2013 Year in Review.

When I set out in January on my first run of the year, I considered running goals for the year 2013.  I tried to be bold.  I wanted to do something that both sounded cool, and sounded difficult.  But, I knew it had to be something that was possible.  To tell the truth, from the beginning I knew I would accomplish this goal.  I can’t say, however, that I had the same feeling after the 3rd race, or the 6th race, or the 9th race.  It wasn’t until I finished the 11th race, The Mo’ Cowbell Half Marathon, that I knew I was on track to complete this lofty goal.  In fact, I was ready to give up on this thing many, many times.

I chose 13 13’s in ’13 because it had everything I needed to push myself to be a better runner.

It was lofty.  I remember reading somewhere in one of my runner’s magazines, or online somewhere, that a person should only do about 4 Half Marathons per year, and of those, only 2 should be goal races.  I knew going in that I wouldn’t be able to push myself in every race.  However, I still hoped to break the two hour mark in all of the races.  That did not happen.  While I did break 2:00 more often than not, my average time for all of the races ended up being over 2:00 because of one particularly bad race in Chicago when it was 75 degrees with 80 percent humidity.

The goal was specific.  I knew what I had to do. I had to run one half marathon per month for the rest of the year, and do 2 in two of those months.  No biggie.  Except, I couldn’t find a race in December, so, ok… 3 months with 2 in there.  Then, the Half in Edwardsville was rained out… so, 4 months with 2, or… one month with 3??  I went with 3 months with 2 races each.  The question then became: how?   How would a fat guy like me run that many races without dying?  I had to find the perfect balance of training and resting.  For the first half of the year, I was not successful.  In the second half of the year, I figured it out.  In the last 3 races, I actually felt myself getting stronger.  My race times may not have reflected it, but I was becoming a stronger (not faster) runner!

And, it was catchy!  How cool does 13-13-13 sound?  Bad luck?  Not for me!!

Ok, on to the year end awards!

Best T-Shirt

  My favorite “free” shirt is a tough question.  The local race here gave us a nice heavy sweatshirt.  The Mo’ Cowbell race has a sweet long sleeve technical shirt.  But, first place was definitely the Disney Wine and Dine Shirt:

What a beaut!

What a beaut!

Best “Swag”

Ugh.  Even though I hate the word “Swag”, I’ll use it in this situation, because it IS what we call the bag of goodies that comes with a race entry.  Still… Let’s change that.

A few of the races came with a free back bag.  But, only one also came with a free, race logo’d cowbell that everyone rang to “Don’t fear the reaper”, ala Saturday Night Live.  And, since the shirt was awesome, the bib was cool, and the medal rocked… Mo’ Cowbell wins the award for best “Swag”.  (Still hate typing that word)

Free Bag and commemorative cowbell.

Free Bag and commemorative cowbell.

Best Course

While I really liked the course at the Komen Promise Run, with it’s 3 legged out and back, and I really liked the course for the Mo’ Cowbell, My favorite course of the year was the Paducah Iron Mom race.  I think the reason why  I liked it so well was because it surprised me!  I had no idea that Paducah had such beautiful neighborhoods and parks.  I mean:  This is the finish line:

The view of the Ohio River from the finish.

The view of the Ohio River from the finish.

Best Finish Line

Well, I invented this category just to put in the report that in Little Rock, I got to give Bart Yasso a high five, but then I got to thinking.  It was the Wine and Dine race at Disney where I captured this picture:

Minnie!!  And, look at all the confetti!  And, well, this one wins!

Minnie!! And, look at all the confetti! And, well, this one wins!

Plus, at this finish line is where I accomplished my goal and screamed like a wild banshee!  So, best finish line is at Disney World.

Best Course Aid

I think the award for best on course aid, such as water stations and Gatorade and such goes to the Mahomet Area Youth Club Half Marathon in Mahomet, IL.  I seem to remember there being water and/or Gatorade at every mile.  It seemed a bit over the top for such a small town race, but it was in the middle of August, so anything could happen weather-wise.  Glad they did so well.  They just won this category! (Sorry, I never took any pictures of water stops…)

Best Crowd Support

I could go a couple of different ways with this one.  I could base it on signs and spectators enthusiasm.  I could base it on amount of bands and cheer groups.  I could even try to figure this out on a per capita basis given the size of each community in which the race is held.  I decided to go with pure awesomeness.  If you’ve never ran a race in Chicago… What are you waiting for?  No city that I’ve ever ran in has been out in full force like Chicago.  And… they scream, they cheer, they hold up signs, they blast music, they hand out beer, they… well, they just plain rock.  Congrats Chicago!

I mean… look at the size of the expo!  (Again, while running, I’ve never taken a picture of a crowd…)

Tons of stuff going on.

Tons of stuff going on.

Best Course Entertainment

Disney world.  Hands down.  Less than every mile there is a DJ, or a light show, or a character.  The race even goes through 3 of the theme parks where there is plenty more of that, and stuff to look at.  Plus, runners run through the christmas lights at Hollywood Studios.  It’s just top-notch all around.  Here are a couple pictures of that:
Rafiki was hanging out outside of AK, without a line, so I stopped and said Hi!

Rafiki was hanging out outside of AK, without a line, so I stopped and said Hi!

Boba Fett, Me, and Darth Vader.  I'm lucky I made it out alive.

Boba Fett, Me, and Darth Vader. I’m lucky I made it out alive.

Osbourne Lights.  I was literally in awe.  My mouth was open and I was smiling the whole way through this.

Osbourne Lights. I was literally in awe. My mouth was open and I was smiling the whole way through this.

That's the Sorcerer's Hat with a DJ encouraging runners along!

That’s the Sorcerer’s Hat with a DJ encouraging runners along!

Best Post Race Food

At most of these races, as you file past the finishing chute, you are presented with some post race food options.  Usually they are things like bags of chips, a granola bar, a bottle of water/gatorade, or a carton of milk.  St. Louis made this situation something to run for.  At their finish line they had homemade pretzel sticks, St. Louis’ original Toasted Raviolis, and of course, Ted Drewe’s Frozen Custard Sandwiches.  Wow.  I could have taken home a backpack full of food and eaten for months.  Far and away the best.  Nobody came close on this one.

A Ted Drewes Ice Cream Sandwich.  Amazeballs.

A Ted Drewes Ice Cream Sandwich. Amazeballs.

Best Post Party

Most of these races have a post party.  Again, most post parties are right there on site.   They might have a band.  A beer tent.  Maybe even some food vendors.  Disney had a pretty great one.  They even invited me in to Epcot for 4 hours after the race and let us ride rides and eat and drink food and beers from around the world.  But, they charged me big bucks for that.  You know who didn’t?  Little Rock.  Free post party later that night after the event.  Free dinner… BBQ and all the sides.  Free… OPEN BAR!!  Dancing, Awards, the whole thing.  Best post party possible.  IF you host a race, and don’t do it this way… SHAME!

This was at the race.  They even gave me free beer there. (sorry, no pics of the post party)

This was at the race. They even gave me free beer there. (sorry, no pics of the post party)

Best First Time Race (Inaugural Event)

I ran in two races this year that were in their first year as races.  Both were in Peoria.  And, I really enjoyed them both.  But, I think overall… Run River City Did a better overall job.  The course was a little easier and better staffed.  The shirt was nice.  And, the medal was available at the finish.  Plus, it’s one of my favorite medals.  So, to represent Run River City, here is their medal (it’s big, too!):

Run River City Medal

Best Medal

This is a tough category to judge, because every medal tells me a story.  How was the weather?  How was I feeling?  Any good stories that day?  Who was it with?  How did you run?  Each of them is special.  But, if I had to pick the best physical medal… I’d go with… this one:

Top Notch!

Top Notch!

It was between Little Rock and Disney Wine and Dine but, this medal is Big!  And, Thick!  And, Heavy!  And, … sparkly? But, most importantly, it has a pretty awesome ribbon on it.  Just remember, race organizers, you can really spruce up a medal with a nice ribbon!

Best Overall Race

Again, there were so many good races.  But, best overall was The Disney World Wine and Dine Half Marathon.  I said in my recap of that race that “Nobody does ANYTHING like Disney does ANYTHING”.  And, that’s true.  Truth be told, they could have won almost every category in this recap.  But, that wouldn’t be fair.  Plus, it wasn’t perfect.  But, it was pretty close!

So, that’s my year end recap.  Sorry to be so long-winded.  I will finish by posting all of my races, places, times, and finishing positions if available.  Check back in a few weeks and see what I come up with for 2014!  I’d welcome your suggestions!

Race #:    Name                                 Place:                       Time:                    Result:

1          Fly with the Eagles           Carterville, IL           1:58:15                    146/>400

2         Little Rock Half               Little Rock, AR          1:56:12                    647/4404

3          So IL Spring Classic     Lawrenceville, IL          1:53:26                   24/78    (6th/age)

4          Go! St. Louis Half           St. Louis, MO             1:59:09                     1888/7851

5           Iron Mom Half                Paducah, KY                 1:57:59                     144/593

6           Run River City                  Peoria, IL                      2:28:36 (25K)         152/425

7           Rock n Roll Half             Chicago, IL                     2:16:55                     6619/14038

8           MAYC Race Half             Mahomet, IL                 1:59:43                    192/301

9           McKendree Harvest Half    Lebanon, IL             2:08:14                    55/124

10          Quad Cities Half              Moline, IL                    2:05:24                     845/1900

11           Mo’ Cowbell Half            St. Charles, MO           1:57:58                      N/A

12           Komen Promise Run       Peoria, IL                    1:58:22                     N/A (3rd/age)

13           Wine and Dine Half       Disney World Resort     2:07:48                 1682/12,153

                ONE LAST PICTURE!!

 And, one more picture…  Here are all of my medals from the year.  Not all are from Half Marathons.  I won a couple as awards, I did a Spartan Race, and a couple short races gave out medals.  But, make no mistake… They’re all from 2013!

They're Glooorriiouss….

They’re Glooorriiouss….

OK!  Tell me what to do next year!!  Thanks!!

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Race #13: Wine and Dine Half Marathon, Disney World!!

It’s been over a week since this race.  Why have I waited so long?  Maybe I wanted to keep this race to myself.  Maybe I wanted to bask in the glow of my accomplishment a while longer.  Maybe I have been too damn tired to sit at the computer to write it all out.  Yeah, it’s that one.

Well, it looks like I made it.  Plus, I saved the best race for last!  In my quest for 13 13’s in ’13, I have finally finished 13 Half Marathons in the calendar year.  While it was a long and difficult task, this post isn’t about that.  I’ll save a recap for a later post.  This post is an ode to the best of the 13 races.

I thought this about a thousand times as I was marching around the parks of Disney World before and after the race: “Nobody does ANYTHING like Disney does ANYTHING.”  So, I knew this race would be great.

The only negative to a Disney race is how early the runners have to show up at the starting area.  I was on site a full 3 hours before the race started.  Normally, this would have been mind-numbingly boring.  Thankfully, however, a couple that I went to high school with was also running the race.  It was a good chance to catch up with them and find out about what they had been up to, and to learn about their family!

Chip and Dale, along with some of my old homies from Pekin HS.

Chip and Dale, along with Patrick and Merrilee Biggs.  It was great to see them before the race!

Not only did I arrive 3 hours early, but we had to be in our start corrals  an hour ahead of time.  After having filled up on water, even my last minute trip to the port-a-potty, that hour long wait really made me have to pee.  Good thing there were more outhouses at Mile 1.

The best pic of the start line.  People still milling about.

The best pic of the start line. People still milling about.

The race was set up well.  Very efficient.  The corral system worked well. The first wave went off at exactly 10:00 p.m.  I was in corral B, so I got to go 2 minutes later, at 10:02.

I had decided ahead of time that I would take it easy during this race, enjoy it, and take plenty of pictures.  I figured a finishing time of 2:30 would be reasonable. However, at the same time, I had a wife and niece meeting me at the post party in Epcot!  So, I had to keep it moving forward as much as possible!  But, I still got lots of good pics and had a great time!

Minnie and Mickey kicking off the race at the start line!!

Minnie and Mickey kicking off the race at the start line!!

The race starts out in the ESPN Wide World of Sports area of the park. This is where all of the sporting events at Disney take place.

A Panoramic of the Pre-Party area at WWoS.

A Panoramic of the Pre-Party area at WWoS.

From there it heads to Animal Kingdom, past the tree of life, past Expedition Everest, and out the back side of the park to the parking lot and through the main car entrance of the park.  All of that happened in the first 6 miles.

Rafiki was hanging out outside of AK, without a line, so I stopped and said Hi!

Rafiki was hanging out outside of AK, without a line, so I stopped and said Hi!

From there, it winds through some main highways between the resorts before it cuts back into the backside of Hollywood Studios at Mile 9.  Here’s the mile marker at mile 7:

Mile Marker 7.  My actual time is 2 minutes better than that.  So, 1:07.  Not bad.

Mile Marker 7. My actual time is 2 minutes better than that. So, 1:07. Not bad.  This is what all of the Mile Markers looked like.

Entering Hollywood Studios was pretty cool.

That's the Sorcerer's Hat with a DJ encouraging runners along!

That’s the Sorcerer’s Hat with a DJ encouraging runners along!

Hollywood Studios was the best park to run through.  They had set up all kinds of things to motivate the runners.  From the DJ in the hat, to the disco hallway, to the Osbourne Lights being up and going.  It was definitely the best 3 miles of the course.

Terrible Pic.  I tried to make a video.  Didn't hit the button.  But, it was blaring music, a light show, and about 8 disco balls.  Amazing.

Terrible Pic. I tried to make a video. Didn’t hit the button. But, it was blaring music, a light show, and about 8 disco balls. Amazing.

Osbourne Lights.  I was literally in awe.  My mouth was open and I was smiling the whole way through this.

Osbourne Lights. I was literally in awe. My mouth was open and I was smiling the whole way through this.

 

More Osbourne Lights

More Osbourne Lights

After having made it through the lights (I walked. Not because I was tired, but because I HAD to take it in.)  I came upon a couple of my wife’s favorite characters.  Apparently, getting a photo with these guys is difficult.  I don’t know if it was because I started toward the front of the race, or if they had just come back from break, but when I got to them, there was NO LINE!  I hopped in.  Though, I must admit, I was afraid for my life!

Boba Fett, Me, and Darth Vader.  I'm lucky I made it out alive.

Boba Fett, Me, and Darth Vader. I’m lucky I made it out alive.

After barely escaping, we headed out of HS and toward the Boardwalk and behind a couple of resorts.  From Mile 11 on out, the crowds were ridiculous.  Lining every sidewalk, boardwalk, and into Epcot and on the outside.  They were screaming, cheering, high-five-ing, and all that bull-spit.

The race entered Epcot at about mile 12.5.

Spaceship Earth from where we came into the park.

Spaceship Earth from where we came into the park.

At about Mile 13 I heard my cheering section!  My wife Joy and niece Alyssa whooped and hollered for me as loud as they could!  I rewarded Joy with a sweaty, sloppy kiss!  Alyssa did not get one.  Poor kid.

The race wound through Epcot and out of it.  To one of the cooler parts of the course: a fog machine and lasers shooting over the runners.  It was like a ceiling of lasers that led to the finish line.  I came around the last corner and there it was!  The finish line!  With one of the cutest girls in town to greet me!

Minnie!!

Minnie!!

I snapped one last picture, crossed the finish line just under 2:08, and jumped while screaming and pumping my fists like a mad man!  All of my work paid off.  For the thirteenth time.  I couldn’t control my elation.  It was primal.  I then made my way to the medical tent for some ice.  I felt as though I had torn every muscle up and down both sides of my lats.  I survived.

They handed me my medal:

What a beaut.

What a beaut.

I headed to meet up with Joy and Alyssa at the post party.  We got to ride some of the best rides.  Multiple times.  Then, we headed to the World Showcase, ate and drank til the wee hours!

Also, we got some pictures with some characters…

All of us with Mushu and Mulan

All of us with Mushu and Mulan

All of us with Donald in Mexico.

All of us with Donald in Mexico.

And, my favorite pic of all… yeah, I got a thing for Belle…

She ain't ugly, folks!  Besides, Joy looks pretty happy to be with Beast...

She ain’t ugly, folks! Besides, Joy looks pretty happy to be with Beast…

Overall…  Best race of the year.  Not even worried about my time.  I don’t think one would do a Disney race if they were looking for a PR.  It was warm and humid.  The course was pretty flat.  A few small rises and falls.  But, nothing out of the normal difficult.  It was a fun, fun race!  On a scale of 1-10, I’d give it an 11.  Unfortunately, I won’t be back next year.  But, I will be doing another RunDisney race again, soon!

Here are the important pics!  Great shirt, Great medal!!

What a beaut.

What a beaut.

 

Great looking shirt!

Great looking shirt!

 

Bib, gift card, and party wrist band.

Bib, gift card, and party wrist band.

 

Look for my 13 in 13 challenge recap coming soon!!

 

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Race #12: Susan G. Komen Promise Run, Peoria, IL

I’m almost sad that this incredible journey of mine is nearly over.  Mainly because I’m just now hitting my stride!  I felt stronger during and after this race than during or after ANY of the previous eleven races!!  

I headed up to the Peoria area late Friday evening after our best-ever tennis season ended on Friday afternoon.  I was lucky enough to listen to my St. Louis Cardinals clinch a World Series berth as we headed towards my parents’ house, where we would stay.  Saturday, my wife, mother and I went to pick up my race packet, including an adorable pink tank top that I would wear during the race.

Lovely shade of pink...

Lovely shade of pink…

A pink bib to really accentuate the pink in the shirt!!

A pink bib to really accentuate the pink in the shirt!!

 

Then we headed to lunch on the Peoria Riverfront.  The Peoria Riverfront is a really nice area that doesn’t get near the amount of business and traffic as it deserves.  Of all the places I’ve travelled to, it’s really put together as well as any riverfront area I’ve seen!  They could do a lot more with it!

This is the race I signed up for in early June after one of my other Half Marathons was stormed out.  It was suggested to me by my good friend Adam, one of the guys who is responsible for my running problem.  Adam said then that he’d do this race with me, and was true to his word.  We also talked our good friend Nicole into it, as well as Myles and Kari.  Myles and Kari are husband and wife.  Adam and I have known Myles since we were small children.  With all of these friends of mine running with, I was really excited to be a part of it.

The whole crew AFTER the race...

The whole crew AFTER the race…

This race is put on by the Susan G. Komen Foundation.  The Komen Foundation raises money and awareness for breast cancer treatment and research.  On their website, they expected 3,000 runners for the inaugural event.  Just over 300 showed up on race day.

I picked up Adam at 6:00 and we made our way toward the Peoria Civic Center, where the race started just outside at 7:00 a.m.  We huddled indoors with most of the rest of the racers since start time temps were in the upper 30’s.  By the time I finished the race, it had made it all the way up to 44 degrees.  This was a pleasant change from my last 5 or so races.  I was ready for some cooler weather.

The race had an interesting course layout, to say the least.  Upon examination, it was apparent that this would be a 3 legged out and back course.  That means to say we’d head out and back in 3 different directions to complete the 13.1 miles of the Half Marathon.  Already I was skeptical.  Looking into it further (and knowing the area), I could tell immediately that this would be a hilly course.

Ok, soooo… so far, given what you probably already know about me and my race preferences, you might have assumed, at this point, that I did not enjoy this race.  Hilly.  Out and Back.  Pink tank top for the shirt.  Race #12.  Tired Legs.  You would be WRONG!  I loved it!  This might have been my 2nd or 3rd favorite race of the year!!

Waving at my wife, mother  and support crew!

Waving at my wife, mother and support crew!

The course WAS hilly, maybe the toughest course I’ve run on all year.  But, for once the downhills helped as much as the uphills hindered.  The out and backs WERE INTERESTING.  But, it gave me an opportunity to see Adam, Nicole, Kari, Myles and other runners who I didn’t know were running with us.  Also, it was a great chance for the runners to cheer each other on.  Even without running next to my friends, I was running with them anyway!  My legs WERE TIRED.  But, there were motivational signs every so often such as “This hill sucks, chemo sucks more”.  Since it was also a relay, there were groups of people throughout the course that were set up waiting for their partners, and they did a great job of cheering runners on.  Overall, there wasn’t great spectator support, but I expect that to change in the future as this race grows.  There were a few cheer groups out there on the roads that really helped push runners along.  Especially the ladies at the bottom of the worst hill on the course on N. Park Rd.  That hill was a killer!  But, the screaming and yelling and ringing of cowbells really pushed me along.

See!  A spectator!  Cheering!  For me!

See! A spectator! Cheering! For me!

Water stops weren’t an issue at all.  There were 2 or 3 water stops on each out and back, which meant there were 4 or 6, since we passed each one twice!  I will say, though, that the water stop set up at mile 1 was unmanned.  Someone missed their assignment on that one.  No big deal to me, but mainly because the temps were cooperative.

Overall, considering this was the first year this race was held, this was an AMAZING event!  Improvements can be made, sure.  One example: finishers medals weren’t available at the finish line!  I know, right!?!?  How dare they??!  Apparently, they will be providing medals for ALL participants.  Also, I would assume that in the future they will have long sleeved shirts for the cooler temps of late October.  But, again, that’s not a BIG deal.

Best news of all???  Yeah… I broke Two Hours, again!  1:58:22!!  And, because it was such a small turnout… and I think a little because the hills may have gotten to some people… I got 3rd place in my age group!!  Luckily, Adam picked up my medal for me and sent me a picture of it so I could get it into my post tonight!!  Adam got 3rd in his age group, too!  He’s younger than me, bless his little heart!  Congrats, buddy!

WOOOO HOOOO!!!!  My first award at any of these races!!!

WOOOO HOOOO!!!! My first award at any of these races!!!

Anyway… wrapping it up…  Would I do this race again?  Most likely!  On a scale of one to ten, I’d say it’s a 7 1/2.  That’s a solid score for a first time race.  Fix the medal issue, because a lot of these people won’t run without one!  I’m not toooo picky, and it was still a little disappointing!  A little more PR for the race, and some advertising might get some people out to scream and shout!  Otherwise, the race was a great success in my mind!  And, if I’m around next year… just maybe I’ll see ya there!!

ONLY ONE MORE RACE!!!  YAHOOOO!!!!

Matt Snell, you just ran your 12th Half Marathon of 2013.  What are you going to do next??  

I’m going to Disney World!!! 

Wine and Dine Half Marathon is last, but certainly not least!  Check back in 3 weeks for my final blog post of 13 in 13!!!

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Race #11: Mo’ Cowbell Half Marathon, St. Charles, MO.

Holy Cow(bell)!!  When I started signing up for races back in February, I marked this one on my calendar as a must.  It looked like a fun, well supported, rowdy race in a beautiful area.  It lived up to all of that and more!

I left my hotel this morning at 6:35.  Almost a whole hour before the race, and only a 7 minute drive from the start line.  Well, it would have been… until I pulled up toward the interstate off ramp and found this:

Uh. Oh.

Uh. Oh.

Yeah, the green sign up ahead is the one mile mark BEFORE the exit.  By the time I took this picture it was 45 minutes before the race.  Also, there was probably another mile of cars behind me at that point.  I waited.  And, waited.  And, waited some more.  At 7:10, 20 minutes before the race, I got to the general race area.  Now, I just had to find parking.  Eventually, I made my own parking spot in the semi parking area of the nearby casino.  I only had about a mile of walking before I made it to the start line exactly 1 minute before the gun.  I missed the part of the race I had been looking forward to all along.  You see, at the expo they hand out cowbells to everyone and before the race everyone rings them to “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, ala Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live.  I’m sure it was a rousing scene.  One that I missed.

Not only did I miss the cowbell song, but I was now in complete mental meltdown mode.  My running over the last 2 weeks had been going so well, that I thought for sure I could break two hours today.  And, at the start with the 12 minute milers, you know… cuz I was so late, I was already putting myself at a disadvantage.

I made it to the start line with the crowd about two and a half minutes after the gun went off.  Immediately, I started working my way forward.  It was quite challenging with so many people in front of me.  But, I kept repeating to myself “stay calm, relax, starting slow will help you in the end”.  I finished mile one in 9:03 and it felt easy.  That was the first positive all day.

All of a sudden, I was flying.  Positives were happening at every turn.  This course was amazing.  The temps were perfect.  Everywhere I looked it was beautiful.  In the first mile we ran through a quaint downtown area and only up one short little hill.  The rest of the course would be the flattest course I’ve ran on all year long.  Here’s a pretty picture:

This is the old train depot in Frontier Park, near the start line.

This is the old train depot in Frontier Park, near the start line.

Mile 2 took us along the Katy Trail and through a park.

Miles 3-5 took us out into the “country”, even though it didn’t really seem very country.  There were fields and corn, but you still felt like you were near town.  Lots of locals were out cheering on their people.  The Lindenwood (the college in St. Charles) student athletes seemed to do a lot of the volunteering at water stops and cheer stations.  At mile 5 was probably the hardest of this section:  The High Five Zone.  I felt like I needed to give everyone a high five, but couldn’t get to ’em all!  What a challenge!  Plus, it was on gravel, and we all know how my feet like to find the big rocks.

Miles 5-8 ran through an idyllic subdivision named New Town.  Beautiful.  It seemed as though every resident was on the street and cheering.  One man had set up and unofficial water stop.  He and his son were passing out water like crazy.  He had a heck of a time keeping up.  But, he was doing great!  And, he was much appreciated.  Another group had set up a DJ.  Dude was pumping out some serious pump up tunes.  That kept me going, too.  It was around this point that I experienced what they call “runner’s high”.  I’m sure I’ve been through it before, but this was the first time it was evident.  I felt fantastic.  I was cruising.  My 4th mile was my fastest, but miles 5-8 were all under 8:43.  I was feelin’ no pain!

By this point, in my head, I had realized that I had banked about two and a half minutes on my quest to break two hours.  By this, I mean, if I ran every mile from 9-13.1 at 9:09, I’d have broken 2 hours by 2:30.  But, this was also the point of the race where we hit the only uphill section of the race.  From miles 10 through 11 the course was a slight challenge.  It would go uphill for a quarter mile at a time, with the longest uphill section being during mile 11.  It turned out to be my slowest mile, at 9:32.  I gave back 30 seconds.  I had 2 minutes to spare.

10-11 are the worst.  Still, not bad.

10-11 are the worst. Still, not bad.

I’m not going to lie.  At this point, mile 11 had taken its toll.  The rest of the course was downhill.  I enjoyed that… to an extent.  Coming back into town we again ran past lots of green spaces and down some great hills.  The last hill, down 5th St., was brutal on my legs.  I had imagined it feeling great to bomb down that hill.  I was wrong.  But, I didn’t care.  I was on my way to breaking 2 hours again for the first time in three races.  I was pumped.  Mile 12 was back to 8:53.  Mile 13 headed back through the cute downtown and down the last hill toward Frontier Park.  It took me 9:02.  I crossed the finish line in 1:57:58.  My 3rd best time of the year.

Thanks to the nice lady who took this pic:

Looking happy.  The only scowl is from the sun being in my face!

Looking happy. The only scowl is from the sun being in my face!

The good things about this race:  Pretty much everything.  The “free stuff” was top notch.  The course was amazing.  The support was wonderful.  The people were friendly.  Tons of people out cheering loudly and ringing cowbells.  Even the MC at the start/finish was funny and on the ball.  I don’t think I’d change a thing about this race.  MAAAAYYYYBBBEEE add a water stop or two?  But, even that is being nit-picky.

The bad things:  Ummmm…. I think we know how I feel on this one.

Would I do this race again?  Yep.  In fact, I’m considering training for it next year to set a PR.  I really think this course would set up well for a PR for pretty much anyone.  Most of us can handle a flat course that only has one set of hills at mile 10.  From there, it’s all about how much time do you need in the last 2 miles?

Pics you’ve been looking for:

Free Bag and commemorative cowbell.

Free Bag and commemorative cowbell.

A bag for my stuff and a free cowbell?  Will Ferrell would be happy.

A great longsleeve Brooks Tech T.

A great longsleeve Brooks Tech T.

Good Looking long sleeve shirt that actually fits.

One of the best medals yet.  Not the best... but, up there!

One of the best medals yet. Not the best… but, up there!

Ok!  That’s a wrap on Number 11!  Only 26.2 Miles left in the challenge!  I’m getting pretty pumped!  Next question:  Can I play in Peoria?  Check back in 2 weeks to find out!!

 

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Race #10/Ten Race Review: Quad Cities Half Marathon, Moline, IL.

This post is a quick review of my least favorite race of the year, and a recap of the challenges I’ve faced in running TEN Half Marathons so far!

Upon registering for this race, I became excited. This race looked fun, exciting, flat, and like a great set-up. Running through 4 cities, over 3 bridges and 2 states sounds like a really cool race! It even gave me the opportunity to explore the area where I was born and see some of the places that my dad experienced during his college days. The night before the race I had the chance to eat at his favorite college pizza place. It WAS pretty good pizza!

I stayed at a Holiday Inn and was in bed by 7.  Asleep by 9.  I drove around Saturday evening looking for something fun to do or to see.  The Iowa side of the Missippi River was much nicer than the Illinois side.  But, that was the extent of my evening.  That was how exciting the Quad Cities were for me.

I woke up around 6, showered, ate my bagel and cream cheese with a side of banana, and headed toward the start line for a 7:30 start.  It was cool, the temperature around 55 degrees.  The start area is where I found my first flaw with the race.  First, there were no starting corrals.  This means ANYONE could line up ANYWHERE they wanted.  Not to mention problem #2: All runners started together.  Full Marathon, Half Marathon, 5k Runners, 1 mile runners, grandmas pushing their grandkids in strollers through the mall… EVERYONE!  For future reference, this is a great way to not allow one to get off to a comfortable start.

The race starts headed North toward I-74 and up onto the onramp and to the Interstate.  All of the runners within 1 mile are squeezed into one lane of interstate traffic.  Apparently, closing down the interstate is an impossibility (understandable), and heading in the other direction is also an impossibility (not as understandable).  You see, when the squeeze is at the beginning of the race, runners are not as spread out as they would be if the one lane were used at the end of the race!  Just the 3rd problem with the course before the end of mile one, that’s all.

The website for this race promotes the race, as most races do, as flat and fast.  Through the first 3 miles I wished that I wasn’t blessed with the ability to read.  With the slowdown on I-74, the hill up the onramp, the inability to gain speed coming off of the bridge (due to congestion), and the hills rising above the floodplain through mile 3 and into mile 4, I was already defeated.  Phyically from 9 prior Half Marathons, and mentally having prepared myself for a “flat and fast” course that was mainly uphill concrete roads.  The concrete pounded my body unlike what gravel or blacktop would have.  The downhill at Mile 4 helped, and even got me back on pace through mile 5 for a 2 hour Half Marathon, but I was already mentally defeated.  I wouldn’t shake the negative feelings that I already had for this race.

It’s a shame, too.  From Mile 4 onward, the course was beautiful.  The Missippi River surrounded by beautiful homes and rolling hills in the distance was a wonderful site. We passed through Rock Island Arsenal, which I hear has the country’s largest stockpile of ammunition.  The race went through beautiful neighborhoods and ran past the national cemetery,  where many of our heroes are laid to rest.

But, there were too many negatives.  The River Walk path about as wide as a golf cart where I was passed by the 2 hour pace group, and pushed aside into the grass.  The steel grated bridge to the Arsenal Island which, even with the carpeted runner, was difficult for my feet to navigate.  The total of 5 water stations with only 4-6 volunteers at each, one of which spilled water down my left side and another which I totally missed due to the crowd of people and the small size of the stop.  With a couple thousand runners passing, there just wasn’t enough water ready as I went around.  Even the spectators seemed to sit on their hands.  It was rare that I heard cheering for the runners.  It seemed like they were all waiting for their family members to come through, and they weren’t going to cheer for anyone else.  It was almost surreal, the quiet that could befall the large groups of people standing around on city sidewalks and corners.

I want to be clear:  the people that volunteered for the race seemed to be working hard.  There just weren’t enough of them.  They were overcome by the sheer number of runners and didn’t have much chance to cheer or motivate the runners.  A few smiling faces made it easier, but my attitude had been determined.

I haven’t even mentioned how I ran…. it wasn’t bad.  My final time was 2:05:24, which isn’t terrible given the circumstances.  I wish it were better, sure.  But, yet again, I’m happy.  I don’t like making excuses, especially after I finish another 13.1 mile race.  There are excuses to be made, but I’ll spare you.  It wasn’t my best day, it wasn’t my worst day.  I’m sure both are still out there for the future to see.

Anyway, on to the finer points of the race… the Shirt and Medal!  Really, the medal was the best part of the race.  Probably one of the best medals I’ve received.  Ya know, a nice ribbon can really fancy up a medal.  Thanks, QC Half, you got something right!

Now that's a reason to run!

Now that’s a reason to run!

The t-shirt was nice, too.  Not my favorite shirt, but it fits, and it’s a nice material!

Small logo, but nice!

Small logo, but nice!

Will I do this race again??  Nooo… But, if you’re in the area, it was pretty cheap…

 

Anyway… I’m 10 races in now.  I’m averaging about 2:01 per race.  I’ve learned a lot about running and what I’m doing wrong.  There’s a lot of that.  My nutrition has been atrocious.  But, part of the challenge to this thing is to properly fuel myself to be ready to finish these races.  So what if I’m ALWAYS carb-loading!?  Another issue I’ve faced is  properly recovering from one race while preparing for the next.  I’m currently in the midst of a streak of 4 races in 8 weeks.  That’s 2 weeks off between each, and the 5th race is only 3 weeks after the 4th.  I try to take some time off, run every other day, and do a long run of about 7-8 miles on the weekend between.  Is it working?  Kinda.  I’ve had the strength to finish the next race without cramping or pulling a DNF, but at the same time, with each race it takes more of a perceived effort to even run the times that I am.  Is that lack of training?  Is it over training?  I don’t know.  What I do know is this:  I can do it.  Anyone CAN do it.  Yeah, at times it sucks.  The worst of it is time away from my little family here.  I wish my wife would go along on these trips, but I understand her need to be home and taking care of our animals, the laundry, and herself.  The travel has worn me out almost as much as the races.   I don’t want that for both of us, we’d probably be killing each other if we were BOTH stressed from time away from home.

Anyway… I took a couple pictures that represent my chase for 13 in ’13.  Here’s the bibs:

10 so far!  3 to go!  Getting close!

10 so far! 3 to go! Getting close!

And, here are ALL of the finisher’s medals I’ve earned so far, including a 5k medal, a spartan medal, and the medal from the Half that wasn’t a Half…

Yeah... I'm enjoying this!

Yeah… I’m enjoying this!

Thanks for reading!  Just 3 more races left, or as my friend Eric reminded me, “less than 40 miles to go!”  That sounds amazing… but, then, it’s time to get faster!!

 

Leave me a comment!  What’s your favorite race story so far?  What’s your favorite race that YOU’VE run?    

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Race #9: McKendree Harvest Challenge. Lebanon, IL

As most of you know, not only am I an AMAZING runner, I’m also a teacher and a tennis coach.  I was scheduled to have a home tennis match this Saturday that I was going to have to rush back to town for after running 13.25 miles.  Luckily, due to the opposing school’s homecoming, our match was cancelled and I was afforded the opportunity to take my wife along and spend a night, and day,  in the St. Louis area.  

The McKendree Harvest Challenge 5k and Half Marathon is located in a small town in the northern part of Southern Illinois in what is gradually being sucked into the Metro East area of St. Louis.  Lebanon, Illinois is a small town with a cute downtown, a small private college, and lots of rolling hilly cornfields.  I’ve travelled through Lebanon on many occasions since I began college at Southern Illinois University. On trips from my hometown of Pekin to school and back, I grew to know this town as the half-way point and the home of the cheapest gas in the state.  The cheap gas thing has changed, now that the St. Louisans are branching out into their hamlet.  Normally, on my trips through town, I’d stop for gas, grab a bite, and get on the road homeward bound (whichever direction that may have been at the time).  I rarely noticed all of the hills, as I passed through, that I am now all too familiar with!

A week before this race, the director (or his staff) sent us a race day prep email.  In it, I found an interesting map of the course, including the topography. 

Yeah, that looks fun...

Yeah, that looks fun…

Looking at this, I thought: “Well now, those are some serious hills.”  As I studied it more in depth I realized: “Hm.  It’s only an elevation change of about 50 feet from lowest to highest.  Shouldn’t be too bad”.  In the preparatory email, they also warned us about “hill country” between miles 8.6 and 10.1.  “Yeah, there’s quite a bit of uphill there, too”.  I think by having us focus on “hill country”, they were trying to get us to look past the fact that the WHOLE RACE IS HILLY!!!  There isn’t a flat part of this course.  It may look like it levels out for a bit, but… I assure you, it doesn’t.  Ever.  

The race itself was great.  It was well presented, with great volunteers, and water stops at every mile except for mile 1.  There were 4 gatorade stops, which seems to be about all that is really necessary (for me, anyway).  The shirt they provided was top notch.  It even has a little tribute to the Boston bombing on the sleeve.  Nice touch.

Very nice shirt, if that's what you run for...

Very nice shirt, if that’s what you run for… 

Lebanon is a very nice little southern Illinois town.  On my drive-bys, I never knew it had such a nice college there on the outskirts.  The downtown area looks like it’s straight out of the 40’s or 50’s, and is perfectly preserved.  Luckily, the race starts out at the college and heads straight through this area.  It was also nicely shaded…

That shade was a short-lived luxury.  After the first half-mile, we didn’t see much more shade the rest of the course.  With a late start time (8:00), the sun is high enough in the sky to beat down on the runners over top of the corn stalks that we ran through for at least 11.5 miles of the course.  

After that half mile through the heart of Lebanon, we headed north past a few small neighborhoods, a couple of corn fields, and past a cemetery at mile 2, where the 5k turnaround was.  At the cemetery, we headed to the right (north), up a hill and into the REAL hill country (the unofficial hill country that is un-advertised).  Since most of the first 2 miles were downhill (except for the very first quarter mile, which is uphill), my time after 2 miles was exceptional.  I was averaging 8:36 per mile.  After the rolling hills on miles 3 and 4 that headed further out into the cornfields, and hot sun of about 73 degrees by this point, my average had gone all the way up to about 8:44 per mile.  Even after 4 miles, this isn’t bad for me.  But, the hills kept growing, the sun kept pounding, and my mind kept circling back to the fact that I still have another 4 of these things to run in the next 2 months.  

On the map, miles 4-6 look like they’re all downhill.  A great chance to pick up some time, right?  One would think.  However, it was 2 miles and a 20 foot elevation drop.  Not much of a chance to pick up any speed.  Along with that, the road is crowned so dramatically that, unless I were in the middle of the road, it was extremely painful and difficult.  With the “light traffic” and the race vehicles going up and down the road, there wasn’t much of a chance to stay in the middle.  After 6 miles, I was almost out of contention for a 2:00 Half Marathon.  But, I was ok with that.  I just wanted to jog, save energy, and stay semi-consistent the rest of the way!

I decided at mile 6 that I would go ahead and slow down and treat the rest of the race as a training run.  I’d hope to average 10:00 miles the rest of the way.  Given the heat (reaching 80 degrees by the end of the race), humidity (around 70%), and hills, I figured this would be a great goal from here on out.  

Mile 7 went well, I even found some shade before crossing a bridge that apparently the high school kids love to spray paint inappropriate things on…  And, as we reached the end of mile 7, I saw the sign welcoming me into “hill country”.  Lovely.  Ya know what else happened?  I passed someone going up the first hill.  Someone who had passed me earlier.  We exchanged encouraging remarks and kept on.  Then I passed another.  And another.  Up a hill, past a runner.  Down a hill.  Up a hill, past another, downhill.   I was amazed at how strong I was on the hills.  People around me were dropping like flies!  Around mile 10.1, there is a sign with a smily on it that says “You’re now leaving ‘hill country'”, but I could still look ahead and see possibly the biggest hill on the course!  On that hill, another sign saying “Just kidding, this really is the last”.  At the top of that hill, I passed another.  

Before the race, I had gotten to talking to a gentleman who was wearing a shirt from one of my favorite races, the Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon in Springfield, IL.  He had talked about how hilly that race was, and how it was a little too hilly for him.  In the beginning of this race, he took off flying past me.  At mile 11.5, I passed him.  

Around mile 12 I passed my final racer.  And, then I died off.  Miles 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 were all within 10 seconds of 10:00 miles.  Mile 13 was 10:55.  It was my consistency that passed those runners, not my speed.  They had succumbed to the heat and the hills.  I just kept pushing on.  When I got tired on a hill, I slowed down, I even walked a couple of times at the top of some of the hills, but I got going again as quickly as I could.  

This race was hard.  Probably the most physically challenging race of my year.  I’m hoping I don’t have to say that too many more times.  I figured at the beginning that these would get easier as I went along.  But, the courses keep getting tougher.  And, I was hoping this heat would break.  I got lucky in Mahomet with the cool temps.  McKendree wasn’t as forgiving.  

The finish line for this race is actually 13.25 miles from the start.  Coming up the final hill I saw some kids reading off times next to a sign that said: “mile 13.1”.  They said “2:06:23”.  Not bad.  Given the situation, I’ll take that time.  Had I really pushed myself, I could have broken 2 hours.  I may have died from heat stroke, but I could have made it.  

I pushed through the last .15, heard them announce my name, and looked up to see the final time at 2:08:13.  They hung my medal around my neck, and it was official!  I’ve finished 9 Half Marathons this year… SO FAR!!

Not impressive.  Smallest one yet.  But, it's still a token that proves I finished!

Not impressive. Smallest one yet. But, it’s still a token that proves I finished!

For Comparison, here’s the medal next to one of my smallest, weakest medals of the year:

This one is much smaller, though the ribbons are comparable...

This one is much smaller, though the ribbons are comparable…

Like I said, this race is well directed.  Lots of good people worked very hard to put this on!  It was very nice.  But, I probably won’t do this again.  Suggestions for a better race? Glad you asked.  Start the race at 7:00.  This way, you catch a cooler part of the day.  Also, why not head your race to the south of the town?  You’ll still have some nice hills in there, but it seems to me that the south side of town is flatter and more interesting.  

I was very glad to get to spend the weekend out of town with my wife!  We had a great time, and I got to get away for a weekend!  Thanks for helping me out on that one, McKendree Harvest Challenge Race!!  

Please leave some kind of comment!  I’d love to hear from you!

2 weeks from today is the Quad Cities Half Marathon!  Don’t go too crazy waiting on it!!

 

 

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Race #8: Mahomet Area Youth Club Race, Mahomet, IL

Sometimes, when we least expect it, we even surprise ourselves!

I’ve been exhausted after being back to work for a full week now, following a summer of under-training, because of laziness over-training issues.  I’m just recently recovered from a disastrous Half Marathon at the Rock n Roll Chicago race, where I ran my slowest Half of all time by over 17 full minutes.  Taking these factors into consideration, I set my “optimistic” goal for this race around 2:05-2:10, and I wouldn’t have been terribly disappointed by breaking 2:15.

The race this week was in Mahomet, IL.  Mahomet is about 15 minutes west of Champaign, IL.  I spent a lot of time as a kid in Mahomet, we have family there.  In fact, they even sponsored the race.

Here’s Proof:

schoonoverad

 

Schoonover Sewer Service.  They’re good people, if you don’t mind them telling you that your mama doesn’t love you no mo’.

This was a small-ish race benefitting a local youth club.  I really do enjoy running in races that actually benefit a charity or organization that helps locally more so than I enjoy the big city mega races.  The race was well run, easy in and easy out for packet pick-up on the morning of.  Since I’m one of those who fears nothing more in life that being late, I was, of course, on site at 6:15 for a 7:00 a.m. race.  Therefore, parking, picking up my packet, using the facilities, and getting to the start line was no problem at all.  I did notice that within moments of the gun, the line at the 4 port-a-potties stretched back towards Peoria.  Must have sucked to be them.

The weather was perfect.  As far as an August day in Central Illinois goes, it could not have been better.  As we rushed down that first hill, the temp was around 58 degrees.  At the finish, it was around 66 with low humidity the entire way.  The sun even seemed to hang out behind the same set of clouds through the entire race.  Things were looking good.

The starter fired the gun at exactly 7.  As he did, the crowd of Half Marathon runners burst down the first (and seemingly only) downhill of the course.  Through Mile 1, it seemed to be either downhill or flat.  All I could think was “crap, there’s gonna be a lot of ‘up’ to get back here…”.    Then I got to the first mile marker.  I said earlier how well ran this race was.  It was great.  At every mile they had water and/or gatorade.  They also had a person at each marker with a stopwatch counting off the time to us.  It was at Mile one when the gentleman reading the watch said “8:17, 8:18, 8:19”.  “CRAP!”  I said it audibly.  Everyone around me knew what had happened.  I started out waaayyy too fast.  For the first time since spring, the temps, my body, and the course all worked in my favor to give me my fasted single mile in over 3 months.  It would also be my fastest mile of the race.  I knew my goals were doomed.

I tried to slow it down.  I “held my horses”, or tried to.  Mile 2 was 8:58, and mainly uphill.  It was a tough one, too.  Maybe the 3rd hardest hill I’ve had to run in any of these races.  “Good”, I thought.  Now, if I could just keep this pace for the next 11 miles, I’d be in good shape. I knew that was a lot to ask.  Runners don’t just go from averaging 10 minute miles for 3 months back to running 9’s for an entire half marathon.  “WHAT SHOULD I DO!!??”  Should I push myself, bank time, see what’s left in the tank and hope I don’t fall apart at mile 8?  Should I hold back, hoping I can at least run 9:30’s the whole time and finish around 2:05?  “Screw it, live in the now!”.  So, there I went.  Mile 3; 8:59, Mile 4; 8:38?? (must have been downhill), Mile 5; 8:48, Mile 6; 9:11 (must have been uphill), Mile 7: 8:48…. “HOW AM I STILL DOING THIS!!??”, Mile 8; 8:58.

Now, for those who don’t know.  To run a 2 hour Half Marathon, a person would need to run 9:09 per mile for 13.1 miles.  That would land the runner right on the 2:00:00 mark.  Around mile 5 I started doing math.  “Ok, I’ve averaged 8:51 per mile, over the next 8 I can average 9:21, and still be safe.”  After 7 miles: “Alright, I’m still on pace, now I can average 9:23 per mile the rest of the way.”  I was driving myself crazy.

That’s when it happened.  I started to become fatigued.  My running slowed, my heart rate raced, my legs weren’t springing forward when I pushed down on my feet, and I started having to breathe more deeply and deliberately.  At the water stop for mile 9, I walked a little.  A man who I had been back and forth with passed me.  So, I got going again.  Miles 9 and 10 were 9:20 and 9:17.  They were in the range that I needed, but I felt my 2 hour time slipping away.  I had said before the race all I cared about was 2:05, or even 2:10.  But, that 2 hour race was within reach!!  I had to get going!!  I dug deep.

Nothin’.

Mile 11; 9:29.  I started to walk.  As I did, a young ladies voice came from behind me: “If you walk, and I lose you, I’m gonna lose the music I’ve been listening to!  C’mon!”  (I had my music playing from my phone, I had forgotten my earbuds)  So, I stepped it up and jogged with her.  We got to talking.  Holy cow, this chick saved me!  I never got to tell her thanks.  So, if anyone goes into Fleet Feet Sports in Bloomington, she’s the owner.  Tell her I said thanks!  Also, she’s ran this race 6 times, now.  She’s ran the Chicago Marathon 16 times!!  (It’s her favorite)  Sometimes, when I meet these people, I feel like what I’m doing here is so insignificant.  I try to remind myself that just 4 years ago I wasn’t running at all.  That helps a little…

We didn’t go fast.  We didn’t need to.  At this point, I only needed to average 10 minutes per mile to break 2 hours.  At around mile 12.6 we hit the last of the uphills to an overpass.  She went on.  I walked a bit.  Mile 12 was 9:41, thanks to my new friend, whose name I didn’t even ask.  Mile 13 was mainly uphill, including that overpass, and I ran it in 9:50.  The course approaches Mahomet Seymore High School at the Football stadium, and takes one lap around the track.  I could see the clock as I entered.  I had over 2 minutes to make it around.  I gave it all I could for the last .1.  As I crossed the line, I looked up to see 1:59:42.  YES!!!

It wasn’t my fastest race of the year.  I walked a few times.  But, other than my first Half and my first Full Marathon… It’s the proudest I’ve ever been of myself.  I could have easily allowed myself to fall back on the 2:05 goal, or even slip all the way to 2:15.  But, I dug deep and pushed on with the help of some great running comrades.  That’s the best part of the whole running thing.  Yeah, it’s a race, but everyone is there to support each other and cheer each other along on the way.  The crowds in this small town were amazing!  The volunteers were great.  They could see the struggle in your eyes, and still they cheered and yelled to get ya going.  There was a drumline on the route, there were cheerleaders, and there was a band set up in a driveway playing while their families sat in the yard cheering.  All along the route (except in the cornfield portions) there were families and individuals rooting on the runners.

Here are the pics:

mahometshirt

The shirt: Yes!  Another one that fits!

mahometbib

The bib: It says Runner’s World!  Awesome!

Mahometmedal

The Medal: A little on the cheap side, but the race wasn’t expensive, so I’ll take it!!

Overall, I was happy with this race experience.  The course was tough, but not the hardest I have ran on.  The date probably lends itself to stupid hot weather from time to time.  But, you’re not going to find a better organized or supported small town race.  If it weren’t 3 hours from my home, I’d love to make this race an annual tradition!  You should, too!

 

 

 

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