Monday, April 13, 2015

Rock the Parkway Half-Marathon: A Review

I ran my 3rd half-marathon last Saturday, at Kansas City's 6th Annual Rock the Parkway…one of the fastest growing half-marathons in the area.

And if I'd just been brazen enough to wet my pants…I would have smashed my previous record of running a half.

Darned bladder the size of a pea.

Darned long lines at the port-a-potty.

Darned peeps in front of me in line who took FOOOORRRREEEEVVVVEEEEERRRR themselves.

Let's back up, though, shall we???

So…Rock the Parkway…let's talk about it.

A year ago, Hubby and I ran the 5k at Rock the Parkway…which was one of my first, ever, official races…and I remember I about died, trying to complete a 3.1-mile run. I wanted to puke afterwards. What a difference a year makes…because here I was, attempting my 3rd half-marathon, 13.1 miles, in less than a year. And let me be honest - even after having ran two previous halfs, I was by no means confident that I could pull this off. Not at all. My anxiety and nervousness knew no bounds, as I knew that my training the last few weeks had fallen far short of where it should have been - what with my bum knee and my insane travel schedule.

Saturday, I woke up at 5:25 a.m. in order to begin the process of getting dressed. The night before, I had laid out "Flat Me" to look like this:

However, when I checked the temperatures, they were a tad bit chillier than I had expected…so I ended up throwing on a base layer underneath the shirt (which I would regret later, as I got WAY too hot during the race), and a pair of running capris under my skirt (which I never regret, as they're like a second skin). I also threw on a "throwaway" Mickey Mouse sweatshirt at the last minute, which would keep me warm before the race began, but could easily be discarded along the side of the road when needed.

I'd packed my Fitletic Running Belt (which is pretty awesome, by the way) with not one, not two, but THREE GU energy gels, along with some eye drops, chapstick, Ibuprofen, and a hankie. Energy gels are a no-brainer: my plan was to suck down a GU every 3-4 miles for extra energy, as this has worked great for me in previous long runs. My contact lenses demand that I run with eye drops, as the least bit of wind will dry my eyes out like the Sahara Desert - gah. The Ibuprofen was there in case my knee (or any other part of my body, for that matter) decided to throw a fit during the run…and the hankie is because my nose sometimes decides to run just as much as my legs. Nothing can be more distracting, to me, anyway, than having a runny nose when you're trying to focus on running a race.

So, once Hubby and I were packed, we hopped in the car and drove to the Starting Line, which was located at 9400 Ward Parkway in Kansas City, Missouri (a good 23 miles from our house). A good majority of the race would take place on Ward Parkway, a wide tree-lined boulevard that has some awesome homes, fountains and scenery along the route…hence the name of the race, "Rock the Parkway."

This was the 6th year for Rock the Parkway, and it had sold out with 7,000 half-marathoners for Saturday's race. There were an additional 1,400 runners signed up for the 5k, which is what we had participated in last year. There is a staggered start for the race - the 5k runners start 30 minutes after the half-marathoners - which is nice, leading to less congestion at the start line.

We had no problem parking, choosing to park in a local high school's parking lot that was within yards of the starting line. There's lots of other parking lots nearby, as well as tons of side streets that offer available parking. As soon as we parked, I immediately texted my BRB (Best Running Buddy), Kristin, to see if she had arrived yet. She immediately texted back, "I just parked at Rockhurst High School. Plenty of parking here." How funny - that's where WE were parked at, and after glancing around the parking lot, I found Kristin about one row away from us.

Kristin and I, pre-race, in our throwaway sweatshirts…

We made our way to the starting area, where we hooked up with our running group, KC Endurance. My Beast of a Trainer, Jessica, was there, and she gave me some last-minute strategy and advice on how to tackle the race…as well as calming my nerves. KC Endurance had an awesome tent set up, so it was the perfect place to drop my Mickey Mouse sweatshirt - he will live to see another race!!!

I went for a last-minute visit to the port-a-potty, hoping it would be my last trip of the morning…little did I know that all of the water I'd been drinking for the days leading up to this race would come back to bite me.

Soon, it was time to head over to the corrals…RTP is a wave-start, and you're placed in a wave when you submit an estimated finish time when registering. I was back in Corral F, while Hubby was in B…so after kissing him goodbye, I made my way back. Along the way, I ran into Dana, another Running Buddy that I met first on Facebook, and then "in real life."

Too bad Bruce had his eyes closed…!!

All too soon, the race started, although it was a good 10 minutes or so before my corral actually got close enough to cross the timing mat at the start line. A quick flip of the Garmin watch, as well as a quick flip of the tunes on my iPhone, and I was off.

I'd only gone a few feet when I realized I was running with the 2:30 pace group…and I was immediately faced with a decision. My goal was to either tie - or beat - my time from the KC Half Marathon last October, which was 2:43. I had planned to run with the 2:40 pace group, but seeing the 2:30 pace group right in front of me, I quickly decided to hang with them for awhile, and if forced, I could always drop back and pick up the 2:40 group behind me. I wasn't sure how fast the 2:30 group would be going, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to "test the waters" for a mile or two, and then decide a final course of action.

The first couple of miles of the race are a long, gradual incline heading north on Ward Parkway…and I was having no problems at all running with the 2:30 group. Having ran with the Smart Pace Teams before, I knew what their strategy would be: they'll run a bit slower in the beginning of the race, walk through the water/aid stations, go really, really slow uphill, and go like hell downhill.

I could do that.

My only concern was my knee…and wondering how long it would take before it started hurting…and how much it would slow me down. Little did I know that it wouldn't be my KNEE that slowed me down…grrrrr….

So…I ran. And I ran. And I ran. Pretty much ran the entire first 4 miles straight, with no walk breaks - except for a brief walk through the first water station at Mile 2 - but at a pretty slow pace, considering it was all uphill. And I felt pretty strong…slammed down a GU gel at around the 4-mile mark, and grabbing water and Gatorade at the water stations. The Gatorade was for sipping; the water was for splashing on my face to keep me cool. And the 2:30 Pace Group was right there beside me the entire time, and I was starting to think that I could possibly, just possibly, shatter my personal record.

And then…disaster struck.

**insert ominous music here**

I had to pee.

As in…I had to really, REALLY pee…and it wasn't going to wait. Like, I had reverted back to being a newly potty-trained toddler and needed to go NOW. It didn't help that I had just passed the beautiful Meyer Circle Fountain at Mile 4, and the water was gurgling and bubbling and doing crazy things with my mind:


Frantically, I began looking for the nearest port-a-potty, and right around Mile 5, I saw a blessed sight: five little potties in a row. That was the good news. The bad news? A line of about 12 runners, waiting impatiently for those potties.


Having no choice, really, I ran over and joined the line…and then began waiting. And waiting. And waiting. We waited SOOOOOOOOO long that I seriously started thinking that the potties were empty, and we were being punk'd by some sadistic a$$hole. Minutes went by…precious minutes that I was losing on the clock, and I could see that 2:30 Pace Group disappearing off into the distance…a long-gone forgotten memory by now.


Finally, FINALLY, people began emerging from the potties, so the line began moving…but alas. By the time I hurriedly took care of business, I emerged and hopped back into the race in a sort of "No Man's Land" - not seeing any Pace Groups in front of me, nor behind me. I had no idea how much time I'd lost in that little venture, but I knew it had been over five minutes.

I should have just peed my pants. They were black. Who would know??

Okay. I kid. I would know. And that would be one too many people as it was.


Back to the race…the rest of it is sort of a blur. I knew we ran uphill…and uphill…and uphill…a lot. I know we didn't run downhill all that much, which kinda' pissed me off. But, knowing that running is 90% mental, I'd quickly try to squash the negative thoughts, so that I wouldn't sabotage my efforts. And it was getting hotter by the minute, so I was regretting that base layer I had on under my t-shirt. If I hadn't paid $99 for that base layer, it would have been stripped off and thrown away. But $99? No way, no how. I'd melt before I'd throw that sucker away.

One of my friends, Mary, lives along the route, and at a party the night before, had told me she'd be out looking for me to run by. Sure enough, I saw her standing on a street corner, anxiously peering through the crowd of runners parading by her, so I shouted and gave her a quick, sweaty hug - after first posing for an awesome photo, that is:

Do you see that girl with the dark blue top/purple sriped skirt to the front of me? I followed the girl the whole time - and I totally lusted after that skirt. It was pretty awesome. I. WANT. THAT. SKIRT.

Speaking of skirts…I got a lot of compliments and thumbs-up from fellow ladies on my own skirt. Which tickled me to no end, because as I always say - I may not be the fastest runner on the course, but I'll certainly be one of the most fashionable. Priorities, people.

Somewhere between Mile 5 and Mile 6, I came across a sofa…sitting in the middle of the road, really…with a table beside it and a giant sign: "Beer Stop." And on the table were little cups of beer. For the taking. Wha?? Was this legit? Apparently, this is a tradition that some mysterious benefactors do every year, but it doesn't take long for our local police department to find this little hidden gem and shut it down. Darn.

Soon, we were running through the mansions…the houses that are 10,000+ square feet that I can only dream of…I was swinging my head back and forth, overwhelmed by the house porn that was on either side of me, when I stepped in a pothole and rolled my ankle. Crap. That's going to hurt. Fortunately, another water stop was on the horizon, so I quickly downed one of those emergency Ibuprofen. Thank God for modern drugs.

Telling myself to quit paying attention to the houses, and pay more attention to the road in front of me, I carried on. Soon, I had passed Mile 7, and as I was rounding Loose Park, I looked up…and up…and up. There, in front of me, was a monster of a hill, that seemed to go on forever. Jeremy, our KC Endurance guru, had warned us about The Hill in his pre-race pep talk, telling us to not go all out on this, because this wouldn't be the last hill of the race…there were more. Crap. Well, he needn't have worried about me going all out on this…I was getting hot. And my legs were getting a bit tired.

And my lower back was starting to hurt.

As in, major pain. Like, I want to cry, pain. What the hell was this???!! This was new. This was unexpected. And this was not good. I still had 6 more miles to run, and I couldn't be dealing with a sore back.

Time to push on.

As I was somewhat slowly trudging up The Hill, I heard someone yelling my name, and I looked over to see another friend, Kathi, making her way up The Hill. Kathi's a Red Cross buddy of mine, and a fellow running fanatic. We chatted for awhile, more to take our minds off The Hill than anything, and soon I was taking off, hoping to get to the next water station at the Mile 8.4 Mark, so I could down another GU and another Ibuprofen.

Gah, I sound like a junkie.

Miles 9 - 11, I don't remember much, although I know the crowd support along the sidewalks was incredible. So many people, with so many amazing signs. Some were encouraging, some were motivating, and some were downright funny. "Smile if you've peed a little" - duh. I broke out in a HUGE smile.

Taken somewhere after Mile 8.4, because I'm down to my last GU in my belt…I'm amazed at my detective skills here….

Around Mile 12, I knew that a downhill was coming - soon - and I broke into a bit of a happy dance:

Wheeeeee!!!! I'm flying!!!

I also knew that I was going to be close - but it was possible to set a PR (personal record). Even more happy dance. Although my back felt like a thousand needles were being stuck in it, so I couldn't do the happy dance TOO much. It was agony just to move at this point.

Soon, I was running the last mile - a long, downhill stretch - that took me to the raucous finish line:

Pointing to my Angel in the Sky, my Dad...

My official time?


I HAD DONE IT!!! I'd shaved three minutes off my time from last October, and if I hadn't had to wait so darned long in the potty line, who KNOWS what time I'd had??!!

I was happy. Deliriously happy.

And looking for Hubby in a sea of 8,000 runners and 10,000 family and friends…it was a moving mass of humanity as I made my wait to get my medal and banana.

Hubby and I…with our bling. He found me, fortunately, as I would NEVER have found him in the mass of people...

So, I rocked the Parkway. #3 under my belt.

Woot! Woot!!

Happy dance, people!!! Happy dance!!!

Post-Race Thoughts:

Race Bling:

The Half Marathon shirt (different than the 5k shirt) is a royal blue tech shirt, and came in a men's or women's cut. The mesh sleeves are a nice touch.

It's pretty awesome, and will likely become one of my favorite shirts.

The back of the shirt:

I rocked it, indeed….

The medal is nice and solid, as well as heavy. A decorated ribbon is a nice touch:

Course Support:

Amazing. Lots of police presence at intersections, lots of volunteers at the water stations, and lots of people to cheer and yell on the sidelines. Couldn't ask for better support.

Race Organization:

The Kansas City Running Company sponsors this race, and they are truly the pros when it comes to organization. They know how to do it - and they do it right.

As for me, my only concern after this race is my back…what was causing it? And how can I prevent this in the future? Unsettling, to say the least - but certainly something I need to explore as I continue with my running adventures.

As far as Rock the Parkway goes - I would definitely do this race again. And maybe, just maybe, hold my pee.



Thursday, April 9, 2015

Chillin' in Jamaica: No Worries, Mon

Sunset in Montego Bay

Slow down.


No worries.

The culture in Jamaica moves at a much slower pace than it does in the United States, and as our work team has learned over the years, it's important to embrace that culture.

As I mentioned in yesterday's post about the work, we DO work. And we work hard. We work very long days, trying to see as many patients as we can possibly fit in, as we don't want to have to turn anyone away from the clinic. With that said, however, it's also important to take some time to just chill…relax…recharge the batteries, so to speak.

Our team is based in Falmouth, which if you look at the map below, you'll find it on the north central coast of the island. We're not quite halfway between Montego Bay (to the west) and Ochos Rios (to the east.)

In 2009, when I first visited Falmouth, it was a sleepy little village with not much going on, recreationally. We thought that would all change when the mega-cruise ship company, Royal Caribbean, built a HUGE pier in order to dock their two largest ships (which happen to be the 2 largest ships in the world, to date) in Falmouth. They chose Falmouth simply because the water there was deep enough to accommodate their ships. However, it soon became evident that although the ships still dock at the pier, the officials in Falmouth still haven't quite figured out what to do with the thousands of passengers that dump into their town every week. Soooooo…a lot of passengers don't even bother anymore getting off the ship while in Falmouth…which is too bad. I'll show you what WE do to chill out…

One of the best things to do is to raft down the Martha Brae River, which is truly a unique experience. Where else do you get to board a 30-foot long bamboo raft, and be guided down a 3-mile stretch of a gorgeous, green river by a local Jamaican raft captain?? Supposedly, HRH Queen of England II herself has done this, so it must be royally fun, right??!!

The first time I did this was on my first trip, back in 2009. At some point along the river, the raft captain will give you the opportunity to guide the boat - and I must be the worst captain in the world, because I found it kinda' difficult.


When I went back in 2010, I vowed that I would be much better, but I still sorta' sucked:


Last year was no better:


At some point last year, I just gave up and enjoyed the ride with my buddy, Kristin:

Before the ride, you can indulge in some wonderful rum punch…good stuff:

Indulging in 2010…these ladies are still going every year on the trip, as well...

In 2014, I'm just making sure the punch is as good as before…it was.

Some times, just a nice walk around Falmouth can be relaxing…for the past couple of years, we love to walk down around the pier and the local fishing village:

Me in 2010…the fisherman are always happy to share their catch with you for a photo...

This was from 2014…I hope to God those aren't the same fish I'm holding.

Scenes from this year's visit to the fishing village:

On days when the cruise ship is in town, you'll get a different view:

Sometimes, we'll take a 5-minute walk into the center of town…either to pick up some cold Red Stripe beer, or other delights:

From 2014…a rum-filled coconut…yum.

This year, for a WHOLE $1, I got a boot-legged copy of "Cinderella" from a guy on the street…shhhhhhh….don't tell anyone…and note I'm wearing the SAME shirt this year as I was wearing in 2014. I obviously have wardrobe limitations…!!

Every year, we'll take an afternoon and head east to Ochos Rios for some shopping…along the way, though, we always make a pilgrimage to Columbus Park, an open air museum with some stunning scenery:

This year, I was "King of the World"…!!!

Last year, I was just demure on the bow of the same ship…

In 2010, I found myself in Jamaican jail. Okay, not really - this is actually a cage used to hold bananas so they could be weighed, or "tallied"…as in the famous song, "Come, Mr. Tally Man, Tally Me Bananas…"

It's 2015, and I find myself still in the same jail...

I've totally become addicted to the television series, "Black Sails," so anything related to pirates is really, really cool:

Sometimes, all we need is a good restaurant to chill out…and there are several in the area. We like to hang out at the Chill Out Bar, Scotchies (for good jerk chicken & pork), and the ever-popular and ever-touristy Margaritaville.

Last year, we visited the Ochos Rios location of Margaritaville...

This year, we visited the Montego Bay location...

So…there you go. Lots of ways to relax in Jamaica and live the Bob Marley dream of "no worries."



Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Jamaica Jammin': The Medical & Dental Clinic

My blog has been a bit neglected lately - but no worries, mon….

I've been in Jamaica - for my annual dental/medical clinic mission trip, and as Bob Marley says, "every little thing is gonna' be alright."

Pardon me if I throw more Bob Marley at you, because he's pretty much STUCK IN MY BRAIN - and has been for the past week. Don't get me wrong - I LOVE Bob Marley…but 24 hours a day, pretty much, for seven days in a row…gah. Over and over and over and over again…Jamaica LOVES to play their beloved Bob Marley at every opportunity, and so I'm soon headed to a Bob Marley detox program to get him OUT OF MY HEAD.

Until then, I'm not going to worry about a thing…cuz every little thing is gonna' be all right.



The trip. Let's talk about the trip.

Today, I want to talk about the work, because, really, that's why we go. The work.

The team this year consisted of approximately twelve people…and Jesus.

Well, in full disclosure, that's not REALLY Jesus, duh, but that's what some of the local Jamaicans called him. I guess he sorta' bears a resemblance. He's actually a nurse, so in a way, he DOES heal…right?

A doctor, a dentist, nurses, and a dental assistant and hygienist…and the pharmacist. I can't forget the pharmacist, because #1. she's very important, and #2. she's reading this, so she'd kill me if I forgot to mention her, and so that's why I threw in the part about her being very important. She's my roommate when I go on these trips, so I gotta' do what I gotta' do to keep her happy, or there could be hell to pay next year. Snicker.

Anyway…here's a photo of the pharmacist and I from LAST year's trip:

We pretty much look the same THIS year, so no worries.

Ack. More Bob. Sorry.

After we've gathered our medical professionals, we head to a small clinic located in Falmouth, Jamaica…on the northern side of the island, midway between Montego Bay and Ochos Rios:

I managed to find a pretty cool (and short) tour of the clinic on YouTube that another team did…it will give you a walk-through of the facilities with good explanations of what goes on in each room:

Tour of the Clinic on YouTube

In case you don't want to watch the video (and really, you should…#1. it's a great tour, and #2. it's short. Win-win.) here's a quick photo tour of the clinic:

Intake Room/Triage Area…height, weight, vitals are checked here...

The patients are then moved to the Waiting area:

They are then assigned to either one of these three examination rooms for medical treatment:

…or they go back to the Dental clinic:

Their last stop, if necessary, is the Pharmacy, where they can pick up antibiotics or diabetes medications:

As you can see, it's pretty basic. The equipment is basic, as a lot of it has been donated by previous medical teams, but we do what we can with what we have. Once you've worked here, you get a HUGE appreciation for medical services back in the States…trust me.

We usually open the clinic around 7:30 or so each morning…and by the time we arrive, there will be dozens and dozens of Jamaicans lined up on the outside porch, as it's a first-come, first-served operation. Some of the patients will tell us that they arrived at the clinic as early as 5:00 a.m. in the morning to insure that they were seen. Wow. I can't even imagine.

It's not a free clinic. Oh, our services are free - we donate them - but the local church who runs the clinic charges small fees to the patient to pay for the water, electricity and taxes on the building. This is a snapshot of the fees from last year; rumor has it that the fees were increased this year, but I didn't get to take a photo to confirm:

Keep in mind that this sign is in Jamaican currency…divide the numbers by 100 and you'll get a fair idea of the costs…$3 for an office visit, $10 to pull a tooth, etc.

When the patient arrives, they are met in a Triage area, where our nurses do a quick intake - obtaining their chief complaint, their vitals, and medication allergies. They're then directed into one of the examining rooms to be seen by a physician or nurse, or back to the dental clinic for a cleaning, filling or extraction. We knew we were in for an extraction when a patient complained of the "shaky teeth" - which meant that a tooth was really, really loose and needed to come out. We love shaky teeth. They come out quick and clean. It's when a tooth needs to come out and it's imbedded that can lead to loads of fun. Not. There was a gentleman, Bunny, who took over 2 hours to get a tooth out. Yowza. Bunny wasn't so hoppy when he left, poor guy.

As far as the medical team, their biggest population are folks who come in complaining of "the sugar" or the "pressure" - i.e., diabetes or high blood pressure. When you see the diet that some of these folks have (and I'll be doing a post on that later), you really see why they have medical conditions. Eep. The diet is horrible.


We'll see as many patients as we can until we break for lunch, usually around noon…and after a quick bite to eat, we're back to work until 5:00 pm or so. However, there was one evening this year when the dental clinic stayed open late, not finishing up until 9:00 pm. I was beat.

Some have asked what it is that I do, in particular, as I'm NOT a medical professional. Well, I assist in the Dental clinic…my primary job is to sterilize and sort the tools and instruments, but I also comfort patients, entertain children, assemble the dental goodie bags, keep the music playing so everyone can relax, and take photographs of everyone so we have a record of what we did.

Here's a photo of my area, which shows the Autoclave (pressure chamber) that I use for sterilization, although I like to call it the Easy Bake Oven:

I swear I'm going to put a cake mix in that thing one of these days, just to see what would happen.

Here's a photo from last year of me at work…and again, I pretty much look the same this year (even the same scrubs), so it will give you an idea of what I do:

Here are some photos of the folks hard at work during the week, along with some of our AWESOME patients:

Our dentist, Pam and her assistant, Trish, would either pull or fill the teeth...

Our hygienist, Mary K, calming the fears of a young patient before a cleaning…

The Pink Sunglasses provided great eye protection for our patients…as well as a few smiles and giggles...

There's not one, but TWO air-conditioner units in the dental clinic, and Pam and Trish like to use them to their full advantage. I swear that the temperature every day was 50 degrees in that clinic; I not only froze, but our patients would chill up with "the bumps" (goosebumps) when they walked in. We managed to get our hands on some blankets, and I spent a lot of time draping the patients in them so they wouldn't get the bumps. I think I had a permanent case of the bumps before the trip was over; I DO know that I got a terrible cold during the week.

I mentioned music earlier…I brought a Bluetooth speaker this year, and played music in the clinic for everyone's enjoyment. It became increasingly evident that Bob Marley was much more popular with the Jamaicans than, say, Eric Clapton or the Moody Blues. Go figure. So, when we had a particularly nervous patient in the clinic, I'd pop in Bob and we'd be jammin'. Toes would be tappin', and some patients sang along - all while dental tools and dentist hands were in their mouth. No worries.

The hours were long, the work was hard, but the smiles and hugs were what made it all worthwhile. Sleep was easy to come by at night, when you're exhausted…although for some strange reason, my dreams were jammin' to Bob Marley all night long.