Marathoners often enjoy a natural high when doing a race but it certainly helps when the race is on a great course with lots of polite and supportive air force personnel and volunteers. The Air Force Marathon had long been on my bucket list – it has a 7 hour time limit and is supposed to be very walker-friendly. This seemed to be a good year to check it off since I had an open weekend.
After two short flights on Friday, Darcy and I were in Dayton. The airport is a 30 minute taxi ride from the host hotel, the Holiday Inn Dayton/Fairborn I-675. I had not realized that Wright-Patterson Air Force Base was not really in Dayton but closer to the suburb of Fairborn. That meant a pricey cab ride to and from the airport and hotel. It also meant we didn’t see anything of Dayton itself, though the weekend was busy enough that we had minimal time to explore.
Once we settled into our hotel room, we walked the short distance to packet pickup at the Nutter Center on the campus of Wright State University. The expo was held in a large room with packet pickup at the ground floor level; booths were set up in the center of this section as well as around the perimeter of the mezzanine. It was crowded on Friday but we managed to get my bib, short-sleeve navy and orange tech tee shirt, and goodie bag with no problem. I also must mention that – in addition to a tee shirt – there was also a neat patch for the marathon (I collect patches from places I travel and hope to incorporate them in a quilt someday) plus an orange marathon sports cap – more bling than I expected. I checked out the vendors, too, but didn’t see anything I wanted to spend money on except a few bags of sports beans with caffeine. Since it was now about 1 pm, we decided to find a place to eat lunch. Texas Roadhouse was right across the street and sounded appealing (other choices were more mundane – Taco Bell, Subway, McDonald’s). After lunch, we walked back to the Holiday Inn and relaxed. Well, Darcy relaxed while I set about pinning my bib to my vest and pulling out clothes, shoes, and snacks for the race.
Since we had stuffed ourselves at lunch, neither one of us felt much like eating dinner. Instead we went to bed early. The marathon was due to start at 7:30 but the first of the shuttles to the race start on the base was set to leave at 4:30 and I wanted to be on it. That meant I had to get up at least two hours earlier so I could have my breakfast and get dressed.
Weather on race morning was cool. No rain was predicted and the temps ranged from 50 degrees at the start to about 80 at the finish. The afternoon might have been slightly too humid for some but I enjoyed the warmth. I took the first shuttle at 4:30 and it left right on time – with me as the only racer! When we arrived at the start 15 minutes later, I had plenty of time to wander around, visit the porta-potties, and explore the area. The only problem was there was no place to sit or stay warm and out of the wind. There were plenty of porta-potties but they were on wet grass so my shoes and socks were sodden by the time the race began (though they quickly dried off once the sun rose).
I had expected the course to be mundane and unattractive but that was definitely not the case. I really enjoyed the pleasant scenery, wide lanes, and smooth roads; I even saw several dozen Canada geese pecking away in a field. After recently completing so many smaller marathons with under 400 people, it was wonderful to have people around me but not so tightly packed that I couldn’t move at a good pace. This marathon has about 3000 participants, a good number, so I was never really alone but it was not so crowded that I felt pressured. The course is very well-marked and the airmen and women enthusiastically and cheerfully directed us around every significant turn.
This race had all the markings of a PR course but I knew by mile 3 that I was going to have some trouble. Although I have been relatively injury-free for most of the 8 years I have been racing, every now and then something arises to give me trouble. For the last few months, pain in my left piriformis has definitely slowed me down. Early on in this race I could feel my gait change as I altered it to alleviate the discomfort. The miles passed and I exchanged pleasantries with a number of racers who passed or played leapfrog with me, and by mile 18, I could feel the pain dissipate, replaced by an all-over soreness in my legs. Instead of my usual push during the last 10k, I simply tried to maintain a steady pace. I did pass a number of runners who had slowed (in part no doubt due to the rising humidity) but that was more due to my consistency rather than speed.
The final 1.2 miles heads past the Air Force Museum, around a long stretch marked by flags, and down a runway with huge bombers and cargo planes on both sides. In the morning I had looked at this finish line and thought ‘what a rush that will be – to move along past those big planes!’ It seemed so exciting and I was so looking forward to it. Unfortunately, by the time I reached that point all I could focus on was the finish line at the very end. My mind and body was depleted; I just wanted to cross the finish line.
My time was 6:16, and I admit I was slightly disappointed I was not faster. However, considering my leg pain, I was relieved just to finish. The medal was impressive. For food, there were bananas and one pizza slice per person (plenty for me but it seemed a little chintzy for hungrier runners) plus water and Gatorade. I hung around after the race trying to scrounge a ride from Maniacs and people I had talked to during the race and was SO relieved that ‘barefoot’ Eddie was willing to drive me back to the hotel even though he was on his way to Cincinnati so he could make a flight to Omaha for the race there tomorrow. In exchange, I offered him a chance to shower which he was happy to take; I hope that was a somewhat even exchange.
Good things about this race:
- The course was much better than I had expected – more attractive scenery, wide expanse of road so there was very little crowding, and not at all boring (which I had expected from races I have done on other military bases)
- Part of the course went through the town of Fairborn and the streets there were lined with throngs of spectators
- Polite and cute airmen and women positioned at every turn and at strategic places along the course. I am old enough to be their grandmother and I wanted to hug them all!
- The aid stations were a hoot! Most of them had a theme and my absolute favorite was the extraterrestrials at mile 11
- In addition to water and Gatorade, many of the aid stations had gels, bananas, cookies, licorice, and other treats. Since I had forgotten my peanut butter crackers and lost my baggie with s-caps, I was grateful for the fruit and sweets
- Plenty of medical aid was visible and available for those who needed it
- The finish line was memorable – even if I was not able to truly enjoy it with more sore muscles
- The marathon medal is great – attractive, heavy, and on a red, white, and blue lanyard
There were just a few things I did NOT like about this race:
- The race finish is open for 7 hours but the website clearly states that timing begins with gun time. That of course means that people who really need the full 7 hours are penalized from starting at the back. In reality, it only takes about 5 minutes for those at the back (like me!) to cross the start line but it still doesn’t really make sense. However, I did notice that people were allowed to finish past 7 hours, so I am not sure how strictly this is enforced.
- The race start area was a scene of mass confusion – but maybe that was just me. Many of the participants were returning racers (they were wearing shirts from previous Air Force marathons) and seemed to be comfortable with the atmosphere, but to me it seemed everyone was milling around in the corrals (full, half, 10k people plus bikes, baby carriages, family members) and moving in all different directions. It wasn’t until the gun went off that people who were actually racing began moving slowly to the start – while everyone else was still in the way.
- The PA system at the start was impossible to hear. I strained to understand the announcements but between the poor sound system and the crowd noise, I could hear absolutely nothing.
- But these were just minor irritations. I only had one real complaint but is was big one and would definitely keep me from returning. There was no transportation from the finish line back to the shuttle pickup point. The shuttles only go one way. They will take you to the start on the base but will not bring you back. That means that racers have to have someone, a friend or family member, who will pick you up at the finish to bring you back to your hotel (or wherever else you need to go). The only other option is to call for a taxi to pick you up at the Museum near the finish line – and not only is that costly but it might also take a while for a taxi to arrive. I was extraordinarily fortunate that barefoot Eddie was kind enough to drive me back. It was hard to keep that mental anxiety about how I would get back from affecting my race just a little. It seems that most people drive (there is plenty of parking), and I would highly recommend renting a car for those coming from out-of-town. With that caveat, this race is a definite plus for walkers.