Runs with Scissors Marathon (Brighton, Colorado) – April 25, 2015

Runs with scissors

There was a great debate on the Facebook Marathon Maniacs page about this race. Because the events included a half marathon, full marathon, and 50k, Race Director Bill Morton decided to give all the races a 9 hour time limit. His perfectly logical reasoning was that, since he and his volunteers would be there for the 50k people anyhow, why not let anyone who needed the extra time take as long as they needed, up to 9 hours. For some reason this generous time limit aroused the ire of some runners who proclaimed that people who needed that long to complete a marathon were not really and truly marathoners, etc. etc. Walkers have heard all these silly arguments before, and many runners quickly came to the defense of slower racers who very much appreciated the longer limit.

Because I like to support walker-friendly races, I signed up for the marathon. I was not disappointed. The race had lots of positives and almost no negatives. Our flight to Denver was uneventful, although we did have an unusual passenger sitting in the row in front of us. I kept hearing ‘quack, quack, quack’ during the trip but thought it was a dog or cat with throat problem. Turns out it was the Aflac duck, housed in a crate, who was traveling with his human handler to a photo shoot at a Denver hotel and a visit to a children’s hospital. Now the quacking made sense.

After retrieving our bags and rental car, we drove to Adams County Regional Park in nearby Brighton just northwest of the airport to scout out the race site. The course is a 1.31 loop around scenic Mann-Nyholt Lake. Terrain is primarily packed dirt covered by small pebbles and scree, with a short section of cement, some grass, and a few wooden bridges. There are no large rocks or roots. I wore gaiters but left the trail shoes at home; regular running shoes worked fine. The RD had mentioned this on the website so I was prepared.

After checking out the race venue, we drove to the new Holiday Inn Express in Thornton, another close-by suburb. The Holiday inn was the host hotel and offered a discounted rate to racers. We checked in and then stopped at Parry’s pizza restaurant for a light lunch. Since packet pickup did not start until 6 pm, we had time to relax back at the hotel. The website didn’t mention whether it was possible to get our bib and shoe chip on race morning, and I could have asked, but we had no problem finding Road Runner Sports in Westminster, another small suburb about 7 ½ miles from the hotel.

In a way it was lucky for me that we went to the running store that evening. Not only did I get a bag with my bib, chip, a beverage glass, and some snack candies, but I also WON a gift certificate for $120 which I promptly used to buy a pair of Mizuno Wave running shoes. I hardly ever win anything so this was a pleasant surprise.

Back at the hotel, I managed to get several hours of sleep and woke refreshed if a bit early. I had once again forgotten to change the time zone on my IPhone alarm, so I woke up 2 hours before I needed to. Since the race was set to start at 6 am, we drove to the park around 5:15 and waited in the car with the heater running. It was COLD, about 40 degrees, so I wore several jackets over my shirt, Maniac singlet, and mesh vest. It was supposed to be warm and sunny later in the day so I anticipated shedding clothes and donning sunglasses as needed. That indeed was the case. The course had a couple of rudimentary restrooms plus 4 porta potties. As the temperature rose, I took off more and more clothes, until I ended up in just my singlet and vest.

The race began on time and we all took off around the lake. Half marathoners had to do 10 laps, full marathoners 20 laps, and ultrarunners 24 laps.  Twenty laps seemed overwhelming so I divided the task into 4 sets of 5 laps each, bargaining with myself that I would eat a snack or walk at a more leisurely pace on each 5th loop. In that fashion, I managed to deal with otherwise monotonous circuits. The faster runners zipped by me and by noon, most of them had finished and left. The few people who remained were either walking like me or were struggling through the ultra. I was sure I’d be last (and that was fine with me) but it turned out that there were a few others who were also on the slower side.

The course was marked with small red flags at every possible turn and it took just one loop for me to feel confident I would not get lost. The restrooms and porta potties were right on the course. My only problem was the altitude. The park is 5109 feet above sea level and a flatlander like myself could really feel the thin air. I had a little trouble at first catching my breath; running even a tiny bit down the only ‘hill’ on the course would be impossible for me.

The one aid station we passed on every loop was exceedingly well-stocked with all kinds of goodies, but since I had brought energy bars, peanut butter crackers, and pretzels with me, I only slowed down to get some water or drop off my clothes. The volunteers were terrific, especially Skip, who stayed by the timing mat the entire time and cheered me on every time I passed by.

I’ve mentioned before that for some strange reason I can go around and around a 1-3 mile loop for 24 hours or longer, but if I have to go around a similar course for a marathon, I get dizzy and bored. Finishing becomes a mental challenge. Twenty laps on this course was indeed a challenge, but the easy terrain, camaraderie of racers, and peaceful atmosphere made the race more pleasurable than I would have anticipated. I chatted with James Alexander, Ed Broadnax, Alison Black, and Susan Rozanski. Almost everyone put their names on their backs so runners could cheer you on as they passed. I finished in 6:36:28, received my medal of a little scissors on a colorful lanyard, and a blue beanie. There was chocolate milk (hooray!) and a variety of bagels as well as several kinds of chili and other foods. The RD made sure to ask every finisher’s opinion of the race and encouraged us to give him suggestions to improve the race. I told him the race is fine as it is – unless he could make it a bit warmer at the start.

This is a small race, with 34 half marathoners, 19 full, and 7 who did the ultra. I am sure it will grow in popularity but ideally will retain its friendly intimate character. Definitely recommended for walkers.

Let’s Go! The GO! St. Louis Marathon (MO) – April 11, 2015

This weekend was pure fun. I had never been to St. Louis before so I was excited to get a chance to visit the famous Gateway Arch, iconic symbol of the city, and to experience the 15th year of this popular Midwestern marathon.   My expectations were mid-range. After 201 marathons and ultras, I had become a bit jaundiced. It would take a combination of lots of good stuff – weather, people, course, hotel, and food – to really wow me.   As a result, I was pleasantly surprised at how thoroughly enjoyable this weekend turned out to be.

Darcy and I took two short mid-morning flights, first to Atlanta and then on to St. Louis, arriving just past noon. I had pre-arranged a shuttle from the airport to our hotel so after getting our suitcases we found our way to the BEST Express shuttle, just outside exit 12 in the baggage claim area. After a brief wait, our pleasant driver appeared and drove us to the Union Station Doubletree Hotel downtown. This was not one of the host hotels (all of which were Drury Hotels) but it was located just a few blocks from the start and finish lines and less than a mile from the expo.

There are dozens of neat hotels in the downtown area but I highly encourage visitors to St. Louis to consider staying at this Doubletree. It is situated in a restored 100-year-old train station, with a 6-story barrel-vaulted ceiling and a beautiful lobby. However, our first night started out ominously. A wedding was taking place in the huge ballroom downstairs from our room and we were privy to some very loud dance music that played for most of the evening. I refrained from complaining for as long as I could but finally called the front desk to see if we could change our room. After waiting about 10 minutes, I started down to the lobby, half asleep and with a raging headache, and found a hotel representative with a name tag. She asked me what was wrong and I explained. I must have looked pretty disheveled and sleepy but this wonderful lady, Ms. Melodee Griffin (who turned out to be the housekeeping supervisor on her way off duty), took pity on me and helped me find a much quieter room. Needless to say, we gave her a great report on the hotel comment card but I mention her here by name as an additional ‘thank you’ – I must also state that everyone we met in St. Louis responded to us with exceptional courtesy and kindness.

That’s a bit of a digression from my usual race report so I’ll concentrate the rest of this essay on the marathon. Packet pickup was at Chaifetz Auditorium on Friday and Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm each day. Although there are shuttles to and from all Drury hotels to the expo, it is within easy walking distance so we decided to take our time and walk. It took only 5 minutes to get my bib with chip and my tee shirt (short-sleeve black tech, gender specific) leaving us plenty of opportunity to saunter around the booths selling race essentials. We walked back a different way so we could have a leisurely lunch at the Schlafly Brewery. Along with my local brew, I had a platter of soft pretzels and melted cheese while Darcy had cider and a ‘plate of swine’ (a local concoction of pork chop, bratwurst, and batter-fried bacon with sides of mashed potatoes and sauerkraut).

After returning to the hotel, I put together my outfit for the next day and tried to relax. Despite the craziness of that first night as noted above, I did manage to get a few hours of restful sleep. My alarm woke me up an hour earlier than usual (!) because I had forgotten to change the time zone. Not to worry; I have done races with much less sleep so I rose, had my bread and coffee, and started to get ready. The original weather forecast called for rain but fortunately there were only a few minor drizzles in the early hours; the rest of the day was cloudy and warm with temperatures in the low 70’s.

On Sunday Darcy walked me to the start line at 6:15 am and we waited while people began filling the 9 corrals. My corral was the last one, naturally, so I tried to position myself up close to the front; that way I could be ahead of the more leisurely walkers who were doing the half marathon. Both full, full relay, and half marathon races began at the same time, 7 am. The corrals were only loosely monitored and the atmosphere was fairly relaxed compared to many races I’ve done.  I took this to mean that there were lots of casual runners who were not worried about finishing times or PRs.

The sound system was hard to hear in my corral so if there were speeches or the national anthem, I missed them. But it seemed as though we began on time and shortly after 7 am I crossed the starting line. The course was new this year and I heard several veterans of this race comment that it was a vast improvement over previous courses. As a newcomer to the city, I thought the course was an excellent tour of St. Louis. In the first mile, we first headed right towards the Arch and then crossed over the Mississippi River on the Eads Bridge into East St. Louis, Illinois, where a contingent of local citizens welcomed us, and then returned to Missouri over the MLK Bridge. These 3 miles were known as the Bridge Challenge and were separately calculated for us in our results.

The next half dozen miles took us south to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery and then back towards downtown before heading west on Market Street and into bucolic Forest Park. Our return trip took us back along the same route and to the finish line, passing by several universities and hospitals. I wondered about signage along the course (because I didn’t see any signs at all) but because of the long out-and-backs and the judicious use of barricades, signs were essentially unneeded. It was hard to take a wrong turn, even for me, unless I wanted to climb over the waist-high barricades.

The half marathoners were with us right up to mile 13 when they turned towards the finish line. Oh, it was hard to watch them go, knowing I had so many more miles more to cover. I was also concerned that I would be pretty much alone for the rest of the race. However, to my surprise, I could always see several groups of people ahead of me and I could tell there were also people behind me. I never really felt alone or lonely on the course. I even caught up with several Maniacs, including Larry, Matthew, and Frank.

There were plenty of aid stations, lots of wonderful volunteers who cheered us on, and an intriguing course that was never boring. Yes, there were a few hills but they were not very steep. I ran down the hills whenever I could until finally I could run no more; at that point I tried to maintain an even and brisk walking pace. Just past 6 hours, I crossed the finish line, received a large medal from a volunteer, and met up with my husband. Post-race food included fruit cups, bananas, whole grain chips, and a yummy frozen custard sandwich plus a bottle of water. It was a short walk back to our hotel where I was ready for a shower and nap. This marathon was definitely one I would want to do again, only this time I would plan to spend more time sightseeing in St. Louis. The time limit for the marathon is 6 ½ hours so walkers who can maintain a pace just under 15 minutes a mile should have no problem finishing this race.  Highly recommended.