Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Recap: Challenge Nation Milwaukee Urban Scavenger Race

Good evening, friends - hope that you all are well! Things have gotten busy again, but tonight I've made some time for blogging.

Lately, I haven't totally slipped up on food photography...
Even though most meals consumed on the go :-)
Meal on wheels!
Since I've begun marathon training, I've felt a real change coming on. It's hard to describe, but definitely a change for the better, like I'm finally meeting my own challenge and perhaps growing a bit as a person.  I don't think I've ever been as active in my entire adult life as I have been these past few weeks!

First, there was the Rock N' Sole half marathon and the training in preparation. Weekends automatically had more structure with the mandatory long run each Saturday morning. I trained alone and with my friend Stefanie, encountering a variety of conditions and trying out different trails. Though the long runs made me feel strong, I skipped a lot of the short weekday runs that were recommended as part of the training plan. While I came out of the training a slightly more confident runner, I did not feel fully prepared to run the 13.1 miles. And we all know how the actual half marathon went. But... that which does not harm us, can only make us stronger.
With the half marathon experience behind me, I've had fun with shorter distance races. The Storm the Bastille 5k was an absolute blast, and scoring a PR didn't hurt my morale. 
The same weekend, Stefanie, Alison and I teamed up for the Challenge Nation Milwaukee urban scavenger race, which was hysterically fun (and a great workout). We planned out goofy costumes (zombie runners!), grabbed some zombie makeup and fake blood, and were ready to go.
With the Bronze Fonz!
We're specific zombie runners, look closely...
Pun intended :-)
The clues were pretty challenging, but we figured out what we needed through the use of smartphones (allowed per race rules). We had to find a location, and take a photo at it, posing in a specified way. Luckily, we're posers. 

We ended up with 10th place out of 143 teams entered! Not too shabby!

It was a really fun event, and a great way to learn more about Milwaukee. The emphasis for clues seemed to rely on sculptures, which was okay but could have used a little more variety (more buildings, characters to find, a boat or water challenge, etc.). All in all, I'd absolutely register for this event again!

Also, I can't talk about this event without mentioning The Great Milwaukee Race, another urban challenge type event, which had their second event in June. This race is locally produced by the folks behind Fit Milwaukee, and from the recap I read it overall seems more difficult! I can't wait to assemble a team and register for the 2012 race.

You Do The Talking: Have you ever participated in an urban challenge / scavenger hunt type race? I absolutely love the concept and can't wait to do another one! 

Do you watch The Amazing Race? I don't currently, but again - the concept is just so cool. If you were to go on The Amazing Race, who would you pick for your team partner and why? 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Milwaukee's Storm the Bastille Run: A 5k PR!

Doesn't this post title read all funky and robotic? A 5k PR! A 5k PR! It's like running has it's own coded, secret language. 

It means what it says, though - tonight I hit a personal record for a 5k distance!

The race: Storm the Bastille 5K Run / Walk, at Milwaukee's Bastille Days, which is the largest North American French-themed outdoor festival. Who knew?

The course: Beautiful Downtown Milwaukee, at night

The company: Stefanie and Nicole (my fellow half marathon divas), and a few other friends! 
We have special energy drinks, aka whiskey. Don't judge.

Essentially a party on sneakers, the Storm the Bastille course winds through Downtown and the 3rd Ward streets. While the pre-race music was a little odd (Broadway tunes and Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive"), nothing French or running-themed about it, runners packed the starting chute with friends and teammates, some of them in costumes. 
A whole team of Napoleons!
I couldn't resist a photo opp.
Next year I'm totally going to run as Marie Antoinette. I have experience...
Tell me it wouldn't be hilarious to see a racing Marie? I still have the wig from this costume...
We couldn't resist a few more goofy photos before the race started. 
Once the race started, it was a fast start en masse. I began with my group, but promptly lost them (oops), and stuck to the left side of the course. There were SO many other runners, it was incredible!
Though I've been Downtown many times at night, running the course presented a new experience and the buildings and architecture looked beautiful.
It was a very fast course and before I knew it, my Garmin beeped and said I had completed 3.1 miles! But the finish line was still a block away... hmm.

My finals: 3.16 miles in 32 minutes, 57 seconds. A new personal record!
Happy Runners!
It was a great, fast race, and a ton of fun. I wish it had been chip timed as this was my fastest race yet, but that's quite all right. One complaint: the finish area was so jammed with people that everyone had to stop about 50 feet ahead of the finish line. 

You do the talking: Have you ever raced at night before? It was like seeing my city through new eyes!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tiger balm rocks my socks

Today has been a good day. Tonight has been a good night. 

I opted to work from home today and got a zillion tasks accomplished, which is always a good thing. The dogs weren't *too* barky, and I even tried out the outdoors office. 
Can't beat the view.
Tonight, I treated myself at Elements Therapeutic Massage (Elm Grove, WI) and it was freakin' wonderful. While I haven't been too sore from the half marathon from hell, it was nice to have a relaxing, hurts-so-good deep tissue massage. Surprisingly, my legs didn't need the most work... my neck and shoulders did. Gwen the awesome masseuse spent extra time there, and even busted out the Tiger Balm, which felt nothing short of amazing. 

I have no idea what's in this stuff (tigers? transdermal crack?), but I want to get some and have it with me always. Have you tried it before?
And no, I don't mean tiger blood.
Getting back on track... Thanks for all of your kind words on the half. I can't tell you all enough how wonderful it is to have your support and camaraderie. Your comments are like a giant bear hug, and you're all so eloquently spoken (written?) and have such interesting things to say and contribute. Y'all are the best!

For tonight's post, I thought it'd be fun to look at some stats. If I haven't said it before, I'll say it now - I love my Garmin Forerunner 405. I'm not a gadgety girl by any means, but this thing has helped me wrap my brain around running. I just wear the watch and heart rate monitor, choose my workout on the screen, use the little side ticker thing to start and end the workout, and then plug in the little stick to upload the workout. I especially love the heart rate monitor function, which has proved that when I feel I'm busting ass, I am indeed busting ass (at up to 100% of my max heart rate). And I love Garmin Connect, it takes all of the data from the watch and shows me what I did. Check it:
I would be nothing without a place to write funny comments.
Oh, and did I mention that on top of all of the issues the race had, the course was also too long? Some runners reported it was up to .20 mile too long. I started my watch before I was at the start line, but that was maybe 150 yards away. Could this race get anything right?
How in the eff was I running at an 8:14 min/mi pace at one point? Must have been near the finish line.
Yup, it was near the finish line.
What the Garmin doesn't show is at which mile I was singing along with "America, F*ck Yeah!" (mile 11) or where I had that epic life-stands-still moment on the bridge (mile 2). These things I have to make a note of on my own.

You do the talking: Do you use a sports watch or heart rate monitor? Which one? Love it / hate it? My only complaint about the Forerunner 405 is that it's not very idiot-friendly. I've had to visit their website frequently for tutorials. Also, if I don't lock the bezels, I often somehow stop the workouts on accident. 

Another question for ya - any cool new music I should look into for Sound Bites tomorrow? So far I've featured new music links from Mumford & Sons, and Wilco / The Rapture / Bandana Splits. Is there any genre of music you'd like me to include as part of this feature? 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Summerfest Rock N Sole Half Marathon recap

Thanks for all of your supportive comments and enthusiasm about the half marathon this weekend! You guys are the best :-)

So - the big question - how was the Summerfest Rock N Sole Half Marathon? Let's start at the beginning. Sunday morning, I headed downtown and met Stefanie and Nicole. We joked around nervously, and took advantage of a photo opportunity. Like we'd ever miss one?
Then, we walked to the start, which was very crowded. My parents came down to say hello (so awesome that they came!), and we all took another photo opportunity.
A little while later... it was time to start! It was a mass start, despite there being nearly 4k half-marathoners, and it took me 4 minutes to actually get to the front and run through the starting line.
I was immediately enthralled with the view as we ascended the Hoan Bridge, and despite the heat it was a beautiful, sunny morning on Lake Michigan. 
In no time we were approaching the arches of the bridge, and running beneath them. It was a moment I'll never forget, like when I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge.
Once I passed through this part of the course, I started to get distracted by the weather. It was HOT up there, with all of the concrete reflecting the heat right back on us, and the humidity was thick. Because I had my new fuel belt, I didn't carry any water with me, and I began to think about the first aid station. Pretty soon, there it was on my right. I grabbed one cup of water, and one cup of nasty-tasting grape gatorade, and continued running.

As I drudged on, it was like I hadn't just taken fluids at all. It felt good to be running, but the heat was already taking its toll. I was already thinking about the next aid station, at the 3 mile marker. 

Since I had my camera out, I took a photo, but as I got closer I realized that something was wrong. The aid station was out of cups, so volunteers were pouring water into runners' cupped hands. 
I knew that I would need the fluids, so I accepted a palmful.
Not having cups at the second aid station was definitely off, and my thoughts immediately went to all of the smack-talking and worst case scenarios I had discussed in the weeks leading up to the event. From a race management perspective, I had been skeptical about the organizers a) holding a race in general as they had never done one before (especially a distance like 13.1 miles) and b) putting on this race in July. When they announced the event, they wanted to start it at 10AM, which showed their lack of experience immediately. All of these thoughts re-entered my mind and I tried to shake them away, focus on the race.

Pretty soon, it was time to turn around and head over the other side of the bridge. The next aid station was starting to come into view, but again - something was off.
Smiling volunteers. But no water. A pile of hot bananas. No fluids. 

My pace had been suffering anyhow, but at that point I knew I had to slow down and start taking walking breaks. I had my iPhone with me for music, but called my Mom and asked her to please buy a bottled water. I told her what was going on and that I'd be at the 10k mark in about 40 minutes, since I was going to have to walk.

I angrily thought of dropping down to the 10k race, since clearly there were some major issues going on. How could a race this big not have water? And even worse, the 10k event started 30 minutes after the half marathon, which meant that they would be completely out of water for those runners, poured into hands or not. Alarms went off in my mind, I just couldn't believe what was unfolding in front of me. I took out my iPhone and through Twitter, reported what was happening. Again, I just couldn't believe this was happening.

As the race went on, nothing really improved. Where there was water, there were no cups. People either had the water poured into hands or mouth by the volunteers, drank directly from the jug, or used dirty cups from the ground. There were no alternatives. 
Deserted aid station with the Green alert flag still in place. Foreshadowing.
Near the top of the bridge, some volunteers had jugs of water on the median. The half marathoners had to cross the lanes designated for the 10k course (where elite athletes and the faster pace 10kers were running through) to get to them. Again, no cups, just drinking out of hands.

Physically, I continued to struggle. I started to notice that I would shiver and get goosebumps on my skin, despite the heat and my body being very warm. Thankfully, the bridge running was nearly finished, and I had a tough call to make. So, once my parents came into view, they made my choice for me. They were standing just past the fork for the half marathon course, so I grabbed the bottle of water from them and kept on.
Thank goodness for my parents, the water they gave me was cold and glorious. I took my PowerGel and felt a little boost. The race slogged on, there were still no cups, so some runners started grabbing partial jugs of water to carry with them.
Around Mile 8, I ran into Stefanie, who was having pains in her hip. She was walking with a new friend she met on the course, who was psyching her up to finish the race. The three of us continued on, up a massive hill, past a girl who was on a stretcher and being treated by at least four medical personnel, up the hill with the sound of sirens in the distance, to about mile 10, where this happened:
My thoughts as I watched this happen, literally right in front of us, as I snapped the photo: WTF?!?

NEVER since Chicago 2007 have I heard of a race having such hazardous conditions that they've had to cancel mid-race, putting up the black flags as notification. Along with the flag, orders were barked at us that the race had been black flagged / shut down and that we all had to walk to the finish. It was totally insane. 

So, that was pretty much it. We walked the remainder of the course. Everyone was confused and pissed off. When we came upon mile 12.5, we saw this: 
The conditions were so bad, the fire department sprayed us with a hose to cool down. Yeah.

After that, the finish was close by, where again my awesome parents were there to greet us. 
We crossed the line at 3 hours 6 minutes, happy as ever to be DONE with the awful race.

Unfortunately I have nothing positive to say about the finish area, mostly because it was chaotic and crowded and disorganized and a lot of people needed medical help (who obviously were priority), so security was yelling at finishers to "MOVE ALONG! MOVE SOUTH!" and get out of the way. We obliged. Someone handed me a water, and I gave up on trying to find any type of gatorade or food or anything. We were told our race medals would be inside of a stage area, so we found those and put our medals on ourselves.
The End.

Just kidding.

There has been so much controversy over this race, for good reason. All in all, 50 runners received on-course medial treatment and 15 had to be taken to the emergency room. I hadn't noticed, but there were no medical personnel whatsoever on the Hoan Bridge. None. Runners in the 10k said that "people were dropping like flies." Scary. 

How did I deal with being a) pissed off that the race failed so horribly to have fluids, b) scared for runners that I saw along the way on stretchers, and c) grateful that I was OK, and had my camera with me the whole time? I shared what I saw, submitting my photos anonymously. The photo of my handful of water was on page one of the daily paper yesterday. It was the best thing that I could think of doing to share how awful the race truly was, how irresponsible of the organizers to have put people in that situation. How dangerous and scary it was.

Well, that's the long version of my race recap. Despite all of these factors, I feel that I did get stronger after having done this event, and I somehow feel better about running in extreme heat. Like I got tougher out there, or something. I also learned that those shivers / chills I kept having are a symptom of heat stress, which can be life-threatening. So.. I'm glad I didn't get full-on heat stress.

Have you ever ran a truly awful, poorly organized race? Have you ever participated in a race where fluids were scarce? To what level do you think participants should be responsible for themselves and carrying fluids on the course? I can't say it enough, it was pretty chaotic and scary. I don't know what it would have been like to be on the 10k course without a single drop of water the whole race.
Also - have you heard anything about this race? I saw reports that TODAY had a snippet on this morning, and that someone in Atlanta saw a 20 second piece on their local news channel. It's embarrassing to me that Milwaukee will get a bad rep from this, there are so many other fantastic locally produced races that happen (including Lakefront Marathon which I am involved with and will be running this year).
Do you think that since the race organizers failed to plan adequately for the conditions, that participants should get some sort of refund on the race entry fee? Please let me know your thoughts, I'm curious what you think about this one.