Archive for January, 2012

Iowa

It was a revolution of sorts when I went to go run my home state. I had already run five marathons in Oregon and had only paid for one so first off it was hard to talk me into just paying for one. Heck even just before I left I was offered a free pass to the Portland Marathon and turned it down due to an injury – this would never happen nowadays. I would struggle through. So, when I came back to Iowa with no job and consequently no money, running was not on my mind. I had also suffered an injury so when I went to the gym in Iowa and got a new trainer? I told him I wanted to be bigger. He did not do his job. I lost ten pounds in less than two months. So here I had worked and worked my way to get up to be 195 (by the way this is considered a Clydesdale in some marathon circles and can get you extra prizes) and now I was at 185.

I had always joked that my running weight would be 170 but that was not a weight I had really ever wanted to get to and then when work started at my new job at a call center I was more concerned than ever I would be gaining weight. I was able to keep my weight right at 180 after that sudden weight loss and not lose much more muscle mass. But upcoming was the Des Moines Marathon and there was one person who was not letting me forget about it any time soon – my aunt. She hounded me about it weekly and how she wanted to run her first half marathon. I had inspired her by telling her I knew she could do it. She did not want to do it though unless I ran it. And of course, I had this nagging injury so I just could not commit and lose the money – that was so precious – if I could not run it!

It took forever for me to commit to the marathon but I finally did when I ran into a former good looking friend at the gym who confided in me that she was considering it too. She had worked in my department and had just moved on but she was really cute and a marathon would be the perfect way for me to stay in contact with her! I told her that one faithful morning I saw her at the gym that if she was going to run I was going to run and we should train together. She said she really was thinking about it so I went home and decided to sign up. I emailed her a couple days later (knowing me it was Tuesday) and waited to hear from her… yeah, that never happened. And considering she never showed up to the gym again after that it was all pretty much a sign, so I just gave up on her and trained by myself.

I didn’t do much training for the marathon I hadn’t ever done before – possibly less but I was really concerned about my left hamstring. At the Eugene marathon almost a year and a half before, I felt a strain over there and had yet to recover fully. I soon found out the best way for runners to recover from an injury? Run through it! I made it through training and got to the start line on that faithful October morning.

My aunt was there too and she made her way to the back – it was her first and she did not want to get in the way. I ended up standing by a couple friends who I had no idea were running the race! It was nice to see a couple of friends from different walks of life where I knew their stories and had no idea they would be here. After that I ran into a pacer (the people who hold the times and keep a standard pace during the race) and it was a former fellow cross country runner and teammate Guy Willey! He was pacing for 3:10 and I was silly enough to start with him. At this time my best time was 3:31.

We took off and really, I did not know it at the time, but Des Moines has a fantastic course. I had only run the Oregon courses at this point and honestly, I only thought about what was different. Now through a more discerning eye – I can only tell you things I like about this course!

First, the course opens up on some pretty major roads and does an out of about 6 blocks before turning back and doing 10 blocks on what seem like 4 lane roads for at least 16 blocks. The point? When the road is this open then people are less likely to get in the way at the start and passing is easy. The marathon does not have to have corrals and we all start at the same time. The halfers are there and running right with you – I just love this.

However then about 3 miles into the race, the halfers cut off and run their own way and the full marathon starts winding its way through the back roads of Des Moines and you get to see some cool neighborhoods in the city I call home. They do a great job of including hills and it was nice to run in a little pack we formed as we kept going up and down. At the halfway point, we all got to do one lap on the Drake track (pretty famous track actually) and see our faces up on a huge scoreboard screen. It was just put together so well and I kept waiting to fall back but I was still stuck in that pack – right where I wanted to be. I was still going pretty good when we started winding down some back path that I have yet to see since this run.

There in the silence of just runners, it was time to strip off the Under Armour and walk for a bit. Now, when I first started running these marathons I always stopped to walk for a bit. It has always shocked people I could do so well with walking and it was not until Missouri (yet to come) that I did run my first marathon fully running. I just felt tired, my legs burned and I wanted to regroup. No reason to hurt myself.

I got going again to meet up with the halfers and pass them left and right until I walked again but I knew the 3:10 guy was coming and I kept pushing. The course winded around to circle Grey’s Lake and really any lake in a marathon is pretty – in this case it is magnificent. Des Moines is proud of this beauty and I ensure you their marathon makes sure to show you some of the greatest parts of the city – downtown, Drake and Grey’s Lake. I am not sure I would ask for much else – I think we even went by the sculpture garden. The 3:20 guy passed me around Mile 24 and I knew it was true. I just always wondered what happened to my pacer friend?

The only other highlight? A girl who passed me around Mile 25 with what looked like dark mud running down both sides of her butt cheeks. I remember thinking – she shit her pants. Oddly enough? I was not in the gutter on this one at least five other people commented on it first thing. I came in shaving a full six minutes off my previous best and amped to run again.

Of course Ginger already had me talked into the Disney Marathon by this time and away we went. Having just completed her first half, she had already fallen in love. The quest for 50 states happened just after this – actually my Disney time was about ten seconds slower than Iowa – but my thirst was just starting. Thankfully she has been with me the entire time as we run most of these runs together. However my bug is farther reaching as I remembered searching for a marathon in March even after we committed to Kansas and North Dakota almost immediately right after Disney.

And the weight? It keeps dropping as do the times. Maybe I do owe that trainer a thanks? Maybe he knew all along I would be better off without the weight than with the bulk? Who knows? We never really talk though he always congratulates me on my runs. And the girl, I have never seen her since and I have not a clue if she even ran that marathon or any after it.

It has been a strange and fantastic ride so far and I never would have thought I would owe so much of it to my home state. And my suggestion if you have to ever get Iowa off your list? I doubt you can do better than Des Moines!

Louisiana

This was not the way it was supposed to happen. This was not the way I wanted to do it. Not at all. It all started a couple months ago when a friend Sherry was visiting and she was talking about living in Phoenix and how she enjoyed it. Now, Arizona is the place I have most wanted to visit since I finally made my way to California years ago. And with my conquest of the 50 states, I don’t have to tell you Arizona was at the top of my list for states to complete. Now I had free room and board and P.F. Chang’s hosts (yes I love the restaurant too) the annual marathon in January every year? Done. I almost signed up right there. Until…

My mother stepped in and said,”Where are you planning on going to January? Arizona? I have been no fun – where else is there a marathon? Somewhere interesting?” I found The Louisiana Marathon and after a slight flirtation with Hawaii, we booked and settled on Louisiana. After a while my aunt and her cousin agreed to join us and it became a trip to Baton Rouge with a small trip over to New Orleans. Actually that was pretty fantastic. I have always wanted to visit Who Dat nation and see where Treme is based on. And to see Bourbon Street – but only see not spend too much time there. If you ever go all the locals treat the place like a necessary evil.

Oddly enough the Louisiana Marathon was an inaugural event! So I get visit Louisiana and kick off a new marathon – pretty damn sweet. The trip there was fine and we were able to see a state where I would say, as a rule, when going out to eat? It is almost impossible to get a seat just walking in. I think we waited everywhere we went. People do take their time there and Southern hospitality really does exist – friendly and always more than willing to help and other drivers always let you in. I thought it would have been frustrating but it was rather comforting. The eating out was frustrating though – by the end we just chose places we thought would be quick.

The first complete day there was the expo. It was nice. We registered and picked up shirts first thing. The t-shirt is thin, tech, and comfy with a great design with a fleur de lis. And the expo is set up at a riverboat casino – which was really nice to be on the Mississippi riverfront and the casino is pretty fantastic as well with open windows and what appeared to be good eats. It was a nice event and everyone there was so nice and helpful. We met runner extraordinaire Jeff Galloway personally and got to see an official Louisiana Marathon poster that was really, really nice but at $60 a pop? We had to pass. The only real qualm with the event would be there was only a small number of vendors – about 20 or so. That may seem like a lot but it was a quick walk through. I was able to chat it up with some members of the 50 states marathon club as well- wonderful and gracious as ever. I did notice the smallness of the expo was a benefit – lots of great conversations. Heck I even met a marathon pacer who seemed really interested in my running progress.

It was a great day of touring the town and a plantation and then we went back to the hotel and got ready for the big run the next day. Nervous – I thought everyone got that way before these big runs. Seriously I can’t even sleep the night before usually only getting 3 hours a night. My buddy John told me he sleeps like a log so I guess it does vary from runner to runner. However this night was atypical for me – three hours and tossing and turning.

And who is John? Upon arriving at the run, I had met a new friend in Delaware named John – who had happened to finish just in front of me. We exchanged names and found each other on Facebook. We kept in contact and he really wanted to pace this race so we could both finish at 3:10. It seemed pretty doable. The weather was fantastic if not a little on the cold side, the course was advertised as fast and flat, and both of us had just finished under 3:15 so why not?

As he paced us the first couple miles, we stayed quiet and watched as runners dropped and ran up in front of us. We tried to stay at a steady pace and were a little too fast most of the time  averaging 7 minutes per mile rather than 7:15 we needed. I thought we would be fine. John was much more concerned about it and there was good reason – you do not want to burn yourself out! Another female runner joined us with the same quest and the three of us ran pretty constant in a pack through the first half of the race.

Now, there was one downside to the Baton Rouge marathon and the other two were much more dissatisfied than I. But I will admit it was a pain in the butt. What happened is they took the marathon runners around mile 5 and had us do a loop around Jordan-O’Hare stadium. So around Mile 7 again we hooked back up with the half marathoners. But the real issue? Now we were with people who were about 50 minutes off our pace – yes we were passing runners like crazy which is nice for your ego but swerving around them can be troublesome. And then after maybe half a mile of that? We veered off again only to catch back up a mile later, merge with the half marathoners and seriously pass some of the runners we just passed at the other point about 2 miles after joining back up again! I know this for a fact – I passed my aunt twice. And actually it was really fantastic to see her.

We did pass a lot of runners and when we got back to the halfway point we were only half a mile from the breakoff point where marathoners go for their final loop and after that – we were pretty much alone. Louisiana was not a crowded marathon and it was a little relaxing not to be getting passed every mile! Actually due to John’s pacing we were sitting at passing a runner and no one passing us for about 2 miles now! But that female was pulling away… and around Mile 17 John told me he was slowing down and I would be best to run alone and pull ahead. His exact words were “Catch her!”

I thought I was dead too but his words meant a lot to me and I pulled slightly ahead and put my earphones in hoping music could push me through. I kept going and going until I did pass another runner and actually three or four more until I got all the way to Mile 25. I did get passed by 2 other runners in the last mile and never did catch the girl John thought would get the 3:10. He was right on all accounts. She came in under 3:10 and I came in at 3:11:26 – a drop of three minutes from my best marathon! I was pretty happy regardless if I qualified for Boston or not – little steps people.

I got to the end and celebrated a little bit with a couple of the finishers around me. John came in and his social ways introduced me to a couple other 50 state goal people and truly interesting people. The real surprise came when I went to get my printout of how I did – 2nd place in my age group???? 25th overall? I have never done that well in a marathon before and yes, when I went to check out marathons of comparable size, 3 minutes that high up will mean 12 more runners passed. Needless to say, not only did I do well but thanks to John I found a new and smarter way to run.

On top of that, I did not get a medal for placing but did get a Louisiana Marathon jacket and one of those posters I almost bought at the expo! You can’t do any better than that. And the food afterwards? Six local restaurants with completely different cuisines more than ready to dish out more. There was even plenty of beer and lots of local companies too. I have to go to Arizona next year – have to, but how can I skip this event? Decisions!

North Dakota

The thing I was shocked to find out most about traveling to Fargo, North Dakota? It’s a lot farther from Iowa than one might think? No, but damn it really is! Seriously it seems like it couldn’t be more than a 3 hour jaunt but it takes like 7 hours! Seven hours! But the real thing I learned? You can try and pretty up any city you want to and call it the land of milk and honey all you want to? Doesn’t mean people will want to go there – with you on a certain marathon trip or any day for that matter. Don’t get me wrong – I already had my usual running pard’ner in my aunt with me already and a driver – my uncle. But you could not get a single other friend of mine to go. They all thought anyone going to North Dakota was just plain insane… much less looking forward to it?

That did not change the fact that I was severely looking forward to going to Fargo! You could really blame the excitement on my aunt Ginger. She had told me that this was a sort of runners’ mecca marathon and that it was the most fun of all the marathons according to Runner’s World and she went on and on and got me convinced… eventually as well. Needless to say, Fargo was not about to live up to the hype that she had created. And I knew I was right when the drive took far too long. Yes, seven hours and not a lot to see along the way. Then we got there off the interstate and there was a wait to get into the parking lot? A complete pain and to just get into the expo took 15 minutes to park once we got into the lot – in a town of 100,000? Really?

Things had to improve inside… and the shirt they had was long sleeved. I seriously nearly went ballistic. I think I even threw the shirt down on the floor and considered some swears. My leg hurt and I knew I shouldn’t even be running on it in the first place! Then a long drive where it didn’t heal was not helping my sour mood. The four people I was with were probably all rolling their eyes at my mini-tantrum.

So begrudgingly I wandered over to the expo and… best expo ever! Free Dutch Crunch chips! A shirt that I still regret not buying – “I ran Fargo – yes, really”! The 50 States Marathon Club! Fantastically large course maps! A chip confirming machine that put your name up on the screen when you passed through! Traumeel so I forgot about my leg for at least ten minutes! It just seemed to go on and on and on. It seemed like all the little things were right in Fargo. Suddenly how could I expect a town to handle the traffic of an event such as this? And the event was in the Fargo Dome? Not too many cool expo venues like that. Usually in a warehouse area or somewhere off to the side, Fargo had it front and center!

Meanwhile they had the Go Far challenge and you got to see all sorts of runners coming in having just run a 5K. This had seemed at first to be some sort of cheap gimmick to get an extra $30 out of the runner. Now? I was jealous and really how hard is it to run a 5K the night before a marathon? Regrets, I’ve had a few.

Well… what about the next day – the race? Fargo did things right – they closed down a lot of the major streets and let us run these so we could see some of the coolest and nicest parts of the city. Obviously it seemed like it would be hard to get back to the Fargo Dome and the spot of both the start and finish of the race. But it wasn’t. We zoomed right through as they waited to close streets down to the last possible second and I was able to line up ten minutes ahead of time and right in the spot I wanted to be.

In marathons, it can be the little things. I was thrilled to see a high school band out there at 7 am hitting up their instruments for us first few. I hope they make it big – how many kids care enough to show up for the Fargo Marathon? The movie theatre renamed one of their movies with a running theme – such as “Marathoners are Iron Men”.  The route crawled through their old downtown showing us the cool parts of Fargo and not the suburby outsides which we visited several times when we went to find every runner’s favorite spot – Olive Garden. I may be the only runner who does not actively seek this place out before a run. Don’t believe me? Try to get into an Olive Garden the next time a marathon hits your town.

Admittedly, after a couple cool bridges and a trot into Minnesota (a lot of marathons actually travel into other states I have found) the route was back roads and not the interesting parts of town. We did go South and into a Suburbia area. And as we full marathoners weaved our way back North and back to the finish/start line and then – oh no! We met back up with the half marathoners right around mile 18. It was going to be a complete mess as the routes merged!

But it was not even close to mess at all! The halvers stayed on their side and since they started an hour behind us? Rather than get passed, I was passing halfer after halfer nonstop. The leg issues had seemed to be getting worse to the point where I was afraid to stop and walk because it hurt so much and honestly, I have never felt so horrible during a marathon. But after about a mile after the merge, I knew I wasn’t slowing down that much at all. I kept going and passing and going and bobbing and weaving – just kidding seriously the half marathoners showed total respect and just let us pass. I loved every minute of the merge (trick leg excluded). The traumeel was great for short time swings but can’t make it a full three and a half hours.

Even better at the merge with the half marathoners? The crowd size tripled and then it went down a mile later to a sparse couple her and there but the last five miles? The sides of the streets were so packed with people! You couldn’t even stop to walk for fear of letting them down! I know it isn’t true but I swear every person in the city of Fargo was out there lining the streets watching us run. I am sure I will never see that many spectators again. To even quote the race sponsors – Fargo Rocks!

And to end the course in the Fargo Dome and come in and finish inside the Dome? Really? What a complete city event from community to college and back again. The only thing that ended up being a pain about the entire race was that the dome is so large it is hard to find friends and family. But that is a small, small complaint in a marathon full of compliments. And you know what? Plenty of food including fattening pizza and lots of cookies. Nom nom nom.

And afterwards? The long sleeve T-shirt? Actually it was a pull over windbreaker top! With a sweet design that has gotten me more compliments than any other running shirt I have. Even the shirt turned out much better than expected. The time was my second best ever on a horrible leg and the only truly sad downside? I will not be running Fargo this year due to another marathon. I am still jealous of friends Brian and Adam who will be running Fargo this year for a first time. I would love to go to Fargo again very, very soon. I hope they want to hit it up in 2013 – I know I want to.

Nebraska

“My heart belonged to Omaha but my head knew it should be Lincoln.”

That is a quote, by me actually. It is the feeling I always had when it came to running Nebraska. When runners plan to run all 50 states, I always get annoyed when they stick so hardcore to their schedule they only run those runs. Example: I read an article about a lady from West Des Moines who was running her 25th half marathon (I think I need a better publicist – she got in a paper for halves?!?) and she stated she wanted her 25th to be special so she chose Hawaii. I will never forget the next line – “it will be her 25th marathon overall and her 25th state.” Whereas I agree with my buddy Adam that these things can be damn expensive and it is not easy to pay for them so he only tries to run marathons in new states, I don’t think I could ever only schedule runs in states I have yet to accomplish. Since I have started on my quest I have yet to double up but if there is one state I would double up on? It would be Nebraska.

There are more interesting states to run and there are plenty of runs I would love to double up on but Nebraska is close and any buzz I have ever heard about Lincoln is positive. I knew it was the run to do. But me? I wanted to go to Omaha (more on that later). I have friends in the area. I thought it was happening. I don’t have to deal with as many annoying Cornhusker fans. But my head knew, I have heard nothing but fantastic things about the Lincoln marathon, why haven’t I hear much about the Omaha marathon?

I could sense there was trouble when we arrived in Omaha and the hotel where the expo was located? It was hard to find. I forget which chain the hotel was but if it was a Holiday Inn? It seemed like a Holiday Inn Express. It was about five stories big and not that large at all which bad signage that made it impossible to see until we passed it. Certainly the inside had to be better? Nope.

The inside was CROWDED with runners! You could barely get in the door and people were crowded around a folding table searching for their BIB numbers (some marathons ask you to get your race day packet by number and not last name). Then once you got inside it was all asses and elbows and honestly, I did not look at a single vendor stand. I am not claustrophobic but I just wanted out of all those people! You couldn’t even walk around the circle without tapping a couple people and asking them to move. I was able to get my shirt and the lady was nice enough to offer me a smaller shirt when she saw my shirt was too big for me so it was pleasant enough. But I could not wait to get back to the crowded mini lobby rather than the ultra crowded meeting room (I am sure they qualified it as their ballroom).

The Omaha Marathon had one advantage over all other marathons – a free buffet of carbs! It was pretty tasteless spaghetti with other options of food as well but it was free so I’m not going to bitch too much at all. I think I even went back for seconds. After that, it was a nice rest and then the big run the next morning…

I was in the movie, Fortnight, and one of my favorite lines has something to do with “I hear Omaha is rather up and coming” mostly because I believe it. As Rilo Kiley says, “Then we’ll go to Omaha to work and exploit the booming music scene.” I may live only a state away from the city referred to some as a former cow town, but in reality I don’t know the town from say, Sacramento or any other cow town. But I do know that they have good music in The Faint and I do know that it did seem up and coming with a new stadium for the College World Series and the Omaha Zoo is always worth looking at. Right?

Right… the marathon even starts by the College World Series stadium in downtown Omaha! Sweet! We took off. Then I swear three miles in I passed by a row of boarded up businesses. Then I knew I was wrong when in the first seven miles I passed by two if not three closed children’s daycares. Is there really a sight more depressing than a boarded up daycare? Those happy faces with boards over them? And the marathon chose to run by a couple of them? There were plenty of other boarded up businesses as well. It was depressing – where was the music scene to exploit or some hipsters for me to pretend I hated?

The route broke off to allow the 10K runners to finish and seriously it said 10K with an arrow to one side and Marathon with an arrow to another side. There was no mention of half and I know of at least one marathoner who got lost along the way (and I really don’t blame her). The half  should have been mentioned as well. We rounded the ten mile point and started to go down a pretty steep hill. I could see that we were just circling to come back and it suddenly occurred to me and pretty much every runner on the course – they just made us go half a block down this side street just to… yep run up one of the steeper hills I have found in a marathon. I have never stopped to walk in the first half of a marathon but that is the closest I will ever get – it was pretty damn steep! I can still hear my aunt bitching about that unneeded turn just to make us run up that hill!

After that, I got a second wind and really looked fantastic until Mile 19. I was lucky enough to pass by the first boarded up childcare center yet again around Mile 16. At Mile 19 I fell apart about that time going from first in my age group to sixth by the end of the race. My hip really killed me and I fell apart watching the 3:15 guy whiz by me around Mile 22. I did have my third best finish and a Top 50 overall finish so it was a good run for me even as much as I did not enjoy the entire ordeal.

But in what I know now as, typical Omaha fashion, two or three things really stuck in my craw after the run. 1. Everyone that ran that day got the same shirt. I am sorry. I am an elitist. Marathoners have a much, much more difficult task than a halfer. They should not get to wear the same shirt. In this case, even the 10K (6.2 miles or exactly 20 miles less than a marathon) got the same long sleeve t-shirt. I call shenanigans! 2. The Omaha Marathon does a big push about the run being for a cause and being green so when I saw the shirts were made in China it lost a bit of the sincerity. There is no arguing those shenanagins. 3. I would be fine with these little things that seemed not so right with this marathon especially considering the floods had even made them change the route? But when I got that shirt and it said 36th Annual Marathon on it? Honestly that may make this the oldest marathon I have ever run in and there was this many problems? I do not think this will change next year. That seems more like incompetence.

I did get to meet fellow Marathon Maniac Brian Wright that day and he was celebrating getting to join 50 Sub 4. Way to go Brian! He really has helped me on my quest to 50. Without Brian, there would have been no Delaware. So there is that. And there is also the fact that I did complete a marathon in 3:23 and got another state down in Nebraska. I also got to spend some time with some family members I wish I could spend more time with as well. So in retrospect… maybe Omaha was…

I got an email from the Omaha Marathon the other day and it informed me that the Lincoln Marathon was already full and not accepting submissions for the upcoming year so if I needed Nebraska as a state goal, please come run Omaha. It wasn’t like they thought they were inferior to Lincoln – they knew they were inferior to Lincoln!

I should have run Lincoln!!!!!