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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Habitat for Humanity Women's Build

This spring, a group of cool ladies (most of them running friends) and I got together to build two houses for women in our community. This women-building-for-women idea came from Habitat for Humanity's Women Build, and since one of our running friends Avery is Assistant Director of Advancement at the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, we were eager to help out.
This was the first time I had worked on a Habitat house, so the extent of the process surprised me. First, we needed to name our team, and of course the puns started flying. We ended up choosing "The Tool Chests", for which I designed this awesome T-shirt art:
Before adding "Tool Chests" script

Of course that was fun, but the reality of being on a team is more than just cool shirts and punny names. We had to fundraise, and fundraise hard! Luckily, I called in some favors from some drug reps I know, and we ended up exceeding our $350 per person goal by early spring. The date for the build was mid-May.

I wasn't sure how long these houses take to build, but Avery explained that team size had a lot to do with it. Her job includes trying to figure out the timing to make sure just enough teams are scheduled. Our team was pretty small, but we partnered with some other volunteers. There were actually three or four groups out there, as we were building two homes side by side. On the day we were scheduled, the house had been partly framed, and we were finishing framing (including all of the inside) and nailing plywood to the outside of the house.

We worked for eight hours, with two snack breaks and a lunch break, and I kind of thought we didn't get much done! I was very surprised to see that we were give hammers rather than nail guns, and obviously manually hammering in nails takes a really long time. It wasn't like it was a safety concern, either - we were cheerfully operating a circular saw unattended and climbing up rickety ladders all day, so a nail gun couldn't be that much more dangerous. Actually, I was pretty surprised by the amount of freedom we had - some of it misplaced, since we had no idea what we were doing (I still hope that the lady in the house on the right doesn't slam her closet door too hard). However, talking to Avery, I learned that their houses pass inspection at the same rate as the national average, so I guess it's not all sideways nails and sketchy measurements. And in the end, Women Build completed two houses side by side for two women who are cousins! So that's pretty cool!

I would absolutely do another Habitat build, although a fall or winter date would be nice for next time (it was sweltering hot in the sun the day we built). And I'd definitely do another one with this awesome team of ladies!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Summer running

Since my last race, I've been taking running easy. I took a week mostly off after the marathon, and eased back in after that. I didn't need much recovery since the race was an easier pace, although I definitely still felt sore! But I didn't have that total fatigue you get after a hard, long race.
One of the guys in my group takes a few weeks each summer dialed back, and says these down weeks keep him from injury, so I am doing the same. Not off, but slightly reduced mileage and more off days. That's fine, because I'm having a hard time acclimating to the humidity. It hasn't been a terrible summer so far (I mean, it's not even actually summer yet!) but I've overheated and almost quit on a long run and a tempo run - all signs that taking it easy is a good idea!
I have signed up for some summer races: The Armadillo Dash and the Spillway Classic, both three mile trail races in the muddy spillway. But those are more laid-back than a typical race, almost closer to a mud run than a race!

One of our typical summer workouts is either a Fartlek or repeats on the bridges on the lakefront (oh, the things we do to get hill work in in NOLA), and one of our runners invited us to her pool nearby right after. Now that's how I like my summer workouts!

I plan to run a winter marathon to update my Boston time, so once I'm done resting a bit I'll be back to training for that. But for now, it's mostly easy running and some less-intense workouts.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Buffalo Marathon: Race review

The Buffalo Marathon is a runner's race: the race director MUST be a runner. There are so many little details that make this race easy for competitors!
Registration and cost: Registration prices go up over time, but the race was surprisingly affordable. It's $85 for early registration, and you can find coupon codes, too. When I registered, I chickened out at first and didn't complete the process. The next day, I received an email with a coupon for $5 and a link back to my incomplete registration.
Swag: Runners get this great technical half-zip, with thumbholes. I've always wanted thumbholes! Finishers also get this gigantic plaque of a medal, and the marathoners get a keychain bottle-opener, too.

Expo: I didn't go, except for early morning-of packet pickup and bag drop, but it's very conveniently located steps from the starting line.
Course: I liked the race course a lot. It's a point-to-point course that ends just a few hundred feet from where it starts. It has hills, yes, but even for someone like me - who NEVER runs on any hills and comes from an extremely flat area - they weren't bad. Nothing steep; nothing too long. Garmin connect tells me that there was under 400 feet of elevation gain, with only a few feet net gain. The course is quite pretty, covering neighborhoods, parks, downtown, and along the lake; it was a scenic race for sure. Two mild drawbacks are the twists and turns, which are plentiful, and the lack of shade on the second half. Keep in mind that, since it's late May, it can get rather hot - which is mitigated by the early (6:30 am) start. Overall, it's pretty, there is good crowd support, and it's fairly fast.
Bright sun on the course! 
Course support: Gatorade and water on the course with two spots for gels (I honestly don't remember which gel. I think it was Cliff??). Some of the volunteers hadn't really set up well, and were tightly bunched, making it tough to get water at some of the earlier, more crowded stops.
Post race: The after party is actually held indoors, at the convention center right at the finish. There were some vendors with giveaways, plus a massage tent and stretching area. The race provided more snack-y options, plus pizza and a very good beer by Flying Bison Brewing, brewed specially for the race. It was unusual to be indoors, but since it was getting hot and sunny, it was actually a relief to get inside.
Awards: Cash awards to the top five, ranging from $1000 to $80. Age group awards were mailed out promptly after the race, and since I'm old, I won my age group, so I got this cool hat:
Vented with UPF 50!
I appreciate a good USEFUL award!
Communications and convenience: This race, and trip, was a breeze start to finish. Race social media is good - responsive Twitter, Instagram, Facebook - and emails have useful content, not just sales pitches for merchandise like Rock 'n Roll race emails. The race was easy as can be:
  • The early start kept temperatures cool(er)
  • Packet pickup is day before or race day, which is so nice for a big marathon; it's also right at the start/finish area so if you're traveling, you really only have one destination to think about.
  • Several hotels are within walking distance of the start, and the race offers a hotel booking service. I actually used this, since I registered really late, and the nearby hotels were all booked. Rooms that the race had booked were still available, so I used them to book a room in the Best Western less than a mile from the start. 
  • There are plenty of restaurants near the race for dinner the night before or lunch after.
  • The airport is close - it was a $16 Uber ride for me.
Etc.: The race might fill up, so register in a timely fashion. I think the half sold out and the full was at 95%+ filled. I noticed good security at the start, including bomb-sniffing dogs and sand-filled garbage trucks, which is nice to see in a race, but also means that you need to be aware of security requirements for bag drop (their clear bag only). Hotels near the start do fill up, although I think a further hotel and a quick Uber would be fine.

Overall, I had a very positive experience, and I'd even consider doing this race again, even though it's hardly nearby. If you get bitten by the Boston bug in the spring, or if your winter race didn't go as planned, it's a good choice to fit in a BQ race before it's too hot to marathon.