Saturday, April 1, 2017

Race Review: 2017 Oak Barrel Half Marathon

This is the second year I've run the Oak Barrel Half Marathon in the quaint town of Lynchburg, Tennessee.  Although this is an incredibly challenging run (spoiler alert), it is quickly becoming one of my favorite local races.  Lynchburg is about an hour and a half south of Nashville, and it's size not only limits the size of the field (this race caps out at 1600 runners), but it also means you have to plan to arrive early.  There is just one two lane road in and out of town, so you need to allow plenty of time to get in and parked.
Because I worry (okay panic) about logistical details, that meant I was up at 3:45 to get ready and out the door.  I arrived a little after 6 AM and had plenty of down time before the 8 AM race start.  That gave me time to pick up my bib and super awesome half zip.  Because it's such  a small race, they are pretty intense about packet pickup; you cannot pick up someone else's bib and they do check for ID.
The starting area is a very short walk from the parking area, so I stayed warm in my car as long as possible before making a quick trip to the port-a-potties.  There were plenty of them and they even had someone there directing people to open ones! So organized!  There are no start corrals, but there are volunteers with pace signs held up for runners to organize themselves.  Be ready though because as the race gets ready to go, everyone moves up.  It could be difficult to get where you need to be if you arrive just in time.
After the national anthem, it's pretty much "ready set go" and then everyone starts running! You run down the main street in town for a little bit and then start running out of town into beautiful country and farm land.  This course is incredibly tough; there are hills and banks to the streets that make it hard on the legs of even the healthiest runners.  The largest and most notorious is the dreaded Whiskey Hill, that pops up starting at mile 3.5, but then gets serious closer to the 4  mile mark.  Living in Tennessee, I run hills all the time, but let me tell you, it's a doozie.
In general, the first half of this course is much more challenging than the back half (thank goodness).  The most beautiful views of rolling hills, farmland, countryside, come in the middle section.  You also get quite a bit of farm life - lots of cows, horses, goats, chickens, even wild turkey.  It definitely helps keep your mind distracted!  The last few miles running back into town are super easy: straight and flat (maybe even a little decline in there).  I will say that there are not a ton of aid stations, so I was really happy that I brought hydration/fuel with me.
The finish line area is back in the center of town, in the middle of all of these super cute shops and restaurants.  I cannot say enough about this finish experience because this race majorly spoils their runners.  It's loaded with volunteers and refreshments, but beer drinkers take note that this is in a dry county, so don't expect any post race adult beverages.  You do get lots of drink options and southern treats, among them brisket, grilled cheese sandwiches, and pimento cheese sandwiches.
This is also where you line up to get your finisher's hat/visor and Swiftwick socks (told you, spoiled).  There's live music, race merchandise, and folks on hand to talk about the Jack Daniel's Distillery if you want to take a post-race tour (this is the only place you can drink in the county).  You can also pick up your keys (if you did key check) and vote for your favorite aid station.
And now I know what you're thinking - what about the medal.  Oh this medal.  It is SO COOL!  Every year they have a different design, but they are always wooden medals on leather cords.  They are absolutely unique and look great for some variety on your medal rack.  This race has serious swag; definitely worth all of the hills!

The Bottom Line:
Run This Race If: You find yourself in Tennessee and love a great local race with great perks (and don't mind a challenge).
Course: Loop course on rural, paved roads with lots of hills and banks. Do note that almost all the roads are open to cars.  There are course directors at intersections, but you have to keep your eyes open for yourself and your fellow runners.
What Makes It Unique: It has a great local feel coupled with fantastic sponsorship from Jack Daniel's.  This race takes great care of its runners, so you can see why people come back year after year.
Cost: Great Value. I'll warn you that this one sells out fast - this year sold out in 1 hour 45 minutes.  You get a LOT for the $70 registration fee (and there are also charity spots available if you miss out on regular registration).
Date And Time: Always on a Saturday in early April - 8 AM start.
Would I Do It Again: I absolutely would.  This one is worth the difficulty level.  With a little registration luck, I'll toe the line again in 2018.

Monday, March 20, 2017

2017 Disney Princess Half Marathon

So this is now my fourth post about this year's Disney Princess Half Marathon, and it's going to be the last (at least recapping the weekend).  I wish it could go on forever, but alas, all magical things must come to an end according to Fairy Godmother.  So here we go - the half marathon, the final race between me and completing Glass Slipper Challenge number 4 (and coincidentally, the final Glass Slipper Challenge because next year it's going to change to the the Fairy Tale Challenge).
What's even crazier to think about is that, as I'm posting this, I'm already registered for Princess 2018 thanks to past participant early registration!  I know, crazy right?! Crazy amazing! Anyway, back to 2017.  This was my third early morning in a row because this year I tacked on the 5k.  That's probably the hardest part of these Disney races.  I got my peanut butter bagel together and, a little bleary-eyed, we made our way to the buses (in case you haven't done Disney races before, they do allow spectators to ride the bus).
After a short ride, we were back at the same spot - the Epcot parking lot one more time - and I just couldn't believe all the people.  I've done this so many years and am constantly amazed by the masses and masses of people, which you have to factor into your logistical timing.  The starting area for the half marathon is in a different place than the 5k and 10k.  Once the buses drop you off, you have a good 20 minute walk even after you clear security and make your way to the entertainment area.  I made the mistake of waiting there too long one year and ended up running into my corral just in time.  No one needs that pressure, so I just went there directly this time.
Hard to tell because it's so dark, but this is the view back at the corrals.
Then once you get to the corral area, there are corrals for days!  They go down the street and then wrap back around so that you basically have two rows of corrals.  Not complaining at all about my placement for this one, but it was probably another near 10 minute walk up toward the start to get situated.  Apparently there was a lot of traffic getting in and a lot of people running late, so they delayed the start of the race.  Even though I was ready to get rolling, I appreciate runDisney trying to ensure that everyone has a good experience.
Then, it was finally time to get started.  They announced the beginning of the corral, we started moving, and then we were stopped.  I thought it was a glitch, but I've heard others say that they staggered the corrals (like they did for the 5k and 10k) to help with the congestion.  The delay wasn't long though, and then we were off!  Once again, I didn't take a lot (okay, any) pictures along the way or stop for characters.  Even beginning in the early corrals, the lines are long to get these photo ops! Some day I may have to try it .... maybe. 
We traveled from Epcot up to the Magic Kingdom (my favorite part).  There's just something really special about coming in and running up Main Street, then winding your way through the park.  It was so well timed having several Beauty and the Beast characters right before you ran through the castle.  That's maybe the best photo op of the race - either that or with Spaceship Earth in the background.  When you leave Magic Kingdom, you begin the long trek back to Epcot.  By this time, the sun was out and I was so glad I brought along my sunglasses!
I even met a fellow Perfect Princess along the way!  It was a beautiful day - great day for a run.  I didn't have any kind of spectacular time, but I trucked along, enjoyed the scenery and just BEING in Disney, and had some fun conversations along the way with other runners.  We talked about running, Disney, and all of the recent runDisney changes.  And then before I knew it, it was over! I collected my medals and my snacks and headed back towards the bus to get a much needed shower and a nap!
I have to admit that I'm still not happy with this half marathon medal. I realize that runDisney has been changing a lot of things, including medal designs.  I get that. I just don't like this one.  It feels plain and has a distinct lack of princess sparkle.  But all in all, it was a good haul!
The Bottom Line:
Run This Race If: You love Disney, Princesses, dressing up to race and/or are looking for a magical and entertaining half marathon.
Course: Loop course (for the most part), on mostly paved roads with a few different surface materials when you get into the parks.
What Makes It Unique: It's Disney. And Princesses. Did I mention the Disney Princesses?
Cost: Pricey ($195 for the Half Marathon alone and $340 for the Challenge)
Would I do It Again: Already registered! This Perfect Princesses is keeping her hands on that crown!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

2017 Disney Princess Enchanted 10k

In truth, the 10k may be my favorite distance; combine that with the magic of Disney's Princess Half Marathon weekend and I am one happy runner!  This year, I was running the Glass Slipper Challenge (10k plus half marathon) as a charity runner for Catch A Lift Fund (check them out, they are amazing).  So, I decided to run the 10k all decked out in the stars and stripes!  With a 5 AM start time, this was the second of three early mornings, but upon arrival the starting area was a sea of people with an upbeat atmosphere.
With my princess twin Christina!
After some costume viewing, I headed off to my corral (same spot as the 5k) to get ready for the start.  If you're running the Glass Slipper Challenge, they recommend you take this one easy so that you have enough gas in the tank to get through the half the following day.  With that in mind and a few fireworks, we were off and running!  This route actually has one "significant" hill (by Florida standards) early in the route where you're running on roads before you enter Epcot.
When you enter Epcot, you're about half way there.  You enter the World Showcase first and then cross a few bridges to run around the Boardwalk.  This part always makes me a little nervous because it's running on a wooden pier (there are signs that remind you to be careful because the wood is almost always wet).  Thankfully, I did not fall and break my face.  You make your way toward the front entrance and then finish close to the start in the parking lot.

Even though it was a longer distance, we actually got back on the bus and to the hotel faster than the 5k the previous day because there was a bus ready and waiting the minute I was ready (medal, snack, and stretch of course).  That was great because we had a big day at Animal Kingdom planned. I was really pleased with how this one went; took it plenty easy and felt like I would be ready for the half the next day.
I LOVE this medal!
The Bottom Line:
Run This Race If: You want a really fun 10k all full of entertaining things to look at (and take pictures with). Like any Disney race, there are some logistical challenges, but totally worth it if you're a fan.
Course: Loop course (mostly) on mostly paved roads in parking lots, roads, and through the park.  Watch out for the wet pier at the Boardwalk, but other than one noteworthy incline, almost entirely flat.
What Makes It Unique: Disney + Princess + Running = winning in my book.  The 10k is a fantastic distance full of entertainment along the way.  Plus, it's part of the Glass Slipper Challenge (if you register for that option).
Cost: Pricey ($120 for the 10k, $340 for the Glass Slipper Challenge)
Would I Do It Again: For sure! I've run every single one and have no plans of stopping any time soon!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

2017 Disney Princess 5k

Believe it or not, this was my first runDisney 5k.  Somehow it seems very appropriate that it was the Princess Half Marathon weekend.  In case you're wondering why I have never jumped on the bandwagon before, I have to tell you that it's because up until last Fall, Disney gave our rubber "medallions" for 5k finishers.  When they converted to metal medals ... well I just had to jump onbaord!
The morning started just like any other runDisney race - EARLY! Okay so this one was half an hour later than the rest, but when you have to board the bus by 4:30, it still feels pretty early.  We unloaded off the buses outside Epcot and began the trudge to the start area.
And I do say start area because its not just corrals.  For the record, this is the exact same setup as the 10k, too.  When you get there so early, there's some time to kill, so there was a stage, music, etc.  It's so great for people watching and costume spotting.  I'm not clever enough to come up with great costumes, but I so appreciate seeing everyone else's!  The weather was pretty warm and humid; definitely not complaining though and made it much more pleasant for spectators.
I was placed into the A corral, which meant we did this little walk down and around all the rest of the corrals.  Won't lie, it made me feel like a big deal.  To be clear, this race was not timed, it was a fun run, but they still had corrals anyway to try and contain the madness that is thousands upon thousands of princesses all moving in the same direction.
So here I was, ready to go.  The announcers seemed to be announcing the start of the corral, fireworks went off, we moved a little bit and then stopped.  I learned this later, but apparently they were also breaking the corrals up into sub groups to try to minimize congestion.  Without much delay we were off, winding our way through the parking lot on our way to Epcot.
Sorry I didn't take pictures along the way, but we wound around the World Showcase, did a little jaunt around the rest of Epcot and finished back in the parking lot.  It was a little wild to finish before the sun was even up, but what was even crazier was that I didn't know how much they were spacing out the start.  I collected my medal and snacks, stretched, and walked back over to where the bus was going to take us back to the resort ..... and then we waited for probably another 30 minutes.  The whole start area had to clear before the buses could come in to pick us up.

The Bottom Line:
Run This Race If: You don't mind a 5k with some extra logistical challenges (and magic) that is not timed.  Good for locals or anyone traveling in for the other races.
Course: Loop course (mostly), on mostly paved roads in parking lots, roads, and through the park.  Almost entirely pancake flat.
What Makes It Unique: Well it's Disney and super low pressure.  I also like that you get a cotton shirt instead of a tech shirt.  You get to see Epcot in all its splendor lit up with multiple characters along the way for entertainment.  They also pump up the Disney tunes pretty loud in Epcot, so you might not even need to bring  music to this one!
Cost: Pricey, $80 for the 5k alone.
Date and Time: Race starts at 5:30 AM on the Friday of Princess Marathon Weekend.
Would I do It Again: Definitely planning to sign up for next year.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

2017 Disney Princess Half Marathon Expo

I'm back from my favorite weekend of the whole year - Disney's Princess Half Marathon weekend.  I cannot believe it's over; it was amazing and wonderful and magical and I wish I could have slowed it down just a little bit.  Because there is so much to unpack about this weekend, I'm going to break this post up into a number of smaller posts to keep things manageable.  Let's start with the expo!
We arrived on Thursday, which is a day earlier than I've ever gone before, because this year I was running the 5k.  That also means I got to go to the expo a day earlier than usual! We dropped our bags at the hotel and boarded a bus headed straight for ESPN Wide World of Sports.  The stories have been rampant about how insane the expo is on the first day.  While I would say that's true, I feel like it's also pretty insane on the rest of the days.
My main priority was getting my packet - Glass Slipper Challenge and 5k runner packet pickup was in one building, and Half Marathon and 10k packet pickup was in another, larger building.  I got my bibs and shirts - volunteers at both stations cheered for me when they realized I am a perfect princess (totally made my day).
Then we headed to the official merchandise areas, where I found a few things I just couldn't live without.  For a number of years, I've heard about the wine glasses that have flown off the shelves and I've never been able to get one, but this year I managed to snag one! Woo!  What was less fun was waiting in the enormous line to pay for my treasures.
Once we finally got through that line, we headed over to the main expo, which includes a larger official merchandise area and the rest of the vendors.  This was a complete mad house.

Thankfully, there wasn't much I wanted, so we just walked up and down the aisles checking out the insanity.  I will give it to Disney, they are really trying to make this a fun experience including princess cocktails and stations to get your nails done.  I did scoop up a pair of Ariel Havaianas, but saved a lot of time not waiting for the New Balance Shoes.  In case you missed it, this year they themed the shoes around rides (instead of characters), which I didn't feel like I needed.  We headed back to the hotel for some time off our feet before the 5k the next day!
If you're planning to runDisney, just know the expo will be a zoo. So here's a few of my strategies for not letting it get to you:

1. Take care of your "must haves" first so that you don't have to worry about it (I stress about logistics) - meaning your bib.
2. The Disney Parks Blog shows the race merchandise a few days prior to the expo - go in having a view of what you might want.
3. RunDisney now relies solely on electronic race guides, which means you can check out the vendors ahead of time - know what really matters and what doesn't.
4. If you want New Balance shoes, check out their site for details on how to most efficiently get them - typically they will do a virtual queue that you can sign up for in advance.
5. Remember this is supposed to be fun! If you really want something, get it. This is a celebration of you and your training; the race(s) is the victory lap. Enjoy it, take a deep breath, and you'll survive!

What are your tips for runDisney expos?
What is the best thing you've ever purchased?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Race Review: Nashville Hot Chocolate 15k

This is the third time I've run this race, but after a race-less January, I was so ready to get back on the race scene.  I really miss the energy and the feeling of being "out there" with an amazing community of runners.  I was looking forward to this one even more because I was going to be doing it with my running buddy, Brooke, who was going to be tackling 15k for the first time.  I've never been an official pacer, but there are few things better than pacing friends to new distances or new PRs.
Thank You Hot Chocolate for the Free Finish Photo!
I was actually really lucky Brooke was running with me because work has been beyond insane and I couldn't get to the expo.  Guys, make sure you have great running friends who will go to the expo for you when you can't (except for runDisney events because they don't let you do that - subject for another time).  They just need to have a copy of your confirmation with QR code.  The expo continues to be at the Musician's Hall of Fame and Museum downtown.  It's a nice little spot for an expo, but the parking is challenging.
This race promotes their great swag and I'll tell you that this year they got it right.  The hooded sweatshirt/jacket is so much nicer than in previous years! Really soft cozy, true to size, and none of that overly plastic-y feel/smell of previous years.  We also registered with a code from BibRave and got free visors! Woo!  Love bonus swag!
I don't know what it is, but Hot Chocolate weekend always has terrible weather.  It's usually really cold (by Southern standards).  Last year it was 15 degrees and the year before it was 20 degrees.  So we were excited when forecasts were calling for 50s and flirting with rain (this last part was a little less exciting).  Race morning came early and it was already 60 and .... WINDY.  I really didn't figure that into my outfit choice.  Like typical runners, we cursed ourselves at the beginning, sitting there shivering, but then later were super glad we didn't layer up.
For a 7 AM start, we got parked by 6:30 and walked over.  There are corrals with time between to space runners out, but there is no one really guarding the corrals.  We were running the 15k, but 15k and 5k runners all start together at the same time.  Shortly after the national anthem, we were off! It was shortly after we started that a really light rain started and kept falling on and off for the remainder of the race (I knew I should have worn that visor).  So, I didn't take pictures during the run, but it's a nice urban course that starts at Bicentennial Park, winds its way downtown to Centennial Park, and then back.  Word to the wise, this one is hilly.  The largest hill happens within the first mile of the race, which means the 5k runs it, too; the first half of this race definitely feels harder than the back half.
Like any Hot Chocolate race, it's well supported with Nuun stops (love this) and sugary treats along the way (I did not partake in any of these along the way).  Brooke did amazing and I am so proud of how strong she ran! This medal was definitely worth the hills and the rain - so pretty.
Yes, our winter has been so mild that we have grass in February!
As if the medal wasn't enough, we had some pretty epic sugared snacks waiting for us post-race. Thousands of pounds of chocolate fondue were handed out to finishers, and we sure gobbled up our fair share!  Thankfully the rain had stopped and we could enjoy our treats and some music on the lawn.
The Bottom Line:
Run This Race If: You like a really fun race with great swag, but don't mind a challenging course to get there. And with a February date, you don't mind taking a risk on the weather.
Course: Loop course, all on closed roads.  Challenging course, with lots of hills and inclines along the way. This one is urban and gives you the chance to see Nashville in a new way.  There are several hydration/sweet stations along the way.
What Makes It Unique: Really fun atmosphere, great swag, and it's a February race (definitely not as many of these around).  Did I mention the chocolate??
Cost: Moderate, especially for what you get.
15k: early registration $64 to late registration $79
5k: early registration $34 to late registration $54
Date and Time: Saturday in early February. 7 AM start time for both the 15k and 5k.
Would I Do It Again: Yep, sure would. And I plan to be there again next year.  Hopefully my girl Brooke will come back to get a new 15k PR, too!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

My Running Journey As Told By My Shorts

I started really running once I graduated college; I mean as its own activity rather than just a warm up for something else.  At the risk of feeling really old, that means I've been running for about 10 years now.  Anyone who has been running that long knows that you go through some clothes in that time - sometimes things wear out, sometimes styles change, and sometimes your needs change.  Over the weekend, I picked up a new pair of running shorts and started thinking back about how my running clothes have evolved.
Oldest to newest - left to right
I went back over the shorts I had selected and thought about what it meant for me in my life, my running life, and in the evolution of running for "average" folks (okay, that sounds dramatic, but hang in there and I think it will make sense).  You might be thinking, wow you still have all of these shorts (hoarder much)? Not all of them, but I do try to choose things that will last, so some of them have hung in there!  Okay so let's take a run down memory lane!
Ah, the Nike Tempo shorts - I'm pretty sure every runner out there has had a pair of these at some point.  When I first started running, these were the latest and greatest thing and you could generally find the "outdated" colors on sale at big box retailers.  Right out of college, I didn't have a lot of money - certainly not a lot of expendable income to spend on running gear while I was still new to the sport.  These fit the bill for several years and I accumulated a number of different color combinations.
Where are they now?
Well I still have a few pairs, but I use them primarily when I'm doing house or garden work.
Enter the RUNNING SKIRT! I stuck with running, started making a little more money, and discovered Lululemon.  I still could only afford to buy things on sale, but they had cute clothes that were well made and fit like a dream.  I retired my Nike Tempo shorts and jumped into running skirts hard. It was also at this time that the prevalence of women's races really took off.  That's not to say that they didn't exist before, but there were more now than ever before and it seemed that new ones were coming around all the time.  More of us were not only running, we were embracing our femininity while running.  I'm proud to say I ran my first marathon wearing a running skirt.  They are still really popular today, but I've found myself going back to shorts.
Where are they now?
I still have nearly every pair because they are super well made and have held up over the years.  I still wear my skirts, but not for running.  I'll run errands in them, but my favorite use is wearing these at the Disney parks! They are cute, breathe, and dry quickly if you get soaked on a water ride.
When I got back into shorts, I started to gain more confidence in myself and my running.  I transitioned to the Lululemon Speed Shorts.  Previously, I considered these way too short for me, but I was running faster, stronger, and wanted clothes that stayed out of my way.  The shorter in the front/longer in the back design really worked out well for me.  These shorts don't move, look super cute, and come in great colors.  New ones are always coming out and I have amassed a number of them.  They just make you look and feel fast!
Where are they now?
These are still in rotation, but I reserve them mostly for shorter runs.
With today's purchase, I realize I'm transitioning again.  You might not be able to read the little tag, but it indicates a "relaxed" fit.  These are still Lululemon (the Run Times short), but a different style. I inherited a number of things from my mother, but one of those physical attributes is my legs. I do not have the super thin legs that many runners do. My mom and I both have muscular, strong legs (no matter what physical activities we've been involved in over the years).  This is even better now that "strong" seems to be the new skinny! I like them, but running in super short shorts (ah hem, Speed Shorts) can be tricky without Body Glide. These new shorts have a longer inseam and, while still looking super cute, will be easier on my thighs during long runs.

Who knows what the future holds either! I'm thrilled to still be running and want to be for years and years to come, no matter what style of shorts I'm running in!

What are you favorite shorts?
Have your clothing preferences changed over the years?