, gym equipment, nutrition plans, fitness plans, and peer to peer support.  Click HERE to see their feature on CBS Evening News.
Even cats like CAL!
The most important race on my calendar every year is Disney's Princess Half Marathon weekend.  I've run it every year, including the Glass Slipper Challenge, which makes me a "Perfect Princess."  This is my race and I've always run it for me as a celebration of my commitment to fitness and running.  For 2017, I wanted to run for more than me, and so I took at look at the runDisney partner charities.  I'm passionate about fitness and about supporting the veterans who give so much to keep us safe.
(Catch A Lift Fund)
Catch A Lift is a charity partner for the Walt Disney World (Florida) races:

Their fundraising minimums are very reasonable and come with a bunch of benefits including discounted room rates, discounted park tickets, a team shirt, a team social event, and other goodies.   Of course, you don't have to runDisney to be part of the CAL team.  They are involved in multiple events throughout the year or you could run any race you choose while raising money for a great charity!

 You can find all of this information and more on their website (  Not the charity for you?  That's okay - there are hundreds of wonderful charities that have joined forces with runners and races to help advance their efforts.  Come back next month to learn about another great charity!

Friday, September 23, 2016

RunDisney Virtual Shorts Return in 2017!

This year marked runDisney's first foray into the virtual running world with their Virtual Running Shorts series themed after the famous mouse who started it all.  Being a runDisney veteran (races sell out fast), I signed up the minute I received notice.  They didn't sell out in minutes (there were 3 5ks and a challenge), but they did all sell out.  You can find my review HERE.  So, I was randomly stalking the runDisney site today and happened to see that the Virtual Shorts date was updated.
Sorry for the wonky highlight.
That's right, it's coming back and we have a date!  The series will be taking place June 1 - August 31!  Before you get too excited, registration is not available until Spring 2017, but I'm really glad to see that this fun race option will be returning with 3 5ks (each is $39) and a challenge ($142).  And there is more!
RunDisney did provide an event update as well including a pretty major hint about this year's theme.  Anyone up for some Pluto medals?

Did you run any of the 2016 Virtual Shorts 5ks?
Do you like virtual races?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sheri's Glass Slipper Story

Today's post is a guest blog from my friend Sheri, who is currently training for her first half marathon!  For those of us who have been running consistently for a long time, it can be hard to remember what it was like trying to navigate this crazy running world starting with the perfect pair of running shoes.
Spoiler Alert!  Happy ending in store!
There is a song that will pop up on my playlist sometimes when I’m running called My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.  I always found that it motivated me to keep on moving and pushing through to the next mile.   Recently though, even when it wasn’t playing, I would be thinking about those lyrics. “My feet can’t fail me now; my feet can’t fail me now”.  Mainly because my feet were failing me or at least so I thought.  I had a great running plan, great headphones and a great pair of Hoka Clifton running shoes.   I had bought them specifically for my new running plan.  I love a good deal so I bought my shoes online, discounted of course, in the same size I always wear and in a style that had worked for other runners that I knew.  Unfortunately as my mileage increased throughout my plan, so did the issues with my feet.  Every time I would hit mile 2 or 3 my feet would go completely numb.  I would have to walk or switch to an old pair of shoes in order to finish my mileage for the day. 

After running with Lindsay one day she checked out my shoes.  Were the laces too tight?  Were they the right size?  Was the toe box wide enough?  All things that I definitely did not take into consideration before those morning runs or before buying them online.  So after many miles of numbness I finally decided it was time to visit an actual running store.    

We drove to our local Feet Fleet store in Mt. Juliet and were automatically greeted by a super helpful employee.  He measured both my feet and then had me walk and jog around the store.  

We discussed my preference in amount of cushion in a shoe.  From there I was given 3 shoes to try out.   Come to find out my feet weren’t failing me, my shoes were!  

Those online beauties I had purchased were actually too small and too narrow for my foot.   I also got some great advice on socks to wear that would be moisture wicking and help with circulation.  
Made in Tennessee!
I ended up sticking with Hokas, but purchased a size and style that was the perfect fit for my foot.  After wearing them for a week’s worth of runs, I cannot believe the difference I feel.  My new shoes are not an online discounted purchase, but they are worth every penny. 

What was your first "perfect" pair of running shoes?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Shadowbox Deal

Calling everyone running the inaugural Disneyland Paris Half Marathon weekend!  First, I am seriously jealous of you.  Second, there is a neat deal going on with Lasting Commemoratives.  They have released the Disneyland Paris HM designs for their shadowboxes, which you can get for 15% off using the promo code PARIS15.
Just two of several available designs.
On the fence?  If you order before tomorrow, you can get a free custom Bib Pillow (offer ends September 22 at 10 AM EST)!  Your bib doesn't have to be from the Disneyland Paris race either - you can choose any runDisney event!
Example Bib Pillows
Full disclosure, I have never tried any of these shadow boxes, but I have seen them at the expos and they look pretty neat!  Like anything else runDisney, the price tag isn't cheap, but it could make a really nice souvenir for a special event.

Do you have a Lasting Commemoratives shadowbox - love it or hate it?
How do you display your medals/bibs?

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Nashville Running - Stones River Greenway

One of my favorite places to run in Nashville is on the Greenway.  The city has been doing a lot of work on this trail system to connect all of the greenway paths so that you can basically run as long as you could want.  The Stones River Greenway trailhead is less than 10 minutes from my house and is currently under construction (eventually there will be a concession area, dog park, and kayak rental).
Trailhead has a backdrop of the Percy Priest Dam.
There are always lots of people on the path - runners, walkers, dog walkers, and bikers.  You can bring your own bike or rent one at a number of the trailheads along the greenway.
One of the best parts about the path is that it goes through so many different types of scenery: prairie, forest, golf courses, fields, and bridges.  One of my favorite parts is this long dock that follows the river.  There are usually all kinds of wildlife that you can see from this bridge.
There are also some more legitimate bridges that connect the path, but the best part is that there are no road crossings, which makes it really safe.
Over the bridge and along the river we go until you get to this property.  There must be cows there somewhere because I can usually smell them, but I've never actually seen them.
The majority of the Stones River Greenway is heavily shaded, which makes it great all-weather running.  It can be so green in the Spring and Summer and gets really beautiful when the leaves start to turn in the Fall.
This path has its fair share of hills - it's not for the faint of heart!  There are even warning signs on some of the steepest inclines/declines!
Nashville is a great town with a lot of outdoor activities to offer, but this is my go-to place to run.  If you're in town, check it out for any of your outdoor activities - walking, running, biking, kayaking ... just wave when you pass me on the trail!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Registration Alert: Tinker Bell Half Marathon Opens Tuesday!

If you are a Disney Vacation Club member of Annual Passholder, you've already been given advance access to register for Disney's Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend at Disneyland.  For the rest of us, registration opens next Tuesday at Noon Eastern Time!
Few things get me more excited when I open my email than a message from runDisney and I really love this race weekend (I've done it four times).  RunDisney will typically refresh designs (including medals) after anniversary years.  To get everyone up to speed, May 2016 marked the 5th anniversary of the Tinker Bell Half Marathon, so next year we can likely expect a refresh.  (Note that the 5th anniversary for the Pixie Dust challenge will not be until 2019.)  Judging by the above announcement, the refresh looks really cute - LOVE the colors and vibe!
Like any runDisney event, this one isn't cheap.  My trip is about to get even pricier because with the announcement of 5k medals now being made in metal, I'm going to have to add that one to my weekend along with the Pixie Dust Challenge.  This will be my first time running the Neverland 5k, but I've completed the Pixie Dust twice.  The first couple of years of the Tink Half saw super quick fill times, but last year was very reasonable (by runDisney standards).  Like many races lately, expect the 10k to fill first.  Good luck to everyone planning to register and hope to see you next May flying to the finish!

Are you planning to run the Tinker Bell Half Marathon?
What is your favorite race distance?

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

7 Tips For Staying Motivated During Long Runs

I know that many of us are in the mileage building phase of our training plans, preparing for fall races.  Those weekly long runs (and sometimes mid-week long runs) can be pretty taxing on our bodies, but I have found that they can be even more taxing on my mind!  I'll be honest, a couple hours into running and I can get pretty bored/ready for the next thing.  So, I wanted to share some tips I've used to keep trucking along and get those long runs in!
1. Switch it up!  Pick a new route if possible because even your best-loved route can get old and monotonous.

2. Find a friend!  I love running with people, and to get my mileage in, I'll sometimes run multiple "out and back" routes, picking up different people for each loop to get the miles in.  I'd rather run with someone at their pace than run by myself.

3. New tunes!  Even downloading a few new songs can give you the pep that you need mid run to keep things going.

4. Play mental games with yourself.  Count the number of people you pass (kids are half a point), subtract if you get passed, dogs count for two points, and cat on a leash? Totally a daily double Alex!  This is my game, but pick your own based on what you see along your route.

5. Plan what you're going to eat after your run.  I generally always get hungry part way through a long run and planning my next meal will usually distract me at least for a little bit.

6. Think about a great race you ran - remember everything about it that you can: the start, the course, different ways you felt, what you saw.  Never run a race? Imagine what it's going to be like!  Experts will tell you that visualizing what you're going to do before you actually do it is incredibly powerful.

7. When times get really desperate, you can break the race up into chunks.  Just think about running two miles or three miles at a time.  Or if you have to do it inside (oh my, double digit miles on a treadmill), run a chunk, jump off to do something like a quick house chore, run another chunk, and repeat until you get it all done.  Just try not to let too much time pass between runs.

Hang in there everyone and good luck to everyone building up for long runs - especially fall marathoners!

So how do you get through your long runs?
What are your favorite tricks to keep your mind from getting bored and wanting to quit?

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Race Review: Great Smoky Mtns. Half Marathon

This is part two of my race review of the Great Smoky Mountains Half Marathon weekend - click HERE if you missed part one.  I participated in the inaugural Black Bear Double, so the half marathon came after a 5k the previous evening - ah, I do love a challenge!  Tennessee may be one of the prettiest states in the country and to see the sun rise over the mountains is something pretty special.  This half marathon starts at 7 AM, and this time of year you'll get exactly that view.
Runners gathering before the start.
Throughout the event weekend, organizers kept telling us that they were going to "spoil us," and for a lot of reasons, I really like this race, the amenities provided, and how special runners were made to feel.  This is a point to point race, which means that unless you're getting dropped off and picked up (which I was, thank you Jen!), you park at the race finish and are then shuttled to the start.  I think this worked pretty well, though I did hear from a few folks that there was some traffic trying to get to the start area.  We were walked to the start according to our wave - waves were assigned, but it's on the honor system so you can move if you feel it would be a better experience.
The starting line has you looking right at the mountains.  It's an open course (meaning you're sharing the road with traffic), but there were no issues with that and participants were great supporters of each other and called out cars.  My phone told me it was 70 degrees at the start, but there was some humidity that increased as the day progressed.  We took off quickly (race was very well organized) and were along exposed road for a bit before getting into the windy wooded area along the Little River that made up the majority of this course.  We were told multiple times that this course is challenging - lots of rolling hills, steep banks to the road - but it is extremely scenic.  You get mountains, forest, farm land, and river.  It was quiet, and not crowded at all.
I'm not good about taking mid-race photos, but this was too pretty to pass up.
By this time, I had the Hydrapouch system down and there were ample well-stocked aid stations (and TONS of port-a-potties) along the course.  Well done on that one Vacation Races and big thank you to the awesome volunteers!  The course provided nice shade until about mile 9 when we made our way along the road (mostly sidewalks) back toward the finish line.  These last four miles were really tough because it was a straight, unwavering line with the sun beaming down in your face the entire time.  This section of the course was not without hills either - including an uphill finish line!
Seriously tough stuff, but we had plenty of snacks (more of those really neat boxes) and ice cold chocolate milk waiting for us.  You certainly feel like you earned the amazing medals you receive for completing this race!  The finish line was really well organized and there was plenty of parking for runners and spectators.  For anyone who didn't get enough of a challenge, you could do one of several club hikes in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park within 72 hours to receive 50% off 2017 race registration (have to submit your picture with bib and medal that shows you completed the hike)!  Unfortunately, this girl had to drive home - maybe next year.
Black Bear Double? Check!
Okay, I know you're dying to see the medals - and they are truly drool-worthy.  So let's do a quick photo shoot before we get to the bottom line.

5k (front) and half marathon (back) - both are double sided.
Black Bear Double mug and medal (yes, that's a spinner).
The bottom line:
Run This Race If: you love scenic races, enjoy smaller races, don't mind tough courses, can combine this race with a trip to the national park and/or love great race experiences/swag/medals
Course: challenging, point to point, hilly, mostly roads with a couple of miles of sidewalks, honor system wave start, pacers available
What Makes It Unique: location (small town with national park backdrop), environmentally friendly, awesome swag, lots of amenities for a small race
Cost: Reasonable, earliest pricing is $40 individual/$35 team (5k), $95 individual/$85 team (half marathon), $150 (Black Bear Double).  You can opt out of race swag to lower the registration cost, but I wouldn't recommend it because it's really good stuff!
Date and Time: Second weekend in September (6:30 PM Friday 5k, 7 AM Saturday half marathon)
Would I do It Again? Definitely.  And I would like to do other events organized by Vacation Races!  Really impressed with what they put together.

Race Review: Great Smoky Mtns. Expo and 5k

I've never participated in the Great Smoky Mountains Half Marathon (now in its third year) or any of the Vacation Races events before, but this one was a pretty unique (in a really great way) race experience and so I'm going to break this race review up into two sections.  First up: the expo and 5k (inaugural year for this distance).  The 5k took place Friday evening, which meant that I had to drive to Eastern Tennessee late that morning and head to the expo in time to make a 6:30 PM (Eastern Time) start!
Love the branding of this race.
The expo is outdoors - the first indication of a super environmentally-conscious event.  It has a small feel, which I love - the half marathon is capped at 2,500 runners - and the host town (Townsend, TN) really supports the race.  Many merchants offer runners discounts and sponsor the event.  There were several vendors at the expo and bib pick-up was super quick and easy.  These guys utilize technology really well to be as paperless as possible and they warn runners to bring their own bags because packets are bag free.
And you're going to want to bring a bag because for being a small race, the merchandise is out of this world!  With registration, you get a cute race shirt and you can opt in for a Hydrapouch (more on this in a minute), but Black Bear Double participants (running both the 5k and the half marathon) get one piece of Black Bear swag - things like shirts, pint glasses, mugs.  That's right folks, one piece and you cannot buy any more!  This swag is exclusive and it is darn cute!  Not to fear, there is so much other really great merchandise to choose from, you won't be too hurt.  I've run a lot of races and my drawers are overflowing with race shirts.  I RARELY buy any merchandise at races, but I walked out with a few really great items (they sold out of posters in a matter of hours).
Now let me introduce the Hydrapouch.  Keeping with the environmentally-friendly theme of this event, the races are cup free.  You can carry your own hydration system or you can choose to receive one of these babies.  I had never even heard of this before, but it's pretty neat!  It's made of soft plastic and has a clip on the back so you can clip it to your shorts/belt/etc.  The aid stations were equipped with coolers that had nozzles equipped for these and they were very easy to figure out (though admittedly do slow you down just a touch through the aid station).
Squeeze the harder plastic ring to open for filling (the white plastic on the left is the clip).
This race series is really committed to keeping our national parks clean and the cup free system cuts down on potential trash being left along the roads.  I really liked this system and commend them for the investment they are making (the Hydrapounches were free) to really be eco-friendly.  Admittedly, the first time I tried it, I spilled water all over myself, but I quickly adapted and figured it out!
Gathering area before the 5k.
Okay, on to the 5k.  About 1000 people lined up for this evening run that was quite challenging.  It isn't actually in the national park, but right outside.  First, it was 91 degrees.  Second, the sun was completely beating down on our backs the whole time.  Third, the course was very hilly.  All that being said, it was still a nice race and Vacation Races did a great job organizing it.  It's a point to point, but they have a shuttle system for runners.  They also arranged an honor system wave start.
There's no way around it, the race itself was tough and I tried to take it a little easy knowing I was facing a half marathon the following morning.  The only minus points this race gets from me is that the 5k was measured long (which they told us before we started), but its the first year so I will cut them a little slack.  We did have great treats though at the end including chocolate milk and really nice snack boxes.  Snacks are a big deal to me!
Cute right?
Did I mention there was a medal for the 5k?  Did I further mention that it's gorgeous and double sided?  Check out my next post (click HERE) that will cover the half marathon, a review/breakdown of the entire event, and a medal photoshoot!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Race Review: Disneyland Dumbo Double Dare

I'm back from California and ready to talk Dumbo!  Over the Labor Day weekend, I participated in the Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend's Dumbo Double Dare (10k Saturday plus the Half Marathon Sunday) - I mean, why run just one race when you can run two?  This is the third time I've run the Half Marathon and the second time I've done the Dumbo challenge and I have to tell you that I love this event, now in its 11th year.  The expo can be a bit of challenge to navigate due to the large crowds (see my tips here), but the races themselves are remarkably manageable logistically.  I feel like the runners here are a bit faster than some of the other runDisney events, but the costumes are pretty unparalleled.  So let's break it down!

Disneyland 10k
 Most hotels are walking distance, but Disney also provides a shuttle to take runners to the start line.  After getting through security, there is pre-run water, bag check, entertainment, and plenty of port-o-potties at multiple locations.  I don't like to mess around too much and cut it close getting to my corral, so I got there with some time to spare.
Night race? No, just dark at 5:30 AM!
From this picture it is a little difficult to see, but the start line was Aladdin themed!  I love that every year, the theme for the 10k changes and this year it carried through from the start (Aladdin and Genie made appearances on stage) to the medal.  That certainly keeps things fresh for those of us who come back every year!

I really like 10k races in general and this is a great course.  Runners travel out onto the surrounding streets (not much entertainment here) and wind their way back toward the parks.  The back half of the race is spent running through Disneyland and California Adventure before hitting Downtown Disney and crossing the finish line.

Aladdin themed finish line!
There were a few character stops in the parks and the requisite Disney mile markers along the way that tons of people turn into photo ops.  I was running solo, so didn't get any great mid-run pics, but I did get one at the end!  This race does have lots of viewing spots for spectators, including this stage at the end set up with stadium-style seating and a screen broadcasting the race.
One down, one to go!
Disneyland Half Marathon
The Half Marathon starts at the same place and same time as the 10k, which simplifies planning for sure!  I was a little sore this morning after the 10k and a full day on my feet at the parks, so I just decided to cruise and enjoy this one.
Love the classic Disneyland vibe!
There were significantly more start corrals (elite through J) than there have been previously (for both the 10k and the half marathon), which really helped space runners out - very necessary when you're running through the narrow paths of the parks.  The first time I ran this race (2009), it was so crowded that we came to a dead stop and had to walk about a quarter of a mile through Disneyland.
The half marathon starts on Disney property with nearly the first four miles taking you through both theme parks.  There were lots of character appearances here, from Pinocchio to Aurora to Storm Troopers, and there really was something for everyone.  

And I have to hand it to Disney, once we got outside the parks, they made sure that we had plenty to look at as we made our way around the streets of Anaheim - hundreds of classic cars, marching bands, hula dancers.  Urban streets and strip malls don't make for the most scenic runs, but there was a good amount of on-course entertainment.  One of the best parts of this race is running around the warning track of Angel Stadium right around miles 9/10 (you also run by the Honda Center, home of the Anaheim Ducks).
You run through a tunnel up to the field and hear the crowd cheering for you - it's a pretty neat experience.  And once you get out of the stadium, you know you're headed home!  One of the other great points of the race this year was the number of aid stations.  Once you hit mile 9, they increased in frequency, popping up about every mile.  That may seem insignificant sitting here, but let me tell you it can make a big difference!

 The last mile is behind the parks and then, seemingly before you know it, it's all over!  A high five from Goofy as you cross the finish and then you collect your medals (Half Marathon plus Dumbo Double Dare)!  And the medals are amazing.  RunDisney did an update of the Dumbo medal this year (surprising since it's in its fourth year) and his ears actually wiggle!
So here's the bottom line:

Run This Race If: you love Disney, want a race "experience," want great swag and medals, like a really entertaining course, want to dress up, and/or can easily get to the California area
Course: Mostly flat, mostly roads, but footing can vary in the parks, half marathon also has a stretch of gravel/sand around Angel Stadium, has staggered start corrals
What Makes it Unique: DISNEYLAND (Walt's creation, classic feel), changing 10k theme every year, bonus medals, Coast to Coast challenge opportunity, very welcoming race even if you're not that fast or experienced
Cost: Pricey, 2016 rates were $120 (10k), $205 (half marathon), $350 (Dumbo Double Dare), $80 (5k), and $20 (kids races) - to me, it's totally worth it for the experience you get
Date and Time: Labor Day Weekend, 5:30 AM starts
Would I do It Again? Absolutely!