Monday, September 12, 2011

Sioux Falls Marathon Review

Falls Park (photo from
2011 Sioux Falls Marathon
September 11, 2011
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
13th Marathon Completed
Overall Rating ... 2 out of 5

Spoiler Alert...
  • Very small race ... 358 runners
  • No race expo
  • Sioux Falls very small, friendly, and easy to navigate
  • Fairly easy, but very non-scenic course
  • Almost no participation or support from local residents, but great volunteers
  • Great starting area, with convenient shuttle service
  • A little warm for a marathon ... 62 degrees w/90% humidity at start & almost 80 degrees at the finish
  • Wonderful tribute to the 10 year anniversary of September 11, 2001 before the race
  • Didn't run my planned ... and predicted PR race, but had fun!

Finisher Medal ...

Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Located in the extreme Southeastern corner of the state, near the Northwestern tip of Iowa & the Southwestern corner of Minnesota, Sioux Falls is a small mid-western town with a proud Native American history.  It is the largest South Dakota city at about 150,000 people, and is famous for the falls that cascade from the Big Sioux River.  They are brilliantly on display in Falls Park on the North side of town.  It is also home to various Universities including The University of Sioux Falls and Augustana College.
Sioux Falls is very easy to navigate with clearly numbered east-west running streets, with named streets running north & south like many Northwestern cities.  Interstate Highway 90 runs directly North of the city, with Interstate 29 directly adjacent on the West side.  .

At first glance it appears that Sioux Falls is a highly industrial city with various quarrying and agricultural plants evident.  However, some of the cities largest employers are from the health care and financial industry with Sanford Health, Avera Health, John Morrell & Co, Wells Fargo, and Citigroup leading the way.
Local entertainment at one of the festivals in downtown Sioux Falls, South Dakota
The downtown area of Sioux Falls is a clean, small city environment.  While I was in town there were a couple of festivals going on ... both a Latin American Festival on the streets of Sioux Falls, and German Festival being held in beautiful Falls Park.  There were wonderful local vendors and various live entertainment which is always fun to watch.

Packet Pick-Up
Packet pick-up at Scheels All Sports
This was only the second year of the Sioux Falls Marathon, with only about 350 runners.  Thus, there was no Race Expo like you find at most big races ... but it wasn't really a big deal to me.  Most of the Race Expos are very similar with the same vendors and guest speakers.  At times you'll find new gear or some new gadget that is worth looking at and demo'ing, but mostly it's just table after table of cheap sunglasses, head-bands, nutrition bars, and discounted running apparel.  It was kind of nice not wading through tons of people. 

Packet pick-up was held at Scheels All Sports, which is my favorite big chain sporting goods store.  It was simple, quick, and effective.  The race organizers were very friendly with a couple of tables arranged in the center isle of Scheels.  You basically walked in, gave them your number, and then they gave you a race shirt, bib number, and timing chip.  No long lines.  No confusion.  Just quick and simple.  It almost had the feel of a small local 5K packet pick-up with just a few workers volunteering at a table top.

I couldn't help but think it was a pretty smart move by Scheels hosting the event.  There were only about 350 marathoners, but there were another 1,700 half-marathoners and 5k'ers.  Most of these people had probably been in Scheels before, but to have a 2,000 customer shot-in-the-arm probably brought in a lot of business on the Saturday before the race.  I'm a little surprised more businesses and sporting good stores don't do this before races.
This was the only S.W.A.G. handed out for marathoners - but it's one of the better technical tee's I've received for a race

Lodging & Meals
As usual, I stayed at the Hampton Inn while at the Sioux Falls Marathon.  I travel for my job so it's basically my home away from home.  I'm used to their excellent service and the room is always the same, so I know what to expect.  This Hampton was fairly new and was right next to the movie theater and several nice restaurants.

The afternoon before the race, I killed some time and saw "The Debt", which was pretty good.  After that I grabbed my pre-race pasta meal at John Carino's Italian.  I ate bow tie chicken pasta in a very "garlicy" sauce.  After that I went back to my room and began getting everything ready for the race.

It was the night before the 10 Anniversary of the 9/11 Tragedy.  So I spent the evening watching special news coverage, and an NBC rebroadcast of the September 11, 2001 morning news show.  I have to tell you - it was just like it happened yesterday.  Being a Midwesterner, my family and I were pretty insulated from the events of that morning ... at least in a physical sense.  But the lasting effects of how it altered all of our lives forever were brought back to the forefront and it was very emotional.  And I'm not too manly to tell you that I teared up a couple of times while watching.  It's amazing how much the world has changed since that day.

Race & Course
The race started at 6:45 am at Howard Wood Field, the sports complex for the Sioux Falls Public Schools.  I arrived at about 5:45 am and pulled up in a parking space about 30 feet from the front gate ... AWESOME!!!  There were only about 25 other people there at that time ... an HOUR BEFORE THE RACE!!!   Even though I prefer bigger races for the excitement and "pageantry" of it all, it was so cool to be able to sit in my car with all my stuff and just play Angry Birds to kill time while I waited for the race to start.  I noticed on my car temperature gauge that it was already 62 degrees.  This was about 10 degrees warmer than what had been forecasted about a week earlier ... but hey, that wasn't going to stop me!  I came to Sioux Falls to PR, and PR I was going to do!

In honoring the memory of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the race coordinators played some patriotic music while runners were arriving.  I was still a little emotional from watching the coverage the night before, but while I was stretching on the track, they played Ray Charles singing "America The Beautiful", which always gets me anyway.  I immediately was overcome again as a few tears streamed down my face.  But as I looked around, there were a few other runners struggling to keep their composure as well. 

As you approached the starting line, you could see a small replica of the Statue of Liberty holding a real flame.  And retired New York City Police Officer, William Dement was on hand as the official starter and also to share a few words.  Even though it was a small marathon, the organizers did a wonderful job of honoring the memory of 9/11/2001. 

Something that got a little confusing before the race started, was an instruction the PA announcer kept repeating.  About 10 minutes before the start of the race, he began saying "All runners must have an ankle bracelet to compete".  This was strange, because this was the first I'd heard about an ankle bracelet ... I mean, I had my timing chip, what more did I need.  Then he repeated, "ALL runners MUST have an ankle bracelet to compete".  I panicked a little since I had no idea what he was talking about.

I scrambled around and found a lady with a race badge by the gear check table and asked her what this was about.  She was very nice, but I could tell that she had answered the same question about 50 times, "That's a mistake, I'm calling him right now ... the ankle bracelets are for relay runners only".  Whew, that was a relief!  It was obviously a simple miscommunication.  But now there was only 5 minutes until the gun.  So I made my way over to the starting area.

At the sound of the gun, runners made their way around half of the track and then out to the parking lot of the stadium.  Since we started on a track, I think most of the runners I was grouped with thought it was a track meet.  They started very very fast!  I soon slowed my pace down and settled in to enjoy the sights and sounds of Sioux Falls.

A dork before the race on the football field,
yes, I'm wearing my Boston Marathon t-shirt
as a warm-up!  Get off me, I earned it!!!
In fairness to the race directors of the marathon and the city of Sioux Falls, South Dakota ... you have to play the hand you're dealt!  When you are geographically a small town, there are simply not a lot of interesting things to pass by in a race.  I know the race directors undoubtedly did everything they could to create the best course possible, but to be honest, the race course was one of the least interesting I have ever ran.  Frankly, it was pretty lonely and boring.   I absolutely do not say that to disparage this wonderful city or the race directors in any way in any way.  But until the last few miles, it was  just a visually non-stimulating course.

The first few miles took runners on the West side of Interstate 29 through the outskirts of town.  We ran along the highway embankments by farm implement stores and some other small isolated business.  The most interesting part of this portion of the course was watching a beautiful sun rise.  It was amazing!  After that, runners made their way onto the Big Sioux River Levee.  The top of the flood retaining walls were paved with a 8-10 feet wide bike trail which we ran for miles and miles. I think the bike course was closed for the day, but as expected, there was the occasional passing biker that zoomed by runners.  Most were courteous, but a few refused to yield in any way and I'd be really surprised if there wasn't an accident somewhere along the course ... some of those riders were really close, going really fast.

Mentally, the bike trail portion of the race was really tough for me.  I just couldn't stay focused.  Unfortunately, I need people or interesting landscapes to hold my attention in a marathon, but for most of the trail, the only view were corn fields on the left and a small, still river on the right.  I wouldn't call this course "hilly" at all, but it was definitely a little "hillier" than I thought it would be.  But at this point my pace was great and I felt really good.

The unpaved levee trails along the Big Sioux River
(the marathon course trails was paved,
but this is exactly how it looked)
As we made our way back into town past the train tracks, UPS Distribution Center, and local airport we started approaching homes and some of the landmark sites of Sioux Falls.  What really struck me as we ran through a couple of neighborhoods was there was almost no one out on the streets in front of their houses like you find in most marathons.  It was like the whole town didn't know there was a race going on.  The volunteers were great though!  They were very supportive and always cheered you on as you ran by!  Speaking of volunteers, the local police officers (who hopefully didn't have to volunteer and were on overtime) were AWESOME!  They did an incredible job with traffic and there were no runner v. car incidents that I saw.  My hat is off to them and the wonderful volunteers who did everything they could to make the race a success!

The last few miles of the race were by far the best.  Although there were still no cheering crowds or supporters other than those who volunteered for the race, runners did get to see some of the beautiful sights of Sioux Falls.  My favorite of course was Falls Park, where we ran past the beautiful waterfalls that this city is know for.  Unfortunately at this point though, I had felt the temperature begin to rise and my pace was beginning to slow little.  I was really fighting it from about mile 18 until the finish.

In the last few miles, I think around 21 or 22, I do remember a giant replica statue of Michelangelo's "David" by Augustana College.  As I ran past the water stop that was directly adjacent to the statue, I said to the group of volunteers "Hey, that guy's balls are showing!"  I think the water stop might have been sponsored by a church or something, because a few people snickered, but for the most part I was met with eye rolls and daggers.  I'm sorry if I offended anyone ... please keep in mind that I couldn't feel my lower extremities at that point and I was probably a little delirious.  I thought it was funny though!

As I approached the final two miles, I glanced at my watch.  I knew I had to run the last 2.5 miles under 8:00 to PR, so I began to push it.  But I worried as my heart rate began to climb to about 187 bpm.  Anytime I get over 180, I really feel it in my gut.  And more than any other sensation, I feel like I need to pull over at a port-o-pottie, or tree!  So I slowed a little to lower my heart rate ... I never wanna be "that guy"!  At 25.5 I knew I was close to a PR, but I just didn't have enough gas in the tank.  I began sprinting when I saw the finish line, but I came up about 40 seconds short of my personal best.  Also, I was about 15 seconds short of another BQ. 

In the finish area, as I looked at how close I had come to a PR, I was obviously a little disappointed, but not devastated.  I mean, I had "guaranteed" a PR publicly a few days before, but I had come up a little short.  But I can tell you that I didn't give up and ran with everything I had that day ... I was just a little slower than I needed to be.  And that was okay!  It was my third fastest marathon to date ... and believe me when I tell you ... I will set a new marathon PR!

Nice finish line area
I had a long trip back to Kansas City, so I quickly gathered a bottle of water, a banana, and began looking for the buses that were supposed to take us back to the starting line to our cars.  They were right on time and very convenient!  I hurried back to my hotel, showered, and got in my car for an 8 hour drive back to KC.  I think I was on the road literally about 45 minutes after I completed the race ... and I don't recommend it!   I stopped several times along the way to stretch, but my legs got pretty stiff on the way home.  I ran out some of the lactic acid build up the next morning with a 6 mile run.  After that they were fine!

I try very hard to never "run down" a race in way.  I know the race directors work incredibly hard for a long time to make their race a success.  The last thing they need is some jerk on a blog somewhere putting down all of their efforts and labor.  That being said, this probably ranks last on my marathon experiences so far.  But it's mostly because of the course. It wasn't a bad experience by any means, it just wasn't my favorite.  There were a few minor adjustments that the race officials could make to improve the race, but overall, it was an enjoyable experience.  The people of South Dakota were very friendly and I'm thankful for the time I spent there!  It was a great day, and wonderful way to spend time thinking about 9/11/2001 and how blessed I am to live in this wonderful country with a wonderful family.
... be great today!


  1. Congratulations on knocking out another fantastic marathon - in SF, SD no less (spent a few days in Geology Field Camp there...way back in the day. BORING!). You WILL earn that PR, I have no doubt...let this weather cool down some and the legs are going to reap the rewards and send you flying.

  2. Congrats on the marathon! You are da man!!

  3. Sorry about your PR. You will get it though...not that I need to tell you that since you already know it.

    That park looks fantastic!

  4. Great report and I think your comment about that statue is funny!! 350 is really small for a full marathon and I can imagine that that aspect alone would make it difficult.

    Do you have any races before your back to back debut?

  5. I know it wasn't a PR ( I would soooo take it) but lessons learned.
    I am not a small marathon person..I need the big venues....

  6. I know it's disappointing to miss a PR by so little time, but you still ran a terrific race! Love the super detailed race reports you always have. I'm usually so delirious afterwards that I can't remember much. :) Congrats!!

  7. Congrats on the race. I was cracking up about your comments on the statue. I can't imagine you were the only punchy runner to make a comment. Glad you survived the drive home, that seemed like a tough one.

  8. You are an amazingly consistent runner! And I love your detailed reports and stats. Did I mention I'm obsessing over your TOU report and am as sad as you right now that your Garmin wigged out on you that day. You can bet I'll be charging mine. :^)

    When you're doing "50 after 40" the PRs won't happen every time (though they WILL happen)--but that consistency will get you where you want to go on your quest.

    And of course you DO want to do the Colorado Marathon next May, right? :^)


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