Wednesday, September 24, 2008

“Run faster…there are pretty girls ahead of you!”

Sunrise through the clouds at the 2008 Fox Cities Marathon

Race day arrived, and we really hit the jackpot for weather. Temperatures must have been in the mid 50’s at the start (and I don't think they exceeded the mid 60's during my time out there). It was mostly cloudy with the sun peeking through on occasion, but the cooler weather was ideal for running.

There was a good crowd on hand at the start line outside of the UW Fox Valley campus, and the runners and spectators were really fired up. After a beautiful National Anthem, they sent the wheelchair and hand crank marathoners out first. The runners and spectators gave them a rousing send off. Then it was our turn.

A sea of runners at the start line

At 8:00, the horn sounded and we were on our way. Even though there were tons of runners, the streets at the start were wide, so the race started quite efficiently without any real bottlenecks. I settled into a comfortable pace.

In the early stages, I heard another great conversation between two people running together, one wearing the headphones, the other not. It went something like this:

Girl without headphones: “What was our pace for the first mile?”
Girl with headphones: “I’m NOT speeding up!”
Girl without headphones: “NO, WHAT WAS THE TIME FOR OUR FIRST MILE?!?”

Gotta love it. It reminds me of a story that my Dad tells involving a past coworker who couldn't hear well:

"Do you know Joe Cameron?"
“No, but I had a damn good one stolen from me!” :)

Only my folks can fully appreciate that one, but you get the idea. Anyhow, back to the race...

The Fox Cities Marathon course was largely flat except for a few very minor hills that are barely worth mentioning. It runs through several cities and communities along the Fox River. Many of these neighborhoods were just beautiful. Not extravagant, just really nice, well kept, working class neighborhoods that screamed of Americana. Aside from an area where we ran past a shopping center and crossed a busy highway with the help of many fine police officers and volunteers, most of the route went through neighborhoods such as this. I very much enjoyed the course.

Spectators came out in full force to cheer on the runners. Everyone seemed to be out on their lawns, people were ringing cowbells, and they rooted for friends and strangers alike. Cheerleaders from various area schools were stationed at different points along the course. Bands played. Some of the aid stations even had themes (The Flintstones, Gilligan’s Island). This was a race, but it was also a big party!

Here are a few of the more clever comments and words of encouragement I heard throughout the course of the race:

“No need to rush, kickoff isn’t until 7 PM!” – Packer fan at mile 16 (the Packers were playing a night game on Sunday)

“Just like REO Speedwagon, ‘Keep on rolling!'” – from a cop controlling traffic near mile 4 (As a "classic rock" kind of guy, I personally loved him quoting from the song "Roll With The Changes" and laughed out loud; the officer's younger female partner chided him for the dated reference!)

And, my favorite:

“Run faster...there are pretty girls ahead of you!” – from an elderly lady at mile 15, pointing out the two attractive ladies in pink just ahead of me (Hey on!)

My point is that everyone along the course was incredibly supportive, and some even had us in hysterics. It was great.

I was quite happy with my race. I thought, by and large, I managed myself pretty well. My best performance points of the race were between miles 8 and 14. I felt really good and strong here. Progressively, I got slower, and with about 8 miles left, I felt noticeably slower. But I just kept plugging away, and with the exception of slowing to a walk at the aid stations to take water, Gatorade, and gel, I kept moving and ran the whole thing.

At one point, I briefly entertained the notion that I could crack 4 hours. However, that thought was short lived, as I realized I was getting slower as the race went on. I made it though the half marathon checkpoint at almost 2 hours flat and the 20 mile mark at 3:05, so you could kind of see where this was going! Throughout the race, my mind stayed sharp, and the sense of humor was always present, but the legs just started to get heavy!

The finish line party in Riverside Park

The race finished in Riverside Park, a beautiful peninsula along the shores of Lake Winnebago. There was a big party going on with lots of cheering from the crowd, and many smiles on many faces. I shuffled across the finish line in 4 hours, 12 minutes, and 39 seconds (results are here), very pleased with my performance. I had a snack and some water, milled around to regain my bearings, chatted with some of the other runners, and pretty much enjoyed the moment. It was a very good day.

Finished! Also, thanks to the nice girl who took my picture!

I love the atmosphere of marathons. Everyone has a story and a reason for running, and you know they mean something special to the racers. I just wanted to share the best thing I witnessed at the race. It involved one of the hand-crank wheelchair participants, a frail, older lady. When they sent the wheelchair and hand-crank participants out, most of them were off like a shot. She, however, slowly pulled away from the starting line. I actually ended up passing her at mile 4. It looked like she was having a very tough time, and I thought there was no way she was going to make it.

After the finish, I started walking back to my hotel. I watched more runners make their way to the finish. Much to my astonishment, there was the lady in the hand-crank wheelchair! The spectators were going absolutely crazy. Not only was she still moving forward, but she was smiling! What a fantastic thing to see. The greatest performance of the day, by far. I guess the lesson here is never to underestimate people. She was determined to finish, and she brought it home. That was just incredible and awfully inspiring!

Even though I never did catch those pretty girls, I still thought this was a fantastic race. They are in their 18th year of putting it on, so it is obvious they know what they are doing. It was well organized, the course is pretty (especially this time of year), the spectators and volunteers were awesome, as were the dozens of police officers providing traffic control at the busy intersections. The Fox Cities Marathon gives you that “big city marathon” feel without being too huge or overwhelming. A very nice, well orchestrated event.

Another marathon in the books! And still, more of my report to come. To be continued...again.
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