Adventure in Kansas – the Prairie Fire Marathon, Wichita, KS (October 11, 2015)

This race turned out to be an unexpected pleasure on many counts. I had only been to the state of Kansas twice, once on a family road trip to Denver and once for the Eisenhower Marathon in Abilene (that was the race that counted for Kansas on my 50 State journey). Both trips occurred several years ago. I was pleasantly surprised at the attractive city of Wichita and the neat neighborhoods and parks that comprised the bulk of the marathon course.

I flew into Wichita from JAX via Atlanta and arrived early enough to catch the hotel shuttle. I was staying at the host hotel, the Hyatt Regency, which turned out to be an excellent choice since it was situated right in front of the race start and finish lines. Packet pickup and expo were held in the Century II Expo Hall in the convention center connected to the Hyatt. How convenient was that? My room was ready when I arrived around 1 pm, so I checked in, deposited my luggage, and went directly to the expo. This was a relatively small affair, and it seemed especially so after attending the much larger Portland Marathon expo the previous week. However, there were sufficient vendors there to supply any emergent needs for the marathon, selling everything from shoes and socks to gels and energy beans. I looked up my race number from the bulletin board, went directly to the table for my bib and a race booklet. Participants were also given a colorful Prairie Fire beach towel. Hmmm, I thought, this is a nice change from a race shirt. Turns out that after the race we were also given finisher’s shirts as well and they were gender specific and the correct size I had requested, even for back-of-the-packers like myself.

My 50 State finisher tee shirt garnered a lot of attention and several people came up to me to ask if I really did a marathon in all 50 states. Apparently, this race doesn’t see too many 50 Staters or Maniacs, and I am not quite sure exactly why. It is a good race, with a pleasant course, and very well organized – and it has a 7 hour time limit.

After walking through the expo, I had built up an appetite so I had a tasty lunch at the hotel restaurant and then retired to my room to get ready for the race. Although I was tempted to walk to downtown and do some sightseeing, I realized that I was pretty tired from traveling and the previous two weeks of racing. Since this was to be my third marathon out of 9 races in my fall schedule without a break, I wanted to be sure to get sufficient rest and recovery time between races. Thus I opted to take it easy, get my gear ready for the 7:30 start the next morning, and watch some television before falling into a sound sleep.

The alarm woke me around 4 am and I had my usual coffee and bread for breakfast. I couldn’t avoid those crazy pre-race jitters – will I get lost? Be last? Trip and fall? Yes, I know this was marathon/ultra #208 for me but that didn’t really matter. I always have these worries, unless it is a familiar course that I have done many times. And even then I worry, my usual neuroticism added to the excitement of a race.

Around 7:10, I wandered downstairs and out the door of the hotel, following the many people, full and half marathoners, who were ahead of me. We lined up loosely in front of the start line banner. There were no official corrals – this is too small a race for that – but there were pacers up to 5 hours, so I positioned myself well at the back, behind all the pacers.

Everyone starts at the same time – 7:30 – with a loud ‘cannon’ (it sounded more like a shrieking whistle) and I found myself between two Maniacs, Ralph from Washington State and Robert from Texas. We chatted for a while but they were planning to take the full 7 hours to finish and I wanted to try to finish in under 6 ½ so I took off walking at a faster pace. For most of the race I kept leapfrogging with two women from Lawrence, KS, who were sticking to a run/walk program. Though they had done several half marathons, this was their first full, and by mile 18, I passed them for the last time. They said they had just lost their energy but they did manage to finish well under the time limit.

Most people here do the half marathon, so at the 5 mile split the race course became open with a lot of space between racers, though I could usually see people ahead and behind me. The beginning miles took us through a fairly deserted downtown, and then alongside parks, by museums, and through many residential neighborhoods. Aid stations had water and Gatorade every couple of miles and there were one or two portapotties at most of the aid stations. The course was paved, though there was some brickwork in the downtown areas; to me, the bricks were smooth and not cracked at all, so they were not so troublesome as cobblestones. Occasionally there were potholes in the streets so care had to be taken around them. The course, like most (or all) of Kansas, is flat.

In the city itself, runners were funneled into the center lane, which was coned off on both sides, while traffic moved as usual on our right and left. This gave me a funny feeling as I walked in the middle of the road with cars beside me going in different directions. However, drivers were careful and we did have the entire center lane to ourselves, so I never really felt uneasy.   Once we left the city, we stayed mostly on one side of the road or the other, and traffic was light throughout the day. I found the scenery to be varied enough to keep me from getting too bored, and I especially enjoyed the miles 15 through 26 which took us along both sides of the Arkansas River. By mile 23, we headed back towards the Hyatt which I could see in the distance. I crossed the finish line in 6:23, was announced by the MC, and given a huge medal and my finisher’s shirt. I hunted around for chocolate milk and food, but by this late in the day there were just some tired orange slices and brown bananas left.

Fortunately I had brought some food with me so I ate an individual package of Umpqua Oats that I had purchased the previous week at the Portland expo to tide me over until the hotel restaurant opened at 5. Then I wandered down to see if I could order a personal pizza to take back upstairs with me. I just felt like vegging out in front of the television and eating some protein and carbs. In the elevator I met a fellow marathoner and we started talking races; half an hour later LaDoria and I were still chatting away. We finally settled in at the bar and had a glass of wine while I waited for my pizza to be done and LaDoria enjoyed some dessert (she was one of the earlier finishers and said that there really was pizza at the finish line for faster racers). Since we both had early flights the next morning, and since the hotel shuttle didn’t begin until later in the day, we made plans to share a cab to the airport.

My 2 flights back to Florida were uneventful (always something to be happy about) and I was very pleased with the Prairie Fire Marathon and Wichita. For 50 Staters, this is a good choice, especially if you are a walker or slower runner, because the 7 hour time limit gives great flexibility (the Eisenhower Marathon has a 6 hour time limit). Although there were only 572 marathon finishers this year, I never felt alone or lost. Aid stations and course marshals stayed at their posts throughout the day cheering us on (spectators were sparse). The logistics couldn’t be easier, especially if you stayed at the host hotel. Highly recommended for walkers.


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