Friday, April 29, 2011

Looking for a great fall run?

Last fall I completed my fifth half marathon in my adopted hometown of Lansing, MI. The Capital City River Run (CCRR) seemed like the perfect fall race to insert into my training schedule before my first marathon.
I love fall races – they are really my favorite. There is generally a chill in the air, but it’s still warm enough to enjoy the race. The race expo was held at the Lansing Center on Michigan Avenue. I found the expo to be a little disjointed, but I am a huge fan of the long-sleeved dri-fit shirt.  That basically makes up for it.
Race morning was, as advertised, a chilly fall morning. The run starts in front of the Lansing Center.  Being a fan of downtowns I found this the perfect place to being our 13.1 mile jaunt. 
In the Lansing Center before the CCRR
 We ran down Michigan Avenue and onto Michigan State’s campus.  I love running on campus – the beautiful buildings, the Spartan spirit. It was a great transition onto the Lansing River Trail.
I am a huge, HUGE fan of Lansing’s River Trail. The trail contains about 13 miles of paved trailway in the Lansing area. I do a lot of training runs on the trail (most of my training runs over 5 miles are on the trail) so it felt very comfortable to complete the half on my usual training course.
The race went around Hawk Island County Park, a great Lansing area park with tons of amenities (including a great dog park that my pups love) and through the outskirts of Potter Park Zoo. Although the race didn’t go through the Zoo itself (although there’s an idea for future years race organizers!) it is important to mention that Potter Park is an extremely accessible and affordable family attraction. And now that I’m thinking of it, I love the idea of the race going through the actual zoo…but I digress.
We continued on the River Trail along the Grand River until we ended up on Michigan Avenue again en route to the race finish at Riverfront Park on Shiawassee Street. The course was fast and flat, leading me to my half marathon PR of 2:12:30. That time won’t qualify me for Boston, but I’ll take it.
 I really consider this race one of my favorites.  It was a relatively small race, and it felt very comfortable and familiar running along the River Trail. The course highlighted some of the best things about the Lansing area including downtown, MSU, the River Trail, Hawk Island and Potter Park.  It was also nice to see people I know in the race and as spectators. I don’t often like to repeat races because I am always interested in trying new ones, but I am intending to do the Capital City River Run again this fall.
How would I rate this race? A (hey, I’m doing it again, aren’t I?)
How would I rate Lansing? A (we’ve come a long way…and the CCRR highlights the best!)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Running New York?

I first visited New York City in the summer of 2001. Despite being a fan of cities, I had never really been interested in visiting the Big Apple. I know, it seems like a contradiction to love cities but not have an interest in NYC. But the opportunity came to visit, and I discovered the hype is true - there is really nowhere else quite like it.

On that first visit we did all the typical New York touristy things, and I found myself loving the energy and vitality of New York.

Two years later I visited again in the summer of 2003.  The city was a much different place after September 11, 2001. It was still pulsating and vibrant but there was also an undertone of sorrow that hadn't existed before. 

The visit in 2003 was just as touristy, but I felt less like a tourist. I was becoming comfortable with cities, and New York proved to be no exception.
My sister and me on the Ferry to Ellis Island, June 2003

I started running in 2006, so in my first two visits to New York I wasn't looking at the city through a runner's eyes. I visited this past weekend and found myself itching to run New York.

Our hotel was in a questionable neighborhood. That, combined with the rainy weather, left me running on the hotel treadmill. During my hotel gym runs I had a singular thought: could I run New York?
Central Park is a runner's dream!

 Earlier this year I entered the lottery for the New York City Marathon. It's the holy grail of races for me - I would LOVE to run through all five buroughs in one of the greatest races in the world.  The lottery drawing is this Wednesday.  It's a long shot, but I'm refusing to give up hope.

I've visited New York City three times, and for a cityphile it's a great city to visit because each trip is completely different.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that my fourth visit to the city is this November, and I get to tour the city with 45,000 of my closest friends.

"Running" with the Jesse Owens wax figure at Madame Tussaud's in NYC

Monday, April 18, 2011

26.2 and The D

Prior to October 17, 2010 I had never been to Canada. This is remarkable particularly because for six months I worked in Detroit literally steps from the Detroit River looking out onto Windsor, Ontario. Once I decided to run the Detroit Marathon it became my mission to run to Canada on my first visit.

It turns out running a marathon is hard, and after previous failed attempts I decided 2010 was my year. I decided to stick close to home and run the Detroit International Marathon which runs over the Ambassador Bridge to Canada and back to the States through the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.
Me outside the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel the day before the race

The race expo was fantastic. We walked over from the convenient race hotel (the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center) to Cobo Hall on a beautiful fall Saturday afternoon. The race hotel was great – a reasonable price to be right downtown Detroit and an ideal location. The race expo was organized, efficient and fast. And the race shirt is one of my favorites. Ever. 
The Renaissance Center on a gorgeous fall day

We had a pre-race dinner at the Traffic Jam and Snug at Second and Canfield. Unfortunately we got the car out of valet and drove down Woodward but it was worth it. I have to admit – I didn’t love my choice of veggie lasagna. But as always the Traffic Jam’s atmosphere and service was top notch. When I told my server I was running the marathon the following day, he kept me supplied with pitchers of water. We ordered hot fudge sundaes for dessert (the Traffic Jam makes its own amazing hot fudge) and we even got a side of additional hot fudge. That is service. Their manager is also one of the coolest guys I’ve ever known for what it’s worth.
Delicious hot fudge at the Traffic Jam

Race morning was cool and dark. There was a little walk to the race that was not marked well (we just followed everyone else) and the corrals were a little bit confusing. The race start was somewhat congested with lots of clothes being thrown off into the street. I realize this isn’t uncommon in a race, but runners were just throwing them off right in the middle of the street without attempting to get clothes off to the side. It was a bit distracting.
at the race start

By the 5k mark runners came to a near standstill on the Ambassador Bridge. Runners were on one side while cars passed on the other side. This literally brought the group to a slow walk. The benefit was the unbelievable sunrise over the Detroit skyline. The downside was runners stopping (in the already slow group) to take photos. The race also asked runners not to use iPods and this rule was clearly not followed. I am a purist about running without music, so this was quite irritating.

I’ll be honest – Windsor wasn’t much to write home about. The riverfront has a nice walkable park, but I found myself ticking down the miles to get back to the D. Once we made it through the tunnels and bibs were reviewed by Homeland Security Agents (you have to show your passport to race), I began my detailed tour of Detroit.
runners emerging from the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel

The race wound through everything that is great about Detroit – Mexican Town, right down Michigan Avenue, through Campus Martius Park, through Indian Village, Belle Isle and along the Detroit River. IT band and pain aside, it was a fantastic course – changing, interesting scenery, lots of spectators, and flat terrain. I found myself admiring homes in Indian Village and enjoying my first ever trip to Belle Isle. It was a great way to see the city and highlighted everything to love about Detroit.
at the halfway point near Campus Martius

This is also a very intimate course. I saw my husband and family several times as well as friends who I didn’t know were there watching. It allows you to feel close to the spectators and interact with them unlike a lot of big city races.
Runners toward the end of the race

I realize that Detroit isn’t always seen in the most positive light. I am probably biased because I love Detroit and have loved it ever since the first time I saw it. Its majesty and haunting beauty make me believe that if we invest in it Detroit can be like Chicago, Portland, and Austin. Anyone who came to Detroit from out of town was given a tour of the best the city has to offer – and I think that’s a lot.
after my first full marathon

How would I rate the race? A- (the bottleneck at the Ambassador Bridge brought it down)

How would I rate Detroit? A (maybe it's not perfect, but I love Detroit)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Hills of Knoxville

I signed up for the Covenant Knoxville Half Marathon on a bit of a whim. After completing my first full marathon last fall I needed a little break from running. In February I decided what the heck – I’d find a spring race to do. I picked Knoxville for two reasons: 1) I want to check Tennessee off my 50 state running list and 2) it ended on the 50 yard line of Neyland Stadium at the University of Tennessee.  I am a HUGE college football fan and a big fan of the SEC. Who doesn’t want to run on sacred SEC football ground?
What I somehow missed in deciding on Knoxville is that it is hilly. I mean REALLY hilly. My first half was in San Francisco, and I’m pretty sure this race had steeper up and downhill stretches than San Fran. I had the pain in my knees and back afterward to prove it. I knew pretty much nothing about Knoxville except that it is the home of UT. Apparently it also hosted the World’s Fair in 1982. Who knew?
I didn’t expect to fall in love with Knoxville. It was a beautiful spring weekend and their downtown is perfection. It is one of those places I visited and immediately thought I could live there. We stayed at the race hotel – the Holiday Inn World’s Fair Park. As its name denotes the hotel is right by the park that hosted the World’s Fair and just a few blocks from downtown Knoxville.
                After a 9½ hour drive from Lansing we made it to our hotel. It was Friday evening, and for Catholics on Fridays during Lent we immediately set off in search of meatless Lenten fare. I know – we had our doubts about seafood in Tennessee as well. Fortunately there was Chesapeake’s directly across the street from our hotel. The food was fantastic (I had swordfish and mac ‘n cheese – what a combination!), and it began my weekend overdose of sweet iced tea.
                We picked up my race packet the next morning in the hotel. The expo was a little disjointed – you picked up your bib in one place, had to have your chip activated in another and then picked up goodie bags and shirts in yet another location. It was quite confusing.
                Race packet secured we decided to venture out to campus to check out the sites. I love that downtown Knoxville is so close to campus. They are really connected to create a wonderful, seamless community. We had another great meal at Calhoun’s right on the Tennessee River. A girl can never have too much mac ‘n cheese or sweet tea especially on a race weekend, right?

                My parents joined us Saturday afternoon, and we ventured to Market Square in the heart of downtown Knoxville. This is where my love affair with Knoxville really began. Market Square is a pedestrian mall about a block long surrounded by chic restaurants and boutiques. It was packed with people – families, young people, tons of dogs (and as a dog lover I particularly loved all the dogs).
Market Square

                The Rhythm ‘n Blooms Music Festival (as part of the larger Dogwood Arts Festival) was happening in the square as well. It had a great community feel. We discovered the adorable boutique Bliss where I may or may not have purchased several things I didn’t need.

                Carbing up before the race was critical, so on Saturday night we headed out to Naples on the other side of town for some pasta. I called at 5:45 and was able to still secure a reservation at 7 – which was key because Naples had gotten packed with runners. They had marathon specials on the menu and my meal of salad, spaghetti and meatballs and cheesecake was only $12.99. The only thing I like more than pasta is cheap pasta.
                Race morning arrived quickly and we walked downstairs (literally out the door and into running corrals) for the start. The location of the race hotel was fantasticly convenient. (I am pretty sure “fantasticly” is not a word but I’m going with it.)
Before the race in front of the sunsphere from the 1982 World's Fair

                It was a chilly morning – about 45 degrees – but flawless running weather. I was comfortable after a few miles (when the chill wore off) in shorts and a tank. The course took us through campus, down along the Tennessee River and through neighborhoods containing some of the most opulent and grand southern homes I’ve ever seen. If I lived in Knoxville I’d have to live in one of these fancy houses.
                The race hit threw us a curveball at mile 7 with the steepest hill I’ve ever run up (and I’m from West Virginia!) I took the advice of the pacer and walked briskly. There was no point in running this beast.  Around mile 8 the race took a turn for the boring. We were on a trail (which was awesome because I think all cities need good running trails) but at this point with few spectators it became a little tedious.
                Things picked up again around mile 11 when we headed back into town (I appreciated whoever was blasting AC/DC) and winded our way the last 2.1 into Neyland Stadium. It was pretty cool finishing on the 50 although I must express my disappointment that the checkerboard end zone wasn’t painted. You could still see the outline of it from the stands, but I was disappointed nonetheless.
On the field of Neyland Stadium at the finish

                After hugs, photo taking and a much needed shower we walked back to Market Square for some brunch. The marathon course wound its way through Market Square, and I got to cheer on the marathoners while we waited for a table as well as thank my lucky stars that I was not running 26.2. We had brunch at CafĂ© 4, a delightfully trendy eatery on the Square. I had filet benedict, a delicious twist on the traditional eggs benedict.
Cheering for marathoners outside Cafe 4

                I was sad to leave Knoxville and even more sad to sit in the car for the better part of a day after that hilly run.  It was a good race and a fun weekend. I haven’t given my heart to a lot of cities, but I have to tell you – Knoxville and I are in love.
How would I rate the race? B+ (it would be higher but for that pesky trail part)
How would I rate Knoxville? A

Friday, April 8, 2011

How do you become a running cityphile?

The first time I went to Washington, DC I was 16 years old. I remember getting off the Metro near GWU and I fell in love - with the density, public transit, the street vendors, the crowds. Being from a teeny, tiny town in West Virginia, I was enthralled by this large city, and in the years since I've only come to love cities even more. I'm enamored with walkable downtowns, public art and green space.

I'm one of those lucky people who gets to do what they love, and in my day job I advocate for cities. It's a challenging time for communities across the country, but when I visit a city for a race and see the great things various towns are doing, it is inspiring. Running has become a way for me to see cities in ways that I would never otherwise have the opportunity. 

Five years ago I started running by accident. It was no accident that I laced up my Nikes and took off, but the idea to get me there wasn't my own. A dear friend of mine is a runner. She looks like a runner - tall, thin, gazelle-like. Me, not so much. I'm only 5'4" in bare feet although most of the time I'm rocking 3 inch heels. She asked me to attend a Team in Training meeting at our local YMCA and insisted that she was going to run her first marathon.

I went to the meeting for moral support, but by the time I left I had paid the Team in Training entry fee, signed up for the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco and agreed to raise $3600 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I called my boyfriend (now husband) and said "Surprise! I'm running a marathon!" and so my love affair began.

Training was challenging and as a result of an IT band injury (I had never heard of my IT band before I started running) I ended up running the half marathon in San Francisco instead of the full. But during my first 13.1 I feel in love with exploring a city through running. There isn't a better way to experience your surroundings.

There are lots of proud city blogs and plenty of running blogs. But I'm looking to discuss the cities I run through the eyes of a cityphile and a runner. I'm looking at not just the quality of a race but the quality of the community that supports it. I've run a marathon, 6 half marathons, a 10 miler and a myriad 5k and 10k races. Each city offers its own take on a race, and every race is an adventure.

Where it all began: my first trip to Washington, DC in 1995.