Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cabins in the Smokies

View from our cabin's porch. Awesome.

Adam and I just got back from a wonderful week in the Smokies right outside the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We were there just in time for leaf-peeping and some great hiking (posts to follow). Even more importantly we missed the massive crowds that flock the to park in the summer. The Smokies are the nation's most popular national park and they are so popular that they probably need to be avoided during popular months and weekends. More on hiking and the park later.

One of the shining stars of our trip was our cabin choice. Between the two of us, Adam and I easily spent 6 hours researching the perfect Smoky Mountain cabin. So, I must admit, it was with a little apprehension that we opened that cabin door.!! I'm going to give a pretty detailed review because I highly recommend this particular cabin ('A Starry Night') and this cabin rental company (Timber Tops) for anyone interested in a relaxing time in a beautiful place only a day's drive from Chicago.

Timber Top Pic: Dining area w/ living room in background. All w/ views of course:)
Some of these pictures are from the Timber Tops website but I feel good about using them because the place was exactly as shown. Very clean, very new, very nice.

The crowning feature of this place was the hot tub on the deck. We spent at least an hour in the hot tub every night, talking about the day, drinking adult beverages, reflecting on life and enjoying the scenery. It was pretty ridiculous how often we'd say "can you believe this view?", looking at mountains, sunsets, stars. Really great.

Timber Top pic: The hot tub

The view.

Overall, the house is dedicated to enjoying the views. Windows in all the right places. Fun activities inside the house all within view of the mountains, like the game room w/ pool, air hockey and foosball, perfect for a rainy day.

Ah, love the skillet cheese toast
 The kitchen was clean and perfectly adequate. Not an open floor plan like we had in Hawaii, but it worked fine for our dinners at home (believe me, there is nowhere good to eat in the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinberg area unless you count Dolly Parton's 'Dixie Stampede'- which you shouldn't!).

There is a 'window' in the bathroom wall so you can see the mountains from the jacuzzi!
Bed was comfy. There are also 2 pull out couches- 1 in the living room and 1 in the game room. The place technically sleeps  6. I think 4 adults would be comfortable because the upstairs has its own bathroom with jacuzzi. 6 would be pushing it unless you are okay with being all in each other's grills.

As a sidenote, when the weather on our camping night was 40 degrees and raining and we had multiple planned creek crossings (hello hypothermia), we opted to book a cabin for 2 more nights. Sadly, A Starry Night was booked, and the only available one-bedroom cabin was with the Dollywood rental company, called Majestic Sunset. The sunset from the hot tub was pretty darn majestic as you can see here (2 different nights) but otherwise it was pretty junkeroo and I'd stick with Timber Tops. 'A Starry Night', Timber Tops, if you don't have plans for your next fall or spring vacation, now you do!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Day 1 of Training a Bust....Thank Goodness for Day 2..and 3...and 4...

Yeah, I didn't get up early this AM to exercise. I did get up early because I woke up wide awake at 5:30, but even though I got up and out of bed, I didn't exercise. Ugh! Getting back into the morning routine is HARD!

Then I went and had an awful day at work so no way in heck was I able to motivate myself to do more than my requisite mile tonight. So after grumbling a bit (okay a LOT) about the nonsense that happened today, I'm going to make an exercise schedule for the rest of the week, thereby making it harder for me to bail in the mornings.

I'm going to use a combo of the 3:40 and the 3:45 Run Less, Run Faster Plans. I actually need to run a bit faster than that for the race itself (for my BQ, that is), but this will be my starting point and I'll upgrade to the 3:30 plan in a few weeks (hopefully). My long runs are definitely at the paces prescribed for the 3:40 (or faster) plan. I'm confident in my ability to do any of the 1st 6 weekly long runs right now without further training. But I'm not nearly fast enough to do the tempo and speed workouts in the 3:40 plan and will be lucky to pull off those in the 3:45. Interesting. I'm really a distance runner, I guess. I'm so, so much slower on speed work. Guess that's why I need to do more speed work!

Anyway, gotta go to bed soon so here's the plan:

Tuesday: 1 mile w/u, 1 x 1600 @ 8:00, 1 x 1600 @ 7:50, 1 x 1600 at 7:40, 1 mile c/d
Wednesday: 1 mile run, JM Abs video
Thursday: 6 mile run (2 easy, 2 hard, 2 easy)
Friday: 1 mile run, JM Yoga video
Saturday: Chicago Monster 1/2 Marathon
Sunday: 1 mile run

Not super ambitious, but it is if you consider how little exercise I've done over the past few weeks!

Time to buckle down, my friends, time to buckle down.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Marathon #10: Louisville Marathon

While I opted to not run Chicago due to lack of training and desire to spectate, when Adam suggested a few weeks ago that we run the Louisville Marathon/Half Marathon during our vacation so we can "get" another state and I could officially finish my TENTH MARATHON, I said "Sure!". I have no interest in kicking my own butt during a marathon I've done numerous times before (i.e. Chicago) but I'm more than happy to do so to complete a race in my 6th state, Kentucky!

Adam and I rolled into Louisville in Elly w/ the the top down on a beautiful, sunny 70 degree day 1 week ago. We picked up our packet which included a really great shirt and went out for a nice carbo loading pizza dinner. Of note, we found a bison on the way!

Race morning was perfect- 50 degrees, a bit overcast, a nice breeze. I was really glad that Adam would get to run the first 6 or so miles with me (the half and the full shared part of the course) because I was not in the mood to run. I usually do pretty poorly in the first 4-5 miles of a marathon. It takes me a while to warm up and the number of miles ahead of me seems overwhelming. On the other hand, Adam was quite chipper so I tried to not slow him down too much. Neither of us where shooting for a time, rather were just enjoying the beautiful course right along the Ohio river.

Along the Ohio River.
Mile 1: 8:49
Mile 2: 8:58
Mile 3: 9:38
Mile 4: 9:18
Mile 5: 9:24

I started to get a bit more jazzed about the whole running thing right around the time we got to Adam's turn-around. Miles 6-15 ended up being downright enjoyable. After 6 miles on a path right along the river, the course meanders through some quiet, well kept neighborhoods, then to a forest preserve again by the river. Most of the course was shaded which became more and more important as the sun rose and the clouds parted. I opted to not wear my Nathan water pack. Since I haven't been training, I thought the extra weight might really wear me out and I figured the water stops would not be crowded given the small number of runners.

Mile 6: 9:06
Mile 7: 9:06

Adam had a great race running serious negative splits.
From Mile 8-15 I kept catching up to this nice woman in pink. We'd run together for a bit then I'd let her go ahead again because her pace was too fast for me. While we were talking, however, I learned that she was shooting for a sub-4 (my best is 4:05:18) so I started to wonder if I was doing better than I thought I was. Since the course was an out and back I decided to entertain myself by counting how many women were ahead of me (and cheering for them of course!). I was happy to find that by the 1/2 way point I was the 18th woman!

Mile 8: 8:47
Mile 9: 9:02
Mile 10: 9:07
Mile 11: 9:23
Mile 12: 8:54
Mile 13: 8:47

For a few miles, I entertained thoughts of grandeur- maybe I could pass 1 woman per mile for the last 11 miles and place in the top 10! While part of my brain held on to this thought for motivation, another part of my brain knew very well that this wasn't realistic but that it would be useful to hold on to this fantasy for a bit longer to motivate myself through the high teens. I actually did quite well b/t Miles 15 and 20. I passed 4 women, and 1 woman passed me leaving me in the top 15 women.

Mile 14: 9:13
Mile 15: 9:09
Mile 16: 9:01
Mile 17: 9:15
Mile 18: 9:43
Mile 19: 9:54

Mind you, this was not a big race. 42 women finished overall. But I've never been top 20 overall ever in any race, so I was happy.

Then Mile 20 came along. I won't say the wheels fell off because by now I'm a relatively experienced marathoner and I know how to keep myself together mentally and physically when the going gets tough. But, I was getting pretty miserable (in part because it was getting HOT!); let's just say the wheels were being held on w/ duct tape, shall we?

Mile 20: 9:50
Mile 21: 10:25
Mile 22: 10:24

I tried to keep good form, I tried to keep a good pace, but needed walk breaks mostly for mental health. Miles 20-26.2 stunk because I wasn't trained. I ran the Madison Marathon on May 29th, did a random 17 miler in July, then did no long runs until 2 weeks before this race (15 miles) and the week before this race (18 miles). So minimal distance training and definitely no taper! I got what I deserved on that back 6. But I kept telling myself that after that finish line I will be a runner who has completed 10 marathons in 6 states. I even got a bit misty eyed because I remember when I first started running in 2006- I never would have thought I'd be at this point, trying to run a marathon in all 50 states, finishing my TENTH MARATHON!! Crazy.

Mile 23: 10:06
Mile 24: 10:59
Mile 25: 10:23
Mile 26: 11:23
Last 0.2: 9:43 (pace)

Finally, the finish line came and I enjoyed a post race beer and some damn good Cheetoh Puffs. I was pretty beat up at the end, and even needed a nap that afternoon (not typical for me after a race, I usually am totally fine), but rallied for a great dinner at Proof (post to follow) with Adam.

In the end, it looks like I was the 11th woman out of 42, 36th out of 113 overall. Even more exciting (and let's face it downright shocking) was when I saw this:

I'm new to this whole 'placing' thing so I honestly am not sure how this works. Is this my first age group 'win'? Or was I really 2nd in my age group because the overall female winner was also in my age group?? Just curious. Either way, yippee!!

Finishing in 4:10:12 without significant training on a day when I was taking it easy has really motivated me to make a Boston Qualifying attempt. I know I can do it, it's just a matter of making it happen! So I've got my 'Run Less, Run Faster' book in hand and after I finish this post, I'll start making my training plan to qualify for Boston in 2012 (thus run it in 2013). I prefer winter to summer running, so I'm on the lookout for a good spring race to make this dream a reality. And I'm recruiting spectators. Anyone interested? :)

Me exhausted at the Brown Hotel.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Chicago Marathon 2011 Spectator Report

A-L and I on the Red Line.
Chicago Marathon 2011 has come and gone. Congrats to all who finished the race today! I had a wonderful time as the "spectator director" with my family as we raced (pun intended) around town keeping tabs on my cousin's boyfriend, Jason.  (BTW, he ran the Twin Cities Marathon just SEVEN DAYS AGO!) Since I am the only Chicagoan in our group I was in charge of getting us to our cheer sites on time via the el. Believe it or not, I actually needed 3 separate maps to complete this task- a CTA downtown map, the race map with mile markers and the CTA "spectator map" that doesn't give enough detail about either the trains or the race course. Pfew!

We started the day at the start line. It's so inspirational to watch the mass of energetic, excited folks optimistically starting the race:) Jason is pretty fast so we didn't stick around too long- we needed run rush off to Mile 4! Jason looked great but my camera didn't cooperate so just picture a runner happily jogging along giving a cheerful hello to his favorite fans.

Next was Mile 10 and we got there in time to see the lead pack which was pretty cool. Moses had a great day! Spectating is kind of like the military...'hurry up and wait'. We'd rush to a spot worried that we might miss Jason, then we'd hang out and play 'Where's Waldo' for a bit, then we'd start to worry that we missed him, we look, we look, we see the pace teams go by, then the fabulous moment when we SEE him, we SEE him, do you see him?, there he IS! and it's all worth it:) So fun!

Spectators do all kinds of crazy things for their runners....

We provide mad-cowbell....

We provide a steady post to lean on for mid-race stretches...

And we act as on-the-fly pharmacists dispensing ibuprofen prn....

Finally, we carried balloons to ensure Jason could spot us. We found that it also helped us find each other....especially when certain members of the party needed to find a 'scarlet tanninger'.

Jason ended strong and was still smiling when we saw him at Mile 26. And, in total rock star fashion, he was totally up for photos after the race. He was even up for walking to the Bean for, what else, but more photos!


I'm thinking of starting a marathon spectator '50 in 50' organization. Us marathoners shouldn't be the only ones who do crazy things like run 50 marathons in 50 states. Turns out our spectators are pretty crazy too!

Again, congrats to all the Chi2011 finishers!!! :)