‘Get Your Kicks on Route 66’ – the Route 66 Marathon, Tulsa, OK, November 20, 2011

I guess you have to be of a certain age to remember the old song (it’s really a tune from my parent’s generation) but it brings back memories of my cross-country trek several decades ago and it was hard to get the words out of my head this entire weekend. The longest driveable stretch of the Mother Road cuts through Oklahoma, right through Tulsa. The iconic flavor of this highway, combined with the special attention paid to Marathon Maniacs and 50 State Club members by the marathon organizers, made this a ‘must-do’ event for me.

Since I was using my frequent flyer miles, I left from my home regional airport early on Saturday morning, arriving in Tulsa just before noon. I met my friend Deb (her flight left from Orlando) in the ground transportation area. Fortunately, the our hotel, the Holiday Inn Downtown, provided a free shuttle to and from the airport; this was a big money saver. My room wasn’t ready yet so I deposited my suitcases in my friend’s room and in the hotel lobby we met up with Jim from Canada who showed us the way to the Expo, just a few blocks away. We headed straight for the packet pick-up table where we received our bibs, D-rings for our shoes, and a blue ss cotton tee shirt.

The Expo turned out to be larger than I expected, with a number of vendors and booths, but I was especially interested in visiting the Maniacs and 50 States Club exhibits. I met some of the original Maniacs (people like Steve Yee whom I had only read about on the club’s website) and talked to Paula Boone (she and her husband Steve were the founders of the 50 States Club) AND bought a Maniacs jacket and a long-sleeved tech 50 States finisher’s shirt. I hadn’t counted on spending so much money all at once but I could not resist. After all, I didn’t have to pay postage and I could wear the stuff right away (and I did). Meanwhile, we had worked up quite an appetite, so the three of us headed back to the hotel where I was able to check in, deposit all my goodies, and then take the hotel shuttle to a local shopping center where the we had a filling late lunch at Olive Garden. The weather was a balmy 72 degrees and the sun shone so brightly that I had to wear my sunglasses. This was soon to change dramatically.

Going up in the elevator, I met Joe, another Walking Board participant; we chatted a bit and made plans to meet in the D corral the next day. Returning to my room, sated and tired, I began my pre-race preparations: Chronotrack timing tag on shoe, bib on vest, clothes arranged in order of how I would put them on, snacks prepared, tissues folded to fit neatly in pockets, alarm set, and so forth. Then it was time to obsess about the weather. The temperatures were supposed to drop to the 30’s with accompanying thunderstorms. I added an additional long-sleeved jersey to my layers of clothes on the bed. I decided to use positive thinking techniques – IT WILL NOT RAIN, IT WILL BE SUNNY – and finally got to sleep.

Woke up early, had my bread and coffee, and dressed. Checked the weather outside and on the Weather Channel – there was no rain at all overnight, and only some scattered rain showers predicted for this morning (at least that part of my positive thinking mantra worked), but it was very cold, with wind chill in the 30’s. Maniacs were to meet at 7:30 by the starting line (right outside our hotel – thank goodness) for a group photo. I made my way through the crowds to the gathering of Maniacs; we stood shivering as cameras clicked away (at least one was by a professional photographer, the others from fellow Maniacs) and then I began to make my way to the Corral D, the last corral, several blocks from the starting line.

I headed towards the front of the empty corral. It seemed like most people were huddling together in the doorways of buildings. Soon I was joined by others and we anxiously waited for the starting gun.  This event has 3 races that all start at 8 am. The marathon and half marathon follow the same course for 13 miles, with a long portion on Riverside Drive along the Arkansas River, then the half veers off towards the finish line while the full continues on through several business areas, parks, and residential areas as well as the campus of the University of Tulsa. The relay follows the marathon course and has 4 exchange stations; relay runners have ‘relay’ bibs worn on their back. This is helpful to me, since so often the new relay runners speed by me on their ‘fresh legs’ that it can be very demoralizing. Then when I realize that they are relay participants and just started their segment of the race, I understand their speed.

Anyhow, as we were all waiting for the starting gun, it soon became clear that we were to be released in waves. There were at least 5 minutes between the release of each corral, so those of us in D were forced to wait for over 15 minutes in the icy cold. I had to cover my face with my mittens to try and keep warm. For the first 2 miles, I could not feel my legs at all. This made it difficult to walk and impossible to run. Around mile 3, I could finally move somewhat normally and tried to make up some time. Meanwhile, I saw Joe on the course and we exchanged ‘hello’s’ as we took turns leapfogging each other. At some point, Joe asked a runner to take a photo of us with Joe’s camera and he graciously did so.

I was just a little ahead of Joe at the halfway point, and since Joe was doing the half while I was doing the full, I slowed a bit to let him catch up with me and I wished him luck on his sub-3 hour finish. Meanwhile, I was still freezing and had 13 miles more to go. Around mile 16.5, marathoners can choose to take .3 of a mile detour to the ‘Center of the Universe,’ a Tulsa landmark that is sponsored by Michelob Ultra, or they can simply follow the regular course. I decided to wait until I actually got to that point before I made up my mind whether or not to take the detour. Faced with having to make the decision, I opted to go for it. I turned down the free cup of beer handed to me (it would have put me to sleep) but I took the commemorative coin in my mittened hand, promptly dropped it (hands were still frozen), kind gentleman picked it up for me, and I managed to unzip my vest pocket and drop it inside.

I made it to the finish line in just under 6 hours (5:56:15), picked up my ss tech finisher shirt, and looked around for my special 50 State medal. Turns out we had to collect it in the special Maniac and 50 State tent a few yards past the finish line. Beautiful medal it is, too. There was not much food left for back of the pack finishers of the marathon but our special MM/50 State tent had an array of dishes, everything from soup to rice dishes. However, I was not really hungry, just cold (still), so I hurried to the shuttle buses and made my way back to the hotel, content to shower and rest. All in all, a good race, made particularly special because of the attention paid to the MM/50 state members, which I really appreciated.

Soldier Marathon (11/12/11) and Peachtree City 50K (11/13/11)

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. I originally had the inaugural Rock ‘n roll Savannah marathon on my calendar for the first weekend in November, but family responsibilities and U of F Homecoming took precedence. As a result, I had a brief respite from racing for a bit – and then spent the second weekend in November in Georgia doing the same double I had accomplished last year.

So, on Friday, November 11, I drove to Columbus, GA, checked into my hotel (the Holiday Inn on Victory Drive and just a short drive from Ft. Benning, where all the action takes place) and drove to the National Infantry Museum to pick up my packet for the Soldier Marathon. This year, because it was Veterans Day and a holiday, I was able to arrive in Columbus early enough to spend several productive hours touring the Museum (there was a lot to see – manyf intriguing displays of weaponry and military history (not my area of interest but worthwhile to view nonetheless). I found the Vietnam jungle room fascinating and terrifying at the same time. I think it helped me to better understand the Vietnam veterans I work with every day.

I wrote about my experiences at Soldier and the 2nd race for this weekend, the Peachtree City 50 K, last year on this blog (see “A Doubles Weekend – My First!” posted on December 10, 2010), so I will only highlight the most relevant points for this entry. The course for Soldier was changed a little because of some flooding so we no longer crossed the bridges over the Chattahoochee River into Alabama and back again into Georgia. That was a highlight of the course last year for me so it was a little disappointing to miss out on that. Because of the holiday, a parade was marching on one of the bridges and that may have been another reason for the alteration in course. But I did get to view a tank crossing over the bridge while I was walking below – certainly not something I see every day!

This year also saw the initiation of the Fallen Hero program. A table was set up at the Expo with the names of soldiers who had died in the line of duty. We could select a bib with our hero’s name and photo and information to pin on our race clothes the next day. This was in addition to the regular race bib with our number on it. My hero was Marine Corporal William J. Woitowicz from Middlesex, MA , who was only 23 when he died on June 7, 2011, in Operation Enduring Freedom. I was proud to wear his name on the back of my mesh vest. This program was a really neat idea.

Plenty of people participated in this race but there were not so many back-of-the-packers as last year. I found it to be pretty lonely during the second half of the race. For a number of miles I was completely by myself; this made the race seemed almost like a training run rather than a race. Since the course was very well-marked and had volunteers at every turn, being alone was not a problem. The day was cold but sunny and I was surrounded by beautiful scenery, the numerous trees were dressed in a medley of autumn colors, and many miles of the course were set along the lovely river along the border between the two states. At the start of the race, I saw Mellody and Vicki along with Scott, all friends from the Walking Boards. I had met up with Scott the day before at the museum. He was doing his first full marathon and we leapfrogged over each other early on until he took a major lead; then I didn’t see him again until the turnaround in downtown Columbus.

As usual, I began to feel a surge of energy around mile 20 and caught up with Scott soon after. We essentially finished the race together, passing or catching up with other runners who had slowed down for those final few miles. I crossed the finish line in 5:54 chip time, a little slower than last year. We received a medal similar to the 2011 version, a dog tag on a chain, plus this year we also were given a souvenir coin. Not too much food was available at the finish line, but I had a bagel and bottle of water to carry me through on my 2-hour ride to Peachtree City.

This race is remarkably well-organized for a race only 2 years old. The course is nicely laid-out, well-marked, plenty of aid stations, beautiful scenery, and just hilly enough to keep things interesting. I enjoyed the sections on Ft. Benning and the start and finish is exceptionally convenient (and it helps to be able to keep warm inside the museum and use real restrooms before and after the race). I think my favorite part is meeting all those good-looking and polite young soldiers, men and women, who cheered us on the entire way. Just an all-over great experience.

On to Peachtree City, GA. Originally I had planned to spend 2 nights in Columbus and then drive over to PTC early Sunday morning. As a result, I did not sign up for the early start this year. However, the logistics of trying to find my way in the dark in the wee pre-dawn hours made me rethink this. I ended up driving to PTC immediately after Soldier and spent Saturday evening at my favorite hotel in PTC, the Hampton Inn. After showering and eating a late lunch at nearby Carrabas, I set out my racing clothes for the next day and slept. I rose early, had my bread and coffee, and made my way to the race site at Luther Glass Park and the nearby shopping center where we could park. This year our surprise gift was a Darksider tech short sleeve shirt (last year it was a neat duffle bag). I reminded Scott Ludwig, Darkside founder and race director (and ardent Gator fan) that this would be my 100th marathon/ultramarathon! He was kind enough to announce that fact at our pre-race meeting. It was good it was still dark outside, since I turned red as a beet (and not from the cold).

This 50 k consists of 6 five-mile + loops (plus 6 half-mile out-and-back stretches) in a park closed to traffic but open to bikes, golf carts, and pedestrians. In addition to the 50 k there is also a 25 k (3 loops). Last year I took the early start and finished in 7:39; this year I took the regular start and finished dead last in 7:31. Yes, this race was remarkable because – not only was it my 100th race – but it was also the first time I ended up in last place (although 2nd in my age group!). Truth is, there was no place I would rather celebrate both achievements (and I suppose coming in last can be called an achievement) than at a Darkside event.

The Clam Chowdah Challenge, Falmouth, MA – October 29 &30, 2011

There are some races that, just by their very nature, appeal to me. The Cape Cod Clam Chowdah Challenge is a perfect example. This ‘challenge’ consists of a half marathon on Saturday followed by a full marathon on Sunday, similar to a New England Goofy. Challengers who completed both races within the time limits of 3 and 6 hours respectively would get a special 24 ounce clam chowder mug. How could I resist? Well, I couldn’t, not me, especially when this would give me a chance to see my sister and niece again. Both Margie and Emily signed up for the half marathon while I signed on for the Challenge. On Friday they drove to the Cape from central MA while I flew into Providence (nice little airport, TF Green), rented a car, and drove to Falmouth. We met at the historic Captain Tom Lawrence House, a neat old bed and breakfast run by Ann and Jim and only a five minute walk from the start and finish line of both races.

Of course, I was concerned about the strict time limits, but that was part of the challenge. The REALLY big unknown was the weather. The entire northeast was anticipating the first Nor’easter of the season and it was headed our way with the threat of snow and ice, freezing temperatures, and gusty winds. Fortunately, Cape Cod escaped the brunt of the storm – it was in the upper 40’s all weekend, with rain Saturday evening and high winds up to 65 mph but no snow or ice. That was a relief for me. I had warm clothes and a rain slicker but my shoes for both races were lightweight racers that would probably not stand up to walking through snow for miles and miles. And I don’t like driving in snow or ice, so I was concerned about my trip back to Providence on Sunday afternoon. The weather turned out to be a minor issue; sure, it was freezing cold and I was dressed in multiple layers of clothing, but the rain stopped for both races, we had no snow at all in Falmouth, and the wind was the only difficult aspect weather-wise and that was manageable.

Since I arrived earlier than Margie and Emily, and because I was hungry after the 1 ½ hour drive from Providence, I had a filling lunch (haddock chowder and crabmeat roll – seafood heaven for me) at the Quarterdeck Restaurant in the heart of town and then walked around looking in the quaint gift shops and visiting the public library. At 3 I headed to our Bed and Breakfast, checked in, and started unpacking. My sister and niece arrived about 5 pm and we promptly walked over to packet pickup at the Lawrence School, a few blocks from our B & B. There was no expo on Friday evening, just packet pickup, and even this was a bit unusual in that we picked up our bibs (I had 2, one for the half, one for the full) but had to wait until the next day to get our goody bag and tee shirt. The chips were attached to the bibs so no fiddling with laces. We returned to the B & B to get our gear ready. Once we were satisfied we were all set for the next day’s event, we headed back out to for sustenance. We found a local diner in the downtown area and had clam chowder and sandwiches and then returned to our room for some sleep.

This would be only the second half marathon for my sister (she did the Maine half marathon when I did the full several years ago) and my niece had never done a race at all. Emily is 20, young and healthy, and, just like my 26 year-old son, can just go out and do it, no training necessary. Amazing!

Because there was no coffee pot in our room, and we wanted to eat several hours before the official full breakfast offered by our hosts, we rose at 4:30 am on Saturday morning to drive to a nearby Dunkin Donuts. We loaded up on hot coffee, pumpkin muffins, and doughnuts, then hurried back to our room for the rest of our preparations and then on to the Village Green for the race start. We were able to wait inside the Post Office on Saturday to stay warm; unfortunately on Sunday the Post Office was closed, so before the marathon I had to huddle with several dozen others racers in the outer entrance of the building to stay out of the wind.

Both races follow outstandingly beautiful courses. This was the 34th year of the marathon and it is obvious that the race organizers from the Falmouth Track Club really know what they are doing. In 1993, they included a marathon relay, and this year the half marathon was added on Saturday. The half marathon begins and ends in the town proper and then follows the coast and a bike path as well as several attractive neighborhoods. There are enchanting views of Nobska Lighthouse and Vineyard Sound.

The full marathon is a one-loop course that starts out on the Village Green and is relatively flat for the first several miles or so. We pass by the Falmouth Inner Harbor, Nantucket Sound, Woods Hole, some cranberry bogs and shady wooded areas, and the communities of West Falmouth and Sippiwissett. There are a number of rolling hills on the second half of the course which caused some groans from runners but I enjoy hills (within reason) so I found them to be fun rather than difficult. The prettiest section of the course is along the Sound by the Nobska Lighthouse but both courses are extremely scenic.

Neat stuff about these races:
• both races start with the firing of a small cannon
• most people in town seem to know about the races and are supportive; while there are not a huge number of spectators (that may in part have been due to the cold weather), the general atmosphere is positive and vibrant
• race shirts are cotton long-sleeve tees, purple for the half, light blue for the full, and bright yellow for the Challenge; these are shirts I will wear, unlike most of the tech fabric shirts from other races, and the long-sleeves make them good for the winter months
• post-race food is served back at the Lawrence School and is worth waiting for: clam chowder, salad, cranberry juice, and rolls. My only complaint about this entire weekend was that they ran out of chowder after the marathon. They had plenty of ziti but no more chowder (the lady in front of me was ready to fill up her new chowder mug with some) – that was disappointing but I did manage to get some after the half marathon.
• there were mile markers at every mile, every 5 k had a marker, and there were several clocks on the course, so it was easy to keep on pace and know how I was doing.
• course markings were on the road, white for the half, blue for the full, easy to see (although I’m not sure how that would work if the roads had been covered with snow) and volunteers were at every critical turn.
• aid stations were set up about every 3 miles or so and were stocked with water and sports drink (cytomax I think) and LOTS of wonderful volunteers (the number of people helping was really impressive, especially when comparised to the previous week’s race at Apalachicola – of course, this marathon had been around awhile so there may be hope for Apalach down the road)
• roads were not closed to traffic and some people complained about this but I found that traffic was extremely light both days and drivers were very courteous and careful of runners and walkers
• before the marathon start we could indulge in bagels, doughnuts, and hot coffee from Dunkin Donuts; I took full advantage of this, saving a jelly doughnut for post-race sustenance and squirreling away a bagel in my vest pocket for munching on during the later miles of the race
• the Clam Chowdah Challenge prize is impressive – a 24 ounce ceramic mug

I hope the race organizers decide to hold the Challenge again – I would love a reason to return to Falmouth!

“Running for the Bay!” Revisited – October 23, 2011

Where to begin? Last year the inaugural version of this race was a complete disaster:
– there were too few water stops and those that existed ran out of water on an extremely hot day,
– there were way too few volunteers (I knew we were in trouble when the race director announced over the loudspeaker ON RACE MORNING that they needed volunteers),
– mile markers were not in place at every mile,
– traffic was heavy and lanes for runners were not coned off,
– there was no police or medical presence,
– the course was not well-marked, especially (for me) near the end,
– they ran out of medals (and some of the medals were broken),
– spectators were few and far between,
– post-race food was non-existent, although some people said there were cups of water and some fruit

Despite my usual concerns about inaugural races, I had decided to try the race last year because Apalachicola is only about 4 hour drive from my house. It seemed an easy way to get in another fall marathon without too much expense (although it must be noted that the registration price is a hefty $80). So last year, I drove down after work on Friday, stayed at a Best Western nearby, picked up my race packet at the tiny expo, and experienced the growing pains of a first-time race the next morning. It was not pretty.

Reviews on Marathonguide.com panned the race. Several friends said it was one of the worst marathons they had ever experienced. As a result, it came as a surprise to me when I found out that the race would be held again this year, and in addition to the marathon, half marathon, 5 K, and 10 K, there would also be an ultra! With an open weekend and a desire to use the trip as an excuse to stop in Tallahassee the night before to see my granddaughter, I decided to give the race a second chance.

This year the race was to be held on a Sunday. According to the Race Director (RD), this would decrease the amount of traffic on the roads and give visitors a chance to use Saturday as a travel day. This was not a bad idea, especially considering that many of the complaints had been about traffic. You could tell that the RD was really trying to make improvements and had taken to heart some of the comments and suggestions made by frustrated racers from the previous year. For instance, there was plenty of water at the aid stations, along with snacks like granola bars and peanut butter crackers. However, this was the first time I had ever seen so many unmanned aid stations. The volunteers (all 6 of them) were congregated at the first 2 aid stations (and the last 2 on the way to the finish line) and the turn-around at mile 12.5.

Last year this was a notable race for me because it was the only time I crossed the finish line coming from the WRONG direction! That’s right – because after mile 25/26, there was no one in front of me, no one to tell me where to go, and no sign pointing to the road I should take. I turned on the path I thought was correct – but I was wrong. I finished the race but coming from the opposite direction. I was quickly told my mistake and I rapidly crossed the finish line in the proper direction this time and was handed my medal. I explained that there was no marker or person pointing the way. This year I was very much aware of the ‘right’ way to go and there was also a volunteer pointing the way. However, an extra sign with an arrow pointing straight ahead and then one with an arrow pointing left would be all that is needed to clarify things.

I crossed the finish line in 6:01 chip time. Although I didn’t make my under-6 hour time goal, it sure was close and I was satisfied. The medal and lanyard were beautiful. Post-race food left something to be desired, however: tiny orange slices, tired banana quarters, granola bars, and peanut butter crackers and small cups of water. It didn’t really matter to me, because I had plenty of snacks in my car. I hung around for a bit chatting with some other Maniacs before heading back home.

Apalachicola and St. George’s Island are beautiful. The bridges that lead to both places are long and straight. There are birds, boats, and the Atlantic Ocean. The area is delightfully scenic and peaceful. But those bridges are very VERY long when you are walking over them. They are VERY boring, even if all around you the scenery is magnificent. There is a lot of traffic, even on Sunday, and no orange cones marking the breakdown lane from the travel lanes. Well, to be truthful, there were some orange cones but they were positioned on the bridge side of the road next to the barrier. They may have been intended to hold mile marker signs but the signs were missing. In fact, on my return trip on the St. George Bridge, there just one or two mile markers (while there were at least 5 miles on the bridge itself), so it was hard to tell exactly where I was at any given time. The only spectators were pelicans and two people who came out of their houses to wave at me. That was okay with me; I don’t need cheering crowds. But I did need a respite from those bridges.

It would be lovely to stay on St. George’s Island for a vacation. I would love to rent one of those handsome old 2-story houses facing the ocean. I can picture myself sitting in a comfortable chair on a wraparound porch, a drink in one hand and a book in the other. Maybe someday I will come here with my family and spend a few days. Maybe it will be on race weekend and perhaps I will even try the half marathon (since it only crosses one of those long bridges). But two Running for the Bay marathons is enough for me!