Tinkerbell Half Marathon Report, Part 2

…As we last left my race report, I went to bed early (-ish) on Saturday night with a belly full of churros and ice cream and after walking around all day at Disney’s California Adventure. I also forgot to mention that I did a quick (1.6 mile) run on Saturday morning to see if I could wear my new race shirt without fear of chafing. In all, Saturday was a bit of me bucking my normal pre-race trends of rest and relaxation. Another thing I tend not to do is to wake up on the morning of a race and barely leave time to get to the starting line. This was clearly unintentional. Just to give you an idea, under normal circumstances my relatives live two highway exits from Disneyland. On race day, it took me about an hour to get there and park. Madness. I love you, California highways.

At any rate, this race was clearly not designed with locals in mind. If you weren’t staying at a Disney-endorsed hotel, there was no shuttle available and you were forced to pay regular parking rates ($15, WTF) to park in the only one of the park’s parking structures that was open. Total BS. The only plus is that the parking structure was huge and lines moved quickly. By the time I parked, though, the start was 15 minutes and a half mile away. And I had to pee. Dammit. It was a sprint to the starting line and I got there literally just as my corral (the first one) was starting off. At least I had a warm-up.

The first part of the race was spectacular. The first five miles ran through back lots, the California Adventure park, Disneyland proper, and Downtown Disney. Crowd support was awesome. I couldn’t believe how many red hat ladies were out! Of course, because I was trying to PR I had to be conservative about stopping for character photos. Honestly, I figured I would build up a time cushion of a minute or two, and then stop for photos at the end. Makes sense, right? Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that basically all of the character photo opportunities would be in those first few miles of the race, and there was no opportunity to loop back after the finish. I stopped for one and only one photo, with Captain Jack Sparrow. Because he had no line. Which I couldn’t believe, and I told him so. Sure, he’s not really Johnny Depp, but a girl can dream. Anyhow, also on the character photo note, I felt better about not posing for pictures when I saw some that were taken of other racers later on. Race start time was 5:00AM so obviously it was dark out, but some of the pictures I’ve seen (including my own) were quite poorly lit. Disney did do a great job with the race experience otherwise, though: Radiator Springs/Carsland, the Small World Cruise, the Castle, and Paradise Pier were lit up beautifully, and the World of Color fountains in the California Adventure park were extremely cool. I also had no problem with crowding or with the course being narrow. In fact, I was running the race of my life.

This was taken the night before, but just to show you what it looks like all lit up.

This was taken the night before, but just to show you what it looks like all lit up.

At mile 5, we left the Disney Parks to run around Anaheim. Obviously running down residential streets in the dark was less satisfying than being in the park, but once we got into the main streets of Anaheim there was plenty of entertainment. School bands, cheer teams, and spectators were out to see and entertain us. I hope these kids somehow benefitted from the race, since they were up extra early. At mile 8.5 I took a Cliff shot from the station and just kept going. Really, the race becomes a blur at this point. I remember the bands and the signs I saw, but this was unlike any half marathon I’ve ever run before. I felt no strain, no fatigue, I was just go-going at a consistent pace and feeling great. It was hard to even believe my Garmin as it was clicking off 10, 11 miles and I was approaching the parks again.

DL_MeI definitely got my butt in gear as I was approaching the finish, even though I knew by then I would meet my goal. I had intended to run the first 11.1 miles just as I did in my last long training run and then take walk breaks at the end if I needed to… But I felt so good I just kept going. Elation was the feeling as I approached the finish line and saw Daisy Duck and Minnie Mouse and heard my name announced–more than a minute under my goal time of 2:10.

As others have mentioned, the finish area was a little uninspired. I wish there had been some characters, photos, more things to do or at least more places to watch the other runners finish. I did get a nice breakfast pack, though, and a heavenly massage. I was also initially disappointed with the race pics… but they put up a nice finish pic (see left) after all, so no more complaints. In all, I’m very happy to have had the Run Disney experience, and I would totally do it again sometime. Are these races expensive? Yes. But, in the end, there’s nothing to compare it to. And now that I have my 2:08-ish PR, maybe I’ll feel comfortable slowing down and enjoying the next one.

Next up: Lost Dutchman 10K 2013!

Race Fees, Race Direction, and What Runners Should Expect

Screen shot 2012-09-06 at 10.46.39 AMI’ve been meaning to post on the topic of race fees for a while, but I was inspired to write this post today because of two separate running-related events that arrived at my inbox. The first and most surprising was the news that IO Events, the organizers of the Temecula Valley Half Marathon and the Arizona Half Marathon, are going out of business effective immediately. The second is the announcement of two new races from the organizers of the Zion Half Marathon, which I am running in March. Two stories of different race organizers moving in different directions. What does this say about what runners should expect and what choices we make in registering for events?

The major reason why I don’t race more is cost. Look, I live in a place where I can run 12 months a year and I run four or five days a week. At the same time, I’m also a graduate student with limited funds and I see race fees are rising all the time. Half marathons, especially here on the West Coast, can easily cost $100 or more in race fees. Major race series organizers like Run Disney and the Competitor Group (organizers of the Rock n’ Roll Series) are driving this trend, as are major half- or full-marathon events like those in New York, Boston, LA, and Chicago. Fees also tend to run in increments, with incentives for early birds and incremental increases leading to race day. The reasons for this are obvious: Registering early helps organizers determine appropriate staffing, supply levels, etc., so they want to reward this behavior. As a runner, though, I’ve lately been concerned by the practice of organizers charging high race fees–especially for first-time races–without offering adequate information to runners.

A cancelled IO Event.

A cancelled IO Event.

IO Events actually kept their race fees rather reasonable (I paid only $55 for the Arizona Half), but they often were not forthcoming with information on race courses, locations, and times. The inaugural Arizona Half Marathon in Spring 2012 was supposed to take place in the Scottsdale/Fountain Hills area of Phoenix. I considered registering for it at that time, but held off because even within a couple months of the race there was a lack of information about lodging, course, and elevation. Eventually, the announcement was suddenly made that the race had been moved to Estrella, a different suburb of Phoenix many miles from the original location. A friend of mine did run that race in the new location and enjoyed it, but the experience made me wary of registering for future events. Indeed, it seems that IO’s business went downhill after the race I ran this fall: A planned Nevada race in November was cancelled, another went ahead only after delays, their weekly e-mail newsletters stopped, and all future events have now been cancelled.

Response on social media turned ugly in a hurry after the cancellation of this year’s Temecula Valley races was announced. On IO’s Facebook page and event pages people have called the company a scam and a fraud. Rival race organizers used the pages for the cancelled/delayed Nevada races to recruit for their own events. The business owners’ home address was posted online today (yikes), and participants in the cancelled races claim to have already filed complaints with Arizona’s Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau.

As a runner, I feel for everyone involved in the situation. If IO Events was running a con, they certainly were running a long con: Several years of planning events successfully in Northern Arizona, two runnings of the race in Phoenix, one in Temecula, another in Nevada. They put their name and contact info out there, they met with race participants… No, if anything they are guilty of being a small business with some poor planning skills that tried to expand to far, too fast in a bad economy. They definitely have a responsibility to their runners, but runners must also be conscious of what we agree to when registering for a race. How many of us really read the fine print on those waivers? I don’t always. But, there are some practices I do try to follow:

  1. Look at the details: A good race organizer should have a course, an elevation chart, a start time, and sponsor/partner information on their Web site before registration is open, or at least before they start charging elevated fees. If a course says it’s “proposed,” be aware that is hasn’t been signed off on by local authorities and is subject to change. I’ve refused to sign up for several races that did not offer this information up front, including most recently the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco Half, which was charging nearly $100 in registration fees for a first-time race that still has no course, location, or start time. (I even contacted RnR’s customer service to complain about this when I was considering registration, only to get an extremely vague response and no offer of a fee reduction. Classy.)
  2. Know the company: What other races do they organize? How long have they been around? Have other events been successful? Do they have paid staff, and what is their level of experience? Do they respond to correspondence and what kind of answers do you get? A company may have a successful track record, like IO did, but recent cancellations, expansions into new cities, or trying to create too many new events at one time can be a sign of trouble.
  3. Be aware of the risk you assume: In every race in the country you will sign a waiver that is worded to protect the race organizers–not you. As a participant, you often not only sign away your right to collect from them if you are injured while participating in the event, you may also sign away your right to a refund in the event of bad weather, emergencies, organizational issues, or the bankruptcy of the company. Ouch. (Incidentally, U.S. bankruptcy laws generally protect companies from their creditors while they deal with their finances–meaning you are unlikely to get fees refunded if an organizer has legally declared bankruptcy.)
  4. Consider whether late registration fees are worth the risk. If anything about the event or its organizers seems uncertain or “off” to you, consider waiting. You will pay more when you register for a race a month or less in advance, but it may save you some heartache in the long run.

In my opinion, we as runners play an important role in keeping the race industry honest. With the number of races (especially half marathons) booming nationwide and with no overarching regulatory body, it’s up to the consumers to educate themselves and keep organizers on track. The Rock ‘n’ Roll event series continues to thrive despite unanswered questions about mass illness at its 2011 event in Las Vegas. The fact that the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco Half would sell out with no course, no start time, or even a starting location within the city of San Francisco is astonishing to me. Likewise, the RAM Racing Hot Chocolate 5k/15k series continues to expand despite a disastrous event in Washington DC last year, a very poorly reviewed run in Chicago, and the postponement of its planned events in Denver and San Francisco. As long as runners don’t demand more, irresponsible practices will continue. Do your homework, share race reviews on social media, Yelp, or elsewhere online, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Hopefully we all have many happy racing days ahead.

 

Happy International Women’s Day! In celebration of the occasion, I’m reblogging this post from the AAUW on events at the UN. Please check out these efforts and take a moment today to consider women worldwide!

AAUW Dialog

This week, at the 56th U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, the challenges, hopes, strengths, and resilience of the world’s rural women are taking center stage. This year’s priority theme is “the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development, and current challenges.” Women are central to the development of rural areas — they make up more of the agricultural labor force than men, produce the majority of food grown, and do most of the unpaid care work. Improving support for these women will make a major contribution to ending poverty and hunger, accelerating the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and realizing sustainable development. For those of us in the nongovernmental organization community, the excitement began when hundreds of women and girls of all ages came together from around the world on February 26 for NGO Forum Consultation Day to lay the…

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Chavalina’s Vegan Challenge–Day 1 (1/1/2012)

Today was a new day, new year! Apocalyptic predictions aside, I’m expecting a lot of great things from 2012: New career opportunities, lots of travel ahead… but that’s all for later. The focus today is on my vegan challenge and spending the first week of 2012 cruelty free.

Breakfast: Given my late night last night, I slept in a little bit longer on Sunday morning than I usually do. This presented me with an unexpected opportunity. I had planned a simple breakfast, but given that it was a holiday and a beautiful morning in Tucson, why not try something new for the new year?

Lovin’ Spoonfuls is an all-vegan restaurant here in Tucson that is close to my house and that I’ve been wanting to try for a while. I’m embarrassed to admit that, even in spite of endorsements from my non-vegetarian friends, in three and a half years I’d never quite made it there. After reading their breakfast menu online, I decided that was going to change today.

The place pleasantly surprised me by being, well, normal. I’m not sure what image “vegan restaurant” conjured in my mind, but on the surface the restaurant could pass for any nice café or diner anywhere in the country. Booths and tables, beverage fountains, and a display case of wonderful looking deserts. The difference is in the menu, which proudly declares itself to be 100% vegan and offers breakfast options ranging from the traditional (pancakes, bagels, and toast) to the unexpected (soy chorizo and vegan cheese). While several options looked tempting, I settled on the vegan French toast with a side of apple sauce and a cup of coffee (organic and fair trade).

You mean THIS is vegan???

If I hadn’t known this dish was vegan, I wouldn’t have guessed. It was delicious. I haven’t had real maple syrup or apple sauce since I can’t remember when, and it felt good to start the year off with a meal I truly felt good about. Some of the reviews I’ve read of this restaurant complained that it’s overpriced. It cost me about $10 for all of this and, arguably, I could have made the meal myself for less (I assume, if I’d taken the time to find vegan French toast recipes). However, on a holiday, it was nice to have something special. Also, I believe that it’s worth it to pay more for food that you know is produced responsibly and with quality. I know there are many out there who feel differently and, for those that do, the Egg McMuffin is available right up the street.

Snack Time: After leaving the restaurant, I went back home to take care of things around the house. Sunday is also football day, and I wanted to settle in and watch a game. By early afternoon I was hungry again, but I had anticipated this and planned for a snack. Some smoked almonds and a beer (verified vegan by Barnivore) helped me get through the afternoon.

Dinner: My workout for the day was a 2.5-mile walk around the neighborhood, and though this was less rigorous than my normal workouts, I was starving by dinnertime. My dinner for this evening was an Indian dish, Vegetable Jalfrezi, which unlike some other Indian cooking sauces does not contain yogurt or cream. In fact the ingredients list is refreshingly simple: garlic, onions, pepper, oil, and spices. I cooked up some chunks of onion and bell pepper, then simmered them in the sauce with some sliced tomatoes and asparagus that I roasted separately and added at the last minute. This is a dish I would normally make for myself with some chicken added in, but I really liked the addition of the roasted asparagus. It added some flavor, buttery but with a little oven-charred crisp, and provided a nice texture contrast to the other vegetables. I served the entire mixture over rice and ate it with a few tortilla pieces. I would have loved to eat this with some naan, but sadly I realized yesterday on my trip through the freezer that my Trader Joe’s frozen naan contains yogurt. Dessert was another piece of tortilla with all-natural chunky peanut butter, and tea.

How I Felt Today: I did spend a lot of the day hungry, which concerns me because I’ll be burning more calories on days when I’m running or going to the gym. Adding more protein to my breakfast tomorrow might help with this, as I usually eat high-protein foods in the morning to keep me going.

I’ve also been doing some more research today, and found out that a couple of food items that I have in the house which I couldn’t track down info for yesterday are, in fact, not vegan. This will require me to re-evaluate my meals for the week, and is a bit frustrating and discouraging. I’m surprised that some food labeling is so ambiguous! Cheers to the brands who clearly label their foods as “Vegan” or “Vegetarian” and provide an intelligible list of ingredients; I’m surprised that in this day and age there are still manufacturers who don’t. “May contain 2% or less of the following?” What does that even mean? You could put almost anything in that category: bits of panda, shards of glass. In spite of this, I’m trying to maintain my positive spirit about the experiment. What I ate today wasn’t totally “normal” for me, but it was very tasty. Today proved to me that I can eat vegan and still feel like I have something to look forward to at mealtimes.

On to Day 2!