Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2019 Baltimore Running Festival Marathon Review

2019 Baltimore Running Festival Marathon Review
Saturday, October 19, 2019
Baltimore, Maryland
40th Marathon, 36th State

Runners: 1751 (1085 men, 666 women)
Start Time: 8:00 a.m.
Course: VERY HILLY ... 1,079 ft of elevation gain
Weather: 48F, very little wind
SWAG:  Short sleeve tech shirt
Race Organization: Very good
Crowd Support: Really good, very above average
Volunteer Support: Very good
Water Stops: Great, very well organized
Food: Typical post race fare
Age: 50
Finish Time: 3:53:41
Average Pace: 8:53/mile
Place: 360/1751 overall, 18th/109 50-54 AG

"Free" race photos were a nice feature of the race
I'm writing this review three months after the race simply to keep my race reviews current, so admittedly, I've forgotten many of the minute details from the event.  But as I think back, the most predominant thing that comes to mind is ... OH THOSE HILLS!!!  It is a very very very hilly race.  The only other marathon I've ran that compares remotely is the Kansas City Marathon.  (I know ... that surprised folks because we're out here in flyover flatland.  But if you run KC, train on all the hills you can find ... you'll need it)  I knew there'd be hills, so I trained for them.  But once you're on the course, you just seem to keep climbing and climbing.  They're pretty relentless.
My wife, Michael, had to work in Washington DC the week before the race, so I tagged along and used it as a mini-vacation.  But it wasn't as relaxing as most vacations since I was reminded all week that SHE WASN'T ON VACATION!!!  But I took advantage of the time off and got some shots of the historic DC architecture.  (you can view my photograph at my Flickr page here ) Here are a few Washington DC shots ...
United States Capitol Building and the Capitol Reflecting Pool
Arlington National Cemetery 
Jefferson Memorial overlooking the Tidal Basin
Lincoln Memorial at sunrise
National Mall view from the Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool
United States Capitol Rotunda ceiling with George Washington Statue
Library Of Congress
Anyway ... back to the race.  After Michael wrapped up her work week on Friday, we made our way over to Baltimore ... a little more than an hour drive.  We stayed downtown in the Baltimore waterfront area, which is where all of the post race festivities take place.  Packet pickup was only a few blocks from our hotel at the  Health & Fitness Expo in the Baltimore Convention Center.  So after we picked up our race bibs, we took in some of the sites and sounds of Baltimore downtown.
Baltimore waterfront area
Gaby & me at starting line
One of the cool things about blogging and social media over the years is getting to meet new people.  In Baltimore we got to meet Gaby, a fellow runner and social media friend.  On the morning of the race I made my way down to Camden Yards, the home of Major League Baseball's Baltimore Orioles, where the race begins.  I had just shed my warm ups in the bag drop van and was standing in line waiting for the race to start when I heard someone yell my name.  I looked to my right and it was Gaby!  She had met Michael at the beginning of the half-marathon and then made her way to the starting line of my race to wish me luck as well.  We didn't have time to talk, but it was great to see her!

The gun then sounded and we began to run.  Uphill.  Seemingly forever.  As I recall, we made a loop, of sorts, back to the starting line in about the first 8 miles.  After that, we headed out on what seemed to be another loop and a couple of out and backs ... but you should probably refer to the race course map, because I'm trying to remember this 90 days later.  I remember when we looped back around at the 8'ish mile mark, we were near the finish area and there were people everywhere.  It was a nice distraction.  Also, Baltimore is home to the Under Armor headquarters, and we ran by their offices at some point in this time frame.

Michael & me at the finish line
The Baltimore Running Festival is a very large event with the Marathon and Half-Marathon intermingling at about mile 15 or 16 (I think).  Honestly, this wasn't great.  What had been a fairly wide open marathon course to that point, became Chicago, NYC, or Boston-like congested.  At points we were shoulder to shoulder.  The mix of marathoners with half'ers is never optimal, mainly because of the way the two groups approach races.  It's difficult to explain this without sounding elitist or "uppity" ... but it seems most half-marathoners aren't as aware of race etiquette as the marathoners.  There's a lot of darting from side to side to high-five little kids or grab a shot of beer being handed out.  There's a lot of slamming on the brakes at water stops to grab the first cup they come to.  There's a lot of mid-race selfies.  There's nothing wrong with any of this ... it's just when you're dying at mile 20, and ready to be done, you're just looking for a clear path in front of you without having to dodge people.   But it's completely understandable why races mix the two groups.  It's mostly due to course restrictions and cannot be avoided.  It's just that at Baltimore ... there were soooo many runners.

Even though the race was really hilly and somewhat congested at times, I really enjoyed the race.  All of the water stops were extremely well organized, and the volunteers were very helpful.  I wish I had more details about the race, but it's been awhile since I crossed the finish line.  I can tell you that the bag check retrieval is about a quarter mile from the finish line ... I remember that specifically, lol.  But in spite of the half hour it took to get my gear back, the post race area was huge and awesome.

I would highly recommend the Baltimore Running Festival.  It's very well organized and gives you a wonderful tour of the historic city.  But absolutely be prepared for the hills ... there's a lot them!

Thursday, September 5, 2019

2019 Millennium Meadows Marathon Review

2019 Millennium Meadows Marathon Review 
Sunday, August 25, 2019
Grand Rapids, Michigan
39th Marathon, 35th State

Runners: 89 (53 men, 36 women)
Start Time: 7 a.m. EST
Course: FLAT!!! (Only 358 ft of elevation)
Weather:  58F start/63F finish, 85% humidity, 3mph wind
SWAG: Short sleeve tee
Race Organization: Good
Crowd Support: Small
Volunteer Support: Great
Water Stops: Good
Food: Minimal but adequate
Age: 50
Finish Time: 3:45:53
Average Pace: 8:37/mile
Place: 21/89 Overall, 4th/6 50-54 AG

Total Experience ... 1  2  3  4  5

If you're looking for a large race with lots of frills and thousands of runners, the Millennium Meadows Marathon is probably not the race for you.  But I chose it because it fit into our vacation itinerary, it allowed me to check off another state for marathons completed, we had the opportunity to meet our friend Anne, and also because sometimes a small and non-eventful races are perfect.  This race checked all the boxes for what I was looking for, and I'm glad I was able to run it.
Michael and I had planned a road trip vacation for August through Chicago, Michigan, Niagara Falls, and Toronto, so a stop in Grand Rapids fit perfectly into our travel plans.   Michael actually found the Millennium Meadows Marathon on line while searching for near by races, and honestly, the thought of running a marathon with less than 100 runners didn't sound appealing at first.  It wasn't because extremely small races aren't charming in their own way, but because I was afraid of running off course and losing my way.  In small races if you don't run with a group, there can be long gaps between runners.  And if you're not familiar with a course that potentially isn't marked well, it's a recipe for disaster.  However, as I reviewed the race's course, I learned that runners actually make six loops in a local park to reach 26.2 miles, so I thought "how hard could that be".

Vacation pics: At Cloud Gate (The Bean) on a perfect Chicago summer night
The thought of running in Grand Rapids was also appealing because of possibly meeting Anne, a fellow blogger and social media friend who lived there.  Michael and I have known her over the internet for years, and always wanted to meet her.  This gave us the opportunity.  We actually got to have dinner with her and chat for a bit ... she was great!

Vacation pics: Windmill in Holland, Michigan - only working Dutch Windmill in North America
The race takes place in the "Meadows" at Millennium Meadows (obvious enough).  Millennium Park is the largest urban park in West Michigan, located on the southwest side of Grand Rapids. Millennium Park connects four of the major cities in the area together, including Grand Rapids, Wyoming, Grandville, and Walker. (plagiarized that last part from Wikipedia)  We stayed at Hampton Inn in Grandville, only about 10 minutes from the starting line in the park.

Runners received a blue short sleeve t-shirt (pictured), and a copy of the race director, Don Kern's book, "And the Adventure Continues ... An Ordinary Man's Extraordinary Quest to Set a World Record" (also not pictured).  In 2011 Don set a world record for being completing marathons on all seven continents in 25 days, 18 hours, 10 minutes, the shortest time frame that anyone had ever accomplished the feat.

The staff for the race was very small, but very helpful and welcoming.  We picked up our race bibs and shirts the morning of the race, and then went to the car to warm up and relax a bit.  We were able to park our car only a few feet from the starting line, which was nice because it was only about 55F before the race started.  Those temps were perfect for running, but felt a little cool after spending the summer in 100+ heat indexes of Kansas City.

The thought of running the same 4 mile loop six times, with an additional mile at the beginning and end, seemed a little boring.  And honestly ... it was.  The course was beautiful, but as I've mentioned in other race reviews, I much prefer the visual and mental stimulation of people on the street, other runners, and changing scenery.  But I also know that as I begin nearing the end of running a marathon in all 50 states, I'm going to have to take what the schedule gives.  And that will mean running a lot of smaller races.

We began the race near the shelter house entrance to the park.  From there, we ran about a mile and crossed a wooden bridge to get to the 4 mile loop area.  It seemed like immediately everyone spread out and there were huge gaps between runners.  Marathoners would be doing 6 loops before returning  to the shelter houses, and half-marathoners would be doing 3 loops.

The temps were in the mid-50's with clear skies and almost no wind, so basically perfect weather for running a race.  The asphalt paved path was almost completely shaded, and early in the race we could see the rising sun sparkling through the leaves on the northwest side of the loop over the adjacent lake.  It was beautiful.

Vacation Pics: Overlooking Toronto in the CN Tower
There were two water stops stationed on either side of the loop, about every two miles.  The volunteers, though obviously sparse for such a small race, were wonderful and very engaging.  They offered water and Gatorade, and even had pretzels and fruit at the water tables.  I really appreciated them having oranges, as they've really become my "go to" late in races if they're available.

As I recall, there were outhouses at both stops as well, however when nature called (about 6 times during the race for some reason) I just veered off course and ducked behind a tree.  I mean, we WERE in the woods.

The course was incredibly flat.  There was only about 358 ft of total elevation.  And since we ran the same loop 6 times, that means there was only about 60 ft of elevation per 4 mile loop.  Really flat.

At about mile 18, I passed Michael and we chatted for a few minutes before continuing on with the race.  She ran the half marathon and enjoyed the day as much as I did.

I went into the race planning to use it as a warm up race for other events in the fall.  It was basically going to be a long workout.  I didn't place any pressure on myself and planned on coming in somewhere around 3:45, which I did.  It was really nice to run a race at an easy comfortable pace without dying at the end.  Plus, it was awesome to not have achy legs for the rest of vacation the days following the race.

After the race, there were the typical post-race festivities and food available.  We didn't hang around long, opting to get back to the hotel room to recover ASAP.  However, everyone on the race staff was very hospitable and we greatly appreciated their willing to serve and organize a wonderful event.  Volunteers at races rarely get any recognition, but it's 100% the leadership of the race director and the willingness of volunteers to give their time that makes all of these races we run successful.

Vacation pics: Niagara Falls view from the Canadian side of the border
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Michigan, but were quickly on the road the next morning to continue our somewhat circuitous route to Canada and back.  I would love to run the Detroit marathon some day, but for now, the Millennium Meadows Marathon in Grand Rapids, Michigan served the purpose of preparing me for future races, and checked off another state.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

2018 Erie Marathon at Presque Isle Review

2018 Erie Marathon at Presque Isle Review 
Sunday, September 9, 2018
Erie, PA
38th Marathon, 34th State

Runners: 1,478 (861 men, 617 women)
Start Time: 7 a.m. EST
Course: FLAT!!!  Only 250 ft elevation gain
Weather:  55F start/55F finish, 85% humidity, 15mph wind
SWAG: Short sleeve dry-fit tee
Race Organization: PERFECT
Crowd Support: Good, but low in turnout
Volunteer Support: PERFECT
Water Stops: Really good
Food: Typical post race food, with gels along the course
Age: 49
Finish Time: 3:33:13
Average Pace: 8:08/mile
Place: 460/1,478 Overall, 73rd/125 45-49 AG

Total Experience ... 1  2  3  4  5

The Erie Marathon at Presque Isle is one of the most BQ'able races that I've ran thus far.  The course is mostly tree-lined, providing plenty of shade on sunny Pennsylvania mornings, and it's also pancake flat & fast.  There's only about 250' of elevation gain with absolutely no hills on the two loops through Presque Isle State Park, the peninsula that divides Presque Isle Bay and Lake Erie.  Many runners choose this marathon as a "last chance for Boston" race, and it pays off.  In 2018, 46.2% of the Erie Marathon runners qualified for the 2019 Boston Marathon.  I was unfortunately in the 53.8% that did not.  But that didn't keep me from enjoying a really well organized race that I would recommend to anyone!
I drove from Kansas City, MO to Erie, PA and got to the seaside city a day early.  It was plenty of time to visit a little of Erie and especially Presque Isle State Park before running the race.  As reported on KDKA Channel 2 in Pittsburgh, PA, named Erie Beach at Presque Isle State Park the best fresh water beach in the United States.  It was really dreary and rainy when I was there, so I didn't get to fully enjoy all the park had to offer, but it was indeed beautiful, and well kept and clean.

The pre-race communication from race director, Suzy Carstater was great!  She sent of plenty of detailed directions about pre and post race activities, and accordingly, packet pick-up was seemless and well ran with plenty of volunteers.  Runners received a short-sleeve dry-fit t-shirt in a nice hoodie back/pack bag.  There were several seemingly small things that really helped at this race.  One example is the small flashlight that was also in everyone's race bag.  It seemed like an odd addition for race SWAG, however it really came in handy before the race.

Everyone parked at Waldameer Park, a small amusement and water park at the top of the hill adjacent to Presque Isle State Park.  From there, runners could either wall the mile to the starting line, or take one of the several school buses lined up as race shuttles.  Most runners opted for the bus ride.
The buses dropped everyone off at the starting line, which was near Beach #1 on Old Beach Road - I think.  I don't remember for sure because it was pitch black outside at 6:30 a.m. on a heavily cloud covered morning.  But that's where the flashlight came in handy!

This race is a marathon only event and about 1,500 runners were in attendance.  But for the most part, it felt like a really small race.  I was really impressed with how the organizers kept everyone informed in spite of the large crowd.  There was pre-race music and a DJ to keep everyone loose, and bag drops and port-a-potties were very close to the starting line. 

Even though the race is open to the public, it seemed to have the feel of a field at Boston or a competitive road race.  It seemed almost everyone was there to attempt a PR or BQ.  As I stood there watching the runners at the starting line, I seemed to be surrounded by a lot of really experienced runners and great athletes.  And as the skies began to lighten up, the race kicked off at 7:00 a.m.

Probably the only minor, and I mean very minor, thing that could have been a little better was the course congestion for the first several miles.  I'm not sure there's anything that can really be done about it with 1,500 runners packing onto the park drive that circles the isle.  But at times, it was almost shoulder to shoulder like a big race like Boston or Chicago or something.  I got behind a pace group at one point that took up the entire road, about 8-10 runners deep, and I burned a lot of energy getting around them.  But during the second half if definitely thinned out a little.

Although the weather was nice and cool in the mid 50's, it would have been nice to see the park in the sunshine.  The sun didn't shine the entire time I was in Pennsylvania.  It was really dreary, but it made running conditions perfect.  Throughout the two loops in the park, you run beside the shores of Lake Erie, passing light houses, beaches, and camp grounds.  Very little of the course is not tree-lined, and even on a sunny day the course would've most likely been fairly cool.

One of the things that really reflect a race's organization are the water stops.  The water stops at the Erie Marathon were great!  They were spaced very close together, all of them were on the right-hand side of the road, and each and every one had water first, with Gu Brew second.  This had been mentioned in one of the earlier communications about the race.  And even though it seems like a little thing, it's nice to not have guess what's in your cup as you're running by grasping a one.  Also, all of the stops were maintained by very enthusiastic high school students.  They were all very encouraging and did a great job.

I think I ate a little too much the day before and morning of the race in an attempt to fuel up more than usual.  I felt really really full the whole race like I was running with a big giant stomach.  Because of this, I intentionally skipped my last gel at Mile 20.  I just didn't want anything else on my stomach.  But that meant I was running the last 10 miles of the race on the gel I'd taken at 16.  I know better than to do that.

I felt good and in control all the way through Mile 24.  In fact later, one of my Instagram friends said she saw me at 24 and thought I looked strong.  She said I looked her directly in the eye as I went by and she thought everything was fine.  However, my pace began to slow about 20 seconds per mile at that point, but I was still about 5 minutes under my BQ time.  I pushed through to Mile 25, but literally when I hit 25.05 on my Garmin, I darted to the side of the road and began dry-heaving by a tree.  It literally came out of nowhere.  My body tried puking for about 5 minutes but nothing came up.  I was conscious of the ticking clock and tried taking a few steps, but every time I did I started dry-heaving again.  My eyes were filling with tears from trying to throw up and I couldn't see anything.  I eventually began running again ... very very slowly.  I stopped to walk for a minute near Mile 26 because I thought I felt it coming on again.  I'd ran under an 8:00 pace all day, but it took me about 16 minutes to complete the final 1.2 miles and because of that, I finished 3 minutes over my BQ time.

I was incredibly disappointed after the race.  The dry-heaving episode was completely running out of fuel related ... and it was completely self-induced.  I should have qualified fairly comfortably, but I really blew a great opportunity on a very fast course.  Even after 38 marathons, an ultra, and 8 BQ's, I still need reminders from time to time.  The Erie Marathon was a huge kick in the pants to remind to take my training more seriously and respect every single mile of the marathon.  There are tried and true fueling strategies in place for a reason, and if you don't honor them, you'll pay the price.

I wish I could say that failing to BQ didn't have an effect on my day ... but it did.  It was a very very long ride home.  But my regret had nothing to do with the wonderful race provided by the Erie Marathon.   It's a very fast race on a beautiful course, with wonderful volunteers and organization. I would highly recommend it to everyone.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

2017 St. Jude Memphis Marathon Review

2017 St. Jude Memphis Marathon Review
Saturday, December 2, 2017
Memphis, TN
37th Marathon, 33rd State

Runners: 2,346 (1,283 men, 1,063 women)
Start Time: 8 a.m. CST
Course: Fairly flat with rolling hills, only 663 ft elevation gain
Weather:  45F start/55F finish, 71% humidity, light wind
SWAG: Long sleeve dry-fit tee, singlet with donations
Race Organization: PERFECT
Crowd Support: Incredible ... almost comparable to Boston or Chicago, great from start to finish
Volunteer Support: PERFECT
Water Stops: Maybe the best of any race I've ran
Food: Typical post race food, with fruit, candy, chips, donuts, gels and plenty of alcohol along the course
Age: 48
Finish Time: 4:08:46 (injured ankle during training, so the only goal was to finish, walked a bit toward the end)
Average Pace: 9:30/mile
Place: 606th/2,346 Overall, 46th/155th in 45-49 AG

Total Experience ... 1  2  3  4  5

I'm not sure I can accurately describe just how much I loved the St. Jude Memphis Marathon.  It's a heart-breaking & heart-warming beautiful event that left a huge impression on me.  It was simply the perfect marathon weekend!  The impeccable organization and support was phenomenal, and that alone made it an elite event.  But when you take a step back from the running, and really think about why you're even there ... it might have been my favorite marathon to date.

The St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend is the single biggest fundraiser for the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.  Over $10.3 million was raised through donations by 25,000 runners this year in the 5K, 10K, half & full marathon events.  And these donations ensure that families with children at St. Jude never receive a bill for treatment, travel, housing or food.  I was honored to be part of the fundraising and gathered a few donations of support, and again I want to thank everyone who gave on my behalf!

I had always heard great things about the St. Jude Marathon, so I was expecting a well ran event.  But I was surprised to find this event on par with the organization and excitement of the Boston and Chicago Marathons.  Obviously it wasn't quite as large, but it had a very similar feel from start to finish.

Memphis is about an 8 hour drive from Kansas City, which, since I drive a lot for my job, is a fairly easy commute.  As always, I stayed at the Hampton Inn.  This one was located downtown, only a half block from Beale & BB King Streets, the heart of the blues district ... and also only a couple blocks from the start/finish lines.  A prime location!  It gave me an opportunity to check out some of the live music on Beale Street before the race, and provided a short path for my limp back to my room after the run.

My first glimpse at this being a first class event was at the Race Expo.  The second I walked into the Cook Convention Center, there were smiling, happy, helpful volunteers EVERYWHERE!  It was one of those events where you pick up your number at one location, and then proceed to the t-shirt pickup, and then through the vendor exhibits.  And even though there were runners and runner families everywhere, there was no confusion about where to go next.  It was incredibly well organized and managed.  I'm always appreciative of volunteers at races, but let's face it, we all encounter some of those folks who give you the impression they're doing it because they lost a bet or something ... but at Memphis, every single volunteer I encountered was smiling and happy to be there.  It was just a really positive environment.

After the Expo I took the opportunity while in Memphis to visit the Lorraine Motel, and National Civil Rights Museum.  It is, of course, the location where on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King was gunned down by James Earl Ray while standing outside on the second floor balcony.  The motel still stands in it's original condition and seems to be frozen in time with a wreath outside Room 306, the historic location that we've all seen in black & white photos.  The motel no longer operates as a motel, but has been renovated into The National Civil Rights Museum and costs $12 to tour.

All of the exhibits were very moving and I spent a lot of time watching the short films and exploring the history. The museum tour actually takes visitors to the second floor where the two adjoining rooms that Dr. King and his friends stayed in that last night are divided by a glass wall.  Through the glass, you can see the rooms are still in their original condition.  Near the outside wall, also glassed off, you can stand only a few feet from where Dr. King took his last breaths. It was incredibly humbling and moving to be right there where it all happened, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to visit.

In the weeks leading up to the race, I'd experienced a pretty severe case of ankle tendinitis.  At times I thought it was a stress fracture, but I think the ball of my inside left ankle was just really inflamed from overuse.  I'd limped everywhere and only ran about 10 miles per week for about a month.  Not really the final touches of training I usually put on a marathon.  I thought there was a legitimate chance that I'd be saddled with my first ever DNF, so I had the mindset of take it SLOW and walk as much as necessary to make it across the finish line.

The starting line was literally about two blocks from my hotel room, so I was able to wait until the last minute to make my way to my corral.  I usually line up near the front, but knowing I would go out a little slower, I joined the good folks of Corral 6.  The race started at 8 a.m. with the runners in Corral 1 taking off.  And then each subsequent corral was unleashed in 10 minute intervals. This was a huge race with everyone gathered on the street between the large buildings of downtown Memphis.  There was music pumping like a club down the corridor of runners, and it was echoing off of the windows and faces of the adjacent structures.  I love music of all kinds, and especially hard rock.  When the DJ played "Thunderstruck" by AC/DC you could actually hear the echos of the runners singing along "Thunder! .... Thunder! ... Thunder!" It was awesome, and really got my blood pumping.  And then we were off!

Most of the race was ran through the streets of downtown Memphis, along the Mississippi River, and through a few residential neighborhoods.  The marathoners ran along side the half-marathoners until mile eleven, where we parted ways.  Overall, there were no significant hills that I remember other than when we exited the River Landing area.  That was a little steep, but only lasted about a quarter mile.

For the first few miles, all I could focus on was ONE ... my foot was already killing me, and TWO ... man, it was really really really crowded.  At Mile 2, we passed by the neon signs that lined Beale Street and I remember looking over the sea of people and thinking to myself I'd be glad when the pack thinned out.  For this race, I'd started basically smack dab in the middle of the 25,000 runners.  And it was shoulder to shoulder to shoulder.  You basically were forced to run at the pace of the crowd.  When they slowed down to a walk to round a corner, so did you.  And I don't mean to sound arrogant or elite in anyway, because my race finishing times are only a little above average and I'm by no means a "great" runner ... but typically you just don't have these issues near the front of the race.  It's way more spread out.  Heck, sometimes you lose sight of the runner in front of you.  The thing I noticed the most was runners in this portion of the race seemed to enjoy themselves a lot more than the group I was usually clustered with.  And also ... they had no regard for one another at water stops, ha.  It was literally a free-for-all at the hydration stations.  It seemed none of the runners realized that there were actually other runners in the race with them, and that they didn't have to slam on the brakes and come to a complete stop to take the first cup of fluid that was waived in front of their face.  But it was all good.  Through it all, I didn't see anyone get frustrated, and the volunteers were unbelievably helpful.

Speaking of the volunteers, I simply cannot say enough about how great they were.  The same helpful spirit shown by the crew at the Expo was on display at every corner and water stop.  Along with the off-duty Memphis police officers who were also very helpful, they held signs, stopped traffic, and made sure we went the right way at intersections. All the water stops were organized unbelievably well and many had fruit, gels, and other snacks for fuel.  They cheered when runners approached and were very encouraging.   I really appreciate all of the great work the volunteers put in, and it didn't go unnoticed.

The crowds along the route were also something I noted.  At Boston and Chicago, spectators line the streets literally almost every inch of every mile.  And at intersections, the folks there are 25 or 30 rows deeps.  The St. Jude Memphis Marathon had a very similar feel for the first 11 miles when we were with the half-marathoners.  There were people everywhere cheering, high-fiving, waiving, and holding every sign imaginable.  It provided some a huge energy boost and it was much needed and appreciated since my ankle was in full throbbing mode at about Mile 8.

There were also live bands almost every mile.  That was amazing.  I think it was the most live music I've ever heard in a marathon.  Everything and everyone was festive.  Firemen were camped outside on the pumper waiving as we ran by, and folks from a biker bar also cheered as we passed.  There were several Elvis, Super Hero, and military runners.  And most importantly, there were the kids.

Periodically, we would run by a giant sign of one of the St. Jude patients, who are mostly children who are battling cancer.  The image was always a smiling sweet-faced bald-headed child.  And the caption on the sign would always say "Thank you for running", or something to that effect.  But at Mile 8, there was a large video screen right in the middle of the course that was projecting these same images, except this time the message was "Don't give up ... I know you can do it!".  When I saw that, I literally teared up.  Here were these little babies who were fighting for their lives imploring us to keep going.  And I gotta tell ya ... when I saw that, my foot hurt a lot less as my heart was overjoyed at their courage and fighting spirit.  About a mile later, there were a couple of these sweet little angels, sitting there on the side of the road in wheel chairs, cheering us on.  Everyone stopped and gave them sweaty hugs and spoke words of encouragement to them.  But of course, it was them who were encouraging us.

At Mile 11, the marathon party died off a little as it always does, as the half-marathoners headed to the finish line, and the marathoners headed to the second half of their race.  The difference was immediately noticeable.  Everyone was wearing the same color race bib.  There was more space.  It was much quieter.  And the pace instantly required more focus on actual running and not so much sight seeing.  There were still plenty of volunteers and a band here or there, but nothing like the first half of the race.

At a couple of the fully stocked water stops, volunteers were waiting with boxes of donuts, of which I indulged at Mile 15.  At Miles 16 and 21 some of the home owners, and some other folks (maybe on the front lawn of a Catholic Church if I remember correctly) offered Dixie Cups of beer and shots of Fireball.  I politely accepted one of the beers, but Fireball in a race was a bridge too far for me, ha.

For the entire second half of the marathon I couldn't get my mind off of the patients we'd seen here and there along the course.  If you raised money prior to the race, you were called a St. Jude Hero, and you received a singlet with the St. Jude Logo with the word "HERO" printed below it.  Many folks wore theirs, but even though I'd raised some donations, I didn't wear the one that was sent to me.  As we passed the hairless children who were sitting there, some with oxygen tubes running from their nostrils, their parents would shout, "THANK YOU HEROES!!!"  All  you could do was smile and waive.  I mean, these families were facing unthinkable circumstances and they were out there shouting words of encouragement.  It was so incredibly humbling, and I'll never forget it.

I'm not gonna lie, my foot was killing me, but their encouragement kept me running until Mile 23 where I had to stop and walk ... errrr LIMP, a bit.  I tried to start again at Mile 24, but most of the last two miles were spent walking and counting the steps until I was finished.  The finish line was actually inside AutoZone Park, the home of the Memphis Redbirds, the Triple-A affiliate for the St. Louis Cardinals.  I crossed the finish line with a 4:08, but I couldn't have cared less about the time.  I was just glad to be done so I could get off my foot for a while, but more than anything I was overjoyed that I'd got to experience the race.

After the race, I limped back to my hotel room, which was only a block away.  Showered.  And then took one more stroll down Beale Street, which was starting to liven up at a 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.  After that I hopped in the car and drove back to KC.  My ankle was throbbing, my legs were sore, my body was tired ... but more than anything my heart was full.  It was a heart-breaking & heart-warming beautiful morning, and I was so glad I had the opportunity to experience it.  I would highly recommend it to everyone and cannot wait to run it again!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

2017 Duke City Marathon

2017 Duke City Marathon Review
Sunday, October 22, 2017
Albuquerque, NM
32nd State Completed

Runners: 427 (245 men, 182 women)
Start Time: 7 a.m. MST
Course: Pancake flat with only one 50' hill, only 253' of elevation gain
Weather: 40F start/55F finish, 30% humidity, 5 mph wind ... absolutely perfect
SWAG: Long sleeve dry fit t-shirt
Race Organization: Fair
Crowd Support: Good at finish line, nowhere else
Volunteer Support: Fair
Water Stops: Average
Food: None, only water and Gatorade during the race, no gels or fruit
Age: 48
Finish Time: 3:34:28
Average Pace: 8:11/mile
Place: 47th/427 Overall, 10th/45 in 45-49 AG
Total Experience ... 1  2  3  4  5

The Duke City Marathon was advertised as one of the top 25 marathons in the world.  And while it was a nice small race on a beautiful course, at the risk of sounding disrespectful or condescending ... I just didn't experience anything overly special about the event.  I regretfully write those words because race directors work so hard at putting together a race weekend, and I don't want to offend any of them because everyone I met was so courteous and helpful.  Additionally, the individual experience is undoubtedly going to vary from runner to runner so many folks will view the event completely differently than I did.  But out of the 36 total marathons I've ran so far, I definitely would not put it near the top, in fact I found it somewhat mediocre overall.

Let's start with some of the high points about the race ... because there are several!  First, the backdrop is amazing.  Albuquerque is a beautiful desert town along the Rio Grande River in the shadow of the Cibola National Forest mountains.  As with most Western US cities, the sky is seemingly always deep cobalt blue during the day, and a brilliant burst of orange and red with each sunset at night.  The weekend of the race, the temps were 40 degrees in the morning, and 80 degrees in the afternoon, making for perfect running conditions.

Second, there was plenty of hotel lobby space only a few feet from the starting line, so runners were able to keep warm inside until minutes before the gun sounded.  Also, the race started at exactly 7:00 a.m.!   There was no standing around while legs got cold.

Third, the course is fast and one of the flattest I've ran.  For the first 12 miles of the race, runners tool the pancake flat paved Rio Grande River path along side and under overhanging Ash and Maple trees that were in peak Fall bright yellow and orange bloom to the left, and the mountains to the right.  There is barely a speed bump to climb during this stretch.  Unbelievably flat.  At Mile 13, the course had few rolling hills with a total climb of about 80 feet to it's highest point in the race.  And then just like that, we turned around and went back along the same course all the way to the finish line.  Almost no hills at all.

And finally, the hot air balloons!!!  I didn't get any photos of this amazing sight because I don't run with my phone ... but around Mile 5, about 10-12 brightly colored hot air balloons began to rise in the distance creating a very unique and beautiful marathon experience.  I'd never seen anything like it!!! They were so beautiful in contrast against the blue sky canvas and something I wish I could have captured with a photo.  They were basically in view the entire first half of the run, but disappeared during the second half as we turned our backs and headed the other direction.
Game face on race morning, lol

As for the things I felt needed improvement ... overall, even though the course was really really beautiful ... I found it really really really boring.  I would have enjoyed the course a little more if we could have spent more time experiencing some parts of the city other than the river path.  However, this is EXACTLY the type of course my wife and many runners prefer.  Many folks love paved paths with very little turning or changing direction, it's just not my thing.

And speaking of the path, high speed cyclist and slow moving runners are not a good combination.  The course is an out and back with runners on both sides of the path divided by a painted yellow line down the center.  But frequently bikers would cut in and out of runners at high speeds on either side of the trail, forcing some folks to dodge or get out of the way.  Frankly, it's little tough to divide your focus on bikes passing at high speeds when you're trying to center your focusing on finishing 26 miles on foot.  Obviously the race directors can't do anything about discourteous and dangerous cyclist, but maybe they could petition the city to have the course closed to two-wheel traffic for a few hours on the morning of the race in the future.

I didn't find the volunteer support or organization of the race exceptional either.  My first experience with the race was them losing my bib at packet pickup. This was probably just a mix up and they quickly assigned me a new one, so no biggie.  But volunteers seemed somewhat sparse, other than the water stop ROTC kids, along the course.  And while the water stops were placed close together, which was nice, some of them only had two or three kids volunteering per stop.  On three occasions, they were busy getting water for oncoming runners in the other lane and missed me and a couple of other runners in the opposite direction.  Also, a car nearly pulled out in front of me at an intersection in the last mile, which again, was probably a one-off, and no big deal ... but more volunteers might have stopped the driver.

And finally, it seemed a little chaotic at the finish line.  There were kids, non-runners, volunteers, exhausted runners, and random people milling around about 20-30 feet immediately on the other side of the finish line.  This is the area most races block off to only runners.  The volunteers handed me my medal, and while I was overwhelmed with exhaustion and thirst on wobbly legs, I waited behind kids and old folks for a bottle of water.  It was the same experience trying to get a piece of fruit and granola bar ... waiting my turn behind kids grabbing handfuls.  It's just a pet peeve of mine, and a lot of runners feel the same way ... kids and non runners are chowing down on post race food.  But I guess that's what part of my race fee goes towards ... it happens at every race.  I couldn't get out of there and back to my room quick enough.

As for my race ... I used the run as prep for a couple of upcoming events over the winter.  I ran a 3:24, stopping to pee three times, walking through most water stops, and walk/running the last 6 miles. The 18 miles from miles 3-20, I averaged a 7:43 pace ... which basically amounted to a nice in race tempo run ... so that was very positive especially since I wasn't anywhere near peak condition.

After the race, I quickly headed back to my room which was literally located about 200 feet from the finish line ... another very nice thing about the race ... and then got in my car and drove 14 hours back to Kansas City (I wouldn't advise that).  Overall I enjoyed the race and would recommend it if you're trying to cross New Mexico off the map.  And those balloons ... man, they were amazing!!!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

2017 Green Bay Marathon Review

2017 Green Bay Marathon Review
Sunday, May 21, 2017
Green Bay, Wisconsin
31st State Completed
Runners: 1,021 (561 men, 460 women)
Start Time: 7 a.m. CST
Course: Really flat with a few small hills, only 285' of elevation gain
Weather: 55F start/62F finish, 100% humidity, 5-10 mph wind, pouring rain at starting line, and rain showers most of first half
SWAG: Short sleeve dry fit t-shirt
Race Organization: Very good
Crowd Support: Above average
Volunteer Support: Very good
Water Stops: Very organized and energetic, well stocked
Food: Gels & bananas & orange slices along course, beer & brats & typical post race food
Age: 48
Finish Time: 3:29:23
Average Pace: 8:00
Place: 145th/1,021 Overall, 18th/69 in 45-49 AG
Total Experience ... 1  2  3  4  5
If you're looking for a very flat and very well organized marathon ... with an opportunity to run through the historic Green Bay Packer's Lambeau Field at the end, then the Green Bay Marathon is your race.  And even if you're not a fan of the NFL, it's still a really well ran event by the friendly folks of Wisconsin.
Historic Lambeau Field ... Home of the NFL's Green Bay Packers since 1957

Lambeau Field Atrium - site of packet pickup and race expo
Like most red-blooded American males, I grew up loving the NFL.  Fall weekends always meant nothing but football at my house!  But frankly, over the past few years I've really lost respect for the NFL and rarely even watch the games any more because of the perceived acceptance and tolerance of domestic violence toward women. In the 2017 Draft, six players were drafted with sexual or physical abuse charges or allegations in their past.  One of the players drafted had punched a woman in the face so hard it broke several face bones.  Another punched a woman in the mouth, knocked out a tooth, and completely knocked her unconscious.  When questioned about drafting an individual with two domestic violence charges in his background, the Jacksonville Jaguars GM blew it off by saying, "I think we all have been accused of things”.  In my opinion, there is a cultural disregard for women in this organization, and I think their actions and words are proof.  And even though I love the sport of football, the ongoing drafting, glorifying, and overlooking of previous violations has really made the NFL hard for me to watch.  I believe in second chances, and I don't think these young men should be banished from society or anything, but it just seems like if you can run a 4.2 second 40 yard dash, a lot of things are swept under the rug.  But anyway ... NFL fan or not, an opportunity to run through historic Lambeau Field was something that really appealed to me, so I scheduled the marathon in Green Bay and made the 11 hour drive from Kansas City.

I stayed at the Hampton Inn on Ramada Way, only a couple of miles from the stadium.  All of the host hotels had shuttles available before and after the race.  While I was on my way to check in at the hotel, a woman in the parking lot said, "Hey ... I read your blog!"  Since I haven't consistently blogged for a couple of years, I thought maybe she had me confused with someone else, but as she approached I saw that it was my Facebook friend Julie Crutchfield, and her husband Eric (neither whom I'd never actually met in person).  They are both elite level runners ... WAY OUT OF MY LEAGUE ... who were in town to run the half marathon.  We chatted for a few minutes, and Julie was even kind enough to get a few photos of me crossing the finish line the next day ... really really cool of her!  It's always great to put a real life face with an "internet face", they seemed like really nice, down to earth people.

There was a nice photo lady snapping photos in the rain
and all I kept thinking was, "Man, glad that's not my camera" ha,
Thank you to all the volunteers who helped out on such a rainy morning
The race expo was held in the Lambeau Field Atrium, a large vestibule area on the North side (I think) of the 81,000 seat stadium.  It was the standard race expo with the typical shoe, running gear, sun glasses, nutrition, and upcoming race vendors on hand.  The Atrium was very spacious, so there was plenty of room to wander around and visit with the vendors.  Packet pick up was well organized and seamless.  All runners received a yellow dry-fit running shirt, running bib, and a race booklet.  There weren't a lot of "extras" with this marathon, which is always fine with me, but I know a lot of folks really enjoy the SWAG.  After gathering my race info, I grabbed some dinner at Sammy's Pizza & Italian Restaurant.  It was an older style place with great food where I carb'ed up for the race.  And after that ... the rain set in!

It basically rained most of the evening, throughout the night, and most of the morning on race day.  I woke up for the 7:00 a.m. start time about three hours prior.  It wasn't raining at that point, but all of the forecasts predicted rain at any minute.  The forecasts weren't wrong.  I opted for my personal car in lieu of the shuttle busses to Lambeau Field, where the race began and ended, and just as I pulled into the stadium parking lot, it began to pour ... and pour ... and pour.  I knew I wasn't in top shape for this race, and even on a perfect day 26.2 miles was going to be tough, but as I sat in my car and watched rain bead up on the windshield, I had a feeling this race might be especially tough.

One thing I noted about this race was the exceptional organization.  It was completely obvious where the bag drop was, and where the family meeting area for post race was located, all of the port-o-potties were front and center by the starting line, and the starting line was divided into corrals based on predicted time of finish.  It was really well done, and you never had to think about where to go to pick something up or drop something off.  The volunteers were real troopers as well.  Most of them were soaking wet at 6:30 in the morning, but they never missed a beat.  From the exceptionally organized water stops to the folks who got us going and pointed out the streets to turn on, they were all very helpful and very much appreciated.  Also, the Lambeau Field Atrium was open on race morning, so runners didn't have to stand in the rain waiting for the race to start.  We basically all huddled inside the warm waiting area until time for the National Anthem, and then made our way ... in the pouring rain ... to the starting line.

Lap around Lambeau Field in the final mile, the highlight of the race
Typically rain runs are never as bad as they seem.  If it's not a complete down pour, you can actually keep your feet somewhat dry, which makes all the difference.  But not on Sunday at the Green Bay Marathon.  Standing in Corral A on Lombardi Avenue in the shadow of the stadium waiting to be sent off, I remember noticing how my feet were already completely saturated ... and as the gun sounded, my first steps of 26.2 miles were squishy.  Over the years I'd carried a rain poncho in my running bag for just such an occasion.  I threw it on in an attempt to stay as dry as possible.  But as I started running through the 55 degree thick morning air, I was burning up under the plastic.  So I had a decision to make, stay really really warm under the thin sheet of plastic ... or remain really really dry.  For the time being I opted for dryness.

The course is very flat with less than 300' of elevation gain.  I only remember a couple of small hills that required any of my attention.  That was a really good thing, because I was in maybe the worst marathon shape for any race so far.  We'd been making a lot of home improvements over the Spring, so most of my spare time had been spent on construction projects at my house ... and not on running.  The week before the marathon I ran 3 miles.  The week before that I ran 27.  The week before that only 24.  Basically 54 miles in the three weeks leading up to the race.  For most training cycles I would have been well over 100 mile during that same period.  My legs felt weak. I was a little chubby.  And more than anything, I just really didn't care much about running ... especially running 26 miles.  In fact, I thought this would probably be one of my slowest finishing times.  And I remember lamenting at about Mile 5 how exhausted I was already.

The rain continued as we made our way along the course adjacent to the Fox River through neighborhoods, small businesses, and municipal trails that were paved and well kept.  Green Bay is home to a little over 100,000 people, and it really had a nice small town feel, similar to Fargo, North Dakota.  Very nice people.  Nice homes.  And a warm and inviting atmosphere.  In spite of the rain, there were quite a few folks along the course, all cheering and offering words of encouragement.  This was especially true at the water stops.  They were all very well organized with Gatorade first, and water next.  And all of the volunteers cheered as you ran through.  They did a really nice job!

Minor "Rawkfist" at coming in under 3:30 on out of shape legs
The rain tapered off around Mile 11 or 12, but it remained damp and foggy.  I finally shed my gloves and poncho, which felt much better.  But at Mile 12, I remember worrying that I wasn't even half-way done yet and thought I'd probably be walking a lot toward the end.  I'd racked up some really slow splits of 8:47, 9:41, 8:27, 8:14, and 8:10 with two pee breaks, a shoe adjustment, and a lolly-gagging tempo through all of the water stops so far.  But I really didn't care because my only focus to that point was crossing the finish line.  During the first few miles of the race, we'd made our way South along the Fox River, and then made a loop through homes in some adjacent neighborhood streets.  As we crossed the river and headed back North, we passed a lot of supporters who were gathered near the businesses on either side of the river ... and my legs were pretty dead already.

I was feeling really light-headed so I took a salt capsule.  There must have been some magic in that old salt capsule I found (to the tune of Frosty The Snowman).  Because after it got into my system at about Mile 13-14, my pace somehow picked up and I began running faster and faster.  I clicked off a 7:26, 7:38, 7:30, 7:40 and 7:41 ... all while thinking to myself, "Slow down dummy!"  But somehow I'd really hit my stride.  My average pace per mile for the first 13 was 8:08.  But I averaged a 7:46 on the back end.  Weird.  In fact, my first 13.1 was a 1:47, while the second half was a 1:42 ... more than a 5 minute negative split!  So even though my finishing time was only 3:29:23, pretty middle of the road compared to other races, I couldn't have been more pleased based on my conditioning.  Looking back now, I probably could have ran a little faster if I'd pushed it a little more on the front end.  But eh ... no PR, so who cares!

The highlight of the race was running through Lambeau Field during the last mile.  In other marathons, I've had the opportunity to run through Mile High Stadium, Churchill Downs, Kauffman and Arrowhead Stadiums in Kansas City, and Indianapolis Speedway just to name a few ... so it felt pretty similar to those stadium experiences, but it was still really cool.  Runners circled the outer edge of the floor of the stadium next to the stands with tons of supporters looking on from the first couple of rows ... probably the best seats many of them had ever had at Lambeau.  It was more congested during this last mile than any other because we'd joined the half-marathoners and a lot of folks were walking and taking pictures.  Every time I'm in one of those facilities I marvel at how huge they are, and I tried to look around a little as well, but my focus was on pushing my tired legs just a little more across the finish line.

After I crossed the finish line, someone patted my on the back and it was Julie Crutchfield who had snapped a few pictures of me finishing the race.  We chatted for a few minutes while I tried not to hurl, and then we both went on our way.  I had a long drive ahead of me, so I hung out around the stadium for a bit, but tried to get on the road as soon as possible.

For me, the Green Bay Marathon was a very nice event with the unique opportunity to run through one of the oldest NFL stadiums, that I'm glad I took part in.  It was my 31st different State that I'd completed, and for someone who runs a lot of marathons, I don't know that it really stands out from the others.  But the people were great, the organization was fantastic, and I would recommend it anyone looking for good fast Midwestern Spring race.