Monday, May 15, 2017

Two Tunnels Hilly Half Marathon

Back when I had my burned and couldn't run, I started researching half marathons in England. I needed a goal to get me motivated to start running again once the doctor cleared me. I came across the Two Tunnels Hilly Half Marathon in Bath, England. Bath was on my list and the description was intriguing to me.   The description was that you run through old train tunnels and then have the option to return back through the train tunnels or to go up and over and return on the hills.  Jamison encouraged me to do the race as he said, "Jen, you can't do something like this in Texas." He also encouraged me to run the hills for not only the challenge but to see the city.  I am so glad he did. Turns out to run just the tunnels you had to go out and back twice on the same route.

In the last few weeks I mentioned to some people over here that I was running in Bath. I heard comments like, "do you know how hilly Bath is?" "Have you seen the hills in Bath?"  "Wow, the hills in Bath."  Even the announcer at the start of the race said, "So, you are the brave ones?"  I must admit that I was a little nervous about the hills. As we drove into town, there were signs that on the road that said, "Caution 12% grade."  Surely these weren't the hills that they would put us on.

As Sunday morning rolled around and Jamison was asking me projected finish time, I told him 2 hours. I wasn't sure about the hills, I was doing this for experience and also, I was giving myself permission to walk as needed. Great idea. The one thing I didn't know going into the race was that the middle 7 miles were TRAIL racing!  Also, the paths we were on were open to the public.  At least I had some realistic expectations on time.  We have been telling the kids since we arrived in England, "think of this as an adventure." That's the view I took of the race.

The race started off as promised through three miles of old train tunnels. It was dark. It was quiet. It was a bit eerie as bikes came towards you!  Upon exit of the tunnels, I took a hard right into a narrow, one lane road and faced some oncoming cars, turned back under the bridge to a soggy path. It wasn't quite mud but it wasn't hard packed dirt either.  Surprise - it's also a trail run.  We went through so many gates and turns.  The brush was overgrown in places, in parts you couldn't see the path, the trail was marked by white ribbons tied in the trees and an occasional small yellow sign.  We quite literally ran the hills on foot, through pastures that at one point didn't have a path. I got bit by bugs.  I got stung by stinging nettle.  It was beautiful. It was fun.

As we turned into around mile 5 (there were no mile markers and my GPS lost signal during the tunnels), we started up the hill that the course was named for. I would love to say I ran all of it, but even "running" I was barely moving. My favorite part of the whole day was when an ultramarathoner caught me and said, "the key to these races it knowing when to walk. Start walking."  He was walking faster than my attempt to run.  I thought to myself, "Jen, you aren't in Texas anymore. Enjoy this." I also thought, "I'm definitely earning my medal today."

Past that point I couldn't' see anyone in front of me and eventually made a wrong turn adding about .25 mile to my day and ended up climbing a small fence to get back on course.I took a moment to stop and enjoy the view since I was off path. It was gorgeous. I was mad at myself for not taking a camera.  Eventually I came to a course marshal - at least I knew I was going in the right direction. She pointed me left.  I took a look, there was a small tunnel that had water running through it and stepping stones. You couldn't see the start or end of either stone and the marshal had laid glow sticks for you to aim for.  I wasn't running or even walking through this. I shuffled along so I could feel the edge of the stone. I couldn't see anything other than the glowsticks.  That was a new adventure for me.  

As with England, the weather turned on a dime.  During the time on the trail it went from sunny, to cloudy, to rainy, to steamy and back again to sunny.

Eventually the path merged back to where we got on and it was 3 miles back through the tunnels.  I had even footing at this point and found myself in a great rhythm all the way to the end.  Hope ended up running the last bit in with me as I came back across the field.

As my buddy Derek Bailey would say, it was epic.
Jamison asked if I would do it again and the answer is absolutely yes. 
Fun Day, even if I did have to sport the glasses due to pink eye.

You can sort of see the hills in the background.  Best support crew ever.

Saturday, May 13, 2017


Road trip - it's our goal to explore England as much as we can.  On my short list of places to visit was Bath. It was fabulous. We all really enjoyed our time in the city.  Here are some highlights.

The Pulteney Bridge.  It was completed in 1774 and is one of the few bridges that has a roadway and shops lining both sides of the bridge.
Pulteney Bridge
Overlooking the hills of Bath. It was a beautiful view.
Overlooking the countryside
Below is the Bath Abbey. It is still a functioning Anglican church and it was formerly a Benedictine monastery.  It is a Medieval church with a Gothic interior.
Bath Abbey

Perhaps the reason everyone comes to Bath - to see the Roman baths.  They are formed around a natural hot spring, the only one in England and date back to 70 AD. When we looked at a map of where Rome is compared to Bath, England, it was amazing.  Neither Jamison or I comprehended how far the Roman empire extended.  The baths were used as a bathing house and for socializing. It is one of the best preserved Roman remains in the world.  The water is not appealing to look at. The kids touched it to feel the warmth, but it is definitely not something I would want to get in.

Roman Baths

Feeling the HOT water

As with all countries, we like to try something local.Thank you Rick Steves for our suggestions on local things to try. He recommended Sally Lunn Buns. Sally was a French refugee who found employment with a baker. She introduced him to different types of buns. This one is supposed to be part cake, part bun, part bread. It tasted like just a bun to us, but we tried it.

During our city tour, we walked past the Fudge Shop and they were making homemade fudge in the window and offering free samples outside.  We decided that we must go in! I also may or may not have bribed the kids with a piece of fudge for going on the walking tour of Bath. Which, is fascinating and our tour guide was great. He gave us all the scandalous details and told us when to cover the children's ears.  Apparently there was quite the gambling scene in Bath at one time and stories of temple prostitutes that reminded me of some Biblical stories. The bishops came in on the latter and got it cleaned up for a price.  I believe he said the money went to restore the Abbey. Anyhow...the kids got some fudge for enduring the walk.
The Fudge Shop - decisions!
The second day in Bath,  the kids and Jamison wandered back into town while they were waiting to meet me after the race.  Apparently there was a fantastic coffee shop Jamison wanted to try out and it did not disappoint.  Plus, they found a park!

by the train station

Bath did not disappoint. It will be worth a visit back in the future!

Grayson and the Weather

It's Spring in England, which means a nice high temperature of 61 degrees....which equates to winter in my books.  Today it was 59 degrees as we were getting ready for one of our outings to Explore England. I mentioned to Grayson that he might want to put on some long pants rather than shorts for the day.

He said, "Mom, it's perfectly warm outside."

To which Michaela quickly retorted, "You aren't a true Texan if you don't know what warm is."

Grayson's body temperature may be adjusting, but the rest of us are still freezing!

(do note in following posts though that he did put on a fleece jacket and at times he had the hood up....could it be that he was chilly?)

Saturday, May 6, 2017


Sunny days mean exploring in England. I have a list of places we are working through. Assia had mention the the castle in Arundel so we decided to try it out. Of course, Michaela wanted to know if this was the same castle where Elsa and Anna lived.  Made me smile.

A bit of history from wikipedia:
Arundel Castle is a restored and remodelled medieval castle in ArundelWest Sussex, England. It was established by Roger de Montgomery on Christmas Day 1068.[1] Roger became the first to hold the earldom of Arundel by the graces of William the Conqueror. The castle was damaged in the English Civil War and then restored in the 18th and 19th centuries.[2]
From the 11th century, the castle has served as a home and has been in the ownership of the family of the Duke of Norfolk for over 400 years. It is the principal seat of the Norfolk family

This was perhaps one of the best castles we have seen. One of the kids put it this way, "this is what a castle is supposed to look like.  There was a chapel on grounds, that was more like a mausoleum to me, gardens where the tulips were in bloom, gardens where vegetables were grown for the family that still lives there. There was even a section of the castle that was original that we climbed up and inside they had narration going on of how they defended the castle, how cold it got, different types of ammunition they used. It was an enjoyable day out.

Token climbing picture. If there are stairs to be found, the kids are climbing. 

The chapel in the background.

Enjoying the garden.
 In the garden was a cool section of trees that would make a GREAT hideout if you lived there. The kids enjoyed not only hiding in this section, but climbing the trees.

Somedays I can't believe that Michaela is almost 7.  Other days I look in the backseat and see her asleep with her lovie and I remember that she is still very little.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Mt. St. Charleston Half Marathon

 Race Day! We were up bright and early to be bussed up the mountain, well, halfway up the mountain for those of us running the half marathon. The view was absolutely stunning.  As we were running down the song, "Oh Lord, Oh Lord how majestic is your name in all of the earth" kept running through my head.  Breathtaking. Stunning.

We couldn't have asked for better weather. Maybe a little less wind, but otherwise perfect race conditions. I can't complain too much about the wind, because for the majority of the race it was at our backs and carrying me. So, combine that with a downhill course and it was a day to fly, and fly we did.

On the bus watching the sun rise over Mount St. Charleston

Around mile 7 - mountain pulling me, wind pushing me. I love that I look like I am flying.
At mile 13, you turned the corner, headed into the 20 mph gusts and sprinted it out. Tuck head and run, which is why my head is down in this finishing line picture.

Four minute PR at 1:36:20 which guarantees entry into New York marathon 2018. I started yelling and screaming at the finish line, "we are going to New York."   Mayra and I were aiming for it and both needed a 1:37 to achieve it. She crushed the course at a 1:34.  

Many of our team PR'd the course. Here is the first four to come through with a PR.

Mayra, Jen, Jon and Penny (14 min PR - winner of the day)
We changed clothes and went back out on the course to cheer on our full marathon buddies.  It was fun to run Kim in her final mile and a half. Everyone keeps asking me why I was smiling in the picture. My response, "because I was smart enough to run the half."  

Downhill kills your calves and quads....helping Kim work it out.


Union Jack shoes - present from Jamison to wear at the race.

We finished the afternoon off with a pedicure.

The last fun thing happened that night.  We learned that the Volte half marathon team placed 5th overall. What was more exciting is that we were the first all female team!

Happy Trails until we meet again....New York bound.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Happy 40th Kim!

One of my dear friends and running partner, Kim Hamilton, turned 40! For a year we have been planning what to do...of course, what do runners do? We run. What better way to ring in 40 than to run a race. After much deliberation, we chose to run Mt. St. Charleston just outside of Vegas.  While we all planned on running the full marathon, given the move and my burn, I signed up for the half,  As things would go, my Woodlands running group, Volte decided to run as well. I got to see all of my running buddies in one fantastic, or as Derek Bailey would say, epic weekend. We had a blast. The weather was perfect, the course was fantastic, the company was great.

For day 1 we ventured into the Vegas strip.  I have always wanted to see it and am glad I went, however, after an hour I was done. It's a lifestyle that I really don't partake in.  In fact, I left there feeling sad at the emptiness of it. Mary made the comment, "it's a false paradise" and I think she nailed it. There were so many girls I wanted to walk up to and say, "you are more valuable than this.  You are worth more."  However, I digress.

the Venetian watching the gondolas

outside the Venetian
We woke up on day 2 to Kim's actual birthday. First order of business, CAKE!  You can't have a birthday without some sort of cake. We found the Cupcakery and got some cupcakes to celebrate.

When we tested our bibs at the Expo, the line of Kim's said, "Happy Birthday!"

look closely at the bottom line

At packet pickup I captured Mayra looking at her bib for the first time. Bill was able to get her bib name switched to say, "Venezuela" which is her home country. She has been greatly concerned about all of the political unrest in the country and spent the weekend praying for her country. It was overwhelming for her to run with the country name on her bib.

Team Photos - missing Hope, Alan and Leti.

After the Expo we decided to drive the course and enjoy the view on Mt. St. Charleston.  I love the mountains.

See that mountain over there, tomorrow I'm going to run it.

Sonia, Jen, Kim, Mayra, Tammy and Marta

At the top, marathon start line
Sonia, Jen, Kim, Mayra, Tom, Tammy, Marta and Juan