Archive for December, 2011

Oregon

For some odd reason the Oregon marathon (I have run 5) that I remember the best is the 2nd one I had in Eugene just because I was interviewed by some running internet website and the question they asked me is if the history and ghosts of runners helped me run better?

Rewind. Okay, so it was my third marathon ever. It was actually not something I was dreading at this point. My second marathon in Eugene had not killed me or hurt me too badly the year before so I figured I could live through this (Hole reference). I was looking forward to the expo because the one the year before had lots of swag you could swipe and it was going to be the first time I would meet Jared (of Subway fame, yes) as well. The expo went fine and I got all my free stuff but at the end there was a roving camera and a couple running yahoos behind it. They wanted to talk to someone about marathoning and of course they wanted to talk to my lovely friend Katherine, but she had never even run a full marathon so she deferred to me.

She bragged my time up saying I could run a marathon in under four hours and walked away to text someone or something and left me with these two running geeks. They asked my name and general information and then a couple how fast are you, how many marathons have you run and have you run here before? Then came the question – “Does running here in Eugene with all the tradition and ghosts of runners motivate you to do even better?” (this is not a direct quote but it was along these lines. You can ask me many questions but there are few that will cause me to stop and think like this one did.

I was aware of Eugene running history. You can’t live in Oregon and not be aware of it. Nike pretty much started in Eugene as Phil Knight went to college in Eugene and became good friends with the track coach Bill Bowerman. They formed Nike based on some ideas they had together, formed a company based out of Beaverton, Oregon and the rest is history. This is only a small part of Eugene though as perhaps the most famous runner of all time, Steve Prefontaine, born and bred in Oregon running. Perhaps the greatest distance runner of all time who died at the young age of 24. Sometimes (esp in Oregon) you will see a runner nickname themselves “Pre” – that is who they are referring to.

So I knew about the “ghosts” of Eugene. Also named Track Town USA in some circles, Eugene was having its second marathon just as the sport was exploding and this team of two was here to capitalize. I have not a clue what I really said but I think it was something along the lines of “yeah, sure. That sounds like the ticket!” and I let it go. They gave me a card and told me to check the website after to see if I made the cut. I never did. I am pretty positive they found a couple better interviews than me.

And now yes, Jared.

Jared from Subway made the trip to Eugene to be the official guest – there is some official title he had forgotten by myself – and he was going to shoot the gun and do all that stuff that makes someone feel extra special at one of these events I suppose without actually running. The first thing I will never forget Jared saying is how he would never run a half marathon much less the full thing. Imagine my surprise when I saw the announcement he would run the full marathon in New York this year. Publicity stunt!

The other thing is not how he is just like you or I (even though he really is) but the fact the guy does have a sense of humor. I suppose you would too if your entire life was based on the fact you were a complete fatbody and could turn it all around and become famous for it. I know everyone is in love with The Biggest Loser and all that but why don’t we ever celebrate those who never gained the weight in the first place? Don’t we have even more self control? I digress. But if you ever want to hear perverted Jared tales? You need go much farther than him. He likes his jokes a little raunchy. Let’s just say I have now heard my share about jokes about an old man runner and his scrotum. He does like to drink and is more than happy to pay for a couple rounds and when you go out – I assure you he no longer sticks to just Subway.

Oregon was one of the few marathons where I chose to eat the pre-race meal and for good reason. I am sure there are plenty of marathoners that love these spaghetti extraganzas where they offer all you can eat from so local restaurant. This pretty much is how I interpret them – lukewarm food that is usually not all that tasty due to traveling across town. Don’t get me wrong – if it is free I am there! However there is a reason why these buffets can be free.

The Eugene marathon is a good one should you ever wish to attend – not hilly and it goes along the river that runs through the town. There is some running on trails and lots of parks action. You do see some cool parts of the city and the run ends and begins near historic Hayward Field – track of the University of Oregon. The running crowd is a little faster than your usual crowd so your “A” game is a must. Also there are plenty of cheap and close hotels making it one of the cheaper marathons for someone who wants all 50 states on the cheap!

All in all, a great run that will always go do to me as the time I was stumped by a question, surprised by a celebrity, and where all you can eat was half a serving. But after the run was done, I went back a year later to do it all again!

Florida

Florida was my gateway marathon to my 50 states goal. It was not until Florida that I realized I could and wanted to visit all 50 states. And like some heroin addicts I at times curse that fated gateway trip to Florida (they curse marijuana apparently) where I got addicted to the running bug and decided it would be a good idea to visit the states and run at the same time. The funny part? I suspect Disney is where the process starts for many a runner that wants to complete such an insane goal as 50 states.

The set up for Florida was pretty easy. I had just completed Des Moines and set a PR. The goal of Boston was still an impossibility but after a year of taking marathons off, I was again hooked. I will never understand how one can get hooked on running marathons? But it does happen. Yes, I feel awful, am shaking from the cold even though it is relatively warm, was scared to death I was going to go in my pants for the past hour, and beer tastes like the contaminated water it is but when can we do this again? My aunt Ginger really wanted to run Disney and well, my mother was on board so she could take my nephew. This run was decided before I had ever pretended to make up my mind.

The trip was fine and we were smart enough to stay in Disney housing. Seriously I have no idea how people get to some of these races if they aren’t bussed in. I remember once missing the bus for Dam to Dam in Des Moines and having to walk 2 miles to get to the beginning and having to run 2 minutes after getting in place. I guess the morale of the story – if there is a bus just make it easy on yourself and stay in a spot close to a bus stop. Disney is so much worse though. There are over 12,000 runners at Disney! 12,000! This is not a run where you tell people you were surprised you didn’t run into them – you likely won’t run into anyone you know. Furthermore, if you have run a marathon before – make sure you get your time in or you will be fighting a lot of runners from the get go! I was lucky enough to place in A and it truly went just fine.

However, you do have to get up at 3 in the morning to get to the site by 4 and you do quite a bit of standing around before anything starts and there really is so many people you better have drained all the fluid from your body before you get in the “Corral” (for non-runners Corrals are what runners go into when there are so many they want to keep us separated so the start can go smoother. One group starts and then another group goes 5 minutes later. Typically speaking if you have a sub 3:30 marathon you can get into A. This may not sound like a large deal but it can help with not having to move up through slower or less experienced runners. This can help you set a PR (personal record) and also can boost your confidence in the get go as well. I tend to also think it helps slower runners not worry about getting out of the way and just start out at their own pace.

The allure of the Disney Marathon is what you would expect of it – it goes through all four of the Orlando, Florida parks and you pretty much see every minor and major Disney character along the way. They also have a Goofy challenge where some people run the half marathon the day before and complete their weekend on Sunday with a full marathon – not necessarily recommended. I am sure you can understand that some of the larger marathons try to maximize their dollars by calling it a challenge to run both races – pretty smart really – still kicking myself I didn’t do the Goofy Challenge.

Officially the course is a blast but the middle can be a lot of running around in what seems like a forest with no real sites and down a road that leads into the park. There are some cool parts that are easy to notice such as running through Epcot, Downtown Disney is a blast, and running through the Cinderella Castle will not be forgotten anytime soon. And the real kicker is the last 4 miles goes through the Studio area (whatever they are calling it now) and it really is a great way to end the race – great sites and plenty of entertainment.

Overall it is one of the most entertaining runs I will ever do and they will always get their money at over $150 a head but it is pretty much the most expensive marathon out there and though I wanted to repeat it a month after? Not really worth it when there are so many things out there to see.

However one factor that can never be forgotten about Disney? The people. Before the Disney marathon I never wore my shirt after a race – how uncouth! But Disney almost makes you proud to be a runner! Everyone everywhere has those long sleeved shirts on showing off their accomplishment (most before they have even finished) and I felt out of place not having one on! The night before my aunt (wearing her shirt) was going around chatting up everyone and their dog with a shirt on and here I was with a Woot! shirt on? She said I was running to them but I kinda got the feeling they were thinking why isn’t he wearing his shirt? And heck the day after? Fine, I wore my shirt but instead I felt naked without my medal hanging around my neck!

The day after the races everyone goes everywhere with their medals! I saw people at the airport, in the hotel lobby and my aunt saw people at rest stops and restaurants the next day not wearing their t-shirts but with their medals slung over their necks as well! The first time I saw it I explained it off as an amateur but after my fourth siting I felt like the amateur. My aunt got in the medal slinging habit. However, I found it more than a little odd and when we went to our next marathon a couple months later I suggested against this practice to my aunt in Fargo. She held back be grudgingly and told me afterwards that I was right “it was just a Disney thing.” It was true – only a couple medal sitings in Fargo and since then? None – in over 6 other marathons. Medal slinging seems to be unique to Disney.

Florida is a very large state and there are plenty of great places to visit in the state but I suspect any runner would feel a little incomplete if they were trying to run 50 states, many marathons or any goal and skipped the Disney Marathon. The cost outweighs almost any other run and the sights are impressive. But what really counts at Disney is the feeling of being extremely proud of what you have accomplished. No other run creates such a community or makes you feel so righteous wearing that big gold medal.

Delaware

When Brian told me he was going to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware to run a marathon in early December? I don’t have to tell you crazy was the first thought that went through my head. However, my new fellow 50 states running bud was persistent and pushed me more than once to go run… on the coastline… in December… in Delaware. I am not sure how he sold me but somewhere along the line I looked it up and he was right – the average temperature really was in the 40’s. It may not be all that bad afterall. Then Oklahoma came, I freezed my tuckus off and I just wanted the h-e-double hockey stick out of this run! But I had spent $120 for the thon and another $300 for the plane ticket so away we went.

I flew into Washington DC and after a quick trip around the National Mall I met up with a couple of people that I know will be a big part of my running future – Brian and Adam. I had previously met Brian at Omaha where he introduced me to 50 sub 4 and got me to join the Marathon Maniacs but I really probably could not have picked him out of a crowd. We sat down with Aaron and waited to meet Adam. Adam showed and we made the rather long drive to the coast. It was nice to go with runners who weren’t super healthy – Adam even had a Honeybun! – and enjoy the ride rather than worry about nonsense. They seemed a little mystified I refused to eat at McDonald’s even.

We stopped to eat, then we made our way to the coastal town. It was so beautiful! They really decked the town out in Christmas lights and it was a lot bigger than any of us expected but when you got close to the boardwalk? It was like another town altogether – quaint, small and looked to be more fun than any small Oregon seaside town I had been to. I think we all wished it was Summer and we had a couple more days off to visit. It was also the first time I had seen the Atlantic Ocean – it was a trip of a few firsts you could say.

Well, the day of the race came and Brian was right and wrong. The weather was fine and there was no need for even leggings. However he was going to run the race in a singlet but he knew better after three minutes outside. The race started up and we were off. The run did not have any pacers so I had to rely on myself to know where I was and I don’t wear a watch! I settled into a pace and watched myself pass several runners before settling about where I belonged around Mile 5. I did get passed by five more people a couple miles later but never varied much after that only being passed by 4 runners after the halfway point – fantastic for me!

The halfway point came up and there it was – 1:31! One of my better times for the first half. I didn’t push it and tried to keep it to under 3:10 but knew around Mile 20 I was starting to sag and it was going to be hard. I pushed myself and got a PR of 3:14:42! Pretty damn good with some pretty good cross winds.

The after party was sweet. The people of Delaware really do put on a good festival. There was free beer flowing and three varieties including an IPA that was gone by the time I was done. By the way race organizers – ever notice us marathoners do twice the distance but half the time are left out in the cold for the good stuff? I remember when I used to run Eugene the Subway sandwiches were out in under 4 hours – the median point for a lot of races! So no IPA but good eats including burgers, pork, veggie burgers and pancakes. The runners were festive and I picked up a couple conversations no problem at all.

I even met another runner (the guy who finished right in front of me even) who wants to run with me in Louisiana! I won’t tell you when it will happen but it will be soon…

Afterwards everyone got done, showered and we met back at the tent again for more of the free beer. Everyone had a good run and more importantly, a good time. Adam told me how he used to worry about time but now he wanted to focus on enjoying himself and the sights along the way. I have to say I understand – sometimes I wish I could just take a moment to really see some of the cool places I visit. This was State 20 for Adam. That deserves a congratulations of course. Brian completed 17 and I got in my 12th. My new friend I will meet in Louisiana? It was his 43rd! Aaron still has yet to get his first.

At times like that – running 50 states seems almost trivial but you have to remember that less than 1% of all people will ever run a marathon. And even with all the people here for this event? Remember there were not even 650 people that completed the full marathon. That’s not that many at all.

Qualms? I have a couple. Great marathon Rebohoth Beach but $120 is a lot to spend for a small little run. There was no GU energy packs or extra amenities (don’t even remember seeing that many Port-a-Pots along the way) along the course to justify such a heavy price. Furthermore, they ran out of T-shirts before the race and that always seems inexcusable. Runners want to leave with their swag not hope to receive it three weeks later. Then again, who doesn’t?

But overall if you are in the quest to run 50 states and you want a nice little December run that won’t be too cold, will have lots of fun people and a great place to bond with some new running buds? You can certainly do worse than Rebohoth Beach.

Maryland

I never intended to actually start running a marathon in all 50 states. To be honest, my aunt Ginger put the thought in my head when she told me she was going to do it and now? She has yet to run her first marathon and I have 11 down! Number 9 Baltimore is the one marathon that I may go out of my way to repeat before I conclude all 50 states. Baltimore was my Waterloo so far.

My plans to go to Baltimore were not the best. First, I signed up on a whim. Am I fan of Baltimore? I have never been but when you are home to both the greatest baseball team of all time – The Baltimore Orioles and the greatest TV show of all time – The Wire? It was only a matter of about ten states before I would visit this fair town! I signed up and asked almost every person I knew to go with me – a road trip to Balamer? Who could say no? Who? Um, apparently pretty much everyone.

So I did post on Facebook that I would like someone to go with me and I was lucky enough to have my friend Nani say I should stop by and visit her in Indianapolis? Not a bad idea and cheap! So I talked to my other friends – The Graves – and they said I could stop by on the way down. I knew I could stop by Nani’s on the way back and I was good to go. I got a hotel and it was my first official marathon trip that I had actually planned. And just in case you are wondering? I am not a good marathon planner. Not even close.

I drove 8 hours to Indy, hung with the Graves for a night and then left at 5 in the morn to go to Baltimore and drove into Baltimore around 4 PM. I had a hell of a time finding my hotel and settled into a really nice room. I left immediately to go to the expo and barely got to enjoy the room.

The Baltimore Running Festival not only has a superior name to most marathons but it has a superior expo as well. There were plenty of vendors and lots of Under Armour – have to admit that was a big reason for choosing to go so hastily. It was a sweet UA race shirt – long sleeved (eh, who likes long sleeved running shirts anyway?) and they had plenty of Baltimore running gear as well. It was the closest I have become to breaking down and actually buying a shirt. That sounds cheap but I do get at least one free shirt per run so buying another one seems crazy when I already have 10 running shirts!

And to top it off? City Sports was debuting the UA Charge running shoe less than a mile away! Now that sounds a bit like me selling out but City Sports had it going on! They had 5 treadmills and let you run once you put the shoes on, experts to explain what technology went into the shoe and even a pretty cool T-shirt you got for free just for trying them on (you could even get your name decaled on the back – I mistakenly chose not to – time wasting I figured) and then a free pair of socks too. This may all seem like I am really selling the product? But you know what? A couple years ago there used to be all sorts of free swag at expos and thank you UA for spending a little bit extra to make this side extravaganza worth it. Sometimes a sponsor can make an event just as much as the city.

The race could not come quick enough and the next morning I took off and was sure I could break the mythical 3:10 and make my way to Baltimore! We ran past dozens of row houses, the zoo, and back through downtown again. I was just behind the 3 hour guy! The 3:10 guy was waaaay behind me! I hit the halfway point and I was looking fine but then my leg fell apart and I started to slow way down. I was just waiting for that 3:10 bastard to catch me. He did at mile 17 and it hurt. Even worse? The halfway point is also where the half marathoners started and at Mile 19 they started passing me en force. It was just so devastating to watch yourself get passed by dozens of runners every minute – very deflating.

Around Mile 24 the 3:30 guy passed me and I watched a couple guys run with him – way to go guys. In case you are wondering about who those guys are? People actually run an entire marathon at a certain pace! Some even hold signs to show their pace times – can you imagine how tired your arm would get holding some stick with a number on it (I know most are thinking about my legs but that number would just kill me). Then some people run the entire race with this guy and go along at the same pace! What an inspiration! I only wish I could have the determination to just sit and stay at a pace rather than race forward and fall back.

The race ended and what a fantastic festival at the end! There were thousands of people, games for children like bouncing tents, and quite a bit of free foods and drinks – best selection I have seen in some time! I only wish I could have stuck around but my awesome planning already had me late to leave from my hotel room (they didn’t care). But as soon as I checked out at 1? I had to leave immediately to go to Indy and hit the town at ten at night to hang with Nani. That was actually a ton of fun as well. I just wish I didn’t have to drive ten hours to get there.

I said it before – I will say it again I have to do Baltimore again. I need to visit Camden Yards and have a tour. I need to visit the aquarium. I need to try some local cuisine. But most of all, I owe my dream city a better time than 3:34. It is hard to explain how much I was looking forward to the city to not only not qualify for Boston but to then have one of worst marathons. I suppose dreams don’t always come true.

Oklahoma

I was pretty damn excited to go to Oklahoma. Yes, I am not making that up and yes, it was Tulsa, Oklahoma not even Oklahoma City. Then again, I really damn excited to go to Fargo, North Dakota. As I presupposed to another 50 stater – not only are we crazy as hell for running these damn things and looking forward to putting our bodies through hell? On top of that – we are insane for wanting to go to the most backwater places in the US and we look forward to it! Look forward to it! And to top it off – can you believe Tulsa is less than 10 hours away and it is named after Route 66? I asked another new “runner” to go with me and she said it was too expensive? Those quotation marks are there for a reason folks.

Anyway, Tulsa is a lot better and bigger than you may think. It has its share of skyscrapers and we actually did get lost due to road closures and there are some nice neighbors and bad neighborhoods to boot. There are some beautiful, beautiful buildings downtown and a couple small neighborhoods I would like to visit if I ever go back. The nice thing about places you can drive to in a day is you don’t have to take a day off to run 26.2, the bad part is you don’t get to know them like you wish you could – just run 26.2. The weather was a balmy 75 degrees – beautiful. It was set up for a great run – I may be the only runner on Earth who actually would much rather start the day at 70 than 42 degrees.

The expo was wonderful with lots of great vendors and top notch. A first class event all around. I mean that. If there is one thing I would like to really point out about the Route 66 marathon? They really cater to the running crowd. They give special attention to all the big running clubs – Marathon Maniacs, Half Fanatics and 50 States Marathon Club. They give discounts to us and treat us like royalty giving us our own tent at the finish line where we can booze it up if so desired. They advertise on all the websites and running magazines and invite all the other big middle America events to advertise in their Expo – we are talking Little Rock, Cincinnati and Fort Worth. Believe it or not us runners love these places because they put runners first.

And the runners? They show. There must have been at least 100 marathon maniacs there. You could see that ugly bile yellow color wherever you went (seriously just go to the website and tell me it isn’t ugly). The regulars were all there and probably signing up for Little Rock just like me too. It was nice. You could go anywhere and someone would talk to you about whatever running shirt you had on. You weren’t just in town – everyone there seemed to know about the marathon. There were conversations from grizzled vets to newbies with tips and what race you should run next. It was a pure delight to see it all – to feel like one in a crowd rather than that odd guy at work who chooses to run for a vacation? These people would enjoy nothing more as well.

Race day came and it quickly dropped to 42 degrees with a damp cool air and a bone-chilling breeze – I would say gusts of winds but someone else who ran this race may call me a liar. But it was… how do you say not fun? Seriously my mind was not that negative at first. They had chutes first of all or corrals – where runners start at a staggered pace so that it doesn’t create a bottleneck of runners. Group A starts and then all the way down to D. I got an A start – which is where I usually start and this race was no exception. The half marathoners started with the full marathoners and it is nice to run in that number for a while and then when the halves break off you feel an accomplishment like “I can keep this pace up and keep going twice the distance!” Not that I ever keep the pace up.

Anyway, it was set up perfectly – once again top notch job in Tulsa. And starting in that group? It was warm. As a matter of fact I even considered taking off long sleeves at mile three but it was not to be. My pace was never quite there and my leg hurt even during the first mile. I was able to keep up well until mile 13 when the halves left and then winds caught me and well, I came in around 3:34 and it was not that much fun at all. I did put in a hell of a kick in the final mile and passed a few runners so that was fun but then again, they had all just passed me the mile before. Meh.

Other than that? Fantastic course – you really got to see Tulsa. A nice little showing area, the University of Tulsa and some catholic university I would like to see on my time off running – it was that nice. They had a detour where you could visit the “Center of the Universe” a place with some echo issues – it was quite fun actually. You went through most of downtown and it really showed the town off. I can see why this would be a favorite of marathoners. I feel they probably like it to begin with and Tulsa embraced the whole come enjoy the run feel and made it like a place to be every year for the running crowd. Heck, I am a bit sad I won’t be back next year (just like Fargo actually).

In hindsight, I loved the run and hope to do better next time out no matter how I bitch about the time or how my running went. It just was not my day and 8 days may not be enough rest to put in another 26.2 at the fever pitch I like. In any case make it state 11 for both the 50 states and 50 under 4. I would like to put a bit of perspective on this as a competitive runner. I once read another runner who stated – there are only 2 types of runs your best run and everything else that was not. And unlike Charlotte, this one was not and it just bugs me to no end. Thank you Tulsa for welcoming runners and caring about the events you put together!