Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Enell Ambassador Race Recap & Review: Pittsburgh Half Marathon

Note: As an ENELL Racing Ambassador, I receive race entry fees and merchandise, but I genuinely love the brand. All opinions here are my own. 

Last month, I ran the Pittsburgh Half Marathon for the third time in a row- well, as long as you count running the full last year as running the half too! My first experience with Pittsburgh Marathon weekend was in 2014; I fell in love with the city, the people, and this race so Matthew and I have been traveling west every year to do it.

As you'll remember, we ran the 5k on Saturday morning. That afternoon, our running Ohana (Coach Jeff, Mandy, Lauren, Gloria, Chelsea, Lauren B., Kelsey, Kathleen, and some others) had dinner at Chelsea's house and talked about our race strategies. It would be Lauren's first full marathon (you can read about it here) so much of our conversation centered around last-minute tips for what was looking like a rainy, stormy race day.

After chatting for a while- and eating tons of food- Gloria, Matthew and I headed back to Steff and Joe's. Luckily for us, while Steff and Joe were out of town at Flying Pig race weekend, they let us stay at their house so we didn't have to get a hotel for the weekend- thanks, friends!

We laid out our clothes, discussed what time we'd be leaving in the morning, and then tried to get some sleep. Matthew and I had talked about what race he was going to run. He'd signed up for the marathon but because life gets in the way (hello, wedding planning), he wasn't trained the way he wanted to be. The great thing about Pittsburgh is that the full and half follow the same course until mile 11. So we planned to run miles 1-11 together and then depending on how he felt, Matthew would turn off to run 16 more miles and I'd head down to the finish. But, like most things, this didn't work out quite like we'd thought.

1. This Enell tank is AWESOME.
2. How perfect was the Dazzling Blue as "something blue" for my last race as a single lady?

Race morning, we drove into the city and parked fairly easily. Thankfully, Gloria is a Pittsburgh expert and helped us navigate the city streets and find a great parking garage. We headed to the hotel that had the VIP area (some of our running Ohana are fancy-pants and got the VIP package :-) ) and hung out in the lobby with some of our friends. The weather forecast was looking horrible- rain and storms off and on all day. As we headed out to the corrals, it was cloudy and humid but wasn't raining yet. Gloria, Matthew and I were all starting in the last corral (D) and though it was a bit of a cluster getting there- the road we were all walking on was somehow STILL OPEN to traffic (YIKES!)- we had no problem checking our bags and then finding a place to stand in the crowd. And then we found Kelsey! I love finding friends in the corral :-)

Race mornings are for friends. 
Don't you know? The party's always in the back of the pack!

As we were waiting to start, it started raining. And it was one of those cold, crappy rains. So Matthew and I huddled together as we shuffled towards the start line. Since my toe was still a little cranky (ingrown toenail issues), we were just going to take the race nice and slow. Our first few miles averaged around 11:30- 12 minute miles.

Around mile 4, we ran into Karen, our friend Brandi's mom. She asked us what intervals we were doing (30:30) and then asked if she could run with us for a while. This was Karen's ninth half marathon but only her second without Brandi by her side- Brandi was running for time at Pittsburgh so they were racing separately. So our running duo became a trio and we kept trucking along, albeit a little slower than we'd thought. Karen was struggling a little bit with the humidity and without having her usual running partner by her side.

A few miles later, Matthew let me know that he'd decided he wasn't going to turn off for the full. He said, "This was meant to be. We were meant to help Karen get to the finish line." So that became our new goal- get Karen to the finish line of her very first Pittsburgh half marathon. Karen is actually originally from Pittsburgh but now resides in Georgia. When we got to the bridge that is opposite "the point" around mile six, Momma K (Karen) says to us, "I've been dreaming of this moment!" I might have cried a little :-)

Check out that scenery.
So. Many. Bridges.

I absolutely LOVED running with my veil and the countdown on my back- "20 days til Mrs.!" Runners and spectators all along the course shouted out words of encouragement and even some marriage advice. My favorite was when another female runner shouted out to me, "You know what the best part of a wedding is?" I said, "What?" She said, "The marriage that comes after." I can't even type it without tearing up! It was so much fun- I'm even more convinced runners (and spectators) are the best people on the planet.

The miles ticked by and we tried to keep each other distracted from the rising heat and humidity. It had stopped raining halfway through the race but was very muggy. Gross! When we got to mile 10, Matthew insisted that we do a dance. It was pretty damn hilarious.

Maybe they're moon-walking?!

If you've ever run this course, then you know that just past the last bridge at mile 11, you begin a grueling, mile-long uphill. It completely sucks the energy out of you at a time when you're already pretty tired and your feet/legs are killing you. Well, this year, some heavenly spectator decided to station herself on the bridge with a huge sign that said "You've come this far! Now get the F up the hill!" Which is pretty funny on it's own but then, just past the sign, there were two more people handing out literal "F's" on small pieces of paper for runners to literally carry up the hill. Hands down, the most creative sign I've ever seen on a race course!

Clever :-)

After conquering the monster hill, we began our descent to the finish line. Just a few miles later, we crossed the finish line in three hours and some change (3:11) and officially earned the title "Runners of Steel." We grabbed some finisher's pictures and then headed through the chute to get our food. However, there was barely anything left. The same thing happened last year after the marathon- somehow this race ALWAYS runs out of food for the back of the pack. In fact, at mile nine, there was supposed to be Gu and some fruit chews but when we got there, there was nothing. Honestly, it is such crap- we finished well within the four-hour time limit and should have been entitled to the same food and course support as the first finishers. It is irritating to say the least. Anyway, we headed towards the finishers festival in Point Park to grab our bags, Steel Challenge medals, free beer, and then went back to the finish line to cheer for our friends running the full marathon.

Chelsea, Lauren, and Coach Jeff rounding the corner to the finish of Lauren's FIRST marathon!

After all our friends had finished and we were able to say our goodbyes, we walked with Coach Jeff back to the finisher's festival so he could pick up his bag. While there, we got to take some other cool pictures with some props that the Pittsburgh Marathon folks provided. This was new this year and I have to say, it was a pretty cool improvement.

How handsome is this finisher?!

Happy to be finished and to have found a cool background for yet another finisher pic ;-)

All in all, it was another successful Pittsburgh Marathon Weekend. Will we be back in 2017? Only time will tell. There are some other races that we are thinking about next spring and we may have to make some tough decisions regarding how often we'll be able to travel for out-of-town races- especially since we are headed back to Walt Disney World for Marathon Weekend 2017; Dopey for Matthew, full Marathon for me. We'll just have to wait and see if a return to Pittsburgh is in our future :-)

Steel Challenge (5k + half or full or relay) Finisher medals.

What's the best sign you've seen on a race course?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Race Recap & Review: Pittsburgh Marathon 5k

For the third year in a row, I ran the Pittsburgh Marathon 5k on April 30th this year. The Pittsburgh Marathon/Half Marathon is always on a Sunday and a few years ago, they started offering a 5k on Saturday morning.

Last year, Gloria and I ran this together as we both wanted to take it easy the day before the half. We had the same plan for this year- with the addition of Matthew! He wasn't able to make it for 2015 so I was super excited to have him join us for 2016. This race is a point to point- we started by PNC Park and finished near Point State Park, just a few miles away.

5k course map. Source.

It was down right cold the morning of the race- probably in the low 40's but because of the high humidity it felt MUCH cooler. I wore a sparkle skirt, short sleeved shirt, and a long sleeved throw-away shirt (that I actually kept on until after mile 1). We met up with all our running ohana and some other Pittsburgh friends, snapped a few pictures, and then Gloria, Matthew and I headed towards the back of the pack to wait for the race start. Our plan was to take the 5k slow and to really just enjoy the run.

Gloria, Matthew and me- freezing but ready to go!

Luckily for us, this course is pretty flat so it was easy to stick to our race plan. We took our time, averaging about 12-13 minute miles. I felt good the entire race- I knew I was under trained going into the weekend so I was grateful to feel great at a slower pace.

We grabbed selfies at each mile marker as we chatted and caught up on each other's lives; the miles flew by. One of the things I love about this course is the amount of spectators that come out for an early morning race- especially on a cold morning! There were tons of folks out holding signs, clapping and cheering, and giving out high fives. There's just an energy in Pittsburgh that's hard to describe but it makes for an awesome race-day atmosphere.

Gloria and Matthew crossing the lone bridge of the course. 
My favorite sign on the course :-)

We finished in 37:18, collected our medals and mini "Eat'n Park" cookies, and headed to the finish line festival to meet our running ohana. This year, as in past years, the 5k medal was a smaller replica of the marathon/half marathon medals. It's always a nice treat to get a medal for a 5k :-) Once everyone finished, we set out to find something to eat and ended up at Cherries Diner- this little hole-in-the-wall that had like 10 tables in it and one waitress. But the food was pretty awesome so I can't complain too much!

Pittsburgh swag is always pretty cool.

After we ate, a friend of mine from the internet (I know that sounds weird, but hear me out) came to meet us at the restaurant! Kelly (aka @curvyfitgirl) and I "met" through twitter and a shared interest of healthy living and Weight Watchers. It was so awesome to meet her in person- she is just as sweet and inspirational in real life as she is online! We got to spend some time together after breakfast, walking around the city and checking out the expo again. She fit right in with our ohana- she is super sweet and supportive; I'm so glad we finally got to meet in person!

Blogger + Friend = Blends

Pros of this race: mostly-flat course, lots of spectators, finisher's medal, finisher's cookies, and lots of runner support (water stops, medical aid, etc.).

Cons of this race: ....I got nothing. Seriously, this is an awesome little race!

Stay tuned for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon recap- coming soon!

Did you run Pittsburgh this year? If so, what'd you think? If not, what's your favorite 5k experience?

Friday, June 10, 2016

Product Review: CozyPhones

Hello, friends! I hope you are enjoying your Friday!

Before I start this product review, here are answers to some questions I've been asked lately:
  • Yes, the wedding was awesome! Matthew and I were surrounded in a cocoon of love from each other and family and friends and it was probably one of the funnest days of my life.
  • Yes, the honeymoon was amazing! Five nights in Disney, seven nights on a Disney Cruise, and one last night in the World was the most perfect start to our marriage. 
  • Yes, I'm sad to be home and back to reality! Monday was awful because I had to wear real pants for the first time in 16 days AND I didn't get an afternoon nap on the beach. #sadpanda

I promise to write tons more posts in the next few weeks including Pittsburgh Marathon Weekend recaps and a review of our fourth Disney Cruise on the Disney Fantasy- our first time on that ship.

In the meantime, I am excited to review a fun product today- CozyPhones! The folks at CozyPhones reached out to me a few weeks ago and sent me a set of their active/lycra headband headphones to review.

The headphones came with a black storage bag and an index card with fitting instructions. 

I was super pumped to try these out for a few reasons: 1. I have seen some similar products on the market but was skeptical of how well they would work so I hadn't bought any. 2. Even though I LOVE my Yurbuds for running, when I've been wearing them (or really any "in-your-ear" type of headphones for more than two hours, my ears start to hurt. As you know, I'm a back-of-the-pack runner so my long runs are frequently longer than two hours so I frequently have ear pain after long runs.

I've used CozyPhones for several activities- running, weight lifting, and to help me fall asleep at night while listening to guided meditation on YouTube :-) Overall, they are pretty cool for a number of reasons, some of which I've highlighted below.

Quality of Materials
These are really nicely made. They headband is super soft and stretchy and quite comfortable. The headphones are advertised as "non-tangle" and that is 100% accurate! The headphone cord is braided and doesn't "cling" to itself the way many other headphone cords do.

Sound Quality
Surprisingly, these headphones have decent sound quality. They are not as great as the Yurbuds I normally wear but I actually think I may prefer the Cozy Phones for outdoor running because you can still hear what's going on around you as you enjoy your playlist. In other words, they don't block out all other sound the way most headphones do. I think these are a bit safer than a traditional headphone for outdoor/road running.

In addition, though it looks like these headphones would "leak" sound, they totally didn't. I put them on, turned the volume up, and sat right next to Matthew- he couldn't hear a thing!

I really, really liked how the headphone cord ran down the back of the headband. It was really nice to work out without having to tuck the extra cord in my sports bra, LOL :-) Also, the actual headphones are these soft little disks that are adjustable within the headband. These were super comfortable for sleeping as I could lay on my side and not feel the headphones at all- not something you can do with traditional headphones.

These felt a bit loose to me. I would have preferred a tighter fit so the actual headphones were closer to my ear. While they didn't slip much while working out, I'm not sure how well they would stay where they are supposed to during a long run.

The headphone-disks inside the headband are easy to adjust but that also means that they have a tendency to move around while in use. This may be because the headband was a little loose but I'm not 100% sure.

Practical Use
Right now, for summer running, these aren't very practical. It's too hot to wear anything on your ears/head. However, I think these could be really awesome for fall/winter weather- they would act as two things in one: an ear warmer and a pair of headphones.

Overall, these are a cool product that I'm happy to add into my rotation of running stuff. To be honest, my favorite use of these headphones has been to help fall asleep at night. One of the most important (and often most neglected) factors of marathon training is getting quality sleep. I like to use guided meditation or other ambient noise (via YouTube) to help fall asleep and these headphones make it easier and more comfortable to do that.

Perfect for catching some Z's

What kind of headphones do you use for running, working out, sleeping, etc? Have you ever used headphones to help you sleep?

Disclaimer: CozyPhones provided me with a set of headphones to review on this blog. I did not receive compensation in exchange for this review. As always, all opinions are on my own.