2016 Milwaukee Running Festival Marathon

pre-race

2016 was the second iteration of the Milwaukee Running Festival, a new weekend-long event that included a mile long race on Saturday and a 5k, half marathon, and marathon on Sunday. With the Chicago Marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon on my calendar over the past 3 weeks, I had been debating running this one as well. While the Lakefront Marathon is and always will be the premiere marathon in Milwaukee, this course intrigued me and offered what seemed to be a cool little tour of my home city. However, I’ve never run two marathons in back-to-back weeks, so I wasn’t sure how my body would handle it after MCM. Add in the fact that I had food poisoning on Monday/Tuesday of this week, and signing up for a marathon just 5 days later seemed like an awful idea.  So naturally, I bit the bullet and signed up for my 16th marathon just before the online deadline on Thursday night 😉

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While I had been skeptical of this event last year in its inaugural form (I did not compete in 2015), I signed up this year because a) as I mentioned, the course intrigued me b) I was hoping to rid myself of the horrible feeling of the last two marathons and lift my spirits back up going into marathon offseason and c) the start/finish was within walking distance of my apartment, so it literally could not be more convenient.

As a first year race last year, there were definitely some issues that had to be dealt with (like realizing the night before that there was no alcohol license so they couldn’t serve beer, for one), but that’s expected of first-time events. My hope was that with a year of experience under its belt, this event would improve. However, in year two, there were still too many important aspects that this race got wrong, and I’ll touch on some of those as I go along.

PRE-RACE

The expo and packet pick-up took place (Saturday from 10am-5pm) less than a mile from my apartment at the Harley-Davidson Museum. This was quite convenient for me, as I got in a quick shakeout run past the museum and was able grab my packet and then walk home. Small expo for a small race- there were a couple local races who had booths set up, a sign-making station, and a small selection of running gear and MRF merchandise. Pick-up was simple enough though, and I was able to get in and out in five minutes. There was also a mile race that was held at the museum on Saturday (the 5K, half marathon and marathon would take place at the lakefront on Sunday morning) however, I did not participate.

Sometimes, half the battle of running a marathon is dealing with race-day logistics, so living within walking distance of the start/finish made life so much easier for this one. We set our clocks back on Saturday night, so we gained an hour of sleep (wish this happened at every marathon), so when my alarm went off at 4am, I was well-rested and ready to go. Left my apartment around 6 to walk down to the start at Veterans Park, which is about a 25 minute walk for me. The number of bathrooms seemed to be a criticism last year, and that didn’t appear to be addressed this year. Lines were very long, and despite getting in line as soon as I arrived, I barely made it out in time to get to the starting corrals by 7am. I made it though, and after a delay of about 5-10 minutes as they made sure the roads were secure and closed off, we were off running.

THE RACE

Going into this race, I had no time goals other than break 4 hours since I’ve never run a marathon over 4 hours. Having run a marathon last week and never having done back-to-backs before and recovering from food poisoning just days prior, I simply wanted to finish, run for as long as I could, and enjoy the course as much as possible. Luckily, I was able to check all of those goals off the list.

race-start

Miles 1-5:

Conditions were near ideal at the start- right around 50 degrees, mostly sunny, and no wind of which to speak. As mentioned, the race starts at Veterans Park, and the first three miles take runners along Lake Michigan down Lincoln Memorial Drive, past Bradford Beach, and up the hill andy-race-1towards Lake Park. This is pretty much my normal running route; to begin a race with something so familiar is a welcoming feeling, and I never tire of the views of Lake Michigan. I settled into a pace between 8:10-8:30, which I would consistently maintain throughout the race. However, as I’ll get into, the course we ran on this day was definitely long (probably closer to 26.8-27.0, but I’ll touch on that more later), and the physical mile markers were nowhere near where they should have been (see my “splits” at the bottom, which are not at all accurate). I decided not to use GPS for this race (instead simply hitting the lap button on my watch at the physical mile markers), which turned out to be a mistake. Despite running an even pace, my first three “splits” were 7:02 / 10:40 / 6:48. In the early miles of a marathon, not a good sign of things to come. This would turn into a theme.

At mile 3, the course turns back towards downtown, with miles 4 and 5 running back past Lake Park and through some residential areas as it makes its way towards the East side. This would be another strong area for improvement. The half marathon started 12 minutes after the full and at Mile 4, half marathoners (at Mile 2) meet up with full marathoners. However, the half marathoners at this point are running much slower than the full marathoners. This caused a LOT of congestion and frustration in trying to weave around them. As the course narrowed in some points over the next few miles to paths that can only fit two runners across, this became a runner’s worst nightmare and caused major slowdowns and flat out dangerous conditions. I would hope in future years, they would realize this problem and start the half marathon later.

7:02 / 10:40 / 6:48 / 8:17 / 8:28

brady

Brady Street

Miles 6-10:

Mile 6 takes runner down Brady Street on the Lower East Side, one of Milwaukee’s hot spots and popular business districts, an area where I’ve imbibed plenty in the past. Next, the course goes past Lakefront Brewery, a must-do tour if you’re ever in Milwaukee. After that, it’s onto Old World 3rd Street and into downtown. As mentioned earlier, this portion of the course features some narrow pathways where congestion with half marathoners became a huge issue. I was able to maintain a fairly steady pace, but it took a lot of work to weave in and out and there were a couple times I nearly took a nasty spill from people not being aware of their surroundings.

From about Mile 7.5-Mile 10, runners travel up Wisconsin Avenue, right past my apartment, Grand Avenue Mall, and eventually Marquette University (boo- go Badgers!). Wisconsin Ave is a long, gradual hill (about 100 feet elevation gain over 2.5 miles), which can be a bit of a challenge. But the crowd support in this portion was pretty good, so that helped. Right before mile 10 is where the half marathoners turned around, so we were left to ourselves for the next 16+ miles.

8:22 / 8:22 / 8:29 / 8:28 / 8:16

Miles 11-15:

bandshell-jpg

Washington Park bandshell

This portion of the course took runners to Washington Park around mile 11 (and again in mile 15) before heading for a mile-long out and back down Sherman Boulevard. There were some enthusiastic spectators in this portion, including some students from the Washington High School marching band, helping to encourage runners as the reached the halfway point of the marathon. The Washington Park areas of the course were extremely annoying, however, as we ran on trails through the park that involved a ton of twists and turns. Running in straight lines is ideal and this was far from it. My pace felt even and easy through these miles, but again, the misplaced mile markers make it seem like I was either drunk or I’ve never run before in my life. And to be honest, I don’t know if I could even run a 9-minute mile (without walking) if I tried.

9:01 / 9:11 / 8:05 / 9:23 / 8:17

Miles 16-20:

Mile 16 was really the only trying portion of the race for me. As I hit the 16 mile marker, I started to feel some decent pain in my knee. At Chicago (because I went out too fast and didn’t run a smart race) and Marine Corps (because I overexerted myself exploring DC the previous day and because of the heat), this is the point in the race where I crashed and was forced to run/walk the final 10 miles. Up until this point today, I had been telling myself I’d definitely be able to make it 20 miles and if I had to walk at all after that, so be it, but I would make it at least 20 miles. So I continued on and ran through the pain, and by about mile 19, my knee was feeling better, and my optimism for the rest of the race had increased.

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Around mile 17, we ran through Miller Valley and the heart of Miller Brewery, a mainstay in Milwaukee for many, many years.  Mile 18 saw us go past Miller Park, home of the Brewers and then onto the Hank Aaron State Trail. Here is where another huge problem occurred, as someone apparently moved some of the cones at a turnaround on the trail, and about 20 runners or so (near the front, like 16th-35th overall, so not me) ended up running over an extra mile because they missed the correct turnaround. I can’t imagine dealing with something like that if you’re trying to qualify for Boston or something. Anyway, this portion of the race probably had the fewest spectators, but as we reached mile 18 and beyond, I actually started to pick up speed and pass people, and this would continue the rest of the marathon. It’s amazing the mental difference it makes to be passing people in the latter stages of a marathon versus being passed by people. I finished 82nd overall and passed close to 80 people after the halfway point alone.

My biggest complaint here was the fact that I never got another Gu. I only carried two with me, which I used after each of the first two hours. There was supposed to be GU at Mile 20 according to the race website, but there was none (apparently there was at mile 18, but I wasn’t looking for it there). Little details, but they end up being important in a marathon.

8:59 / 8:19 / 8:14 / 8:17 / 8:10

Miles 21-finish:

Mile 21 takes some more odd twists and turns through Mitchell Park before doing a lap around the Journey House Packer Stadium. I suppose this is a neat idea, but I do have to say it was odd running on the artificial turf of the football field. From there the course took us back towards Milwaukee’s Third Ward on our way to the finish. I was feeling especially strong during these miles and it was then I knew that I’d be able to finish strong, so the only question remaining was how fast that would be. The criticism here would be the lack of water stops in the final portion of the race; there were only three over the last 5-plus miles, usually the stage in a race where water stop frequency increases, not decreases. But I made do.

lakefront finish.jpg

Around mile 23.5, we headed behind the Summerfest grounds and through Lakeshore andy-race-2State Park, another one of my mainstay running routes. Again, there’s something so reassuring knowing exactly where you are and how far is left to go that can carry you when you’re starting to tire. Some great views of Lake Michigan are there to carry runners over the final 2.5 miles. Just before mile 25, we headed for a loop behind Discovery World before hitting the final water stop and running the final mile behind the art museum and along the lake back into Veterans Park. I cruised in and finished with way too much energy left in my tank, but it was great to enjoy a marathon again and know I had plenty more to give going forward. My final time was 3:39:35, though this would later be adjusted to 3:35:29 because the course was found to be about 0.5 miles too long.

8:09 / 8:09 / 7:09 / 9:08 / 8:03 / 7:48 / 1:50

POST-RACE

As I entered the finishing chute, I was presented with bottled water, a banana, granola bar, protein bar, chocolate milk, and cups of Gatorade. Just before I dropped everything on the ground, I was also given a plastic bag to hold it all. Great idea, but my only suggestion would be to maybe give the bag first. 🙂

rock-climbing-wallEach participant was given a ticket for one free beer, and although they had quite a few different beers on tap, apparently it was only good for Coor’s Light (until they ran out of Coor’s Light- then they changed their minds and said it was good for anything). But at least there was beer this year. The finish festival was a huge improvement over the (nonexistent) one in 2015. There were a couple food trucks available for purchase, music playing, a climbing wall (I assume aimed more at the kids/spectators than the exhausted runners) and some fun games and contests. It turned out to be an absolutely gorgeous November day in Milwaukee, ideal for hanging around outdoors. I stayed a little while to enjoy my beer and watch other runners finish, but I didn’t really take part in any of the other extracurricular activities myself.

As far as the course length, I’ve run enough marathons to know that GPS isn’t always accurate, and it’s not always possible to run the tangents, so most runners will end up running further than 26.2 miles. But on this day, every single runner I talked to or read about online logged between 26.8 and 27.2 miles. In a race like Chicago, where it’s so crowded and impossible to run the tangents, that is reasonable. But in a race with fewer than 700 finishers on a perfectly cloudless day? No, there was definitely something wrong with the course that the marathon runners ran. And these were also many of the same people who ran last year’s race and came in at 26.2 miles or very close. (EDIT: Milwaukee Running Festival has officially released a statement recognizing two errors on their part and saying the course was 0.5 miles too long.Finish times will be adjusted for this. However, Boston will not accept the adjusted times for BQs, so I feel awful for anyone affected by this.)

Despite the numerous things this race got right (and it did- it was an extremely enjoyable marathon), with a clearly long course and inability to place mile markers correctly (maybe my biggest pet peeve in a race) in addition to all the issues from last year, the reputation of this event suffers. Throw in some other minor issues as well (the website said Gu would be at Mile 20 so that’s where I looked for it- it wasn’t there but apparently was before the 18 mile mark, the website said awards for the top 5 in each age group (as did the printed results, but they only had awards for the top 3, etc.). At this point in time, I find it hard for this race to gain my trust and think it’s probably best to wait a few years and let them work their kinks out before coming back. The race director is highly regarded around the Milwaukee area, so I have confidence he’ll make things right in the end. But with so many race options available, my philosophy generally is to stick with what I know works.

Race Ratings:

Weather: 4.5/5.0
-It was an unseasonably warm day in November for Milwaukee, but that led to near-perfect marathon running conditions. Temperatures were right around 50 degrees at the start, rising up to 60 by the time I finished. Wind wasn’t an issue, but the sun was out all day and there wasn’t much cloud cover, so that’d be the only complaint. Opportunities for shade were always taken advantage of.

elevation

Course: 4.0/5.0
-I really do love the scenery/imagery and layout of the course. You see a lot of cool and recognizable parts of Milwaukee as well as some parts you’re probably not used to seeing. The execution could be better though, as there are a decent amount of hairpin turns and a couple weird out-and-backs. And getting the distance right would be another big step in the right direction. But the start/finish was in the perfect spot this year and I love running along the lake.

milwaukee-running-festival-marathon-map

Packet pickup/Race Expo: 3.0/5.0shirt
-As mentioned, the expo was at the Harley-Davidson Museum. Packet pickup was easy
and painless, but the expo was extremely small, reflecting the size of the race. Absolutely love the shirt this year though. It’s a long sleeve, technical t-shirt with thumb holes (wasn’t a huge fan before, but they work well with this shirt), and the design is fantastic. Last year’s was super ugly though, so anything was going to be an improvement. This just might be my favorite race shirt of all-time though.

medalMedal: 3.0/5.0
-One complaint from last year was that half marathoners and marathoners all got the same medal and there was no distinction. This year, it’s still an identical medal for both distances, but at least the ribbon now differentiates between the two. The Milwaukee skyline, including the iconic art museum, is a nice feature, as is the featured “I Run MKE” slogan.

Race Performance: 4.0/5.0
-It felt good to enjoy a marathon again (though technically, with the long course, this was my 2nd ultra marathon under 27 miles at 26.7 haha). After a couple really rough performances in October and low expectations coming in (especially right after food poisoning), I walked away pleasantly surprised and very content with how I ran. My adjusted time of 3:35:29 was my 7th fastest out of 16 marathons.

Post-Race Party: 3.5/5.0
-As mentioned, I didn’t stay super long, but it was an enormous improvement over last year, and they seemed to have a decent amount of things to do to keep people occupied (though mostly aimed at spectators). Everyone got one free beer. Runners had a ticket for Food on their bibs, but it didn’t appear good for anything, although there was food available from local food trucks available for purchase.

Overall: 3.0/5.0
-This race has potential. The course is really enjoyable and challenging enough. Free race photos are always a plus as well. But it’s taking some time to work out the kinks. Some mistakes (like getting the course length wrong) are just bigger race sins than others. Hopefully this race continues to improve and grow (though in a race that is very small to begin with, there was a 28% drop in finishers from Year 1 to Year 2). I don’t see myself running this in the next few years, but hopefully I’ll be back someday to run a headache-free race.

Splits (according to the mile markers):

Mile 1- 07:02
Mile 2- 10:40
Mile 3- 06:48andy-finish
Mile 4- 08:17
Mile 5- 08:28
Mile 6- 08:22
Mile 7- 08:22
Mile 8- 08:29
Mile 9- 08:28
Mile 10- 08:16
Mile 11- 09:01
Mile 12- 09:11
Mile 13- 08:05
Mile 14- 09:23
Mile 15- 08:17
Mile 16- 08:59
Mile 17- 08:19
Mile 18- 08:14
Mile 19- 08:17
Mile 20- 08:10
Mile 21- 08:09
Mile 22- 08:09
Mile 23- 07:09
Mile 24- 09:08
Mile 25- 08:03
Mile 26- 07:48
Mile 26.2- 01:50

FINISH – 3:39:35 (official adjusted 26.2 time = 3:35:29)

time

80/669 overall
6/37 age group (M 25-29)

Next: Go! St. Louis Marathon (April 9, 2017)

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2016 Marine Corps Marathon Race Report

reflection-pool-3

2016 has not been the year for me when it comes to marathons. And this one was uglier than all the rest. Having said that, ignoring performance, this was still an amazing experience and a bucket-list race I would definitely recommend to others to run at least once. The Marine Corps Marathon was my 15th marathon overall, 10th different state/district (counting this one as D.C.), and 5th marathon of 2016. Marine Corps is a lottery system, so after losing out on the New York City lottery for the 2nd consecutive year, I entered the MCM lottery and was honored to win the opportunity to run this storied race.

After Chicago, I realized my training hadn’t adequately prepared me for my time goals, so I had tempered expectations going into this race. I was hoping to run in the 3:25-3:30 range, but due to some other factors, it turned out to be a pretty bad day for me, which I’ll get into later.

PRE-RACE

After winning my entry opportunity via the lottery, I booked my hotel and flights right away, and got a fairly good deal on both. I stayed in Crystal City, and I was satisfied enough with the area. It was about a 5 minute walk to a subway station, very close to Reagan Airport, and there were enough restaurants and shops around to suit my needs. I landed at Reagan on Friday afternoon and after checking into my hotel, headed to the expo.

The expo was held at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor. The location was pretty inconvenient (and a lot of people have complained about this), but there were shuttles running from multiple locations in the surrounding DC area, so getting there wasn’t all that big of an issue; it just took a long time. I had to take the subway from Crystal City to Eisenhower Station and then catch a shuttle from there. Add in some decent traffic and it was probably an hour commute each way. Needless to say, picking up my packet killed the rest of my Friday night.

marines-expo

The coolest thing about the Marine Corps Marathon is by far all the Marines. Marines fill nearly all the roles that would typically be filled by volunteers in other races, and it’s extremely inspirational. So from the time you first set foot inside the expo until the end of the weekend, you are surrounded by Marines. They are all happy to help out, and while I generally thank all volunteers at races, the thanks I gave this weekend had double meaning.

expo

It was a medium-sized expo, which made it small relative to the size of the race. The largest retailer was Brooks, who makes all the MCM gear and finisher memorabilia. The amount of MCM apparel was pretty impressive, and while the lines to check out were insane, so were the price tags, so I passed on purchasing anything. Outside of that, you had all your typical expo vendors and a decent amount of free samples. The one thing I had never seen at a marathon expo before was a blood donation stand. While giving blood is a commendable act, I don’t think giving blood before running a marathon is particularly smart. So again, I passed.

Saturday morning, I was up early to do some touristy exploring of Washington. In hindsight, I should have set aside Monday as my sightseeing day instead of Saturday, but still, as this wasn’t a goal race, I don’t regret taking full advantage of my time in DC. I was trying to stay conscious of how much I was walking and limit it as best I could, but somehow at the end of the day, I still had hit 25,000+ steps. Oops. This wouldn’t bode well for Sunday.

Throughout the day, I did a tour of the Capitol building (free, lasts about an hour- just book in advance), I saw the Library of Congress (a gorgeous building and a definite must-see- just take the tunnel across after your tour of the Capitol), and I explored the two-mile long National Mall and saw all the famous monuments (definitely recommend renting a bike here- many bike return stations to start and stop and saves a lot of walking time). There were tons of local food trucks set up in National Mall, and on any other day I would have loved to try some new cuisine, but not the day before a marathon.

There are also a bunch of Smithsonian museums (free to the public) along the mall, and with so many options, it is hard to choose which to see (they say it takes about a half day to explore one thoroughly). I chose to visit the National Museum of American History, which I found pretty interesting- there are exhibits on all of America’s wars and origins as well as culture and innovation throughout the years. It was worth the visit, and next time I’m in DC, I’ll make sure to make time for some of the other museums. But eventually, my legs and body were getting tired and I knew I had to get back to the hotel to try to rest up for the morning. Wisconsin’s overtime victory over Nebraska paired with the World Series kept me up later than I would have liked, but eventually I did make it to bed.

THE RACE

Due to some construction, the Metro was not opening early this year for MCM runners, so the only option to get to the starting line (since I didn’t have a car or a ride) was a shuttle running from Crystal City. The race was set to start at 7:55am and I had heard horror stories about security the previous year, so I tried to make sure I was extra early. I woke up around 3:30am and left my hotel by 5am to board the shuttle. It was a short five minute walk from my hotel, but it was quite the popular destination on race morning, so I ended up waiting in line for about 10-15 minutes in order to board. It was an extremely smooth and efficient process, however, as shuttles were arriving and departing very regularly.

Had a nice chat on the bus about the race with another MCM first-timer who was running her second marathon. After about 15 minutes we had arrived and started the walk to the security entrance. This year, there were no issues and it took less than 3o seconds to get through security, so kudos to addressing whatever caused problems the prior year. Getting there so early gave me some time to kill before the start, but that’s never a bad thing. The amount of bathrooms were sufficient, both in Runners’ Village and once you got near the start line. It was a decent walk from the shuttle drop-off to Runners’ Village and again from there to the start line (located between the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery), but I’m always okay with a chance to stretch my legs before a marathon. Race day forecasts called for near record high temperatures in DC (never good), so I was dressed in as little as possible. However, I’d still be suffering mightily very soon.

elevation-mcm

Miles 1-8:

After the national anthem and a sweet osprey flyover, we were off. The course begins with a challenging, three mile long, uphill climb right from the start. Due to the steep incline and the heat (already in the mid 60s at the start), I tried to take it easy in the first few miles (8:46/8:44/8:29). The density of runners in those early miles helped slow me down as well, but considering how slow I was going, I wasn’t feeling as well as I should have felt (this is called foreshadowing). It’s also worth mentioning that I’ve never seen so many people dart into the trees on the side of the road to pee as I did in those first few miles (and again- there were plenty of bathrooms!).

The first few miles go through Rosslyn before turning and heading towards Georgetown’s campus. After we hit peak elevation around mile 3, I picked up the pace a little over the next five miles (8:05/8:19/8:18/8:22/8:20), but it was taking WAY too much effort to hit 8:20/mile, a pace I can normally run in my sleep. I think the heat, which just kept getting worse, and my tired legs from sightseeing on Saturday were the main contributors. 8:20 was not the pace I was planning on running, but you make adjustments during the race depending on how you’re feeling. The crowd support through this section was great. The Redskins were playing an early morning game in London (and I saw a few signs bemoaning that fact), so the sacrifice to come out and cheer was even more appreciated. This first section was really a blur as I tried to keep an easy pace and stay calm despite how sweaty I already was so early in the race.

Miles 9-15:

Just before mile 9, runners pass by the Lincoln Memorial for the first time. All the spectators cheering on the steps leading up to the Lincoln Memorial provide a nice energy boost at this point. I continued along at my current pace before hitting miles 10/11 and the most memorable portion of the course.

wear-blue-mile-4

wear-blue-mile-1The Wear Blue Mile is a mile long stretch of the course featuring photos of fallen Marines the entire length. Just think about how long a mile is. This part was extremely emotional, and I slowed my pace a little in order to make sure I payed my respects to each Marine individually. It was difficult to hold back the tears, especially wear-blue-mile-3considering how young most of these fallen heroes were. At the end of this stretch was a wall on both sides of upwards of 100 volunteers in blue holding American flags, cheering all the runners on and giving high fives. Easily the coolest and most goosebump-inducing part of the course.

I hit the halfway point in 1:50:13, way behind my goals and way slower than my perceived effort would suggest. After that it was back to the Lincoln Memorial and towards National Mall. This was another favorite part of the course; the views were great and we got to run past so many historic monuments. But alas, this is where my race pretty much ended.

8:20 / 8:19  / 8:30 / 8:37 / 8:18 / 8:12 / 8:35

Miles 16-finish:

Miles 15 and 16 were run along National Mall towards the Capitol, providing some great views. But the effect of the heat and tired legs hit me hard during the 16th mile. Mile 16 was my first 9 minute mile and from there on out, it was a battle to even keep my legs moving. I walked more in those final 10 miles than I did in any marathon before and it was downright miserable. So much starting and stopping and I physically couldn’t run for more than a few minutes at a time. Some extremely ugly mile splits in the final third of the race (see below) and soon finishing became the only goal.

Mile 17 took us past the Capitol (more great views). Mile 19 was the infamous Bridge that everyone was trying to beat (lest they get picked up by the Sag Wagon). Again, the support from spectators and especially Marines for this race was incredible. Miles 20-24 took us past the Pentagon and into Crystal City. Good crowd support here but there were lots of weird turns and turnarounds that on a normal day would have really bothered me (to be fair, the course had to be altered a bit this year due to construction, so they made do). Mile 25 took us back past the Pentagon and towards the finish in Arlington.

I did all I could in those last couple of miles to make sure I came in under 4 hours; I’ve never gone over and I’d consider it a failure and make myself re-do a state if I didn’t finish in under 4 hours. I was dead, both physically and mentally. I tried my best to respond to the Marines’ encouragement at the end and finish strong, but my body was just not having it on this day. Came in at 3:58:56, just under that dreaded arbitrary divider. Everyone else seemed to struggle mightily on this day too, so that fact made me feel a little better at least.

POST-RACE

Upon crossing the finish line, water, Gatorade and other goodies are given to you by a Marine. There’s also a goodie box with snacks that you receive as well. They did a good job ensuring that everyone only took one of each item, which I’m sure the back-of-the-pack runners appreciated. Finally, you exited the corrals and had a Marine place a medal around your neck, a great honor that made all the suffering worth it.

marines-give-medals

Not me (I wasn’t carrying my phone)

The post-race party took place on the streets in Rosslyn. There was finisher gear to purchase (and huge lines), a band playing (though I couldn’t find where they were located), and some samples and a small selection of food available to purchase. It was a postracelong walk to the bag pick-up, which I wasn’t a fan of. I got my bag, got my free beer* (*one Michelob Ultra), and then headed back to my hotel, as the band had finished and the streets were starting to get ridiculously crowded.

I had a post-race meal at We the Pizza, which had decent pizza and some interesting combinations. Then I headed to the nearest sports bar from my hotel, Crystal City Sports Pub, to watch the Packers lose to the Falcons before calling it a night. The service was horrible, the food was flavorless, and in the end I ended up with food poisoning (see below). Would not recommend.

My flight home wasn’t until mid-day on Monday, so on Monday morning I took some time to visit Arlington National Cemetery. If the Wear Blue mile wasn’t emotional enough the day before, Arlington Cemetery was sure to strike a chord. I did a lot of walking around and reflecting. I also saw the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. This is something I highly encourage everyone who visits to take some time to experience.

arlington-cemetery-3

After seeing Arlington, it was time to head back to the hotel to check out and get to the airport. The flight home was fine, but my stomach was acting up for most of the second half of the flight. By the time we landed, I felt horrible, and I barely made it back to my apartment before the food poisoning kicked in. The next couple of days were not pleasant. I know I got it from Crystal City Sports Pub, and while I wasn’t planning on ever going there again anyway, this definitely reaffirmed that stance. Oh well, at least I didn’t get it before the marathon!

Race Ratings:

Weather: 1.5/5.0
-The weather was anything but ideal this year. There were near record-high temperatures for 10/30 in DC, as it got up closer to 80 around mid-day. Temps were in the low 60s at the start, rising to the mid/upper 70s at the end. Add in high humidity and little to no cloud cover at any point in the race and it makes sense why a lot of people struggled on this day.

course-map-2

Course: 4.5/5.0
-There’s a reason Washington, D.C. was recently ranked as the 5th best running city in the country by Runner’s World. There’s so many great sights to see and running on National Mall is hard to beat. The big hill at the beginning is daunting but the rest of the course is fairly flat. There were some changes to the second half this year that weren’t exactly ideal, but it wasn’t entirely under the race’s control.

mcm-shirtPacket pickup/Race Expo: 3.5/5.0
-Pickup was seamless, and the expo was adequate, but the location was really inconvenient to get to. The race shirt is great too- a green mock turtleneck that is very warm and will be good for winter running in Wisconsin.

Medal: 5.0/5.0
-The medal is fantastic and extremely attentive to detail. Like all recent Marine Corps Marathon medals, it features the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor, the official emblem and insignia of the Marine Corps. The ribbon includes “Semper Fi”, the motto of the Marine Corps (always faithful). And the Globe even opens up to reveal a rendering of the Iwo Jima Marine Corps War Memorial.

Race Performance: 1.0/5.0
-I finished, and that at least counts for something. And I avoided (barely) my first marathon over 4 hours. But it was easily my slowest marathon ever, and this won’t be one I’m looking back to when I’m recounting my glory days. Honestly, it was downright miserable and quite embarrassing. But again, nearly everyone else struggled as well.

Post-Race Party: 2.5/5.0
-Too crowded, not a ton of stuff going on that was worth hanging around for. And Michelob Ultra always knocks the score down a little bit 😛

Overall: 3.5/5.0
-Despite the rough conditions and personal struggles, this was a really special race to run. There’s no prize money, so everyone there running is doing so for love of the race (even more impressive that the winning time was 2:23!). It seemed like half of the people participating were either running for someone or had some connection to the Marine Corps or other military (judging by outfits and such) which was awesome. The course was great and the presence of all the Marines made for a really incredible experience regardless of the time.

Splits:

Mile 1- 08:46andy4
Mile 2- 08:44
Mile 3- 08:29
Mile 4- 08:05
Mile 5- 08:19
Mile 6- 08:18
Mile 7- 08:22
Mile 8- 08:20
Mile 9- 08:20
Mile 10- 08:19
Mile 11- 08:30
Mile 12- 08:37
Mile 13- 08:18
Mile 14- 08:12
Mile 15- 08:35
Mile 16- 09:06
Mile 17- 09:38
Mile 18- 09:19
Mile 19- 09:29
Mile 20- 10:26
Mile 21- 11:05
Mile 22- 09:26
Mile 23- 11:27finisher-icon
Mile 24- 10:30
Mile 25- 09:53
Mile 26- 10:07
Mile 26.2- 02:10

FINISH – 3:58:56

2,667  / 19,742 overall
280 / 1,006 age group (M 25-29)

Marathon #15
State #10/ 51

Next: 2016 Milwaukee Running Festival Marathon?? (haha we’ll see)

2016 Chicago Marathon Race Report

img_3655

Looking back on the 2016 edition of the Chicago Marathon, I have mixed feelings. It was an amazing experience being part of an event so spectacular and unique as this is, but a disappointing personal performance made for a much less enjoyable tour of the city and a bit of a tarnished memory. I was probably more excited for this race than I ever have been for one in my life, and it ended in disappointment. Chicago was my 14th marathon and Illinois would be the 9th different state in which I’ve run a marathon. Living in Milwaukee, I’ve been to Chicago many times before, but this was my first time experiencing the city’s premiere event. It really is a tremendous spectacle of a race, with over 40,000 finishers (2nd largest marathon in the world) hailing from more than 100 countries all over the world and an estimated 1.7 million spectators lining the streets of Chicago to cheer on the athletes. Chicago is now a lottery (but I believe the odds are very good). I won my entry in 2015 but ultimately decided to defer until this year.

TRAINING

Chicago was supposed to be my goal race, and I used Hanson’s Marathon Method‘s Intermediate program to train to hopefully run a 3:10-3:15 here. Hanson’s is a high mileage, six days per week program, with three “something of substance” workouts per week (tempo, speed/strength, and long run). In my 18-week program, I got off to a bit of slow start in the first few weeks (though it’s not like I was starting fresh; I am always relatively fit) but I started to hit my groove in weeks 5 and 6. However, in week 7, I suffered a rough indoor soccer injury that left me with a concussion and fractures in both my cheekbones. Luckily, surgery was not required, but I couldn’t run at all for a couple weeks and couldn’t really train for at least 4 weeks.

I started to slowly get back into things in weeks 11 and 12, including two half marathons I had previously signed up for, but I could tell I’d definitely lost some fitness. My nutrition had suffered too as I couldn’t really eat too many solid foods in the weeks following my injury. I was determined to get back to where I had been though and from weeks 13-16, I hit every single workout and nearly every single prescribed pace (for a 3:10 marathon). I even ran more miles during September (201) than I had in any month before (previous high was 161 back in March of this year). I fit in an 18-mile and 20-mile run in there as well, but other than that, looking back, my long runs overall didn’t seem adequate enough and I think that showed during the actual race.

PRE-RACE

When attending a race like this, it’s important to make travel arrangements early. Having deferred my entry from last year, I ended up booking the Chicago South Loop Hotel way back in February and got a pretty good deal on a one-night stay. Located just a 14 minute walk from the expo, the hotel also offered shuttle rides to the start line in the morning (at 5am, 6am, and 7am for $5/person), so everything turned out to be very convenient and with the great price I got, I would definitely stay again.

expo-2

It’s a quick 1-2 hour drive down from Milwaukee, depending on traffic, so I left on Saturday morning and checked into my hotel around 1pm before heading to the expo, at McCormick Place, the largest convention center in North America. It’s no surprise that a race like this would have a ridiculously large expo, and this one did not disappoint. The magnitude of it was almost a little overwhelming. That said, the ease of packet pickup was extremely impressive for such a large race. Organization for every aspect of this even really is top-notch.

deena1

Other than the million running-related booths, my favorite part of the expo was the Runners World Stage that offered talks throughout the day. I was able to catch words of wisdom from Bart Yasso, Joan Benoit Samuelson, and the coolest of all, my hero, Meb Keflezighi. I also had the chance to meet Deena Kastor and have her sign my bib and get a picture. Shalane Flanagan made an appearance as well in the morning promoting her new book, but I arrived too late to see her. The sheer amount of running talent that congregated in that expo hall over the weekend was pretty cool to think about. But after spending a few hours at the expo, it was time to head back to the hotel, get some dinner and try to get into bed early.

THE RACE

I went to bed and woke up extra early. Being my first Chicago Marathon, I was not sure of what to expect at Grant Park in the morning, so my original plan was to play it safe and catch the hotel shuttle at 5am. Thus, I was awake by 3am on Sunday morning. After some breakfast and my normal race morning routine, I thought it better to stay and take advantage of my own bathroom in my hotel room, so I ended up catching the 6am shuttle from the hotel. There were a lot of us trying to board, but luckily there were multiple shuttles to get all of us to the start line in plenty of time.

pre-race-1

Security at Grant Park was pretty efficient, and it took less than 10 minutes in order to get through the line and into the park when I arrived. Once inside, I headed to the port-o-potties (of which I thought there were plenty for a race this size). On the way to drop off my bag, there were tables set up with water, Gatorade, and Gatorade energy chews. I probably made a mistake by grabbing some energy chews before the race- my stomach had been bothering me all night and morning long and adding something new in pre-race was a bit of a risk. Soon enough, it was time to head to the corrals.  I got in early and had some time to kill, but it was cool hanging around pre-race in the corrals with people from literally all over the world.

With the hiccups I had in training, I knew my original goal for this race was out the window. However, based on some of my workouts, I still thought I might have a chance to break 3:20 and get a new PR. Boy, was I wrong.

start

0-10K:

The first quarter of the race was a blur. Running through downtown with spectators 3-4 deep on either side of the road for miles is quite exhilarating. Even though I told myself not to go out too fast, I failed in that regard. The weather was nice, I felt good, and the huge crowds were something I’ve never experienced running before. I ended up averaging about a 7:30/mile pace through the first 10 kilometers. I’ll admit that I made a mistake trying to rely on a GPS watch. All the tall buildings really messed with my watch and made it nearly impossible to know exactly how fast I was going. So I have no idea on my individual mile splits on this day. And this fact ended up hurting my pacing as well. There were a LOT of runners but where I was, I never felt like it was overly crowded or causing me to slow or swerve. I can’t speak to the experience further back in the race.

10-20K:

It was about the 10K mark where I realized I was going at a pace I would be unable to sustain and made a conscious effort to slow down. I averaged 7:43 over this next 10 kilometer stretch. As we headed towards the north side and the Lincoln Park area, the crowds were still amazing, and I absolutely loved reading every sign and getting high fives from anyone I could. I had taken the pre-race advice I had read online and written my name on my bib, and I was so happy I made that decision. Having so many people cheering me on by name was definitely encouraging (and when most others do not have their name, spectators will focus on someone who they can cheer on by name). However, later in the race, when I was struggling mightily, I would bemoan the fact that my name was visible for all to see.

I alternated between water and Gatorade at the aid stations in the first half of the marathon. One of the aspects of this race that impressed me the most was the aid stations. Having never run a race this large, the sheer magnitude of these was amazing to me. They stretched on for blocks and were extremely well organized. I never had any issues at any of the stations, though at some points the amount of empty cups that littered the ground made it important to be careful as you ran through.

20K-30K:

This is where the race began to fall apart for me. I made it through the halfway point at 1:39:32, which was under PR pace, but my pace was gradually slowing, and I felt worse at this point than anyone should feel with 13 miles to go in a marathon. My stomach was starting to give me some issues and I was getting some cramps in my side that I tried to combat by focusing on my breathing. I slowed to an 8:15/mile pace over the next 5k, but after that it was over. Somewhere between mile 16 and 17, I was forced to walk for the first time. This was due to a combination of not running a smart race and my stomach not really cooperating (as I said, dinner from the previous night didn’t sit well with me and I think I just ate too much in the morning as well).

chinatown

30K-finish:

Over the last 10 miles of this race, I was forced to alternate between running and walking. This resulted in a pace slower than 9:30/mile over the final 12+ kilometers. I probably could have cut at least 5 minutes or so off my final time, but at this point, my goals were out the window, and my focus shifted to the Marine Corps Marathon in 3 weeks and staying as fresh as I could for that. Though I was in this position partially because I wasn’t smart in the first half of the race, I did feel that slowing down and taking it easy the rest of the way was the right decision. As mentioned, I was now regretting having my name on my bib as spectators tried to encourage me whenever I slowed to a walk. There’s not much more miserable than having to start walking with 10 miles to go in a marathon. I have vague memories of running through Chinatown and some of Chicago’s other diverse ethnic neighborhoods, but I wasn’t able to appreciate the scenery and people at this point in the race as much as I would have liked.

Having thrown in the towel long ago, I did decide to stop for a beer and jello shots around mile 23 or so. And instantly regretted it as I tried to finish out those final few miles. Around 23.5 miles, you turn onto Michigan Avenue and it’s a straightaway to Grant Park and the finish. It’s quite tantalizing seeing your final destination in the distance but still being so very far away. I don’t remember much about the second half of the race or the finish because of my personal struggles and state of mind, but I crossed the line at 3:39:10, “running” the second half a full 20 minutes slower than the first. Just a lot of feelings of disappointment.

POST-RACE

As I said, I don’t remember too much about the finish because I was so miserable at that point. With all the people, it took a while to get out of the corrals. Runners got all the normal post-race goodies- water, Gatorade, granola bars, bananas. We also all got a beer nearly immediately after finishing, so that was nice. Once out and back into the runners’ village, I went and picked up my bag that I had dropped off and changed out of my shoes. I hung around for a bit talking to some people about the course and their races. Connecting with people from all over the country (and world) is one of my favorite parts about running races. While I didn’t have a good day, one of the guys I was talking to had just qualified for Boston after 5 years of trying. He had a huge goofy smile on his face as he spoke about it, and I couldn’t have been happier for him.

Leaving the runners’ village was a little more difficult. The post-race party was located outside, and it was a long, crowded walk, especially when spectators decide it’s best to crowd the exit and make it difficult for anyone to leave. Once out, I went to use my free beer ticket (they didn’t take it for the first beer). There were huge lines for beer and food (could use a few more stands), but eventually I got my Goose Island and sat down in the grass to listen to the band they had playing.

Overall, it was a great, celebratory atmosphere, but I couldn’t stay and hang around too long unfortunately. I had to book it out of there in order to get to Green Bay on Sunday night to tailgate and go watch the Packers beat the New York Giants. So after enjoying my beer and listening to some music, I grabbed an Uber back to the hotel and headed back to Milwaukee. I was expecting to have a harder/more expensive time catching a ride back, but I was pleasantly surprised with the ease and the cost. Saw the Packers take care of the Giants at Lambeau on Sunday night and made sure to replenishing all the calories burned the right way- with brats, cheese curds and Wisconsin beer.

Race Ratings:

Weather: 4.5/5.0
-It was near perfect marathon weather. It was 52 at the start, warming up to the low 60s by 11am. There was a slight breeze and humidity was not a big factor. At times, it felt a little warm in the sun, but every time we got back in the shade, you felt a tad chilly. I probably prefer conditions a few temperatures cooler than most, but this was about as chicago-course-mapgood as most people could ask for.

Course: 4.5/5.0
-Chicago is flat and fast. Grant Park is the perfect start and finish. It’s a looped course that takes you through all of Chicago’s unique, diverse little neighborhoods. Add in the fact that there is rarely any point on the course without spectators and it makes for a great marathon experience. Unfortunately, my struggles in the second half did not allow me to enjoy it to its full potential.

Packet pickup/Race Expo: 5.0/5.0
-It’s amazing how well organized an expo of this size can be. Packet pickup was a breeze- you scan your QR code and volunteers direct you the correct place to grab your bib. After that, it’s the largest expo I’ve ever seen with pretty much any brand or type of running gear available for purchase, free beer from Goose Island (though they did run out), numerous photo opportunities, and a great selection of speakers. as a runner, it feels like you’re in heaven. Only downside is that if you don’t watch yourself, you could end up spending a few hours there, and rest is important the day before a marathon. The participant shirt this year was of the short-sleeved, technical, neon yellow variety.

Medal: 4.0/5.0
-Chicago’s medals aren’t about flair or trying to one-up other races, but the design this year was definitely the best compared to recent years.The 2016 medal features the Picasso statue and pays homage to the original starting line of the marathon. Clean and simple, but sometimes that is the best.

medalRace Performance: 1.5/5.0
-There’s really nothing good to say about how I ran this race except for the fact that I finished. After some major hiccups in the middle of my training, I still decided to see if I had it in me to go for a PR. Got swept up in the crowd energy, went out WAY too fast in the first half of the race, and ended up bonking with almost 10 miles to go. I definitely wasn’t in the right shape to hit my (apparently) lofty goal, but if I had just run a smarter race, I could’ve salvaged a much better time on a great weather day and a speedy course. I’m pretty sure your average pace shouldn’t be steadily increasing every single 5K throughout the race. And my 2nd half was nearly 20 minutes slower than my 1st half. I also think I need to simplify my race weekend nutrition- I think sometimes I panic and end up eating too much.

shirt

2016 Participant Shirt

Post-Race Party: 4.5/5.0
-I definitely appreciated that runners were given ample space and time to hang out inside the large runners’ area before exiting into the giant mass of spectators. The atmosphere and music were great, and Goose Island really hits the spot after finishing a marathon (too many races have much worse beer available, so I was thankful). I wasn’t able to stay long on this day, but I definitely wish I could have. There was food and beer available for purchase, and it was a beautiful day in Grant Park.

Overall: 4.5/5.0
-Despite my personal struggles, I have nothing but admiration for this race. It really amazes me how much goes into planning and executing an event like this, and on this day, everything worked flawlessly. While I enjoyed the first half of the race immensely, the second half was miserable. But I have zero criticism of the race or its organizers. So I’ve already pledged to come back so I can enjoy the entire thing as it deserves to be enjoyed. I’ve already got my name in the lottery for 2017, so hopefully I’ll be back sooner than later and will know exactly what to expect in my next go-around.

Splits (these are ugly):

0-5K – 23:04 (7:26/mile pace)andy-chi-2
5-10K – 23:21 (7:32/mile pace)
10-15K – 23:39 (7:38/mile pace)
15-20K – 24:07 (7:47/mile pace)
20-25K – 25:36 (8:15/mile pace)
25-30K – 27:04 (8:44/mile pace)
30-35K – 29:07 (9:24/mile pace)
35-40K – 30:55 (9:58/mile pace)
40K-finish – 12:21 (9:03/mile pace)

FINISH – 3:39:10

1st half 1:39:32 (7:36/mile pace)
2nd half 1:59:38 (9:08/mile pace)

6,575 / 40,468 overall
767 / 2,907 age group (M 25-29)

Marathon #14
State #9/ 51

Next: 2016 Marine Corps Marathon

2016 Chicago Half Marathon Race Report

chihalf

The 2016 Chicago Half Marathon was my 19th half marathon. If we’re being completely honest, this race was chosen solely for the promise of a giant finishers’ medal (and later the hopes of a PR on a nice flat course and a chance to get together with friends and motivate them to train as well). Definitely got the giant medal- the rest was a mixed bag of results.

With the half marathon (and a 5K as well) on Sunday, the plan was to meet some friends from Columbus, OH, in Chicago Friday night and spend Saturday exploring the city. Coming from Milwaukee, a 1.5 hour drive turned into 2.5 hours with lovely Chicago traffic on Friday afternoon. I had a few hours to kill before my friends would get into town so I hit up the expo at Soldier Field and explored the surrounding area near the Shedd Aquarium/Field Museum/Adler Planetarium. While I despise the city and tell myself I would never want to live there, I do have to admit Chicago seems like an amazing running city, with so many routes along Lake Michigan that provide some gorgeous views. The expo was a little smaller than I had expected (with it being Chicago and all), so I didn’t spend too much time there. Pretty standard stuff for a half.

packet-pickup

Saturday, the plan was to do some touristy stuff around the city, but that plan really just turned into a lot of walking (way more than is ideal the day before a race). We got a great breakfast at West Egg Cafe, hit up Navy Pier, and saw Millenium Park and The Bean. We had considered going up in the Willis Tower, but it was a really foggy day so we passed on that. We also ran out of time to check out the Shedd Aquarium or the Field Museum, so we just spent the rest of the afternoon watching some college football at the always great Sweetwater Tavern and Grille on Michigan Ave before heading back to our AirBnB and calling it a night.

bean

Race Day

After an early bedtime, race morning came with an early 4:30 wake-up call for the 7am start. Our AirBnB was a convenient 35 minute walk to the start, so we used that as an opportunity to stretch our legs. There was another couple from Detroit also doing the half marathon staying in the same house, so we all walked to the start line in Jackson Park together. Even though we didn’t utilize them, there were also plenty of public transportation options and free shuttles available to get to the start.

For me, I was really hoping for a PR (1:31:27) on this day. I’ve been training for the Chicago Marathon, and I’ve been going harder than I ever have before, so I know I have faster times in me. However, that marathon training also brings tired legs and I knew I wasn’t as fresh as I should be to run a half, so didn’t want to get my hopes up too much.

I was well rested from the night before and even though I had some stomach issues right before the start, I felt like a PR was not out of the question on this day. The weather was somewhat decent (low 60s at the start but with nearly 90% humidity) and the course was very flat. I felt pretty good early on, keeping a nice steady pace just under PR pace for the first 8 miles. The first 4 miles loop around the Jackson Park area before heading out onto Lake Shore Drive north for a 4.5 mile out-and-back to the finish.

I was not a fan of this out-and-back, as it kind of weighs on you mentally much more than a looped course does. Running on Lake Shore Drive was kind of cool, but the novelty of that wears off fairly quick and then (at my pace at least) you’re just left running nearly alone on a long empty road. Near the end of mile 8 is when the wheels began to fall off. I had been churning out ~7 minute miles until then, but all of a sudden my legs began to feel like cinder blocks and those final 4.5 miles were none too pleasant. I was forced to a walk at some points in those last few miles and ended up coming in at 1:35:27, which was 4 minutes shy of my goal. While this was disappointing on the day, I understood that I came into this race far from fresh due to marathon training and a lot of walking the day before. I’m confident that with fresh legs, I am more than capable of a new PR soon.

After waitifullsizerenderng for the other two friends with me to finish, we spent a short time enjoying the post-race party before heading back to the house, showering, and heading our separate ways. It is worth noting that some of us felt a little better than others at the end of the race though 😛

Race Ratings:

Weather: 3.5/5.0
-The weather wasn’t too bad. It was in the mid-60s throughout the race, but the humidity was 88% at the beginning of the race and hovered around there until the end. I don’t deal well with humidity, so I definitely think that hurt my performance. Could have gone for maybe 10 degrees cooler as well.

Course: 3.5/5.0course-map
-Honestly, I wasn’t a big fan of the course. It starts in Jackson Park and at about the 4 mile mark, you make your way onto Lake Shore Drive for an out and back to the finish. It’s cool having Lake Shore Drive shut down and getting to run on it, and the views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline are nice, but it’s literally running 4.5 miles down a road, then turning around and running back. To me it was boring (and I hate out-and-backs to begin with) and the lack of spectators didn’t help. It is very flat, so there is that.

Packet pickup/Race Expo: 4.0/5.0
-Located at Soldier Field this year. $5 for parking, which we used to our advantage to explore Chicago the day before. Not overly big, but the essentials are there if you need anything before the race.

medalMedal: 4.0/5.0
-The medal is ridiculously huge. That uniqueness makes it cool, but it is almost a little too much. This year’s was a spinner in honor of the 20th running of the Chicago Half Marathon.

Race Performance: 3.5/5.0
-Did not go as planned. I was hoping to PR but this race took place in the middle of training for the Chicago Marathon, so I was not as fresh as I’d like to be (plus the fact that we walked a ton around Chicago the day before). That definitely showed, as I felt good through the first 8 miles, but my legs just turned to stone over the last 5, killing any hopes of a PR. Still was my fastest half marathon time of 2016 though.

Post-Race Party: 4.0/5.0
-Lots of open space at Jackson Park to hang out, listen to music, and celebrate your accomplishment. One slice of pizza and one Michelob Ultra for all runners. Would have liked more options, but I can’t really complain too much.

andy-medal

Overall: 3.5/5.0
-I thought I would have liked this race more than I did. The medal and shirt are cool and it’s organized well. It’s a unique experience running on Lake Shore Drive, but the course does get a little boring. The fact that they had something called Skratch Hydration (which tasted awful) in lieu of Gatorade was also unfortunate. And it’s never fun bonking before the 9 mile mark. It’s still a solid race, but I can’t say I’m dying to do it again. They did offer free race photos, so that’s always a plus not available at all races.

Splits:andy-finish
Mile 1- 6:51
Mile 2- 6:59
Mile 3- 6:56
Mile 4- 6:53
Mile 5- 6:58
Mile 6- 7:01
Mile 7- 7:02
Mile 8- 7:08
Mile 9- 7:20
Mile 10- 7:37
Mile 11- 7:56
Mile 12- 7:57
Mile 13- 7:47
Mile 13.1 – 0:59

FINISH – 1:35:27

159 out of 8,529 overall
39 out of 649 in division

andy_mike1

2016 Cellcom Green Bay Marathon Race Report

It wasn’t planned this way, but it was quite fitting that my 13th marathon take place in the city that the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers call home. After a somewhat disappointing finish at the Coastal Delaware Running Festival Marathon a month ago, I wanted a chance to redeem myself. I had heard great things about the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon and decided to sign up just a week before race day. The weather (heat and humidity with no cloud cover) ended up doing away with any time goals I had for the day, but I’m still very glad I did this race (especially being a die-hard Packers fan). The Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon still reigns supreme as the #1 Wisconsin marathon to run, but Green Bay gives it a run for its money. Green Bay’s race weekend offers a 5k and kids run on Saturday in addition to the marathon, half marathon and marathon relay on Sunday.

PRE-RACE

For me, it’s a quick 2-hour drive up to Green Bay from Milwaukee, one I’ve made many, many times for Packers games. The two-day expo and packet pickup (2-7pm on Friday, 10am-7pm on Saturday) takes place at Lambeau Field. It’s pretty hard to miss, as it is easily the tallest building in the smallest NFL city. It’s a medium-sized expo with about 30 or so vendors. It’s very easy to navigate with the expo taking place in the atrium and packet pickup upstairs on the club level. Friday also featured a free yoga session and on Saturday, there was a stage set up to the side of the atrium with speakers giving tips for first time marathoners. There was also a running video of both the half marathon and marathon courses, which I always find helpful. My only complaint is that there were no Gu Chomps in sight at any of the vendor booths.

expo

The main attraction in Green Bay (no matter the time of year) is definitely the Packers, and the location of the expo is convenient to get your football fix in. If you have any interest in football, the Packers Hall of Fame is a must to check out. So much history and lore housed inside its walls. There are also stadium tours, the gigantic Pro Shop, and the new 1912 Kitchen & Tap restaurant for food/drinks located right inside Lambeau Field. On this day, I did a tour of the Hall of Fame, as it was my first time since the HOF had moved to its new location.

pack hof

Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame – Packers uniform history

THE RACE

There’s plenty of hotels nearby Lambeau and the marathon offers race-day shuttles from all area hotels (at 5:50am and 6:00am on race morning), which is a great convenience (more so for marathoners than half marathoners though as the full starts at 7am and the half at 8am). I was only in for one night and stayed at a Motel 6 about a 5 minute drive from the stadium, so I elected to drive, but the shuttle option was nice to have. There was plenty of parking at Lambeau when I got there a little after 6am. I imagine marathoners wouldn’t have any problem finding parking but late arriving half marathoners might.

Gear check was a breeze and there were more than enough bathrooms available pre-race (one of the most important parts of a marathon). After dropping off my bag and getting in some good stretching, it was time to find my way into the corrals for the national anthem and start of the race.

start line

The weather forecast was the biggest worry leading up to race day. At the beginning of the race, it was 60 degrees with 80%+ humidity and no cloud cover in sight. And it was only going to get warmer. Coming into this marathon, I wanted to PR (3:19:38), but the warm weather and the fact that I’d run a challenging half marathon course the week before made me question whether it could be done. Still, I decided to keep a 3:20 pace as long as I could. Maybe not the best idea in hindsight.

Through the first 9 miles, was able to keep at 3:22 pace. However, it felt like it was taking way more effort than it should to maintain that pace, so I tried to slow down even more over the next few miles. Somewhere during mile 13, I was talking to someone and made the comment that I felt way worse at that point than anyone should that early in a marathon. And that would play out over the rest of the race. I crossed the halfway point in 1:42, but the 2nd half would tell a different story (1:56). From there on, it seemed every mile was a little slower than the prior one. And in the end, the final 6 miles involved a decent amount of walking to prevent passing out. I finished in 3:38:02, which on a normal day would be a pretty disappointing time, but under that day’s conditions, it didn’t really bother me. I knew my butt had been kicked by the heat and humidity (75 degrees/heat index of 82 when I finished), and that was that.

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One of the views along the Fox River Trail

While any time goals had been thrown out the window and the performance was not pretty, the Green Bay Marathon course is gorgeous. It starts at Lambeau Field and runs along Lombardi Avenue, passing some of the monuments of the Oneida Nation Walk of Legends (24 monuments commemorating the history of football in Green Bay). From there, there is a lot of time spent winding through local Green Bay residential communities. The residents of Green Bay and the surrounding cities which the marathon passed through were fantastic. Many had sprinklers going or hoses ready to spray runners down and keep them cool. Others had orange slices/water, one house had a beer stop, and many had great words of encouragement and entertaining signs. The spectators were definitely great on an otherwise tough day.

Starting around mile 10, it’s about a 6 mile stretch right along the Fox River Trail. This portion of the course offers some amazing views of the Fox River, at times even putting you so close to the river you feel like you could touch the water. Around mile 18.5 is one of the big highlights of the course as a Packers fan and football historian, as runners do a loop around City Stadium, home to the Packers from 1925-1956 (now home to Green Bay East high school). From there, the course runs through downtown Green Bay, back through some more local neighborhoods, and finally heads back to Lambeau Field.

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Looking much stronger here than I felt!

The “Lambeau Loop” is one of the coolest feelings I’ve had running a marathon before. I’ve been a die-hard Packers fan my entire life, living and dying on every Brett Favre throw growing up, and running out that same tunnel that the players do every Sunday is a feeling that’s hard to describe. I’ve already promised myself I’m coming back next year to run the half marathon because I really wanted to attempt a Lambeau Leap, but in the 26th mile of a struggle of a marathon, I didn’t quite trust my legs at that point. So next year! My only complaint was that the congestion in Lambeau was ugly. With 2:30 half marathoners converging with 3:30 marathoners, it made it hard to maneuver if you were trying to finish your race strong. If there is any way to stagger the races differently, that might be a good idea.

POST-RACE

While the weather was not ideal for running, it was perfect for a post-race party. Bottled water, Gatorade, bananas and orange slices were available immediately upon finishing in the finisher’s chute. Checked bags were available at the end of the finish chute so that was impossible to miss. Each runner also received tickets for two beers and (in true Wisconsin fashion) one Johnsonville brat. Miller Lite and Redd’s Apple Ale were available, as well as a special Leinenkugel’s offering (Run for the Love of It Ale). Extra beer was also available for purchase for $3 apiece. The Cougars, a fun, local cover band played the post-race party until noon, so I hung around for that before heading back to Milwaukee. 

Race Ratings:

Weather: 2.0/5.0
-I’ve been rather lucky in the marathons I’ve run when it comes to weather. However, this was the warmest I’ve ever run, and I did not enjoy it. It was about 60 degrees at the start with ~80% humidity. By the time I finished, the temperature was 75 with a heat index in the low 80s (and it just kept climbing for slower finishers). I did see two different people after the race who appeared to be suffering from heat exhaustion. Not ideal marathon weather to say the least, and with my inexperience in running in this type of weather, my time reflected that. No rain though, and wind was a minor factor, so I guess that was good.

Course: 4.5/5.0
-The course is gorgeous. It’s flat and fast and on a cooler day, it might have produced a PR. course mapIt winds through a lot of Green Bay residential communities (and the residents were amazing), there’s a long portion that runs right along the beautiful Fox River and provides some amazing views, and for Packers fans (and even football fans in general), there’s two other memorable points. The first is a lap around City Stadium (around mile 18.5), the Packers’ home from 1925-1956. The second is a lap inside Lambeau Field, which was one of the coolest feelings I’ve experienced running a race. My only complaint is how crowded it can get inside Lambeau with marathon finishers meeting up with back-of-the-pack half marathoners. A total of 20 fluid stations along the way were a huge positive on this day as well.

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first timers forum

First timers forum

Packet pickup/Race Expo: 4.0/5.0
-The Lambeau Field Atrium is great for this. There were a decent amount of vendors, easy parking, and great photo ops. And once you’re done with the expo, you can tour the Packers Hall of Fame, take a stadium tour, visit the enormous Packers Pro Shop, or grab a drink and a bite to eat at the 1912 Kitchen & Tap Restaurant. There were also a few speakers, including two forums for first time marathoners, and a running video of both the marathon and half marathon courses, which is always helpful.

Medal: 3.0/5.0
-It’s nice, but I’m not a huge fan of the medal. It’s part of a three year series which began in 2015, so I have no chance to get them all. One side features an image of Lambeau Field, which you need all three years to complete the picture (this year features Curly Lambeau on that side). The other side stands on its own and features images of Green Bay area landmarks. 2015’s medal depicted the Leo Frigo bridge, the Neville Public Museum (plus dinosaur), Lambeau Field and the City Stadium gates. This year’s has the Brown County Courthouse and St. Willebrord Church. And the 2017 medal will include the Claude Allouez Bridge in De Pere and parts of the St. Norbert College campus.

Race Performance: 2.5/5.0
-I definitely struggled in the heat and humidity. My initial goal was 3:20, but as I got going and felt the weather, I adjusted that to 3:25. I hit the halfway point in 1:42, but the heat got to me in the second half and I finished that in a much slower 1:56. The final 6 miles involved a decent amount of walking to make sure I didn’t pass out (and included my first ever 10+ minute marathon mile). But a marathon finish in this weather, especially when you’re not used to it, is nothing to hang your head about.

Post-Race Party: 4.0/5.0
-It’s a traditional Wisconsin post-race party. Each runner gets a Johnsonville brat and 2 beers (including the option for a special Leinenkugel’s brew, Run For the Love of It Ale). There’s a fun local cover band for entertainment. And it all takes place in the shadows of Lambeau Field. What’s not to love?

Overall: 4.0/5.0
-I thoroughly enjoyed this race. Organization was spot on, course was spectacular, weather was…never mind about the weather. But everything that could be controlled was done well. And for a Packers fan, running through Lambeau is a dream come true. I’ll definitely be back again in the future.

Splits:finish time

Mile 1- 07:37
Mile 2- 07:48
Mile 3- 07:34
Mile 4- 07:45
Mile 5- 07:45
Mile 6- 07:43
Mile 7- 07:47
Mile 8- 07:46
Mile 9- 07:41
Mile 10- 07:53
Mile 11- 07:52
Mile 12- 07:51
Mile 13- 08:00
Mile 14- 07:59
Mile 15- 08:00
Mile 16- 08:09
Mile 17- 08:11
Mile 18- 08:16
Mile 19- 08:34
Mile 20- 09:07
Mile 21- 08:56
Mile 22- 09:11
Mile 23- 10:13badge
Mile 24- 09:24
Mile 25- 09:21
Mile 26- 09:55
Mile 26.2- 01:40

FINISH – 3:38:02

224 / 1290 overall
23 / 65 age group (M 25-29)

Marathon #13

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2016 Coastal Delaware Running Festival Marathon Race Report

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April 2016 was my first ever trip to our country’s first state and the Coastal Delaware Running Festival marathon. That’s one of the perks to setting a goal of running a marathon in all 50 states- visiting places I probably would otherwise never think to go. Delaware was my 8th state and 12th overall marathon. It was definitely different than others I’ve run so far (not in necessarily a good or bad way). This was the 2nd annual Coastal Delaware Running Festival after a successful inaugural running in 2015. I chose this race because of the overwhelmingly positive reviews I read online. In addition to the marathon, there was also a half marathon and a 9K. In total, the three races had just over 2,000 finishers (with about 1,000 in the half marathon and 500 each in the 9K and marathon).
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PRE-RACE

The Coastal Delaware Running Festival takes place in the touristy beach town of Dewey Beach. There really isn’t any convenient way to get there, so the only options are flying into either Baltimore or Philadelphia and driving. I ended up with cheap direct flights to and out of Philadelphia, so that’s the route I took. From Philly, it’s about a 2-hour drive, so it wasn’t too bad. With the race on Sunday, my flight out of Milwaukee was at 7:30am on Saturday. I ended up arriving at my hotel in Dewey Beach around 2pm. Speaking of hotels, the locale of this race makes for great race day logistics. There are tons of lodging options within steps of the finish line. My hotel (Best Western Gold Leaf) was directly across the street from the host hotel and the finish line/post-race party.  Can’t do it better than that.

After checking into my hotel and getting settled, I headed to packet pickup, which was located at a bar/restaurant called The Starboard (less than a 10 minute walk from my room). Packet pickup was about as bare bones as it gets (but understandable for a race so small). Packets could be picked up from 2-8pm on both Friday and Saturday, so even if you get in late on Saturday, you won’t have a problem. There was one table set up with body glide, Gu, other essentials available for purchase, but the flavors for gels/chews was extremely limited. I got my packet and headed back to the hotel to relax for the rest of the day. There were a few restaurants nearby that were offering pasta dinner specials that night for runners, so that was definitely a big plus. After some chicken alfredo for dinner, I was in bed by 9pm, ready for the race on Sunday.

THE RACE

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Stayed right across the street from the host hotel and shuttle pick-up

Like I mentioned, logistically, this race was hard to beat. The start line was about a mile away from my hotel and the finish, but there were also shuttle buses running from the host hotel across the street from me. I ended up waking up around 4:15 and getting ready and getting some food and fluids in me. Around 6:20 or so, I went downstairs and opted to catch the shuttle to the start line for the 7am start. Walking was another option, but I opted to stay at the hotel as long as I could.

The temperature at 6am was around 50 with very little humidity, so it was good racing weather. With my hotel room so close to the finish, I didn’t bother checking a bag, so I can’t speak to how that process worked. At the start, there were plenty of port-a-potties. There was also a VIP area (for those that paid an extra charge) with private bathrooms and amenities, but it really wasn’t needed. I didn’t have too much time to kill and before I knew it, it was time to line up. The three races had starts staggered by a half hour each, with the marathon getting going first. There weren’t a lot of pacers for the full marathon, but conveniently there was a 3:15 pacer, so I lined up with that group because that was the time I was shooting to beat.

I ran the Houston Marathon in January in 3:29:03 and felt very comfortable doing so. Wanting to get faster, I decided to commit to a new marathon training plan after that and began with Hanson’s Marathon Method. I’ve never been a high-mileage runner, but I’ve heard that is kind of important when running marathons. Hanson’s plan involved a lot more running than I was used to, but I enjoyed the structure and variety in the workouts. With an abbreviated training timeline and the fact that I was trying to ease in to the higher weekly mileage, I wasn’t able to follow this plan to a T this time around. However, I hit all my paces in all my workouts and I felt a lot faster and more confident going into this race. Going into this race, I thought for sure I would be able to set a new PR (3:19:38), break 3:15, and maybe even more. Hell, my last long training run was a 16-miler just two weeks prior that I ran right at a 3:15 pace (and felt amazing doing so, like I could definitely keep that pace for 10 more miles if I had tried).

With a goal of breaking 3:15 in mind, my hope was to stay with the 3:15 pace group for as long as it felt right. The course starts on Tower Road in Delaware Seashore State Park then heads back through the beach towns of Dewey Beach and Rehoboth Beach for the first few miles. The first mile came in faster than anticipated at 7:13, but we settled into a better pace in miles 2 and 3 (7:27 and 7:20, respectively). Not much to see in the first 3 miles other than the bars and restaurants that line Coastal Highway through the beach towns. Mile 4 is one of the cooler parts of the course, as it runs along the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk, which was quiet on first pass, but we’d come back across it on our return trip to the finish line. The Boardwalk is about a mile long and features lots of shops, games, food, and other vendors. It’s definitely the place to be in Rehoboth Beach, and offered a great view of the ocean while running as well. Came in at 7:35 on mile 4 and was feeling good.

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Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk (when there is no marathon)

After leaving the boardwalk, it was onto the trails of Cape Henlopen State Park. Miles 5-9 run through the park, alternating between a packed crushed stone surface trail and an elevated boardwalk. The texture of the trail felt nice to run on, but overall, I wasn’t a fan of running on the boardwalk. These trails were peaceful and provided some nice views, but nothing that really stands out. I stayed with the 3:15 pace group through mile 8 pulling out 7:23, 7:24, 7:33, and 7:37 over miles 5-8. For miles 9-11, we moved onto a paved bike trail, and this is where I fell back from the pace group, feeling the pace a little and hoping to conserve some energy. Ran a 7:46 9th mile before getting back on track with 7:24 and 7:27 splits for miles 10 and 11. Again, some decent views here but nothing overly memorable.

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With the 3:15 group in the early miles

Starting in mile 12 is when I felt like this just might not be my day. I didn’t feel like I had what it took to break 3:15, so my goal changed to just run a new PR (3:19:38). Doing a lot of math in my head (as I do during all races), I figured I could average 7:40/mile the rest of the way and still set a new PR. I thought this was doable, but it turns out I was wrong. I kept up that pace for the next 6 miles, but in mile 18, the wheels began to fall off. The problem with this marathon for me was the size and lack of spectators. I’m the kind of runner who feeds off of crowd energy and other runners, but once I lost the pace group, I was basically running with not a single soul near me for the majority of the remainder of the race. Mile 18 came in at 8:02 and at that point, I just knew it wasn’t going to be a PR day. Neither energy gel I took on the course gave me the second wind I was hoping for, and I realized it just wasn’t my day.

Filled with frustration, I basically threw in the towel for the last 8 miles. I wish I hadn’t though, because a 3:25 finish would have earned me an age group award (I finished in 3:28, but if I had tried over the last 1/3, I could have easily broke 3:25). After the 22 mile marker, we met up with the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk again. At this point in the day, it was bustling with back of the pack half marathoners and people just out enjoying the nice weather and cheering on runners. This part of the course definitely had the most people, but it wasn’t blocked off or anything, so unknowing spectators just had to make sure to avoid runners coming towards them. After the boardwalk, it was back to Dewey Beach and the Hyatt-Lighthouse Cove waterfront for the finish and post-party. Despite my struggles and disappointment, I still came in with my 3rd best marathon time at 3:28:32.

POST-RACE

After finishing and receiving a medal, there was also bottled water, granola bars and bananas available for runners. There was no Gatorade available at the finish line, though, which I found odd and annoying at the same time. After stretching a bit I headed back for a quick stop in my hotel room before heading to the post-race party since I hadn’t checked a bag.

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codel2The post-race party took place right on the beach behind the host hotel and finish line. Every runner got three beer tickets (big kudos on this) from local 3rd Wave Brewing Company (I believe they had mimosas and Shock Top beer available as well) and they also had a buffet which included grilled chicken, pulled pork, mac and cheese, cookies, and salad (I’m sure I forgot something). It was a good food and a good set-up. There was a DJ playing music and it was a great opportunity to just sit and relax on the beach after a hard race. There was also merchandise available for sale and I scored a cool Coastal Delaware Running Festival beach towel for $15. The rest of the day was spent relaxing, though I did go back and explore the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk a lot more later in the day. I tried some “frozen custard” at a place called Kohr Bros at one point, but it didn’t come even close to anything we make in Wisconsin.

On Monday, my flight home from Philadelphia wasn’t until 10:45pm, so I had the day to kill. I checked out the state’s second largest city and capital, Dover, on my drive back to Philly. “Historic Downtown” was kind of cool, but with a population of only 37,000, it mostly felt like one of the smaller suburbs of Milwaukee.

In Philadelphia, I stopped at the amazing Reading Terminal Market for lunch, did an interesting self-guided tour of the U.S. Mint, and grabbed a couple beers from Yards Brewery (delicious- check it out if ever in Philly) before heading home.

Race Ratings:CoDelFullMap_revised12-15

Weather: 4.5/5.0
-While forecast-stalking, I had been a little worried it might be too warm, the weather turned out to be excellent. It was around 50 degrees at the start and stayed in the 50s
throughout the marathon. There were some noticeable winds at times, but otherwise it was great racing weather. Personally, I’d go for just a couple degrees colder, but you can’t get too picky.

Course: 3.0/5.0
-The course was extremely flat, with only a couple of really insignificant hills sprinkled in. There were some great ocean views, and running on the boardwalk was pretty awesome. However, nothing else was really that memorable, and with it being such a small race, there just wasn’t any crowd support. I know many people love this type of marathon, but it’s not really up my alley. Still, it was well done and many people rave about the course. Could have maybe used 1-2 more water stops, but that’s getting picky. There were two energy gel stations, which is more than I’ve seen at some races.

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Packet pickup/Race Expo: 2.5/5.0
-Conveniently located, easy to get in and out. Like I said, pretty bare bones, but expected at a race of this size. I do think one improvement would be to have a greater selection of energy gels/chews available to purchase. That was my only disappointment. The shirt has a nice design and all marathoners and half marathoners also received a free tumbler as a gift.

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Medal: 4.0/5.0
-The design of the medal is fantastic. Two lighthouses are featured on a stained glass background that captures the coastal theme of this race. It’s also one of the largest medals I’ve earned to date. Only criticism is the quality of the material- it just feels a little cheap.

codel3Race Performance: 2.5/5.0
-To say I wasn’t extremely disappointed would be a lie. Feels weird saying that about my 3rd
fastest marathon time to date, but it’s true. I trained hard and felt 100% prepared to run a fast time on this course. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t my day. Frustration over the last 1/3 of the race led to me basically throwing in the towel. I’m hoping this was just a fluke that can be chalked up to having an off day.
Post-Race Party: 4.5/5.0
-Beautiful setting on the beach, great buffet, solid music, and three beer tickets give this one high marks.

Overall: 3.5/5.0
-This was by far the smallest marathon I’ve run to date with only 528 finishers. I’m definitely glad I did it, and everything was very well organized logistically and ran extremely smoothly on race weekend. This was only the 2nd year of this race, but you’d never know it. My performance wasn’t what I hoped, but that was only part of the experience. I doubt I’d do it again just because of the location and the fact that it’s not the type of race I normally gravitate toward, but if you’re looking for a Delaware marathon, you can’t go wrong here.

Splits:

Mile 1- 07:13
Mile 2- 07:27
Mile 3- 07:20
Mile 4- 07:35
Mile 5- 07:23
Mile 6- 07:24codel2
Mile 7- 07:33
Mile 8- 07:37
Mile 9- 07:46
Mile 10- 07:24
Mile 11- 07:27
Mile 12- 07:42
Mile 13- 07:37
Mile 14- 07:41
Mile 15- 07:40
Mile 16- 07:45
Mile 17- 07:44
Mile 18- 08:02
Mile 19- 09:02
Mile 20- 07:57
Mile 21- 09:33
Mile 22- 08:01
Mile 23- 08:31
Mile 24- 09:36
Mile 25- 09:08
Mile 26- 08:48
Mile 26.2- 01:36

FINISH – 3:28:32

56/526 overall
4/16 age group (M 25-29)

Marathon #12
State #8 / 51

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2016 Houston Marathon Race Report

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My first race of 2016 was a positive one. The 2016 Chevron Houston Marathon took place on January 17, 2016, and was my 11th marathon overall and my 7th different state in my quest for all fifty. This was the largest marathon I’ve done to date (Houston has been the 10th largest marathon in the United States in recent years) with just under 8,000 finishers. Add in the half-marathon and the total comes to 22,000 for the Sunday races. There is also a 5K that takes place on Saturday that had about 10,000 finishers, so this is a pretty larges event, at least by my standards. I did not participate, but if you run the 5K on Saturday and either the half or full on Sunday, you get an extra Houston Double medal as your reward.

marathon logo

PRE-RACE

The weekend started out in the best way possible – on Friday morning, I found out I had passed my final actuarial exam and I would never have to study for another exam in my life! For those unfamiliar with the actuarial career, the exam process is brutal and studying has consumed my life for months at a time for as long as I can remember. It’s been over 8 years since I took my first exam, and it feels amazing to finally be done. That being said, the celebratory drinks began promptly after exam results were released around 9am on Friday morning. 😛

I couldn’t celebrate too hard, however, as I had a flight to catch Friday evening. I flew from Milwaukee into Atlanta, where I had a connecting flight to Houston. When I arrived at the gate, though, I was informed that the flight was overbooked and I was being bumped to a 7am flight on Saturday morning. Normally, I’d be fine with that and take the free flight vouchers for my inconvenience, but not during a marathon weekend. Luckily, with just a few minutes to spare before takeoff, I was told a seat had opened up and I was able to get on the plane.

My friend, Eric, lives in Houston and he was my host for the weekend. He lives in Midtown, just minutes from downtown and the marathon expo and start/finish lines, so that was very convenient. Eric was signed up for the marathon as well, but he had some hiccups with injuries during training so he was unable to run. He was still able to come out to cheer me on during the race, so that was definitely a nice boost for me.

IMG_2537Saturday morning, we hit up Harry’s Restaurant & Cafe for breakfast. The place was packed and there was a little bit of a wait, so you knew the food must be good. After breakfast, we headed to the expo. The expo ran Friday and all day Saturday and took place at the George R. Brown Convention Center downtown. This was the same place where runners would congregate on Sunday morning before the races, so that was convenient. Outside of the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati, this was the biggest expo I’ve been to. Tons of vendors, samples, merchandise, and running apparel to browse. The best part for me was the free gloves they were handing out, which would come in handy since it was going to be a little chilly on Sunday morning before the start. Being from Wisconsin, I also got a kick out of the warning system sign, which warned of cold temperatures below 50 degrees (that’s shorts weather haha).

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After the expo, we headed to NASA‘s Space Center for a touristy Houston experience. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and after waiting for about an hour for a tram tour of the campus, ours got cut short because of lightning in the area. Still cool to see though. The rest of the day was spent watching NFL playoffs. And with my luck, the Packers got stuck with the least ideal time slot for me, playing on Saturday night. We watched the game at a place called Beer Market (good beer and delicious food) with some other Packer fans, and after a heartbreaking loss in overtime, I ended up getting to bed around 11:30pm for a 3:45am wake-up call. :-/

THE RACE

As mentioned, with the Packer game the night before, I didn’t get much sleep, but the sleep I did get was good. With a 7am start time for the marathon, I got a ride from Eric down to the start at 5:30am. With a large field, Houston uses a staggered corral start (A-D). I was in Corral A, so I had to be in my corral by 6:40am. The set-up at the GRB Convention Center was great. There were a ton of porta-potties, bag check was hassle-free, and there was even a Catholic mass going on in one corner of the convention floor.

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It was a slightly chilly morning in Houston so the free gloves at the expo came in handy. Still, I felt like such a Wisconsinite seeing so many others bundled up like I would be running in single digit temperatures back home (it was just under 40 degrees at the start). The walk from the convention center to the starting corrals was a good warm-up for the legs, and after the usual pre-race formalities, we were off.

I intended to run with the 3:30 pacers but I got pushed up in the starting corral and got separated from them, so I was left to pace myself. And I did a fairly good job staying around 8:00/mile. My expectations weren’t super high; my only goal was to break 3:30 on the day.

The first few miles flew by. In a bigger race like this, the main focus early on is getting around the large crowds of people and settling into a comfortable pace. I kept on my hat and gloves for awhile, because it was still a little chilly, but I was sweating so much under my hat because of the high Texas humidity, so I eventually ditched them both around mile 4.

The course itself wasn’t the most memorable. Around mile 8, we got to run by Rice University, and that was the only scenery that really stood out to me the entire race (but that part was pretty). The spectators were the main attraction. Again, this is the largest marathon I’ve run to date, but I’ve never had so many people cheer me on by name. There was never a very long stretch without someone offering tissues, orange slices, bananas, or anything else that one might need. And the course had plenty of “Party Zones” for spectators to congregate and give runners a boost of energy. The other little detail that was kind of cool to me were the elite runner aid stations. There was a lot of talent in town (more for the half than the full), and it was fun just to think that I was running the same course as the likes of 2015 Boston Marathon Champion Lelisa Desisa (among many others). Something else new to me were the signs every kilometer in addition to the mile markers. I’m still undecided on how I feel about those.

IMG_2552As for my performance, I stayed locked in around an 8 min/mile pace for the first half, crossing the halfway point at 01:43:48. This was also the only really annoying part of the course, as there was an out-and-back turnaround. Just before mile 15, I saw my friend Eric for the first time, and he was able to get a good picture of me. Here, I looked and felt great, but only minutes later, I began to struggle. I took my 2nd energy gel at this point and about a mile later, I was going strong again and felt like I had a second wind.

This continued until about mile 22. I saw Eric a few more times, and each time was another boost for me. I started fading fast during miles 22 and 23 (8:10 and 8:16, respectively), mostly (I think) because there was not a single energy gel station until ~mile 22.5. This was my biggest complaint, as I had run out before then and was expecting to have gotten one before then. It’s my own fault for not realizing ahead of time, but it’s also poor planning on the race’s part. After finally getting some more nutrition in me, I did pick it back up with sub-8:00 miles for 24 and 25. At mile 25 were the “hills” that every spectator was warning runners about, but they turned out to be more like small bumps. In the end, I was able to take in the energy of the finish line and come in at 3:29:03, content with my time.

POST-RACE

After you finish, you head back into the GRB Convention Center, where you get a finisher’s shirt as well as a marathon finisher’s mug. All the post-race food, drinks, and gear check are all located inside the convention center as well. In addition to the normal IMG_2546post race snacks you see at every marathon, there was also a hot breakfast (biscuits, eggs, and sausage) as well as ice cream sandwiches, both excellent ideas after a marathon.

Once back outside, there was the We Are Houston RunFest going on. Other than grabbing a couple sample size Michelob Ultras, I didn’t spend too much time checking it out, so I can;t say if it was worthwhile. There were quite a few booths set up, but it didn’t seem like too many people were hanging around.

After a quick shower, the rest of the afternoon was spent at Karbach, a local Houston brewery with delicious food and a great outdoor patio. And excellent beer as well. I’d highly recommend if ever in Houston. It was especially nice for me since it was sunny and 60 degrees (perfect shorts weather), while back at home in Milwaukee, the wind chills were hovering around minus 20. 🙂

Race Ratings:

Weather: 5.0/5.0
-This was the best weather I’ve ever had for a marathon. Temperatures were in the upper 30s at the start, warming up to the high 40s by the time I finished, with partly sunny skies and no threat of rain all day. Couldn’t have asked for better.

marathon course map

Course: 4.5/5.0
-The course is extremely flat. Literally, the only hills are on overpasses/underpasses. There are a couple in the closing miles that look really intimidating on the elevation chart, but they are not bad at all – they just stand out because the rest of the course is SO flat. I thought spectator support was great, and it didn’t feel like there were a lot of areas without people cheering you by name. The scenery wasn’t the greatest at times if that’s your thing, but if you care more about a PR, this course fits the bill.

2016-Marathon-ELEVATION_2Packet pickup/Race Expo: 4.0/5.0
-It’s a large expo for a big city race. Lots of vendors and some nice touches like free gloves, a drawstring bag, and a neat Houston Marathon magnet. Some good deals on running apparel and a wide variety of Houston merchandise. You won;t be bored at this expo, and it’s easily accessible and well organized.

Medal: 4.5/5.0
-Large, beautiful medal, with the Houston skyline featured. Extra finisher SWAG included a technical shirt and a mug for marathon finishers only.

Race Performance: 4.5/5.0
-The late Packer game and lack of sleep dampened my expectations about this race, but I was still able to pull out my 3rd best marathon time ever. I felt comfortable almost the entire race, and I’m slowly inching back towards where I want to be and gaining confidence along the way. I think I’m most impressed with how consistent my 5K splits were.

Post-Race Party: 3.5/5.0
-The breakfast and ice cream sandwiches were great, but there was nowhere to get beer (other than sample size Michelob Ultra), and the outdoor RunFest seemed lacking (though maybe I didn’t give it a fair chance).

Overall: 4.5/5.0
-I really enjoyed running Houston, especially as a winter getaway from Wisconsin. The course is easy and built for a PR, the spectators were fantastic and the SWAG was not disappointing. I definitely like bigger races- the next step up will be Chicago in October.

Splits:

Mile 1- 07:58
Mile 2- 08:04
Mile 3- 07:52finisher badge
Mile 4- 07:52
Mile 5- 07:47
Mile 6- 07:53
Mile 7- 07:51
Mile 8- 07:51
Mile 9- 07:52
Mile 10- 07:55
Mile 11- 07:59
Mile 12- 08:00
Mile 13- 08:00
Mile 14- 08:10
Mile 15- 08:03
Mile 16- 08:02
Mile 17- 08:00IMG_2535
Mile 18- 07:51
Mile 19- 07:58
Mile 20- 07:47
Mile 21- 08:01
Mile 22- 08:10
Mile 23- 08:16
Mile 24- 07:57
Mile 25- 07:54
Mile 26- 08:20
Mile 26.2- 01:35

FINISH – 3:29:03

890/7795 overall
99/458 age group (M 25-29)

results

IMG_2544

2015 Richmond Marathon Race Report

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The 2015 Richmond Marathon is in the books, and there are only positive things to say about this race. Richmond was my 10th overall marathon and my 6th state in my quest for all fifty. The race is billed as “America’s Friendliest Marathon” and they do their best to back up that claim. The 2015 race took place on November 14 and also included a half marathon and an 8K.

logo

PRE-RACE

This was the first race for which I’ve ever flown, so that was a whole new challenge in itself. I refuse to pay to check a bag unless absolutely necessary, so it took a little problem solving and effective planning to fit everything I needed and wanted to bring in my carry-on. My flight out of Milwaukee was at 6am on Friday morning, so unfortunately I only got about 5 hours of sleep on Thursday night. And they always say that two nights before the marathon is the most important night for sleep, so I was a little concerned. Flying in for a race is actually very cool, though. I had a connecting flight in Atlanta, and on the flight from Atlanta to Richmond, I swear half the plane was traveling to run/spectate in the weekend’s events. Made for a fun, exciting flight. Kind of funny seeing everyone reading the same Runner’s World magazine during the flight 😛

Anyways, I had no problems with either of my flights and ended up landing in Richmond at 11:30am. I had booked an apartment on AirBnB in the heart of the VCU campus for the weekend, and after a quick $20 Uber ride, I was checked in and ready to start the weekend. It was my first time ever using AirBnB, and it really went off without a hitch. My host was flexible in meeting me to give me her key, and the place worked perfectly for me needs for the weekend. The apartment was a mile walk from the marathon start line, a little over 1.5 miles from the expo, and within walking distance of anything I could possibly need. I paid $180 for two nights, whereas a hotel that provided similar convenience for the weekend would have run me upwards of $240/night. Needless to say, I think I’ll definitely be using AirBnB again in the future.

The expo ran all day Friday (and also on Thursday evening) and took place at the Arthur Ashe Center (right next to the baseball stadium that the AA Richmond Flying Squirrels call home). I made the choice to walk to and from the expo to stretch out my legs. There were also free shuttles offered from downtown and free parking for those that drove (though that didn’t look super fun as traffic/parking around the expo was very busy). The expo was pretty typical but easy to navigate. There were lots of vendors and plenty of Richmond Marathon apparel available to buy. The expo did have a couple cool perks including (1) pre-race taping for those that wanted it (I did not take advantage) and (2) a talk by running icon Bart Yasso of Runner’s World that included tips specific to running the Richmond Marathon (was disappointed I missed this).

expo1

expo2There were also course bus tours available all day Friday (you were supposed to pre-register, but there was plenty of room for walk-ups on my 3pm tour). They last two hours and helped highlight parts of the course that marathoners would be traversing the following morning. It ended up being a tad long, but it was cool to get a preview, but it gave me an added sense of confidence on Saturday morning as I passed landmarks I’d seen the previous day. I’d say it definitely helped put certain parts of the course into perspective and plan for what I knew was still to come. The tour guide was very enthusiastic and entertaining as well. After the expo and course tour, I got some dinner from the IHOP Express on campus and ended up getting to bed by 9pm, as I was exhausted from the early wake-up and the walking I had done that day.

THE RACE

With my alarm set for 5am, I woke by myself at 4:45 feeling refreshed and ready to go. Usually, it is impossible for me to sleep the night before a marathon, but with how little sleep I got the night before, this time I slept like a baby. As I got ready, the biggest decision I wrestled with was what type of shirt to wear. The forecast called for a starting temperature of 34 degrees, rising to 50 by 11am, but with significant winds throughout to richmond2make it feel much colder. I opted for a long sleeve cotton shirt over my Under Armour to help protect me from the wind, which I was warned would be brutal crossing over the two bridges we’d be running. Once ready, it was just over a one mile walk to the finish line, which was a perfect warm-up. With the half-marathon and 8K starting before the marathon, I caught glimpses of those runners as I made my way to the starting line. On my way over, I also passed some port-a-potties that were set up on the course. This turned out to be very fortunate, as the lines at the starting line were ridiculous (as they are at any race).

The marathon start line was located at 5th and Grace Street downtown. I arrived just in time to check my bag, do some stretches and find my way into my starting corral, so I didn’t spend too much time there. But from what I’ve heard, some of the hotels and business like Starbucks open their doors early on race day for the runners, which is always a big help.

For me, Richmond was a sort of bounce-back race after the Lakefront Marathon in Milwaukee six weeks ago. And to put it bluntly, Lakefront was a disaster. I was hoping to PR at Lakefront (3:19), but I had stomach issues all day. It was the first race I’ve ever had to make a pit stop (and I made three – one for the bathroom and two to throw up). But even without those issues, I felt I probably went out too fast and would have crashed anyway. So I was basically using Richmond as a test-run for the Houston Marathon in January. I wanted to see where my fitness was at and determine what I could realistically shoot for in Houston. For this reason, I lined up between the 3:30 and 3:35 pacers, as I wasn’t sure exactly what pace I wanted to run but thought it’d be somewhere in that range. I was fairly confident I could maintain an easy 8-minute mile pace throughout, but after Lakefront I had a lot of self-doubt.

After a moment of silence for the horrible attacks in Paris the previous night and the usual starting line rituals, we were off.  I was hoping to keep the 3:30 pacers in my sight, but they took off and ran a pretty fast first mile, so I was on my own.  After a couple quicker miles, I tried to pull back and settle into a more even pace around 8 minutes/mile.  By mile 5, I was in a groove, and amazingly, I actually ran five straight 7:58 miles between 8 and 12, so I really had figured out my pace.

There was nothing super exciting to tell about the course in the early miles. We ran down Broad Street for the first two miles then, around mile 3, we entered the Museum District. Here there was some cool architecture and historical statues. And autumn in Richmond is really pretty, so just running anywhere with trees and fall leaves made for good scenery. After that we entered some more rural shopping and residential areas, all lined with spectators.

richmond15

Gorgeous along the James River

Around mile 7 was the first “Party Zone”, and I always love these.  The energy just picks up so much and time really flies by as I take in the crowd and get as many high fives as possible.  After that, we crossed the James River for the first of two times and entered what was definitely my favorite part of the course. From the 8-mile marker to the 10-mile marker, marathoners run right along the James River.  This is the only portion of the course where there aren’t many spectators, but the view is serene and it’s at a good point in the race where you need to just take some time to relax.  I even saw not one, but TWO bald eagles as I ran.  How cool is that?!? If that doesn’t pump you up for the rest of the race, I don’t know what will.

Once past mile 10, we made our way back through some of the south side neighborhoods of Richmond before arriving at the next “Party Zone” at mile 13. I hit the halfway point in 1:44:38, still on pace for 3:30 finish, and I was actually feeling great at that point.  I had downed a package of Gu Chomps between miles 7 and 9 and I took my first Gel around mile 14.  Even after 9 previous marathons, I’m still trying to perfect my fueling strategy, but on this day, I think I may have found it. Worth noting- this race had two gel stations and two “junk food” stations (with Gummy Bears, pretzels, etc.).  I had my own fuel and didn’t take anything, but these ended up being very popular with a lot of runners.

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Robert E. Lee Memorial Bridge

Just after mile 15, we crossed back over the James River on the almost mile-long Robert E. Lee Memorial Bridge back towards downtown. I was warned of brutal headwinds on this bridge but barely noticed anything. Others complained after the race, so maybe it was there and I was just in my own little world.  Who knows.

Some course highlights later on included entering the Fan District around

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I swear I’m having more fun than it looks like here

mile 17, running past The Diamond, home of Richmond’s AA baseball Flying Squirrels, around mile 19, another “Party Zone” at mile 2o, and the second wet washcloth station just before mile 23.  These are genius in a marathon, and I wish every race would include them. Just getting to wipe all that salty sweat off your face can give you an extra boost at this point. My pace slowed a little from mile 18-25 (averaged about 8:14), but I never really felt it.  I hit  sort of “mini wall” around mile 22, but that didn’t last long, and I still felt fairly strong the last four miles. Around mile 24, there was the VCU campus and spirit squad to give us runners a boost we needed.  By the time I hit mile 25, I knew the finish was close, and I turned on the jets a little more.

spectatorThe last half mile or so is basically downhill, and I LOVED it.  You absolutely fly, and it’s awesome to move so fast without expending too much energy at the end of a marathon. The very end is an incredibly steep downhill, so there is a need to be a little careful (I heard of a few people face planting), but by the time I crossed the finish line at 3:31:01, I was very content and excited about my race. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the lady cheering on runners in the last mile with a sign that said “3 turns, less than a mile”. That really helped put the finish in perspective, and she was literally there ALL DAY pushing runners to the finish.

Once you crossed the finish line, you got your medal, a finisher hat, an awesome Richmond Marathon fleece blanket. Great finisher SWAG at this race. The post-race party had the usual, plus pizza (so good after a marathon) and one free Sierra Nevada beer (more could be purchased for $5, and they were since it was good beer). I’m a little disappointed with myself that I didn’t get a picture with Bart Yasso – he hangs out cheering on runners until the course closes – but maybe another day. The weather was perfect for the post-race party and it was located in a great location with a nice view of downtown Richmond.

finish2

POST-RACE

After hanging out at the post-race festival and cheering on finishers for a couple hours, I took some time to explore downtown Richmond before heading back to the apartment. For having just run a marathon, I walked a lot the rest of the day (probably close to 8 miles in total). I got a chance to explore out the Museum of the Confederacy ($10), which was quite interesting (Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy for those that didn’t know).  I also checked out one of Richmond’s many great breweries, Triple Crossing Brewery, which had some very good beer. That night, I also saw a movie at the Byrd Theater, an old theater from the 1920s that shows second-run movies for $2 and has an awesome organ player who plays before the shows on Saturday nights.  Definitely missed out on some things as there is a lot to do in Richmond, but if you’re ever in town, I’d say these three are definitely must-dos.  Before my flight home on Sunday, I also took in mass at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, a historical landmark and just one of many beautiful churches in the area. Seriously, there are so many.

Race Ratings:

Weather: 4.5/5.0
-The weather turned out to be near-perfect for running a marathon. It was 39 degrees at the start and rose to 50 by the time I finished.  Wind wasn’t a huge factor.  I started out with gloves and a hat but lost the gloves by mile 7 and the hat by mile 14. My only real complaint was that I couldn’t decide exactly what to wear and the weather didn’t exactly stay true to what was forecasted that morning.

Course: 4.5/5.0
-The course was relatively flat, with only a couple mildly challenging hills, and provided a great tour of the city of Richmond. Spectator support along the course was excellent, and running miles 9 and 10 along the James River was absolutely beautiful and serene.  Any run where you can see a bald eagle is a special one. The start times were staggered with the half and the 8K, so congestion from multiple races was never a problem.

Packet pickup/Race Expo: 4.0/5.0
-Nothing spectacular. Quick and easy.  Lots of vendors.  Bonus points for a talk by Bart Yasso and course bus tours that definitely provided an advantage when running the race.  Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon, was also there for a meet and greet.

Medal: 4.0/5.0
-It’s a somewhat cool medal, with stained glass and the skyline of Richmond featured, but I wouldn’t place it in my top 5. The other finished SWAG is pretty sweet, though.

Race Performance: 4.5/5.0
-As I mentioned, this race was sort of a test-run for Houston. I wasn’t trying to set any speed records. Having said that, I accomplished exactly what I set out to do. My goal was to run a time around 3:30 (which I did), and my hope was to regain some confidence after a poor performance last month (which I most definitely accomplished). I felt extremely strong throughout the race, and I’m now ready to push for a sub 3:25 time in Houston. And it still ended up being my 3rd fastest marathon time ever, so there’s nothing wrong with that.

Post-Race Party: 4.0/5.0
-Pizza was awesome right after running 26.2 and there was quality beer available (though more than one free would have been nice). Location was great, right on the river downtown. Plenty of space to lay out your finisher blanket and bask in your accomplishment. There was a band playing and various good food and merchandise options. There was, however, no official results tent, which I found very odd.

richmond10

Overall: 4.5/5.0
-Richmond was a very enjoyable race from the city to the course to the spectators. I don’t know if they are THE friendliest marathon in the country, but they’re definitely up there.  It was a great experience and good result personally. This is one I’d highly recommend and might someday come back and race again. Worth noting – this is the largest marathon I’ve done to date, with 4,509 finishers this year.

Splits:

Mile 1- 7:44
Mile 2- 7:49
Mile 3- 8:17
Mile 4- 8:13
Mile 5- 7:57
Mile 6- 8:07
Mile 7- 7:53
Mile 8- 7:58
Mile 9- 7:58
Mile 10- 7:58
Mile 11- 7:58
Mile 12- 7:58
Mile 13- 7:55
Mile 14- 7:58
Mile 15- 8:02
Mile 16- 8:09
Mile 17- 8:11
Mile 18- 8:19
Mile 19- 7:59
Mile 20- 8:16
Mile 21- 8:13
Mile 22- 8:09
Mile 23- 8:40
Mile 24- 7:57
Mile 25- 8:16
Mile 26- 7:52
Mile 26.2- 1:15

FINISH – 3:31:01

482/4509 overall
75/265 age group (M 25-29)

results

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2015 Fargo Marathon Race Report

Let me just start out by saying that Fargo puts on a TOP NOTCH event. Hard to find anything to complain about on this one.

Fargo was my 8th marathon and 5th different state in my quest for all fifty. The marathon took place on Saturday, but it’s really a full weekend of events in Fargo, beginning with the kids run on Thursday, a 5K on Friday night, and the 10K/Half Marathon/Marathon on Saturday. And don’t forget the first ever 27th Mile Bar Crawl following Saturday’s races. But more on that later.

It’s a little over an 8-hour drive from Milwaukee to Fargo, and I got in early Friday afternoon. Dealt with some nasty weather on the way up, but still made fairly decent time. I got some traditional Noodles and Co. for lunch, checked into my hotel in West Fargo (about 10 minutes from the Fargodome, where the marathon starts and finishes), and headed off to the expo.

Expo

Fargo Marathon Expo

The expo took place at the Fargodome, home of the North Dakota State Bison football team, and was open all day Thursday and Friday.  Getting to the dome was easy enough, and packet pickup was very convenient.  The expo was pretty standard, but impressive for a smaller city event- a few local races, lots of Fargo Marathon merchandise available, opportunities for massages or to get taped up before the race, etc.

One cool thing was the drawstring bag all participants received.  It is by far the highest drawstring bagquality drawstring bag I’ve ever owned, it doubled as the bag for checking gear in the morning, and they even offered free 3-letter customization to personalize your bag.  Pretty sweet.

The headline speaker was far and away the high point of the expo.  Deena Kastor, the fastest American marathoner and half-marathoner of all-time, made an appearance and gave an incredibly poignant and inspirational talk to the standing room only crowd in the ballroom.  Despite all her amazing accomplishments in life (including a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens), Deena is one of the most down-to-Earth professional athletes out there, and it was an honor to hear her thoughts on running and how it changes us all for the better.

Deena Kastor

However, the best moment came during the Q&A after her speech. One girl wanted to ask Deena for any tips on running her first marathon on Saturday.  But before she could get the question out, she succumbed to tears due to the enormity and emotional investment of what she was about to do.  That’s what I love about running – the incredible effect it can have on people, how it changes us for the better, and the great community it builds among its members.  (And not to worry -Deena called the girl up on stage and gave her a hug, which is a moment I’m sure that girl will never forget as long as she lives)

After listening to Deena’s inspiring speech, I headed to check out “downtown” Fargo, which is a lot smaller than I expected, but it’s a nice, quaint, little city.  I saw the iconic Fargo Theater, which was the basis for this year’s medals, and I also saw plenty of bison.  Fargoans seems to like their bison (both the animal and the football team) like Madison loves their cows.  For dinner, I opted against trying something local once I saw there was a Granite City nearby.  A bowl of pasta alfredo with chicken and a beer sampler platter the perfect combination for me to prepare for Saturday morning’s race.  I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention how friendly and welcoming the people of Fargo were.  Everyone I spoke with wished me luck in the marathon and raved on about how much I was going to love it.  Fargoans definitely love their city and their marathon weekend.

Race Day:

It seems no matter what I try, it’s always impossible for me to fall asleep the night before a marathon, and this one was no different.  I went to bed around 9:45, and by the time midnight rolled around, I was still awake.  Once I eventually did fall asleep, I slept well, but that 4:30am alarm came much too quickly.  After waking up, showering, and grabbing some food from the hotel’s continental breakfast to go along with my chocolate chip brownie Larabar, it was time to head to the Fargodome.  The 23 degree wind chill and frost that covered my car’s windshield made me question whether this was indeed a spring marathon I had signed up for.  On this day, I was extremely grateful for the indoor start line. I arrived at the Fargodome around 6:00am for the 7:30am marathon start, which gave me plenty of time to stretch, use the restrooms, and warm up both mentally and physically.

The calm before the storm.

The calm before the storm.

This was the first year that the Fargo Marathon was both beginning and ending inside the Fargodome.  When the indoor start was first announced, many people complained and wondered about issues like congestion and GPS connectivity, but with the unpredictable spring weather in Fargo, I thought it was a great idea.  And no one was complaining on race morning.  One of the worst things about running races is sitting out in the cold waiting for them to start.  Starting on the floor of the Fargodome took that nuisance out of the equation, and also provided runners with excellent amenities and spectators with an awesome vantage point to experience the start of the races.  The race start times were staggered (marathon at 7:30, half-marathon at 8:00, and 10K at 8:30) so congestion on the dome floor was never an issue.  Everything really went off without a hitch.

Having not really trained properly for this race (the longest I’d run in the 6 months leading up was 16 miles once), I decided to take a conservative approach throughout the race.  I lined up between the 3:30 and 3:35 pacers (the pacers were great by the way, and there is no shortage of them- as fast as 3:05 for the marathon with 5 minute intervals up to 4:00 and 15 minutes after that up to 5:00).  My goal was to run a 3:30 pace (8-minute miles) for the first half at least and then see how I felt after that.  Because of my lack of training, I knew I wasn’t going to PR, but Fargo has one of the flattest courses around, and if you are looking to PR, this course is definitely built for it.

start line

As mentioned, the course began this year inside the Fargodome.  From there, the early portions of the race wound through the residential neighborhoods of north Fargo, and there was no shortage of fans cheering runners on, and this would continue to be a theme throughout the entire 26.2 miles.  Starting with mile 7 or so, there are a few nice running trails that go through some of the local parks.  These few miles were really the only quiet miles on the course, but it was definitely very relaxing and a joy through which to run.

Beginning between miles 11 and 12, you enter the first of three college campuses on the course, Minnesota State University-Moorhead.  The Dragons definitely won the award for noise, as this portion of the race was absolutely rockin’.  Was a huge energy boost.  About a mile later, the course hit Concordia College, and from there it was back to Fargo.

I was still on my goal pace of 3:30 at the halfway point, but from there I slowed down a little bit.  I know I could have run the second half faster, but with the training I had put in, I didn’t feel comfortable pushing myself too hard and risking injury.  So I took it fairly easy to make sure I had enough left in the tank to get to the finish line.  The big course highlights of the second half included downtown Fargo and the iconic Fargo theater between miles 21 and 22 and North Dakota State University around mile 25.  Both of those were excellently placed in the course to help give a nice boost to runners at points when that was really needed.  With the help of the NDSU fans pushing me on, I was able to cross the finish line inside the Fargodome at 3:38:43.  While not anywhere near my best effort (19 minutes slower than my PR), it definitely wasn’t my worst either, and I came away satisfied with my time.

As for the finish line, I was more than satisfied with the spread Fargo had for the runners.  Chocolate Milk, bananas, water, cookies, pizza, and best of all, cookie dough!  Cookie dough and pizza immediately after a marathon are the two best things I could ever imagine.  Every race needs to incorporate these.  The medals were pretty sweet as well, incorporating the famous Fargo Theater sign in the design.  There was also free Michelob Ultra available for those over the age of 21.  I didn’t notice any opportunities for post-race massages, but it’s possible I just didn’t look hard enough.

After hanging around for a bit, I headed back to the hotel to shower, and then it was back to downtown Fargo for the first ever 27th Mile Pub Crawl beginning at 2pm.  There were 10 bars downtown that were participating.  The first 1,000 people to visit all 10 bars would receive an official Pub Crawl medal, so obviously this was a challenge to be undertaken.  We all know how much runners love bling.  None of the bars were anything too special, but there were good drink specials and yummy food, and the medal was sweet (and doubles as a bottle opener).   There was also a band from Fargo (Skyline) playing a street party starting at 6pm, but it was cold and I was tired, so I didn’t end up sticking around for that.

Race Ratings:

Weather: 4.0/5.0
-Weather was a little chilly, but the indoor start helped reduce the impact of that.  It was about 32 degrees at the start of the race with a little wind.  I was fine in shorts, a long sleeve shirt, a lightweight hat, and some light gloves.  I ended up tossing my gloves around mile 16, which I quickly regretted, as it only seemed to get colder after that.  The temperature probably rose to the low 40s by the end of the race.  There was no rain, though, and the wind didn’t play a huge factor, so there wasn’t too much to complain about.

Course: 4.0/5.0
-Loved the course.  Extremely flat.  Seriously, there’s no hills.  It’s my kind of course.  The fans were great; Fargoans really seem to embrace this marathon, and their encouragement and help along the way definitely play a big role in mine and others’ success.  It wasn’t the most exciting course, but it was very pleasant.  There were over 50 bands that lined the 26.2 miles, providing endless entertainment.  And it was pretty cool to start and finish inside NDSU’s Fargodome.  For more sights and sounds from the course, check out this awesome video.  I even make cameos at 7:14, 11:35, and 14:05 running and at 28:42 stuffing my face.

Packet pickup/Race Expo: 4.5/5.0
-Pretty good expo for a smaller city race.  Everything was easy to find and the volunteers were very helpful.  Nothing super exciting about the vendors- pretty standard.  Deena Kastor making an appearance definitely gives this race HUGE bonus points.  The drawstring bag and the long sleeve tech quarter-zip shirt were great as well.

Medal: 5.0/5.0
-The 2015 Fargo Marathon medal instantly jumps into my top 5.  For one, it’s a great design, mimicking the appearance of Fargo’s most recognizable landmark, the Fargo Theater.  Two, it’s HUGE (7 inches tall) and has a very appropriate Bible verse inscribed on the back (Hebrews 12:1 – “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”).  Here’s a picture of it next to my 2012 Lakefront Marathon medal, which was the largest marathon medal I had previously owned.  And three, the face I was able to get another medal for doing a pub crawl is the icing on the cake.  The 5K, 10K, and half-marathon medals had similar designs, just with different sizes.  There was also a bonus medal for those who partook in the 5K as well as one of the Saturday races.

Race Performance: 3.0/5.0
-For me, it was a middle-of-the-pack time.  Considering my training, I can walk away content though.  However, with how this course is built to produce PRs, I have some small regret that I wasn’t able to come into this race more prepared.

Post-Race Party: 4.0/5.0
-Finish line food is some of the best.  Great viewing opportunities up in the stands for spectators to watch their runners finish.  Good music, free beer, easy bag retrieval.  Nothing super flashy about the rest, but the addition of the bar crawl in the afternoon help complement the finish at the Dome.

Overall: 4.5/5.0
-For anyone looking for a North Dakota race to do, you have to be crazy not to run Fargo.  Everything about this race is top-notch professional.  When the only things I have to complain about are the weather and Powerade over Gatorade, you must doing something right.  So very happy I chose Fargo for my spring marathon this year.

Splits:
resultsMile 1- 7:57
Mile 2- 7:49
Mile 3- 8:02
Mile 4- 8:01
Mile 5- 7:58
Mile 6- 8:03
Mile 7- 8:04
Mile 8- 8:09
Mile 9- 8:15
Mile 10- 8:03
Mile 11- 8:11
Mile 12- 8:00
Mile 13- 8:07
Mile 14- 8:16
Mile 15- 8:34
Mile 16- 8:17
Mile 17- 8:25
Mile 18- 8:32
Mile 19- 8:51
Mile 20- 8:30
Mile 21- 8:51
Mile 22- 8:36
Mile 23- 8:57
Mile 24- 9:15
Mile 25- 8:33
Mile 26- 8:57
Mile 26.2- 1:29

FINISH – 3:38:43

8th marathon complete!  5 states down!

8th marathon complete! 5 states down!

2014 Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon Race Report

My 3rd Lakefront Marathon ended up being my fastest time on this course, but at the same time, it was a little disappointing.  I had been eying this race as one where I might try to qualify for Boston.  Unfortunately, my training this season was just not very good.  It seemed like I never had time to get in anywhere near the work that I wanted.  However, considering this poor training, I am still quite satisfied with my performance.

Having run this marathon twice before, I knew the course, I knew the schedule, and I knew the right way to prepare.  This year, the expo, which always takes place the day before the race, was moved from MSOE’s Kern Center to the Italian Community Center.  This move made a lot of sense logistically- the parking is easier and there is a lot more room for vendors.  This year, the expo was one day only and began at 9am on Saturday, so, naturally, that’s when I showed up.  Picked up my bib, shirt, some Gu Chomps, and a nice new Brooks lightweight beanie in anticipation of the chilly weather that was expected on race morning.  It’s not the biggest expo around, but if you need anything last minute before the race, you should be able to find it here.

expo

My friend Robert and I before the start of the marathon

My friend Robert and I before the start of the marathon

On Sunday, I woke up at 4:00am, definitely not my favorite part about running marathons.  Luckily for me, one of the buses that would take runners north to the start line at Grafton High School left from a hotel a block from my apartment in downtown Milwaukee.  It’s a bit of a long bus ride, as the course is point to point and runs along the lake shore from Grafton High School to Veteran’s Park in downtown Milwaukee.  After getting to Grafton, the entire school is open to runners, which is a huge perk on chilly October mornings like we had on Sunday.  It’s really a great setup for a marathon.  There are lots of bathrooms inside the school as well as plenty of portable toilets outside.  As is my tradition by now, I made camp in the gym to stretch and mentally prepare for the 26.2 miles ahead of me.

It was about 37 degrees at the start.  Luckily I had found a sweatshirt for $1 on Saturday at Value Village that I was able to wear right up until the start and then discard.  I think my favorite part about the start are the pace signs.  There are all the usual (3:30, 3:45, 4:00, etc.), but there’s also “Under 2:02:00” and “Same Day”.

With the combination of the energy of the start line and the downhill first mile, I got off to a little too quick of a start.  My first mile clocked in at 7:03.  With a goal time between 3:20

Going strong as I leave Concordia

Going strong as I leave Concordia

and 3:30, this was not really part of the plan.  I slowed down a little from there, but by the time I got to Concordia University around mile 7, I was still well under PR pace (3:19:38).  (The cows early on and the accordion man around mile 2-3 are the big highlights before hitting CUW.)  Concordia definitely has the most energy of any location on this course.  I always love the feeling of getting onto campus and feeding off the noise and encouragement of the crowds.  It’s by far my favorite part of the course.  I just wish it didn’t come so early on in the race.

The net downhill course is definitely nice and good for running PRs, but it’s not great on the knees.  I’ve run three other marathons, and my knees never hurt like they have the three times I’ve run the Lakefront.  By about mile 8 or so, my right knee was starting to bother me, and that would continue to build and become a theme for the rest of the race and the days that followed.  At the midway point, I was still slightly under PR pace (1:39:36), thanks in large part to my fast start.  As the course wore on, though, my knees became more of an issue, and by mile 22, my legs were cramping up really bad, and my focus just turned to making sure I finished.  It’s times like those, in those last couple miles, when it feels like someone is chasing me and shooting me in the leg every other minute, that I wonder why I do this.  But eventually, I remember.  Oh, and I ended up with a pretty sweet finish line photo this year.

finish_linerobert finishI ended up finishing in 3:28:12, which meant my second half was a full 9 minutes slower than my first.  Not the way to run a marathon.  Oh well.  The post race is definitely very well done.  This year there was the usual Gatorade, water, and bananas.  In addition there were giant soft pretzels and multiple options from Noodles and Co. for the runners.  They treat you well in Milwaukee.  I gathered myself, chowed down some noodles and a pretzel, and started on the beer.  It’s unlimited Milwaukee Brewing Co. products for runners, so it’s actually good beer, which is awesome.  Enjoyed my finish, and waited for my friend Robert to finish his first marathon.  He finished in just over 4:40, and I couldn’t be prouder.

Race Ratings:

Weather: 4.5/5.0
-Weather turned out to be perfect for running, but probably a little on the colder side for the spectators.  It was a cool 37 degrees at the start and the temperature rose less than 10 degrees by the end.  I wore shorts, a long sleeve shirt, a lightweight hat, and some light gloves, though I tossed my gloves about 15 miles in.  There was some stronger wind in the later miles, though, so that was a bit frustrating.

Course: 4.0/5.0
-It’s a really beautiful course.  The fans are very supportive and some of the best and most creative I’ve seen.  But there are some stretches where it can be a little boring.  It’s a net downhill course that is built for a PR. No big uphills and the last 3 miles are downhill.  Finishing at Milwaukee’s beautiful lakefront is a great experience.

Packet pickup/Race Expo: 4.5/5.0
-Easy to navigate and access.  Like I said, not huge, but it’s got all the essentials.

Medal: 4.5/5.0
-The Lakefront Marathon always has impressive medals.  To begin with, I absolutely love the logo, so that automatically makes the medal a winner.  This year, the logo served as a swinging centerpiece of the medal.  Kinda cool.  Pictured below are the medals from the last three years (left- 2012, right- 2013, and center- 2014).

IMG_0959Race Performance: 3.5/5.0
-To be fair, it’s my 2nd best marathon finish, and a new Lakefront personal best by over 5 minutes.  But I kind of fell apart in the second half of the race, which is quite frustrating.  Looking forward to a better training season leading up to my spring marathon in 2015.

Post-Race Party: 4.0/5.0
-Great food for runners, great choice of beer, and an easy set-up to navigate and meet up with family and friends.

Overall: 4.5/5.0
-I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for this marathon since it was my first.  But at the same time, they do everything the right way.  The tag line “by runners, for runners” is not just a clever marketing ploy; it really rings true.  Every detail about this race is focused on catering to the runners.  It really is an excellent event, and one I never want to miss the rest of my life.

andy robert post race

Splits:
Mile 1- 7:03
Mile 2- 7:12
Mile 3- 7:36
Mile 4- 7:32
Mile 5- 7:25
Mile 6- 7:44
Mile 7- 7:37
Mile 8- 7:33
Mile 9- 7:39
Mile 10- 7:44
Mile 11- 7:50
Mile 12- 7:45
Mile 13- 7:58
Mile 14- 7:55
Mile 15- 8:00
Mile 16- 8:08
Mile 17- 8:08
Mile 18- 8:19
Mile 19- 8:13
Mile 20- 8:25
Mile 21- 8:00
Mile 22- 8:35
Mile 23- 8:36
Mile 24- 8:25
Mile 25- 8:44
Mile 26- 8:38
Mile 26.2- 1:28

fat heads