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.


  1. The Adventure .... The Time.... The Dedication.... The Commitment..... The Accomplishment... The Gratification.... The Companionship


  2. Smart race - you ran well, fast, and felt good at the finish. That's hard to beat. I can't believe there were six people in your age group running faster than a 3:23: that's unusually fast. But oh well, still got a solid BQ and a great experience. And yes, age group really never know what the competition will look like, so I don't set much store by them.
    I never visited my brother at Fort Benning, and now I see your beautiful pictures and think I should have run this race! He's transferring this spring, so I missed my chance!

  3. Great job Jim! Sounds like a very well executed race on all fronts! Congrats on the BQ and for feeling great with no Tummy troubles post race. Glad you had a nice trip albeit a long travel!
    So what's next on your list???

  4. Nice write-up Jim. Glad to see you had a good race and were able to qualify for Boston again. What an accomplish. Love seeing you back in action.

  5. Yippeee! Big congrats on a great race and another BQ qualifier. Also love your race report. It is very fat with detail, which is always a plus. I think it's cool that you not only ran a good and smart and fast race but that you enjoyed it so much. To me, that's what racing is all about. P.S. Michael, I love, love, love your tights.

  6. Columbus runner here. If it's any consolation, the marathon winner isn't really 46, but 29. He's the fastest person in the area & broke the record he held for the course/race this year. There must have been a typo when he registered. Glad you enjoyed the race. I've run the half the last three years, & I like having the half & full courses together until mile 10. That way there's more likely to be someone to run with. Hope your great writeup will encourage others to come next year. -James Dudley

  7. Nice comeback race ! I hope my comeback race in 2 weeks (after 3.5 years) will go as well. I'm always jealous of people who feel good in the last miles. I've finished 25 marathons and haven't mastered that yet. I'll keep trying...... Congrats! This seems like a great race. I may have to put it on my list. Thanks for the details.


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