Half Crazy HamsterHamster Races

Mainly Marathons New England Series – Part 1

This post is the 1st in a series to recap the epic road trip of 2018.  A 12 day road trip from WI to the East Coast for the Mainly Marathons New England Series. There is no way that I can summarize this adventure in 1 post, without it turning into a novel, so it is coming to you in installments!

A few years ago, another runner told me about these crazy race series going on across the county… a different race in a different state every day for 3-7 days.  I looked at them and said that was nuts!   I would soon find out that people who do these races are not nuts.

They are not crazy.

They are Loony!

Who in their right mind does races like that?

Well, the answer is me!

After I heard about these series with Mainly Marathons, I really started looking into them more.  This sounded like something that was designed with me in mind.  I love to travel.  I love running. I am always looking for the next adventure.  I thrive on meeting new people!  Plus I am always looking to challenge myself just a little more than yesterday.

Several of the other Skirt Sports Ambassadors spoke so highly of these series that I knew this was somethign that I needed to pursue further.  I looked at each of the different series they offer to try and decide where I wanted to head.  With series in all parts of the country, in each state, throughout the year, it really was a tough decision!

Now, I could have opted in for one of the 4 day series, just to get my feet wet and see what these series were like… but anyone who knows me can confirm that is NOT my style!  I’m jumping in all the way! In May 2017, I set my goal for the 2018 New England Series.  At the time, it was run in May and was 7 races, in 7 states.  My next task was finding someone to partake in this epic adventure with me.

No matter who I asked, I got no takers.  None of my running friends were eager to jump into a 7 day running adventure with me.  Then when I realized they added Pennsylvania for this year, making the series 8 states instead of 7, everyone told me I was completely nuts.

No, I’m Loony!

Oh yeah, and the moved the series from mid-May to the end of June!

Then my friend Kelly said that she wanted to join me for the road trip!  She was not a runner but wanted to travel with me to see the country!  That worked for me!  Plus, now I had someone to help with the driving when post race spaghetti legs kicked in!   Let the planning begin!

We left from WI on Thursday the 21st of June and spent the next 3 days driving to the east coast (that is a whole different part of the adventure and will be its own post!)  When we arrived in Maine, our first stop was packet pickup at the location of the 1st day’s race… the YMCA in Sandford Maine!

If you are running the entire series, this is the only time you have to check in with the registration table.  Tonight, I picked up my race bib that I would be using all week, my shirt and my race medal.

Yes, you did read that right… when I picked up my race packet, I also recieved my race medal.  With these series, you get the “starter” medal when you check in at your first race, which also includes a medallion indicating the year of the event.  After each race completed during the series, you then receive a medal for that state to hang on the starter medal.  With each completed race, the chain just gets longer!

They also have a free spaghetti dinner for all runners!  This is a great time for runners to sit and chat with those they they will be running with all week or just sit and enjoy a meal after a long day of travel.  We opted not to stick around for the dinner, as we had already decided to head to the coast to play in the ocean and eat something a little more “local”.

The Crazy Hamster was officially checked in and ready to run!

It was early to bed for both of us so that we could get up before the crack of dawn to get to the start line of the first race.  All races start at 6am, with a 5am option for those who want an earlier start.  There is no sleeping in when you are part of this crew!

Day 1:  Sandford Maine, YMCA

We had about a 25 minute drive from our hotel to the start line, so we were on the road shortly after 5am and arrived at the start line about 5:30

The YMCA is not open that early, we had no issue finding a parking spot and headed over to the start line area. The early starters had already been running since 5am, so there was already plenty of activity going on.

Promptly at 5:45, all 6am starters were gathered to receive instructions and announcements.  This would be an every day occurrence and included course instructions, how many loops and any major goals being achieved that day by individuals out on the course.   Mainly Marathons take these achievements very seriously and makes sure that everyone gets the congratulations that they deserve!

Today’s course started in the side parking lot of the YMCA, looped out onto the local trail which sent through a wooded area.  It then went through a quiet residential area, with a few smaller hills to go up and down before getting to the turnaround.  You then headed straight back the same way to get back to the aid station.  Most of the course was shady.  Total loops for the half marathon = 6

One of the most important things they will tell you before you start the race is about the rubber band table.  The magical table that you will see many many times throughout the course of the week!  After each loop that you complete, you will need to make a pit stop at the rubber band table to pick one up.  This is how you keep track of how many loops you have run!  It will become your focus!  It will become your motivation!

Kelly jumped right in to her duties as my Crew Chief for the week! Since this was my first race with these guys, I was not sure how the mornings worked, so I was a bit off on getting myself ready to go.  I didn’t give myself enough time to get everything ready, so before I headed out for my first loop, I asked her to mix me up a bottle of my Tailwind (I would grab when I got back in the next time).  From then on, anytime I was out on the course and realized I needed something, I would pull out my phone and shoot her a quick text to say what I needed and about how long it would be before I got back.   This ended up being a fabulous system that we used all week!

I spend the next few hours running, walking, chatting with people and enjoying the peaceful morning.  Before I knew it, I was heading out on my last loop!  

One of the best part of this race?  It was at the YMCA and we were able to use the showers there before heading on to our next stop!  The only rule – we had to bring out own towel.  I always have at least 1 or 2 in my car, so I was good to go!

I grabbed my shower and we were on the road to Vermont!

Each Day’s routine turned into more of the same as Day 1.  Arrive early, get the course briefing, and get moving!  Each course was anywhere from 6 to 9 loops for the half marathon.  I quickly realized how important those rubber bands are!  In the grand scheme of things, these race are not measure in miles. They are measured in rubber bands.

When I was first reading that these races were all short out and back loops, I was not sure I was going to like it.  I was afraid I was going to get bored running the same loop 6-8 times.  Looking at the same scenery, the same trees and same rocks.  I was so wrong!  The design of the course actually adds to the experience!  Since there are individuals out there running a variety of distances from a 5k, all the way up to a 50k, you are never far from someone to run with!  Not only that, but chances are, you will be running with some pretty elite people in the running community!  I could spend the next 3 days telling you about all those people, but I will save that for another post! Let’s just say, I will forever be in awe of the people that I met, and if it was not for these loops that we were going to be running all week, I would probably never have met them!

Day 2 (New Hampshire),  I was grateful for the loops and being around people!  On Day 1 in Maine, towards the end of the race, my knee flared up.  I didn’t really think much of it, until after the race when we were getting out of the car at Bed & Jerry’s.  It hurt walking up and down the hill to get to the factory.  This was the same knee, same issue that I had last year at the Titletown Ultra that slowed me down for my last few loops.  I knew it was going to be an ice, rest and relax afternoon once we got to our destination… and I made the decision that I was going to walk my 13.1 miles on Monday.

Even with the rest, ice and relaxing, my knee was not happy with me when I started the race on day 2.  I fell into step with a few other ladies that were walking and we started our adventure.  This ended up being my most mentally challenging race EVER.  Aside from the 1st half that I ever did (when Deb and I walked the Fox Cities Half Marathon back in 2007), this was the 1st time that I walking my entire half marathon!  This was tough to take.  There were a few times that I tried running, but my knee quickly made me change my mind.  I also knew that I had A LOT of miles yet to cover over the next week, so I needed to be smart about it.  I walked.  I met amazing people.  I kept moving!

One of the amazing people I met this day was Stacey.  Stacey is a differently-abled athlete that truly inspired me to keep going that day.  I would chat with her more over the next few days, but today she was my motivation!  She was out there with a smile on her face, cheering on everyone around her, taking each step as it came, stopping to rest when she needed and always moving forward, one step at a time, one rubber band at a time.  So Stacey, if you are reading this, thank you!  Thank you for being you, never letting anyone or anything get in the way of your goals and for being the motivation and inspiration that I needed out there that day!  

As I mentioned, this was a day of walking for me.  The trail was softer dirt, so that meant even slower walking.  Plus the wooden bridge that we had to cross was fairly narrow, with 2 way traffic.   I am pretty sure it was my slowest half marathon ever. I was frustrated.  I got in my own head and started second guessing if I could finish (here I was walking on day 2!) But as I was reminded by a friend.  This trip was not about pushing myself every day.  It was not about running PR races.  It was about seeing the country, meeting new people and enjoying the road trip of a lifetime.  My knee hurt, but I took it easy and finished those miles.

Oh yeah…  that pesky hill that we had to deal with for our 9 loops?  By the time I got to my last few loops, going down the hill was NOT fun.  I thought about hopping on one foot down the hill but only saw that ended in disaster! Then I remembered back to those days of my early half marathons (or the days after the Titletown Ultra the last few years).  When it comes to stairs, it’s easier to walk down them backwards.  So I gave that a try on the hill.  It worked!  Now, walking backwards down a hill is never easy since you can’t really see where you are going, but I took it slow and made it down!

Ringing the finishers bell was the best feeling ever!  Day 2 done!

The rest of the week consisted of a lot of walking, some running mixed in when I could and more fun that I could have imagined!  We laughed, we ran, we walked, we made lifelong friendships.  We covered a lot of miles and ate a lot of food at the aid station

Oh yeah… the food!!  I forgot about the food!  

When I signed up for these races, I started preparing months in advance to figure out what I was packing as far as fuel, nutrition and hydration.  I had it all.  A few cases of my Detach Coconut water, KaKookies, various gummies, jekry, cocnut chips, SIS Gels, Ultima Replenisher…. you name it, I probably packed it.  
Next time, aside from my hydration stuff for during and after, I’m leaving the rest at home!  Mainly Marathons races feature the best aid station EVER!  Plus, with the out and back loops, you pass the one aid station A LOT!  Think of it as running past the ultra marathoners dream buffet every 2 miles or so!!  Chances are anything you ever wanted to eat during a long race is there!  From pickles (and juice) to Swedish Fish and Peanut Butter Filled pretzels, cookies, they have you covered!  Want fresh fruit? That is there too!

Better yet, want something more substantial?  The Loony Lunch Wagon is there to take care of you!  Each day there is a variety of hot food available for both breakfast and lunch to give you something a little more than just snack foods!  One morning was french toast stick, another was Tot Scrambler.  Lunch featured items like salsa-dilla’s (think quesadilla with salsa and cheese), meatballs, mini french bread style pizzas or a variety of other treats.  There was also almost ALWAYS PB&J sandwiches (sometimes even on raisin bread).  I am usually not a big fan of PB&J, but for some reason, that week, they were calling to me!

With everything that they had available, I think I brought home almost everything that I packed in terms of food.  Each morning, I drank my coconut water and at my KaKookie on the way to the race, used my own hydration, and then ate ALL the treats from the buffet!  Some days, I stuck with apples and gummies, but other days it was all about the PB&J or whatever hot items they were cooking up in the lunch wagon!  Saturday in New York, breakfast featured bacon!  Yes, BACON!  for the first time every, I ate bacon during a half marathon!

How can you not love a race that feeds you like that?

Which brings us to the end of Episode 1 of my New England Adventure!  Episode 2 (which will hopefully be out in the next few days) will answer even more questions!  Next we talk start times and how you survive the early morning alarms, travel between races, post race recovery and where we stayed along this crazy adventure!

If you have any specific questions on this race series or my experience, drop them below and I will respond to you directly, or maybe even work your inquiry into my next blog post!

Happy reading and stay tuned for round 2!

 

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