My Medal Tree

After a while, the medals start mounting up. After so many races, regardless of distance, there comes a time when the number of medals outpaces the space to put them in. I keep a file folder for each race I do, with race bib, finishing time, FAQs, travel information, and other pertinent materials and then I file each folder in chronological order in a large metal filing cabinet. In my salad days, I would slip the medal into each folder to keep it safe. After a while, though, the medals began to make the files very bulky, especially since some medals are large or heavy or 3 dimensional (like the flying pig one). What to do with the medals became a real challenge.
It occurred to me that I might find a way to display them so visitors could be impressed (at least a little bit) so I took the medals from their respective folders and placed them on a desk in the living room. Looked quite nice, too, but took up valuable desk space, and I began to run out of room once I reached the limits of the desk. At one of the race expos I visited, I had seen a clear plastic display case that would hold 10-12 medals and could easily be hung on a wall or set on a counter or table. I purchased one at a hefty price and quickly filled it up with a dozen medals. That left the remaining medals still on my desk top.
What to do? More races, more medals, and no place to put them. Some friends had various solutions; I’ve seen shadow boxes mounted on walls, hooks with medals hanging from them (with and without the lanyards attached), and wall-mounted brass or wood racks, similar to coat racks.
While browsing through one of the Sky Miles catalogs on a flight last November, I saw a free-standing circular shoe tree that had room for dozens of shoes and had a basket at the top. It was light and airy and cost about $100. I turned to my husband (who happened to be with me on that trip) and said, “Why can’t I use this to hang my medals on?” He agreed that it was a possible solution to my medal ‘problem’ and so it became an item on my Christmas list.
When it arrived, I could not wait for Christmas (!) so my husband put it together that weekend (he said it was easy, but I was glad he did it for me) and I started hanging my medals on it. I looped the lanyards through and around the posts for shoes. All my medals except for the ones in the plastic case and my huge ones (the 3 from Little Rock and the massive one from the Texas Marathon in Kingwood, TX) are now hanging on my medal tree and there is still plenty of room for more. In the basket at the top, I set my gifts and awards from various races, at least the ones that would fit and were unbreakable.

Here is a photo:

This solution seems like a pretty neat way to get those medals in view but with a small footprint. Someday I may have to get another shoe rack!

Sheriff’s Youth Ranch Marathon – Sunday, March 13, 2011

It only took me 1 hour 15 minutes to drive to Live Oak, even driving in the wee hours of the morning in utter darkness and setting the clocks ahead one hour. It’s good I had my Garmin with me, along with the Google directions (which were not completely accurate but at least gave me an idea of the route numbers). I had a flashlight with me so I could shine the light on the directions when I needed to. But all-in-all, it was an easy drive.

Turned into the Ranch just before 6 am and there were people setting up. I could not see a thing there, way out in the country, so one of the youth volunteers came with me to show me where to park – it was easy but my eyes just could not see in the darkness. Got my packet and went to the bathroom (more about that later) and then back to my car to put bib on vest, get rest of my snacks and tissues ready, and then waited in my warm car (it was about 40 degrees and felt colder) until more people started to arrive. Went to the bathroom twice more (it was cold). I finally saw my friends Mellody and Vicki arrive so I left the warm comfort of my vehicle to chat with them.

Lots of Florida Marathon Maniacs were there, including one nice fellow with a camera who took shots of all of us and then continued to snap photos of us individually along the course. Quite a few no shows and a couple of people who DNF. No timing chip, no names on bibs – this was a low-key, no-frills, easygoing (but definitely not easy) race. How to describe the course? It was easy to get the hang of it once you did it – and you had to do it 4 times for the full, twice for the half. We walked down the main road, made a loop around some buildings, returned to the main road past the start/finish line, and then did a long out-and-back loop on a highway and then a shorter out-and-back loop in the other direction, returning to the main road again, past the start/finish – for the number of times required. There was also a 5 and 10 k with a turn-around at the half way point for those races.

The race director blew a horn and we took off. Spectators were roosters, chickens, and cows, as well as the kind folks at the aid stations who waited almost the full 7 hours for all of us to complete the course. There were 3 aid stations, with water, Gatorade, and packets of peanut butter crackers. Since the weather turned very warm, in the 80’s, by the time we were through, I really appreciated having those the salty crackers. For me, any 4 loop course will get boring, but I must admit that I enjoyed the scenery, fresh air, and quiet of this race. Road surface was easy to navigate but hard on my feet – there was grass and dirt along the road and I was tempted to walk there but the many fire anthills cautioned me to stay on the pavement.

Bathrooms, though, were an issue for several of us – there were real toilets, showers, and sinks for boys and girls. This is, after all, an actual working ranch and farm for boys (on a beautiful piece of land, with neat buildings, including a school) so there are events where bathrooms are a necessity for the people who live, work, and play here. However, the bathrooms are not ON the course but a good hike away, so stopping there took at least 3-5 minutes or more. Usually I do not need to stop during a race, but I did find it necessary on this race, and that ate into my finishing time. Comparing notes with others afterward, we all mentioned that it would have been a good idea to have at least one port potty on the course itself, perhaps close to an aid station. However, since this is low-budget race, cost might have been a factor. The loss of a few minutes was a small price to pay for the simplicity and beauty of this race.

We all got a medal that was really a sheriff’s badge and could be attached to the lanyard it came with or worn with a clip on one’s shirt. Inexpensive but very appropriate for the Sheriff’s Youth Ranch Marathon. Bagels, water, bananas were available. And since the field of participants was so small, many of us received age group awards (me –first, and only, in my age group). That was nice!

It’s All About the MEDAL – Little Rock Marathon, Sunday, March 6, 2011

At least that’s true in Little Rock, where the race directors concentrate their efforts on making a bigger, heavier, and more impressive medal every year as the highlight of their well-organized series of races.  This is the third year I have traveled to the city of Little Rock to do the marathon and I am always impressed with the care and coordination that is taken to put on a great show.

    This year’s medal  (the world – with a star for Little Rock – spins around)

I flew from Jacksonville early Saturday and arrived in time to check in to my hotel, the Marriott Courtyard, right next to the starting line.  Each year I can look out my window and check on the weather and watch the people gathering for the early start.  I head downstairs about quarter to 6 am so I too can begin early.  The race directors make sure that the early start is not an optional start but a chance for people who need at least 6 hours or as many as 8 hours will be able to finish the course.  This includes people like myself, who finish very close to 6 hours.  We like the reassurance of knowing we won’t be left on the course to fend for ourselves.

The Expo is good-sized and held at the Statehouse Convention Center, a short walk from my hotel.  Packet pick-up is easy and quick – got my tech tee, bib, chip (the square kind that ties on your shoe and must be returned), and then walked around the booths, stopping to purchase some injinji socks (I buy some everytime I see them because they are impossible to find in my town) and check out a few upcoming races.  The mandatory meeting for early starters was held at 3 pm and lasted about 45 minutes; it’s an informal Q and A session with some brief discussion of the course and race etiquette (move out of the way of elite runners when they pass, for example).  We are cautioned to stay behind the lead vehicle so we do not lose our way or get to aid stations before they are set up – ostensibly at a 15 minute pace (but it turned out to be more like a 13-14 minute pace).

Race day began with temps of 37 degrees with a wind chill of 27 but it did not seem that cold.  Maybe that was because I did not have to stand outside in the freezing cold for more than 15 minutes, but in any case it was a nice change from Dallas and other corral type races.  I met up with Viktor, another Darkside Club member, and we chatted until the countdown began.  Then Viktor took off quickly and I never saw him again.  At some point I must have passed him because results showed that he finished an hour after me; perhaps he stopped at a portapotty or took a break.  Anyhow, it was good to see him again at the start.

The LR course is varied – we pass through neighborhoods both fancy and plain, by the stately capitol building twice, in front of Little Rock Central High School made famous (or infamous) for its 1957 battle over integration, and a long out-and-back in a pleasant park before heading back towards downtown and the finish line.  There are some hills around miles 14 – 18 but they are relatively mild.  The slight inclines at miles 24 and 25, while gentle, are definitely harder to manage, coming as they do at the end of the race.  Lots of people come out of their houses with children and pets to cheer on the racers.  Near the final mile is the Lipstick Aid Station – with volunteers handing out lipstick so we women can look beautiful as  we cross the finish line.  I’m usually concentrating so hard on my pace at that point I quickly pass by, thank them but waving off the lipstick.  At that point it would take a LOT more than lipstick to make me look presentable!  Finally, I can see the finish line and I head directly for it, the announcer calls my name, and I breathe a sigh of relief.  A volunteer removes my chip and another puts a 3 + pound medal around my neck – and I wear it proudly, as do the other finishers.  Some junk food and fruit followed by some nutritious stuff, too – yogurt and chocolate milk. 

Back to the hotel for a shower and nap and by 4 pm I am ready to head out to the Clinton Library for the post-race BBQ.  My experience this year was not as good as it had been in the past.  The food was at least 30 minutes late, the salad was so-so, and dessert was candy and oreo cookies.  While the Clinton Library is a great setting, there is no space big enough to hold everyone so participants are forced to choose one of several equally crowded rooms.  Music is always way too loud for conversation and outside it was too cold to sit comfortably.  I ate quickly and returned to my hotel to pack and fall into a deep sleep.

Bottom line: This is a great race for first-timers.  Every detail is attended to, the course is well-marked, and there are plenty of aid stations with water, Gatorade, and fruit.  The early start makes it a race that really welcomes walkers and slower runners, with 8 full hours to complete the course.  For new visitors to Little Rock, I recommend coming a day or two earlier (or staying a few days after the race) to tour the Clinton Library, the Old State House Museum, and the Arkansas History Museum, all within walking distance of downtown. On my first trip to LR, I did all those things plus visited the public library and tasted my first deep dish Chicago-style pizza and Memphis BBQ (I know, this is Little Rock, but everything was delicious).  Plus, there is that great MEDAL!