2017 Philadelphia Rock ‘N Roll Half Marathon

Ever Since Watching Rocky, I’ve Dreamed of Running the “Steps”

Race #7- 10 for 10 Challenge: 10 Half Marathons in 10 Different States

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In the City of Brotherly Love

Famous for its LOVE statue (sadly renovated during my visit), the the 40th annual Rock ‘Roll Series Half Marathon is a road running event which takes place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States on the third Sunday of September. The race welcomes nearly 18,000 runners, walkers, and wheelchair athletes for its out-and-back 13.1-mile course, which starts and finishes near the Eakins Oval, which lies just a stone’s throw from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Takeaways from this race experience:

  • Average Temperature – the average low is 61°F and the average high is 76°F.
  • Time Limit – each runner/walker will have a course time limit of 4 hours to complete the race; that means they’ll need to finish within 4 hours of crossing the starting line according to their personal chip time (not within 4 hours of the starting gun time).
  • Course mapview here
  • CBS Philly Coverage – I was grateful to receive such amazing coverage for this challenge on CBS Philly.

    Special thanks to Anita Oh for interviewing me before the race.

  • Fast, flat and few hills – Participants will experience very few changes in elevation, as the course starts at 35 feet above sea level and rises to its highest point at about 55 feet.
  • The Race Route -racers follow a roughly four-mile loop through Philadelphia’s downtown district that takes them past local landmarks like City Hall, the headquarters of the American Philosophical Society and Philadelphia’s Washington Square, where runners then turn left and head along Arch Street back toward the Oval for the next stretch of the course along the river. Along this path, the race shows off some of the city’s most scenic areas, as runners make their way along the both the southern bank of the Schuykill River, along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, and then along its northern bank after crossing over the river at the Falls Bridge, after which they follow Kelly Drive back southward toward the Museum of Art to the race finish line, just past the Oval.
  • The Rocky Steps and Statue – you can’t make a trip to Philly without seeing the famous steps and statue from Rocky! Fortunately, as racers sprint their way to the finish line, both iconic spots can be seen in the final .1 mile of the course. After you grab your bling, turn left and you can run up the Rocky steps and then wait in about a 15-minute line to have your picture snapped in front of the statue. A must for all finishers!

    Running the “Rocky Steps!” Bucket list item, check.

  • Bling, bling, bling! – the Rock ‘N Roll Series finishing medals never disappoint and always seem to be worth collecting for medal junkies.

    I am a BIG fan of this bling, are you?

Top 5 Things to Experience in Philly Before or After the Race (all of which are free):

  1. The Liberty Bell – You might wait about 15-20 minutes in line to see the bell, but this experience is a must for all visitors.  The bell became famous after an 1847 short story claimed that an aged bellringer rang it on July 4, 1776, upon hearing of the Second Continental Congress’s vote for independence.

    A widespread story claims it cracked while ringing after the death of Chief Justice John Marshall in 1835.

  2. Reading Terminal Market – a foodie’s paradise, and one of America’s largest and oldest public markets, housed since 1893 in a National Historic Landmark building, the Market offers an incredible selection of locally grown & exotic produce, locally sourced meats and poultry, plus the finest seafood, cheeses, baked goods, and confections.
  3. Independence Hall Tour – The guided tour of Independence Hall, led by National Park rangers, begins in the courtroom where lawyers from opposing sides shared tables and law books. George Washington’s “rising sun” chair dominates the Assembly Room which is arranged as it was during the Constitutional Convention. In the adjacent West Wing, the original inkstand used to sign the Declaration of Independence and an original draft of the Constitution are displayed.
  4. Spruce Street Harbor Park -The beloved pop-up park invites visitors to lounge on its signature hammocks, enjoy food on its floating restaurant, cool off with drafts from the beer garden and hang out and play games – bocce, ping pong, shuffleboard and more – along its waterfront boardwalk. Along with a ton of beverage and food options, visitors can enjoy the vibrant, colorful LED lighting that hangs from the treetops to illuminate the park at night and a packed schedule of entertainment set to unfold throughout the season.
  5. Jim’s Steaks – with all due respect to Tony’s Luke’s, Pat’s and Geno’s, a local recommended Jim’s Steak’s where my girlfriend and I waited for about 30 minutes in a line that wrapped around the corner on a Saturday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. While I didn’t get to sample the other places mentioned above, the unbelievable smell of the grill-cooked beef and sizzling onions will assure customers that the steaks are worth waiting for and keep you patient and focused on the eventual reward.

    Make sure you add “Wiz” to your Philly Cheesesteak.

The City of Brotherly Love was way more welcoming than I ever imagined. I always heard how tough and rough the people are in this city, and maybe that is ture, but not from my experiences. As usual, the Rock ‘N Roll Series team and race lived up to the hype and expectations of their brand. They put on a great show and deliver on their race bling.

And I promise during my next visit, I will sample a few other cheesesteak joints (save your emails), hit up a Philly baseball or football game, and hopefully see the original LOVE sign in LOVE Square!

2017 Mad Half Marathon

The Maaaaaaad Hills of Vermont

Race #6- 10 for 10 Challenge: 10 Half Marathons in 10 Different States

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Two Half Marathons, Two States, One Day Apart.
A mere 24 hours ago, I crossed the finish line at the Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon in Portland, Maine and was filming a wrap-up segment. Fast forward to a four hour car ride through the stunning countryside of New Hampshire and into the roving hills of Vermont (nicknamed the Green Mountain  State), I arrived in the small town of Waitsfield. I’ve never run back-to-back half marathons one day apart, let alone in two different states. Apparently, I am late to this running party because at least 30% of the runners I saw the day before in Portland also made the same trek to Vermont. With the costs of travel and race fees these days, more and more people are looking to complete their #50for50Challenge. This lofty challenge is when a person runs 50 full or 50 half marathons (or both in some cases) in 50 states. These folks plan their race calendars around places and races where they can knock off multiple states during a given weekend.

The Mad Half Marathon…the world’s most beautiful marathon
The Seventh Annual Mad Marathon, Mad Half and relays are in the gorgeous Mad River Valley, located in Central Vermont. Runners have the ability to race through this extraordinary rural community on back and dirt roads, with breathtaking views of the Green Mountains, challenging rolling farmlands with tough climbs and descents, quaint villages, historic barns, covered bridges, fields, and of course of course, Vermont’s famous cows!

Takeaways from this race experience:

  • Boston marathon qualifier – this always seems to be one of the first questions for hardcore runner’s and this race course is certified and sanctioned by U.S. Track & Field (VT11012RF).
  • No expo…just a table and a small tent – when you arrive to pick-up your race bib, you walk up to a table, grab your bib and T-shirt. No need for fancy vendors, just a 1-2-3 in & out experience.
  • Race Director Dory Ingalls – is one of the friendliest and most accommodating people and race director’s I have come across in my travels. Email her and she will promptly reply. Ask her for a place to stay or a preferred local restaurant, and she will offer to make an introduction.
  • Start and Finish Line – the race begins and ends on the Mad River Green as runners cross over a barn type structure with a rooster on top pointing ahead.

    Hanging with Dori the day before the race

  • Take it easy or take it tough…they have a race for every runner walkers are welcome, half marathoners, marathoners and relays are available depending on your race cup of tea.
  • Run for Hannah’s House – add meaning to your run by raising funds for Hannah’s House, a community supported nonprofit mental health center with offices in Waitsfield, and Waterbury VT. Team Hannah runners have played a vital role in helping provide mental health services to the community since the first Mad Marathon in 2011.
  • The Heat and the Hills – if you actually take a minute to look at the elevation map, I can promise you it is spot on. The ascents will test your calves and the heat will test your mind. Without a doubt, the views are breathtaking and worth the mileage on your feet, but be prepared to be challenged!
  • Cows, Cows and more Vermont Cows! – there are no shortage of cows happy to pose for selfies.

    Vermont cows grazing on grass in the fields of Waitsfield

  • The Bling – if you don’t think this matters to runners, you are likely kidding yourself.

    Do you think this would look nice on your medal wall?

If you have a little bit of extra time in Vermont, I would recommend:

  • Ben and Jerry’s Factory Tour – If you are six feet above ground and you love life, head to the factory! Take their 30-minute guided tour which includes a creative 5-minute video of their history, a step by step overhead view of their manufacturing process, and most importantly, taste-test their current and new products.Tickets are extremely cheap: $4/adult, $3/senior, and free for kids (12 and under).
  • Warren Falls – I loved visiting these falls and spent the better part of a few hours relaxing at them. Take time out of your trip to hit up this little gem…I promise you will not be disappointed.

    The perfect place for an ice bath, beer, or just chilling with your favorite friends

    Whatever you decide, get your behind to Vermont and take in all the state has to offer including their cheese!

    And if you see Dori, tell her Run4Papa said he will spectate next time and watch other runners tackle those hills and heat…

2017 Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon

Racing + Lobsters = One Happy Runner

Race #5 – 10 for 10 Challenge: 10 Half Marathons in 10 Different States

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Is Maine worth the trip? In a word: Yes!
Yes, life is good in Maine. So good, that I am kicking myself for waiting 39 years to make my way to the northernmost state in the New England region of the U.S. With its heady mixture of artistic and outdoor adventures, Portland is stylish and sophisticated, yet remains genuine and unpretentious, a place where grey flannel and plaid flannel coexist companionably. And underlying the latest tech, fashion, and culinary scene is a deep sense of continuity. Oh, and did I mention I am obsessed with seafood? Specifically, lobster!

Visiting Maine is like eating pasta in Italy, I am forever thankful and ruined.

The Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon
This race is Portland’s premier summertime running event that cuts through the heart of the Old Port district and West End neighborhood. Runners are treated to sweeping views of Casco Bay, its many islands, ferries, sailboats, lobster boats, tug boats, and paddlers, the Presumpscot River, the City of Portland skyline, and the Back Cove.

Water and boats as far as the eye can see

Takeaways from this race experience:
* Race expo is small and intimate – located in the heart of Old Port off of Fore street, runners can walk the expo and be in & out in a matter of minutes. 
* Maine’s second biggest road race – 4,200 entrants with more than 40 states represented. 70% of participants are actually from out of state.
The route is extremely scenic – the allure of Portland in the summer and the breathtaking views are worth running 13.1. The final few miles the of the second half of the race feature some of the course’s most scenic terrain, as runners will make their way nearly all the way around Portland’s Back Cove and Bayside trails.
* Food, food, and more seafood! – before, during and after the race, there are a multitude of incredible fresh seafood options from J’s Oysters to The Lobster Shack. Your belly should always be full!
* Bling is a factor – for most runners, and I thought race director Erik Boucher, did an excellent job with the medal.

Do you like this race bling?

If you have an extra day or two, I highly recommend visiting:

  • Lucky Catch – take an unforgettable 80-90 minute excursion in Casco Bay

    Set your own traps and reel in live whole Maine lobsters

  • Eartha – is housed in a three-story glass gallery at DeLorme Headquarters and is the world’s largest rotating/revolving globe located in Yarmouth, Maine.
  • Oxford Casino – 45 minutes outside of Portland is a small casino where runners and gamblers alike can try their luck
  • Freeport, Maine – 20 minutes outside of Portland, you will find beautiful coast lines and shopping

For your shopping fix, check out the LL Bean’s HQ

  • Lobster Shack at Two Lights – this spot has the best lobster in all the land (see photo at beginning of blog) and the most spectacular calming views

    One of many eye-popping views at Two Lights along the water

Whether you are running a half marathon or looking to visit The Pine Tree State, there are no shortage of options for you and your family.

AND if you need a lobster taste tester, you can email me anytime and I will be happy to join!

2017 Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon

Run. Sip. Explore.

Race #4 – 10 for 10 Challenge: 10 Half Marathons in 10 Different States

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Wine and racing…is that really a thing? 

This is not only a thing, but a growing trend in different cities and running groups around the globe. Most runners, like myself, are scanning the internet for challenging races in cool destinations with badass bling (don’t kid yourself, race bling affects many people’s decisions to sign-up or keep searching on Google). Add wine to the race cocktail and you will get a quality field or at least an extra motivated one. Destination Races produces the event as part of the popular Wine Country Half Marathon series with its six events in North America. It’s the only race in the series located on the east coast and it’s remained a favorite of runners seeking a more bucolic setting away from the hustle and bustle of major cities.

Pre-Race Risk

Disclaimer: Before all you runners roll your eyes, email me, text me (how you have my phone # is beyond me), I do not endorse trying a new product, especially running shoes, the night before a race, let alone a half marathon.

Let’s backtrack about 7 hours. My alarm went off at 3:33 am. Somewhere between 3:37 & 3:51, I pulled myself out of bed, showered (I think), hopped in my car and drove 6.5 hours from Charlotte, North Carolina to Loudoun, Virginia. Special shout out to the creators of Serial for captivating my attention over 8 consecutive episodes. I may or may not be the last person on that train, but I am glad I boarded!

Anyway, I walked into the race expo, grabbed my bib, double checked my tracking chip worked properly and was about to leave… until I saw running sneakers without laces called Zero Tie shoes. These newer running shoes are insanely popular in Asia. In the U.S., this product is just in the infancy of rolling out. Think Back-to-the-Future without the Nike symbol. I was offered the opportunity to sample these on race day, and since I have never done such a thing, I figured when in wine country…

There is a wheel on the back heel of the shoe, and when you put your heel down and drag it backward, the shoe tightens.

13.1 ends with bling in a vineyard

The 13.1-mile loop course starts and finishes amongst the lush vineyards and farmland at Doukenie Winery. After the first half mile, the spectator support dwindles considerably, but runners are treated to creative mile markers along the route all tied to the theme of vino. The course is surrounded by beautiful foothills, vineyards, and some funny signage along the way.

This may or may not have been placed here by the owner for this picture

By Mile 6, my newer racing shoes were taking a toll. The air circulation was not ideal, my feet were hot and I could feel the blisters forming. Of course, I anticipated some discomfort, but I will say, not having to bend down and retie my shoes was a nice change of pace. In past marathons, when I bend down late in a race to tie my shoes, I occasionally cramp. It’s aggravating and this happens at least every four or five races, so not having to worry about this issue was comforting.

From miles 6-12, runners went through a ton of hills, dirt roads, and battled against a climbing humidity. I began pushing my pace closer to the picturesque vineyard driveway foray for the final half mile into Doukenie Winery. Once across the finish line, runners and their guests are can attend the post-race Wine and Music Festival featuring live music, and wine tasting ($25 extra but worth the add-on during registration) from a dozen of Loudoun County’s wineries.

And after a tough 13.1 miles through the vineyards of Virginia, what better way to celebrate than to drink a glass of vino directly from your finishing medal!

One of the most creative race medals you will ever see!

2017 Berlin Marathon – Fast, Flat and 99% Humidity

This Is Berlin

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If you’re a veteran marathoner looking to set a personal best — or a newbie seeking a flat, fast course for your first marathon — the Berlin Marathon could be the race for you. It’s the third-largest marathon in the world (after New York and London) — and the fastest.

The Berlin Marathon route treks through a wonderful, vibrant urban city steeped in history and stunning landmarks such as Victory Column, Reichstag, and of course, Brandenburg Gate!

BEFORE THE MARATHON

Pre-Race Expo

Arrive Early – I arrived 20 minutes before the doors opened to find a Disneyland-style line of runners looking to enter the expo. To be fair, the line moved pretty quickly and the excitement of the Berlin Marathon officially kicked off.

First order of business: your wristband – before you enter the main expo, all runners must place their right hand over a machine that secures a Berlin marathon wristband around your right wrist. Without this wristband, you can’t enter the race corrals. Despite my initial thoughts of this thing falling off in the shower or ripping in my sleep, this puppy was not going anywhere.

The wristband stayed on for 3 full weeks after the race until I took a pair of scissors and cut it.

Swag disappears quickly! – I am not one to buy a lot of swag at marathon expos, but I will say, the rumors are true on this one. Race jackets (heavily coveted by runners like their own children), running shoes, and even finisher T-shirts were flying off the shelves like no expo I have seen in the past five years. Forget Caveat Emptor; arrive early if you want to get your swag folks.

They serve beer – I shouldn’t have been surprised being in Germany and all, but I was still slightly caught off-guard that they served tall beers for 2.5 euros at the expo. And no, I didn’t buy a beer, but only because it was 11:00 am and I was more interested in waiting 45 mins to capture one shot on a podium at the expo.

In-line Skating Marathon – The day before the main event, Berlin hosts one of the largest inline skating marathons in the world. This year, Berlin saw around 5,600 inline skaters race on the 42-kilometer loop. This was a very impressive event to watch from the finish line in-person.

RACE DAY 

World Record Buzz – Every year, runners and spectators alike hope to see the marathon world record fall of 2:02:57, set by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya on September 28, 2014, at the Berlin Marathon. This year’s race hosted a record of 43,852 marathon runners from 137 countries as the marathon celebrated its 44th anniversary.

Miles 1 – 8– We all want to be a small part of history. Unfortunately, no world records were set this year, maybe due to the 99% humidity…more on this later.

The race began with overcast skies, drizzling rain and a rising humidify. For some reason, it takes about five miles (for me) to feel comfortable until my mind and body settle down several miles in…

Stopped at Victory Column in the beginning of the race to admire the breathtaking view.

Signs are in kilometers – for those of you used to seeing mile markers, remember this race takes place abroad. I am a big fan of counting up from 1 to 42 km because it feels I am making faster progress knocking out km after km.

Miles 8 – 18 – This race course was fast and flat and for someone who stops to capture different film footage, takes pictures of creative signage and sometimes backtracks to get a particular running shot, I found myself flying through this stretch despite the rising humidity. Runners race by iconic buildings in Berlin including the Reichstag, Berlin Dom and the CN Tower. I was beginning to understand why so many runners PR’d (personal record) on this course and why world records will likely continue to fall in this city as the years trickle forward.

CN Tower (far left), Reichstag (top), Berlin Dom (bottom)

Bands play every half-mile – 50+ bands, every half mile or less, played their music on the streets of Berlin. There were small kid bands strumming their tunes on sidewalks to a mini orchestra of senior citizens showing off their skills standing in a park.

Mile 19 – at 99% humidity, I hit a wall. I had nothing left in my legs. At that moment, I was on pace to finish in 4 hours and 30 minutes, almost 30 minutes under my fastest marathon time (London Marathon, 2000, 4:57:57), and that dream came to an immediate halt.

Miles 20 – 26.2 – Yes the humidity was out of control, and yes, my legs felt heavy as all heck, and without a doubt, I was not going to PR this race despite how flat and fast this course was designed to be for racers.

BUT, I fought hard those last 6.2 miles.

Every race is different and you never know how your mind and body are going to respond. I ran by stretches of people on massage beds whose race was over due to cramps, dehydration, and god knows what other ailments. I see this type of thing almost every race, but the last six miles was a reminder that nothing is ever promised or guaranteed for a runner in any marathon. Listen to your body, is my best advice.

AND on mile 25, I did just that. I was thirsty, salivating to be precise. Instead of a water or Gatorade hydration station, there were some friendly spectators serving full mugs of beer and shots of Jägermeister. When in Germany, right? I stopped and took a big gulp of cold beer, and boy, was that refreshing!

My favorite part about the Berlin Marathon was the final two kilometers because once you turn the final corner, it’s a straight shot through Brandenburg Gate and over the finish line.

Behind me is Brandenburg Gate, one of the most iconic structures in all of Berlin.

From incredible sights along the way to an infectious energy on the speedy course, this was a truly unforgettable experience. For anyone looking for an international marathon to run I would recommend adding this race to your bucket list.

With Marathon Major #5 of 6 in the books (London, New York City, Boston, Chicago, and Berlin), I have set my eyes and stomach on Japan.

Next up? Tokyo baby.

5 marathon majors in the books, 1 to go!

2017 Flying Pig Marathon – Yes, I spotted flying pigs!

Do Pigs Fly? Keep Your Eyes Wide Open in this Race!

Race #3 of the #10for10 Challenge – 10 half marathon in 10 different states

Just the name, in itself, grabbed my attention. There are plenty of races to run throughout the country, but few are as unique as the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon. For my family, this run had extra significance because my “Papa” attended the University of Cincinnati medical school. This venue felt like the ideal way to pay respect to him and the city of Cincinnati and was an easy choice for race #3 in this year’s #10for10 challenge: 10 different half marathons in 10 different states.

Why is this race actually called “The Flying Pig?

In the 1800s, Cincinnati was a hub for commerce when riverboats plied the Ohio River. Pigs were brought in by boats and marched through the streets of Cincinnati to the processing plants. When the city celebrated its Bicentennial in 1988, they decided to renovate the riverfront area. Four smokestacks were built at the entrance to the Bicentennial Commons at Sawyer Point, with four flying pigs on top.

At first, the four little winged piglets caused a lot of controversy. They’ve since become part of the fabric of Cincinnati culture and have one of the “best named” marathons in the country.

The original flying pig at Bicentennial Commons

A Family Affair

Apparently, more and more races look to host multiple distances for runners and walkers alike by combining them over a weekend. The Flying Pig Marathon is no exception and offers the following choices: Marathon (individual or four person relay team), Half Marathon, 10K, 5K and the Little Kings Mile (for children which kicks off on the Friday before the race).

My family and friends chose to participate in the 5K while I ran the appropriately named Skyline Chili 3-Way (10K and 5K on Saturday, Half Marathon on Sunday). For those of you not familiar, Skyline Chili has been around since 1949 and is a Cincy foodie staple (tried and tested in my race video).

True to its theme, when you walk into the expo, you are immediately surrounded by creative Flying Pig swag from ear-to-ear: a banner that says “The Finish Swine,” flying pig artwork, pig sculptures and balloons, pig T-shirts for each race, pig decals spread out on the floor, and a trough of other pig related bells and whistles.

Checking out all the swine in this joint.

Race Day – Be Prepared to Run Uphill

I heard this from tons of locals and runners. Be prepared. Since I am beyond neurotic and superstitious, I never look at the route in advance so I assume the worst and then times it by 10. True to their word, there were plenty of hills in the 10K and half marathon but not so much in the 5K.

10K – Saturday morning at 8:00 am: 35 degrees with 10 mph winds

The 10K run, like all the races, began in downtown Cincinnati. Runners make their way through the city, onto the Taylor-Southgate Bridge, over the Ohio River and into Northern Kentucky.

Lets just take a moment to recognize how cool it is to run into another state with the entire skyline of Cincinnati in the background. Is it just me? Come on, I know you cross-state  loving runners are out there!

I digress. After a few hills and three miles on the books, I saw a man standing with purple wings. Of course, I had to stop and take a picture with him.

Quite normal to see many other people running for Alzheimer’s research.

The Flying Pig race volunteers cheered runners on and all of them were sporting their pig T-shirts. Spectators lined the streets with hilarious “this little piggy” signage and clearly enjoyed playing up the theme throughout all 6.3 miles. I was able to cross my first finish swine in 1:05:51.

5K – 10:00 am: 45 degrees with 5 mph winds

The course was fairly flat, stayed within the downtown Cincinnati perimeter and runners face a few small uphills. For people looking to run their first 5K, I highly recommend this race, and if it’s not already obvious, the atmosphere lives up to the hype. Plus, if you can survive 3.1 miles with my father and I, you must have a really open-mind or be completely pig crazy. We crossed the finish swine all together at 43:08.

Had the pleasure to run alongside my father and the lady who is crazy enough to date me.

Half Marathon – Sunday at 6:00 am: 40 degrees with 10 mph winds, oh, and 1 or 2…

Hello hill after hill after hill, nice to meet your acquaintances. The race began with fire shooting out of the start line banner (never seen that before, have you?). The half marathon took runners along a similar route to the 10K, but at Mile 4 quickly veered up a whole host of back-to-back-to-back-to-back (well you get the idea) hills. They were legit and lived up to the city’s hilly reputation.

This race had everything and I mean EVERYTHING. The spectator signage was hilarious, the murals along the route were beyond captivating (see race video above), real pigs with wings were chilling in red wagons at Miles 4 and 6, a singing Elvis was outside a planetarium (no idea why, but it cracked people up), pulled pork sandwiches at Mile 9, kids playing orchestra instruments at Mile 10 (just because they could), pig gummies at Mile 11, pig rig’s (official care of the race) at Mile 12, and of course, the famous “finish swine” at Mile 13.1. I was able to finish with a time of 2:26:39.

Proof of the flying pigs!

Take the Initiative

The 19th Annual Flying Pig Marathon had a total of 37,244 runners that came from all 50 states and 20 countries. The races completely take over the city and are covered wall-to-wall by the media. As a runner, if you are contemplating this race, take the initiative and sign up today.

Hope to see you at the finish swine next year!

On Sunday afternoon, I took time to walk around the Cincinnati medical school campus. While the buildings might have been “slightly” updated since my “Papa” was in school, it felt extra special to walk those same grounds knowing he was here as a medical student almost 70 years ago.

If he was looking down at that moment, I am sure he would’ve said “Jason. go put on a jacket and take an ice bath. Oh, and where are you running next?”

3 medals + Skyline Chili 3-Way finisher’s medal

 

2017 Gasparilla Distance Challenge – Tampa, Florida

4 races. 4 T-shirts. 5 freaking medals. 2 days.

Tampa’s Popular Annual Road Race Draws Over 30,000 Runners

Yes, you read that correctly. The 2017 Gasparilla Distance Classic is one of the most unique races in the world which includes a full slate of running events for runners at all levels including 4 races throughout the weekend: 15k and 5k on Saturday, followed by a half marathon and 8k on Sunday.

Runners can sign up for any individual race or they can participate in one of the “challenges” below:
The Michelob Ultra Lime Cactus Challenge – 8k and 15k for a total of 14.2 miles
The Michelob Ultra Amber Challenge – 5k, 15k and Half for a total of 25.5 miles
The Michelob Ultra Challenge aka “The Grand Slam” – includes all four races (which Run4Papa participated in): 5k, 8k, 15k and Half for a total of 30.5 miles over two days!

I had several goals for the weekend: be mentally tough, run alongside my parents in the 5k and 8k races, and most importantly, have fun!

Organized by the Gasparilla Distance Classic Association, over 650,000 runners have participated in this race dating back to 1978. With predawn race starts for the 15k and Half marathon, runners get a stunning sunrise during their morning runs.

I have never run alongside another runner whose goal wasn’t to PR (aka “personal record”), especially on a course like this one which is exceptionally flat and fast. While PR’ing is a fantastic goal, I genuinely preferred this weekend to focus on the race environment, run with family for the cause, collect an absurd amount of bling and eat plenty of carbs!

Below are my key takeaways from running the Michelob Ultra Challenge:
Be friendly and open to conversation – between the race organizers and volunteers, to the runners and supporters, almost everyone I met was happy to be part of this event.
Dress up – Tampa Bay is known as a major pirate town and the entire weekend revolves around this theme. If you love Halloween, this is the costume race weekend for you!

Running alongside my friends who always have the best racing outfits

Hydrate like crazy – the weather was hot, even early in the morning. The break between each race on Saturday and Sunday is enough to give even the most fit runners cramps.
Everyone runs alongside the longest continuous sidewalk in the world – Bayshore Boulevard is a beautiful stretch with an open view of the scenic Hillsborough Bay over the runners’ shoulders in both directions. It is also home to the world’s longest continuous sidewalk so you can impress your friends with this newly discovered tidbit of running information.
Leave extra room in your suitcase  – I never understood people’s obsession with medals until this weekend. I couldn’t help but love crossing the finish line after each race and receiving a NEW medal.
The after party is a must – the post-race celebration is held near the finish line and features live bands, award ceremonies, plenty of beer and a chance to hang out with runners of all levels.

Hanging with MEB! In case you don’t know, he is the 2009 NYC and 2014 Boston marathon winner

  • The Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic runs a world class event – With 30,000 runners, separate start lines and a common finish line, multiple waves, and plenty of water stations, the race organizers don’t miss a pirate beat from start to finish and everything in between.

Crossing the finish line with my mom!

Overall, this race venue offers everything for every type of runner. If you decide to participate in the 2018 Gasparilla Distance Classic, make sure you have a creative running outfit, a neck that can support plenty of bling and a positive attitude to party like a pirate, argh!!!

To see more pictures from this race, click here

Check out the remaining R4P race destinations in 2017

  • April 30th – Oklahoma City Half Marathon (Oklahoma City, OK)
  • May – The Flying Pig Half Marathon (Cincinnati, OH, 6th), Buffalo Half Marathon (Buffalo NY, 28th)
  • June 3rd – Virginia Wine Country Half (Loundin County VA)
  • July – Old Port Half Marathon (Portland Maine, 8th), Mad Half Marathon (Waitsfield, Vermont, 9th)
  • Sept – Philadelphia Rock ‘N Roll Half Marathon (16-17), Berlin Marathon (Berlin, Germany, 24th)
  • October 15th – Detroit Press Press Half Marathon (International) Detroit/Canada International, MI
  • November 4-5 – Savanah Rock ‘N Roll Half Marathon (Savanah, GA)

2016 Athens Marathon – It All Started Here

The Athens Marathon is like no other on Earth. According to legend, it covers the same ground that the Athenian messenger Philippides ran when he brought news of victory from the battlefield of Marathon 2,500 years ago to announce the Greeks’ defeat over the Persians. As a runner looking to complete the 7-continent marathon challenge (Great Wall of China, Boston, Big 5 in South Africa, Rio, Outback, Antarctica and now Athens), racers run in the very footsteps of the ancient gods and heroes that gave birth to western civilization. The finish line is in Athens’ magnificent Olympic Stadium (more on this later), the birthplace of the modern Olympic Games.

Let’s hire a driver and skip the bus (Miles 0-0), 6:11–7:45 am!

I am superstitious and working on my extreme OCD. I like flying on the left side of a plane, prefer odd-numbered race bibs, eat chicken Alfredo pasta before every marathon, lay out my racing gear the night before, set my alarm clock three times over, and always always ALWAYS take the public transportation provided by the race director. Upon meeting my friends in Athens, they informed me they hired a driver and we would not be taking the runner’s buses in the morning.  My heart sank as they clearly did not know my routine, but I hadn’t seen these guys in 13 years, and I wasn’t about to rock the boat. After being re-routed by the police at almost every turn, we managed to arrive at the runner’s park 15 minutes before our cut-off time. The bus route was 50 minutes long (just saying).

Made it to the start line with my friends Mike and Luke from the UK. Never a doubt!

The Marathon First Originated Here (Miles 1-5), 9:33-10:17 am

5 years ago, I never dreamed of looking to complete the 7-continent marathon challenge. Today, I had the opportunity to come full circle and run side-by-side with my good friend Luke, who was attempting his very first marathon (of all places, right?). The gun went off and we crossed the start line in one of the most famous running spots in the world: Marathon, Greece.

As we began our trek toward Olympic Stadium in Athens, there were kids cheering and standing in the street handing out leaves to runners for good luck. A group of runners dressed as Spartans marched their way along the path stopping at times to wait for one of their pack who had fallen slightly behind. The temperature was a mild 60 degrees and we maintained a steady pace, that is, until we hit Mile 6.

Your standard set of Spartans marching along in perfect synchronization.

Since when does a hill not have a downhill!?! (Miles 6-18), 10:27 am – 1:31 pm

The Athens Marathon is known for its hills. When Luke and I approached Mile 6 (neither of us looked at the race route beforehand #superstitious), we didn’t think it would be another 12 miles before the course leveled out! While the temperature was climbing, so was each mile as we began knocking down one after the other. At Mile 10, we thought we saw the ground level out; however, it was about 500 feet that leveled off (didn’t go down at all), before we resumed our ascent toward Athens.

Despite the never-ending uphill, we crossed mile 13.1 at the 2 ½ hour mark. Considering we had just run/walked the past seven miles, I was pretty happy with the pace, but knew from experience the back half was going to be brutal. At Mile 15, Luke suggested we start skipping to change up the pace (when in Athens). We skipped about 50 feet, and soon saw some very friendly faces cheering us ahead. They were jumping up and down, provided some much anticipated hugs, H20, and of course, captured plenty of pictures.

Left to right: My parents, my good friend Christy, myself, Luke, and Nicky (Luke’s wife) met us after running their own 5K earlier for R4P.

We had one simple question,“Is there a downhill in our near future?

Without hesitation, a local of Athens said, “Yes, right around the corner.” With a huge sigh of relief, Luke and I took off and ran around the corner. To our dismay, it was yet another hill! “LIES” we shouted at one another (half laughing, half in despair).

For the next four miles, we ran/walked up this mammoth of a hill. We saw a man, easily 65 years old, running barefoot in a Spartan outfit! At Mile 16, we saw a pack of bikers on the opposite side of the road cruising along without a care in the world. At 17, bus after bus sped past us carrying dejected runners who were unable to finish due to fatigue, injury or some other ailment. The looks on their faces was sheer motivation to keep running.

Those bikers flew right by us.

Did The Hill Actually End? Not really. (Miles 18-26), 1:31-3:35 pm

Run for a couple minutes, stop, walk, run for a couple mins, stop and walk. We were pretty spent by the time we reached the “top of the hill.” I mean lets be real, it wasn’t the top.  The hill continued going up, leveling off at times, but then continuing its ascent all the same. No wonder Philippides died. Wild guess: he had no water stations set-up every mile during his run, no electrolytes to rejuvenate his body and likely no paramedics rubbing cramping cream on his calves.

At Mile 20, we hobbled into some familiar faces again: our crew who provided us with another much needed lift of energy. We paused to talk, chat and laugh off the insanity of the race and hills.  No matter what race, distance or location, it always helps to see your family and friends cheering you on in multiple spots along the race.

Over the next six miles, Luke and I laughed and talked about life. 20+ years since first meeting as friends in Northern Michigan at Camp Walden, we were running the Athens, Marathon as slightly older friends. With all the aches, pains and mental battles we endured throughout the race, we weren’t going to stop: except to thank the paramedics who were helping us and everyone along the way.

Taking a moment to catch our breath and admire the Philippides sculpture in the heart of Athens.

The Most Epic Finish Line in Running: Olympic Stadium! Mile 26 – 26.2, 3:35-3:39 pm

Words will never do this finish line justice.

The last .2 miles was the culmination of a 7-continent journey that began at the Great Wall of China, which was meant to be a 1-year campaign and nothing more. Along the way, everything changed. I met so many people, families, doctors, researchers and runners. I heard from countless strangers through emails and social media images that all kept supporting this cause from every corner of the globe.

How could I stop?

I ran the Big 5 on an open animal reserve in South Africa. I was stopped at Mile 25.8 in Boston due to the bombings. I fought my way through a monsoon in Rio. I returned to Boston to finish what I started. I pushed through the Red Clay of the Outback and battled the mind-blowing elements in Antarctica. And now, I was entering Olympic Stadium in Athens!

OLYMPIC STADIUM, ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME!!!

Running into this iconic stadium built entirely in marble and seeping with centuries of history. This site hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896. The stadium is  literally surrounded by marble flights of steps terraced into the contours of a U-shaped structure— splendid in materials but ostentatiously simple in construction technique.

When we crossed the finish line, I felt pure joy. Joy to be alive. Pride to run for this cause, in honor of those who lost their battle and for people who need the help now. Love for my family and friends experiencing this moment near and far. Overwhelmed by the privilege of having the opportunity to run around the world. Determined to keep running until a cure is found.

That’s right, I am nowhere near done, not even close! I have big plans ahead and they involve something even larger and more grandiose than this finish line both on-and-off the race course. To be honest, I am just getting started…

Sweet Justice: 7-Continent Marathon Challenge complete!

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How the Love of Music and Alzheimer’s Connected Over 130 People Together

 3 Total Strangers Found a Way

All funds raised went directly to Northwestern University's Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center

All contributions went directly to Northwestern University’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

Imagine losing your mom. Now imagine losing your mom and your partner’s mom in the same year due to Alzheimer’s. This is how I was introduced to Susan Hilger and Tim Minkkinen, owners of Tahti Guitars in Charlotte, North Carolina. We spoke on the phone for about an hour and their goal was simple: they wanted a partner to help raise Alzheimer’s awareness and funds in honor of their beloved mothers named Marie & Helen.

Every year, Tahti Guitars designs and creates a handcrafted guitar to donate to a charity of their choice; and this year, Susan and Tim chose Run4Papa as the beneficiary with a goal of raising $7,500 for Alzheimer’s research (the exact value of the guitar). Tim built the “Marie-Helen” acoustic guitar which is a modern interpretation of a decades old American parlor guitar. These small guitars continue to gain popularity due to their ease of play, full sound and beautiful vintage tone. To see the evolution of pics, click here.

Over a 60-day period, Tim and Susan shared pictures of Marie-Helen on social media allowing our network of supporters to track its progress.

Over a 60-day period, Tim and Susan shared pictures of Marie-Helen on social media allowing our network of supporters to track its progress.

Besides being two of the kindest and most chilled people I have met in a long time, Susan and Tim share a mutually strong passion to bring more awareness and attention to Alzheimer’s  while helping move the needle toward a cure. In two months, we ended up receiving over 130 individual donations from people around the world!

On March 26, we came together for a live drawing of the winner on Periscope.

Tim presented the Marie-Helen guitar and we listened for hours as it was played in front of us.

Tim presented the Marie-Helen guitar and we listened for hours as it was played in front of us.

With over 200 raffle tickets in our pot, Tom and Marianne Ludwig were picked and became proud owners of Marie-Helen. This was bittersweet for us because Marianne’s father was diagnosed and sadly passed away from Alzheimer’s. “My father was known as the world’s best hugger,” said Marianne. “Forget Tim’s incredible talent alone, this guitar is extra special and made with love.”

In a beautiful plot twist, their 10-year-old granddaughter, Natalie, recently learned to play guitar a couple months ago. This made gifting Marie-Helen to Natalie an easy choice for the Ludwig’s and she  wasted no time in showcasing her newly found talent!