Tour package review for the Great Wall Marathon

Since this was the first time I booked a marathon through a marathon tour group, I thought I’d share my experience with you. I wasn’t sure how this would go, because I always plan my own “tours” and I’m pretty good at figuring out deals for accommodations and things to do in whatever city or country I am in. But I had read the reviews before booking and they seemed legit and great! And at the time I booked this, I just needed my life to be easy for a moment, and this was basically an all-inclusive package. Easy peezy!

IMG_3212

View out in front of my hotel

The company that put this race on is Albatros Adventure Marathons (www.albatros-travel.com). It was a $1,600 package (does not include your flight) for 7 days and included most of the meals except meals on the day you arrive, which was okay since I arrived later in the day and only needed dinner, dinner after the race, and lunch and dinner on your last day. But I only needed the breakfast anyway on the last day because I was leaving midday to go back home. There are other packages available that are longer. There is also a package that includes moving to a different hotel two days before the race so you are closer to the race start (and don’t have to get up so damn early), but I opted to just stay put in one spot the whole time.

I compared it to Marathon Tours and found their packages consistently more expensive. I think they put you in more expensive and nicer hotels, and that’s great if that’s what you want and are looking for. I chose a 2 star hotel with this package with Albatros, but it was more like a 4 star. It actually was pretty nice and other people agreed. If you want to look it up it is the Jingtailong International Hotel and it’s very close to Tiananmen Square.

My package also included four days of excursions and sightseeing with the group. These days are pretty full, but lots to see and you can choose to add some extras and pay a little more if you want to add on. We were assigned to a group when we arrived, so each day you went with these same people on buses to your excursions. There were probably about 35-40 people in our group. And you met friends pretty quickly, as everyone is friendly and fun and from all over the world.

Itinerary

IMG_3213

Loads of fried rice and dumplings

IMG_3210

Sunset on first evening after arriving to hotel

Day 1: Found the tour guides at the airport to take us to our shuttle to the hotel. Arrived at the hotel, checked into room, and also got our race bag and shirt and info for the week. After getting settled, I was starving and went to dinner by myself. I didn’t want to travel far so I walked to the corner and found a restaurant but had a difficult time getting them to understand I needed an English menu. Eventually I was finally seated. I ordered a plate of fried rice and plate of dumplings. I found out quickly that everything is served family style and got loads of food on each platter. And it was less than $4 US for everything! Later that night, I talked to some girls in the hotel on the same tour and ended up going to dinner with them. We wandered through this great pedestrian street that was close by with restaurants and shops and found a nice restaurant upstairs above a store. They ordered Peking (Beijing) duck, and large prawns, we had some beers, and they brought us watermelon with dry ice underneath. Then we had almond tofu with honey desserts that were really good.

IMG_3219

Preparing Peking (Beijing) duck

Day 2: Breakfast each day was served in the upstairs café/cafeteria at the hotel I stayed at. A huge buffet of all types of food – Chinese and Western options. We then went on our  excursion to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It was really hot this day and by the middle of the day I was a zombie (so tired…jetlagged). After walking for hours, lunch was served at a local restaurant and we had Beijing duck. They prepare it in little tortilla type things and put sauces and veggies inside and then fold it up and eat it. They were pretty good. We then went to the Temple of Heaven and on to a small silk exhibition hall. This silk exhibit was kind of boring and not really worth it. I think they just wanted us to buy items. Most of my group wasn’t impressed. It was a really long day and I was beat after we had our dinner. But when I got to the hotel, I ran into Alex and Petra again (these are the girls I met on Day 1), and they wanted to see the Bird Nest at night all lit up, so we hopped in a cab and went out there for a bit.

IMG_3339

Great Wall of China

IMG_3375

Dumplings!

Day 3: I was finding myself waking up each morning at 4:30am! It was so annoying. The sun rises at 4:30 so I would wake up and not be able to fall back asleep. Bleh! Today was Inspection Day so we took the buses to Yin Yang Square and gathered in the center to go over race details and then get to walk the Wall. There was an opportunity to buy finisher shirts and other race apparel (hats, backpacks, etc) as well. It was great to be able to walk on this part of the Wall and see what it would be and feel like for race day. And you were able to take tons of pictures. We then had lunch after the walk, which were Subway sandwiches, and hung out for a while and met other people from all over the world. We headed back to the hotel, dropped off some of our group and then went to dinner with everyone else. We had a large dinner again and had lots of dumplings. Some people opted to go to an acrobat show after dinner (paid for ahead of time with their package). Some of us went out by ourselves to a street lined with all types of vendors, but mostly with weird foods. We also stopped to have green tea cones and I had a jasmine milk tea with boba. Yum! We took a cab to this street, but then walked back which was kind of nice. We got to see areas all lit up with decorative lights and lots of people still out on the town late into the evening.

IMG_3431

Stroll through the beautiful Ming Tomb area

Day 4: Went on an excursion to the cloisonné factory, then the Ming Tombs with areas before and after lunch. We also went to a jade museum. We then had a group dinner and it was supposed to be our “carb up” dinner, but it barely had any type of carbs and strangely had a lot of chili based dishes. We had one noodle dish with tomato sauce that was actually really good, and a German fellow in our group kept IMG_3428asking for more. After we arrived back at our hotel, a few of us went to KFC across the street to get fries (which were delicious) and then wandered down the pedestrian street again and bought teas to take back home, had green tea cones again, and did some clothes shopping. I found out after I arrived that the celebration dinner after the race was kind of a dress up occasion, but I didn’t pack anything dressy, so I decided to buy a dress from Zara to wear so I didn’t look too casual.

Day 5: Race day!! Left at 3:30am to get to the Start location by 6am. Race started at 7:30am. Lots and lots of aid stations with plenty of water and electrolytes. Volunteers and everyone helping on the course was great! As you finished you collected your lunch and you could purchase champagne and beers if you wanted to. Great medals for all distances. 100 degree weather was crazy! But I did it!! After a crazy long bus ride back to the hotel (took over four hours because the driver wasn’t going to take our small group back to our hotel…miscommunication), we showered quickly and went to Pizza Hut for dinner. We got pizzas and salads and had a nice evening, but I was quickly fading. I was tired after that and went to bed.

IMG_3613

Demonstration of brewing and steeping tea

IMG_3558

View at the Summer Palace

Day 6: After breakfast, we went on our excursion to see the giant panda at the zoo, then to the Summer Palace (which was beautiful and we had an amazing lunch there), then to a pearl museum, to a tea house to learn about how to steep and brew tea, and then we got ready to head out to our “celebration” dinner. We took buses from the hotels to the convention center and had champagne to start and then congregated inside the very large room with so many tables and plenty of areas of food for each section of the room. So much to choose from and eat! They talked a little about the race and went through all the countries that participated and showed a great video of race day. Everyone got dressed up and had a great time! There was an optional “after party” and a good size group of us went on the little journey to the bar where it was being held. It was on the 4th floor of a building overlooking a street with a DJ spinning great music and the drinks were flowing. We had a good time. Stayed up til about 3:30am.

Day 7: Woke up to rain outside. Very strange considering it had been so hot the entire time I had been there. Not much to this day other than breakfast upstairs and getting ready to check out. I couldn’t check in on my phone so I had to ask the front desk to make sure my flight wasn’t delayed. I had heard from some folks going back to Finland that their flights were delayed so it had me worried. The gal at the front desk was hard to communicate with but after a while she was able to see that my flight was on time still. We waited for our shuttle for the airport and off we went. While we were waiting for our driver, a gal and her son from Canada realized they were supposed to leave the day before! She had looked down at her itinerary and realized it was the same times but wrong day. We got in our shuttle and as we hit some traffic and an accident on the freeway our driver decided to pull a u-turn and drive onto a frontage road head on into the traffic coming at us. Yeah, it was a little freaky! We were holding on for our lives hoping no one would hit us. There was a guy that works with Albatros in the front seat with us, who was also catching a flight, and he was able to translate what was going on. It was a great ending to this week long adventure!

Overall, it was a fast trip, but well organized and a great experience. I would definitely recommend this tour company and I am even considering doing some of the other races they put on in other parts of the world. I also think the pricing for the package was worth it. It seemed very reasonable for what it included.

By the way, China blocks a lot of social media sites, email, browsers, etc. So, I couldn’t communicate very well with people back home. I was able to use my WhatsApp which at least I was able to talk to my brother and friends watching my dogs, so that was good. So just keep that in mind. I was able to download a VPN app and it finally worked for a bit on the last day, which allowed me to check my email, Facebook or Facebook messenger and Instagram. I wasn’t too worried about this stuff though since I was supposed to be away on vacation.

Tidbits

-Came in 88/250 females (top 35%)
-Age group: 13/42 (top 30%)
-Final time: 6:28:26 (PW = Personal Worst…but who really cares…I just ran the Great Wall Marathon!)

30 female didn’t finish
30 male didn’t finish

250 total female finished
367 total men finished
=617 total finished

**They told us that 900 people signed up for the marathon, so there are just under 300 people not accounted for here, but this could mean some didn’t start, or some decided to do the half marathon instead because they weren’t feeling good and knew they couldn’t finish the full, or because they didn’t make the cutoff in time.**

My 26th marathon – Great Wall Marathon

After arriving to Beijing, the organizers of the race, Albatros, were waiting at the airport to take us to our hotels. Once at our hotel we checked in and received our gear bag with our tshirt and other information and tickets we needed for the week. The tickets they gave us were for entry into the the Inspection Day and also tickets for race day. We were also assigned a group number for the week and these were the people we would do all the excursions with each day. I was in 4B.

IMG_3319On Thursday we went to the Inspection Day. It was an early day since we had to drive 2.5 hours away to get to the wall, which was located in Huangyaguan. We gathered in the Yin Yang Square while they talked about the course and what to expect. They also let us know of some changes this year due to the hot weather. Normally, they are happy to accommodate people that want to upgrade to the half or full marathons, but this year they said they were not going to allow for upgrades due to the hot climate. Too risky. So, they said that for full marathoners, they would allow them to decide if while running the race you didn’t feel good or if they didn’t want to finish the full they could follow the half marathoners and still received a half marathon medal.

IMG_3324Once we finished the briefing and relaxed a bit, we took off to walk the wall. This was great because it gave us a chance to see what it would look like and feel like for race day. It also gave us a chance to take photos and soak it all in a little bit more. It was a hot day too, so it wasn’t necessarily easy walking this part of the wall. We saw other tourists on the wall and well as folks selling sodas and food. It reminded me to bring money with me on race day in case I wanted one of those cold coca colas while exhausted on race day. Once we were finished walking the wall, we got lunch, which was Chinese Subway sandwiches. They were actually pretty good.IMG_3369

I highly recommend you go to the Inspection Day. You get a better idea of what you are in for. It’s not an easy walk, so at least you knew what to expect. I think going into the race, while training at home, you have an idea of what you think the race will be like, but the wall is definitely far different than what you’ve been imagining.

Race Day

IMG_3497

Bag of breakfast items

I think I had gone to bed around 9:30-10pm the night before after a long day of excursions and then some shopping and green tea cones with some of the girls. We also had a “carb up dinner” at a local restaurant but it wasn’t your typical carb load. I think this made some of us nervous. It was local Chinese food and family style, as usual, and for whatever reason this was the day they served dishes with hot chilis, so I avoided those. We had one dish with noodles and the German in our group kept asking for more. I wasn’t sure this was going to be enough for me. So a few of us went to KFC and got some fries for more carbs.

IMG_3499

sleepy participant in front of me on bus

We had wake up calls for 2:30am because we had to be on the busses at 3:30am to get to the start area. Super early! They provided breakfast which was a bag of a hardboiled egg, apple, a noodle package of some sort, bread, a package of milk, a thing that looked like a tube of meat (I don’t know what it was), and a bottled water. I only ate the apple and hardboiled egg since I brought some Kind bars and my own electrolytes and water. I was nervous about the hot weather so I had been drinking lots of fluids the days before and before the race. I also caught a cold on the flight over so I had been tending to a cold, which of course can be dehydrating also. I was a little nervous about this.

IMG_3500

Sunrise from the bus

IMG_3313Once we arrived, we had plenty of time to go to the bathroom (a lovely Chinese hole in the floor bathroom stall), eat, stretch, change, and get rid of our gear bags. They had someone leading stretches with fantastic techno music and that was fun to watch. There were people assisting with putting country flag tattoos on our bodies (my American flag was backwards because they printed it wrong) and plenty of volunteers getting us ready to go in the waves.

IMG_3505My wave was #1 at 7:30am. As we stood in the corral, I talked to another American from Texas named Sarah. She was also here by herself and was nervous. She said she didn’t train much, which seemed to be a theme among a lot of these runners. I started with a gal from Argentina that was in my group. You could feel the sun get hotter as we waited to start. I was told by someone later that day, that the starting temperature was 80 degrees. Fun times!

IMG_3509

Part of the first wall climb

As the gun went off, we went through the fortress at Yin Yang Square and entered the highway. It was warm, but do-able. We then kept going onto a road leading up to the wall. This was an uphill climb and we already were walking at this point. Once you get to the wall, it’s not easy but it’s not hard yet. The last part of the wall is pretty tough because it’s a fairly steep descent (which we will have to go UP once we start this climb on the second time around).

We then went through the Yin Yang Square again and headed for the long highway in the sun. You then pass through little towns on dirt roads. There were plenty of water stops with water bottles, Gatorade and wet sponges, which felt amazing. The only thing that wasn’t amazing was being in the middle of no where and as the pack of runners loosened up we were only with a few people in front and back of us. So sometimes you felt like you were by yourself. The nice thing is the organizers made signs with KM and MILES so it was easy to follow and not have to do the math in your head.

IMG_3512The locals were excited to see us and kids would stand in lines and high five us. HA-LO or Ni Hao! I felt like I had to go to the bathroom for a while. My stomach just felt full. So finally around mile 11, I asked a policeman sitting in the shade if there was anywhere to go to the bathroom. I just pointed at my crotch and tried to get the message across. He asked a person across the street and the man so kindly let me into his home. Or maybe it was a place of business. I don’t know. But I was relieved he let me in. Another hole in the ground. Oh well…had to go pee! I thanked them and took off again.

IMG_3515

middle of nowhere

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was blazing hot. I just kept drinking so much water. I would run with a water bottle in hand and just keep drinking. My arm got tired and annoyed of holding a bottle but I had to. We got to this part of the run that was a paved road up through a village and it was incredibly hot. And boring. And it just kept going and going and going uphill. Right before we started this stretch we saw some of the top marathoners run by on the other side. I ended up running into some American sisters that I had talked to at Inspection Day. We ended up running for a while with each other which was nice.

Not long after this we were back on dirt roads. And we joined the half marathoners. It was a little confusing at first because I thought maybe I was on the half marathon course, but I asked a runner and she said we were on the same course for a while at this point.

Water, water, sponge, water. So much water!! Then I finally got to a station with Gu’s. I took that lemony-lime gel and gulped it down. I had been eating my shot bloks and some of my jelly beans, but I was tired of them for some reason. I never eat gels, but I took it this time. The gel didn’t taste that great at first, but I didn’t care and ate it all.

After a long while of dirt and rocky roads through small villages, we came to the highway again. It was on pavement and it was HOT by this time. Ugh. I walked a bunch of this because the heat was bad. A lot of people were walking, actually. Then we got to the split where half marathoners finish and the marathoners go through a different entrance and get ready to climb the wall for a second time. We ran through Yin Yang Square again and they announced our names and then back up the stairs. We also received a wristband to wear once we got on the second wall climb. Marathoners had to make it to the second wall climb entrance by 6 hours or 1:30pm or they would stop you and you couldn’t finish. I made it in plenty of time. Now, we were on for the challenge of going up the wall in reverse.

AND IT WAS BRUTAL!!

Straight up the narrow area we had ended on before. Holy hell…I said a lot of things out loud and in my head. People were cussing, exhausted, stopping, breathing hard, you name it. Our heart rates were climbing as well and I was nervous about this. People were nauseous and I saw an Asian guy stand over to the side and throw up more than once. I had to plug my ears so I didn’t hear it.

I just took it very slow. You can’t run this at all. I just took one step at a time and some parts had railings so I grabbed the railings and let them lift me up with what upper body strength I had. I had to stop and stand for a bit to catch my breath. I had to sit and catch my breath. The sun was incredibly hot at this point, so it was not fun. We passed through a shaded area where vendors were selling water, beer, cokes, bananas, dried fruits and watermelon. He yelled out “beer?” And we said NO WAY! But I eyed the watermelon and almost paid for some.

This part took a long time. I have no idea how long it took me compared to the first climb. I do have to say that even though it was treacherous and the hardest thing I have ever done, I NEVER said I wasn’t going to make it or got any negative thoughts in my head. Not sure how that happened, but it’s very easy to do on a regular flat marathon if you are having a bad day, so I was proud of myself. I just kept saying to “take it easy, breathe, get your heartrate down, stop in the shade, just get through this.” I did say to myself at one point, “Remember what the stairs said – There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.” This helped me a lot. I was ON MY HANDS AND KNEES climbing the stairs. I didn’t care how long it took me, I was going to climb each and every stair and get to the finish.

A funny thing that happened on one of the areas of the wall was a guy farted really loud and we all laughed. He laughed and apologized and said he didn’t realize it was going to be that big, but it cut through the seriousness and rawness of the climb.

I got to a point in the highest part of the second wall climb where I realized I needed some fuel. I was sick of gels and things I had on me, so out of desperation, I passed the photographer sitting on the stairs and turned back around and asked if he had some fuel. I realized he probably didn’t know what I meant by “fuel”, so I asked if he had something to eat with him. He said he thought he had a melted Snickers bar. And after taking a few more shots of runners he grabbed into his bag and handed me the candy bar. It was definitely melted but oh so good! I asked if he wanted half back and he said no and I thanked him and kept going! That bar saved me. I needed some calories bad at that point.

After this highest point, and sitting in the shady areas of the towers along the way, it’s all downhill from there to the finish. You would think I could just run slowly down the hill, but it was still hard. I did stop a few times. It was hot as hell at this point also. I then put on my headphones and listened to some music for the first time during the race. I needed to zone out a bit. And then finally we enter the square again and they called our names. I was FINISHED! I cried a little. That was insanely crazy. It felt good to be done.IMG_3517

After I gathered my things and got my lunch, I sat with some of our group. Everyone did amazingly well! It was a tough race and everyone finished. After I ate, I went to the massage tent. We were treated to a 20 minute massage! My legs were tight but it was so nice to have that after. And I think my guy gave me at least 30-40 mins. I was there much longer than 20 minutes. Once we had time to relax and eat, we got on busses back to the hotel. It was a long drive back. We were able to stop at a rest stop to pee and get snacks, but right before this, one of the gals in our group had to go to the bathroom really bad and the driver wouldn’t stop. We tried to communicate with him that she was going to pee her pants but he didn’t care. Because of traffic and hotels stops, our group didn’t get back til 4 hours later. Ugh. Long day for sure since we had been up since 2:30am.

IMG_3523

baby pizza

Once we got back and took quick showers a few of us in our group decided to go to Pizza Hut for dinner. I ordered a salad, refreshing lime/tea drink and a personal size pizza. But we laughed because it was the smallest pizza ever. Ha!

Not sure how many people didn’t finish the race. Unfortunately, I am sure there were plenty due to exhaustion and the heat. I did hear that behind me there were people turning around after starting the second climb. I also heard that stretchers were being pulled up to the wall to get people. I heard that someone had a blood vessel burst in his calf and was screaming in agony and you could hear it way up the wall. I am so glad I made it out alive and well.

This, by far, was the hardest race I have ever done. But it was a great challenge and so surreal to be able to be on the freakin’ Great Wall of China during a marathon. Like really? How does this happen? As I sit here and write this I can’t believe I was in the middle of China running a marathon on one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and something that is over 13,000 feet long.

IMG_3368

Yin Yang Square

 

The next day there was a celebration dinner at a convention center near with lots of food and drinks and it was nice to gather with everyone for a night out. They announced how many runners came from each country. The US had over 500 and was the top country by far. It was very organized and the group that puts this on Albatros Adventure Marathons, does an amazing job! Maybe I will even do one of their other 4 races…

Bucket list = Checked!

IMG_3678

 

New beginnings

Let the year begin…

It’s Feb 1 and we are already one month into 2017. I feel like I have a better handle on this year than last. Thank goodness! It took me six weeks to start running again, but on Jan 15, I finally did it and got my butt out and started my training for the Great Wall Marathon! I feel good -  my body feels really good. It just feels awesome to have a plan and have the motivation to want to run.

I took the six weeks off without hesitation. I didn’t even count the weeks, honestly. I took my mandatory three weeks off after the CIM in December, but then I was busy going to Paris, with the holidays and going on a roadtrip to Arizona and L.A. and back, and just vegging out for a bit. I also needed to gain back some weight. I actually feel like my body is almost where it should be.

Last year, I didn’t have a plan and I was going out of my mind. But this year I feel a bit more relaxed about it all. I have the Great Wall Marathon in May to look forward to and I am so excited! There is still a lot to be done between now and then, but it will all get done.

1) Training – I’m already on Week 3! But I do need to get lots and lots of stair climbing into the mix of it all
2) Flight – still need to book that but already have an idea of cost
3) Visa – need to get that done and sent off by mid-March
4) Stay positive and motivated!

I will be moving into a new house at the end of this month and I am looking forward to this. Lots of changes ahead. I am in the middle of writing a book (which is going to be a very interesting process!). I do also have other things on my mind that I may want to challenge myself with later this year. This could be an ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ kind of year. I’ll keep you posted!

Keep being you – keep being AWESOME!

Author-Unknown-A-little-step-may-be-the-beginning-of-a-great-journey720

Iceland Marathon 2016

**Sorry for the major delay in getting this out to my fellow runners. Lots going on the last few months and other things have taken precedence, but I am trying to get back to my passion and get focused again.**

IMG_1141

After a few days of exploring Iceland, it was time to get ready for the race. Had my pizza and got to bed at a decent time. I even tried some Haribo black licorice with salt that tasted terrible. I love black licorice, but this Dutch treat was so gross and disappointing. I thought it would be a great treat before bed and a good carb load, but no. Sad panda.

The weather was fairly warm. It had been cool the past few days, but when I woke up I knew right off the bat it was going to be a warm day when I was getting dressed and didn’t need my arm warmers and gloves that I came prepared with. I had been watching the weather for a couple months and it was consistently showing highs in the mid 50’s, but not today. But I came prepared with lots of fuel and I was glad I did.

When I arrived to the start area, there weren’t too many runners yet. I thought maybe it may be a smaller turnout, but that changed after about 30 minutes. The start of the race was in the middle of the downtown area, right in the busiest part of the city. The race start was at 8:40am which is not too late but still later than I’m used to. I had read they were going to have pacers but what was confusing about them was that they were only for the half marathon runners. I thought that was kind of bizarre. So I got in the 1:35-1:45 group after talking to another runner that explained that would be the group I should be in. And the pacers left mid way to follow the half marathon course. Bye bye pacer…

I started fast but it felt totally comfortable. It was the pace I had been training at, so I felt fine. I kept this up for several miles but about mile 10 or so I decided to slow it down and enjoy the race rather than having tunnel vision. I realized I was so focused on getting a fast finish time, that I wasn’t enjoying the sights and sounds. I hadn’t talked to anyone else running, or listened to runners chatting, or heard any of the entertainment along the course. I also realized the 60/40 ratio of flat vs hills was pretty right on. But the hills were long and gradual, which aren’t that bad, but not fun either. We got to go by a botanical garden and it started and finished in the downtown area where lots of spectators gathered. There were several long stretches where there were no spectators and that’s always hard with very little to help motivate or keep you going when you start to feel fatigued. But I did manage to take selfie near the natural reserve and harbor area. Hey…when in Iceland!

My original plan was to get a 3:38-3:40 finish time, definitely before 3:45, but the warm weather got to me a bit toward the end. I used up all my fuel and was sucking down Powerade and water at each stop. As I got closer to the finish, I came upon a runner with a Tufts Marathon Team jersey on and asked him if he was from the US and we chatted for a minute. His hamstrings were tight and he was taking it easy so he wouldn’t pull one. My hamstrings were feeling tight too but I wanted to get in before 3:50 at that point so I wished him luck and took off. Luckily, I was able to make it in at 3:49:53.

IMG_6454

Toward the end of the race

After the race, I just sat for a few in the corralled area for the finishers and ate the doughy pretzel stick they gave us (which was really good!) and grabbed some water. My legs felt funny from the pounding on the asphalt so I needed to massage and rest my legs and didn’t feel like walking anywhere just yet. I met up in the designated meeting spot a bit later and laid down on the grass for a while and stretched. I sat and people watched and noticed friends and family had brought beers and champagne for their friends who finished the race. I heard a pop behind me and knew the sound well…champagne! After a bit, I changed and got into more comfortable shoes. Then it was time for lunch! A burger, fries and beers did the trick. We found this cool bar called the Laundromat among all the crowds in town for Culture Night, which is a tradition after the marathon. Lots going on – live music, art, shopping, bars are hopping and more. We even stopped at the Harpa for quite a while and enjoyed all the free exhibits they had going on all day (as well as yummy cupcakes that were free!).

Overall, I felt like the race was very organized. People were friendly and helpful. The expo was easy to get to and had plenty to see, the course was an interesting route around town and along the harbor, the aid stations had plenty of Powerade and water (although there probably could have been a few more), and it wasn’t too big of a race. Everyone got a medal at the finish, and we also got participant shirts and a free pass to the local swimming pool, which I used the next day. That was a great perk for sure…a nice way to relax the muscles and people watch at the local hot pools! I would definitely recommend this race!

IMG_6458

 

I finally have a plan!

My last post explained that I didn’t have a plan and it was driving me insane. I was literally going insane. Well, good news, I have a plan! I guess things all fall in line the way they are supposed to. I just didn’t think it would take so long.

After not getting into the New York Marathon (again!), I considered fundraising for Team in Training. I found out, though, that they were all sold out and had no spots left. Just my luck! I also found out the fundraising minimum was higher than I thought, so it was just as well that it didn’t work out. So, I got a little agitated and kind of freaked. Yeah…this sounds like weird behavior.

Very quickly, the Iceland Marathon came back around as an idea. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time now but kind of scrapped it for this year’s plan since my 40th birthday is coming up in September and we were pretty set on going to Bali to celebrate. But after all the NY Marathon stuff, I decided that maybe Iceland might be what I needed. So, Clint got on board (he actually suggested it again) and I registered for the race just a couple weeks ago!

I decided that the Iceland Marathon WILL BE my 40th birthday celebration! Isn’t that a little weird and crazy?! I don’t care. I know it’s what will make me happy. Traveling and running to celebrate the next decade in my life….sounds great to me!!

So, today starts my next 18 week journey of training. 18 weeks of building this body up to running 26.2 miles again. I’m really excited! I’m really excited I have a plan finally and I’m really excited about seeing Iceland and running through the country in August!

I’ll try and keep you posted on other great running related stuff very soon (I’ve been slacking as of late). I do have a lot of cool stuff going on. Hope you are all having fun out there – Spring has Sprung!

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” – C. S. Lewis

 

 

What’s the plan?

Yeah, that’s what I have been asking myself this whole month. That’s what so many other people keep asking me as well! Every January, you start with a clean slate and look at the year ahead and plan adventures, mini vacations, races and more. But, I have yet to plan anything and it’s been very strange for me. Honestly, it’s been driving me bonkers. I am a planner so not having a plan is hard for me.

I have been trying to be calm about it and be okay with not having a plan for a change, but I am feeling the need to at least get some races on the calendar. I feel like, when I have a plan, then I have a goal or something to look forward to and something to work towards.

I recently was accepted into #TeamSRA which was really exciting! I was part of Sacramento Running Association’s Ambassador team (called the AmbasSRAdors) last year and applied again for this year. They decided to split it into two teams and I will be part of this newly created one. So, this helped in my motivation of continuing my passion of running! It’s exciting to be a part of a team of runners who feel the same and love being a part of the Sacramento running community.

I also applied for the New York City Marathon lottery last week. I have lost count on how many years I’ve done this, but I am sure it’s at least 5. Hopefully, I will be chosen this year! It would be a nice 40th birthday celebration to run this!

As far as other races, I have no idea yet what I will do (other than the CIM which I run every December). I have an idea for a international race, but I’ll let you know down the road if/when it comes to fruition.

So, until then, I will just keep running my short runs, keep thinking about where I want to spend my money, what races sound fun this year, and what will keep me motivated. What races are you running this year?? Anything fun and interesting or anything you want to suggest??

**Note: I wrote this in January and forgot to (didn’t want to) publish it.**

#2015bestsix

With the year coming to a close, we all tend to look back on the year; what we’ve been through and what we’ve accomplished. My year started off a little shaky and stressful but quickly turned into one amazing and epic year full of great adventures and a lot was crossed off my bucket list.

Clint and I bought a house together (crazy!), I ran a marathon in Tokyo, Japan(!), ran the Boston Marathon a second time (such a great time!), then ran the Boston to Big Sur Challenge six days later (I’m one of those crazies)…then started training for an ultra…then ran the Athens and Istanbul Marathons within a week of each other, and finished off with running the California International Marathon for the 8th year in a row. That was six marathons this year! Ummmm, crazy!

I met new running friends this year, became a USATF official, worked as an expo coordinator for the CIM (that local, hometown marathon of ours), and also helped coach the Runnin’ For Rhett organization’s half marathon training program in the fall. Yeah…a lot of running stuff. But as I get older, I realize more and more that passion is the key to happiness. Do the things you really love!

Aside from running, I got to hot air balloon twice(!) and see the Grand Canyon finally. BIG checks off the good ‘ol bucket list.

I wish for you all to do the things you love so you can find your happiness. I hope your 2016 is as great as my 2015 was. I really don’t know how I will ever be able to top it, but I do know there’s still lots out there for me to learn, discover and see in the world. I have plenty of other countries on my list of where I hope to run all over the world. I’m hoping to get more in next year. Peace!

IMG_1370

Tokyo, Boston, Big Sur, Athens, Istanbul and CIM #2015bestsix

 

 

#8 CIM: My hometown – 2015

This year’s CIM brought no expectations. I had just run two marathons back-to-back three weeks prior (Athens & Istanbul) and had long work days leading up to the race so I had no idea how my body was going to feel running my last 26.2 of the year. I was feeling positive though so I knew no matter what I was going to have fun. This is my hometown race and I get to see my friends cheering on the sidelines, fellow runners on the course, and I know the course like the back of my hand. This is something I miss when I run out of the country.

I did my usual routine and prepped all my running gear the night before. I ate my pizza immediately after I got home from work about 7:30pm. I ate the same pre-race breakfast, except forgot to eat some banana. I even hydrated a ton the day before while I was working because the Nuun rep suggested I bring a water bottle and fill up on their free electrolytes all day at the expo. I was so glad he had suggested that!

When we got to the start, Jen and I met up with her friend LaDawn and my friend Scott, who was running his first marathon. We got into the pack and took off at 7! Jen was feeling good and was going a little faster than I wanted to run, but I stuck with her for about 4.5 miles then I dropped back to run with Scott. I had told him I’d help him get to the finish line under 4 hours, which usually isn’t that hard for me to do. We were running a steady pace that felt very comfortable but around mile 13 my quads started to feel pretty heavy. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep this pace the rest of the way. So about mile 14.5 or so I told Scott to go ahead and try and keep up with my friend Brian. Brian just passed us and was slightly in front of the 3:55 pacer so I knew he could bring Scott home so he could reach his goal. I felt bad I had to drop back but I had to be smart and I knew my legs weren’t going to be able to take a harder beating of going faster. It just wasn’t going to happen.

12360039_10154364904233484_8475854128090726390_n

You feel better when you’re having fun!

After Scott left me, I saw Deirdre Fitzpatrick from KCRA running and I said Hi to her. Then about mile 16 I thought it would be fun to take a pic of myself at the mile marker and posted to Instagram. At this point I totally didn’t care about my time and was just going to have fun. Not too long after, a fellow SRA ambassador, Leo, came up and we started running together (I ran with him earlier, as well, around mile 10). We were pretty much in the same boat and just wanted to have fun and finish, no matter how that happened. Around mile 18, I think, I was so hungry so I grabbed a handful of a brownie bite, orange slice, red licorice, and ate one of my chia surge gels. I have only been hungry during a race once before and that was in Paris, so this was weird.

12342385_10206628463404405_2931197241562009139_n

Nuria’s husband and their adorable pooch

12322759_10153136242516954_8153880313345656446_o

Drinking about half a Guinness

I saw Nuria (from Buffalo Chips and my Boston 365 group) and her husband and took a picture with them, then saw Katie and her crew from Team in Training, I fist pumped to a few bands as I ran by, then I came upon my friend Manny who was walking around the 21 mile marker. He was having a hard time, so I stuck with him. Then I saw Leo again and he joined us. It just became a party! As we were crossing the bridge, Tiffany, another SRA ambassador, joined us for a bit and we all chatted about our struggles, but none of us were negative or feeling let down. We were all smiling! We just sucked it up and made the most of it.  We had to keep stopping to tend to Manny’s inner quad that kept knotting up. We rolled it out periodically with a small water bottle and he stretched on the railings. At this point we were in East Sac and this is where I get a little excited each year. My friends and Clint are always waiting at Bonn Lair at 37th and J with beers for runners and I get so pumped when I see them. It gives me some energy to get to the finish. We stopped this year and drank some Guinness as they videotaped the madness. They were calling it #guinnessmile which makes me laugh! We now have an official hashtag for this stop on the CIM course. Manny downed the beer; I couldn’t finish it. But it was fun to see them for a few and then we took off. We turned onto Alhambra, saw my friend Katy and took pics with her. We were getting so close but it was still tough.

12322739_10153136242551954_1732244966283997016_o

Me and Manny – we’re smiling!

As we approached the finish, Manny was still having a tough time with his quad, but I made sure he was okay and then I took off to the finish line. I was really happy to finish, although I never doubted I would make it, I just knew it was going to take a while. My time didn’t matter at all, having finished three marathons in a month (dumb! don’t do this!). If you really want to know, it was officially my worst marathon time. BUT! I was smiling the entire way, I LOVED how many friends I saw along the course and on the course, I got to chat with new SRA amabassador friends that I met this year, I ate lots of food on the course, I drank more beer at Bonn Lair this year than I ever had in the past (PR!), and I’m just happy to continue my tradition of running the CIM each year. This is the only race I run every year. It makes me happy to continue my streak.

It really was one of my favorite races that I’ve completed. Time is definitely not everything. While I love running abroad and seeing new countries, there is nothing like running in your hometown and having so  many people supporting and cheering you on. I don’t get this when I run international races. I’m alone, can’t understand what people are saying as they chat to their friends while they’re running, it can sometimes get boring, and I have to stay super motivated. But, all of these experiences, whether abroad or in town, are what making marathoning (is this a word?) so magical for me. Every race is different and that’s what makes it an adventure and experience for me. These are the best experiences!

12339343_10156310998055113_4188891391885767858_o

Manny, Katy, me and Michelle in front of Limelight

My friend Scott and I chatted the next day after the race and he mentioned that he didn’t get to have as much fun as I did because he was so focused on his goal. I told him that’s what happens…you kind of have blinders on and don’t see what’s around you or get to laugh, smile and enjoy what’s going on. That’s why I mix up my races so I can have both experiences.

Cheers to all my fellow runner friends! You are all amazing! Keep chasing your dreams!

12347751_10154365314623484_3835425789663756014_n

 

 

Athens Marathon ’15

Intro –

After I ran the Boston to Big Sur Challenge back in April I really didn’t think I’d run back-to-back marathons again. It definitely wasn’t easy and wasn’t something that I was keen on doing again. However, when the opportunity came to go to Greece for a “racecation” I was doing research and discovered that the Istanbul Marathon was the following weekend. This race was already on my bucket list so I HAD to do it if we were going to be traveling that far and had already talked about going to Turkey. So, here I was again, faced with back-to-back marathons, but I wasn’t stressed about it at all. I knew I wasn’t going to be running them for time or super fast, so I was pretty confident I’d be ok.

Athens Marathon

IMG_0348

Carb loading with a gyro and greek salad

After having a super late carb up meal around 12:30am after Clint arrived in Athens and only two hours of sleep, I left a sleeping Clint to walk to the metro to get to the buses leaving for the city of Marathonas. The buses loaded up at the Parliament building in Syntagma Square and it was dark. I chatted with a Parisian and another American from the Bay Area on the bus, which made time pass quickly. The sun was rising and it was beautiful when we arrived. I dropped off my gear bag and headed for a porta pottie. In the meantime, runners were warming up on the track at the field we were at. I watched them go round and round. It was like watching a treadmill with lots of people. It just kept going and going. Not long after, we got in our corrals and we were asked to raise our right hands and a special pledge was read out load, although I couldn’t understand what they were saying. As it turned to 9am, the balloons were released and the corrals were off!

photo 1 (5)It was very exciting starting the race and running through Marathonas. I saw these very cool historical kilometer signs along the route designating the marathon course. Not long after we started I noticed spectators in the town passing out small branches of olive leaves to the runners as we passed by. An old woman handed one to me and I quickly figured out how I was going to hold it the entire race, hoping it would give me energy to finish. Many runners tucked them into their hydration belts or hats. I managed to slide mine behind my cell phone armband.

The weather was a lot warmer than I thought it was going to be. I had heard the hills were going to be tough but I hadn’t expected warm conditions. And coming off of being hungover the day before, I had a feeling the warm weather would affect me. I wasn’t concerned with my overall time so I tried to keep a slower pace, but I still struggled during part of it. It was pretty warm and humid, and my body doesn’t do well in these kind of elements.

photo 5

This was a gradual hill…

I was told there would be hills, but didn’t think much of it. I’ve done Heartbreak Hill a few times, but these hills were tough. Long, gradual hills (they call them “gentle long hills”) for most of the middle of the race. The last 6 miles were downhill so I just had to get through the damn hills. I saw a lot of people walking and pulling off with cramps and even witnessed a girl projectile vomit. I felt bad for her and asked if she needed help. She said no as she threw up again…and again. I offered to get a medic which was nearby but she refused help.

The water stations were great and there were plenty, but I dislike when races give full water bottles. It’s such a waste. They also had lots of electrolytes and fruit along the way. Toward the end they even had cups of Coca Cola. I was so happy to have a cup of that sugary goodness. The bubbles were great as well.

There were periods of the course that had lots and lots of spectators yelling “Bravo! Bravo!” but there were definitely stretches with no spectators at all. I did my best to high five as many kids as I could as I ran by. There were quite a few security or police posted along the way as well. As we reached the end and started our way into the center of the city of Athens, the crowds got larger and larger. I looked around hoping to see an American flag or maybe even see Clint, even though I told him to be at the end. We had to designate a meetup spot since we couldn’t communicate by phone. As the crowds got larger and louder, I got more excited to run into the 1896 Panathenaikos Stadium.

photo 4 (2)The last mile was exciting! As I entered the stadium, I pulled out my phone and took video of the last moments. It was unreal. The stadium was so big and there were so many people in the stands. It was loud and amazing. I really don’t know how to describe it. I just looked around at everything trying to take it in.

The unfortunate thing was the volunteers or security, don’t really remember which, wouldn’t let us stop and take pics after we finished. They were just trying to get us through the lines and move us along. I snuck a few pics anyway and then made my way through the long lines to the gear check area, where I told Clint to meet me. Poor guy had waited an hour for me. But I was really glad to see him and he had made me an olive branch crown, which was so sweet. After I got my bearings and relaxed, I made him walk back into the stadium to see it. I wanted him to see how grand and amazing it was. This was history here and he needed to go in there.

IMG_0399We spent a little bit of time in the stands and watched some runners finish. It was so cool, but I knew I wanted to see the stadium empty of all these people at some point in our trip. After getting a few selfies, we walked to the Plaka area and had lunch and relaxed. It was so cool to see all the runners walking around in the area with their medals around their necks. Locals would ask if I ran the full marathon and were impressed. An employee at a boutique we stopped in asked me how I liked the race and I said it was amazing, especially running into the stadium, and then I started to choke up. She knew how special this race was.

This year’s race broke the record of having more than 43,000 total participants and came from 100 countries. 16,000 came to run the classic course (marathon only). Not only is this course the original course, but also the same course used in the 2004 Olympics.

Some of the cool things included in the registration fee: a 5-day transportation pass that could be used for any public transportation during my stay (which was so helpful!),  a cool messenger bag only for the out of town participants, a great Adidas participant shirt, a bad ass finisher medal, and the glory of following the footsteps of Pheidippides on this historic course. It’s a bucket list item for sure if you love running marathons. It wasn’t easy, but when is running a marathon ever easy??

IMG_0404

Istanbul Marathon ’15

After running the Athens Marathon, I just did a lot of walking all over Greece and Turkey, so my legs felt really good. I never felt super sore. And I never really thought about the next marathon I was going to run until it was time to go to the expo.

We arrived into Istanbul on Friday afternoon. We had arranged with our airbandb host to meet a private driver at the airport and paid a little extra to have him drive us to the expo on the way into town. I had noticed that the expo was much closer to the airport than to where we were staying so it worked out much better to have him take us there first thing. We told the driver we would be quick and we ran in, grabbed my bib, my shirt and gear bag, and then found a person who spoke English to ask about the buses to get to the start. A lot of people in Turkey do not speak English, so thank goodness there was someone who could help out.

Clint also saw a wall of names and told me to look for my name. We also ran through the expo vendors looking for a kt tape vendor with no luck. I needed a small piece to cover where I had chafed under my sports bra at the Athens Marathon. Oh well, I’ll figure something out.

IMG_0973On race morning, we weren’t sure if Clint could go on the buses with us to the other side of the Bosphorus Bridge, but I wanted him to at least go with me to the bus pickup area to see me off. He was leaving the country the same morning and wouldn’t be around to see me finish so I needed him to be with me for part of it.

The bus pickup area was right next to the Hagia Sophia, which was quite beautiful at that time of morning. As we boarded the buses, I kissed Clint goodbye. I kinda teared up knowing I wasn’t going to see him for a couple days and he wouldn’t be at the finish to greet me, which was the first time I would be by myself after a race.

IMG_0981When we reached the other side of the bridge, we had a lot of time to wait until start time. It was a little windy and cool, but I knew it was going to get warmer. It was also another 9am start time for the marathon. I got rid of my gear bag right way, got in a porta pottie line, and just got in my corral. A lot of people crammed in this narrow area and were pushing and shoving, which was super annoying. I thought it was really interesting they let food vendors in this area. They roamed around the crowds of runners and had Turkish breads, bananas, water, tea and coffee. I’ve never seen anything like this.

I didn’t see any Americans in the corrals, or at least in the area I was in. But I did see a lot of excited and smelly Europeans. As we started the race, you could see the enormous bridge in front of us. It was quite an incredible site and as we ran over it so many people stopped to take pictures or selfies. It was probably the best part of the race.

IMG_0998Around mile 3 or so, I saw a man with an SF Giants hat. I asked if he was from the U.S. But he wasn’t. I think he was Italian but was very nice and wished me luck. I saw another lady wearing a tech shirt from a race in Pennsylvania so I asked if she was from the U.S. She was Polish, living in New Jersey, but in Turkey for work and just randomly decided to do the marathon. I think around Mile 8 I kinda just started running next to a guy that was running the same pace. We didn’t say anything to each other but just kept running together for like 5 miles. It was kind of nice to run with someone. Then he asked what my time goal was and I said I didn’t have one. He assumed I did because I was looking at my watch so he thought he’d keep me company. Turned out he was an Iraqi and British citizen and kind of lives all over. It was his first road race. He had done a couple marathons in the desert so this was different for him. He also said that his friend who was running just the 15k wanted to go out for drinks the night before and they ended up drinking too much, so he was having a hard time. Right after we had this conversation he said he was dropping back and I never saw him again. So much for my pacer.

A long portion of the race (about 20k of it) is just a straight out and back and was just boring and not that exciting. Barely any spectators and no music. It was kind of tough. But as I got closer to the finish, I just tried to hold on even though my legs were getting tired. The last mile was uphill. Lame! But as we entered the area of the finish line, the crowds were large and loud. That definitely helped me get through the end.

IMG_1008The finish area is in between the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque area in Sultanahmet Square. After passing the finish line, they gave us bags of food and drinks and I immediately drank the orange juice they had given us. It was delicious! We had to filter through the small area and get through the crowd of spectators on the other side of the fencing. I just kept walking straight for my gear bag because I just wanted to take my shoes off and sit down. After I relaxed for a bit and changed my shirt, I finally gathered myself and walked to the nearest metro station only to find it was closed because of the race. Crap! So I had to walk to the bus station, which wasn’t close. I tried to suck it up and continued on through all the tourists and runners in my way. I was getting cranky and needed food. Thank god there was a protein bar in the goodie bag that we got at the finish line. Once I reached the bus station I noticed locals sitting at the stations so I went to the 99 bus stop and sat down. I waited and waited and I was kind of wondering what was taking so long. I asked the guy next to me if they always take so long and I thought he said yes, so I just waited. Then after like 45 minutes, I was over it. They clearly weren’t coming. IMG_1013So, I started walking in the direction of where my neighborhood was and thought maybe I should catch a cab. I asked like 4 taxis and they all turned me down. I was so annoyed. But then I figured out that I think they turned me down because it wasn’t worth their time or money to take me because it wasn’t far. It wasn’t far to them but it was far to me. But what they didn’t know was I didn’t care and would have paid them more to take me because I didn’t want to walk anymore! I was hungry and tired. So, 2 hours after I finished the race, I finally made it to my neighborhood and walked straight into a restaurant with my running clothes on and got something to eat. The guy probably thought I was crazy coming in with all my gear, wearing running clothes, saying I was starving. Oh man! It was good though! By the way, I also got strange looks on the street because I was still wearing my running shorts and I don’t think they are used to females wearing shorts, especially something that short.

IMG_1029After my delicious meal, I walked to our flat and showered, relaxed and ended up falling asleep and taking a 4 hour nap! I’ve never done that after a race, but I think all the walking after the race got to me. Plus, the bed was super comfy and warm. When I woke up I knew I didn’t want to waste my last evening in Istanbul doing nothing in my room, so I rallied and took a cab to Taksim Square and had a beer and dinner. It was like 11pm at this point, but it was pretty lively in the square. After a bit of walking around, I went back to the flat and snuggled back up in bed.

The best part of this race was the Bosphorus Bridge and being able to say I ran from Asia to Europe. This is the only race that crosses two continents and I think that’s really cool! I think this race has about 15,000 and the cutoff time is 5.5 hours, so no dawdlers allowed here. One thing I noticed that was not good was they didn’t have electrolytes at any water stations. Nothing! They did have some gu’s, bananas and apples though. And they used the small water bottles instead of the larger ones, which was less waste. There were not as many spectators at this race though. Pretty slim. But overall, it was a great experience and the sites at the beginning and end were great!IMG_1017