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.

Friday, May 12, 2017

2017 Independence Half Marathon

Used this half marathon as a training run for my upcoming marathon, but thought I'd be a little faster.  Just too much going on in life at the moment to train like I need to for a fast race.  1:33:09.  11th place over all.  1st place 45-49 age division.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Mesa Phoenix Half Marathon

Michael and I ran the Mesa Phoenix Half Marathon on February 25th in Mesa, Arizona.  I ran a 1:29:02, which is a 6:48/mile average pace.  I thought I'd be a little slower because I was about 10 lbs over my top race weight, plus I just wasn't in that great of shape.  So all that considered, I was really happy with the results.  Here are the splits ...

7:27, 7:09, 6:59, 6:53, 6:41, 6:58, 6:38, 6:51, 6:38, 6:43, 6:36, 6:26, 6:11

My official race results indicated that my last 10K was ran at a 6:20 pace/but I don't know how that's possible, but regardless of the pace, it didn't feel that difficult.  I ran fairly effortlessly all day and felt like I could have gone quite a bit faster during the early miles.

The Mesa Phoenix course is a very fast, gradual downhill and the weather was absolutely perfect at about 40 degrees when we started.  The 1:29:02 earned me 13th out of 185 in my age group.  But more than anything it helped jump start my racing for 2017.  I would really like to run a half marathon PR later in the year, and this race confirmed that it's well within my reach!

Hopefully I can stay healthy and enjoy a great running year!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Ward Parkway Thanksgiving Day 5K ... Nice AG Win

2016 Ward Parkway Thanksgiving Day 5K
Thanksgiving Day - Thursday, November 24, 2016
Kansas City, Missouri
Runners: 3860
Course: 1st mile downhill, 2nd mile fairly flat, 3rd mile uphill (approx 100 ft climb)
Weather: 41℉, 75% humidity, 7 mph wind
Time: 9 a.m. start
SWAG: Cotton race shirt, pumkin pie, medal for overall and AG winners
Race Organization: Very poor ... FAIL ... 5K & 10K started about 100 yards apart, but at the same time ... 5K runners had to run off course onto the grassy median to avoid 10K runners
Volunteer Support: Good
Crowd Support: Good
Food: Good
Weight: 180
Health: Good/no issues
Conditioning: Really good, just ran marathon 2 weeks prior and the pace was fairly comfortable, especially for a 5K
Time: 19:43
Pace: 6:22/mile
Place: 34th/3860 Overall, 1st/139 45-49 AG

Video finish line still shot of me from the Ward Parkway Thanksgiving Day 5K ... you can view the actual video here if interested
Michael and I ran our annual Ward Parkway Thanksgiving Day 5K in Kansas City on Thursday.  It's a really fun way to start of the holiday and make a preemptive strike at all the calories later in the day.  It's held at the Ward Parkway Shopping Center in Kansas City, a favorite of ours for movies, and has become our family tradition over the past 6 years.

Medal for 1st Place in 45-49 Age Group
Typically, the race is organized very well with easy packet pickup and race day coordination.  And both of those were their typical well organized selves.  However, the actual race organization was a bit of a disaster.

The 5K and 10K started about 100 yards apart from each other with the the 10K runners in front of the 5K'ers.  However both races started on the same gun. This meant that the 5K runners in the front of the pack quickly ran up on the 10K runners who had barely moved yet.  This forced the 5K runners, in an attempt to keep an pace at all, to run off course to the grassy and treed median.  There were people running into each other, darting back and forth, avoiding trees and tree branches, though unmowed grass ... total chaos for the first half mile of the race.

After that, things settled down for the remainder of the race ... for the faster 5K runners.  For everyone else, there was more congestion, and confusion.  The 10K runner had to make two loops on the same course, which meant the faster runners soon ran up on the slower 5K runners, forcing them to take the same off course approach as the 5K runners earlier.  Since it was a holiday race and no one was trying to break a world record or anything, it wasn't the end of the world.  But I was really surprise that more thought didn't go into having two different races on the same course starting at the same time.  I mean literally, everyone at the starting line of the 5K was looking at the 10K runners and talking about how we were going to get around them.  Hug fail as far as the actual race ... but the rest of the race was top notch as always.

As for my race, it went REALLY well.  I hadn't ran a 5K in a while and had a goal of sub 20.  But the main thing was I didn't want to stress my legs too much, or feel like crap the rest of the day.  So I basically ran the first two miles at a very conservative and somewhat comfortable pace.  I chatted with a couple of runners I saw that I knew (mainly about the disaster start), and really tried to back my pace off until the third mile.  The result was a 6:30, 6:22, and 6:22 ... which I was really happy about ... especially considering the last mile is a 100 ft climb, with a slight decline toward the finish line.

Overall the race was a complete success as I ran sub 20 with a 19:43, felt great afterwards, and enjoyed an awesome Thanksgiving dinner!  We'll continue to run the Ward Parkway race as long as they have it, but hopefully next year the race organizers will think through and plan the two races a little better.

Monday, November 14, 2016

2016 Soldier Marathon Review

Video Projection in The National Infantry Museum
2016 Soldier Marathon Review
Saturday, November 12, 2016
Fort Benning - Columbus, Georgia
30th State Completed
Runners: 462 (258 men, 204 women)
Start Time: 8 a.m. EST
Course: Mostly flat with a few rolling hills, only 558' of elevation gain
Weather: 50F start/68F finish, 76% humidity, 5-10 mph wind
SWAG: Short sleeve dry fit t-shirt, running hat, commemorative poster
Race Organization: Very good
Crowd Support: Very minimal
Volunteer Support: Really great, volunteers posted at every mile for encouragement and assistance
Water Stops: Very well stocked and organized
Food: Gels & Bananas along course, typical post race food
Age: 47
Finish Time: 3:23:11 ... Qualified for Boston Marathon
Average Pace: 7:45
Place: 24th/462 Overall, 7th/49 in 45-49 AG
Total Experience ... 1  2  3  4  5

The Soldier Marathon at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia was a race that I was unfamiliar with until my wife brought it to my attention several months ago.  So as with every race, I spent some time studying the event as a whole and quickly learned that it got very good reviews and was highly recommended.  And after a wonderful weekend with her in the Peach State, I completely agree ... the Soldier Marathon is a wonderful event from start to finish that I would recommend to everyone!

"Iron Mike" Statue at the entrance to the
National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center
Columbus, GA is about 13 hours by car from our house in Lee's Summit, MO.  So like any good cheapskate, and much to the reluctant participation of my wife, Michael ... I decided to drive it!  It was a pretty good jaunt behind the wheel, but after checking off 30 different States in my journey to complete a marathon in all 50, I'm running out of the ones that can be traveled to by car.  But it was a great trip with my best friend and love of my life.

Registration for the race was simple over a very well organized and easy to navigate website (here), and cost $115 since we signed up by the end of August.  The race benefited House of Heroes CVC - a local organization that performs home repairs for military veterans and public safety veterans and their spouses at no charge to them.  It also benefited the National Infantry Museum Foundation who's mission is to provide education and training to Soldiers, families, and the general public on the history of the United States Infantry, the origin and development of Fort Benning, and an overview of the U.S. Army.

The museum is the largest free museum in the United States, and even though I'm not a "military buff" or historian, it was an incredibly fascinating and emotional place.  We didn't have much time to spend there, but we could have literally spent all day watching video presentations and viewing the interactive exhibits that detailed the history of the United States Infantry and the U.S. Army.  Probably my favorite exhibit was the Hall of Valor which stands prestigiously in the center of the museum and lists in detail United States Medal of Honor recipients.  It's truly a humbling display of true American heroes.

National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia ... the Soldier Marathon started and finished here
All of the weekend's events centered around the museum including the race expo and packet pickup.  The race expo was very small and simple with only about two tents that sold race merchandise and items from Big Dog Running, the local running store.  Also, at the expo you could select a Fallen Hero bib, which carried the name of a soldier that had lost their life defending the country.  Frankly, I chose not to run for one of these heroes ... certainly not because I didn't want to honor one of them, but because I thought I'd be too emotional about it.  I gotta tell ya, it was a wonderful feature of the race, but after we got our bibs and race shirts, we stood there reading some of the names, and I got a little choked up.  I don't think I could've run with one of their names on my back ... but many folks did, and it was awesome to see them out on the course the next day.

A few of the displays at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center, including the Hall of Valor (left)

After packet pickup, Michael and I spent some time walking around the museum, and then made our way outside where all of the State flags lined a long sidewalk where the names of fallen heroes are displayed on either side of the pathway.  Also near the path is a small Vietnam War Memorial, and a monument park, and several infantry machinery such as tanks, canons, and transportation vehicles.  Fort Benning supports more than 120,000 active-duty military, their families, and Army reservist, so everywhere we turned there were tributes to our wonderful military, including many young soldiers who were visiting with family.  

After we took in as much as we could in one afternoon, we headed back to our hotel, Hampton Inn Columbus/South Fort Benning, which shared a parking lot with the museum and was only about a half mile walk from the finish line.  That made getting to and from the race easy and carefree, since we didn't have to worry about parking.  Later that day, we enjoyed meals at Wood Stone, a wonderful Mediterranean and Italian family owned restaurant ... and Mark's City Grill, a traditional Southern grill ... both with wonderful food and atmosphere.  We also spent a little time driving around Columbus, GA and it's counterpart city, Phenix City, AL (no that's not a typo ... they spell it Phenix) which sits on the opposite side of the Chattahoochee River.   Like pretty much everywhere you visit in the South, everyone was very friendly and hospitable, showing us nothing but respect and kindness throughout the weekend.

All runners received a short sleeve dry-fit Brooks t-shirt, running hat, and commemorative poster
The Race
Race day was a little later than some since the actual event didn't kick off until 8:00 a.m.  So Michael and I had plenty of time to get ready and then made our way down to the starting area.  All runners had to go through a small security check where we got a yellow bracelet, but then were able to go inside the museum.  It was almost 50 degrees in Georgia that morning, so definitely not cold, but it was nice to be able to go inside for a bit instead of standing around in the cool air without a jacket.

State flags lining the starting and finishing area
This was the first marathon I'd ran in over a year, and I had a few goals.  First .. and always first ... was to finish.  Finishing a marathon is huge accomplishment for anyone, regardless of time.  But also, I wanted to run a Boston Marathon qualifying time again.  I thought I was most likely in good enough shape to come in just under my age group required time of 3:25 without too much trouble, but I wasn't in nearly as good of shape as I had been in other races where I'd blown up at the end, so who knew???  And finally, regardless of time, I just wanted to have a good race.  I'd had several races in the past couple of years that were huge disappointments where I didn't meet my time goals and had physical issues.  I didn't want to feel like that again.  I just wanted to enjoy the experience ... so by design, I planned on backing it off a little.

Miles 1-2
After the Invocation, Soldier's Creed, and the National Anthem, the gun sounded and we were off ... and even though I'd hit the port-o-potties a couple of times pre-race ... I immediately had to pee.  Normally I would just dart off the course behind a tree, but since we were on a beautifully manicured Army Military Base, I felt like I should hold it until we hit Mile Two, just outside the guard shack, which I did.  The first two miles came in at very comfortable 8:13 & 8:38 including a bathroom break.

Mile 3
The first half of the third mile is know as "Drill Hill".  It's the only notable hill on the course, but it's only about a half-mile long.  It's one of the most awesome features of the race because Drill Sergeants are waiting up and down the hill "encouraging" runners as they climb the 100 ft. incline, giving you a small sample of basic training.  I loved it!  I had done a little hill training in prepping for the race, so the hill wasn't an issue and frankly, some of the things they said made me laugh.  One Drill Sergeant yelled at me as I passed, "COME ON!!! 100% ... NOTHING MORE ... NOTHING LESS!!!", which was funny because 100% that early in a marathon would surely spell doom at Mile 18 or so.  And later Michael, who wore incredibly colorful running tights for the race, told me they shouted at her, "COME ON BRIGHT PANTS ... GET UP THIS HILL!!!"  It was great.  It was really motivating and a little something that made the race unique.  I made it up the hill and on past in 7:49 for a smooth Mile 3.

Miles 4-7
I spent the next four miles just trying to settle in.  In spite of a good training cycle, I didn't feel like I was in "great shape" and I was laboring a little more than I felt like I should be at that point.  I wasn't really running that fast, but it took a bit to get comfortable.  After the little climb at mile three, about the only elevation on the rest of the course were small rolling hills, which we started experiencing over the next few miles.  There was absolutely no crowd support for most of the race, especially evident during these miles, but it was very pleasant.  It was a nice shaded portion, and early in the race there was low foot traffic since it was a fairly small event, but I don't remember anything incredibly noteworthy other than passing by a few barracks, shopping areas, and a golf course.  Also, at about Mile 7 we circled back toward the starting line area and passed by the museum again.  I also made another bathroom pit stop during this stretch, turning in 7:43, 7:35, 7:41. and a port-o-pottie 8:28.

Eagle & Phenix Mills and historic civil war era buildings along the
Chattahoochee River Walk at the Soldier Marathon in Columbus, GA
Miles 8-10
At Mile 8, with a slow and easy pace and two bathroom stops behind me, I decided if I was going to qualify for Boston again, I should probably pick up the pace.  But unlike other races ... dummy (me) didn't break out into a light sprint trying to make it all up at once.  Instead, I slowly and systematically started hitting a few sub 7:30 miles.  I'd promised myself before the race that if I felt winded at any point, I would absolutely slow down, instead of my usual "suck it up" and try to push through.  During these miles, we started approaching the Chattahoochee River where the half-marathoners would soon part ways with us.  As we neared the river area, I remember thinking how well manicured and clean everything seemed to be.  It was really a beautiful city.  

I can be a bit of a water stop snob, and I remember noting how well all of the stops were organized and how vocal everyone was loudly announcing the different fluids in the cups ... which is VERY MUCH appreciated.  All of the volunteers did a wonderful job, and they were of course complimented with all of the military personnel.  The paces during this stretch were slightly uptempo at 7:23, 7:28, and 7:17 ... and just like that, I was under my Boston Qualifying overall pace.

Miles 11-15
After the half-marathoners went their separate way, I seemed to really find my stride.  I was running comfortably, breathing easy, and well under my goal pace.  At Mile 11 we entered a wooded winding path along the river and encountered an occasional oncoming biker in the opposite lane. However, there were several well posted signs that instructed runners to stay to the right, so I never experienced any potential collisions, although it would've been nice to find a way to shut the path down to bike traffic for a few hours during the race.  It reminded me very much of a similar stretch in the Richmond Marathon along the James River where you could look over your left shoulder through the trees, which had lost most or all of their leaves, at the peaceful river.  It was very scenic. 

Whitewater rafting on the Chattahoochee River
The next few miles continued along the paved trail that followed the river to downtown Columbus.  At about mile 14 or 15, we encountered the only real "cheering section" of the race with about 100 students screaming and enthusiastically as we passed by the Phenix Mill, which many claimed was the namesake of the Alabama city waiting on the other side of the river.  This was the most active and most interesting part of the run.  There were old historic civil war era buildings towering over the path, many uniformed soldiers along the way offering encouragement, and even some folks on the Chattahoochee River in kayaks riding the small rapids.  You could tell the city had invested a lot of resources to develop the area and it really took my mind off the race for a bit.  However, I was really cruising at this point and logged 7:30, 7:28, 7:25, 7:40, and 7:25 on my first pass along the River Walk.

Beautiful pedestrian bridge river walk over the Chattahoochee River that connects Columbus, GA and Phenix City, AL

It's been a good race if I'm throwing up a RAWKFIST at the finish line
Miles 16 & 17
The Soldier Marathon is one of the handful of races I've ran where the course actually takes you into two different States.  At about Mile 16, runners cross the pedestrian bridge over the Chattahoochee, and temporarily leave Georgia and enter Phenix City, in East Alabama.  It's all part of the beautiful pedestrian bridge and Chattahoochee River Walk experience.  It was by far the best part of the race.  Once on the opposite side of the river, we ran about a mile, and then turned around and came back.  It was short and sweet, but really a cool added segment of the race.  For the next few miles we would retrace our steps along the same path, but I kept pace with a 7:31 and 7:41 over the river and back.

Miles 18-22
Once we got back into Georgia, we turned South toward Fort Benning and ran the same river walk and trail, except this time passing runners who were on their way toward Alabama.  The best way I can describe this race in total for me is ... complete control.  And that control was probably best demonstrated during this stretch.  I was running a 7:40'ish average during this spell, and kept creeping up on a younger runner in basketball shorts and tall white cotton socks.   He seemed to be fighting his pace a little, but every time I started to pass him, he sped up and wouldn't let me by.  Honestly, when I first started running years ago, this might have bugged me little.  But I wasn't racing this guy and didn't want to burn the energy.  I knew if I could keep it steady for a few more miles, I would reach all three of my goals ... so I just let him go and controlled my pace.

Me and Michael at the finish line after the Soldier Marathon
At the later miles of any marathon, you're never really "feeling great", but I specifically remember thinking that my legs felt really good with no noticeable signs of fatigue or danger setting in.  Again, in many other races, this is where dummy (me) decides to put the hammer down, only to run out of gas before the finish line ... but not in Georgia!  I knew I was well under my BQ pace, and everything was still under complete control.  I was walking through all of the water stops, joking with volunteers, and still maintaining at 7:40, 7:30, 7:40, 8:00, and 7:33 as we hit the home stretch.

Miles 23-26.2
During the last four miles of a marathon ... you pass a lot of "zombies" ... or walkers.  I've experienced being "undead" a few times myself in these late stages.  You know ... those folks who have just run out of gas, hands on hips, a look of despair in their dead eyes, who slowly turn their lifeless gaze on you as you pass by and mumble a dejected, "Good job!".  Yeah ... I've been that "zombie" before ... but not at the Soldier Marathon!  During these last four miles I had one of those great days where even though it was work, I felt like I was in charge of every step.  I was doing "finish time math" ... except it wasn't the "how slow can I run and still get my time" math ... rather, it was "how far under my BQ time will I be if I keep running this pace".  I felt like I had quite a bit more in the tank, but I just kept motoring along nice and steady.

I was passing runners right and left, including the half-marathon walkers whom we'd rejoined ... and the guy in basketball shorts and white cotton socks.  And as the course routed us again by the Hampton Inn back to the National Infantry Museum, I knew I had made it.  I looked for Michael as I came down to the finish line and she was standing there in incredibly bright pants taking pictures ... so naturally I gave her a RAWKFIST in celebration, and crossed the finish line in a very comfortable 3:23:11 ... good enough for my eighth Boston Marathon qualifying time!

Dessert at 11th & Bay Southern Table in Columbus, GA
In some recent marathons, I've had quite a bit of stomach troubles after the race, and even thrown up a couple of times.  But at Columbus, everything was fine!  In fact, I recovered for a few minutes, stretched, walked the half mile back to the hotel, changed clothes ... walked back down to the finish area to look at race gear ... and then walked back to the hotel again.  I felt great!  Probably indicating that I didn't run hard enough, lol.  But one of my main goals was to enjoy the experience ... and feeling great at the finish line was a huge part of it.  

Something kind of interesting ... I checked out the leader board to find out where I placed and saw that I was 24th over all ... and thought, COOL, out of almost 500 runners that's not bad!  But when I looked a little closer at the results, I realized that was only good enough FOR FREAKING SEVENTH PLACE in my age group, LOL.  In any other age group, I would have been no lower than third place.  I must have been running against a bunch of old man Olympic cyborgs or something.  I mean the guy who won the race was my age and ran a FREAKING 2:29!!!!!  Unbelievable, oh well, lol!  I really didn't think I'd ran good enough to place in my Division ... but frankly, I would've expected to be a little closer to the front than seventh place!  Michael has always told me not to worry about placing because you can't control who's running at the race.  That was certainly true at Fort Benning.

For dinner, we had some great local pizza at Cerrone's Pizza, followed by desert at an awesome little local restaurant on the river called 11th & Bay Southern Table.  It was an old restored cotton warehouse and it was amazing.  The perfect ending to a nice trip!  We stayed the night in Columbus and then hit the road for a 13 hour trek back to KC.

My grandfather was awarded a Purple Heart for his service in World War II, and even though I've never served in the armed forces, there aren't many who have more respect for the sacrifice and service of our military.  And on Veteran's Day weekend, it was entirely my honor to experience a wonderful event that I would highly recommend to everyone.  I finished!  I qualified for the Boston Marathon!  And overall had a great time at the Soldier Marathon at Fort Benning in Columbus, GA!  Mission accomplished.