Race review: Muscat Marathon 2018 half marathon

Running along the sea during the Muscat Marathon 2018 half marathon

Last month I ran the Muscat Marathon half-marathon, mentioned here, and it was a fun race. I like to write race reviews mostly for my own benefit; they’re fun to go back and read later, but, who knows, I might actually be helping someone that’s considering running the race. If you don’t give a shit about running (and who can blame you) you might not want to waste your time reading this.

The race was run on January 19, 2018 and race registration closed on December 1, 2017. I thought that was a little odd, as it’s almost a two month gap, which is more than enough time to train for a 10 k or, if you’ve got a good running base, a half marathon. The half cost about $65, so is was pricey but nothing too crazy if you’re used to US prices.

The race date was Friday morning (the workweek here is Sunday to Thursday) and packet pick-up was Monday-Wednesday before the race. There was no morning-of packet pick-up. I wish I’d taken a picture of the packet pick-up. It was a huge tent full of tables and volunteers, but hardly any runners were there. I don’t know when people picked up their packets, but it definitely wasn’t 6:30 pm on Wednesday. The guy who gave me my race bib and stuff told me my shirt was in the bag, but I got home and discovered he’d left it on the table. The race was at Al Mouj (formerly The Wave) which is half an hour away, and I wasn’t going to go back and get my shirt. I don’t need another race shirt that badly.

The race was initially going to start at 7 am, but the week before they changed it to 6 am. We left home around 4:30 to make sure we made it in time, and let’s just say we made it with plenty of time to spare. I milled around for over an hour before getting to my starting corral. I couldn’t find the port-a-pots so I used the toilets in the mall, which are really nice (although as we got closer to the race start they ran out of TP and paper towels).

The race started around 6:20 and the first few miles were on brick pavers, then we ran through a sandy construction area for maybe a mile, then it was back onto the brick pavers as we ran through the Al Mouj golf course. Then there was another half mile or so in the construction area, during which I had to stop and dump the sand and pebbles out of my shoes. Next we had another 2 miles on brick pavers before finally hitting asphalt. The brick pavers are no fun because they are particularly hard, whereas asphalt has a little give. There were probably 6 miles on the asphalt, 5 on the brick, and 2 on packed sand.

Sunrise over the mountains while running through the Al Mouj golf course

There were regular hydration and fuel stations, although at the hydration stations they were literally handing out full-sized plastic water bottles. It was so wasteful. I felt like a terrible person for taking a few swigs of water and then throwing a 2/3s full water bottle onto the ground (there were no garbage cans, or recycling, for that matter). There were a few stations with gels and at least one station with bananas.

There wasn’t tons of crowd support, and the course wasn’t particularly scenic, but I still enjoyed it. You run along the sea for a good chunk of it, and the part through the golf course is pretty. Running through the neighborhoods is fun; people are out in the bathrobes with their coffees, kids, and dogs, giving out high-fives.

The end of the race was kind of a mess. I ended as the 5k and 10k races were getting ready to start and the finishing area was jam-packed with people.

The morning of the race was unseasonably warm. I was expecting to be cold standing there in shorts and a tank top at 5:30 am, but I was sadly comfortable. I knew that meant I’d get hot quickly during the race, which unfortunately proved to be true. Thank god for those aid stations with water bottles; I also drank all the water in my hydration belt. When I finished I had crusty salt in my eyebrows.

In summary, the race was disorganized, but it was fun and you could tell the race organizers were trying really hard to make it as good as possible. I think in the years to come it will only get better!


Vacationing, non-biolumnisecent algae, running, and other stuff

Oh, man. Winter is going by way too quickly. I feel like I blinked and January was over. Why is it that time always flies when you’re having fun? Never in my life have I been like, “Well that sucked. Thank god it was over quickly.”

Sunrise over paradise

Nate and I spent five days in the Maldives and it was the most vacationy vacation I’ve ever had. It was fantastic. In case you have questions about our trip, here are my responses to the most common queries:

  • Yes, it’s worth it.
  • We stayed at the Centara Grand Island Resort and Spa and we loved it.
  • Yes, it is a kid-friendly resort (but you’ll have more fun if you leave them behind unless they are amazing swimmers).

Our bungalow was the third one.

While we were away Athena stayed at Jebel K9 and she had a great time. It’s kind of out in the middle of nowhere, about 45 minutes from Muscat, and the hours aren’t exactly work-friendly, but I think it’s the best boarding you’ll find in the area. I drove down the driveway to the main house and felt like I was entering Doggy Manor. The dogs are kenneled in a huge fancy house and then they have a bunch of dog runs outside in a humongous compound where the dogs play with handlers and with each other. She came home happy and tired, so I’ll take it.

M has started going to half-day daycare/preschool and it’s been great for him. He and one Korean girl are the only non-Arab children in the class, and he’s even getting Arabic lessons once a day (the school operates primarily in English).  The school focuses on developing children into responsible, helpful, and mindful citizens, so they’re learning about gardening, recycling, helping around the house, and community service. Recently he had a field trip and the school sent a text message telling all the parents they need to give a carseat for their child to use that day. In a country where you see children riding on the driver’s lap, hanging their heads out the window, this was great to see. Let me know if you need Muscat daycare/pre-school recommendations, because we’ve been very happy so far!

Not a bad view for a road race!

A few weeks ago I ran my first half marathon since October 2014. My training didn’t go perfectly and I didn’t PR, but I ran the whole thing and I finished. And my time was only 9 minutes slower than my last half. The race was through Al Mouj north of Muscat and I thought it was relatively well-run, no pun intended. They didn’t finalize the race course until like a week ahead of time, there was no race expo at packet pick-up, and parts of the course were through a construction site (after which I had to take my shoes off and dump out the pebbles and sand). But they had lots of water stations and they were handing out gels and bananas. Maybe I’ll do a separate post on the race since I think this is quickly getting boring for anyone who doesn’t care about running.

Moving on… We spent Christmas day at our favorite beach with some good friends. One of the upsides of having an artificial Christmas tree is that you can take it apart, so I pulled the top off and brought it to the beach, along with the star tree topper. We drank prosecco and grilled chicken and sausages while the kids played in the sand and chased crabs. It was a perfect way to spend the day and I didn’t miss the cold Wisconsin winter weather for even a minute.

Mother Nature tried to be festive and decorate for Christmas

However, one thing that was odd about the beach that day was the amount of algae. It was ridiculous. The water was bright green. We went back again a few weeks later thinking maybe it would be gone by then, but it wasn’t. One of my friends said she’d heard it was bioluminescent algae (which I can’t mention without thinking of the quote “Oh, I see what she’s done, she’s covered a barnacle in bioluminescent algae, as a diversion.” If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you probably don’t have kids.) so I even drove back to the beach late at night to try to get some cool photos. Turned out it wasn’t bioluminescent, or I wasn’t doing whatever needed to be done for it to be bioluminescent.

Not bioluminescent, just green and smelly.

We drove to see the beehive tombs at Bat and Al Ayn/Ain a few weeks ago. We couldn’t find the ones at Bat, but the Al Ayn (not to be confused with Al Ain in the UAE) tombs were visible from the main road. I may have shrieked when I first saw them. They are 5,000 year-old tombs that are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and they are pretty fricking cool. There are supposed to be more tombs at Bat, but the ones at Al Ain are spectacular because of the setting. They are perched on top of a hill in front of a huge mountain and they’re very well-preserved. Once we figure out how to get to the ones at Bat, I’ll write a separate post about that too.

Beehive tombs at Al Ayn

Alright, I have to go finish my book club book. I didn’t finish last month’s and I’m not failing two months in a row!

A weekend in Charleston


Over the weekend Nate and I headed to Charleston, South Carolina for the Charleston Marathon.  Nate ran the full with a friend from his A-100, and they both rocked it!

I had signed up to run the full marathon, but when I realized my knee wouldn’t be able to handle 26.2 miles I switched to the half.  Then I tripped and fell walking home from work, banging my ouchy knee on the pavement.  I was thinking maybe I’d run/walk the half, running as much as I could and then walking when my knee started to hurt.  Then on Friday I got a cold.  I decided it was the universe’s way of telling me to just take it easy, so instead I cheered for the runners.

Runners coming up King St.

Runners coming up King St.

Cheering for the marathoners was fun, and it was time for me to give back to my fellow runners by being a good spectator.  So I cheered for all the runners, didn’t tell them they were almost done until the finish line was in sight, and clapped until my hands hurt.  Now I understand why people use cowbells.

A statue of John C. Calhoun, who apparently had big hair and was a jerk

A statue of John C. Calhoun, who apparently had big hair and was a jerk

Anyways, we ate at some truly amazing places in Charleston and I’m only sad that we didn’t stay there longer!

On Friday night we had dinner at Coast, which had pretty good Yelp reviews but was a bit of tourist trap.  The crab dip was boring, but the shrimp and grits was tasty and Nate liked his fish entree.

Saturday night we did a pretty serious restaurant crawl.  We started out at Slightly North of Broad, which was awesome.  The cocktails were super (especially the sangria), and we shared the charcuterie and cheese plates.  I’m a sucker for some good chicken liver mousse, and their’s was great.

Then we headed a few feet down the road to The Gin Joint.  Wow, talk about phenomenal cocktails.  Nate had the Ichabod Crane, which was one of the most unique drinks I’ve ever tried. The food was alright; this place is definitely more about the drinks than the food.

After than we went to The Ordinary.  I’m glad this was our third stop and I wasn’t exactly hungry by the time we arrived here.  Otherwise I would have ordered the entire fricking menu.  The food was spot-on perfect.  We had the oyster sliders, scallop hush puppies, and the seafood platter.  The food and drinks here are both killer.

We rounded out the night at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit.  We were so stuffed at this point, we just took our biscuits to-go and ate them at the airport the next morning.  The blackberry jam biscuits were my favorite…. soooo good.

Words to live by

Words to live by

We’re going to try to make it back to Charleston again before we leave, but our weekends are filling up quickly.  My parents are coming to visit before we leave, we are taking a short trip to Boston, there’s the Cherry Blossom 10-miler and then FACT training, and we’re trying to spend as much time with our friends as possible!

Five worst runs of 2014

I hesitated to write this post because it is a bit negative.  But, on the other hand, there are negative parts to even the things we love the most.  I don’t start every run with ballerina leaps because I’m so excited, and I don’t finish every run with a huge grin on my face. Also, the bad runs make me appreciate the good ones even more.  And there are important lessons to be learned from just about every one of them!

Sometimes running is a chore, or runs just don’t go quite how I’d hoped.  That said, here are my five worst runs of 2014, in reverse order!

5. The 5 miler that turned into a 2.5 miler (March): I was out running with Athena and we were dashing across the street before the light turned.  I took a nose-dive and whacked my head on the concrete curb.  Nate was traveling, but luckily my in-laws live close by, so they came and picked us up and took us home.  Then they came back to my house and took me to the hospital when I decided I probably shouldn’t drive there myself. I had a mild concussion and learned the hard way that if a light is going to change colors, it’s better to just stop and wait.

4. The poorly-timed 6 miler in (what felt like) hell (July): We started training for the Richmond marathon in mid-July.  I thrive on cooler temperatures, and running in heat and humidity is my personal version of hell. Two days before the training schedule officially began we did 6 mile run on Saturday morning, and we left the house around 10 a.m., at which point it was already really hot and humid.  I got so hot, I felt cold, dizzy and faint.  I probably had heat exhaustion.  It was a miserable run, and made me wonder if I was up to the task of training for a marathon, much less running a full marathon, if I could barely even handle 6 miles.  It put me in a really bad head-space at a very inopportune time.

3. The post-nacho 5 miler (September?): I’d just gotten home from work and I knew I had to get my run in for the day.  I was really hungry and Nate had just made a plate of nachos. So I ate a few nachos (with jalapenos and salsa), downed a tablespoon of peanut butter, laced up, and headed out the door.  Wow was this a bad idea.  I had terrible indigestion the whole time and puked in my mouth more than once.  Not fun.

2. The 18 miler that turned into a 16.5 miler (September): I had a cold, and I decided I would do my long run anyways.  To make a long story short, I ended up wheezing like I had asthma and could barely breathe.  My legs could have kept on going, but my lungs weren’t having it. It was miserable. Oh, and at one point we passed a dead dog on the side of the road.  I made Nate tell me a happy story so I wouldn’t burst into tears.

1. The 14 miler that turned into a 13 miler (August): This was the only run during which I just started bawling.  Like, “Why on earth am I doing this, this is stupid, what kind of idiot am I?” negative, messy self-talk and tears. As I mentioned, I don’t do well in heat and humidity.  I decided to experiment with a new type of fuel (Cliff Shot Blocks) on this run, which, I found out later, I wasn’t taking frequently enough.  So I was sweating tons (it was dripping off my visor) and not consuming enough electrolytes.  I felt like absolute shit.  At one point I got a side-cramp and it hurt so much I shrieked.  I was throwing a first-rate pity party for one, and it was bad.

All’s well that ends well, and in 2014 I had far more good runs than bad.  I made it through the year without any major injuries and logged lots of great miles.  I’m excited to see what running adventures 2015 holds for me!


Five best runs of 2014

A belated Happy Holidays to you all!  I hope that your holiday season has been fun, restful, and packed with lots of amazing food! Mine has been the first and third, but definitely not the second.  There’s a Christmas/December recap in the works, but seeing as the year is almost over, I wanted to do this post first!

This isn’t a running blog, but I have spent a pretty massive amount of time this year in my running shoes.  The idea for this post came to me while I was running along the C&O Canal up by Georgetown, which is a pretty route, but also really fricking boring.

That said, here are my best runs of 2014, in reverse order!

5.  5 miles in Castine, Maine (September): My dad and I took a 6-day photography trip on a schooner along coastal Maine. Our schooner docked in Castine, and we had about 2 hours to walk to the lighthouse, take pictures, and mosey on back.  This was our first real opportunity to get off the boat in about 4 days, so I laced up, slung my camera bag across my back and as soon as we hit dry land, I took off.  It was amazing.  The scenery, the views, being back in my running shoes, being alone, the photos I took…. everything.  It was an awesome run.

4. Cherry Blossom 10-miler (April): This was the longest I’d ever run at that point and this race was a lot of fun.  There were so many runners and spectators, and I just had a blast.  I had gas in the tank at the end, and I felt amazing!

3. 6 miles in San Francisco (February): Nate was in San Francisco for work, so I flew out for a long weekend to take advantage of the free hotel.  We ran from the hotel to the pier with all the sea lions and back to the hotel, stopping in the ferry building along the way.  How can a run full of cute sea lions and free food samples not be fun?!

2. Richmond Marathon (November): This race wasn’t all fun, but I dug deep and got it done, despite wanting to walk during the last 4 miles with every molecule of my being.  I made it through the cold, blood blisters, and dead legs, and I finished with a huge smile on my face.  Then I burst into tears because I was so physically and emotionally exhausted.

1. Freedom’s Run Half Marathon (October): This race was a last-minute decision and it was definitely my best run of 2014.  We were running through Antietam and at one point I turned to Nate and said, “I am having so much fun!  This is AWESOME!” Two years ago, I never, ever would have guessed that those sentences would come out of my mouth while I was running.  The course was absolutely beautiful and I killed the hills.  If we are ever in this area again in the beginning of October, we are running this one again!

Next up, my five worst runs of 2014, most of which are funny to look back upon!

Life, lately

A few weeks ago Nate got his official “Welcome to Post” email from the embassy in Dhaka!  It’s the little things, like this and getting our diplomatic passports, that I clutch onto and get excited about, because sometimes seven months seems so fricking far away.

The housing pool in Dhaka is shifting from single family homes to newly constructed seismically safe apartments, so it’s highly unlikely that a) our housing will be ready when we arrive, and b) we’ll have a yard.  We didn’t really expect to have a yard anyways, since Dhaka is one of the most population-dense cities in the world.  Although I am hoping for a nice rooftop….

Luckily it looks like it will be easier to get Athena there than it would be for other posts.  I think we just need to send a letter from our vet to the embassy and then they arrange a pet import certificate.  How exactly we are going to get her there, on the other hand, is another story.  That’s what I’m truly nervous about.

I’ve started learning Bangla through Mango Languages.  It’s free to anyone with a library card, which is pretty cool.

So far I’ve learned a couple of key phrases (“Hello,” “What’s your name,” “My name is ….” etc).  It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s more than I knew before.  I’ve also found that Bangla is hard.  It’s completely unlike any language I’ve ever learned.  The alphabet is a bunch of squigglies.

I completed Lesson 1 of Chapter 1 a few days ago, and I eagerly moved onto Lesson 2.  And as I was repeating phrases, I realized I didn’t remember half of what I’d learned in the previous lesson.  I know I’m being lazy and I just need to do a lesson a day and then practice with Nate.  I don’t need to be able to carry on complex conversations; I just need the basics.

In other news, Nate and I celebrated our fourth anniversary of our first wedding (yup, we had two weddings: one in the DC courthouse and then our reception was the following year) a few weeks ago by going for a seven-mile run and getting dinner at our favorite pizza place.  We’ll be moving around the time of the anniversary for our second wedding, which we treat as our actual anniversary, so we will either go big as we leave Alexandria or find a fancy place in Dhaka to celebrate!  Or maybe we’ll do both.

Yeah, we’ll probably do both.

Also, I’ve decided that running down King St in Alexandria when the weather is nice from the hours of 5:30-7:30 pm is completely impossible.  You might think this is because the rush hour traffic makes it tricky (which it does) or because there are just too many pedestrians on the sidewalk to be able to actually run in a straight line (which there are), but those things aren’t what make it unbearable.  It’s all the people sitting outside eating!

Running by huge plates of delicious smelling food is absolute torture.  Especially since I’m usually hungry.  It’s all I can do to not steal a slice of pizza off a table as I run by.

Oh, speaking of running, last weekend we ran the Freedom’s Run half marathon!  It was super fun, and I absolutely loved it.  The race started in Shepherdstown, WV, and ran along the C&O Canal and then through Antietam Battlefield.  It was really hilly, but I powered up all the hills and didn’t walk except for at the aid stations.  After the run they gave us pizza, bagels and free pints of Yuengling, which was pretty awesome.  Nate basically ate a whole pizza.  Next time we’re in the DC area around the time this race is run, we will be there!

What a beautiful morning for a race!

What a beautiful morning for a race!

Race review: Ocean City “Island to Island” Half Marathon

This blog post has nothing to do with the Foreign Service, so if you stop reading here, I won’t blame you!

I’ve mentioned that Nate and I are runners.  Our fall/winter racing season is getting underway, and it made me think back to our spring races.  We ran three races in four weeks: Cherry Blossom 10-Miler (awesome, planning to do it again if we win the lottery), George Washington Parkway Classic 10-Miler (also awesome), and the Ocean City “Island to Island” Half Marathon (not so awesome).

If you’re trying to find reviews of the Cherry Blossom or GW 10-milers, you’re in luck.  Tons of people have run these races and provided in-depth reviews, and all you have to do is google.  The same cannot be said for the OC half, which is why it’s getting its very own blog post. There were reviews of the race on the OC Tri Running Sports facebook page, but they got deleted.

So, if you’re thinking about running the Ocean City “Island to Island” Half Marathon, consider yourself forewarned. (The important bits are bolded and italicized.)

We arrived the night before, picked up our packets, and had a mediocre dinner.  Bright and early the next morning, we drove to the race finish area and boarded a bus to the starting area, as the race starts on Assateague and finishes on the boardwalk in Ocean City.  There was plenty of info on where to get the buses, when the buses ran until, how often they would leave, etc.  We got to Assateague with plenty of time to spare, and immediately headed for the porto-pots.  Thank god we got there early.

There were, and I’m not exaggerating, eight porto-pots for probably 1000+ runners.  If there is one thing to know about runners, it is that we all need to use the bathroom at least once, probably twice, before a race.  The porto-pot situation was a disaster. Granted, there were some real restrooms in the visitor’s center, but that line was like 300 people deep.

If you didn’t feel like standing in the monstrous lines for the porto-pots, you could also take care of business in the bushes/underbrush.  And that is what most people were doing.  There was a line for what ended up being the women’s area of the bushes!  Nothing makes you feel like a real runner more than squatting and peeing in a national park with hundreds of strangers.

The race was supposed to start at 7:00, so we dropped off our jackets at the gear check and headed for the starting corrals.  It was freezing cold, with a good breeze coming off the Atlantic.  I was counting down the minutes until the race was supposed to start because I just wanted to run and warm up.

So then what happened? Buses kept rolling in and dropping off more and more people. The race start was delayed for half an hour.  I was miserable.  I was also hating all the idiots that didn’t board the buses on time and delayed the start for everyone else that had used common sense and planned ahead.

Finally the race started.  Because of the long delay in starting, the road closures were done by the time we actually reached those areas.  This meant we had to run on road shoulders for probably 9 out of the 13 miles. Yay, car exhaust!  It was also really uncomfortable because the road was slanted, so it felt like my right leg was having to take longer steps than my left.

Crowd support was almost non-existent.  Although I do have to give a shout out to these two women that were cheering for us at like five different points in the race.  One had a cow bell and the other was banging a skillet with a spatula.  They were great; everyone else was terrible.  When we got to Ocean City, which was towards the end of the race, so crowd support really would have been nice, people on the boardwalk were just staring at us like we were bat-shit insane.

The course was also not particularly scenic.  The first bit heading out of Assateague was nice, but that only lasted maybe a mile, and then it was fun to run on the boardwalk, which was also maybe a mile.

Once we reached Ocean City, there was minimal direction for where to go.  At one point we reached a T-intersection and nearly came to a stop because we didn’t know if we should go right or left. No big sign with a big arrow or anything.  Just a policeman who was paying absolutely no attention. The woman running in front of us was super pissed off, swearing at anyone who looked like they deserved it (which was pretty much everyone).

I picked up the pace in the last mile and finished strong in 2:23:00.  Not exactly fast, but I was really proud and happy with the result of my first half marathon!  We got our finisher’s medals and complimentary pizza and beer, and sat by the ocean.  I had a fun time running with Nate, but I would not run this race again.

Wow, do I sound like a whiner.

If you’re looking to run 13.1 miles and you just want to log the mileage and get timed, and you don’t really care where it happens or what the experience is like, then this would be a good race for you.  The two other races we ran were like well-oiled machines: the race organizers knew what they were doing, were ready for thousands and thousands of people, and anticipated the runners’ needs.  In the OC half, none of that happened.

But hey, at least the pizza was good!

Pizza, sand, Hokas, and the ocean

Pizza, sand, Hokas, and the ocean