2013 Red Rock Canyon Marathon and 1/2 Marathon

I’ve run a half marathon!  My husband and I did another Calico Racing event, this time the 2013 Red Rock Canyon Marathon and 1/2 Marathon on March 9th.  We were officially engaged out at Red Rock (Ice Box Canyon) in 2006.  I say “officially” because I got to wear my engagement ring before we were engaged in part due to the advice of my wonderful sister-in-law to be who wrote in an e-mail to my husband: “Does she get to wear the ring during this not-quite-yet-ready-to-be -officially-engaged period? I hope so. It’s too pretty to keep in a box.”  We were married on March 10, 2007 so this race was a great chance to celebrate our 6th anniversary weekend.  I should let that sink in – who would have thought we’d be the sort to go out and run for over 2 hours as part of a celebration?  This is where something as seemingly simple as Couch to 5K can lead.

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I’m not sure how best to tell the story of this race.  I know some people think that blogging is narcissistic so I hopefully don’t come across that way with a bunch of details but what I’d like to convey with my recap is how much I appreciate the things that brought me to the finish line, both from within and from without.  We made it to the Suncoast Hotel where they were picking up runners to drive out to the start line just in time to catch the 6:30 a.m. bus.  The start was 7:00 a.m. so we didn’t wait around long (I believe it was around 44 degrees Fahrenheit at the time) after leaving the warm bus before we were crossing the starting mat.  One young woman I met while we waited told me that she’d run the course a year before and that I should be prepared to walk.

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Now, I had a hard time getting back to feeling good with my runs after the 10k race in January but a few days before my 30th birthday in February I pushed myself to a 13.1 mile training run (no walking) in 2:29:05.  I had the Red Rock Canyon Marathon and 1/2 Marathon’s unique course in mind when I opted to make sure I could cover the half marathon distance before the race because I had been warned by several people that I would not be able to run the whole race.  It sounds pessimistic to prepare for walking but: first, there is nothing wrong with walking, and second, my goal was to finish the race without injuring myself so knowing I could really run 13.1 all the way through was my way of giving myself permission to walk on race day if I had to.  I tried to incorporate hills in my training but nothing prepared me for the relentless 5 miles of an uphill course that yielded about an increase of 900 feet in elevation.

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So to have the subject of walking come up made me think about how I had mentally prepared to allow myself to walk.  I would be of no use to anyone if I pushed so hard that I really hurt myself so I opted to deal with the course (see a video of some of the terrain here) as it came.   The first mile or so was really good, a loop around the visitor’s center at the park entrance.  I did it in under 11 minutes and felt good though I was of course easily passed by much of the field, including my husband.  Then we started to climb.  It was slow work and my legs were not cooperating with me.  I told myself I could walk when I hit the 2 mile mark, hoping that at 2 miles I could convince myself to run to the 3 mile mark and on but I simply couldn’t do it.  I walked.  The picture above is the only one I took on the course but it wasn’t my only walking break (most of the other pictures in this post were taken by my husband while he waited for me at the finish line, having finished about half an hour ahead of me).  Other people were walking as well so I didn’t feel as bad as I’d feared and each time the pain lessened I would run as much as I could before taking another break.  My training, I think, helped me recover during the walk breaks even though I hadn’t incorporated a walking interval into a run in a long time.

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On the way up a hill I found myself walking with a woman who had brightly colored shoes.  I complimented her on them and after saying thank you she remarked that it was a bad idea for us to walk up a hill, we should run, so we ran alongside one another for a while and even chatted.  She told me about Team in Training and pointed out shirts of people in the distance who were also running to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  She remarked as to how little children fight cancer and here we were running.  She told me about her coach and the support network she’d found when before she thought runners were crazy for doing it.  It had helped her find her place as a runner.  I told her about someone I love dearly who is battling Rheumatoid Arthritis.  How I think about her when I run and how hard she has to work on most of her days to get her body to cooperate and let her move, and how the effort anyone puts into something is what matters, not the distance they cover or the time they manage while doing it.  My companion slowed to a walk and encouraged me to keep running.  She really boosted my spirits.  That said, I believe I reached the hour mark only having done 4.5 miles or so and my heart sank.  I started calculating in my head what my pace meant for my finish time and for some reason I cannot do basic math while I run yet I kept attempting to do so.

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This is another finish line shot from my husband to give you an idea of the snowy mountains in the distance and the beautiful red rocks that are the namesake of the Canyon.  I did finally reach the overlook area.  There was a welcome aid station there and I had been making certain to drink water at each station and eat a few Jelly Belly Sport Beans as I completed miles on the course.  One thing I learned during my training run two weeks prior was that I seriously hit a wall a little after the twelfth mile and I believe that happened because I never hydrate during runs.  At one aid station I did accidentally take a sports drink but luckily it didn’t upset my stomach or anything.  After the summit I complimented another runner on her sparkle skirt (I think I see a pattern in my ability to start conversations with people, but why wear awesome shoes or a flashy skirt if you don’t want compliments, right?) and she told me “this is the last bad hill.”  I asked her if she’d run the race before and she said that she had not but she did train out at Red Rock so she knew what to expect.  Good enough for me!  I may have told her I loved her for telling me that news and she laughed.  After that “last bad hill” she took off and I didn’t see her again.

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The downhills were letting me gain back some of my pace time, I hit 9.5 miles at the two-hour mark, so I did 5 miles in the second hour and knew a sub-2:45 time was in reach.  Not great considering my training time but not as bad as going over three hours as I had feared during the early part of the ascent.  The volunteers at the aid stations were so kind and encouraging, I made sure to thank them for their time and even though I went back and forth between feeling cold and warm I had to pour a cup of water over my head a little after mile 10 just to cool off a little bit.  It was certainly a work out!

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The traffic on the course wasn’t too bad, cars were quite courteous though it was hard to see the cyclists whizzing down the hills while I kept adjusting my form to accommodate my hurting knees and ankles.  Downhills are easier for me but they are not without their own complications.  Some of the descent was so steep that I felt like I was just falling forward but it still took energy to move and though at mile 11 I started to feel like just maybe I could run the rest of the way with no more walking breaks, it just wasn’t to be.  I was hurting and needed to keep taking breaks as needed.  The mile markers seemed to pass by so slowly near the end and I just could not see the finish line anywhere.  I passed a young woman stopped at the side of the road by her bicycle and she cheered for me.  I told her this was my first half marathon and she told me I was almost done.  I knew my friend Mindy had promised to be at the finish line with her husband and her three children (one of whom was just fourteen days old!) with posters and I started to envision seeing them and what the signs would say.  I wondered how my husband was doing, how long he’d been waiting for me at the finish, and if he had hurt his knees that were already giving him trouble in the days leading up to the race.

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At last I could see the structure in the distance that I knew was the finish line and I started to think of how I wanted to stop and walk again but I couldn’t because I was in sight of the end.  Because people would see me walking and even though my legs were burning and I couldn’t feel my hands (I’m thinking I’d stopped breathing properly or maybe had tensed my arms up but there was something enough wrong circulation-wise to be distracting), I had to keep running.  I saw my husband holding his phone up to take a picture of me and I shouted to him that I was hurting.  I was crying at this point, a mix of “I’m almost there!” and “I don’t know if I can make it!”  Just then the young lady that had been by her bicycle rode by slowly, calling out to me that I was about to finish my first half marathon.  I could see my friend Mindy with her neon colored signs with my name on them and my husband’s name on them.  She was smiling.  Everyone was smiling and I was just crying.  I ran across the timing mat and kept crying as the kind volunteer let me know he needed to cut off my timing chip from my shoe.  Someone put a medal around my neck, the medal I had been dreaming of but could not even look at because all I wanted to do was hug my husband.  I could hear cameras clicking so I think someone got a few shots of me crying and I am certain I ruined my finish line picture but at least the shot my husband got shows me with a smile, albeit a pained one.

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I love that you can even see the woman on her bicycle coming up behind me as well as the beautiful scenery.  My husband had finished with an official chip time of 2:06:30.48!  My official chip time was 2:38:13.36 for a pace of 12:08 per mile overall, my RunKeeper track is a little off but you can see the course and elevation map below.

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I was able to say hi to Mindy and her family while my husband stood in line for me for some finish line food…

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…and remembered to ask her to take our picture before we left.  My husband was (and is) amazing.  I love that we did this together, taking turns watching the kids so we could train early in the morning, running together when we could, and encouraging each other.  I think sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of life and to have goals bigger than yourself that you can also share as a couple is a pretty special thing.  We also got to share in a pretty epic anniversary lunch the next day with the calories we earned from the run.

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The bus for the Suncoast was full and Mindy and her husband offered to drive us back to our car on their way home instead of having us wait for another bus (what an amazing friend to come out early on a Saturday morning with her whole family and then to give us a ride, she is a total star — thank you so much Mindy!).  We took them up on the offer and were on the road home in no time.  The kids had both woken up before we left the house and we were eager to get home and give their grandmother a break (she is another star by the way!).  I did finally have a chance to check out my medal and I will be wearing my race shirt with pride.

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I am not sure what will be next, I am honestly feeling a little burned out with the long training runs over the past weeks and months.  It also has meant a lot of time away from the children but my hope is to do a maintenance schedule of 5K / 5K / 10K for my three runs each week and incorporate more strength training as well as bicycling to my exercise regimen.  As with most goals we do wonder what comes next and though I have been trying to savor the feeling of accomplishment I know the weeks and months ahead are filled with other challenges.  I do want to think back on running even though I wanted to stop, how the thought of people that mattered to me kept me moving forward, and that even though we have to walk sometimes we still can make whatever progress we can.  We’re not trying to do better than anyone else and as Plato wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  No one person’s journey is comparable to another’s.  As always, thank you for reading and may you have the friends and family you need along the way to fight your own hard battles.

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Some songs that came up in my mix during the race:

Non E Per Sempre – Eiffel 65 (amazon affiliate link)

Your Disco Needs You – Kylie Minogue (amazon affiliate link)

There is a Light That Never Goes Out – The Smiths (amazon affiliate link)

Waka Waka – Shakira (amazon affiliate link) – my older sister shared this one with me the night before the race, I thought of her when it came on!

Take Me Away – 4 Strings (amazon affiliate link)

Calico Racing’s 2013 Running from an Angel 50 Miler, Marathon, Half Marathon, 10K, and 5K Race

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I ran my first 10K race!  Since my last running update when I ran Calico Racing’s Recycled 5K, I’ve been increasing my running distances to get ready for the half marathon in March.  On December 8, 2012 I ran my longest distance, 10 miles, in 1:59:27.  Having broken the double digit barrier I decided to scale back and run 5Ks for my two weekday runs and 10Ks for my long run on the weekend until the Running from an Angel 10K on January 12th.  The weather was gorgeous on my last weekday run before the race, 52 degrees instead of the 32 degree temperatures I’d been running in – I was excited for a repeat of the weather on Saturday but alas, it was a lot colder in town by then and especially by beautiful Lake Mead (pictured above).

The race start was a little later than I’m used to: 8:50 a.m. (I usually get up at around 5 a.m. to gear up for a run before the kids wake up).  I broke my own rule of not doing anything new on race day and ate a little breakfast at 7.  Sure enough, I wasn’t feeling great on the drive down to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area but by the race’s start I felt fine.  The race takes place in the fee-based part of the park (usually we’ve parked by the trail for the Six Tunnels hike and didn’t make it to the fee area) so we paid our $10 (my husband remembered cash, I would have forgotten) and drove to the parking area.  We debated walking from the free parking but I’m glad we didn’t try.  After packet pickup we were able to warm back up in the Subie, and pin our bib numbers on without fumbling with our gloves on.

We’d registered for the race way back in August 2012 so I’d requested a Medium shirt and my husband had requested a Large – both were too big for us!  I was able to swap for a Small but he didn’t mind hanging on to his Large though I have to mention he’s now lost almost 70 pounds in the last 8 months.  I am so amazed and proud of all of his hard work.  We’ve both been using MyFitnessPal.com and have had a lot of success with tracking our exercise and calories.  I reached my “30 before 30 goal” right before the new year so I’m down 30 pounds myself – it is so important to us that we’re healthy so we can be there for our kids.  I think they’re a big part of why we decided to get healthy.  I digress, but I know many people start running for the weight loss benefit but even with losing the weight I think what really makes me feel good about myself is putting my shoes on and running distances I never thought possible (for me).  I never even ran in high school P.E., I was always in the straggler group around the track still walking.

Well, not anymore!  One of the coolest things was that I wasn’t nervous before the race as everyone lined up.  I had worked a long day the day before so I didn’t have the energy to toss and turn that night and I ran into several friends that have been my running cheerleaders.  Jodymarie was doing the half marathon (it had been her first half marathon last year so she was running it again!) while my friends Angie (check out her awesome first half marathon recap here) and Kristi (who most recently ran the Rock and Roll 1/2 Marathon here in Vegas for the second year in a row) were doing the 10K.  It was a surprise to run into all of them, I even saw a few familiar faces from law school on the course as I ran, which all went to making me feel at home.  I have to also mention my friend Kacey, who ran the 2012 Running from an Angel race as her very first half marathon at 5 months postpartum – her recap is part of why I thought I could try running myself.

I was so excited to be chatting with my friends that I didn’t notice my husband line up near the starting mat.  Our plan was to use the delay start on our Run Keeper app so we could get our phones into our tune belts (amazon affiliate link) and gloves back on.  I started my app right before I crossed the mat so my tracker didn’t kick in until a minute later.  In a way, it was good because I would see a mile marker and then get the confirmation about a tenth of a mile later that I’d done that distance (the reverse is usually more discouraging).  My initial pace was fast, even uphill, so my first mile came in at about a 9:20 minute/mile pace.  Too fast, but race starts will do that to you.  By mile 2 my split was almost 11 minutes, my mile 3 and 4 it was almost 12 minutes per mile.  I was trying to attack the hills, not get injured, and have some energy left at the turnaround point.  With a 5K you know as soon as you start that you can push yourself and still finish but with a 10K I think there’s more planning involved, especially on a course that isn’t flat.  I saw my husband already heading back when I was about 26 minutes in and not near the turnaround point.  I had lost sight of him early on because of the hills.  The crazy thing is that I then did something I’ve never managed, even in training: getting faster at the end of a run (“negative splits”).  Mile 5 was at an 11:15 pace, Mile 6 at 10:59, and the .2 bit at the end was a downhill 8:58 minute pace.  I think that last bit had to do with seeing my husband at the finish line waving me on.  I love running races with him but also hope someday I can return the favor and cheer for him at a finish line.

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Official chip time: 1:08:00.8 for a pace of 10:58 minutes per mile.  Not only a record for me since it was my first 10K race, it beat my best training run by almost half a second and was at a faster pace than my 5K race in October.  I can’t believe it!  I knew my GPS tracker was off because of my glitches at the start so the official time was a real surprise to me.  So encouraging to do that well on race day and on a trickier terrain – you can see the elevation in green on the image above.  I also included a shot of the course so you can get an idea of the beautiful views we had with the lake right there.  I got the exciting news that my husband finished 12th overall which is fantastic – he really rocked the course and we’re both excited for the half marathon we’re doing the day before our 6th wedding anniversary in March!

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Here’s a picture of me (on the left) with Angie (middle) and Kristi (right) wearing our medals.  I got cheers from both of them when we would pass one another on the course!

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This is a shot of the finish line from where they had refreshments laid out.  Someone was making fresh pancakes for people which I thought was so indicative of the kind of outfit Calico Racing is – very personable!  I made a cup of tea (best idea ever for after a cold race, though by the end of the race I’d shed my gloves and panda hat) and grabbed a banana and applesauce for the car in case I needed them but I never like to eat after running so I ended up giving those to the kids.  E and R were most excited about the medals but the race banana comes in a close second (we even had bananas at home already!).

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The wing theme was pretty cool – I saw people wearing wings on the course and our race tees (long sleeve tech tees, very nice) have white wings printed on the blue shirt.  I will wear my shirt proudly.

I still have never experienced a “runner’s high” but I was left feeling like a real part of this community.  I spent my childhood moving from place to place.  I moved to Las Vegas in the summer of 2000 but going to an event and getting to connect with friends we’ve made here and to not feel like an outsider makes me feel like I really love this place.  I think the change happened a little after our brief foray to Winnemucca, Nevada for almost a year.  We never thought we would move back, but when we did we knew we had to make an effort to make this our home.

“Bloom where you’re planted,” as a friend once told me.  I think in the last three years especially we’ve done just that.  I can still voice things I’d like to see improved here, like education or access to justice, but Nevada is our home and it really feels like I’m home.  I know it is already a little after the new year but if you are feeling unstuck or out of place where you are, please consider taking up a hobby or connecting with people in your community.  Resolve to reach out in real life (the internet is a great facilitator but I quit Facebook a few months ago and am glad I am focusing more on making time to meet people for lunch or playdates instead of just sending greetings out into the ether) and the results may surprise you.

2012 was a rough year.  We had many scares and struggles but reaching out for happiness is never a mistake.  Every day is another chance to start something and before you know it you’ll be looking back and seeing that you made a positive change in your life.

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Favorite songs during the race:

Imagine Dragons – On Top of the World (amazon affiliate link)

Tidal Wave – Sub Focus (amazon affiliate link)

Taylor Swift – Red (amazon affiliate link)

Ed Sheeran – The A Team (amazon affiliate link)

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Also, I made a page to gather my running posts: Couch to 5K and Beyond

Calico Racing’s Recycled 2012 Half Marathon, 10K, and 5K Race

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Earlier this year I decided I’d set myself the goal of running the Vegas PBS 5k on October 6, 2012.  When the FAAN Walk conflicted as it was that same morning, I decided to find another October 5k to try.  Mind you, this was all before my spontaneous decision to run the Terminal 3 5K in the middle of my Couch to 5K plan.  I finished One Hour Runner at the end of September so I probably should have signed up for the 10K race for October but I had no idea I’d be able to be at a 5K distance at that point, let alone a 10K one!  We surprise ourselves sometimes…

Calico Racing is a local outfit with founder Joyce Forier at the helm.  I’d heard from other runners that Ms. Forier puts on great races and they were right!  I saw her at the start and at the finish cheering folks on and being genuinely happy to be there.  Her volunteers were fantastic as well.  Even though the theme of the Recycled race was that the shirts and finisher medals offered in exchange for a discounted race entry fee would be recycled, I never felt like the race was an afterthought.  Plus, the chosen charity of Calico Racing benefits cats so how could it be anything but an awesome race?  My husband and I arrived early at the Railroad Pass Hotel and Casino and were directed to the parking lot near the registration table.  It was windy and cold on October 27, 2012 and we grabbed our packets, Calico Racing themed tech tees, and sat in the Subaru for a while to warm up before going into the casino to wait for the race to start.

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I hoped that things would warm up when the sun peeked over the mountains but the wind had other plans.  The half marathoners started first, then the 10K runners (pictured below getting ready to head out), and the 5K group (the largest contingent) went last.  Our loop was 1.55 miles out and back, though I had read in advance that there would be hills I don’t think I anticipated an uphill stretch right away.  The first incline began after the start line you see below, we turned left into an almost U-turn and were off!  My husband was very quickly a red blur in the distance but I am nowhere near as fast as he is so we had not planned to actually run the race alongside one another.

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When I ran Terminal 3’s 5K the majority of the crowd was ahead of me as I walked the first 5 minutes or so, but running from the get go was a different experience in crowd management for me.  I got into my pace for a little bit before weaving around walkers to find my own running spot on the course.  I ran the whole thing non-stop!  It was a goal of mine and I was really pleased about it.  Another goal was to beat my Terminal 3 5K time (43:53) and the hills made me nervous about accomplishing that.  A few weeks back a 12 minute mile was “pushing it” for me on a flat course but with my continued training I was shocked to realize that I was keeping an almost 11 minute mile pace the whole way out and back!

I saw my husband on the return loop when I was 15 minutes in so I knew he was going to get his goal of a sub-25 minute 5K – he achieved a 24:24 time to be 7th overall, I’m so proud of him!  I managed a time of 34:19 which was a huge improvement since June and you can tell by my smile in the official race pictures (1, 2, and 3 – I put my bib number on the back of my jacket because I worried about needing to unzip it during the race, the pig tails were just for fun) that I felt awesome heading for the final stretch.  I think downhill is the perfect way to finish a race, by the way, but my favorite moment was in the first mile when I reached the top of a hill and saw Las Vegas’ skyline stretching out in the distance, framed by the sandy colors of the mountains by the Lake Mead area.  Running somewhere so beautiful certainly gave me a boost.

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At the finish I loved seeing my husband waiting for me, he’d already had a snack and recovered considerably from his run.  I realized that my leg was shaking a bit when I was stopped for the removal of my timing chip from my shoe (thank you to the volunteer who stopped me, by the way, I would have forgotten to return it otherwise).  My “Recycled” medal was from Calico’s 2012 Once in a Blue Moon run and it had a recycled sticker on the back so I held that side up for my post-race photo.  My husband got the same medal so it helped when we came home and let the kids wear them.  E was all over the idea of wearing a medal but R was more interested in the banana I had brought from the finish line food.  There was a great selection of food and drink after the race but not much seemed vegan (though I think it all was vegetarian) so I opted for the banana.  Then it was time to head home, my mother in law was watching E and R (who both were awake when we left the house for some reason) and we had an event at the park to get to that morning.

I am excited for my next Calico race in January (a 10K!) and finally registered for the one after that: the Red Rock Half Marathon in March 2013.  My goal for the 10K is to run the whole way and finish smiling.  I think I can finish it in around 75 minutes but it is supposed to be hilly and it will be my first 10K race so I want to just do my best.  In January it will have been a year since I started on my journey as an adult-onset runner which is exciting.  I know you don’t have to race to run but I think the Recycled 5K boosted my spirits after the rough time I’ve been having just with life in general so I like having another race to look forward to when I need to stay motivated to train and exercise.