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Looking Back: 2016 Tokyo Marathon

Looking Back: 2016 Tokyo Marathon

I can’t believe that the 2016 Tokyo Marathon is now over, and I am sitting on my couch writing my race report. I found out on September 15th that I was selected to participate. I entered the lottery in August, not knowing what would happen. The odds were not in my favor. I remember reading an article months before that said the Tokyo Marathon was one of the hardest marathons to get into. I was shocked when the email came. I screamed when I read it. I prayed that I would get in, and I did! But of course actually pulling the trigger wasn’t an easy decision after that. There were multiple discussions like “Can we afford this?” or “Is this wise to do when we’re trying to save for other stuff, or pay other bills?” and “Do we have the time to take off from work?”

I naturally began to wonder if my goals of traveling all over the world to run marathons were selfish, and not in the best interest of my family. I made a goal after running the Chicago Marathon in 2011 that I wanted to run all of the World Marathon Majors. Getting into Tokyo would get me one step closer to my goal. So it seemed serendipitous that I got in. But still, I didn’t know if it was the “smart” thing to do. After many discussions and my personal consultation with my “crew”, we decided to go. My friend Susan told me that the timing will never be perfect, and to go now if we can. My husband is incredibly supportive. He loves that I have all these goals, and he wants me to achieve them. And he wants to be there with me every step of the way.

“One day, you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.”

— Paulo Coelho

So there you have it! We booked our flights and headed off to Japan. I wrote a separate post on our travels to Japan (click here), along with pictures of where we went and what we did. I also give restaurant suggestions. I think that post will be beneficial for anyone traveling to Japan. It provides some travel tips, but this post is all about the race itself and my experience running the Tokyo Marathon.

PLEASE NOTE: There are MANY useful scanned documents located in the TOKYO MARATHON icon on my main home page. After you finish reading this report, please refer to those documents for more helpful information. These are the race documents for the 2016 race. The 2017 race documents will be different, as the course has slightly changed. But you will find important rules, and aid station information there. 

The Expo!

The Tokyo Marathon Expo and Packet-Pickup took place at the Tokyo Big Sight (where the race finished. ***NOTE: FOR THE 2017 RACE THE FINISH WILL BE IN A DIFFERENT LOCATION). Before we went inside, the Tokyo Food Festival was taking place outside. This was the best thing that could have happened to us that day. We went Friday afternoon to avoid the crowds, but we forgot to eat breakfast so we were cranky. Seeing the little vendors and smelling the perfectly balanced merge of Japanese cuisine was divine; it was a mini paradise. After we ate, we entered the expo in a better mood. We were now ready to enter a marathoners version of heaven. Runners were only allowed in the packet pickup area. I was asked to show my ID a couple times. Everything was very organized and secure. There were several volunteers who spoke English, so I never felt confused. There was also an “overseas runner” booth. It was a seamless process. After I got my packet I met my husband and we worked our way through the maze. I took pictures and grabbed a bunch of free products. I sampled stuff and played a couple games for coveted prizes that I didn’t win. The Tokyo Marathon official merchandise store was small, and a little crowded. I was surprised at how small it actually was. But little did I know there was more stuff on a different level. I bought Tokyo Marathon brand chopsticks and arm warmers. Other levels at the expo had more merchandise from Asics to New Balance and other top brands. My clear plastic bag for bag check was filled with my purchases and free items. It was a great expo to say the least. Tip: If you are running the Tokyo Marathon, go on Thursday or Friday and avoid Saturday if you can.

 

Starting Line

There were some words that were spoken in Japanese over the loudspeaker (I have no clue what they announced) followed by the introduction of the Elite runners and wheelchair participants. A song was sung in Japanese, possibly the national anthem? Then the starting gun went off. I believe it was 10-15 min before we were able to actually start.

Some key things along the course:

Bathrooms

The portable toilets are very frequent, and there is a volunteer holding a sign that announces the bathroom coming up and how far away the next one is. So the sign will say: “Exit here for the bathroom now, or next one is 1.2 miles away”, for example. Cool right? Every toilet area has a couple volunteers who will guide and place you in line. They manage the line and flow. Again, you will have to squat when using most toilets. There were “western style” toilets, but not as frequent. No hand sanitizer or soap/water to wash your hands is available. Near major sights like the Imperial Palace there were “real” bathrooms. So you can always divert from the course and use them if that makes a difference. The one thing that stood out to me was that every toilet line was always long. Some races you will find shorter lines eventually, but not at this race. We stopped twice to use the bathroom, and the lines both times were long. Expect a bathroom stop to add 10-15 minutes on to your time. I do commend this race on having volunteers stationed at each toilet area.

Course Fuel and Food

Pocari Sweat and water are the beverages offered along the course. Pocari Sweat I learned has MSG in it (I had no clue. I should have done my research ahead of time!) Read about it. Know what is offered before running just in case you need something else. Unfortunately you cannot carry your own water bottles in. I believe you can take in unopened commercial products, like bottled water that has a seal on it. Please check the official rules. I scanned the ‘course restrictions’ document and it is located in the Tokyo Marathon icon on my home page. We did see runners with Camelbak hydration packs on. I am guessing they put their empty hydration packs in their checked bags, went through security (metal detectors), and then filled them up later? I mentioned a product in an earlier post, the Salomon S-lab Sense Hydro Set (a handheld collapsible hydration flask). You can add your electrolyte tablet or powder to water and mix in this flask after the race starts. There also were bananas and tomatoes along the course. The bananas were full sized which was nice. You peel them yourself. Volunteers did wear gloves when handling food, for those health conscious individuals. I carried my own gels and chews in my SPI belt, so the only thing I needed was water and Pocari sweat.

Volunteers

There are volunteers everywhere! They have volunteers organizing the bathroom stops, and ones holding garbage bags along the course. The water stops have plenty of volunteers handing out water and cheering you on. They were simply amazing. They always had a smile on their face, and they were extremely polite. The volunteers make this race wonderful. Even at the family meet up/baggage pick-up area the volunteers would congratulate runners. I saw someone post a video of them clapping in sync as runners picked up their bags. I can’t thank the volunteers enough for all their help in making this an amazing and successful race. Volunteers wear different color jackets which mean certain things. I can’t remember what each color represents, but I do know the green jackets meant the volunteer could speak English. At the Expo you will see a display of what each color jacket means.

Volunteers. THANK YOU! They were so awesome. I spotted a doctor running as well. He was a medical volunteer on the course.

 

The Course

The course is very flat. There were a few bridges (near the end) with slight elevation. It wasn’t bad though. I think if you were racing, they would be slightly annoying since they are located near the end. But for my friend Brian and myself, they were a change of pace.

***UPDATED: The 2017 course is different than what I ran. Please click here for the updated 2017 course. More details on the 2017 course can be found here.

A view at mile 22-23. You can see how many people there still were on the course. And I was not running fast. I finished in 5:20? 

A view at mile 22-23. You can see how many people there still were on the course. And I was not running fast. I finished in 5:20? The course includes a couple “out and backs” which have the potential to mess with you if you’re racing. Running out when people are returning can get frustrating and play tricks on you. The turn-around seemed far away, but know in advance at what mile you will turn around and you’ll be fine. I personally didn’t find them to be terrible.

Brian and myself on the course. Cherry blossoms! Tomatoes that were part of the food offered on the course. I actually enjoyed them!

Brian (a fellow Headsweats Ambassador) and myself on the course. Cherry blossoms! Tomatoes that were part of the food offered on the course. I actually enjoyed them!

The course goes past the major sights of Tokyo including the Imperial Palace, Tsukiji Fish Market, Sensoji Temple, Tokyo Sky Tree, Tokyo Tower, Ginza Ave, Tokyo Museum, etc. (in no particular order). It really is the best way to see all of Tokyo by foot! I was surprised at how close the course was to Sensoji Temple (see picture above). We went to that temple the day before, but we didn’t even need to because it was right there on the course!

Course limit: The course limit is 7 hours and there are checkpoints along the way. Make sure to know ahead of time what they are.

 

Medical Aid: Medical aid was offered at various locations along the course. Please consult the runner handbook for where they will be located and what they offer, if you will be running the Tokyo Marathon. I did see medical runners (doctors wearing vests) along the course as well! I am a medical runner for a couple different local races, and it was nice to see this service being offered elsewhere!

Crowds

The crowds also were my favorite. There were people everywhere! I believe the runner handbook says 1.5 million spectators. And they cheered their hearts out. They even knew one or two phrases in English to cheer us on. And they LOVED high-fiving everyone. I ended up high fiving everyone because it was just fun and they got so excited. There were many forms of entertainment along the course as well. There were groups of dancers with music. I am sure there is a formal name for them, but I don’t know what it is. There were dancers with flags, children dancing, people banging on drums, everything! I’ve never seen anything like it. They took it so seriously and it seemed like they were so honored to entertain the runners. I practically stopped at every group to take a picture. It was beautiful. Simply beautiful. One reason I don’t listen to music while running a marathon is to soak it all in. Complete strangers come out on their day off to cheer me on. The entertainers are there to entertain. Why would I block all that out by listening to music? I love hearing the crowds and being aware of what’s going on, especially when I’m in a different country. You don’t need music on this course. Soak up the experience. Be present. Enjoy the gift of running. Tune-in to the music the crowds are making.

Many runners wore fun costumes, and that is entertaining as well. My favorite was a guy playing a Ukulele while singing to his “Bride”. We saw Super Mario, Waldo, Tomatoes, Pokémon, Winnie the Pooh, monkeys, and more!


The Finish

As stated before the finish is at the Tokyo Big Sight. After you cross the finish, you are given a towel (better than a foil blanket!) and a finisher’s medal. You are given a bag of food, water, and a Salonpas pain spray that was valuable! You have to walk a bit after collecting your freebees to get to the family meet-up and bag collection area, which always is exhausting after running 26.2 miles. But with over 35,000 finishers I don’t think they could do it any other way. I maybe walked a half mile back to the family meet-up spot, but it felt like 2 miles since I had a blister that popped and I was in pain. Everything is very organized as expected. Because the end is at the Tokyo Big Sight (like a convention center), there are normal bathrooms and showers inside. There is also a Starbucks inside for the coffee lovers. I saw people getting massages and I’ve heard rumors of acupuncture. My little toe had a blister and ingrown toenail, so I had a bloody shoe and needed to go to medical after I finished. I missed out on the massage. I also felt bad keeping my husband waiting. I quickly went through that area and met up with him. Ending at the Big Sight was nice because if the weather was bad (which it wasn’t), being indoors would be helpful. Luckily the weather was warm; it was in the 60’s.

You may want to change your clothes, eat a little something and rest before walking to the metro. Or even get a massage.

Enjoy the after party!

 

Dōmo arigatōgozaimashita, どうもありがとうございました

-Jill Monroe

Headsweats Ambassador Matt Johnson – Transition from College XC to Ultras

Headsweats Ambassador Matt Johnson – Transition from College XC to Ultras

Headsweats Ambassador Matt Johnson ran track and cross country at the collegiate level, culminating in a trip to the 2013 NCAA Cross Country National Champtionships. After college, Matt wasn’t ready to give up his competitive running career, and found a new passion for the sport through training and racing in trail races and ultra marathons. Matt’s friend and college teammate Clay Holton interviewed him on what it’s like to transition from being a collegiate athlete to an ultramarathoner and what advice he would give other runners looking to continue their competitive running careers after college.

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How long have you been running? What made you start enjoying it?

I have been running competitively for a little over 10 years now.  I decided I wanted to try out cross country at the end of my 8th grade year in school (2006).  My  middle school PE teacher at the time was also the high school cross country coach.  He talked to me about joining the cross country team going into my freshmen year of high school after we ran the mile fitness test in PE.  I had always played football during the fall up to that point, but for whatever reason I decided to give running a try.  Looking back now, I can’t really think of a time when I didn’t enjoy it.  I have always loved sports that require a lot personal motivation and hard work to get better.  Regardless of my talent level in any given sport, I have always prided myself on being a hard worker.  I think that was the initial draw for me towards running.  It truly is one of those sports where you only get out of it what you put into it.  Outside of that, I have always loved the “team” aspect of the sport.  The camaraderie and respect amongst runners is unlike any other sport I have ever been around.  My best friendships in life have come through the sport of running.

Did you run in college? What was your favorite distance to run? What were some of your best times?

Yes, I ran at Augusta University (formerly Augusta State University and Georgia Regents University).  While I ran both cross country and track at the collegiate level, I would have to say that cross country has always been my favorite.  I am a true cross country guy at heart.  As far as my favorite race distance goes, it’s pretty simple…the longer the better (an early sign of an ultra-runner to come, haha)! In college that meant the 10k.  I have to admit…I was always a little jealous of the NAIA guys though, because NAIA sanctions  a marathon national championship every year, haha.  I did race a couple half marathons in college and really enjoyed those.  As far as time goes, I ran 26:05 for 8k in cross country, 15:59 for 5k,  and 33:25 for 10k…nothing crazy fast, but times that I am proud of.  Unfortunately, I was plagued with some untimely injuries during my last couple track seasons.  I also ran a 1hr 13min (5:35ish pace) half marathon.  I had a fifth year of eligibility in track, so I had an entire fall to just train in preparation for the spring.  My coach and I decided to play to my strengths and give a half marathon a go.  I actually think that my half marathon time is my fastest PR once you start converting it to shorter distances.   I definitely think I have still have some PRs in my legs whenever I decide to take a break from the trails.

Do you have a favorite college XC/track racing moment?

I have many great memories from my college running experience, but the best would definitely have to be qualifying as a team for the 2013 NCAA Cross Country National Championships.  That was literally my biggest goal in college and had been a team goal for four years.  That entire fall was a dream season for us.  As seniors, we were able to win our second conference championship and go on to qualify for nationals.  Toeing the line at a national championship and ending my career on the biggest stage (at the collegiate level) with all of my brothers (aka teammates) was a dream come true, and a perfect way to close out my cross country career.  It is truly something I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life.

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What kinds of races are you training up for now? What are some of the highlight races you’ve done since college?

My post-collegiate career thus far has consisted mostly trail racing (with a few road races mixed in).  After college I was looking for new ways to challenge myself and get me excited to train, so I decided to turn to the trails.  I have always loved running on trails, and I feel like my strengths as a runner suit me well on them.  I have raced in several Xterra races, as well as other trail races ranging in distance from 10k to 11.5 miles.  I also competed in my first  ultra marathon (50k) this past April! Racing a 50k was equally one of the most awesome and hardest things I have done in my entire life.  It tested me physically, mentally, and emotionally in ways like nothing else ever has.  I found out a lot about myself that day.

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Do you have a coach or any specific training partners?

I currently do not have a coach.  I read /research a lot, talk to people, and use knowledge I have gained over the years.  That was a decision I came to after college for a couple of different reasons. One, being married now, working full-time, coaching, and having a number of other responsibilities/obligations to take care of throughout the week, my schedule is constantly changing.  I have always been a very meticulous when it comes to my training.  Now that I am in “the real world”, I have had to learn to be much more flexible with my training.  Sometimes that means switching workouts to different days because of the way I feel or a lack of time…others it might mean missing a run completely.  Bottom line, life happens and things come up sometimes.  I have learned to go with the flow and not get frustrated if my training week doesn’t go exactly as planned.  With all that being said, if I have a coach putting in the time and effort to write training plans, I want to make sure I am giving that back by following exactly what he or she has planned for me.  I have always maintained the mindset that if I am going to commit to do something, I am going to do it right.  As I continue to adjust to “the real world” and my new normal, I will definitely consider going back to having a coach.  Right now, I am having fun writing my own workouts and experimenting with new things in ultra training.  It keeps things fun, and as corny as it sounds…that is always most important!  In regards to training partners, my main one is my wife, Tia!  I also run a lot with the high school athletes I coach, as well as a few of my former co-workers.  I will always take any opportunity I can to run with people!

What is the next big race you’re training for? Any specific time/place/finish goals?

My next big race will be The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship 50k in San Francisco this December!  I would be stoked to come home with a top-ten finish!  I have learned that time/pace on the trails isn’t quite as relevant because of the varying terrain/course conditions from race to race.  I am just excited for the opportunity for the challenge of competing against some of the best athletes in the sport.  Leading up to it I plan to compete in a smaller race or two (both road and trail).

matt7

What kinds of workouts are you focusing on? Do you have a favorite workout?

Again, the specific workouts I am focus on really depends on what race I am training for.  However, throughout most of the year my training is usually going to incorporate some sort of tempo run, long run, and faster paced intervals or hills, among general mileage/recovery runs.  I also do strides throughout the year to help maintain foot speed/overall running economy (even when training for an ultra).  More specifically for ultra races, I have learned that it is important to research the course you are going to be racing and do your best to mimic that terrain in training.  The further I get into a training cycle for an ultra, the more my workouts become focused on helping me encounter/prepare for what I will see on race day (same applies for practicing nutrition intake as well).  As far as my favorite workouts, I have always loved long runs!  I also love longer progression runs and fartlek runs….basically any “effort” based workout that is less focused on hitting specific splits, and more focused on “feel” and allowing your body and the workout to progress naturally.  Lastly, I enjoy running any sort of hill workout.  I have learned that practicing downhill running is just as important as practicing uphill running when it comes to ultras and trail racing.  Right now in training I have been working on increasing my overall long run distance, as well as practicing my climbing and descending.

Do you run mostly on roads or trails?

Definitely TRAILS!!!

matt8

 

I saw recently that you started being sponsored. What kinds of sponsorships do you have?

Yes, I currently represent four different companies as a brand ambassador in my training and racing:  CEP Compression, Nuun hydration, and Headsweats performance headwear.  The team I run for, Anchored Elite, is also sponsored by Janji.  Janji is an awesome running apparel company that also works to provide clean water for those who need it in countries all around the world!  I am very thankful to have the support of these great companies as I continue to pursue competitive trail running!  I truly love their products and would highly recommend them to anyone!  For any other running gear needs I go to Fleet Feet Atlanta!

Lastly, do you have any advice for runners who want to continue running competitively post-collegiately? Or advice for runners who are seeking to get any sort of sponsorship?

For those that might have a dream to continue running competitively post-collegiately, I encourage you to not give up on that dream.  My main motivating factor was not wanting to look back in 10 or 20 years and wonder what I could have done in the sport if I stuck with it.  One of my favorite quotes has become “Only those who risk going too far, can possibly find out how far they can go.”  It is not always easy considering the majority of post-collegiate runners aren’t supporting themselves by running, but it can be done.  Set new goals for yourself after college so you have a sense of direction and purpose with your training and racing.  Also, always make sure you maintain a healthy balance in life.  I believe too much of one thing can be a bad thing.  Now that I am working full-time and married, I have had to learn where running fits into all that.  Make running something you do, but not who you are.  Adjusting to the “real world” and all of life’s demands can be difficult sometimes, so you have to learn to be flexible.  Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a workout or have to cut a run short because “life” happens.  Ultimately, you have to find ways to continually make it fun.  You have to enjoy the process before you can enjoy the result.  As far as gaining sponsorships, don’t be afraid to reach out to companies yourself.  Most of the time, unless you are at a world class level, companies aren’t going to come find you.  Find products you love and believe in and start there.  Put together a “running resume” and start sending it out to companies that you are interested in.  Don’t be upset if you don’t hear back right away from companies.  Positivity and persistency can get you a long way when it comes to both running and seeking out sponsorships!

*Blog credit goes to Clay Holton. The original blog post can be found here: http://www.holtonphysicaltherapyandperformance.com/matthew-johnson-transition-from-college-xc-to-ultras/

 

Headsweats Ambassador Program Accepting Applications for 2017!

Headsweats Ambassador Program Accepting Applications for 2017!

Headsweats is currently looking for athletes of all ages and abilities who use and are passionate about the Headsweats brand to be a part of their 2017 Ambassador team!

HEADSWEATS AMBASSADOR APPLICATION

Each year, Headsweats carefully selects 30 athletes to represent the brand as ambassadors and spokespeople during training, racing, and on social media. Our Ambassadors are part of our extended family, and they have a passion for what they do and a love for the Headsweats brand and message. Headsweats Ambassadors receive yearly benefits including:

• Headsweats headwear to train and compete in year-round
• A unique discount code to share with friends, family and those you meet when training and racing
•A profile on Headsweats’ website and exposure on Headsweats’ social media channels
•Knowledge of  new products and news before anyone else

ambassador-header-2016

We will be accepting applications for our 2017 Ambassador program through January 31, 2017. Since we receive such a high volume of applications each year, we will not be responding individually to each application. All selected 2017 Ambassadors will be notified mid-February via e-mail. If you think you would be a good fit for the Headsweats Ambassador program, please fill out an application HERE!

We look forward to reading your applications, and thank you for supporting Headsweats!

Sincerely,
The Headsweats Team

 

A Race Experience Abroad – The Amsterdam Marathon

A Race Experience Abroad – The Amsterdam Marathon

Running is such an amazing sport because it constantly introduces you to new people and places. Headsweats Ambassador Kim Cowart experienced this first-hand when she had the opportunity to race in the Amsterdam Marathon earlier this month. Read more about Kim’s experience in Amsterdam and what she learned from racing in another country!

My three passions in life are running, writing and traveling.  My dream is to combine all three writing about my running adventures in far away places.  My most recent adventure was at the Amsterdam Marathon.

What set this race apart from so many other big races is there were three races in one day: the full marathon, a half-marathon and an 8K.  The day before the race, we took part on the Good Morning City run which was an easy jog through Amsterdam.  Four miles later we had a better idea of the layout of the city and had already seen many of the highlights.

Because the streets in Amsterdam are quite narrow, the start times were staggered.  Full marathoners began at 9:30.  The course was a loop course, starting and finishing in Olympic Stadium.  Spectators dotted the stand above, giving them full views of all the action on the track.

The energy was electric with music pumping at the start, and big screens around the stadium so we could see the elites take off.  Five minutes after they began, I crossed the same start line.

Amsterdam is the most beautiful European city I’ve ever seen.  The weather was a perfect 50 degrees with plenty of shade from the gorgeous trees lining every street.  The half marathon course follows most of the full course.  The advantage of the full marathoners is we got to run around the Amstel River which offered the most scenic, bucolic views.  Horses running across the fields, sheep grazing in the pasture.  Yes, we even ran by a few iconic windmills.  I had to pinch myself to make sure it was all real.

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A view from the race course.

While this is only my second European marathon experience, I have traveled to numerous other big marathons like New York and Boston.  Here are a few points that set Amsterdam apart from the rest of the pack.

First, the race is cheap.  At around $80, this race is by far the cheapest big city race I’ve ever run.  By comparison I paid over $250 to run New York and $180 to run Boston.  Half marathoners only paid $45 to run through the streets of Amsterdam.  The support didn’t suffer; in fact, it was even better than some of the bigger races with plenty of water, energy drink, food and bathrooms along the course.

Second, there was music at every kilometer along the race.  I didn’t know what a difference this would make in my mood until around the 10K mark I realized I was starting to look forward to the bands and DJ’s that dotted the course.  A marathon is 42 kilometers.  So, yes, there were 42 music stations to keep us pumped and it worked.

Third, we started and finished in Olympic Stadium.  Not only was it just plain cool to run around the stadium, but it made it easy for spectators to cheer on their runners.

Fourth, there were a variety of distances to choose from.  Most big city races limit themselves to the full marathon, and for good reason.  Logistically it’s difficult to close down the streets on a Saturday or Sunday.  Accommodating tens of thousands of runners can be a challenge as well.  But Amsterdam made it happen.  By staggering the start times, more than 35,000 people ran either the full marathon, half marathon or 8K.

Finally, the views were spectacular.  It was like running through a postcard.  Every turn offered stunning views of canals and tree-lined streets.  While many streets are cobblestone, we avoided most of that.  My legs were grateful.

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With my finisher’s medal!

It wasn’t all roses.  I was disappointed at the finish line offerings.  The only food at the finish was bananas.  There was water, but only in little cups.  There was also plenty of Isostar, their energy drink of choice, but my stomach did not agree, so we declined.  There were food trucks, but I wasn’t willing to spend money on them.  They did distribute free toothpaste, so there’s that.  I would recommend packing some extra food in your drop bag.  I didn’t and I lived to regret it.

Also, more than 16,000 runners ran the full marathon.  European streets are narrow.  This makes for a tricky start.  I had no intention of racing, so I was fine with going with the flow.  There is an attempt to organize runners by pace at the beginning, but they aren’t strict about it so there were quite a few people who started at the front and slowed the crowd.  It wasn’t until mile 10 I felt I could find a comfortable stride.

My last complaint would be transportation.  We did a dry run on the busses to the stadium, only to wake up race morning to find the busses were shut down.  Not even the concierge at our hotel knew that would happen, so we scrambled to find a taxi that could get us somewhat close to the stadium.  Getting back to the hotel after was tricky, too.  We walked quite a ways until we could find a tram to the hotel.  I ran with some money just in case, and I was glad I did.

Overall I loved the Amsterdam Marathon.  I would do it again in a heartbeat.  I love the diversity.  I loved the energy.  I loved the beauty.  This flat course is well-worth your money.

The “Next Big Thing”

The “Next Big Thing”

Sherpa John
Sherpa John

by “Sherpa” John Lacroix

I started running Ultramarathons in 2005, and at the time my family and friends all thought it was just “the next big thing” on my list of things to take on. They truly felt like I would run a few ultras, accomplish my goals and then move on to the “next big thing.” To this day, nothing can be further from the truth. Ultrarunning has become “THE THING” in my life. It has brought me a wealth of experiences, knowledge, and metaphors to use in my everyday life. Ultrarunning is hard though. No really, not just from a training and racing perspective, but from a mental perspective. We give so much to do what we do. We sacrifice time with our immediate family and friends. We miss out on BBQ’s…or choose to run the 30 miles to the BBQ and arrive late. The training, the sacrifices, the racing; it all can be very taxing on an ultra runner.

DNF’s in our sport are inevitable. For the first many years that I ran ultras I crossed the finish line of everything. Until I finally DNF’d. Suddenly, Did Not Finish turned into Did Nothing Fatal. It became OK to walk away from a race. Mostly because after 35 ultras, I had nothing left to prove. I lost my direction. Lost my drive. I had run so much and ran in so many races and events (Western States, Leadville, Vermont, Massanutten, Barkley) that I was running out of any real reason to train or strive for better. I grew complacent with my training and I eventually burned out. I attempted the Grand Slam of Ultra Running in 2010 and after being so incredibly undertrained, I out at Leadville. I returned to Leadville in 2011 and finished the race, but DNF’d others. In 2012, I finally realized at mile 66 of the Bighorn 100, that I needed a break. I was burnt out, looking for purpose, reason, and drive…so I walked away. I took 5 months off from Ultra running and did NO RUNNING at all. I ballooned to 185 pounds and started to look for “it” again.

Finally, at the end of 2012, I had the itch again. I set a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) to lose 25 pounds and return to Vermont to finish my 5th Vermont 100. Not only did I lose the weight, but I set a Personal Best for 100-miles in under 23 hours. So 2014 was a no brainer, return to Big Horn and get redemption there as well. If nothing else, to get a Hardrock qualifier to continue my quest of bucket list races. Below is a short film chronicling my journey. Click to watch:

Sherpa John

Headsweats Ambassador ‘GingerMantra’ Tackles her First Marathon

Headsweats Ambassador ‘GingerMantra’ Tackles her First Marathon

“I want to be stronger, I want to be healthier and I want to be a better athlete”

On Sunday February 23rd, Headsweats Ambassador Tambra Means, aka ‘Ginger Mantra,’ ran her first marathon in Jacksonville, FL at the 26.2 with Donna to Finish Breast Cancer. Everyone’s first marathon is a huge milestone – one we all remember because it empowers us to realize we’re capable of so much more. It fuels our spirit to sign up for another race, an even longer one, and pushes our muscles and minds to go farther. In her own words, here’s a play-by-play of Tambra’s first-ever marathon:

TambraMeansThe race weekend started like most, we hit the road early to get to the Expo that would be held at the Prime Osborn Convention Center, to pick up our race day packets and bibs and checkout the other Expo offerings by running gear companies that were there. We arrived shortly after lunch on Saturday and headed straight to grab our packets and I was excited to see my fellow #RunDONNA Ambassador Marcia before heading into the exhibit hall. Note – My Race Recap 2 will be coming next week which I will highlight my amazing opportunity as one of the 2014 #RunDONNA Ambassadors. This race had been my first half marathon, which I ran in February of 2013 and I really loved the display of support for breast cancer patients and families that they offer for runners to be a part of. There are huge signs that are relocated on race day to the Memorial Mile on Jacksonville Beach and also a large garbage truck painted pink that we all get to sign and it is parked along the course. Sometimes the things we see are a bit emotionally overwhelming, but they bring out the huge heart of all the runners in our communities.

PreMarathon

Inclement weather prevented me from finishing my 26.2 miles and we were stopped at mile 24 and bussed to the finish. Though I was just 2 miles shy of my completing my first marathon, I learned much about myself and know what I need to work on to be prepared to finish my next marathon. I am still searching for that special race and hope to be able to check “marathon” off my bucket list in 2014!

Read more about Tambra’s first marathon on her blog here.

Pruhealth ITU London Grand Final Sprint Distance Championships

Pruhealth ITU London Grand Final Sprint Distance Championships

Our Headsweats-sponsored Athlete and Ambassador Erin Lockwood got back from London this Fall after competing in the ITU London Grand Final Sprint Distance Championships. It was an amazing experience for such a young athlete…here’s her recap of the race:

Erin Lockwood, HS Athlete

What an incredible and amazing experience. I could have done without the cold water temperatures, but hearing people from all over the world yelling my name and Team USA as I biked and ran past them, it went above and beyond my expectations.

My trip to London started on Wednesday September the 11th when my mother and I arrived with bike in hand at Heathrow airport. We took a shuttle to our hotel which was located right at Hyde park where the race took place, so that was very convenient. After we checked in I went to pick up my race packet at the expo which was full of booths, people practicing in the pond and of course biking and running.

Some people had been there since Friday. I however couldn’t take off because of graduate school classes. once everything was taken care of, mom and I began to wander around, and by wander I mean go to Harrods and Burberry. By 9 pm I was in bed exhausted since i didn’t sleep on the plane over.

Erin Lockwood, HS Athlete

The next day, we got up wandered some more, it had rained overnight so the roads were slick. I practiced biking and running before I had to drop off my bike at 6 pm and went to bed early prepped for the next morning. I heard from some folks at bike check in that in the morning when the U23’s raced that many crashed because of the roads so I of course was more nervous than before.

Friday morning, it was raining, 61 degrees but kind of humid and oh the water temperature was 61 degrees. THAT WAS FUN. I have never swam in water that cold, prior to that it was 68 in wisconsin. The transition area was huge (ie more to run) and they did not allow towels inside…. so no drying off after the swim. It was very cool being with my fellow USA’ers and how our bikes were all racked together. We also had a lot of room at our transition spots which was lovely. The race started at 8:00 and my wave went off at 8:45. Everyone was so friendly and nice and cheering each other on. It wasn’t mean or rude.

For more on her race update, go check out her blog: http://adventuresoftribarbie.blogspot.com/

Erin Lockwood