Tag Archives: Marathon Review

NYC Marathon – It Moved Me – Nov 5, 2017

The Verrazano Bridge at the grey, misty start of the NYC Marathon 2017.

50,000 people is a lot of people.  Just so, so many.  How many is it, really?  It’s approximately the population of Monroe, Michigan.  It’s how many days there are in 136.9 years.  It’s how many M&Ms were used to make this.  And it’s how many people ran the NYC Marathon this year, plus another 1,307 (but “only” 50,766 finished).

 

I ran the NYC Marathon way back in 2005, when it was the ING Marathon and had like 2,000 runners in it.  Ok, there were a few more runners than that (about 34,000 more), but a lot has changed in 12 years besides the addition of 14,000 runners.  The race has become even more commercialized and sponsored and bigger in every way.  That’s led to some good things (lots of news coverage, fancy tracking technology with the app, and overall excitement in the city) and bad things (crowds, trash, crowds, lines, crowds).

 

Some things haven’t changed – you still get a tour of all 5 boroughs, you still get a lot of spectators, and you still hear “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra at the start.  Other things that haven’t changed include the terrible roads (filled with humped asphalt and potholes and lots of other fun obstacles that desperately want to break your ankle), the stupid sponge mile at mile 18, and the long wait on Staten Island (which might actually be longer now because of the logistics of getting 50,000+ runners onto the island before closing the roads).

Approaching the midtown bus line… so many people!

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  First up was getting to the NYC Public Library on 42nd to catch the 7:00 marathon shuttle bus to the start in Staten Island.  I was on one of the latest bus options because I was in wave 4 which didn’t start until 11 am.  When I arrived on the west side of the library at 6:20 am, the line for the buses stretched about 5 city blocks/avenues.  And this was no single- or double-file line – this was the entire sidewalk packed with people.  It took me about 35 minutes to get onto a bus.  There were several spots where volunteers checked your bib but nobody seemed to concerned with precise bus times.  I heard several people around me saying they were supposed to be in Wave 1, so there’s no way they took the appropriately timed bus (even though they’d still make it in plenty of time for Wave 1).  I did speak with a woman in the starting village who missed the last bus and had to get down to South Ferry to take the boat across instead (which was exactly one of my concerns when signing up for transport!).  She said they didn’t hassle her for using the shuttle buses down there even though her bib said “bus” not “ferry” (which was another big concern of mine).  Regardless, sign up for the transport you want and don’t make a last minute decision, since they might tighten up the security on that and you never know.

The “Bus Experience” courtesy of the NYC Marathon.

The bus ride itself was comfortable and only took about an hour (despite getting stuck in a long line of buses), and the walk from the bus drop off to my corral area in the starting village wasn’t very long, although according to my watch I walked about 6,000 steps before the race even began.  There was plenty of ground space in the village to stretch out and relax and wait (and wait and wait).  I brought a Runner’s World magazine to read during my wait (to conserve phone battery) and I was glad I did.  I was even more thankful that it didn’t start raining until just before our wave started, as there was only one small covered tent that would have sheltered the thousands of non-professional or non-charity runners from the rain.

From the top left corner: The security line, waiting and reading magazine, the tent, the corrals, E corral entrance, a fake smile before the race, and a panoramic shot of Blue Village.

The village had tons of porta potties everywhere you looked, and they even had lots of porta potties inside the corrals.  However, along the course they only had 1 or 2 every mile, and I noticed the lines for those were very long.

 

After sitting and waiting for over 3 hours, listening to wave after wave start (the first time I heard the cannon I immediately thought “bomb,” but since the police right next to me didn’t react, I quickly realized it was just the starting cannon), wave 4 was announced and ushered into the corrals.  Once you got into the corrals, it was like being in a real-life dystopian movie – there were high barricades on both sides of the chute, blocking the view, and everyone was crammed shoulder to shoulder, slowly shuffling forward to an unseen destination while loudspeakers played incessant messages directing us in multiple languages.  It was honestly such a strange experience and one I’m pretty sure didn’t happen back in 2005.  As I stood in the tightly packed crowd listening to the zombie warning in Japanese (at least I think that’s what they were saying), it did not feel like I was about to run 26 miles.  Haha, joke was on me!

Right before the start on the Verrazano Bridge, representing Lady Liberty!

Once we got out of the corrals and crossed the highway, it opened up a bit.  The first three miles flew by like a dream.  The bridge was really neat, even though it was drizzling and gusting winds threatened to take off your hat.  Tons of people were stopped on the bridge taking pictures.  There was a surprisingly large group of spectators at the base of the bridge welcoming the runners into Brooklyn.  And then the miles kept coming…

 

Most of the course had tons of cheering spectators, although there was a section in Brooklyn that was eerily quiet.  Like bridge-quiet.  Other runners even commented on how silent it was.  Maybe it was because of the rain, because even 1st Avenue was more subdued than expected.  At any rate, there was still enough cheering and bands and DJs that there was plenty to see and notice (and not once did I wish I had brought my headphones).  Was it just a coincidence that all the songs I heard being played and performed along the course were from the 90s?  Or was I hallucinating the Lisa Loeb, Oasis, Third Eye Blind, and Green Day that I heard?

 

It took a lot of mental energy to avoid all the other runners, the spectators who frequently crowded the course, the potholes, the garbage, etc. etc. – mentally, it was almost like trail running, but with people screaming and blowing air horns at you at the same time.  In retrospect, that’s maybe why I got so frustrated at mile 16.  I had spent the first half of the race running extremely conservatively.  Even though I felt pretty good (despite some minor knee, calf, and ankle pain in the first mile), I really reined it in, obsessively slowing myself to earn that negative split.  But when we hit the bridge at mile 16, I encountered a solid wall of walkers who had blown through the first half and were now suffering the consequences.

The Queensborough Bridge, aka The Bridge of Frustration

Now, you know I’m a slow runner, and I take my fair share of walk breaks.  But when I do, I always raise my hand to indicate I’m stopping, and I try to be on the side or somewhere in the course where I’m not blocking people (which is usually pretty easy since I run solo).  But the walkers on the bridge had no awareness – they were walking all over the course, forcing anyone who actually wanted to move faster than a snail’s pace to weave around and often stop completely when blocked by them.  It was soooooo frustrating.  Totally maddening.  And I was tired, and hungry, and my knee hurt, and I was so sick of the crowds I had been stuck in all day, and I got pissed.  And unfortunately that anger lasted pretty much the rest of the race, because the irritations kept coming (e.g. the hazardous course conditions because all the water cups turned to mush in the road from the rain and the 100,000 pounding feet, the idiots who grabbed a water-soaked sponge in the mother f’ing rain and then tossed it down in the middle of the course, the spectators who refused to stay behind the barricades and made bottlenecks for the runners, the lack of non-caffeinated Gu at mile 18, the relentless crowds, the incessant rain, and the increasing darkness – there was no irritation too small or large to not fuel my rage in the last 10 miles).

The gross paper cup mush that covered my legs and shoes after the race.

These irritations might not have mattered if I were not so focused on running a faster second half.  Why did I want to negative split so badly?  I think it’s because of this fun fact:  Of the 47,000+ runners who completed the 2011 marathon, only 790 ran negative splits!  (Source: NYRR Virtual Trainer email).  As a back-of-the-packer who’s never run an ultra, I’m rarely in a “special accomplishment” group in any race.  Could I even break 5 hours in this race?  Sadly, no.  But negative splits?  That’s something I could do.

 

After coming down off the bridge, I pushed *hard* during the last 9 miles. I ran the second half of the race almost 7 minutes faster than the first half, despite a slow mile 13, 14, and that horrible mile 16.

Coming across the Willis Ave Bridge around mile 19.5 and heading into the Bronx.

I tried to hold it together until mile 21.5 where I knew My Cute PT was waiting for me.  And there he was, with an amazing hand-drawn panda sign and a bag of food!  I couldn’t stop long because I was still going for that negative split, so I grabbed the bag of food, expressed my irritation and pain, hopefully thanked him, and ran on.  Unfortunately my mouth was too dry for the bagel (rookie mistake!) so I wasn’t able to assuage my hunger until I finally hit some water stops that hadn’t run out of bananas yet.  They were a godsend.  And less than a mile later I saw my other two friends with another sign!  (Or rather, they spotted me, since I was so focused on the mushy hazards on the ground).  It was definitely a nice pick-me-up to see all those friendly faces but made me feel more than a little bit guilty at being grumpy.

 

When I hit Central Park, I suddenly became very emotional – and I’m not an emotional runner!  (At least not in that way – &$(%*#@ bridge walkers!)  I actually tried to make myself angry again because if I got choked up I wouldn’t be able to breathe.  So I shook it off and focused on getting down the east side hills, up the surprising hill along Central Park South, and through to the finish.

 

The fastest mile of my race was mile 25.  At that point my feet were hurting along with my knee (and in the days after the race I’ve dealt with more black toenails and blisters than I’ve had in years).  But I was thrilled I was about to finish.  18 months after breaking my ankle, one year after getting out of my boot, and six months since my return to running, I finally finished a full marathon.  Huzzah!

12 years and 22 marathons apart…

Right after I crossed the finish, I hit a wall of stationary runners.  Literally every runner had stopped just steps from the timing mat to take a selfie.  Welcome to running a marathon in 2017!  I had to duck and weave my way through the pack because I was desperate to keep my legs moving.

The hell that was the excruciatingly crowded and slow walk after the finish to get your poncho.

The marathon wasn’t over at the finish – all runners had a long, slow walk ahead of them to exit the park.  I chose the poncho option instead of bag check, thinking I could make an “early exit,” but I was stymied by incredible crowds that would occasionally completely stop moving forward.  It was truly awful.  The finish line is at about 66th Street and the exit for the ponchos was at 77th Street, except you couldn’t actually get to the open city streets there because it was still barricaded off.  You had to continue south until 73rd where you finally got your poncho and were allowed to exit.  Fifteen blocks (about 3/4 of a mile) doesn’t sound like a lot, and even after running a marathon 15 blocks is a do-able amount of walking – the problem was the speed!  The crowd moved so slowly it took me half an hour just to exit.  Thirty minutes is a really long time to shuffle along clutching a plastic bag of gatorade and water (and a protein drink, an apple, a Powerbar, and some pretzels) in the almost dark rain, wet and covered in mush after waking up at 5 am and running a marathon.  Unfortunately, this was my last memory of the NYC Marathon, and serves as a powerful reminder of why I should avoid large city marathons in the future (although maybe Tokyo would be different… and London… and Athens…).

The NYRR virtual training runner meet-up post-marathon.

The Monday after the marathon I met up in Central Park for a group photo of all the people who used the NYRR virtual training program.  It was really nice to meet the trainers in person and chat with some of the other runners about their experiences running the race.  While I haven’t used a real training program in many years, I really liked the this one and I’d recommend it if you want a program that’s a little more personalized than just following a chart from a book (I paid extra for the “virtual trainer plus” to get email access to the coaching staff).  The daily emails and the online training log also helped keep me accountable (and often served as motivation to get out the door at all).  It was also uncanny how accurately they predicted my race time – my time fell in the narrow range predicted and I hit the exact same time as the “previous runner most like me.”

There was an insanely long line at the Marathon Pavillion on Monday.

Also as an FYI, the line to get into the Marathon Pavilion on Monday was bananas.  I think most people were in line to get their medal engraved (which wasn’t even free), but I think you had to stand in line even just to enter.  I skipped that line and visited the NYRR Run Center on Tuesday – there was a long line there, too, but not as bad as the Pavilion and at least you could wait indoors.  Also FYI, almost all of the New Balance merch went on sale almost immediately after the marathon (I could have saved $7 on my shirt if I waited 5 days!) and many marathon shoes are now 50% (!!!) off at Jackrabbit with code STEPPINGNYC.

 

Overall, I’m thrilled to have such a successful return to marathoning.  I’m grateful for all the help I’ve had in returning to running (I’m looking at you, My Cute PT), and I’m so excited to continue my 50 States quest with the Louisiana Marathon in Baton Rouge in January!  It looks like the medal is a bottle opener! 😀

 

Thinking of running NYC?

If you want a big marathon experience, there is no bigger than NYC.  It’s one of the World Marathon Majors, in case that matters to you, and it’s definitely a spectacle.  If you want to feel special for running a marathon, this is a good one, because people who don’t run seem to take it more seriously than many other marathons (as if 26.2 miles is somehow shorter when not in NYC).  Be prepared to have a lot of money and a lot of patience, and you might even enjoy it.

 

Scores on a 1-10 scale, 10 being the best.

 

  • Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 9/10 – There are 3 major airports (JFK, LGA, and EWR) and no need to rent a car when here.  24 hour subway, plentiful taxis/Ubers, and marathon courtesy shuttles take you from Manhattan or NJ to the starting line.  Not a 10/10 because it can be expensive or time consuming to get around town (sometimes both), and you have to get to Staten Island pretty early because they have to close the bridge you’ll be running on.
  • Staying There (Hotels) – N/A – I don’t really know hotels because I live here and have never stayed in a hotel, but there are tons and tons of options.  Pretty much every neighborhood in Manhattan and even the outer boroughs is pretty safe, but you might want to pick a hotel within walking distance from the finish line (like midtown or the UWS) or the starting transport options (midtown library or the downtown ferry), just for convenience.  Also note that most AirBnBs here are illegal (despite AirBnB being a NYRR sponsor) so think twice before booking one of those.
  • Cost & Registration – 5/10 –  As of 2017, entry fees are $255 for NYRR members, $295 for non-members, or $358 for non-US residents.  You only get the privilege to pay those prices if you actually get in to the race, which requires either getting lucky in the lottery (in 2017, only 17% of runners got in through the lottery), being really fast and time qualifying, paying raising money through a charity, or doing the 9+1 program for local runners.  Shuttle to the start, one shirt, finisher food bag, and one medal included.  You can’t afford not to run!
  • Organization – 9/10 – For such a huge marathon, they do have their ducks in a row.  Lots of emails from NYRR before and after the race.  The expo is huge and can get really crowded, but number pickup is straightforward.  The shuttles to the start had incredibly long lines but they got us there in plenty of time.  Lots of porta potties at the start and some along the course (although those ones had long lines).  They ran out of Gu options at mile 18 (only caffeinated strawberry was left), but they still had bananas in the later miles for the slow people, and I’ve never heard them running out of finishing bags, medals, or ponchos.  Overall, I thought it was well-organized.
  • Course – 8.5/10 – Yes, the roads are bumpy and crowded, but it’s a pretty amazing tour of NYC considering how much of the city they have to shut down to hold this race and the logistics of moving all those thousands of people safely around the city.  Kudos to them for still doing it.
  • Crowd – 10/10 – Pretty much the entire course is lined with spectators (except on the bridges) and the crowd was still pretty big even though it was raining.  I wish they wouldn’t have crowded onto the course (causing bottlenecks for the runners), and/or I wish police would have enforced the police tape, but oh well.
  • Other Factors – 9/10 – As discussed above, it’s NYC, so just do it already.
  • Overall Rating – 7/10 – It’s still not my favorite marathon… Out of the 25 marathons I’ve done, it would maybe make the top 10 only because it’s my hometown and such a spectacle, but …. yeah, I’m just not a big-city marathon fan.  If you are, you’ll love it!

 

Do you ever get grumpy/irritated/angry during a race?  How do you improve your mood?  Do you love or hate big city marathons?  Share in the comments!

Delaware Marathon Recap – Happy Mother’s Day – May 8, 2016

A cool bridge along the Delaware Marathon course.

The cool bridge along the Delaware Marathon course that’s featured on the medal.

I tried three four new things for the Delaware Marathon this past Sunday, because, as the old marathon saying goes, “Everything new on race day!”  (That is the saying, right?)  What new things did I try?

 

  1. I finally wore my Marathon Maniacs shirt!
  2. I tried fueling with PayDay bars!
  3. I ran with a sore throat!
  4. Bonus – I saw a woman cheating!

I can recommend two of those four things, but you’ll have to read on to find out which ones!

 

The view from the Doubletree Downtown Wilmington.

The view from the Doubletree Downtown Wilmington.

The number-one thing Wilmington has going for it is its location.  On Saturday morning I zipped down on Amtrak (if “zipped” includes a 30 minute train delay) and walked two blocks to the outdoor expo.  Because of all the rain, there was a bit of a mud “situation” that the race organizers tried to combat with piles of straw, but it wasn’t entirely effective and I left with my shoes and jeans spattered with mud.  Luckily, they were not my race shoes and the mud hazard was worth all the goodies – I picked up my bib, two free Gus, a shirt, a pint glass, a hat, a cowbell, and a bag.  Before heading to my hotel I continued down the riverfront a couple blocks to Harry’s Seafood for some sea bass and a ridiculous chocolate peanut butter dessert.

After eating too much I hauled all my stuff to the Doubletree Downtown.  At check-in I got another goodie bag (with another Gu, a Kind Bar, a marathon door hanger, a marathon oval magnet, and marathon info) plus a warm chocolate chip cookie.  Later that afternoon I went out for some water and fun sized PayDay bars, which I planned on eating during the race for the first time ever.

 

To be clear, it’s not the first time I’ve ever had a PayDay bar, but it was the first time I’d ever eaten them during a run.  They ended up working out pretty well!  I’m in an eternal process of tweaking my marathon nutrition, but I’m trying to move away from gels/gus because I think they’re yucky.  Instead, I’m trying to eat things I actually enjoy and using races as a way to eat (more) treats!  I picked PayDay bars because they don’t have any chocolate to melt and the peanuts are salty, which is something I often crave during a race.  Their nutrition profile also isn’t too far off from “typical” race food, but is a little heavy on the fat – each fun size bar is 90 calories, 90 mg sodium, 5 g fat, 8 g sugar, and 2.5 g protein.  Compare that to Salted Caramel Gu at 100 calories, 125 mg sodium, 0 g fat, 7 g sugar, and 0 g protein, and 2nd Surge (my standard go-to) at 90 calories, 115 mg sodium, 0 g fat, 13 g sugar, and 3 g protein.  PayDay bars don’t have potassium listed (so I assume it’s zero?) and they don’t have any caffeine, so I did supplement with 2nd Surge and some Gu chomps on race day.

The start of the Delaware Marathon 2016.

The starting area of the Delaware Marathon 2016.

Race day morning was cool (in the 50s), overcast, and very humid, but cleared to sunny skies with a bit of wind a few hours into the race.  Considering the rain we had had the entire week before, we certainly lucked out on Sunday.  I dropped off my bag on the bag check tables behind the tents (nothing very formal) and got into a long line for the porta potties (definitely needed more of those, in my opinion).  It only took me 3 minutes to cross the starting line (even with my back-of-the-pack starting position) and I actually jogged across the starting line since it was so open/uncongested.  It got a little more crowded a few blocks into the race because of the narrow walkways and I felt like I was running in a sea of “HALF”ers (which I was).

Running along the river, reading "HALF HALF HALF" all the way home...

Running along the river, reading “HALF HALF HALF” all the way home…

Luckily I had been warned about the hills on the course, so mentally I was prepared to walk a lot.  But since I expected big hills, the actual hills didn’t seem that bad.  They were very gradual but looooong, and everything had to be done twice because of the looped course, but at least every uphill came with a corresponding downhill.  The worst hills came at approximately miles 5-7 and 12 (and again at 18-20 and 25).  Since I compare everything to Central Park, I’d say the hills were similar but stretched out and stacked end to end, leaving longer portions of flat and longer portions of uphill/downhill.

 

While the course was more beautiful than I expected, Wilmington is certainly a city of contrasts.  We ran through some very fancy suburbs with nice parks only to turn suddenly into run-down neighborhoods with payday loan shops (not to be confused with PayDay candy bars) and vacant storefronts.  The most shocking thing I witnessed during the race had nothing to do with the course, however.  Around mile 20.5 a woman blew past me, which was surprising since at that point the course was very empty and I was still trotting along at a decent pace (for me).  A little farther ahead I noticed her turning around at a non-turnaround point – basically cutting the course.  I joked with the guy standing at the intersection that I was jealous of her getting to cut, and he said she told him she had gotten lost and run extra, so was cutting it off now.  I raised my eyebrows but didn’t think much of it until after the race when I realized just how much she had cut – two small loops including the entire portion through Little Italy, or a little over 2.5 miles.

 

Now, even with the cut, at this pace the woman wasn’t qualifying for Boston or winning any awards (maybe… she looked youngish so I don’t think she’d win an age award… and I didn’t get a look at her bib number so I don’t know what she ultimately got), but it was startling to see someone cheat during a race, especially with all the publicity cheating has gotten recently.  Did she really get lost?  Maybe, who knows?  But if you make a mistake like that should you still have to run the full regulation course?  I’d lean towards yes, but I’ve also never had to run 29 miles for a marathon before.  Is it really cheating if you run at least 26.2 miles that day?  What do you think?

 

Because I was sick (my sore throat was slowly developing into some congestion, but the real waterworks, headache, and fatigue didn’t really kick in until Monday – and I’m still battling what turned into a pretty bad cold), I was keeping the option of only running the half and still getting a finish time (which was allowed, according to pre-race communications).  And while I hope not to run while sick again, it didn’t seem to affect me much that day.

 

Marathon Maniacs shirt Delaware Marathon May 2016As usual (at least for the past several marathons), my plan was to run the first 20 miles and let myself walk after that if I wanted (since I’d make the cutoff time by then).  I ended up walking most of miles 18-20 because of the hills, so I kept running afterwards, and was able to keep all but one of my miles under 14 minutes.  Ultimately I finished about half an hour faster than I expected, and while my knees were quite puffy (as you can see I had them iced at the end), I felt pretty good.  A nice touch at the finish was having your name, hometown, club affiliation (like 50 State and/or Maniacs), and number of previous marathons announced.

 

So, the PayDay bars were a success, the illness, while not recommended, wasn’t bad, but the real home run was wearing the Marathon Manaics shirt.  I’m not a runner who needs crowds or lots of distraction during a race, but I do love the social aspect of races, and wearing that iconic yellow shirt got me a lot of cheers and high-fives from other maniacs during the race, plus I got to hang out and chat with some maniacs after the race, too.  Again, not that I don’t chat with maniacs without the shirt, but it does make a great icebreaker.  (The hot pink gloves and the rhinestone necklace were just extra…)

 

The medal!  It is so nice.

The medal! It is so nice.

The best thing I overheard:

“Same day finish!” – from a runner and fellow back-of-the-packer.

 

All the Delaware Marathon swag!

All the Delaware Marathon swag!

Thinking of running the Delaware Marathon?

 

There were 459 full marathoners, 1101 halfers, and 938 people in the two relays (about 2,500 runners total).  The start was staggered (full and halfers started before the relay runners) and there were no pacers allowed.  Because of all the relay runners, the finish area takes on a party/tailgate atmosphere and seems like a fun way to spend a Sunday morning.

 

All categories on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best.  Note this review is based on running as a “back of the packer,” with a finish time over 5 hours.  Your experience may vary.

 

  • Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 9/10 – From NYC (or Philly, or Washington, DC), Wilmington is easy to reach via Amtrak.  Once there, hotels, restaurants, and the start/finish are all within about a half mile or so, so you don’t need to rent a car.
  • Staying There – 8/10 – The Doubletree Downtown Wilmington is old and showing its age, but it was fine for a night or two, and the price was pretty good (total with tax was $240 for two nights, but they also offer late checkout or “very late” checkout at 5 pm for an additional fee if you don’t want to stay the whole night).  I’m not sure if there was an additional parking charge since I didn’t have a car, but I’d imagine there was.  The location was good for the race – about 1/2 mile from the start/finish/expo area, and only a block or two from a Rite Aid and several restaurants, both sit-down and takeout.
  • Cost & Registration – 9/10 – You get a lot of stuff!  I paid $97 (with processing fees) in September 2015, which got me a short sleeved tech shirt (same as the half marathon), headsweats hat, pint glass, cowbell, and a couple packets of Gu.  During the race there was decent on-course support (water, Gatorade, Gu/cookies, porta potties, and medical).  After the race, you get a really nice medal (this year’s had cutouts and a spinner portion!), beer, champagne, and food (the quantity and quality depended on your finish time, but after 5 1/2 hours there were still some sandwiches left, along with lots of bags of chips, some cold pizza, little cups of pasta salad and fruit salad, bananas, chocolate milk, and sugary drinks).  I thought photos were included because they promised “access to digital photos” but that just meant they had on-course photographers and you can buy the pictures afterwards.  I will say the photographers were better than average and took a lot of scenic photos during the race.  There was no memo pad that said “Memo from a Delaware Marathoner.” 🙁
  • Organization – 8/10 – Pre-race communication was good – I particularly liked the trio of race-week emails with all sorts of info included.  The expo was very small and a bit muddy.  The course support was pretty good, but they were missing some volunteers at intersections so you had to keep your eyes open for cars.
  • Course – 7/10 – For a looped course, it was a lot more scenic and less boring than I expected!  And while it did have some hills (most notably at miles 5-7 and again at 18-20, because of the loop, plus a final hill at 25), they were quite gradual, although quite long.  The mile markers felt really off, though, actually coming a lot earlier than they should have according to my watch (which never happens – usually I’m .2 or more ahead of the markers due to weaving), but the course itself wasn’t short (unless you cut it…).
  • Crowd – 1/10 – Basically no spectators except at the finish party area – and it really was a party in that park, with all the relay runners and family members enjoying a sunny May day. There looked like a lot of tailgating and fun going on, and it was painful to run past it to do another 13.1 mile loop.
  • Other Factors – 4/10 – There’s really not much to see in Wilmington.  If you’re from the area, it’s easy to get there, and if you’re not from the area, Philly is incredibly close, in case you want to do some sightseeing there.
  • Overall Rating – 6/10 – The race was decent, the swag was nice, the maniacs were great, but the overall trip was just “meh” – there just wasn’t much else to the weekend…  And yet I’d consider coming back to do the half just so I could enjoy the post-race food (before it’s gone or ice cold) and relax in the park.

 

Delaware is “The First State,” but it was number 24 for me.  26 to go!  My next marathon is the Missoula Marathon in Montana on July 10th.

 

Have you ever visited Wilmington?  Do you try new things on race day?  Do you think that woman cheated or was she justified in cutting?  Share in the comments!

Garmin Oz Marathon Recap – Never Surrender Sometimes – April 16, 2016

View of the Garmin Oz Marathon start from the hotel.

View of the Garmin Oz Marathon start from the hotel.

A week ago I ran the Garmin Oz Marathon in Olathe, Kansas (ok, a week and a day).  Olathe (pronounced “Oh-LAY-thuh”) is about 45 minutes southwest of Kansas City, Missouri, is surprisingly hilly, and has an excellent Bass Pro Shops.

 

WELCOME TO KANSAS

I flew in from San Francisco via Minneapolis, arriving late Thursday afternoon.  Before leaving the airport, I met up with a friend who happened to be flying into the Kansas City airport at the same time for work (and when that happens, you have to meet up at the Kansas City airport).  After some iced tea and failed attempts to convince him to run Garmin Oz with me, I picked up my rental car.  The intermediate-sized car I reserved was not available so they gave me a minivan; unfortunately it didn’t come with a husband, mortgage, or a dog, so I had a lot of empty space to myself.  After getting my sweet ride I headed straight to the Embassy Suites Hotel in Olathe.  I missed the expo/packet pickup but knew I’d have time the next day to do that.

Even though it was late and I had eaten multiple meals during the travel day, I was hungry for a real dinner so I asked the receptionist for some nearby recommendations.  She suggested crossing the street to get either Mexican or BBQ.  I went with Mexican and was not disappointed at The Salty Iguana.  Was the food good?  It wasn’t amazing, but it was pretty good!  Was the venue loud?  It was pretty loud considering there were like 10 people there!  Was the food cheap?  Yes, it was amazingly cheap!  The hotel receptionist said to mention I was staying at the hotel, which got me a 10% discount, which meant my chicken burrito with chips and salsa was only $8.93 with tax (not including tip).  Thumbs up!

So much food (at The Salty Iguana).

So much food for $8.93 (at The Salty Iguana).

The next day I had big plans – first, hit up the free breakfast at the hotel, then visit the expo to get my bib and any other goodies that appealed, then visit the Super Target for fun and snacks, and at some point visit either the trampoline place or the IMAX theater.  I managed to do all those things except the trampoline or IMAX, due to a headache and weird fatigue probably brought on by all my recent travel.  It was especially disappointing because I got a free 30 minute coupon to the trampoline place (Cosmic Jump) at the expo, but I just couldn’t manage even trying it out.  Next time?  Instead, I watched Pitch Perfect 2 on HBO in my room while eating mountains of popcorn and treats from Target.  It was a Pitch Perfect 2 way to spend an evening before the race (in that it wasn’t amazing or as good as the first time I ever ate popcorn in bed, but it was comforting and familiar and a fine way to relax).

 

RACE DAY

I spent race morning fussing about my hotel room for as long as possible before the marathon, since the start was literally in the hotel’s parking lot (and I have no desire to use porta potties when I don’t have to).  I ended up spending a little too much time in my room and eating too much in the process.  I was weirdly hungry and overate, which was a bit, ahem, upsetting to me later in the race, but it probably only cost me about 8 to 10 total minutes (two stops), and ultimately I didn’t feel that bad and finished the race feeling fine.

 

Trying to show off my broom before the start.  The dang thing didn't help me fly at all!

Trying to show off my broom before the start. The dang thing didn’t help me fly at all!

While stuffing Pop Tarts and granola bars into my mouth, I got all gussied up in my witch costume (complete with homemade paper bag broom attached to my back), headed out to the start, and almost immediately lost my hat to the gusty winds.  I jammed the hat back onto my head but it flew off again right as I crossed the starting line, forcing me to go back and retrieve it (and giving me mild anxiety that I screwed up the electronic chip reading from crossing the mat twice and would be flagged as a cheater).  Since the hat wouldn’t stay on, and I didn’t want to lose it (because, well, awesome hat), I folded it up and tucked it into the back of my tights.  Yep, I ran with a full witch’s hat complete with long black ribbon tucked into my CW-X tights for 26.2 miles.  It was a little warm but not as uncomfortable as you’d think.

 

Random chicken photo for my mom.

Random chicken photo for my mom.

As you might know from the map or flyover video, the race starts out on North Ridgeview Road, forming a jagged loop for the first half before heading out and back on the (paved) Mill Creek Trail for the second half.  The most shocking thing was how hilly the first half was.  It felt like running a really boring roller coaster.  For comparison, it was hillier than Central Park, and compared to Central Park, the hills were longer, for the most part steeper, and more “regular” like waves in an asphalt ocean.  It wasn’t terrible, and it wasn’t mountainous (monotonous yes), but it was surprising for what I expected from Kansas.  The only good part was it offered more shade than I expected, mostly because the sun was so low in the sky that the hills blocked it.

The second half wasn’t nearly as hilly, except for the very steep (but fairly short) hill down to and up from the paved trail.  The trail was about 5-6 feet wide, paved, and not as shady as I had hoped or expected.  It’s often demoralizing to be heading out to run 12 more miles when others are heading back in to finish, but the other runners were friendly and mostly in good moods, so it was actually nice to pass them.  There were a lot of encouraging words and even one high-five!  (I was hoping his speed would rub off on me.)

My goal was to “run” until mile 20, then let myself walk the rest of the way to the finish.  I managed to run a bit until about mile 22, when I switched to full walking, partly because I was thinking I had the Delaware Marathon in 2 weeks (it was actually 3 weeks), but mostly because I was tired and I simply didn’t want to run.  My philosophy these days is not to torture myself with any of these races and try to enjoy the day and the experience as much as possible.  So if I want to walk, I walk!  It was a gorgeous day to be outside and I was actually enjoying it.

 

We were very lucky with the weather – it was in the 60s to low 70s and overcast for almost the entire race – a tiny bit warm, a bit humid, and a bit windy, but otherwise perfect.  If it had been sunny (or rainy, which some said it has been for the past several years), it would have been torturous in various ways.  The water stations were only every 2 miles (sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less), which was ok since it was overcast, but if it had been hot and sunny, it would have been really rough.

The home stretch - with more hay bales!

The home stretch – with hay bales!

The hill from the trail to the main road (not pictured) was so steep and painful I immediately and un-affectionately nicknamed it “Cramp Hill.”  Even walking it almost made my legs seize up.  I heard others complaining about this hill after the race so I know I wasn’t the only one who struggled with it.  But we were back on the main (Ridgeview) road and had only a few more rolling hills until the hotel shimmered in the distance and the finish line awaited.  I whipped out my witch’s hat, ran the .2 through the finish, and collected my surprisingly enormous medal.

The finisher food and medal!

The finisher food and the giant (smudged) medal!

I heard several other runners say they ran this race every year just for the medal, and I can see why – it’s pretty nice and much much larger than the preview images indicated.  The green portions are a translucent glass, which is cool.  The only disappointing thing is that the metal has permanent smudges and fingerprints on it – and they were there before I even touched the medal.  I washed it several times with soap and warm water, buffing it with a soft towel in-between, but some of the stubborn prints remain.

I'm a wicked witch!

I’m a wicked witch!

 

After the race I was feeling well enough to check out the Bass Pro Shops (yes, it ends in an “s” even though it’s one shop, which is just as weird as “Brussels Sprouts” – it’s correct but seems wrong), and I’m so glad I did.  It’s only about a 6 minute drive from the hotel, and it’s the best Bass Pro Shops I’ve visited yet, mostly because of the shooting arcade!

I didn’t do much else that day (I mean, really, anything else would have been a let-down), and my flight home was super early the next morning (I left the hotel by 4:15 am!).  Overall, it was an okay race, a pretty fun visit, and I’m glad to have another state down!

 

Thinking of running the Garmin Oz Marathon?

 

Front and back of the Marathon shirt (short sleeved, tech fabric).

Front and back of the Marathon shirt (short sleeved, tech fabric).

There were 512 full marathon runners, 1,838 half marathoners, and 559 10K runners (a total of 2,909 runners).  Because it’s a relatively small race and the marathon starts first, it wasn’t too congested (the halfers peeled off at about mile 12).  A decent portion of the runners wear costumes (more in the half or 10K, of course).  The medals for all the races are pretty nice.

 

All categories on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best.  Note this review is based on running as a “back of the packer,” with a finish time of about 5 1/2 hours.  Your experience may vary.

 

  • Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 5/10 – Olathe, Kansas, is about 45 minutes outside of Kansas City, MO, which is probably the airport you’ll fly into.  It’s nice that the start/finish of the race is in the hotel’s parking lot, but there is no easy way to get to that hotel, nor is there much else near the hotel, so that means you’ll probably have to rent a car for the weekend.  (For what it’s worth, the front desk said a taxi would probably cost $50 one-way to the airport.)  You can run across the street for Mexican or BBQ, and the hotel itself has a bar and restaurant.
  • Staying There – 9.5/10 –  The Embassy Suites Olathe is new (opened in late 2015 I think), and it was great.  The rooms felt new and while they’re not large, they were nicely laid out and still provided a pretty full kitchen (mini fridge, separate sink, and microwave, plus coffeemaker).  They had free breakfast (with made-to-order eggs) and even had an afternoon happy hour with free drinks and snacks (like chips and small slices of pizza).  The gym looked ok but the pool is very small.  Parking is ample and the spaces are large enough for your minivan.  My total for 3 nights was $454.
  • Cost & Registration – 9/10 – I paid $76 (with processing fees) for the marathon back in October 2015.  You get a nice short-sleeved tech t-shirt with minimal logos, a big medal, and decent finisher food (the chicken sandwich was excellent, but the only beer left for slowpokes like me was Bud Light).  They also had bananas, granola bars, and tubes of yogurt.  On-course support was ok and included a couple Gu stations, but there were no bananas or pretzels or anything like that.
  • Organization – 8/10 – Pre-race communication was fine, but the redesigned website needs more (or less?) designing (it’s so big and unwieldy for such a small race).  The expo was small and simple with limited vendors, so if you need a particular gel don’t expect it there (they had some Gu but no salted caramel, for example).  They don’t have a pasta dinner, and the “virtual” goodie bag is a joke.  I think they could have done a lot more with the Garmin sponsorship, since so many of us runners have Garmins and often have complicated and serious relationships with them, but it seems like it’s in name only (plus the winners get a watch).
  • Course – 6.5/10 – As I described above, it’s pretty hilly in the first half.  It’s also a little boring, but that was to be expected.  It is closed to traffic, not too crowded, and not very cambered so pretty easy on the legs.  I think they had a porta potty at almost every water stop, but the water stops were only about every 2 miles, give or take.  The Garmin tracking was spot on except for mile 8, but at some point got back on as my watch beeped “26” at almost exactly the 26 mile marker, which NEVER happens in a race!  Starting and finishing in the hotel parking lot was really nice and easy.
  • Crowd – 2/10 – Almost zero, except for that one awesome guy with the cookies and the sign.  One bonus point for a spectator in a “Fear the Tree” t-shirt.
  • Other Factors – 6/10 – Bass Pro Shops shooting gallery, Super Target, Cosmic Jump, and IMAX, and that’s just in Olathe.  I think there’s a lot to see and do in Kansas City, but I didn’t have the time.
  • Overall Rating – 7/10 – The race was just ok, but I actually really enjoyed the overall experience.

 

23 down, 27 to go!  My next marathon is the Delaware Marathon in, you guessed it, Delaware, in two weeks!

 

Have you ever visited Kansas?  Have you ever gone to one of those trampoline places?  Have you ever visited a Bass Pro Shops?  Share in the comments!

Little Rock Marathon Recap – Sunshiny Day – March 6, 2016

The starting line of the Little Rock Marathon 2016!

The starting line of the Little Rock Marathon 2016!

 

How appropriate that the theme for this year’s Little Rock Marathon was “Game On,” because I really lucked out on doing Little Rock this year compared to years past.  The weather was great, the other runners seemed happy to be there, I exceeded my pace and overall feeling expectations, and I even got to meet Bart Yasso.  Pretty sweet!

 

I flew into Little Rock on the Friday before the race, giving me plenty of time to hop onto the free hotel shuttle, check in, eat my chocolate chip cookie (thanks, Doubletree!), and stroll the expo.  The expo was one of the better ones – a good amount of stuff to buy, a few good & random giveaways (4 free 60 watt lightbulbs!?!), a free beer, and not too crowded (Friday was better than Saturday, but even Saturday was manageable).

The Expo!

The Expo!  Not as blurry in real life… (unless you drank several of the free beers…)

After the expo, I went to Samantha’s Tap Room & Wood Grill (located right next to the finish line) for some fish tacos and a banana split (pretty tasty, would recommend).  After lunch I strolled down to River Market with the intention of buying some water and snacks for my hotel room.  Turns out River Market is a food court, not a “market,” but I did visit Kilwins chocolate shop nearby, because of course I did (the dark pecan turtles were excellent).

The next morning I put on my most colorful outfit and headed out for the 5K (left my room about 20 minutes before the race start, which was more than enough time to walk there). We lucked out on beautiful weather and the course was ok (not much to say about a 3-mile course), but there were a ton of people who did not line up properly in their corrals.  Now, I have absolutely nothing against walkers – I’m no speed demon myself, and I love races that are open to all paces.  But if you’re going to walk the entire race, especially if you’re going to walk 3 or 4 abreast, you should start at the absolute back!  I lined up properly according to my pace and corral, and yet I was behind 1,000s of walkers.  It took me literally 2 of the 3 miles to finally run next to people going my pace.  If you’re slow but want to feel like the fastest runner ever, start in your proper corral at the Little Rock 5K, because you’ll be passing people almost the entire time, even if you run an 11:30 pace like I did.  (Note this was the first year they did the “challenge” where you get an extra medal if you run both the 5K or 10K the day before and the half or full marathon the day after.)

 

So, the congestion was super frustrating, but luckily it was a short race and there was a hefty medal waiting for me at the end.

Definitely the largest medal I've ever gotten for the least amount of running!

Definitely the heaviest medal I’ve ever gotten for the least amount of running!

 

After the race I treated myself to a fancy breakfast at One Eleven at the Capital Hotel, then strolled the Old State House Museum (free admission, but no guns allowed).

Later that day I got pizza at Iriana’s (a little doughy, but not bad) and rested in my room before heading out again to meet Bart Yasso and hang out with some other Maniacs.  An unexpected treat!

 

The next morning I ate my now traditional Pop Tart and bagel breakfast before heading out of the hotel at about 6:15 so I could make the Marathon Maniac photo at 6:30.  The photo was at the H.U. Lee International Gate and Garden, right next to the Convention Center and a couple blocks from the starting line.

So many Maniacs!

So many Maniacs!

 

The Marathon had the same starting line as the 5K, but the course was “reversed” – that is, we ran the other direction across the start, so you had to walk past the start line from the convention center to line up behind it.  The day was warm (started in 50s and got up to the low 70s) and very sunny, but I wasn’t complaining.  We really were lucky because the forecast called for 7-8 inches of rain in the days after the race.

 

I lined up at the front of my corral instead of exercising my usual tactic of being one of the last to start because I was nervous I’d be blocked by all the walkers again.  Luckily I had no problems on Sunday, perhaps because people who do longer distances have better race etiquette more race experience?  At any rate, the course starts by taking you over the river and back, then past the Clinton Museum complex, back around past downtown and up to the Capitol, then through a very nice (and shady!) neighborhood.  Then it dumps you onto a highway before it turns into an out-and-back along a very scenic sort of highway.

 

The big thing I noticed in this race was that most of the runners seemed really happy!  Maybe it was the beautiful sunshiny day, but I saw a lot of smiles even in the later miles – such a difference from the angry Philly runners!  Of course, it helped that I was surprisingly happy, too. I felt better than expected, finished much faster than expected, and overall enjoyed myself throughout the race, which I feel I haven’t done in a long time.

 

While there was almost no on-course entertainment, some of the police officers along the route played music through the loudspeakers on their cruisers by holding the mic up to their phones.  There also were a lot (relatively speaking) of runners around my pace, so as I ran the out-and-back there were plenty of people both in front of and behind me (so it wasn’t as depressing as Philly, either).  I also really appreciated that several stations had bananas (one stop had mini muffins and another had chips and donuts!).  However, I didn’t like that there weren’t enough water stops – I noticed there were about as many beer stops as water stops, and another woman said the same thing!  Especially for a hot and sunny day like it was, I thought there would be more water stops, but I just made sure to drink more at each stop and I was ok.

 

Considering they do a theme every year, there weren’t as many costumed runners as I expected.  Funniest thing I overheard re: my costume:

 

Domino at CapitolMale spectator:  Nice kitty costume!  Meee-owwww!

Me: (laughs, keeps running)

Female spectator (laughing):  She’s not a cat.

Male spectator:  She’s not?  What is she?

Female spectator:  A domino!

Male spectator:  Oh…  Oh…

(and yes, I was running so slowly I was able to hear their entire stationary exchange)

 

The worst part of this race was the food (or lack thereof) at the end.  I don’t know if they never had food or if the half marathoners ate it all, but when I got there (with a 5:30 finish for an 8 hour race, mind you) there was plain rice, plain pretzels, plain chips, plain milk, and water.  It was just so sad.

This was all there was if you finished in 5:30.  And is the themed water really necessary?

This was all there was if you finished in 5:30. And is the themed water really necessary?

 

I had paid $25 for the Perks Pavilion so I headed there to see if I could get food and/or a massage.  They definitely had a large selection of food there – fruit, cold pizza, beer (Michelobe Ultra), make-your-own sandwiches, build-your-own chicken tacos, nachos, bagels, muffins, brownies –  but none of it tasted very good.  I ate and chatted with some other runners, saw the long line for massages, and went back to my hotel room to shower and relax.  For me, it definitely wasn’t worth it – the room was located at the far end of the expo center, so I didn’t go there before the race, and the food was so yucky after the race I could have gotten something much better for $25 from a restaurant.

 

The next day my flight wasn’t until the late afternoon, so I strolled the town again, visited the Historic Arkansas Museum (free admission to the exhibits, $2.50 if you want a guided tour of the historical houses, which I would have loved but I didn’t have enough time – I’d highly recommend checking out at least the inside exhibits), and had another great meal at the Capital Hotel (pictured above with breakfast).  All-in-all, a very pleasant, food-filled, sun-filled visit to Little Rock!

Thinking of running the Little Rock Marathon?

 

All the medals!

All the medals!

There were runners representing all 50 states at this years race, with tons of Marathon Maniacs and 50 Staters, and Bart Yasso announcing.  For this, the 14th annual race in 2016, there were 2317 finishers in the 5K/10K on Saturday and 5533 finishers in the half/full on Sunday, and more female runners in every race across the board!

 

All categories on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best.  Note this review is based on running as a “back of the packer,” with a finish time of about 5 1/2 hours.  Your experience may vary.

 

  • Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 9/10 – Little Rock is quite walkable and it’s very easy to do the race weekend without a car.  The expo (at the Statehouse Convention Center) and three hotels (the Little Rock Marriott, the Capital Hotel, and the Doubletree, where I stayed) are all within 2 blocks of each other, three other hotels are also very nearby (Residence Inn, Hampton Inn, and Homewood Suites) and the start/finish lines are a few blocks from the various hotels.  There are plenty of restaurants within walking distance but no drugstore and very limited grocery stores.  The Doubletree offers a free shuttle to/from the airport, and I overheard they offer driving guests short distances if you need to get to a drugstore or something.
  • Staying There – 7/10 –  The Doubletree was fine – it seemed clean, had decent rooms, provided 2 free bottles of water each day in the room (but had no mini-fridge), and had a pleasant staff, but the elevators were having issues all weekend and the walls were pretty thin (I had to use earplugs one night and I could still hear the loudmouth who decided to shout stuff at 1 am).  I don’t know if the Marriott would have been better, but it was a little more than $100 more expensive, and I was ultimately fine with the Doubletree.  Total with taxes and fees for three nights was $488, but it included the free airport shuttle (and a cookie!).
  • Cost & Registration – 7/10 – I paid $144 for both the 5K and the full marathon (with processing fees), which included the $25 for the relatively worthless “Perks Pavilion.”  You get a short-sleeved technical t-shirt and a large medal for each race, plus a bonus medal if you run two of the races over the two days.  The food at the finish was pathetic.
  • Organization – 7/10 – Pre-race communication was fine, the expo was well-done, and course support was fine but they definitely needed more water stops for such a hot and sunny day.  There were a good number of porta potties along the course (at every water stop) and while I saw a few lines at the early stops I didn’t notice huge lines like at some races.  Also, you can wait for the start inside the convention center and you get your finisher food inside the convention center, too, so you have access to real bathrooms and weather protection for before and after the race.
  • Course – 6.5/10 – You start in downtown, run over the river and back, past the Clinton Presidential Library, up to the Capitol, then through a very pretty shaded neighborhood, before getting dumped onto a highway and then run a long out-and-back along a relatively scenic highway next to a golf course, before re-entering and finishing in downtown.  There are some hills (the grade reminded me of Central Park, but they were generally longer than the hills in Central Park).  Some of the roads were cambered, but it wasn’t terrible.  The course is closed to traffic and overall fairly pleasant, but does not offer much shade.
  • Crowd – 4/10 – Not a big crowd, but those I did see were pleasant.
  • Other Factors – 6/10 – Little Rock is charming and had pretty good food and several free museums!  If you’re a big Bill Clinton fan then you’d appreciate the Bill worship there.
  • Overall Rating – 7/10 – It was enjoyable!  I think the weather really makes or breaks this race, and the organizers still have some kinks to work out even after 14 years, and I wish the medal weren’t so ugly, but overall it’s a pretty decent race and good for slower folk like me.

 

22 down, 28 to go!  My next marathon is Garmin Oz in Kansas, five weeks from now!

 

[EDIT – I forgot to mention a couple of things in my original post – one is about the chain necklace you get at the finish that I mentioned in a comment below.  The other is that at about mile 26 they have volunteers handing out tubes of lipgloss (new ones that you get to keep – the germaphobe in me made sure of that!).  They also have hand mirrors so you can carefully apply your new shade before you cross the finish line.  I grabbed a dark pink gloss and put it on without a mirror while I was still running, but luckily you can’t tell if it’s smeared in the finish photos.  Anyway, that lipgloss is another bonus for makeup fans in this race!]

 

Have you ever been to Little Rock?  For my next marathon, should I pronounce “Kansas” as “Can-Saw” as in “Arkansas”?  Are you planning any coping strategies for Daylight Saving Time?  Share in the comments!

Mississippi Blues Marathon Recap – January 9, 2016

The Mississippi Blues Marathon Expo

The Mississippi Blues Marathon Expo

You know what I was expecting, but on the way to the Mississippi Blues Marathon it struck me:  maybe the race was punking the participants with the medal reveal!  After all, it wasn’t a real photo, just a drawing of how horrific a giant medal of a grimacing BB King would look if anyone would be crazy enough to actually create such a monstrosity.  So a part of me expected to cross the finish line and be draped with a simple guitar medal, all beautiful and sparkly and unadorned by any grisly image, and then the volunteer would laugh and I would laugh and we would laugh and laugh, together, at the absurdity of a BB King medal.

 

But no.  The medal was no joke.

Yup.

Yup.

 

However, due to the good nature of a woman I met on the flight into Jackson, I have made my peace with it.  She commented that it was her first marathon medal of a “deceased blues musician” and that she thought it was funny.  And indeed, it is funny, and now it makes me laugh every time I see it (instead of have nightmares).

 

Lest you think my newfound tolerance of the medal meant I was excited to run this race, I was actually still hoping for a delay or cancellation on race morning.  As I was eating Pop Tarts getting ready in my hotel room, the local news was explaining the contingency plans if there was lightning – if the race was delayed an hour, everyone would run the half.  If it was delayed 2 hours, the race would be cancelled and no refunds would be given.  Even with the wasted time and expense that would have meant for me, I was still kinda hoping it would at least be delayed.  (Maybe planning 4 marathons in 4 months was a bit much?  Maybe not training at all left me dreading running more than a couple miles?  Maybe the thought of heading out to run 26 miles in the rain made me question my life choices?)  When it finally looked like there would be no delay, I made my way down to the start 15 minutes before the race (which was plenty of time to walk there and stretch my legs a bit).  

 

But before we get to the run, here’s the song than ran through my head the entire race:

 

 

Pardon me – not the entire song.  At about 1:42 in the video you’ll hear the part that actually ran through my head.  Unfortunately it was just those short lyrics “Jack-son, Mississippi!” that endlessly repeated in my noggin, which made it a terribly annoying earworm, but at least it was geographically appropriate.

 

It was lightly raining but warm (in the mid 50s at least) at the start, which was perfectly pleasant for a run.  Unfortunately that perfect weather did not last, as it started raining incredibly hard about 2 hours into the race.  It was by far the hardest rain I’ve ever run in for any length of time.  At first it was almost kind of fun and created a festive atmosphere as we ran through tony neighborhoods with houses that looked more like museums or boarding schools than private homes.

 

But once my feet got soaked through (I could feel water squirting up between my toes with every step), it was no longer so fun.  My “strategy” for this race, as terrible as it was, was to run as fast/easy as I wanted for the first 21 miles, then allow myself to walk after that.  So for the first half I ran 12 to 12:30 minute miles, then dropped down to 13-14 minute miles for the next 7 miles, and finally gave up running altogether at mile 20.  I was so exhausted I couldn’t even keep up a brisk walk – I slowed down to a shuffle, walking in that stiff-legged way that runners walk after they cross the finish line, not before.  It was one of the more physically difficult marathons I’ve done, even with all the walking, and even with my plan and expectation of walking.  Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was the rolling hills, maybe it was the lack of training, but I was sapped.  But it was still ok!  I felt like I was learning something, and after slowing down my walking pace I eventually felt better and was able to run in the last .2 miles with a big smile on my face, ready to receive my medal.

 

Ah, that medal!

Ah, that medal!

The best part of the race was the post-race food – unlimited Little Caesar’s pizza, beer, and soda – simple but perfect.  And there was plenty of it left even for finishers after 6 hours!  It started raining heavily again, and after chatting with some very nice runners and eating my weight in pizza I hobbled back to the hotel and took a long, hot shower.  I felt a little guilty about not doing anything the rest of the afternoon and evening.  I even skipped the included “Blues Crawl” event (your race packet included a wristband that got you access to a special trolley service that took you to various pubs with live blues music from 8 pm till midnight), but I was so wiped out and had to head to the airport at 4 am the next morning, so I stayed in bed and watched TV.  I did catch the end of the greatest documentary ever, so I feel overall it was a win.

 

There was so much post-race food I didn't even go to Chick-fil-A afterwards! (But I did go the day before...)

There was so much post-race food I didn’t even go to Chick-fil-A afterwards! (But I did go the day before…)

This was the quickest in and out marathon I’ve done yet.  I flew in on Friday morning, ran on Saturday, and flew back early Sunday morning.  I was back home less than 24 hours after running the actual race!  That’s not fast for many marathoners who head back the same day, but it is for me.  I even managed to pack only a single regular backpack and small purse, but the rain reminded me why it’s always a good idea to pack your running shoes rather than fly in them (mine were soaked for two days after the race).

 

 

 

The front of the shirt and race swag.

The front of the shirt and race swag.

The back of the shirt and bag.

The back of the shirt and bag.

Thinking of the Mississippi Blues Marathon?

 

It’s Mississippi’s largest marathon (in 2015 there were 855 full finishers, 1871 half, 307 quarter and 28 relay teams), and is celebrating its 10th year in 2017.

 

All categories on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best.  Note this review is based on running as a “back of the packer,” with a finish time of about 6 hours.  Your experience may vary.

 

  • Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 8/10 – Surprisingly, it’s very easy to do the race weekend without a car.  The expo, two hotels (the Hilton Garden Inn and the Jackson Marriott, where I stayed), and the start/finish are all within about 3 blocks of each other.  For airport transportation, I’d recommend using Uber instead of the taxis, as the taxis are more expensive and have been known to scam people.  There were plenty of Uber cars available even at 4 am when I had to go back to the airport.  Rental cars and gas were cheap, but with taxes and parking it would have been almost $100, whereas Uber was about $30 each way (and I didn’t have to drive, navigate, get gas, etc.).  However, if you want to visit the outlet mall and the Bass Pro Shop (both in Pearl, MS, about 4 miles outside of downtown Jackson), you might want to rent a car.
  • Staying There – 7.5/10 –  The Jackson Marriott was totally fine – spacious, relatively clean, comfortable, relatively quiet.  They set out bananas and coffee early in the morning before the race.  Total with taxes and fees for two nights was $318.  It gets a bonus point for being directly across the street from a Chick-fil-A.
  • Cost & Registration – 8/10 – I paid $76 for the race (with processing fees), which gets you a long-sleeved quarter zip technical top, a harmonica, a blues CD, and unlimited pizza and beer at the finish.  It also gets you trolley service for a Blues Crawl that night.
  • Organization – 7/10 – The pre-race email was illegible and some water stops were dry, but otherwise the course was well-run, the expo was easy, and everything went pretty smoothly.  I appreciated that there was at least one porta-potty near every single water stop so you knew where they were going to be.  I did hear from another runner that the medical tents didn’t have any Tylenol, so if you might need that you should carry it yourself.
  • Course – 6/10 – The half splits off around mile 6 and then you run through some really fancy neighborhoods and past a fair amount of greenery.  But it’s also a little bit hilly (rolling hills, not too steep and not terribly long), there was a lot of rough road (potholes, cambered roads, etc.), and the last few miles are along a highway and not at all scenic.
  • Crowd – 3/10 – Very sparse crowd, but it was also raining like crazy for much of the race.  The volunteers, however, were very cheerful and friendly.  I’ve never been thanked so much for running a race.
  • Other Factors – 6/10 – I might have rented a car and stayed a bit longer to visit the outlets and the Bass Pro Shop if I had known about it beforehand (and if I hadn’t done basically that same thing in Wisconsin last year).  And I’m sure the Blues Crawl was fun.
  • Overall Rating – 7/10 – It was fine!  I really liked the pizza and beer at the finish and am still thinking about it days later.

 

21 down, 29 to go!  My next marathon is Little Rock in Arkansas, a whopping 7 weeks away!

 

Have you ever been to Mississippi?  Have you been watching the new season of the terribly boring Bachelor?  What are you going to do with all your Powerball winnings? Share in the comments!