Hanging With The Cool Kids In Venice


Walking down the streets of Venice can be difficult at the best of times. Regular tourists, cruise ship passengers, vendors, beggars, school children, delivery men with hand carts piled twice their height all jostling for space on these crowded streets all seem to part way for the guy leading our pack. A cross between a WWF wrestler and ‘The Dude’, he clears a path not only with a loud “Ciao” and the occasional clasped hand but also his purposeful walk and intense stare. Following behind in her tattoo sleeves and Magenta hair is the better half of the dynamic duo, making sure the group sticks together, has time to take photos, pointing out occasional architectural oddities, making sure nobody is hitting the wine bottle too heavily. They are the masterminds behind Venice Bites Food Tours and if they are taking you on their #1 ranked food Tour in Venice, Italy, they are also your new best friends. 

Why am I writing about Adam and Maya Stonecastle when I’m in one of the most beautiful cities in the world? Because Adam and Maya are Venitians of the Heart. In the city of Love and Dreams, they are lovers and dreamers, both for themselves and for their city. Five years ago when they met online, Adam had a final line to his profile “I want to live in Europe.” Maya’s was much more specific “I want to live in Venice”. How many people put those sorts of comments in their profiles and then never move out of MiddleAmerica City, USA? However, these statements were deal breakers. After a quick trip when Maya introduced Venice to Adam (she has been coming to Venice for 20mmpmmm years), they returned for a month to see if this was possible – that two Americans (Maya does have Irish dual citizenship) could be accepted in this tight Italian, even more exclusive – Venetian, community. The resounding answer from all the locals they talked to was “YES!” 

The Venetians are excited to have people who are so enchanted and enamored with their city that they will drop everything and move there to be a part of it. Venice has a resident problem. The city loses 1500 people a year, the old and the young. One of the problems is that with it being such a huge tourist destination, it’s more lucrative to rent rooms on Air B&B per week than to residents on a lease for a month. Check out the 1000s of listings on Air B&B. Despite that challenge and still having two homes back in the states, Adam and Maya set a goal of moving to Venice in 8 months. Not just with some luggage. Oh no, they doubled down. They brought dogs. They shipped furniture. They ended careers. Just days before leaving they signed a lease, sight unseen, of their new apartment in Venice. With that, they’ve never looked back. 

Two and a half years and they are going strong. After a slow start, where they may have been second guessing their life choices, they finally accepted that they had a great product, that they were an amazing experience and started allowing reviews on sites like Trip Advisor. Things took off from there.  They now live a dream life in the City of Love, the envy of Expats everywhere. They are my new heroes and friends and if you are ever in Venice, take one of their tours your first day, so they can coach you on the finer points of the city they love. I took their tour and I’ve included  my review from Trip Advisor below. 

Venice Bites Food Tours

www.venicebitesfoodtours.com

818-303-9175


Trip Advisor Review

Where ever you go on this tour, you will see that all the locals know and treasure Maya and Adam. It’s the rare street you walk down without hearing “Ciao Adam!” or see a quick embrace with the kiss on each cheek for Maya. Your two tour guides are Venitians of the Heart, Americans still on their honeymoon with the city of their dreams – Venice. As such they take nothing for granted, showering you with beautiful views and local lore alike.


This is not a quick in and out, tagging only the biggest and most convenient. We visited 9 locations eating and drinking our way over two miles of the city in establishments stilled owned by families who have run these businesses for generations and continue to do so in a city being engulfed by corporate Disneyfication. A block a half from where you meet, you start off with “Coffee Corrected” with Grappa and a sweet Coronet, Italy’s answer to the Croissant. With this, and at every location, comes lessons in etiquette and cultural behavior which will serve you well at any of the establishments you visit during your stay. How to approach ordering, how to not get cursed out from the nonna’s for a lack of respect. A variety of establishments follow with an assortment of Venice’s little bites which define the drinking and eating community here. Most places have a variety of choices so even if you have allergies or foods you avoid, there is always something pleasing to the palate. All sourced local. All produced locally. A large sit down lunch which fortunately our group loved seafood because we had a phenomenal pasta with all the luxuries of the sea piled on top. Two dessert places – gelato (which locals consider more like a coffee break) and a pastry place. A final perfect people watching cafe on the grand canal with a “spritz” and a gorgeous view. 


Sure there are more generic, corporate tours that will hustle you in and out as a huge herd. Take this tour if you want to intimately have this city lovingly interpreted by two passionate Americans who have entwined their lives with the most romantic of cities.


Pretty Little Pictures of Firenze, Italia

Originally, this year’s European trip was supposed to be slow travel. I started off planning 12 countries over 8 months and was thinking it would be a leisurely slow roll through some of the most historic and majestic cities in the world.

Fast forward to me hustling along cobblestone streets with a 40 lbs back pack (yes dedicated readers, I got rid of 5 lbs of extra clothes this week) and a 15 lbs man purse slapping my leg and my hip while the strap somehow keeps unbuttoning my shirt. Hustle hustle hustle. 3 and a half days in a city isn’t enough time to soak, it’s hardly enough time to dip. It’s been a week and I am a little exhausted. Culture shock? Marathon? An added 25-30 miles of walking in a week?

As I said, three days in Florence is not enough time to enjoy one of the great cities of the world. A World Preservation site, every church, square, building, cornice, brick has a story that could be turned into a six part epic mini series. It is also the ideal tourist city. It feels like the landmarks are laid out like the smorgasbord you find at the city bars during Appertiva, the most amazing foodie Happy Hour on the planet. You buy one drink and a amazing array of food designed to get you to order another glass is yours, laid out like cities conquered by the Romans.


The photo at the top of the page was taken at Piazzale Michelangelo. You cannot take a bad picture from this scenic hill overlooking the entire old city. Point the camera in any direction, click, automatic living room material.  As you follow the street down the mountain, maybe not every street leads to redemption but most lead to churches and many lead to the Duomo. Any street with the dome centered in the center will probably win you that local photography contest. 

A note about the people, I thought the style was all in Milan, but is it possible to get tired of looking at beautiful people? Even though midday reached mid 70s, everybody dressed for the mornings low 50s which means they dressed for winter.  Ladies wearing full length wool coats or fur lined attic parkas. The men however wear 5 stylish layers – shirt, vest, sweater, suit coat, over coat. Commitment to style. Barbers were on every streets and very affordable. 

Don’t be surprised to be ignored in Florence. Despite Italians well earned reputation for hospitality, if they don’t know you, you are nothing. This means you need to be aggressive ordering at a counter or getting on a train. If you pause you lose, because I believe they truly don’t see you. No matter how you are dressed they have spotted you as a tourist from a mile away. 

Milan Marathon


Milan, you will now always hold a special place in my heart. My first marathon in Europe, a true spring race, romantic scenery, and a fight to the finish guarantees you a place in the memory books.

Italian hospitality is renowned the world over. When I wrote the race directors to let them know I would be racing and wanted the opportunity to volunteer before the race, a member of the race organization, Alessia Andretto personally reached out and made me feel welcome and answered questions, but demurred my assistance as a volunteer. When I was at the expo, I could see why. It was a huge expo showcasing sponsors, products, other races, charity organization, and a new Italian Track and Field School based in Milan. They had a ton of volunteers and although lines for bibs were a little long, they moved very quickly. With my lack of Italian language, I probably would have been in the way.

The best thing Alessia told me about was a local running group Urban Runners Milano. I had asked because I like to meet all kinds of runners and do a shakeout run before the race. As it turns out, this is the group that also provides the pacers for the race. When I stopped by the pacer booth, they were very excited that I had come all the way from the states and they were grateful about my excitement for 5:30 and 6:00 pacers.

On race morning I thought I had plenty of time before the race, but there was a delay on my metro line and security at the entrance was very tight. After coming out of the metro and walking a couple of blocks, we were routed back down into the subway tunnels and as we came out, volunteers were checking bibs and bracelets. That took much more time than anticipated, plus there was a huge line at the post race bag drop off. However, I got to my starting corral with plenty of time to meet all the pacers from the later times and snag a start line photo!

Milan is a beautiful city and you get to see a wide sampling of it. Some locals complained that you don’t get to see enough of the historic buildings, but I was pretty happy with my view, even if there was more of the modern architecture on display.it is also a very flat course with a small bridge towards the beginning and a small dip under an overpass later on. Also right before 35K there’s a foot bridge. The incline on all these Allred pretty inconsequential.

There were quite a few differences from many of the big American city marathons I’ve run. There were not a lot of spectators. Certainly people had their own support teams on the sidelines (especially the charities) and one of the sponsors – Huawei, had cheer teams with signs every 10k or so, but the city as a whole didn’t seem to care too much for the marathon. It was not unusual for locals and tourists to burst across the street right in front of runners. In one section, I thought some company may have paid runway models to walk across the the street, the long legged, lovely ladies were so prevalent and dismissive of the runners barreling down the street towards them. Clearly the crosswalks are the runways of the city. Runners are also strangely silent. I know that I am loud and obnoxious even for an American, but the Italian runners’ silent pursuit of excellence was a little disquieting. However, their personal graciousness is apparent throughout the race. Even at the best of time I run and walk during the race. I have never had so many people grab me by the hand or tag me on the shoulder while I was walking, encouraging me to join them. I may not have understood all they said but their meanings were clear. “Run with me”, “Let’s go”, “You can do this” translated easily with their gestures.it seems this year they were trying out music along the route. The performers were really good but their selections were a little less than inspiring. I don’t think the “Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel is on anybody’s top 10 running playlist.

I did not have such a great race. Those who have been following me know I have had a less than stellar training cycle. I gained weight, missed milage targets, and suffered more than my usual aches and pains. I also got some blisters on my feet walking around the city in the days before. This seems like a small detail, but it snowballed. I went out too fast. My first hour was close to 5 1/2 miles when I had been training under 5. I lost the 5:30 pacers just after the 10K. On the plus side, the 6:00 pacers didn’t pass me until after the Half Marathon mark. By that point I was wiped and finished. My left leg had cramped up terrible at Mile 10 and it took about 15-20 minutes to unfreeze my leg (with some help from Hyland’s leg cramp tablets. Wow! They really worked and worked fast). During that time, my lower back started cramping and that never really went away. The only reason I didn’t quit at the next relay switch station was because I didn’t see where the dump bus was and was too ashamed to ask. I figured I could do another mile. Eventually the dump bus will pick me up. We’ll one mile led to 4 and once you hit 18 you are going to need to force me to quit. Then when I texted my host that I was going to be much later than expected he offered to walk back to me. Well now it was a challenge. However at 30K, the final pace van starts following me, literally on my heels. I just ignore him. When the road widens, he pulls up beside me and says “Bus” and points behind us. I say “Marathon Fin” and point ahead of me. He says a bunch of Italian I don’t understand. “Io capito” but I know what he means. But by this point we’re practically at Mile 20. He points at my bib. I start jogging. They will pry my race Bib from my cold dead hands is what I am thinking. My host finally catches up (back) to me. I tell him, if I stop now they’ll load me into the bus. So we keep moving. Enter the new love of my life, Grace. Grace catches up with us. She is the last of the relay and it’s her first race. She says “All the volunteers are gone.” I say, “That’s because they are closing the course.If you want to quit, the guys in the van behind us will take you to the finish line.” “I want to Finish!” She says. “THEN FOLLOW ME!”
We eventually crossed the finish line. They counted Grace’s time. My time is the same as the last person to cross but it’s other my name and I guarantee you there was nobody in front of me, so I’m thinking there might have been some chip screw up. Whether they count it or not, this was another race where I proved quitting is a choice. It was a choice I wanted to mentally make multiple times during this race, but my body wasn’t having any of it, so finally my mind got on board. I’m paying the price today. Both of my feet are shredded and bruised. Every muscle in my legs feels strained and my back doesn’t feel so great either. But that doesn’t compare to the sense of resilience and confidence that this finish gives me. I’m on my way to Florence.Look for photos on Facebook and Instagram.

Day 1 – Milan Italy


Sensory overload! Somehow I forgot about jet lag. I essentially got 6 hours of sleep over 2 days of travel and couldn’t understand why I have a massive headache and equal irritability. Still, stepping out into Milan is a breathtaking experience. Immediately you are surrounded by a mix of ancient and modern, in the same way many advertisements mix Italian with choice America English phrases. It can be jarring and magical. I have learned that just because I hear someone insert and English phrase in their sentence, it doesn’t mean they speak English. 


It is spring here and the grass is green and flowers are in bloom everywhere in stark contrast to the snowy residues of Mud season back home. Even with such beautiful temperatures, I see people bundled up, only taking off their heavier leather jackets at the full height of the sun. Nobody wears shorts here and I’m sure I would stand out more if I did. I am glad I brought a suit jacket because it is very common on men in both business and casual wear.


Although there is a great deal of material published in English and the language is apparent throughout everyday media. Less people speak the language than I would have expected, however those who do are always enthusiastic to converse and help me. All announcements are in Italian of course and as I stop by booths at the marathon expo, the panicked look of a dreamer who is naked in front of their high school math class flashes across people face. There is always a lot of excitement when you tell them you came from the states to run the marathon.

I am going running at 7pm with a local athletic group. People who have run with me know how I feel about running in the evening, but it should be a beautiful sunset with a group very dedicated to improving their runs and growing a supportive group. They are the folks providing pacers on Sunday and they have pacers for 5:30 and 6:00 so I am grateful for their support.

The Eastern Grand Tour

Phase 2 – Global Domination is under way. GloboRun is headed to Europe, in fact I am finishing this post in the Lisbon Airport, waiting for my shorter than expected layover to Milan. Why all the secrecy, why all the mystery about this trip? Mostly because it is nowhere near as well planned as my 50 state tour last year. The 50/50/50 theme was a cohesive package which tied everything up in a nice, neat package. Global domination won’t be quite so pretty. There are many holes in my schedule. I have marathons planed for Milan, Dubrovnik, Skopje, and possibly Kristianopel, half marathons in Venice, Bucharest, and  possibly Berlin and a 10k in Krakow. I plan on running and talking to runners where ever I go, talking about my dream of a year long coordinated, international marathon race series. I will also be catching up with some of my European Up With People family as well as my little sister from college who has been on mission in Poland for 7 (?) years, and if that wasn’t enough, I did receive a scholarship from Angloville for their TEFL program with three weeks of hands on teaching instruction in Poland, Czechia, and Hungary with a a total of over 240 hours of instruction – something that costs upwards of $5000 in the states and takes a whole semester to get the teaching hours in. Whew. I’m tired already. It could be the 50 lb ruck sack I decided would be my everything this trip as I travel from town to town mostly by bus and local transport.

Expect many little updates like these throughout the week. Sign up for my emails on this site and make sure you like GloboRun on Facebook and @derekzardus on Instagram.

This is a rough sketch of my trip. Please try to contact me before you surprise me in a city and whoops I decided to take a detour that week.

March 29         Milan, Italy

April 3              Florence, Italy

April 7              Venice, Italy

April 9              Riva del Garda, Italy

April 13            Allessandria, Italy

April 18            Ljubljana, Slovenia

April 21            Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

April 25           Dubrovnik, Croatia

May 1               Podgorica, Montenegro

May 4               Skopje, Macedonia

May 10             Bucharest, Romania

May 18             Kraków, Poland

May 22            Warsaw, Poland

May 27            Prague, Czechia

June 2              Berlin, Germany

June 9              Poznan, Poland

June 15            Budapest, Hungary

June 23-July 20 Norway, Denmark, Sweden
 

 

 

From $0 to $60 – Frugal Marathons

 

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Remember when you got into running because it was a low cost sport? All you needed was a pair of sneakers and nowadays some people run with bare feet! I already have feet, so I should be all set! $200 for Running Shoes, $80 for a Fuel Belt, $60 Compression Socks, $90 Compression Pants, $20 head band, $50 Sunglasses, $100 Wicking Wind Breaker, $40 Phone Case, $300 Running Watch, $60 Tribe Shirt, Gels and Glide and Sunscreen and Race Fees makes a Marathon Medal and a Banana priceless! We could all use a break on some race fees right?

There are many ways to lower race fees.  Joining a race organization like The 50 States Club or Marathon Maniacs will get you 10 or 20% off at some races.  Knowing where you want to race, you can sign up for notifications of sales or contests. Many races have extra special sales on the first day of registration or on their actual race day for the following year. Black Friday and holiday sales occur in the race world too. You can also buy race series at a discount. There’s other ways to lower or eliminate a race fee which we’ll cover in another article.

It has been argued that the race fee is a small price to pay in your over race weekend trip. Especially if you are traveling, you have your lodging, gas, flight, parking, restaurants, tolls, and other costs that dwarf your regular $100+ race fee. I do not expect people to plan a huge trip on the merits of these low cost marathons because some of them are out of the way, so time and money will add up quickly. However, some of these races may be in your back yard.  Maybe your sister or college roommate lives in one of these towns.  This list is for reference as a quick check.  There’s currently 4 FREE races on this list. Another 7 of the marathons are under $35.

Many of these races came from an informal poll taken in some online forums. Thank you to everybody who contributed! I did take the time to look up and link all of the races listed here. Some of these prices may have already expired. Look at the dates of the lowest price and save it in your calendar. This list will be updated if you leave comments, however the list will be updated faster if you include a link that shows the price. Only races that are $60 and under will be listed (not including taxes and fees). We needed to draw the line somewhere. If you are suggesting races in the notes PLEASE DO NOT LIST ONE DAY OR HOLIDAY SALES OR DISCOUNTS FOR AMBASSADORS OR ORGANIZATIONS. Prices should be as they appear on the most recent registration schedule for the race.

We are still looking for low cost options for 13 states, highlighted in red: Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and Wyoming.

Alabama

Dizzy Fifties Trail Run 50k and 40&50 Miler – Huntsville, AL. $26 Early Entry

Alaska

King Salmon Marathon – Cordova, AK. $50 Marathon Early Entry

Arizona

SP Crater Marathon – Flagstaff, AZ. $35 Early Entry

Arizona Marathon – Glendale, AZ. $60 Early Entry

Arkansas

LoVit Trail Marathon – Mount Ida, AR. FREE!!!

Midsouth Marathon – Wynne, AR. $40

California

Charlie Alewine Racing – Long Beach, CA. $55 Multiple Races. 5th Race Free.

  • Colorado

Connecticut

Roxbury Marathon in Roxbury, CT.  $15

Oh Boy Marathon – Waterbury, CT. $50 Early Entry

  • Delaware

Florida

Florida Marathon – Melbourne, FL. $60 early entry

Georgia

Thrill in the Hills Trail Run – Winder, GA. $50 early entry

  • Hawaii

Idaho

Mesa Falls Marathon – Mesa Falls, ID. $60 Early Entry

Pocatello Marathon – Pocatello, ID. $60 Early Entry Special Rates first 3 days.

Illinois

Rockford Marathon-Rockford, IL. $50 ($25 for the first 200 entrants this year)

Indiana

Hayes Arboretum – Richmond, Indiana. $45 Early Entry.

Circular Logic Marathon – Lafayette, IN. $33 Early Entry

Veterans Marathon – Columbia City, IN. $50 Early Entry

Iowa

University of Okoboji Marathon – Arnolds Park, IA. $50

  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana

Maine

Millinocket Marathon & Half – Millinocket, ME. FREE!!!

Maryland

Seneca Greenway Creek Marathon & 50k  – Gaithersburg, MD. $35 Early Entry

George Washington Birthday Marathon – Greenbelt, MD. $50 Early Entry

Massachusetts

Cape Cod Trail Race – Falmouth, MA. $55 Early Entry

Michigan

First National Bank of Wakefield Marathon – Wakefield, MI. FREE!!!

Kal-Haven Trail Run 50K-Kalamazoo,MI. $50

Minnesota

Mankato Marathon –  Mankato, MN. $49 Early Entry

Run for the Lakes Marathon – Brainerd, MN. $55 Early Entry

Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon – Duluth, MN. $35 Early Entry

Mississippi

Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon – Gulfport, MS. $35 Early Entry

Missouri

Heart of America Marathon – Columbia, MO. $50

  • Montana

Nebraska

Nebraska State Fair Marathon – Grand Island, NE. $55

  • Nevada

New Hampshire

Ghost Train Trail Race (30,45,60,75, 90, 100 Miler) – Brookline, NH. $50

  • New Jersey

New Mexico

Sierra Vista Trail Runs 50K – Las Cruces, NM.$50 plus a used pair of shoes for donation.

Shiprock Marathon – Shiprock, NM. $50 Early Entry

New York

Presidential Inauguration International Marathon – East Meadow, NY. $25 Early Entry

Dick’s Greater Binghamton Marathon– Vestal, NY. $35 Early Entry

North Carolina

Tobacco Road Marathon – Cary, NC.$55 Early Entry

North Dakota

Harmon Lake Trail Festival -Bismarck, ND. $10 First 20 Entries. $50 Next 25. $60 Next 30.

Ohio

ORRRC Marathon – Xenia, OH. $35 Early Entry

  • Oklahoma

Oregon

Timberline Marathon – Timothy Lake, OR.$60 Early Entry

Pennsylvania

Naked Prussian Marathon and 50K – Leesport, PA. $35 Early Entry

Veteran’s Day Marathon – Indiana, PA.$26.20 Early Entry

Lt. J.C. Stone 50K – Pittsburgh, PA. $60 Early Entry

Rhode Island

Black Goose Marathon – Seekonk, MA. $45 Early Entry

South Carolina

Altamont Marathon – Travelers Rest, SC. $48 Early Entry

South Dakota

River Rat Marathon – Yankton, SD.$55 Early Entry

Brookings Marathon  – Brookings, SD.$55 Early Entry

Swan Lake Marathon – Viborg, SD. $55 Early Entry

  • Tennessee
  • Texas

Utah

Morgan Valley Marathon – Morgan, UT. $60 Early Entry

Logan View Marathon – Logan, UT. $55 Early Entry

  • Vermont

Virginia

Virginia Creeper Marathon – Abingdon, VA. $15

Washington

Green River Marathon – Kent, WA. FREE!!!

West Virginia

Barnum Rail Trail Marathon – Keyser, WV. $55 Early Entry. First 10 people take 50% off!

Wisconsin

Minocqua No Frills Marathon – Minocqua, WI. $45 Early Entry

  • Wyoming

 

 

Canada

Quebec
– “Marathon des Érables”, end of April, $57 (rural setting, maple taffee on snow on the course, approx. 30-40 minutes south-east of Montreal)
– “Marathon SSQ de Longueuil”, May, $46 (Montreal South Shore)
– “Marathon des pompiers de Laval”, June, $35 (Montreal North Shore)
– “Marathon de Rimouski”, early October, $38 (flat out-n-back along the St-Lawrence river, which is quite wide and beautiful up there, but 6h drive north of Montreal)
– “Marathon de Magog”, October, $50

 

 

50/50/50 – Done/Done/Done

“Success isn’t how far you got, but the distance you traveled from where you started.” – Steve Prefontaine

50 marathon routes in 50 states in 50 weeks. 25 marathon routes run by myself with limited support, no competitive edge, and no medal – just the self satisfaction the comes with completing a worthy task. Just over 34,000 miles driving around the country and 2 flights, one to Hawaii, one to Alaska have given me views of our country you couldn’t believe. I ran just under 1900 miles for the year, averaging a little more than 38 miles a week?  I feel great. I feel accomplished. I feel on top of the world.

Even with all these amazing experiences, I still get asked many of the same questions. I thought today I would address the most common things people ask.

1. How are your knees?

The #1 question every time. This is a persistent myth about running – running ruins the knees. I believe I have seriously disproven this (even if you want to ignore all the medical and scientific research that does so). Even overweight, even undertrained, even with poor form my knees, hips, and assorted running parts survived intact. That doesn’t mean I’m not tired and worn, but a couple weeks of recovery have worked wonders.

2. Seriously, how are you?

Sorry, I’ve answered the knees questions so many times it feels kinda fake. Really though, I’m good. I damaged both of my knee caps this year in stupid accidents (not from running). My feet are always a little sore. Certain parts of my body are stronger than ever. Other parts feel strained and weak. I’ve been really tired since I stopped running but that has gotten better over the last week.

3. What was your favorite race?

I maintain the two most beautiful marathons in America are Big Sur and MDI. The California coast has drama; the Maine coast has more consistent breathtaking views.

4. Who was your favorite host?

I could never pick a single host as my favorite. I’ve had so many amazing experiences with individual hosts – great runs, beautiful tours, rope dojos, moonlit kayaks, backyard barbecues.

5. Are you writing a book?

Yes. Tentatively titled 51 Lefts Make A Right, I plan to have the book published this year. I’m focusing on the lessons I learned this year and the stories that affected me most.

6. Are you going to keep running?

OF COURSE! The marathon is still my favorite distance, but I plan on spending some more time building strength and speed and I believe rest is a major component of that training. I expect to run 10-20 marathons in 2017.

7. How did you do it?

I just said I was going to do it and I did. I didn’t do it fast (though I got pretty fast for me at one point). It wasn’t perfect. I just put one foot in front of the other and didn’t quit. Sure, I run/walk. I stretched and did roller exercises. Ice baths were a key component for much of the year. I got massages. I was also supported by a ton of positive intentions and prayers and remote reiki. However, at the end of the day, I laced up my sneakers each weekend and didn’t stop until I was done.

8. What have you learned?

Read the book!!! Ok, #1 lesson – run the mile you are in. Be present and aware in that mile. Do your best in that mile. Accept the people and conditions in that mile.

9. What was your biggest surprise?

I will say the biggest surprise this year was when my friend and UWP Castmate Dan Hickey culled Karen Flint and Angel Alvarez into a mini cast reunion and cheered me on at the Atlantic City marathon. There were so many twists to the plot, I was left always guessing and it truly came as a huge surprise in the end.

10.What’s next?

Europe! I will be coordinating international race series all over the globe and first off will be across the pond. Updates will roll out soon!

Marathon Route #26: Run4Troops Marathon – Dubuque, IA

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The Black Flag – The last thing a slow runner, any runner, wants to see during a race. “Extreme and Dangerous Conditions”, the Black Flag usually also denotes the cessation of the race as it did at the 2016 Vermont City Marathon (though not at 2016 Grandma’s Marathon, held a week earlier). This year, the majority of Black Flags and those mentioned above have been flown for excessive heat. After 103 degree temperatures the week before when I unofficially ran the route of the Prairie Fire Marathon in Wichita, Kansas, I was not looking forward to running in such oppressive temperatures again. What would have been more frustrating would have been running for 4-6 hours only to be told that the race would not count due to cancellation. I brought these concerns to the Race Director of the Run4Troops Marathon in Dubuque, Iowa and she did not let me down.

Race Review

I want to start off by giving Race Director, Connie Hodge and her entire team a standing ovation for a job well done. She was at packet pickup the day before the race, enthusiastically greeting and conversing with runners and relay team captains and took the time to listen to my concerns about the heat and the possibility that the race could be cancelled. She reassured me that her team was already looking at additional ways of supporting the runners and ensuring a safe and enjoyable race. As a self proclaimed “military style” marathon, their website talks us about being prepared as runners since they would be providing limited support. However, her team went from 6 water stations noted on the course map to over 16 water stations on the trail. What an amazing show of support by local volunteers mustering to help. Not only was there additional water – it was COLD! Only at one of the water stations did I get “tepid” water. Many stations also had ice despite the heat. Truly, this was an amazing feat not really duplicated at other summer races I ran. This was also, by far, the best reception I have ever received from volunteers after crossing the the finish line. As a back of the pack runner, sometimes I consider it lucky at smaller races for somebody to even acknowledge my accomplishment. As soon as I crossed, multiple volunteers converged on me, removing my timing bracelet and placing a medal around my neck, placing ice bags on my head and neck, covering my shoulders with ice soaked towels, offering me cold water or electrolytes. I have never felt so appreciated and cared for as I did that day.

The course itself is a little on the boring side. You are essentially running a local trail from Dyersville to Dubuque in Iowa with exactly the sort of scenery you would expect to see – cornfields and forest. There are buses to get to the start line and from the finish line back to your car. You start at the Trailhead of the Heritage Trail in Dyersville.  You run along a paved road for a loop of a little over .75 of a mile before getting on the trail and heading down to Dubuque. After that you have a slight uphill climb for about 3 to 4 miles, this is also where you are most exposed to the sun as you run along lush corn fields. It is nice on a hot day to get those out of the way early in the day.Most of the rest of the race is set at a slight down hill where the only struggle appears at street crossings where the trail might sharply crest to meet the road and then drop back down to its previous level. There are some scenic little bridges that span the cricks and creeks and left over ruins from the days when the trains passed by with more local fare, but for the most part, this is a trail which invites introspection as you monitor your body and how it handles the heat of the day and the humidity that streams off of the trees. Although this is a trail, this is mostly like running on narrow, well packed, dirt road. Even when there is gravels, it is light, little stones that are comfortable to run on.

Lessons Learned

Earphones Block Out Sounds That Aren’t Only Dangerous to You:

About 8 miles in I came across a young lady who seemed to be really struggling.  What I first noticed was that her breathing was ragged and erratic, something I wouldn’t have noticed if I had had my earphones in. She was also weaving a bit and looked physically distressed, but otherwise looked kitted and physically prepared as a runner.  Turns out she had run the race twice before and approached the heat a little over confidently for the day’s heat.  She had a Camelback on but hadn’t really been drinking from it and hadn’t been taking advantage of the cold water at the rest stops.  I was glad that we started talking because when I started my walk cycle, she asked if she could join me.  I offered her cold water from my belt to pour on her head, and talked about fueling at the water stations. I’d like to think I saved her from a really bad afternoon after I heard her unspoken call for help.

Sweat Is The Same As Rain To My Shorts

I use BodyGlide for chaffing. I sweat throughout most races, but I feel like I have found the right balance for most races. On days like this, I sweat twice as much and I pour water on my head and neck to cool myself off. That liquid makes its way down to my shorts and washes away my lubrication.  I need to bring my own petroleum jelly on hot days like I do in the rain.  Even with support, I can’t count on even the medical stops to have lube – by the time I got to the medical tent they were out.  Another important tool in the utility belt.

Physical Review

Feeling pretty strong after trudging through two weeks of massive heat.  I had already taken the precaution of changing up my summer map by dodging north and south through the Midwest races, so I was looking forward to some cooler temperatures in Minnesota the next week.  The ice baths that I recently started doing were good for my muscles and joints and had the added benefit of cooling my system down and improving my circulation. My finishing time of 6:06:13 was only a little disappointing.  Once again, I felt strong in miles 20-24, but my pace didn’t match the positivity of my outlook. I was feeling my oats around mile 22 and passed a number of people slowing down at that point, but those final two miles were dense with a jungle like heat.  I feel like many of the lessons from the previous week got me through this course and I look forward to finishing such a race faster in the future.  Thanks again for following these posts, intrepid reader.  Next week I will writing about my greatest challenge of the year both mentally and physically.  I hope you’ll join me.  In the meantime, I always welcome your comments and questions.

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Marathon Route #25: Prairie Fire Marathon – Witchita, KS

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Halfway Done! Halfway Done! This run marked the halfway point for my entire quest – I wanted a tickertape parade, dancing in the streets, and fireboats shooting streams of water.  Seriously, I really wanted those fireboats on the river hitting me with full force fire hose spray – it was hot! Runners attempting the official Prairie Fire Marathon will do so almost four months down the road in the second week of October when average highs are around 72 degrees and lows are around 51 degrees.  By comparison, I stepped out of the house at 4:15 am and it was 86 degrees.  It was roughly around 94 degrees when I finished.  This was not including the humidity index which made the real feel around 102! Although I didn’t have anybody running the course with me, I did have a great deal of support from the folks at First Gear Running Company and the organizers of the Praire Fire Marathon.  On Saturday morning, I ran with a group heading out for their first training run for the marathon.  These amazing runners were kind enough to slow down so I could run with them and talk about my quest and they were full of tips about the course and the heat.  At the end of the group run, one of the volunteers with Praire Fire came over, asked me some questions, took my picture, and connected me with the organizers so I left with some amazing swag including a great beach towel and very fancy flame colored racing sleeves (which I will probably not wear until October, but they do look sweet). She also gave me her number for emergencies and her and her son checked in on me during my run to make sure I didn’t pass out, while they were going for their Sunday 10 mile long run. Overall, thanks to the gorgeous last third of this course and the hospitality I receive from this city, I’m really looking forward to officially running this race in the future.

Course Review:

This was one of the hottest days of the summer so I started at 4am. I truly hate starting to run so early. My body doesn’t really feel like it’s woken up. The first hour to two hours which are usually my best running times feel like I am running completely immersed in water. This feeling was exasperated by the high humidity. Leaving the house in the morning it was already 85 with a real feel of 92 degrees. It didn’t get as hot as it was supposed to but I can tell you 94 with a real feel of 101 degrees at 11 am is pretty tough stuff to slog through. I mention this because I didn’t really see the sun until mile 10.

If you have run this course before, there have been some subtle changes to the course. There is a new out and back  along Grove St. that allowed them to cut some chafe in one of the more industrial areas around mile 17. This also allows you more time along the river and in some of the pretier parks. This is one of the flattest courses I have runn all year, with only minor grades and isolatef hill areas. The beginning of the course starts you off with a beautiful view of downtown. You start at the newer WaterWalk area and cross back and forth over the Arkansas river on Lewis St. and then onto Douglas Ave. You run down the main thoroughfare of downtown, past all the high rises and under the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Train line. Around mile 4.5, you leave behind the main artery and start running through nice neighborhoods with the slightest of hills along College Hill Park and Cypress Park. The highlight for me of the first third of this course is along Hampton Rd. and Lakeside Blvd. The homes are nice in this area, but the park that’s been carved between these two streets with its bronze statues and cute little bridges spanning the water way is a great moment for a photo opportunity amidst some mundane neighborhoods.

The next five miles heading towards the halfway point are a bit of suburban khaki, somewhat blah and non descript as you run along outer city streets and neighborhoods, the highlight being a little trail area tucked in around mile 10-11. Surrounded by condos and cookie cutter houses, someone has taken the time and effort to carve out a little enchanting walkway connecting two neighborhoods with decorative trees and flowering shrubs. The mile around the half marathon mark feels a little strip mallish, but within a mile and a half, you are running along the nicely shaded beautiful neighborhoods of 2nd St. As you near the end of the second third of the marathon you get some glimpses of the beautiful brickwork of the revamped Old Town, where some amazing businesses are revitalizing older buildings. The last third of this course is where the scenic tourist views are, so if you have support during the race, you want to make sure they capture you going over one of the Little Arkansas or its big brother and running through one of these final parks. Riverside Park is gorgeous and a bit more accessible to some pretty views than later on by the Botanical Gardens. There are some large noteworthy sculptures by the art museum. The final 5K along the Arkansas River is very tranquil. I loved the sound of the river gently flowing along. One more time crossing over the first bridge and you cross the finish line.

Lessons Learned:

Heat Is Bad, Humidity Is Worse:

This is by far the hottest day I have ever run any distance, much less a marathon. I got some great tips from Marathon Maniacs. I froze the water in the containers on my belt and but two large frozen bars of water in my Camelback.I wore all white.I wore a large brimmed hat (but I need one with a brim all the way around). All the businesses were fine with me stopping in for refills. I did salt tablets. I carried a sweat towel and utilized it as cover for the back of my neck after soaking it in some cold water. There were some other great ideas that I will save for races with some more personal support. The heat itself was not insurmountable. What really drained me was the humidity. It had rained the night before and instead of helping, it just covered everything in water. When the sun did come out, it became a sauna. Especially after 9am, the sun was really beating down and as I was trying to stay in the shade, the trees would radiate dense steam clouds that just robbed the energy from my limbs. I do envy the runners attempting this race in the fall.

Do Not Use A Slushy To Cool Down:

Even with all the added preparation, my body was really beginning to overheat by mile 18 so I stopped at a gas station and got a Slushy to cool down from the inside out. Earlier in the year, a popsicle had really saved my overheated button in Tacoma. The Slushy had 2 downsides. 1. It had a ton more sugar than the popscicle, so although it did give me a boost, I came crashing down hard a couple miles later. The was also a lot more citric acid and it soured my stomach most of the last hour and a half. This was a suggestion from a supporter and I must say for me, it did not work.

 Physical Review:
  

After a week of intense healing on my feet from running in Revel Rockies, the blisters had healed enough for me the run in Wichita (I’d like to thank Epson salts and Gold Bond foot lotion for that). During the race, every injury I had sustained over the previous 6 months stopped by for a visit, but as I took in water and electrolytes most of the severe aches went away. The largest issue was the draining of energy from the humidity. It became a real challenge to keep going after mile 21 and I was was particularly awash in it around the Botanical Gardens.  Fortunately there was a little breeze along the river, so occasionally relief blew in and quickly blew out. This was my longest street run by far, clocking in at 7:12:02. This was also the first city I started with full ice baths for my lower torso and not only did it refresh my body from the crushing exhaustion, it also made walking the next day much easier than in te past. This will become a regular habit for me.

The heat of this course has helped me make some clear decisions for the summer. The day after this marathon, I rearranged my schedule so that I bounce up and down through the midwest, hopefully giving myself a break every other week or so by going north after a more southern and heated marathon route. It will mean a little more driving, but hopefully it will break up what looks like a dreadfully hot summer. Next week I continue in the center of the nation with an official race in Iowa – Run4Troops. Thank you for reading my journey and as always, I look forward to your comments and questions.

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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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