Tuesday, February 28, 2017

nicetrails - 3D mapping of your most epicest runs

I have been sitting on a review of a nicetrails product for a while now as I was waiting to give their awesome running relief map as a gift to my best friend. Now that I have done so (she loved it) I can finally give my review. (Note: I receive no compensation for this review and have no ties to the company. Although, after seeing how cool this is, maybe I should try.)

What is nicetrails? Well, you know the navel-gazing we runners love to do of all our data and Strava segments and shiny bauables? Imagine a company which takes your GPS route and turns it into a three-dimensional sculpture. Bam. That is nicetrails. Here is a video to explain a bit more.

What I loved about the company's website was how you could load any data and play with it to find just the right way in which the route would work for you. You can skew the Y-Axis of the map to increase the height of your elevation to give greater depth to mountains you climbed.

As a caveat, some of your most favorite runs, or most memorable races, won't necessarily "pop" the way they do in your memory. For example, my 100 mile personal best was run on an incredibly flat (not easy, mind you) course along the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Well, running along the beach is not going to give you a staggering relief map of any nature.The best case scenarios are for runs that travel over a large area (point to point rather than looped) and go up and down a great deal of elevation.  Or, in the alternative, if the run is closely located next to mountains, the mountains will be included in the map even if your own run doesn't traverse them.  Mainly, as you can upload any GPX data and play around with it without creating an account or going through much trouble at all, you can see which of your maps will look best before buying.

For example, my Rim2Rim running of the Grand Canyon was absolutely fantastic. While the total distance as the crows flies is only like 14 miles, the fact we went up and down thousands of feet gives so much detail.

The red line you see traces the route you ran. You have the option of removing that red line, although I don't know why you would. Seeing exactly the route you took is so personal and rewarding.  You look at it and think "Yep.  Ran that." There is also an option to emboss on the front the name of the run or race or whatever else you want.

The product comes in three different sizes, 3.9 inches, 5.9 inches and 7.8 inches. I went el grande because I wanted something that really stood out but I can see a case being made for all sizes. I can also see wanting every single run I have ever done to be made into a map like this but I don't have endless funds. I think the hardest part of the whole process is choosing the route you want to use.

If you are looking for a gift for that runner that is unique for that runner in your life this is it. The personalization of the map being their specific run is what will really hook them.Visualizing how they were feeling through all the twists and turns is a great way to take someone back to that day. Staring lovingly at a piece of resin polymer thingmajig that will make them smile each time they look at it. Makes an amazing conversation piece for your desk as well.

With free shipping included in the price of all the products, you really can't go wrong. You can order yours by heading over to their website here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Galveston Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 3rd Edition 
42.2 miles runs in 2017 races
Race: Galveston Half Marathon
Place: Galveston, TX
Miles from home: 200
Weather: 70s; mostly cloudy; very humid

My best friend is from Galveston. So, when the opportunity came to run a race there during a time of the year when it might not be a soupy swamp, I jumped at the chance to head down, race, and visit her ole stomping grounds.

The race itself was one held on a new course and it was one I rather enjoyed.  Mostly consisting of three out and backs in a t-shape, it provided runners with the opportunity to see so many more of the other racers around them. I have always enjoyed that. Sure, the course could have run through some of the more historic and grand parts of town which showcase some amazing churches, beautiful architecture, trolleys and many things associated with the once-named Wall Street of the South but the race is not big enough yet to command that sort of citywide shutdown. As I have often said, it is nice to run through cool parts of a city, or through scenic areas; but it is nicer to run in a well-run race.  That is what this race was.


The race began right off the beach which had ample free parking making it easy both in before the race and out after. Plentiful bathrooms were available at the start which almost never seems to be the case. Unfortunately, weather-wise, there was record breaking warmth. On the good side, in spite of the starting temperature being over 70 degrees and the humidity being at pure soup levels, there was a thick impenetrable haze of clouds which kept the sun at bay for the entirety of the race. My goal was to run around 1:25 and hope that the training in the heat and humidity of Austin would get me headed in the right direction time-wise again.  But I knew it would be tough in these conditions.

First Four Miles:

Right off the bat I knew that there was no way I would win this race as one runner shot off the blocks. I know this sounds funny to some but when you are just fast enough to be possibly in contention for a win in a smaller race, it can be a load of your shoulders when someone shows up who beat you in genetic poker. Nevertheless, it is still a bummer. Winning is fun.

As we headed off the beach, out onto the Seawall Boulevard and then off the road again to begin the first out and back mini loop, I was already out of the top ten of runners. I thought I wasn't feeling necessarily all that great but was surprised how many were in front of me. When I hit the first mile in 6:30, right on pace for how I wanted to run for the day, I was surprised. First, it had been relatively easily and second because so many people were already so far in front of me.  At this pace the top ten would all be under 1:20. That would be a huge shock. This race did not seem to draw that level of competition.

The next mile brought me back to earth as I hit right around 7 minutes. Not too surprising as I often have a mile or two of feeling out a race before things settle in. We passed through what appeared to be an entirely new subdivision on the east tip of the island here on Galveston and the soupy fog and clouds gave it an ethereal haze.  There was next to no one out cheering here, as expected given it was mostly blocked to traffic, so it made us feel like we were running in a dream.

A few runners passed me as we hit the third mile and I was beyond disappointed to run it right around 7:00 again. It had felt so much faster. As we snaked through small curves on this road out of the development, we passed a few runners pushing people in wheelchairs. I say "people" as they were not always children but instead appeared to be many afflicted with cerebral palsy or other diseases. It is always such an energy boost and a swelling of the heart to see those selflessly giving of their time and effort to help others who desperately need it. However, even this energy boost kept me right at seven minutes for the next mile again. It seemed like today was not my day to run fast.

To Mile Nine:

I had driven the course the day before just to get an idea how things would go. The island is quite windy and I figured once we got onto the seawall at mile four we would feel its effects. One of the good things about the course was that no matter which way the wind was blowing, you would soon turn out of it for a few miles. Oddly, however, there was next to no wind.  When I needed it most to help cool me off, I had nothing. Curses!

Right around the 5th mile a runner helping to pace the 3 hour marathon group caught up to me. He had no marathoners with him, (not a surprise in such a small race) but a few halfers.  I thought perhaps I would stay with him but I just didn't have the gumption. A few days prior to the race I had done an exceedingly hard work out and tweaked my groin. It seemed fine here four days later but the last thing I was going to do was run extra hard just to still run subpar. I treat every race with respect but one must know when there is a time to back off. I was still hardly running "slow" as the next few miles were right around 7:10 but that was all I had.

We turned off of the seawall and down onto a small twisting road between tall grasses. Again, it felt like we were in a dream land with just the road to buttress us against the netherworld. This is one of the nicest things about racing: having the world stop just so you can go for a jog. Wind finally billowed these grasses a touch and some sand blew across the pavement. A gulls cry could be heard here and there as they searched for ice cream to snatch.

I was beginning to catch up to a few runners during this section in spite of not speeding up.  I had, by my count, dropped to about 23rd place overall at once juncture. A bitter pill to swallow but I knew I would reel in some before the end of the race. Top 20 would be a decent finish, I figured. As we turned around to head off the beach and back to the seawall, I felt I might actually be ready for a surge. I had expected to feel sluggish as the 93% humidity had me dripping with sweat but instead felt fine. Up onto the seawall we went and I passed through the 8th mile in the slowest of the day.  However, I knew it was time soon to pick it up.

Right before the 9th mile a chap sidled up next to me. I would later learn Kyle was his name and he was down from Ohio.  I can only imagine what this heat and humidity were doing to him. Here I saw my bestie Shannon, far sooner than I expected, heading toward the small out and back on the beach. With very little training in the past few months do to an ugly ankle break and tendon tear, she was running amazingly well.  I slid over to give her a high five. Doing so was almost like a mushroom power-up in Super Mario Bros. It was time to run fast.  Or, at least "faster."

Last 4 Miles:

Now back on the seawall with just a straight shot down and then back, I could see all the runners in front of me. I love long straightaways like this as they give me a chance to focus in on my competition. The race may have been over with regards to the time I wanted to run but it was now on to track down and catch as many runners in front of me as I could. Here, with the coast still flooded with fog and clouds, the crowds were thicker and more boisterous. We had a full lane of traffic all to ourselves as the rest of the island was just waking up to enjoy some beach time.  I knocked off one sub-7 mile and passed a few runners. Then I knocked off another and the same number of runners fell behind me.  I wasn't necessarily running all that much quicker but they were also slowing down. Somehow, the heat and humidity were, for once, not draining me the way they normally did.  Or at least they were draining others more rapidly.

I knew the turn around was right in front of the historic Pleasure Pier and I could see the Ferris Wheel up ahead.  I was counting runners in front of me returning home and I wasn't exactly sure if I had miscounted or if I was really passing that many who had been in front of me. In either regard, I simply had to keep it going.

I slowed slightly as I went around the cone at the turn around but had two last runners in my sight.  Any others were far out of reach so these were the only two I need concern myself with.  I passed one right before the mile to go marker and had the last one in front of me by just a few yards. I was steadying myself for a fight with this guy as I assumed he would not let me go without a struggle. However, right before I caught up to him, he slowed and began walking. I love racing. I love besting my competition.  But I love doing it most when they are giving it their all without any problems. Running past a competitor who has come to a walk almost feels wrong.  Yet, as soon as I passed him I heard his footsteps begin afresh. He was ready to fight!

I picked up the pace and was running the fastest I had since the first mile. I could see the arch of the finish ahead and laid on the throttle. The announcer was a fellow Penn State grad and as I neared the finished he shouted "We ARE!"  I of course replied with "PENN STATE!" and gave a smile.

 I crossed over the mat in a time of 1:32:21 good enough for 12th place overall and first in my age group.  In what was only the 69th fastest of my lifetime 97 half marathons, I had performed to the best of my ability on that day. It also continued a surprising showing in the placement category ever since I became a Masters runner. I haven't had the best races in that time but somehow I am beating most of the fellow old guys.

Kyle, the runner from Ohio I mentioned above, finished about a minute behind me in a new PR of almost 8 minutes. We chatted afterward and I told him how impressive that was.  Granted the course was relatively forgiving but the heat and humidity were stifling.  Kudos to him indeed.  I was also beyond excited to see Shannon finish in a healthy time with no major problems to her ankle. She still has a long way to go until she is happy with her times again but this is a fantastic showing.

All told, this was an excellently run race by the organizers. The post-race spread was absolutely fantastic. For the most part, the fare after a race doesn't appeal to me and I don't stick around for it.  But free pizza, soda pop, frozen yogurt (and for those who want it) beer was available. On the course, the race had well-marked mile markers, and very cold drinks. I cannot tell you the last time I ran a race where the drinks were cold.  To put a drink to your lips when you are hot and sweaty and feel a nice tingle go down your throat is something that should not go without mentioning.

If you are looking for a race to run in a very historic, very enjoyable area where you are almost guaranteed to run fast if the weather cooperates, you would be hard pressed to find a better locale then this.  I can see me running events put on by this organizer again very soon.