Thursday, June 30, 2011

A 5k PR and a promise to return

Last weekend I ran a 5k in Portland, Michigan organized as part of the St. Patrick Parish Festival. I did this race last year because one of my friends lives in Portland. It's a nice, small, fun race, and I thought why not - I'll do it again this year.

Portland is a small city of about 3,800 people just 25 miles west of Lansing. What many people don't know about Portland natives, however, is they are freakishly fast (at least the ones I know).  My friend Nikki (Portland native) and her friends and family are avid runners. Did I mention they are super fast?

Runners at the start of the 5k

My previous 5k PR was about 28 minutes and 30(ish) seconds. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I run because I love it, not because I will ever win the race. The St. Pat's 5k is a nice out and back on the river trail. It's shaded for most of the course, and the 58 degree temperature made this a flawless morning for running.

When the race started people were just flying by me. I felt as though I was running quite hard, but I tried to not let the mental stuff get to me. I didn't need to keep up with anyone - I was just running my own race.

Starting the race - the kid in the cast smoked me

I felt as though I was running quite hard, but I was shocked when I rounded the corner to the finish. I crossed the finish line at 26 minutes even, shattering my previous PR. Those fast Portland runners pushed me!

All smiles after my PR

 I'm not really going to do a city analysis of Portland now because it's hard to do that sometimes with a 5k. I did, however, just register for the Portland ½ marathon at the end of July. I'll get to see more of the town then. I'm hoping these fast runners push me to a ½ marathon PR as well.

As we were driving out of Portland I did notice they use their riverfront beautifully. There are trails, bridges, parks, and benches all along the river. It's a great use of public space to encourage people to use the river trail.

I'll be back in Portland in a month for the half marathon. I'm looking forward to it, but I'm also nervous. These runners are kind of intimidating! I've got some big training runs ahead the next few weeks. I've got my eye on you, Portland. See you in a few weeks.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The best of cities and running: San Francisco

When I think of the ideal city, it has a vibrant downtown and energetic neighborhoods. There is public transit in addition to having a walkable community. Public art adorns the busy streets. Parks and greenspace are abundant. In my traveling experience few cities embody this ideal quite like San Francisco. It's got everything you'd want in a city, and the mild climate is icing on the cake.

The Ferry Building in San Francisco

I ran my first half marathon in San Francisco five years ago - the Nike Women's Half Marathon.  This race did everything right and incorporated the city beautifully into the entire course. The race hotel (the Hilton in Union Square) was right in the heart of the city. Packet pick-up was at Niketown just around the corner, and the race began literally right outside the hotel doors.

Convenient packet pick-up in Union Square

 The day before the race I had gotten to tour San Francisco a little, and I fell in love with the city. I was excited for the race to see more, and I wasn't disappointed. The course begins at Union Square in downtown and then heads down through the financial district before leading runners past Fishermen's Wharf, Aquatic Park and Ghirardelli Square

I was promised views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, but unfortunately when I ran the race in 2006 it was too foggy to see it. The course, however, was alive with spectators, music and cheering. It remains the liveliest course I've ever run. Oh and runners were given squares of Ghirardelli chocolate toward the end of the half marathon. Does it get better than that? 

During the race - thankfully down hill

The race shirt is fantastic - a Nike v-neck performance shirt. The medal also couldn't be beaten. Instead of a traditional medal runners receive Tiffany necklaces with runner charms. 

Public art in the financial district

I ran this race while raising funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Being part of that team was fantastic (even though I felt that fundraising was really too stressful for me.) The race was organized and executed perfectly. I honestly can't think of any criticism.

Proudly displaying Team in Training gear

In every race I've done since the Nike Women's Half I've searched for that same city/race synergy that exists in San Francisco. Unfortunately I haven't quite gotten there yet. But hey - there are plenty of towns out there left to run.

This pretty much sums it up

How would I rate San Francisco? A+ (public art, density, transit, diversity, walkability? Yes please!)

How would I rate the Nike Women's Half Marathon? A+ (Tiffany + Nike + chocolate = perfection)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Running the Rock 'n Roll Marathon series?

Almost four years ago I ran the Virginia Beach Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon. This national series of races is advertised as fun with lots of live music and great courses.  I have to admit I was severely disappointed with Virginia Beach. I'm still looking for a fall race, and I've now added Savannah and San Antonio to my list of potential races.  My experience in Virginia Beach, however, makes me not extremely eager to jump into this series again.

It was my third half, so I wasn't entirely a race novice.  However this remains my worst half marathon time by about 30 minutes.  First off the timing is brutal - Labor Day weekend in southern Virginia is hot and humid, and this day did not disappoint.  I was extremely disappointed with the course and found it to be tedious and boring. There were many points where there were absolutely zero spectators and it was almost silent. Not exactly what I expected from a "rock 'n roll" race.

The website says there is a new course this year, and it looks much more appealing. In 2007 the race did end on the boardwalk, but the finish was very crowded and unorganized. Other than the last few miles it was surprisingly sedate.

On the boardwalk at the end of the VA Beach Half

One of the biggest complaints I had with this race was that water and Gatorade was warm. Not just a little warm but quite hot from sitting in the sun. I imagine this is a hard thing to monitor, but I've never had this happen at another race. 

my sister and me following the race

I've had several friends run the Nashville Rock 'n Roll race with disappointing experiences as well.  This brings me back to my original quandary: are Savannah and San Antonio worth being on the list? If you've done a race in the Rock 'n Roll series I'd love to hear your feedback.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Looking for a new city for fall

I have always loved the heat and humidity of summer, and I still love it unless I'm running. That is the only time heat and humidity and I don't get along.  Summer races are brutal, and I find that I enter way fewer races in June, July and August.

I do intend to do a few races this summer including the Portland Half Marathon in Portland, MI on July 31. Portland is a smaller town just west of Lansing, but it's a mecca for great runners. I am a little intimidated to do this race especially in the summer heat, but it'll be a good challenge.

In August I intend to run the Crim 10-miler in Flint, MI. The Crim is supposed to be an excellent race and my schedule has kept me out of it the last few years. I'm looking forward to conquering those hills. September will bring me back to the Capital City River Run in Lansing. I really enjoyed this race last year. Plus the shirt for this year rocks. Let's be honest - that matters.

That leaves me missing one more long race for the fall, and I can't figure out what I want to do. The front runners are the Monster Dash in Chicago the last weekend of October or the Cape Cod Half Marathon that same weekend. The Cape Cod race is supposed to be one of the prettiest in the country.

I'm open to suggestions. Are there any great races you'd recommend? I am always open to checking out a new city!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Running Houghton

If you drive 9ish hours from Detroit, you can get to a lot of places – Washington, DC, Nashville, St. Louis. What you may not think about is heading north 9 hours to Houghton in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Houghton is a quaint city nestled in the hills at the base of the Keweenaw Peninsula. When I talk about what makes great cities – walkability, great downtowns, leveraging anchor institutions – Houghton has done it all right. It makes it worth the drive north to check it out.
I went to Houghton last week for a work trip. Despite arriving around 1 a.m. I still got up early, laced up the shoes and headed out. This is a beautiful city, but it’s cold. Even in May the morning temperature was in the high 30s with a chilly breeze. But the sun was shining and the scenery made me entirely forget about the chill. It was gorgeous.
Downtown Houghton

 Houghton , a city of about 7,000 people, sits on the Portage Canal. I ran out the door of the hotel and into the heart of downtown. Most of the storefronts are filled with charming local restaurants and shops. I took a turn down to the waterfront and ran along the paved waterfront trail.

Water is a keep part of Michigan’s identity, and Houghton uses its waterfront brilliantly. The houses are set back across the street (beautiful homes with large decks facing the canal) and the waterfront is all public. There is the trail, picnic tables, docks, and a fantastic park with a “chutes and ladders” play structure (this thing is a kid’s dream). 
The Library - a brew pub on the Portage Canal

 The next day I turned the other direction to run through Michigan Tech’s campus. Michigan Tech is a premier engineering institution, and approximately 96 percent of their students have jobs, enroll in grad school or join the military by the time they graduate. With around 7,000 students it doubles Houghton’s population. Campus is relatively small, but it was a beautiful run past the fraternity houses and around campus.
the boat to Isle Royale National Park on the Canal

 Houghton is a city with lots of culture –with festivals in the summer and then winter – where Houghton really hits its stride. It is a great place for skiing – both downhill and cross country as well as snowmobiling and other winter sports. It is the birthplace of professional ice hockey which pretty much makes it king of winter sports.
Storefront in Downtown Houghton

Each year Michigan Tech hosts Winter Carnival where visitors come to see snow sculptures built by the students. This week-long celebration is supposed to be fantastic. Winter Carnival holds the world records for the largest snowball and largest snowball fight. 

Granted I visited Houghton in the summer and missed all the cool winter stuff. And if you lived in Houghton I think you’d have to invest in a treadmill or supplement your running with something else like cross country skiing. 

This city is 100% worth the drive. Houghton is doing everything right – investing in its community in a way that will maintain the city as a vibrant place to live, work and play for generations.

How would I rate Houghton? A+