A Long Shot Around The Globe

Last month, blogger, author, budget travel expert, and online sales guru Nomadic Matt had an amazing contest. He released the third edition of his best selling book “How To Travel The World On $50 A Day” and offered an opportunity to anyone who bought the new book – the chance to travel for a year, receive $50 a day and guidance from him, and have your Round The World Trip come true.  You just needed to write an 500 word essay (and some other minor legalities). Amazing marketing!

I did not win.  I started to get my hopes up when we heard he was reviewing the final top twenty essays.  The idea behind my essay is actually part of my 3-5 year plan, but winning this contest would have sped up the process. I knew this was a long shot. I just felt my chances were a little better than most. I’m sure when I see the essay from a theoretical cancer survivor traveling around the world taking amazing pictures and sending them back to kids dying in the hospital that I will be really impressed and not bitter about losing. At all.

This was actually a great exercise for me. As if I don’t get enough introspection, after I wrote this, I started to question my current trajectory.  If I am so passionate about this idea, what am I doing in Poland wasting time? I really felt lost for a week or so (this happened to coincide with some issues I’ve had here in Warsaw) and not a little discouraged. In the end,  I can be passionate about this project, and still work on other things that enrich my life in many ways. I have gotten a lot accomplished in two months and sometimes I don’t give myself enough credit for that. The new friends and community I find forming around me here in this city at this time makes me feel like I am on the right path and I will explore the larger plan when I am ready to fly.

Here is the essay in full.  Enjoy.

50 Marathons Routes

50 States

50 Weeks

Wait a second. I already did that in 2016. It was an amazing journey filled with deep personal insights. It removed many of the boundaries I had placed around my world – mentally, physically, geographically, economically. I could do it again, but this time better. With the help of Nomadic Matt I could go bigger!

Putting together my original plan I was a lone wolf. At the time, I didn’t even believe in myself, so I didn’t share my plans with anybody and if I did, I certainly didn’t share any details, because people would have locked me up. Now I would have the vast knowledge and resources of the foremost budget expert in the travel community. I have a proven track record so I could garner more sponsors. I am associated with amazing friends, runners, and organizations and they could open doors for me world wide.

50 Marathons

50 Countries

50 Weeks

Wait a second. That seems exceptionally self indulgent, punishingly repetitive, and particularly derivative. No offense to the Star Wars franchise, but there is a lack of creativity in blowing up successively larger and more powerful Death Stars. It’s not enough to just go bigger. I need to go deeper. If there is one thing that I’ve learned is that I am happiest when I am making an impact. My strongest friends and supporters are people who love what I am doing and are incorporating a piece of that into their lives.

The long term plan I designed while on the road is an international race series of Marathons and Half Marathons. I have seen the impact that distance races have on people’s psyche. People who currently have problems walking around the block strengthen their will and resilience when training for marathons and the completion of these Herculean tasks gives them the knowledge they can do anything. During the run, the people they meet from all walks of life inspire, support, and maintain focus on their larger goal. When you add the element of travel, people get fresh perspectives and new ideas. Also to make this ultimately successful, I want the races to be free. After experiencing the success of the free marathon in Millinocket, Maine and seeing the impact that race has on the town as well as the runners, I think the model has merit. When I combine that with the concept behind ParkRun, a nonprofit that organizes free timed 5Ks in 16 different countries, I think there is blueprint for success, not just for a year, but for a lifetime and beyond.

So finally, what a round the world trip would provide is

50 International Marathons and Half Marathons

50,000 + People Impacted

50 Weeks To Begin A Worldwide Phenomenon

I look forward to working with you and bringing this dream to fruition faster than I originally imagined.

Derek Zardus

GloboRun.com

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Du Motion Runners’ Days – Dubrovnik, Croatia

What do you look for in a running vacation? Great weather to run an optimal race? A beatiful course full of inspiring scenery and potentially epic photos? Great tour opportunities when you aren’t running or training? Helpful staff and volunteers trying to make this your best race of the year? The Dubrovnik Half Marathon, one of the races of the Du Motion Runners’ Days has all this and more.  


The hospitality began at the expo, where tons of volunteers made themselves available to answer questions, pour you a welcome espresso or beer, take your photograph for social media or show you some of the cool race swag you could buy, like specially designed local running flats with an outline of the old city. The Expo was small but thospitality was large, with each of the 3 or 4 vendors eager to not only sell you their wares, but also share their city with you with local tips and favorite places.


The best race swag I have ever received at any race is the Du Motion Runner’s Badge. This gives you 

  • Free entrance to the City Walls ($20 Value)
  • Free Access to Public Transportation
  • Free Entrance to Dubrovnik Museums
  • Partner Discounts

Essentially, if you are coming to run their race, Dubrovnik rolls out the red carpet and gives you the essentials to explore and enjoy their city. All for the same price you would pay to run the race. Other race directors take note – this is the new gold standard in Race/Tourism. Throw the Gauntlet down to your local tourist board. 


Of course, as soon as I got the badge I went and walked the walls. The walls are just shy of 2 kilometers of stairs, uneven stones, steep stair cases and epically medevial views of one of the most romantic cities in the world. One of the Highlights of the weekend is the Race The Wall event. The race is capped at 100 runners and the wall and main street become a 2.5 kilometer crazy race track. I volunteered at the race and it was pouring rain. I struggled on the wall just walking it, I can’t imagine running it, in the rain, trying to place a competitive time, but it certainly was thrilling. 

If you arrive early, there are plenty of things to do. The museums are amazing with phenomenal history pieces and artwork through the centuries. You can do some hill training on any street in the city, but challenge yourself to run to the top of the mountain Srđ. There is a great zig zag trail to get the top and it’s one of the best views of the city. Lokrum Island is also another must. There is a monastery and a small salt lake where you are as buoyant as the Dead Sea. With terrific trails for hiking or running and beautiful views of the Adriatic. 


Race morning felt cool for such a sunshiny day. Tons of participants and specatators flooded the Stradun, the main street old town Dubrovnik. It was a little confusing which direction the race was starting, with 5Kers and Half Marathoners muddling the start, but there was a contingent of international Race Directors volunteering at the event, so everybody was corralled pretty quickly after some initial confusion. Something I realized at this race was that I had not heard any marathon start the race with their national anthem since I had been in Europe. After the starting gun, we were off to a slightly slower start than normal for a couple reasons. 1. Tight quarters and the start of the race leads us into a narrower alley and arch, 2. Slight uphill canter 3. Slippery marble cobblestones underfoot. However, it is magical running that street and over the eastern gate and drawbridge to start the race. 


After that you turn the corner and the real work begins. The challenge of this out and back race course is the hill you climb and race down at the beginning will be waiting for you when you are good and tired at mile 11.5.  At the beginning, you have an extra half mile as you climb along the side of the city wall heading to the tower that is used as the Red Keep in the HBO “Game of Thrones” series. A small reprieve as you turn the corner and pass the local bus hub, but then you have 3/4 of mile to finish climbing up that hill. There are spectacular views of the ocean when you get to the top! You have about two hundred meters of flattop before you plunge down the other side to the main port of Dubrovnik. It’s very steep and fortunately my training for last year’s downhill races helped me pick up the pace without going crazy or hurting myself picking up and extra minute or two. The next four miles runs you under the modern and striking Franjo Tudjman Bridge along the harbor and to the other side of the ACI Marina Dubrovnik. I was a little concerned about the sun exposure during this part of the run, but the cliffs provided a nice bit of shade for all but the mile and a half approaching and leaving the turn around. One way back the sun hit hard once we entered the port area leading up to the final big hill. I spent some time trading on that hill earlier in the week so I knew it’s angle and where the rest spots were, but it is so much tougher after 11 miles! However once you get to the top, it all downhill to the finish line, with a triumphant return to the city through the eastern gate and right up the Stradun with runners and spectators roaring as you enter the final stretch (echoed and magnified by the great stone buildings). 

This was a great race for me. Beautiful and challenging, this was the first race I had run in Europe where all the volunteers at fueling stations were enthusiastic and energetic, young and old alike. There was also a good amount of cheering from runner towards runners on the out and back. The was a large group of 200 from the Belgrade Urban Running Team from Serbia, who were supportive both of their own team and other runners on the course – I know a bunch of them kept me strong and focused from mile 4 to mile 8, just in time for me to be inspired by some gals from the Southern United States who played a little leap frog with me. We started talking about that final hill and I said “You’re looking strong! Stick to your plan and I’m sure you kick some hill!” They all laughed because I thought they had a plan, and the sped off to conquer the hill and cheer me at the finish. This race also had two of my favorite things – free photos and a Race Director who takes the time to shake hands, high five, or hug every runner who crossed the finish line. I had met Alen Boskovik earlier in the week end as I was volunteering at expo and his enthusiasm and dedication shine through with every interaction between him and the runners and his staff. This is an amazing race that I would recommend to any runner headed to Europe. 

Vienna Marathon – Vienna, Austria


This is the starting line area the day after the race, when it was warmer and the skies were clear. The morning of the race was colder than most expected, with fridgid winds blowing across the Danube and occasional quick cloud bursts of drizzle keeping our skin covered in Goose bumps. I had layers but I expected the temperatures to rise 20+ degrees and at a certain point you have to hand over your race bag – thank Vienna Marathon for having the trucks so conveniently close to the start line!!! So then I stood around in my warm plain plastic trash bag for a half hour, jealous of the people who had branded colorful trash bags from Reebok and Gatorade. 

Standing in line to pee before the race was different. I really didn’t see as many portapotties as I’m used to, though there were some special Ironman branded flatbed facilities (I’m not sure if they were open to all or just people who have participated in IronMan events.) For the guys, there were blue plastic sheet barriers set up in the center of the two main race corrals to screen big pissing tubs, half which had dividers, the other half looking like the worst backyard kids pool you have ever seen. I would have though these free for all troughs would have kept the line moving, but it seems some guys get performance anxiety…I don’t know, it was a much longer wait that I expected for the size of the line. 


It’s been a while since I’ve run a race large enough to have corrals. That was an odd set up and I don’t think it was as effective as others I’ve been in, especially since it took over 40 minutes to get to the start line from the first gun. There were two lanes, each with 3 corrals 2,4,6 in one lane 1,3,5 in the others and the two lanes didn’t really merge until after the bridge and the first Kilometer but instead of just loosing the corrals as the road became free, there gave each set of corrals its own “Start” ceremony which seemed to take longer than it should have. 


Running over the Danube at the beginning of the race was certainly thrilling with some beautiful views to start off the race even with a stiff wind throwing us back. I tried to get runners to huddle together and rotate from the exterior of the group to the interior with limited success. Right after the bridge you are races through the historic streets of Vienna where no two window cornices are the same. 


As with many big city races, the half marathon runners were with us for the majority of the first 12 miles. Vienna was a little more friendly amongst the runners than Milan. I realize as I’m whooping it up in English, that it might be a little intimidating to runners unsure of their English. Certainly, the last thing I want to be doing when I’m running is thinking. I did have a couple Americans and Canadians run up and start talking to me. However one of my favorite things during a race occurred. I’m running a long focusing on my breathing, checking my stride, when all of a sudden behind my left ear I hear somebody say “Were you at the Milan Marathon?”  Thousands of runners and someone recognizes me!!! As I turn around I recognize the guy, his name is Ludo and he is from Milan, he was either a relay runner or supporting relay runner’s in Milan. He’s slightly taller than me, which always stands out, but he was one of the spectators who started to cheer when I was cheering for the relay runners! We ran together for about a kilometer, but he was a little faster so we started to play a little leap frog with my running and walking pace. A little bit later, I think I was singing some Frank Sinatra and somebody joined in on the chorus – another Italian, from Milan but working in Vienna. We talked for a while and when we caught up with Ludo I introduced them and I think they ran the rest of the half marathon together! I passed them right before the half marathon turn off where I was churning along trying to nail my half marathon time. Ciao Amici!!!


Volunteers were still an in interesting mix. They truly just don’t seem engaged here in Europe. Water was set out on the table (except the second water station, that was a mess) not really handed to runners and volunteers were kind of standing back, smoking cigarettes, and looking unimpressed. I tried thanking them in both English and German (which I know, can be questionable), but everybody seems to speak English, and most volunteers seemed confused that I was thanking them. The exception to this was the last 4 miles of the race. Here you saw enthusiasm, here people were cheering or clapping as you progressed. Most of the rest of the course was silent. It reminded me that 20 years ago when I was performing with an international cast in Germany and Holland, audiences were eerily subdued throughout the performance until the finale when they went absolutely berserk during the end and the encores. 


Two problems I had with the support tables – plastic cups and bananas. The cups with the water were a thin plastic that easily broke and then it became sharp. I cut my fingers two or three times. I’m also used to crumpling up the cup so it stays put, instead the winds blew the cups all over the place making clean up difficult. At least three or four of the water stops had bananas, which is great, but people were just throwing the banana peels in the street – a clown’s nightmare. There has to be a better way of doing this; it was seriously dangerous with slick trampled bananas all over the road. 

I really must also thank my host, Sabine. I had put a call out for help hosting on one of the Up With People cast boards and she had noted that I was going to be in a bunch of cities all around Vienna, but that it looked like I was purposefully snubbing her city. When I flippantly asked if she was going to host me, she was surprised but insisted on hosting me and was going to move heaven and hell to make sure I got into the marathon. Not only that, she joined me that last 2 miles of the race, cheering me on, stroking my ego, egging on the spectators and volunteers to cheer for me. I may not be allowed to post a photo but I can openly profess my love for you here on my blog. There is no chance the borg is reading my blog. 

Official chip time 5:58:51. Faster by almost 40 minutes over Milan. I am somewhat disappointed since I hit the half at 2:32:30 so that was a 3 1/2 hour second half. Miles 18-21 felt like molasses, but I picked up the pace and made the cutoff time with people behind me so I wasn’t dead last. I’ll take this as a win and head to a half marathon next week in Dubrovnik. 

Vienna – Not Eating Chocolate Cake In A Bag

Made a lightning trip to Vienna,

Eating choc’late cake in a bag.

– The Ballad of John and Yoko

I love this song. I love the bounce of the song, the simplicity of the instrumentation, the fact that the only Beatles playing all the instruments on the recording are John and Paul. The only place I had not been to in the song was Vienna. I imagined eating a lush Sacher Torte, the sticky jam and rich frosting getting on my fingers as I break off each piece out of a pristine white wax paper bag with the Emperor’s sigil emblazoned upon it, walking the streets of Vienna, maybe headed to the opera. 

Unfortunately, eating chocolate cake out of a bag is not a cultural norm in Vienna. Most bakeries do not even carry chocolate cake (although they have many other delicious treats). Sacher Tortes seem to be mostly sold in fancy gift boxes for tourists except at the swankiest of of restaurants where I was quoted 12€ and would have needed to stand in line for a half hour.  As it turns out, John is referencing “Bagism”, a concept he and Yoko presented to the world (in Vienna) as an ultimate form of communication, that by placing ourselves in a bag, we expect others to focus on our message instead of our race, religion, physical abilities or other outward indicators. 

Needless to say, this was somewhat disappointing to me. I expected multiple vendors in public markets to have “Choc’late Cake In A Bag” stands. I expected to be covered in a slight hint of chocolate and apricot jam scent all week long. Instead I surprisingly got snow, sleet, and hail. The Viennese were also surprised as they had springtime weather before I arrived. I was labeled a harbinger of doom and had to settle for baked goods with other fillings. 

Marathon Route #24: Revel Rockies – Denver, CO

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How do you feel when someone says “It’s all downhill from here!”? Are you elated, thinking about the wind blowing in your face as you effortlessly build momentum and speed or or are you dejected thinking about having just reached a peak and entropy starts to set in as things fall apart and strength begins to wither? An annoying phase that can be used either way and even more difficult to discern when most of your friends are fluent in Sarcasm. I can say this race was a bit of a mixed bag for me including elements of both; smooth, fast, downhill running and a degradation of current levels of strength. Also Revel Rockies is a stunningly gorgeous run!

The Revel Race Series sums up their races in two words – fast and beautiful.  The claim to speed comes from the fact that all of their races are downhill races.  They find a high scenic mountain and you run down it.  Course goals achieved!  This is definitely one of the most consistently beautiful courses I have run. As an organization, they have had some issues in the past with logistics which made me leery, but they seemed to all have been worked out and I had a great race experience. Parking was clear and plentiful, buses were well marked and ran on time, water stations were stocked and stationed by enthusiastic volunteers.  The expo was a little on the lackluster side but that just may be because I wasn’t interested in what the vendors were selling. Logistically, I only had two little problems.  Firstly, as a slow runner, as I was enjoying the finish line festivities I was disappointed to be told that the final buses back to the parking lot were leaving so quickly after I finished. The runner’s guide made it sound like buses would be transporting throughout the day and I would have appreciated a little more time. The buses were quite a ways from the finish line and could have been signed better.  Secondly, the drop bag area was quite far from the finish line and in the opposite direction of the transport busses. These were far out weighed by some of the little niceties that were arranged – excellent sports massages, frozen yogurt, icy cold towels when you crossed the finish line, a great bluegrass band playing in the park, and my favorite race perk – free photographs.  My only complaint is that with so many scenic opportunities, it would be great if they had one photographer stationed in a Runner’s World Rave Runs location.  By design, all the photos are taken with the runner filling up the photograph, but it would be nice to have just one where we are placed it the context of such monumental scenery.

Course Description:

Revel Rockies site talks a lot about the rigors of downhill running.  They offer many tips and corrections for common mistakes and also offer a full training program with an online coach for around $150.  I must admit that I didn’t have much opportunity to do sustained downhill training and I would recommend that for anyone attempting their races.  However, something that is not mentioned is the altitude you need to contend with.  Starting at 10,500 ft, Revel Rockies is the highest starting point in their current roster and even with a 4,700 ft Net Drop, you are still well above a mile high. Do not think that the downhill momentum will automatically balance out any issues you may have with altitude if you usually run at sea level or lower altitudes.

You are up early to catch the buses because they do not allow start line drop off at Echo Mountain due to the singularity of the beginning of the race course.  Once you get up that mountain, they close off the road to general traffic for your safety. You start mostly in darkness.  The sky is lightning, but even when it rises, you are more than likely still on the wrong side of the mountain. It is cold.  It gets warmer, but at 10,000 ft the temperature is about 20 degrees cooled than Denver.  Plenty of  people started off running in heavier disposable gear.  I just just had a pullover that I took off and put in my drop bag.  You warm up quickly once the race begins. Some of the most scenic views of the area are in those first couple miles, but it is tough to get a picture due to the variations in light (The background might be bright, but you are in shadow).  Around miles 3, 6, and 8 you have some of the more dramatic drops in altitude and a fairly even downhill run.  They also come right after short spurts of flattening road that seems like it is almost up hill after so much downward momentum. The curves on this part of the course are broader and for the most part, you have the entire road to navigate and ease your descent. Around mile 10, you start to break from the endless pine trees and get some wonderful valley views with a lake and grazing cattle and picturesque peaks encircling you. Between Miles 11 and 12 you enter the most lackluster part of the course, entering more of a commercial district on a double lane highway.  Still some nice views off to your left until you get to the half marathon mark.  At that point you start encountering two or three larger hills interspersed with a few rolling hills for about the next two miles before turning off on to smaller roads running through some nicer residential areas leading to Bear Creek.  Once you turn on Bear Creek Road, you will be overwhelmed by the phenomenal views, no matter how tired you are.  The gushing river even so late in the spring provides a constant feeling of movement as you continue downhill.  The curves are much tighter on this road and traffic was constant in the opposite lane heading up the mountain. The tighter curves mean that much of the road is beveled so my ankles got a real work out constantly running on an angle and my shoes were slipping in ways I was unused to, creating a multitude of blisters in ways I had not yet experienced.  The further down the canyon you run, the richer the colors get as more iron pervades the cliffs and you get more of the rusty hues that Red Rocks Amphitheater is known for.  Once you pass that landmark, you know you are on your home stretch and it is a fairly steep downhill to the finish line.

Lessons Learned:

Curvy Roads Are Rarely Flat

Around mile 12 I noticed that my shoes were loose and and needed to stop, tighten and retie them (not particularly fun to do after running 12 miles).  It didn’t occur to me that this was happening as my shoes were slipping from side to side as I ran on roads that were curved to accommodate tires, not my feet.  I started to feel the blisters around mile 18 and by mile 20 the pain from multiple blisters were a hindrance. I’ve looked up some better ways of lacing your shoes for these occasions and will be better prepared next time.

Utilize the Drop Bag Option

I feel like I really got it right using a drop bag.  Not only did I have breakfast on the way up the mountain, I had a couple clothing options when I got up there, and for the most part was able to run unencumbered. I also had some fresh clothes to change into after the race so I didn’t stink to high hell on the massage table. (it would have been better if the pick up was a little closer to the finish line – hint, hint).

Physical Review:

I was a little worse for wear after this race.  My feet were covered in blisters, many that stretched up the sides of my foot and made even walking uncomfortable, if not painful.  My knees and hips felt the force of the impact in the days that followed and that could have been avoided with perhaps a little more downhill training and attention to form.  I was a little disappointed in my time and this was exasperated by the fact that I had missed that we had a course deadline of 5:40. 5:36:20 was my finish time.  Between some issues in the second half dealing with the altitude and blisters on my feet, I lost all the time I had gained in the first half and ended close to my usual average. This will be my last race with any cool weather for sometime and I was grateful the sun wasn’t harsher until the final hour.  Next week will be a race that plunges me right into the summer heat wave – Wichita, Kansas. I hope you will continue to join me.

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Marathon Route #22: Monument Marathon – Scottsbluff, NE

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For most of us runners, there comes a time when you are out there, on the road, all by your lonesome. Some of us choose that lonely marathon. Sometimes you are running a course that can’t be reached by casual spectators. Sometimes your running partner calls out sick (or her child is sick). Sometimes you just hit a spot where your own pace has singled you out between curves or hills or checkpoints and it is you and the road. The road stretches out in front of you languidly and says, I want you to run all over me.  If you really love to run, you shift into overdrive and burn rubber.  Enjoy the ride!

This was the case in Scottsbluff, Nebraska for the Platte Valley Companies Monument Marathon.  I thoroughly enjoyed this course for a variety of reasons, the foremost being consistent scenic beauty throughout the course. I really felt that at any moment, if someone was taking my photo, I could end up on the “Rave Run Spread” in Runner’s World magazine.  Next, the small town feel of Scottsbluff and Gering are wonderfully warm and hospitable. Also, I lucked out with the weather but I am sure that in September, the temperature is ideal.  This was a state I tried to minimize.  My ex wife is from Eastern Nebraska and I felt I had already spent more time here than necessary in this lifetime.  I was not expecting such a picturesque wonderland. Having seen the two most popular courses in Omaha and Lincoln, I would unreservedly recommend this race as my top pick for Nebraska’s most scenic marathon.

Course Review

The course starts atop a bluff overlooking the course in Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area.  I was incredibly fortunate that the hotel I was staying at offered to drive me to the start of the race, because I was being quoted $40 by the local cab company.  This is a great park to explore outside of the race for it’s great trails, architecturally rustic stone and timber picnic areas and panoramic views of the area. Starting upon another bluff gives you not only more scenic opportunities, but also a nice kick start to your race.  You drop 500 ft in the first 3 miles and another 300 ft over the following 6 miles.  Just enough of a downhill to allow gravity to help, without having it hinder your body with full force impact at every step.  The first three miles are particularly attractive, running through a little canyon with imposing and craggy facades to either side.  These  hearty hills fade as you start to level out around mile 4 and 5 and head into the verdant fields from mile 6 to 9. Although the downhill is still slight here, I recommend taking the little advantage it offers.  Right as you flatten out, you hit the most boring portion of the race, a run through the more industrial section of town.  This may ease things for traffic on race day, but I really wish miles 10 and 11 ran through the more scenic downtown of Gering, rather than it’s plainer southern streets.  This mundanity is short lived because by mile 12 you are back in view of the Scotts Bluff National Monument and really don’t leave it’s orbit until the very end of the race.  At around Mile 12, you start feeling the incline of the only significant hill on the course, but by the time you feel it’s full force you are headed between the two major bluffs, like settlers out of pioneering days (they do have mock ups of covered wagons all along the entrance to the national monument so you can feel like you are out racing the horse drawn carriages up the hill.  Just as you might be getting tired you have a great down hill on the other side all the way to the rail road tracks for 3 miles.  A little bit of country roads takes you to a back track of the National Monument.  For a little over two miles, you wend your way with barely noticeable rolling hills along a water way for over flow with comfortable dirt trails and more picture perfect vignettes. Eventually, you break on through to the other side, run by the golf course and adjoining neighborhoods but ends up on the local Pathways Bike and Hike trail that runs adjacent the National Monument for about a mile.  Mile 24 takes us back along the edge of town but mile 25 starts with a gorgeous tree lined road (a boon no matter what time of year you are running this course) through a cemetery, to a hilly country road for the final furlongs of this race.

Lessons Learned

Hotel Amenities:

After exhausting all opportunities, I did end up getting a hotel room at the Monument Inn & Suites for this marathon and they were very accommodating on many levels.  Something I will remember when I stay at hotels in the future is that the hotel seemed more than willing to accommodate simple requests that were a little out of the norm.  Firstly, the hotel room was very spacious and comfortable. When I saw that they had a shuttle to the airport, I asked if the shuttle could be used to take me to the start of the marathon and they practically jumped at the opportunity to help.  Later, I asked if I could have a very late check out so that could shower and rest a little after the run and again they eagerly agreed.  This was one of the best stays I’ve had this year at a hotel and it made the expense more than worth it.

Tourists Take Photos:

I have a couple great shots of me running because some tourists were already taking photographs and I asked if they would snap one of me.  In this day of selfies that promote antisocial behavior, most tourists are already in amateur hour photography mode anyway. I need to look for them for future opportunities.

Physical Review

This wasn’t my fastest personal marathon, but it wasn’t my slowest.  A modest amount of altitude, a modest amount of heat, but after the previous week’s trials and tribulations, this felt like a victory lap. I felt comfortable running throughout, no major pains or discomforts.  I took my time, kept a consistent pace, and finished in 5:55:11.  I have said that bad decisions make great stories and this may not be my most dramatic run report, but this is one of my favorite marathon routes this year and it really surprised the heck out of me.  I hope the race directors do a decent job during the actual race because this is a phenomenal course and I’m going to start recommending it to all my friends.  If you have run this race officially, I would love to hear your feedback because I look forward to coming back and running this race officially someday.  After this, I’m off to Casper, Wyoming.  Thank you for running alongside me in all these marathons and I look forward as always to your comments and questions.

 

Marathon Route 19: Two Bears Marathon – Whitefish, Montana

 

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There is a classic running meme that shows a ferocious bear running down a road towards the camera and the caption reads “Not A Runner? Now You Are”. Imagine TWO bears. To toot my own horn, I haven’t lacked in the motivation department. I have stated on more than one occasion that I hate trail running.  This is categorically false. I actually love running on trails and the natural beauty contained therein but because I am not quite strong enough or tempered enough or experienced enough, this feeling of euphoria is usually short lived.  It is then replaced with feelings of pain, weakness, nausea, and impotence – thus why I think and say I hate trails. What I do on the trail quite often can’t be compared to running or hiking or even walking with a near fatal wound. A disheartened crawl best describes my movements on the trail, but I am determined to change that. I’ve got motivation to spare. So it was with gusto and idealistic intent that I chose to run the route of the Two Bear Marathon in Whitefish, Montana.

Reading and researching this marathon, I knew it would be tough. Firstly, there was a time limit on the official marathon of 5 hours and 30 minutes. Since I was running this as one of my unsupported training marathons, I didn’t need to worry about being taken off the course or spending money on a race that wouldn’t be counted or lists me as a DNF (Did Not Finish). The previous week I had finished a slightly hilly road race in that maximum time; I knew that the terrain and the steeper inclines on these mountains would add significant time to my run. The first half of the run would be wild and crazy, but essentially the second half (the second bear) would be steep at times, but it would be paved, so I would have firmer footing when I was most tired. Secondly, there were vastly more hills, with much greater inclines than I had previously encountered. On the website, the race directors joke that the net elevation is a loss of 229 ft, but the total elevation gain when totaling all the hills is 4,600 ft. Thirdly, I am a klutz and I have problems on roads or open fields keeping my feet under me.  The variety of surfaces and course material, gravels, pebbles, mud, dirt, and pavement, were going to hurt.  The pavement would eventually give my feet a little rest, but I had 15 miles of rocks to get through first.  This is a course that the race directors can’t get officially certified because the trail portion is too rugged. I wanted a challenge, I’m getting a challenge.  Please do not ask me why I do the crazy things that I do.

Course Review

It is at this point that I feel the need to confess – I did not finish this course.  I ran a marathon distance, but I did not finish the course as laid out by the race directors. I have had small discrepancies before on maps, areas I could not get permission to enter, wrong turns that linked up to the main trail, or questions determining exactly where the start or finish line is laid out, but considering this is a whole half marathon, I do not feel that this is something I can sweep under the carpet to clean up while guests are in the house.  The fact of the matter is that once again, on trails which were not clearly marked, I did not try to contact the RDs to determine whether or not the trail was accessible during non-qualifying times.  The race starts on the Lion Mountain Trailhead of the Whitefish Trail System, but to get to Delrey Rd. and East Lakeshore Dr.,  there a connecting jeep road that connects the trails system to the paved road – and I could not find it to save my life. The race leaves the trail and runs along one of the Beaver Lease dirt roads for approximately 1.7 miles where you should see that jeep trail, yet after running back and forth for about 2 extra miles, I eventually had a decision to make.  What I wanted to do wasn’t even an option; I could not continue the route.  So it was either follow the dirt roads to a paved road and hitch a ride back to my car or retrace the path that bought me here, effectively running the most difficult portion of the race a second time.  Knowing my ambition and my stupidity know no bounds, of course I chose that latter course.

Having run the first bear twice, in some cases an inch at a time, I do feel I got to know that portion of the trails system intimately. The race route starts off on wider trails designed for family and education purposes but then literally narrows to its purpose. There are a variety of little loops built into these first miles, most which lead to promontaries with stunning views of the surrounding mountains. After some rolling hills to get the juices flowing, you get a very fast downhill alongside gorgeous rock face that is featured prominently on the race’s marketing material. After that the trail winds through state and private property with lushly decorated, tightly cut switchbacks and inclines for another couple miles. There is a small mile and half break as you do a loop on one of the dirt and pebble country roads, before it’s back into the woods for more of the old up and down. It was gorgeous running these trails in the spring with a panoply of greens around and above you, I can only imagine the majesty of running the course in the fall with a variety of colors to catch the eyes. Also, running is the spring, part of the trail runs through a small crick that probably doesn’t flow in the fall. I reached the half mark in good spirits because as tough as the course was and even knowing that the toughest hill climb is at mile 14.5 I just kept thinking “Just make it to the road. Smooth running once you hit the road.” Except I couldn’t get to the road. It’s why my first instinct was to double back on the road. It had become my beacon. Tired and disheartened, I still had enough moxie to turn around and “run” the trail back to the start. You can see where I took some short cuts to make up for my extra search and rescue miles. I was exhausted and in pain and angry and disappointed in myself. Three and a half hours for the first half, over four and a half to get back to the start. The longest time I have ever kept moving.

Lessons Learned
Contact The Race Director
Can I really say I learned it this time? I have written this lesson so many times, I feel like Bart Simpson at the chalkboard during The Simpson’s show opening. I will contact the race directors. I will contact the race directors. I will…

Plan For The Worst
I was unprepared for a number of scenarios and that became a little scary. I did not have enough water for over 8 hours of activity. I had no plan if I got lost (flares, head lamp, non electronic compass). No bear spray (though I had been told by locals that it probably wouldn’t help). When doing trail races, I will need to come up with some alternative items to add to my prep list.

Physical Review

After about 8.5 hours on the trail, I was hurting pretty bad mentally and physically. Many of my running friends wax on and on about how running on trails keeps their legs feeling fresh and bouncy.  Not so much for me.  The first thing that hurts is my feet.  Running and striking the different rocks and roots and pebbles and stone daggers and hatchets makes my feet feel like I have been tortured for state secrets by a pro. Around mile 18 my left knee was sore every time I climbed a hill and by mile 20, my right hip would protest if I swung it to far or placed too much weight on it. After the run, I went to one of the local parks and plunged right into the icy waters of Whitefish lake.  I am so glad for my volcanic blood, because the plunge did so much good for my body.  It is so much easier to walk or jump into a freezing lake, stream, or ocean than watch a bath tub fill up, add a 5lb bag of ice and then slowly ease my sore body into the too small tub.  The knee continued to bother me through the night and I did ice it the next day.  Later, I did a light two mile test run and everything snapped into place.  Although I ran a marathon distance and have the pleasure of having persevered through the mess and not dropping my streak, this still feels a little too much like failure. Good to know what that feels like so I can move on and attempt another run. My next run is in Brookings, South Dakota and I will be shooting for an easy consistent marathon that will help realign my body and timing and bring back some sense of control.  Thank you as always for your support.  I look forward to your comments and question and hope you will join me next week as I, the Humpty Dumpty of running, get back up and run along the next wall.
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Marathon Route #13: Big Sur Marathon – Big Sur, CA

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According to most polls and publications, the two most beautiful marathons in the U.S. have not changed in 20 years. On any given year, in any given account, the two races vie for national dominance. Some magazines have broken them off in their own category but this only furthers the argument that they are the gold standard by which all marathons are gauged. Of course, I am talking about Big Sur International Marathon in California and Mount Desert Island Marathon (or MDI) in Maine.  I am already registered for MDI in October but I missed the opportunity to officially run Big Sur, so it became one of my banner unofficial routes to run. I had the pleasure of driving that portion of the Pacific Highway over 10 years ago and have memories of being slightly nauseous and extremely stressed due to the hills and tight turns overlooking precipitous cliffs. Other cars sped past at dangerously unbelievable speeds, annoyed that I was driving so slow. In my defense, it was my first time and my rubbernecking tourism slowed me down as I tried to take in every glimpse of magnificence along the coast.

This is the first race where I almost chickened out. As I drove the course the day before my run, all I could see was the very narrow strip of pavement on the edge of each side of the road.  Looking at the most strenuous hills and tightest curves, I consistently saw cars out of control as they rounded a bend or popped over a hill, veering over yellow and white lines with reckless ignorance.  In some areas, I would need to choose between hugging cavern walls where I could be dragged along jagged outcroppings and have minor avalanches dump a ton of rocks on my head (my test drive did include swerving around a pile of such debris, though it was gone the next day) or run the precipice where tricked out metallic imported cars might Tokyo Drift and sweep me out and over the Pacific, tumbling a thousand feet onto the rocky spikes and raging sea below. Needless to say, running the tangents would be tantamount to suicide. All of these death traps were oiled and sharpened the next morning as I was driving to Big Sur Station.  The darkness magnified my fears and highlighted the occasional cars driven by James Bond or Mario Andretti. There were some logistic annoyances that added to my discomfort of the situation.  I was lodging farther away from the race than I normally prefer so I would be up extremely early to start in the morning.  This was my first point to point unassisted running route, so after running 26.2 miles, I would then need to have the mental wherewithal to navigate the limited public transportation back to my parked car at the start line. The morning of my run, I sat in my car for 20 minutes, running all the deadly or debilitating scenarios though me head, thinking about the worst that could happen.  I quickly reviewed options of driving to another race location that day or doing a double the following week, anywhere other than the road that might spell my doom. After going through all the possibilities, the worst of the worst, I remember thinking “Well, at least it won’t be a boring story to tell at the funeral.”  I stepped out the car, strapped on my fuel belt (and my big girl panties while I was at it) and headed towards the start line.

Course Description

I would like to start with a disclaimer.  Any tale I tell about this course would be incomplete without mentioning my true nemesis on this course.  It was not the hills, it was not the incline.  It was not the curves in the road or the canter of the pavement.  It was the wind.  The day I ran, I experienced winds of over 30 knots blowing from north to south while I was running from the south to the north.  We were at odds the entire route.  Anytime I began to feel safe, anytime I would see traditionally safe havens like downhills or long flats, anytime I turned the corner and was glad not to be confronted with the front grill of an F-150, the wind would be there, a Greek demigod of a defensive linebacker, determined to hold the line.  The wind blew so hard that I was deaf for the rest of the day because the howling buffeted my ears for just over six hours.  Any triumph I felt about running the course and feeling the way I did was tempered by a chill and damp wind that stole one foot out of every five I tool forward.  I pray that if ever I run this race again, I should be fueled by a tailwind, even if it brings hot and humid weather at my back.

The beauty of the current Big Sur course is the 5 mile downhill plunge through cool, tree lined roads. just when you feel like things are leveling out, you continue to go lower and lower. This can give you a little false sense of security and ramp up your ego so you are starting a little faster out of the gate than you may want to go looking forward to so daunting hill climbs later. It was a little disappointing to not have a sea view until just after mile five, but when you first reach the sea, depending on your speed, you will be greeted by this amazing haze of color on the ocean, as the sun starts to stretch towards the watery horizon.  Every variance of blue will dance between the ocean and the sky like a complicated prism tarantella of blue.  Miles 6 and 7 are an incline so small it feels flat so this should normally be a good place to pick up the pace, the stoic Point Sur Naval Facility towering over the coast to the west and undulating emerald hills with disinterested cud chewing cows to the west.  Your legs get to work on the first real climb just before mile 8 and after a quick, uphill mile, get to to stretch out as you race towards the base camp of the road’s Mount Everest- Hurricane Point.  Every step you take down in mile nine shows you a new daunting twist and hair pin turn you will navigate as you surmount that peak.  However, as you crest, you have one of the most breathtaking views, sexy topographic curves, leading down to the architectural garter belts of the Big Sur, Bixby Bridge and Rocky Point Bridge. One more hill and you have five miles of private coves and rocky beaches on a mostly flat terrain to rebuild your body in time for the last couple hills as you enter Carmel Highlands.  Although not as high and daunting as some of your previous hills, these are steeper inclines that require more focus and determination so late in the race.  The only disappointing feature of the this course is the finish area being near a shopping plaza, The Crossroads Carmel.  Although it has the benefits of plenty of parking and easy access to services, I do wish the race would end in the more scenic Carmel River State Park across the street.

Lessons Learned

Transportation Back Up Plans

It was a hectic week and with multiple stops in the state, I didn’t get into town until Saturday.  The Montery-Salinas Transit didn’t have customer service agents available to confirm the Off-Season Big Sur route would be operational on Easter Sunday.  Getting back to my car would have cost about $100 by taxi.  Fortunately, this week, I lucked out.  Double checking on public transportation earlier in the week would have reduced some of my stress with logistics for this run.

Double Check Calendars

Not working a 9-5 job or really anything on a consistent weekly basis, I sometimes forget what day of the week it is.  I actually had a host cancel last minute for a family emergency and as I was scrambling for a new host.  I was surprised be how many “No” responses I got.  Everybody seemed to have something planned. Hosts were either away or had a house full of family.  I thought “Wow!  Is there some festival going on in Monterey this weekend?”  Throughout that process I remained unaware that everybody had something planned for Easter Weekend.  The beginning of the week is a good time for me to double check local events and calandars to see if there will be any conflicts with my own scheduled activities.

Physical Review

After five weeks at high altitude, I was excited to get back to sea level and push myself. Even though Big Sur is known as a challenging course, I felt each of my prior races had done well to train me. I had operated with less oxygen. I had climbed daunting mountains. I had run under a scalding sun. It is possible that, now that I am a quarter of my way through my 50/50/50 quest, that fatigue may become my constant companion. However, I feel that my final four miles of this marathon show the strides and strength that I gained from my almost 40 days in the desert. Those final hills were steep and I feel that I ran them with a strength and determination usually found in my earlier miles.  Although my body felt tired and sore from fighting the headwind all day, I did not feel out of breath as I often do in the last couple miles of a race.  Lastly, after the race, I still felt strong and mentally adept.  My body didn’t physically crash as it has after other races and I was easily able to navigate post race fueling and the transit system back to my vehicle. I was disappointed with my time of 6:10:32 but reading many reviews of Big Sur, I see recommendations to set your pace about a half hour slower than you have been running.  Considering my last couple of races were around 5:40, I can’t be too surprised.  Now I know this course and when I do come back to compete I will not be worrying about being under the 6 hour time limit, I will be focusing on shattering my personal record for this course. Thank you, as ever, for joining me on my journey and next week I get to take you to another beautiful place on earth – Maui, Hawaii.  I look forward to your comments and questions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful Runs – Wheedon Island Preserve, Florida

Get yourself lost at the Maze in the Mangroves!

Glorious photographs of idealized scenery shot in HD, hyper-real, technicolor hues can inspire us on days of infinite boredom as we run the same old streets and over traipsed trails. This year I get to explore these phenomenal areas and see if they really live up to the hype or if the pictures are just a stolen moment never to be recreated again. Hopefully, my experiences will lead you to be able to create that magic moment for yourself.

20160107_081023This location was very important to me. In fact, the picture I had seen of this location was the inspiration for all of my beautiful run locations. I really wanted to get this right. Runner’s World publishes a feature called Rave Runs every month, and every month I would hungrily open the magazine to see what exotic locale was featured that month.  March 2015 Rave Run was not in the middle of a desert, on top of mountain, or on some other continent, it is right on Tampa Bay. When this article came out, I was still in the planning stages of this trip and this photo made my trip seem real and doable.

So I set out for Weedon Island Preserve. I did not have high hopes for the day. Those of you who know my running quirks know that I enjoy launching my extravagant explorations before the sun comes up so that I can position myself in just the right spot for the perfect photography light the sunrise provides. This was thwarted by the fact that I was driving in fog so thick I couldn’t see two cars in front of me. I was further steamed to find that Google maps led me not to the correct park but a dead-end neighborhood across the bay. At the time of this publishing, Google has fixed this issue. You’re welcome.

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Slight curves make every turn an adventure!

After turning around and finding my way to the park proper, things started to look up. Firstly, there was no cost to get into the park (Yay!). Secondly, the fog lifted, leaving an overcast day which is still pretty good for photography. At least you’ll notice I’m not squinting in the most of the pictures. Thirdly, the boardwalk is easily found right by the Weedon Island Preserve Cultural & Natural History Center.

 

 

Screenshot_2016-01-21-15-26-46There are essentially two large loops that run through the mangroves. If you park at the visitor center that means that at some point you’re going to run back and forth over the connecting path from one loop to the other. I recommend looking at the boardwalk on Google Earth to get an idea of where the paths go. There is a map of the trails that is provided on site, but it is not particularly well detailed. I would recommend running the northern loop first then crossing down to the southern loop. It is on the southern loop that the second turn off leads you to an overlook tower. That is where the Runner’s World photo was taken and gives you a very dramatic photograph if you want your picture taken running through the mangroves. There are a great many varieties of wildlife all throughout the preserve. Do not be surprised if you startle a flock of birds and they stampede across your path.

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This location was very easy to run and very accessible. You can easily have a photographer stationed at the top of the overlook tower. The boardwalks are impeccably maintained so you really shouldn’the need to worry about loose boards or splinters. Have a great time and if you get you photo taken here drop me a line!

 

 

 

 

 

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Lost in Translation – My Montreal Marathon Training Attempt

J’aime Montreal.  Really, I do. You are a foodie’s emporium, an architectural wonder, a historical link from imperial rule to modern radicalism. You are worldly and cosmopolitan and everything I want in a big city.  It’s not you – it’s me. I was not ready for you. I was not prepared to accept you for all that you are.  I think I need to mature, maybe see other cities. You are so much more than I deserve. We’ll chalk this up to a messy, one day stand.  Thank you Jesse Dryden and Alisan Funk for hooking us up on this blind date.

I set myself a test goal of three marathon distances in the month of November.  As I had a little time off and the weather had been holding steady, I thought a nice trip across the border would be pleasant.  Phenomenal friends had been urging me to visit all year. It’s a beautiful city, the altitude map of the marathon didn’t look too daunting, and I had good friends who knew the city and wanted to support my endeavor.  This should have been a dream date run.  Where did it all go wrong? What can I do better?  Let’s start with the big lessons that I learned or were reinforced on this trip.

Surveying the Route 

When you are running a race without the normal race crew in place, you need to study the roads back and forth and up and down.  No volunteers blocking the wrong route, no signs saying you have reached mile 12, no friendly officers to wave you through intersections.  Three things I need to be aware of before I start my run.

  1. Construction.  The late fall has inspired many structural road repairs.  There were a number of areas under construction that were a little unsafe for me to be running through, even on a relatively empty Sunday morning.
  2. Road/Sidewalk/Shoulder Quality.  Most races shut down roads or at least limit access so the runners are actually racing on the road. I will not have that luxury.  In Montreal for the most part, I had sidewalks most of the run. In the more rural areas, I will be running on the side of the road where dirt, gravel, and sand will not give me the same purchase.
  3. Special Access.  Some races provide access to unique areas to run through. Montreal has La Ronde, a small amusement park that sits on the north end of Île Sainte-Hélène.  I thought I might sneak through, but security guards were sitting at the entrance, flashing their lights at me.  I need to prepare contingencies not only for connecting the route, but also for making up any lost miles.

Race Preparation

I am grateful for the wonderful friends I have and I am sometimes overwhelmed by the amazing people they are and the remarkable things they do.  In planning my trip next year, I haven’t been allocating enough time before the race.  I’ve been thinking I could just cruise into town, run my race, then decide what to do from there.  I now realize I need at least one more day before the race if possible.  This will give me time to either catch up with old friends who are hosting me or learn more about the incredibly generous strangers who have extended me the hospitality of their homes and get myself together for the task at hand.  Certain hosts may not have time for me or have no desire to extend themselves to me.  That’s fine; I can make the most of that time then, but that is usually not the case with my friends or friends of friends. I may have got caught up in the pleasure of being surrounded by kith and kin and may not have gotten everything done the night before I needed to get done. I didn’t actually drive the course and Google Street View was not as helpful for imprinting landmarks as would have hoped. Also – note to self – Print Race Checklists.

Don’t Believe the Weatherman

The day before my trip, Accuweather said I could expect a High of 54 and a Low of 32 in Montreal.  As I set out, Sunday morning, it was a balmy 21 degress and that’s not including the winds over the river or whipping down the larger causeways. If we topped 40 degrees I’d be surprised. I did have the wherewithal to grab an extra shell jacket but I was really freezing my butt off.  I generate heat like a furnace when I run, but I have learned that although I stop feeling the cold as my body warms up, I am wasting energy in the cold that I need to be saving for the end of the race.  I need to pick up some cheap extra layers that I can easily discard along the route.  If you see me running some morning in Memphis or Oklahoma City with an “I Love My Cute Kitty” sweatshirt and pink sweatpants that say “juicy” on the backside, expect to find them on the side of the road later that day.

Mapping

I got lost.  Multiple times I missed streets, took alternate routes, had to double back.  That was ok because I had some miles to make up for missing the amusement park midways, but overall it’s disconcerting and discombobulating.  The course is not overly complicated – for the most part Montreal is laid out nicely on a grid.  However a combination of the the French, missing signs, and construction areas led me astray and became disheartening.  This is Canada which is international – a whole other country.  My phone was not working properly and even with a program designed to not need data to operate, it was a struggle.  A struggle that eventually beat me up that day.  I now know to make sure I have print outs of the more difficult areas of the map.  Perhaps I’ll have GloboRun stickers to put on buildings or signs to keep me on track. I will probably switch from Nike as a running app to an application that will track me in realtime like Runkeeper so people and hosts will know exactly where to find me.

I may not have finished the run, but I did take away many lessons and really enjoyed running the city and getting to explore.  I could not have had better hosts.  Jesse and Alisan are incredibly supportive and even offered to run 3 or 4 of the final miles with me.  Jesse met me on the trail with water and energy and then waited forever when I got lost and couldn’t find my way back to our next meeting point. During my stay, I got to play a game with the two of them where we kept changing the rules to improve the experience of the game.  Even though the rules kept changing and I would occasionally get hung up on one of the discarded actions, we kept moving forward towards the larger goal of enjoying ourselves while establishing rules which duplicated that most consistently.  Hopefully I can approach my trip with the same perspective. My trip is malleable.  I am the captain of this vessel, and I will change course as I see fit and the tides allow. If something isn’t working, I hope I can allow my ego to let it go, so I can follow a new flow that will lead to a more enhanced experience.