Saturday, March 10, 2018

I Did Not Rock Little Rock, But I Finished It -- Little Rock Marathon Race Report

I have put off Arkansas for a long time because I couldn't make up my mind about Little Rock. Let me explain. There are a few good marathons in Arkansas, but Little Rock is the most popular and the biggest. Most people who do it really like it. So why did I hesitate to sign up for it? The medal. Little Rock is known for giving giant (think dinner-plate size), glitzy medals. For many people, this is appealing. For me, it's tacky. A medal the size of a dinner plate would not fit with the rest of my medals. On the other hand, I really, really wanted to do the marathon itself. So I went back and forth -- Little Rock, or Fort Smith or Hogeye? Finally I decided on Little Rock, figuring I could always hang the giant medal on the rack behind the others so it didn't dominate too much.

Because it was almost $500 cheaper, and because I like to drive, I flew to St. Louis instead of Memphis or Little Rock. It's only five hours from Little Rock, what the heck. I have never driven through that part of the country, and always enjoy a chance to see somewhere new. Missouri and Arkansas are both really, really pretty, with beautiful rolling hills and scenic river valleys. I got to downtown Little Rock where the expo was being held. Parking was easy. The expo was good-sized, but I didn't linger. I didn't need anything, and the thing I wanted most was to get to my hotel and sleep.

There were plenty of cheap hotels, another plus for Little Rock. My cheap hotel was about five miles from the start/finish, and it was fine until 9:30 at night when my heater blew up. Seriously. I was reading in bed when there was a pop, flash of light, and smell of burning from the heater. It was completely dead. I had to switch rooms, but not until I waited half an hour for the maintenance guy to come, pull the heater out of the wall (which allowed cold air to seep into the room while I sat in my T-shirt and running shorts and waited for him to be done), and finally tell me he couldn't fix it and I had to change rooms. Perfect night before a marathon! Not really.

I woke up dreading the marathon. It has been a very long time since I looked forward to any marathon. I only have to do two more, and I am very happy about that. At least the weather was good! It was 49 degrees and clear when I left the hotel. There was a high temperature of 60 and light rain forecast. I don't mind light rain with those temps; it was much better than the sizzlefest at A1A.

There was tons of available parking by the start/finish line, and -- another bonus -- runners got to hang out in the convention center. That means two wonderful things: indoor bathrooms, and protection from weather, not that we needed the second one this time. An indoor start area improves marathon mornings by at least 50% if not more.

The sun was rising over the Arkansas River when the race started at 7:00 a.m. Temperatures were perfect -- low humidity but not cold enough to need gloves. I started with the 4:00 pace group. The leader was a local Maniac, and it seemed like he had a friend on every street corner. The course went over the Arkansas River and did a little loop through some neighborhoods before coming back over the river and out to an industrial area. Miles 6 to 9 were a little out and back, followed by more industrial area. There were a lot of rolling hills, but nothing major in the first half. (This race saves those for the back half.) The rain started at Mile 6, but it was gentle as predicted -- at first. Then it became not gentle, and it started to feel a little like Mississippi River. The two pace group leaders noticed this too, as they had also both been at Mississippi River. It still wasn't cold, but it was starting to feel miserable. I wouldn't have brought my phone if I knew it was going to rain this much, and I would have worn a hat to keep the rain out of my eyes.

I was still with the 4-hour pace group at the half, but I knew all along I wouldn't finish with them. The pace felt too hard from the beginning, and also I had the same old feeling of "I don't want to be here running this race." I don't really care what my finishing times are anymore. Maybe some day I will care again. The only thing I really cared about was finishing in good enough shape to make my 5-hour drive back to St. Louis without having to pull over and rest too much, because I hadn't really given myself a lot of extra time when booking my flight.

Once we got past the half, the rain slowed down a little, but it was replaced with a lot of climbing. "At least it's not hot and sunny, at least it's not hot and sunny," I kept telling myself, like it was my mantra. Before the pace group disappeared into the distance, I had heard the pacer talking about how he had started fueling with beer because one time it was the only thing available on the course when he was thirsty. He had discovered that it was a perfect fuel because it was carbs, it was fizzy, and it wasn't sweet. I was just thinking about that while I was climbing up and up and up a never-ending hill through a neighborhood that I think was called (appropriately) Hillcrest, when there was a neighborhood aid station with little cups of beer. Why not? I thought, and grabbed one. Oh my GOD. I didn't smile a lot on that hill, but I smiled there after drinking that little Dixie cup of beer. The carbonation was like little tendrils of energy reaching down into my legs, and it got me up that long, long Mile 17 hill almost painlessly.

The uphill was followed by an equally long downhill that was almost enjoyable except that I knew what it was doing to my legs. What feels good now will feel very bad later, I knew, remembering those couple of spikes in the last mile or so on the course elevation map. But before we got to those, we had a long out-and-back along a bike path. The"out" part was about Mile 19 to 21.5, and the "back" part was 21.5 to 23.5 or so. This out and back wasn't as unpleasant as they usually are, although it was a little dispiriting to see how far ahead of me the 4-hour pace group was. Oh well. I never had any intention of pushing hard enough to finish in four hours, not that I could have if I had tried.

There was another beer stop at Mile 24, right before a nasty steep hill. I figured since it was a good idea the first time, it would be a good idea the second time, and took another one. This time it didn't work so well. My stomach was not pleased, and I walked the steep hill. By the time I got to the top, I was able to run the downhill and most of the next nasty uphill. My stomach still wasn't great, though, so I walked a good part of the last half mile and jogged the rest.

The finish was in the same place as the start. The first thing I did was pick up my medal. The medal is not QUITE as big as a dinner plate. It is by far my biggest medal, though, at least the size of my face. It's in the shape of a dragon, since this race was medieval themed. The dragon is black with glitter. It is not the sort of medal you want to wear after running a marathon -- it's heavy, and has many sharp points. So many sharp points that I worried about taking it through security in St. Louis. (I got through OK, although the TSA person checking bags did make a weird face and say, "Is that a DRAGON?" when my suitcase passed through. And it did have to get inspected, by a guy who said, "Wow. Did you win the race or something?" And when I told him no, everyone got one, he smiled and said, "Have a blessed day.") The Little Rock Marathon has a great spread of food like a marathon should. The best thing of all was a giant paper cup filled with pasta in marinara sauce.

Two of my least favorite things after a marathon are having a long drive to an airport and not being able to shower post-race, and I had both of those things this time. I cleaned up in the convention center bathroom -- fresh clothes, a wet washcloth, and deodorant did wonders, especially since it had rained so much that all I had to do was unbraid and rebraid my hair to look like I had just stepped out of the shower (even though I did not smell that way!). Since I hadn't pushed hard in the marathon, I felt fine for my 5.5-hour drive back to St. Louis. (Although I still hate the feeling of having to make a post-race flight that's a long drive from the race. So many things can go wrong!)

48 states are done and I'm down to just two -- Garmin Marathon in Kansas and the New Jersey Marathon in Long Branch, one week apart at the end of April. As long as I stay injury-free, I will be MISSION ACCOMPLISHED as of April 29!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Well, I Wanted a Warm Race, Didn't I...? A1A Marathon Report

I have been complaining non-stop about the terrible cold in Michigan for months now, ever since that awful moment when I returned from my Christmas trip to California -- where the weather had been California-perfect -- at midnight to clean eight inches of snow off my car and then scrape the ice off the windshield. That was one of the most depressing experiences of my life, and it was followed by a six week cycle of extreme cold then a big snow dump. (Okay, I admit there was ONE nice week in there somewhere, but even the nice week resulted in a huge snow melt which resulted in mud. So it still sucked.) The A1A Marathon in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, had a forecast of 80 degrees and sunny. While I knew I was not acclimated to those temperatures, I didn't care. I was just excited about feeling the sun on my skin again.

The Fort Lauderdale/Miami area was pretty much the last large metro area in the U.S. that I had left to visit. It didn't disappoint, especially Miami. I suspected I would like it because it's hot and people speak Spanish everywhere, and sure enough, I did. I met my marathon friend Dennis at the Fort Lauderdale airport and started our adventure.  First stop was a Cuban restaurant for breakfast. Obviously people who know me can take one look at this place and know I would love it, and I did:

I had eggs and peppers on Cuban toast, which is like Texas Toast on steroids, and Cuban coffee, which is a little bit of coffee on top of a layer of sugar. SO GOOD. While we were standing in line, a guy with a big pack walked up and stood next to us. At first I thought he was a homeless dude who was going to ask us for money, but then I noticed that his gear was Deuter and North Face and he was clean, so I figured there was another story. When I asked him, he said he was hiking from one end of South America to the other, and came back to the U.S. in the middle for a family thing. It turns out he has a blog that is full of gorgeous pictures of South America, so if you like looking at those, check out this blog.

After the Cuban restaurant, we went to the expo and picked up our bags. The T-shirt is just OK -- one that I'll wear to a couple of upcoming spin classes solely to advertise "I just did a marathon" and then dispose of. The expo was good-sized. And the sun was HOT. I mean, it felt good, but my clothes were soaked with sweat and I felt like I was sizzling just walking around outside the expo. I realized that tomorrow's race was not going to be enjoyable, even though I liked the sun. I was totally unaccustomed to running in anything other than the 65-degree gym weather at Lifetime, AND I didn't feel like doing a marathon when I just did one a week ago. Oh well; all I had to do was finish and bring home the medal.

We drove to Miami in search of the Bay of Pigs museum only to find it was closed, but, hey, we were in Little Havana, which was where I wanted to go anyway. We stopped at a Cuban bakery -- just as good as a Mexican bakery -- and then walked around Little Havana for a while, just long enough to even get a little bit of an appetite for dinner. Verdict on Miami: I liked it.

Back in Fort Lauderdale, we found an Italian restaurant on Yelp and it was SO GOOD, one of those places where every bite is its own amazing experience and even as you're getting full, and then stuffed, you're wishing the experience wouldn't end. Way better than Shoney's in Greenville last weekend.

This race had an early start, 6:00 a.m., totally necessary because of the heat. I was up by 3:30 because I had to go to McDonalds. There were two cars in front of me in the drive-through line and the driver of the one in front of me laid on his horn and yelled out his rolled-down window, "Hurry up! I don't have time for this social shit!" I guess in his opinion the person at the window was talking for too long. This would be a good place to say that Florida has the worst drivers I have ever seen. The stereotypes are true. I remember thinking this on my trip to Jacksonville a year ago too. The two annoying things I saw the most often were driving too slow in the left lane and passing at excessive speed on the right. These were probably two related problems -- the old people with the mindset of "I'm going the speed limit and no one has any right to make me go faster" and everyone else with the mindset of "Get out of my way, old people!" who step on the gas with extra frustration as they zip by on the right. However, I also saw every other kind of assholery behind the wheel, and my conclusion after my time spent in Florida was that you should always expect a Florida driver to do something unpredictable and jerky if it's possible. If they can refuse to let you merge, swerve into your lane without signaling, or slam on the brakes with no warning and for no reason, they probably will; if they don't, let it be a pleasant surprise.

Anyway! Back to the race. The start and finish lines are about four miles apart, and the race gives the option of parking in either place, since they shuttle from both ends. The race website claimed that there were 13 shuttles and that they would run continuously from 4:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. We decided to park at the start because we thought the finish would be more congested. If you ever do this race -- PARK AT THE FINISH!! Parking at the start was a big mistake. More on that later.

It was very hot and humid at the start line. The day was bad even from the start because a runner collapsed while waiting for the race to start. I don't know what happened to him, but whatever happened to him, at least he did not have to do the race. This race started downtown and went three miles out to A1A. A1A is an iconic beach highway. (If driving it on a sunny weekend day, you can move at approximately three miles per hour through Fort Lauderdale due to congestion and beach party traffic.) It was tolerable as the sun was rising. Sunrise over the Atlantic is pretty, no doubt. At Mile 4-something, we turned into Hugh Taylor Birch State Park for a 2-mile loop. Many people enjoyed this part of the course; I did not. I was already hot and cranky and didn't feel like running, and I knew that the best parts of the race were almost over.

Around Mile 6, we were back on A1A, for a tedious out and back. Our route took us past lots of beach condos whose residents appeared to be mostly still asleep, or at least they were not out cheering us on. Then we left the beach and A1A turned into just a tedious highway past office buildings and shopping plazas. Thankfully, there was cloud cover for almost the whole race.

At Mile 13, there was a Marathon Maniac handing out popsicles. She had also been at Mississippi River Marathon the weekend before, and I had heard her talking about the popsicles. I just hadn't introduced myself because I had a spot under a tent where I wasn't getting rained on, and she was standing out in the rain. The popsicle was one of the few highlights of this race, both going out and coming back. Mostly I was just saying to myself, "I hate this race, I hate this race," for most of the 26.2 miles.

Around Mile 14, we did a loop through a neighborhood and then headed back. The scenery had not improved between the "out" and "back" portion. This really is a tedious course, even if I had been in a good mood and it hadn't been a million degrees out. The sun came out for real at Mile 23 or so, and those last three miles were endless. I walked... a lot. There was full sun and only occasional palm-tree-shadow-width strips of shade. My time was going to be disastrous and I didn't care. I knew I would be lucky to finish under five hours.

I did finish under five, but not by much. The medal was a blue jellyfish complete with plastic tentacles -- unique, but not one of my favorites. The finish line food was unimpressive, not that I could eat it anyway. I was way too nauseous to want to eat. When Dennis finished, we went to wait for the shuttle, and this was the final crappy thing about the race -- the shuttle took 45 minutes to arrive. What happened to the "13 shuttles running continuously" that we were promised? I don't know. Once on the shuttle, it took over half an hour to creep four miles in traffic. Some people on the bus were worried about getting to the airport on time. Thankfully, I wasn't late for a flight, but that didn't stop me from being annoyed.

Florida was State #47 and even though this race was fairly well-done, except for the shuttle issue, I can't recommend it. The pretty ocean sunrise didn't make up for the boring rest of the course. There's got to be a better Florida marathon than this one. Then again, most of the reviews are good, so maybe I was just cranky because I ran a marathon the weekend before, who knows?

Mississippi -- Completed at Last

I was pretty convinced that the universe did not want me to finish a marathon in Mississippi. The Mississippi River Marathon was the fourth Mississippi marathon I'd registered for. I'd missed all of the first three due to combinations of not enough money, injury, and weather, and I almost missed this one too. My flight to Memphis was cancelled on Friday because of a winter storm. I am now down to the home stretch of my 50 states goal, and I CANNOT miss a planned marathon between now and April 29 or else my elaborate finishing plans will be derailed. So I decided to drive to Mississippi. I had time off from work because I just finished class, and I like long drives, and Will was home to watch the dogs, so why not?

This was a new record in the "total number of hours spent driving for a marathon" category -- 28. Yup, 28 hours in the car through Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, approximately half of that through terrible weather -- relentless rain in the south; snow, ice, and sleet back in Ohio and Michigan. But it's worth it because Mississippi is done and now I never have to return!

The biggest thing that surprised me about this marathon was not how depressing Greenville, Mississippi was -- I knew that already. It was that this area could somehow produce people who were able to put on an event of this quality. They have almost zero to work with, and yet I have ALMOST NO complaints about the marathon! (I have one minor complaint that was not the race's fault -- you'll hear about that one later.) It was perfectly organized from start to finish. Communications were timely. Race instructions were clear and accurate. Shuttle buses were organized. The finish area was streamlined for runners' comfort. Every single thing was good except for the course and the weather.

Let me back up just a little and say that the Mississippi Delta is a depressing place. It's one of the poorest parts of the country, and it looks like it when you drive through. It was a warm, rainy, overcast day, and I drove for miles past swampy cotton fields, rusty trailers that looked like they had already been hit by hurricanes or tornadoes, stretches of empty store fronts with broken windows, overgrown cemeteries with headstones half-submerged underwater, empty lots serving as garbage dumps, and people walking along the side of the road in raggedy clothes, oblivious to the rain. I actually like swamps and think they're pretty, especially with all the cool birds that live in them, but overall this was one of the most depressing landscapes I've ever seen. Driving through it brought to mind all the bad images of the Deep South that lurk deep in my American psyche -- slaves in cotton fields, overseers with whips, people living in falling-down shacks with nine children and no electricity, bodies dumped in swamps and being eaten by alligators -- all of it.

I was hoping for better in Greenville, but Greenville wasn't better. It's right on the Mississippi River, reached by a state highway that runs through a few miles of strip malls and fast food restaurants before reaching downtown. Downtown is a Main Street with mostly-empty storefronts and broken roads. There wasn't really an expo, just packet pickup in one of the storefronts and a couple of vendors. People were nice and packet pickup was easy. I stayed in a hotel a couple miles from the start line and my pre-race meal was Shoney's because it was right across from the hotel and I was tired.

On race morning, it was pouring outside. I could hear the rain as soon as I woke up, and it was going to rain all day according to the forecast. That meant no phone and no music on a course that, by most accounts, was pretty boring. Oh well; it least the temperature was pleasant. Earlier in the week the forecast had said a low of 39, which would have been miserable in the downpour, but actual temperature on race morning was 56, which felt like summer after the terrible Michigan winter. I even decided to forego gloves -- totally not needed.

We boarded the shuttles in downtown Greenville for transport to the start line. This race had the best shuttle system I've ever seen -- all the buses loaded between 6:00 and 6:30, and they all left at 6:30. It probably would not be practical in bigger races or races in more urban areas to do it this way, but it worked perfectly here. The ONE thing that was even slightly unpleasant on race morning was that when I asked the shuttle driver if this bus was for the marathon or the half, she responded with, "What that sign say?" I hadn't even seen a sign, but when I looked, there was a small sign taped to the side of the door (on the opposite side from where I approached), that said "Marathon" (if I bent down and looked hard in the dim light from the street lights). If I were her, I would have just responded with, "Marathon," but whatever.

There were lots of 50-staters doing this marathon, and most were in the 40's like me. A lot of people leave Mississippi for the end, both because it's not a very exciting state and because it's not easy to get to. The shuttles drove us across the Mississippi River to the start line in Arkansas. This marathon is split between the two states, and 50-staters can use it for either state, but not both. The start line was a big empty lot, and it was a muddy swamp this morning. I sank into the red mud while standing in the Porta-potty line and was grateful these weren't new shoes. There were a few tents to stand under, but there were still a lot of people standing in the warm rain while they waited for the start.

The Arkansas part of this marathon starts in Lake Village, Arkansas, and goes along the shore of Lake Chicot, an oxbow lake (formerly a loop of the Mississippi River, now cut off from the actual river). There were very few spectators, and the town was quiet except for a few early-morning fishermen. It rained. I was bored. I practiced picking a target in the distance, like a house or a dock or a tree, and making myself run till I reached it. I was undertrained for this marathon, with no real long runs since the Honolulu Marathon in December and one pathetic 12-mile double loop around Stoney Creek in wind-chill-zero temps that were so depressing I walked a lot of it. I no longer really care about pace, especially not in this marathon when I knew I had another one the following weekend, and my chief goal was injury prevention. I am so close to finishing 50 states that I can't do anything to derail my finishing plans. So I trudged through the depressing fog and drizzle, ticking off miles, waiting to see something exciting, or really just anything that wasn't crappy.

At the half, we crossed the Mississippi River, but there was so much fog I could barely see the river. The bridge had about a mile climb followed by a two-mile descent. The bridge is supposed to be one of the highlights of this marathon -- face it, there is absolutely nothing else to see that's even remotely interesting, and no spectators, so the bridge was THE ONLY highlight -- but because of the fog, I thought the bridge was boring too.

After the bridge, we ran on a straight-as-an-arrow state highway for a long, long time. Trucks whooshed past us. Nothing to see but mile posts. I will say that the aid stations were perfectly organized. They were at every mile just past the mile marker, and each one had a Porta-potty. Not that I needed one, but it was nice to know they were there. And if this small race can put a Porta-potty at every single mile marker, why can't the bigger races do it? Who knows. This was also the only marathon I've ever been in where there was a person controlling traffic at every single street crossing, the whole race. I wondered again how a race in this part of the country managed such excellent organization. It just doesn't look like the kind of place where anyone competent would choose to live.

Around Mile 23, we took a turn through one of the "nice" neighborhoods of Greenville. It was a gated community, although the gates opened for any car, and the houses were large and set back from the road. Even the nice neighborhood was depressing. The road was in bad shape, and all of the front yards were submerged in water. When we came out of that neighborhood, we headed into downtown again to the finish. The 4:15 pace group was right behind me and I beat them in by a minute or so, giving me my fourth 4:14 in a year. At least I'm consistent!

I got my medal inside the same building packet pickup had been in. Post-race food was good -- pizza and everything else you could want after a marathon. I ended up getting an age group award -- second place -- despite my crappy time, and unlike every single race I have participated in, I could pick up my award and leave rather than waiting for an awards ceremony. I just printed a ticket at one of the computers they had set up, handed it to the person monitoring the awards table, and walked out with my award. Again, organization that far exceeded my expectations for this race.

I stripped out of my soaking clothes in a boat launch parking lot by the Mississippi River. There was no one there to notice except other runners doing the same thing. Then I started the long drive out of the South and back to civilization. I admit to having negative feelings about most of the South, and especially Mississippi. Not so much Jackson, which is an actual city, but most of the rest of it. Other than the race itself, I didn't see anything that made me change my mind. I'm glad to be finally done with Mississippi, and just being able to mark it off my map finally made the long drive, all 28 hours of it, worthwhile.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

26.2 Miles in Paradise -- Honolulu Marathon Race Report

For 50-staters, Hawaii and Alaska are the big ones. Many people save those two for the home stretch because getting to them takes a lot of money and planning. Now that I've completed Hawaii as my 45th state, and also did Alaska back in July, I finally really believe that I'm going to finish.

I had never been to Hawaii and truthfully never really wanted to go. Palm trees are nice, but if I wanted to see those, I would just go to Tucson. I am not a fan of the beach at all. I lived near the beach the whole time I was in undergrad, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I went to the beach (and still have fingers left over). It seemed ridiculous to fly all the way to Hawaii when I could be in Arizona in half the time and with half the cost. Well, I admit I was wrong about Hawaii (although my feelings about the beach are unchanged -- and I never went in the water or even put on my bikini the whole time I was in Honolulu).

First of all, Hawaii doesn't quite feel like it's really part of America. All the roads have names that are definitely not English, and the whole place feels more like an island kingdom than like the 50th state. Second, although the beaches are beautiful, the rest of the island is even more beautiful. I have never seen mountains so green and steep, and the mountains come right down to the beach. The houses are built up into the mountains from Honolulu, but only a short way, so at night when they're lit up the lights look sort of like lava flowing down the hillside. The weather also is not like anything I've ever seen. The clouds hang really low over the mountains and down into the valleys between them. It rains on one mountain while the one next to it is in full sun with no rain.

Will and I arrived on Wednesday for a Sunday race and checked into our Airbnb, which was in Waikiki a couple of blocks from the beach. We were total tourists on Thursday and Friday. We went to a luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center, the Dole plantation, Pearl Harbor, and the Kamaka ukulele factory. Then we spent Saturday relaxing and getting ready for the Sunday race.

Race morning was warm and humid. Now that we were sort of adjusted to local time, the 2:30 wake up was a little bit early. (Race start was at 5:00 a.m.; last shuttle bus from the zoo parking lot, which was four blocks from our Airbnb, left at 4:00 a.m., and I wanted McDonalds before that.) This would be a good time to say that Will had registered for the marathon back when I did, with plans to walk it. The Honolulu Marathon welcomes walkers. There is no time limit (this year's last finisher, an 81-year-old woman, took over 16 hours to finish), and thousands of people walk the course. But Will had decided months ago that he wasn't going to do it because he didn't want to train for it. Then when he got to Honolulu, he decided he would start walking it just to get some exercise and give him something to do while I ran, but he would bail and call Uber when he was tired of walking. So he was on the shuttle with me. The shuttle bus had no air conditioning and all the windows were closed, giving me unfortunate flashbacks to my worst marathon experience ever, that 26-mile shuttle from finish to start in Lehigh, Pennsylvania (in hotter weather, in full sun, standing room only). Fortunately this shuttle was only three miles or so, and even though we were drenched in sweat when we got off, it did make the outside air feel fresh and cool, which it definitely had not when we left the hotel.

I had read that the Honolulu Marathon is a hugely popular destination event for Japanese tourists, and that turned out to be true. Over 14,000 of the 27,000 (or so -- exact stats have been really hard to find) participants were from Japan. This has been mentioned in a lot of reviews of this race as a negative, usually phrased something like this: "Beware the thousands of Japanese who have no idea how the corral system works" or "You have to dodge tons of Japanese tourists walking and taking videos." This is sort of true... but so what? I mean, seriously, so what. Everything about Hawaii is relaxed. That includes the marathon, I say. Let those who care about a marathon designed for runners go to Maui, and let those who want to enjoy a relaxed Hawaiian event go to Honolulu. I have no idea why there were so many Japanese walkers in the front corrals. I know it's not from lack of instruction -- the announcements in both Japanese and English advising people to line up in the correct corrals were non-stop. Did the Japanese not care? Had they been advised to ignore the corral system? Don't know, don't care.

It was, of course, full dark when we started. The race start was accompanied by a most excellent fireworks display that went on for several minutes. The first six miles was a big loop through downtown Honolulu, bringing us back to the start point before heading through Waikiki and then out to Diamond Head. It was very warm and humid, and I was soaked with sweat before I even finished the first mile. It was also very crowded, and I spent the first several miles dodging slower runners. I didn't care; I knew from the start this would not be a fast race for me, even though I always want to be under four hours just in case I ever decide to try for 50-under-4:00. I had decided I was just going to take it easy and enjoy Hawaii, so I wasn't bothered by the fact that I wasn't feeling fast.

Once we passed Waikiki, we began the climb towards Diamond Head. This was a two-lane road that had one lane roped off for runners. The rope was held by volunteers, and these were the most enthusiastic volunteers I have ever seen. I don't know where they got all these people to not only hold over a mile's worth of rope, but also scream and cheer and otherwise motivate the runners up that climb. When we reached the top of the hill and began to descend, the sun was just coming up. After a nice downhill, we began the long out portion of the out-and-back on Kalanianaole Highway. This was a mostly-flat four-mile stretch, followed by a loop through a residential community called Hawaii Kai and then a return to Kalanianaole Highway. It was misting heavily when I started on the highway, and that mist changed to a steady rain after about two miles. I didn't mind the rain; it cooled me off. Plus, there were incredible ocean views to the right and incredible mountain views to the left to distract me.

Once I finished the loop around Hawaii Kai and started heading back down the highway, the sun came out and the temperature slowly started to climb. I loved the back portion of this out and back because we passed so many other runners. At Mile 21 for me, Mile 12 for him, I saw Will! I admit, I was surprised, and even more surprised that he was feeling good and wanted to keep going. Unlike me, Will does not like heat and sun, and there was now plenty of both. But, good for him!

The course went through another residential neighborhood before beginning the climb back up around Diamond Head. This was a pretty rough slog, but mitigated by the stunning views of the ocean (I hadn't seen them the first time around Diamond Head because it was still dark) and the volunteers handing out ice water sponges along the last few miles. Once we got to the top of the climb, we had a mile of downhill to the finish.

I barely made it under 4:20, but I felt good when I picked up my medal and my lei. The one criticism I have of the Honolulu Marathon is their finish area. Not only did I have to walk forever and have to ask a lot of people to find the finishers' shirts (could they not put up a giant banner? I mean, really...), but they also had the very worst finish line food I've seen in a long time. The ONLY things they had were water, bananas, and malasadas (a kind of fried Portuguese donut, which was delicious and everything but not what I wanted after a race). They didn't even have bagels and peanut butter! Maybe I've been spoiled by recent marathons with buffet tables (flashing back to all-you-can-eat grilled salmon in Alaska), but they really ought to do a little better with finish line food.

I walked back to the Airbnb and showered and then walked back to the finish line to wait for Will. He finished in a little more than 7 hours, which is not a bad time for walking a marathon, especially for someone who didn't train for it! I was very proud of him for completing his first (and he says his last) marathon.

Overall, my 45th state was a thoroughly enjoyable one. I had never wanted to go to Hawaii but now I can't wait to go back. It was definitely the most relaxed marathon I have ever done. Would I ever do this marathon again? Probably not, but I still think it was a solid choice for Hawaii. It was a huge and exciting event, the 4th largest marathon in the U.S. Maybe next time I go to Hawaii I'll do Maui (as all the running snobs say I should do anyway), but that's more because I want to see another island than because I was displeased with Honolulu. Anyway, I have five more states to go and none of them are states that I like (Mississippi, Florida, Arkansas, Kansas, and New Jersey) and then I will be done and looking for a new hobby.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

4:45 is Easy, Right? Wrong. Baltimore Marathon Race Report

The Baltimore Marathon was my first marathon since July. My training had been pretty lackluster and my diet has been disastrous for months, but I wasn't really worried about anything because I was pacing this race. I was even less worried when I got moved from the 4:30 pace group to the 4:45 pace group. (Not because the pace group organizer knew about my mediocre fitness level or my daily junk food consumption, but because someone else dropped out of 4:45.) I knew Baltimore is known for its challenging hills, mostly because they appear so late in the race (miles 16 or so through about 23), but at that pace, I was not worried about hills.

Every pace group does things a little differently. In this pace group, for each goal time, there are 3 pacers. One of those is designated the lead pacer. The lead pacer is someone the pace group organizer knows well who has paced this race several times. The lead pacer is in charge of setting the pace. There is also a designated "Plan B" pacer, who will take over if the lead pacer can't continue for some reason. Because I was one of the (few) pacers new to this race -- most others are locals and had paced Baltimore for years -- I was the Plan C pacer, which to me meant that I was just going to get to cruise along behind the other two -- the rules explicitly said that I was not to get in front of the lead pacer. I was just there in case of emergency. Fine with me! I like pacing a lot, but I was in Baltimore to get another state done, and if I had an excuse to be slow and lazy, I was going to take it.

Weather for the race was predicted to be very sunny. There was a lot of discussion about this at the start line among the locals. They knew the course and were worried because not only would the uphill miles be a grind all by themselves, they would also be pretty exposed with not a lot of shade, and of course they would be warm since the race had an 8:00 a.m. start, which meant that the 4:45 pace group would finish at 12:45. I still wasn't worried. Temperature at the start line was perfect, and I was just a little chilly in short-sleeved shirt and shorts. I like running in the heat and was ready for  a warm day.

We had a pretty big group of people with us at the downtown start line, a nice mix of first-timers and experienced runners. Everyone was friendly and excited to be running. (I was notably not excited, although I professionally faked it pretty well for the people in my pace group. I also have not been excited at the start lines of my last several marathons. I actually think I am getting a little tired of running marathons. Well, six more and I don't ever have to do another one if I don't want to.)

The first three miles of the course went pretty steadily up, up, and up. It was never a steep grade, more of a tiresome slog. I was sucking wind at 10:45 pace, never a good sign. We went through several cool neighborhoods of row houses, where a lot of residents were lined up to cheer us on. At the top of the hill, we turned into the Baltimore Zoo and got some nice downhill. There were also some zoo employees standing on the side of the course holding birds. There was a raven, a kookaburra, and, coolest of all, a penguin. A live penguin is something I have never seen before in a marathon. There was also a guy holding an animal I could not identify. I would have guessed maybe porcupine, or hedgehog? One of the guys in our pace group said it was a lionhead-something. I still don't know what it was, but I was happy for the downhill, the shade, and the diversion the animals provided.

We ran out of the zoo but were still on a nice downhill in Druid Park. There was a guy in our group who had run every single Baltimore Marathon since the first one. He was a local and had an endless supply of trivia about the buildings we were passing. The second-in-command pacer was also a local, and he seemed to pass someone he knew about every other block. This was clearly going to be the kind of day where any distraction from how much I didn't want to be running was welcome.

After Druid Park, there was a short uphill to the Johns Hopkins campus. This is a famous university but I have never actually seen it because I have never once had a reason to go to Baltimore. This might be a good place to say that while there are definitely some cool neighborhoods in Baltimore, and the Baltimoreans running the race were all great, I am still not a fan of the city of Baltimore. Literally every single place I went other than the race course I felt like I had to be looking over my shoulder with every step. I am not used to feeling like I have to be on guard all the time anywhere. People have so much to say about how crummy Detroit is; well, I can say I have never felt the vague but present threat in Detroit that I felt in Baltimore. Maryland has a serious shortage of good marathons and Baltimore is really the only choice for Maryland if you want any kind of interesting race at all, but even though the race organization was impressive, I doubt I will ever go back to Baltimore unless I have to.

After Johns Hopkins, we had a long, gentle downhill run back downtown and onto my favorite part of the course, past Federal Hill and into a long out-and-back on the Key Highway along the waterfront. We ran past the Baltimore Museum of Industry, and we could see the Domino sugar plant across the water. I like urban industrial areas, and this stretch was fully satisfying in that regard. The turn-around was at the Under Armour Headquarters, where there was a big aid station complete with confetti cannon. Then it was back up to downtown again, and along the other side of the waterfront. (I never did learn the difference between the Outer Harbor and the Inner Harbor when I was there, although looking at the map I could take a pretty good guess.)

I had been running slightly behind the other two pacers this whole time, not even looking at my watch. I had two jobs: chat with the other people in the pace group, and stay behind the other pacers. They were talking to each other in low voices but I didn't really know what they were saying. Then gradually I became aware that Pacer B was telling Pacer A about which streets she could take to rejoin us later if she could. I realized that Pacer A was going to be leaving us. I didn't know why, but I did remember that we had been instructed that if we couldn't keep the pace for some reason, we had to be very discreet about it, fade to the side, and take off our pacer sign. Pacer A pulled off and Pacer B said to me, "It's us now, keep me honest," and just like that, I was Pacer B. Hmmmm, time to pay attention to my watch.

We ran through the cool, hip neighborhoods of Fells Point and Canton, and then took a left and headed uphill to Patterson Park. At Mile 16 the long climb began. I was not by any means feeling great, but I was feeling steady. It was really heating up. The temperatures weren't that high but the sun was intense. Luckily the humidity was low and there was a nice breeze coming off the water to make up for the lack of shade. Pacer B told me, "I'm not going to lie, this part is a bitch," and he wasn't lying. All we could see in front of us was a long climb in full sun.

We got a little break at Mile 19.5 when the course turned off the main road for a mile-long loop around Lake Montebello. Here we picked up another pacer from a faster pace group. Another rule of this pace group is that if you couldn't keep up with your own pace group, you not only had to take your pace sign off your back, but you also had to wait and catch up with the pace group behind you. This was to try to make the pace team look professional and not have someone wearing a pacer shirt coming in at, say, 4:52 when the goal times were 4:45 and 5:00. I don't remember which group this guy was from, but he ended up having to drop from our group too. Overall, it was just a rough day in Baltimore. I saw runner carnage everywhere -- people puking, people being taken off in ambulances, people sitting on the side of the course with their heads in the hands. It really wasn't that hot -- only low 70's -- but I think it was the combo of late-in-the-race hills plus full sun. I was drinking about three times what I usually drink on course, and by Mile 20 my stomach was full of liquids and sloshing around but I still felt terribly thirsty. This was a bad combination.

We finally made it around the lake and back onto the main road. We had a short but nasty out-and-back -- steep downhill, then steep uphill, then the reverse of that, then we had a grueling mile-long climb up 33rd Street (after which we had been promised mostly downhill for the last three miles). 33rd Street was awful. I barely made it. My stomach was a mess and I was grimly drafting off the other pacer, grateful that we had a couple minutes in the bank because I was pretty sure we were going to lose them here.

Finally we got to the top of the hill and got some downhill. I had felt okay up until now but suddenly my stomach was a real problem. I told the other pacer I might have to drop back. He told me to do what I had to do. I was trying to swallow my nausea back, and was doing okay until suddenly another ridiculously steep hill loomed up in front of us. That was it; I was done. I told him, "I'm out," and he wished me good luck and kept going. We had lost literally every single person in our group on 33rd Street, so we didn't even have to be discreet.

I stepped up onto the sidewalk and ripped my 4:45 tag off my back and threw it in a trash can. I walked for several minutes. My plan was to wait for the 5:00 group and finish with them. At least I would leave here with a state finished, even if I had to suffer the shame of not being able to finish in 4:45. Then I looked at my watch and my pace bracelet and saw that I had over four minutes to make it 2/10 of a mile to the next mile marker. I had no idea how we'd gotten so far ahead on such a grueling mile. I briefly felt bad for the people in our pace group, who we had probably screwed by going too fast up that hill. Then I saw the other pacer's bright green shirt not too far ahead and knew I could catch him since we were now at another downhill. I burped and felt better, and took off.

I caught up with him. Short story -- we finished. There were several nasty uphills in this "downhill finish," and most everyone was walking them. I did the same, falling behind the other pacer on the uphills and catching him on the downs. It was terrible pacing, but by now there was no one running with us so I didn't feel that bad. My stomach was still bad, but not urgently so. I knew I could make the 4:45 finish.

In fact, we ended up finishing in 4:44:27. We had to burn up a little time in the last quarter-mile by slowing almost to a walk. We really screwed up by having those couple extra minutes at the end -- it would have been smarter to use them on 33rd Street and slow down on that hill. This was my personal worst pacing performance yet even though my finishing time was reasonably accurate. (I wanted 4:44:30, but I guess I won't complain about 3 seconds.) It was a pretty terrible race performance too.

In summary, it was a good course in terms of showing off the city, but it was a TOUGH course. As I said, there really is no other good choice for Maryland if you're a 50-stater, but I'm glad I didn't set out with hopes of getting under 4:00 here. I don't know, maybe on a cooler day it would've been fine. Anyway, State #44 is done and I'm glad I don't have to go back to Maryland ever again. I'm looking forward to State #45, Mississippi, next month.           

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Lot to Not Like: Frank Maier Marathon Race Report

I think this was marathon #52, and state #43. Alaska and Hawaii are the big, expensive ones for 50-staters. I just wish that my enjoyment of Alaska was in any way proportionate to the amount of money this trip cost me. Now, Will loves Alaska, but somehow he is home watching the dogs while I am sitting in the Juneau airport writing about how much I DON'T love Alaska. That doesn't seem fair, does it? But I digress.

There are not a lot of choices for Alaska marathons, and truthfully none of them had great reviews. I picked this one over the Anchorage one because I've already been to Anchorage, and once was DEFINITELY enough for Anchorage. I really wanted the Fairbanks one in September, but then I found out it didn't have finisher medals, and no medal = no race for me. So Juneau it was.

It took 3 flights (one of which I missed) and 8 hours on a plane to get here. As my plane descended, I was looking forward to awe-inspiring mountain views. Instead I saw... clouds and rain. Very occasionally, I caught a brief glimpse of a mountain, but then it was gone. Finally, right before touchdown, we broke through the clouds and I could see a dark, forbidding grey and green landscape. The forecast for my 36 hours in Juneau was dismal -- rain, rain, rain, and low 50's. Even though I had checked the forecast before coming, I somehow forgot how cold 50 degrees is, and had packed only one thing with long sleeves, a zip-up a little bit thicker than Kleenex that clearly was going to be totally inadequate for anything outside, including a marathon.

The town of Juneau is really pretty small. It stretches out in a line between the base of the mountains and the water. I was staying at an airbnb on Douglas Island, which is across the Gastineau Channel from Juneau. As I drove from the airport to Douglas Island, I saw a bald eagle fly overhead. I was like, "Oh my God! A bald eagle! So awesome!" Ten minutes later, I had seen about 15-20 more, and they were no longer interesting.

I took a nap at the airbnb, then set out to explore. I went to see the Mendenhall Glacier, and that is worth making a trip to see. I know what a glacier is, of course, but actually seeing one up close was awesome in the literal sense of the word -- inspiring awe. I saw a sleeping bear (who the ranger told me had just eaten a salmon), a porcupine up a tree, and so many salmon swimming up the little tiny stream that I wanted to reach out my hand and catch one. I also crossed paths with a near-hysterical woman from New Zealand who told me her husband had gone for a walk on the beach and she couldn't find him. She was really freaked out, even more so because a porcupine had crossed her path and she was afraid it was aggressive. She asked if I could help her find him and stay with her because she was scared. I said yes even though I had already been to the falls and was walking back and I didn't know this park any better than she did, partly because she really was terrified and partly because I needed to walk a little more to even begin to justify the amount of food I was eating. We soon located her wayward husband on the beach, where he had stopped to take pictures of rocks. His reaction to his wife's hysteria made it pretty clear this was not the first time this had happened. I left them and walked back to the visitor's center. It rained on me the whole time I was at the glacier, and my plantar fasciitis foot was seriously hurting for the first time in a week, which did not bode well for the race the next day.

Packet pickup was a non-event in the community center in town. No expo, just someone sitting there handing out numbers and T-shirts. I asked if there was anything I needed to know about the early start option. This race offers an early start of 6:00 a.m. if the standard 7:00 a.m. start is too late. The woman asked me if 6:00 was okay or if I wanted an earlier one, and said I could start whenever I wanted as long as she knew about it and was there to mark my bib. I said no, 6:00 would be fine.

After that, I walked around downtown Juneau for a while and was unimpressed. I needed to buy a good warm long-sleeved shirt, but do you think I could find one? No. None of the dozens of tourist shops had anything as useful as a warm shirt, although there were infinite supplies of little carved wooden walruses, reindeer skins, and snow globes full of fake gold. I had to drive all the way back to the Sportsman's Warehouse by the airport to get what I needed.

I woke up at 3:45 a.m. and it was already getting light, so I figured I may as well do the early start since I was already awake. The start line was in a park on Douglas Island. There were about 20 other people also opting for the early start. It was chilly and damp, 49 degrees, but not really raining, more like seriously misting. I was excited because there was an actual public bathroom and I didn't have to start the day with a Porta Pottie. Another girl and I were heading in that direction when the race director called after us, "Make sure you lock the doors!" and laughed. We could not figure out why she was laughing -- was there a bear outside the bathroom? Or a pervert? Once we got into the bathroom, it made sense. There were three stalls and none of them had doors. Why, I ask? This is a capital city -- I know, the capital of Alaska, but still, surely money could have been found somewhere for doors in the bathroom of a city park? Anyway, we managed.

I had made a major amateur mistake when packing for this trip, and hadn't packed my arm band for my phone, my fuel belt, or any gels. I cannot explain this, but it happened. I had gone to the one bike shop in Juneau (they didn't have a running shop, of course), and they had exactly one flavor of gel -- Honey Stinger, strawberry kiwi. Ewwww. They had five in stock and I bought four. Since I didn't have my fuel belt, I had three of the gels stuffed in my bra and the last one in my hand. No fuel belt also meant no chapstick, no Advil, no salt tabs, and no Tums, so I just had to hope I didn't need any of those things. No phone meant no music, which was a shame on this course since there turned out to be so few spectators I could count them all on the fingers of my two hands and still have fingers left over.

It started raining lightly as soon as we took off. The first mile was a pretty good climb followed by a lengthy downhill. This was predictive of the rest of the course as it was nothing but rolling hills all the way, with hardly any flat. That is actually my favorite kind of course. Hills break it up, and always give me something to look forward to -- either the uphill will stop soon, or I get to enjoy a downhill.

We had been promised aid stations every 2.25 miles or so. I had specifically asked if they would be functioning for the early start and was told yes. I didn't get to the first one till almost Mile 5; the Mile 2.25 just wasn't there until later in the day. Not that I needed it -- I never drink till Mile 8 unless it's a really hot day -- but that's not the point. Also, the second and third aid stations only had Gatorade, no water. The volunteers looked confused and apologetic when we asked for water. You can't get mad at volunteers -- they're out there because they want to help -- but how can there not be water at an aid station? I grudgingly drank Gatorade at Mile 8, and thought to myself that if I got an upset stomach from it, I would be pretty mad.

It was not the race's fault that the promised mountain views, bald eagles, and cruise ships did not materialize due to the heavy fog and steady drizzle. It was pretty much me and the pine trees. I was ahead of most of the other early starters except for two guys who were faster than me. I know there are some runners who prefer to be out in nature, alone with their own thoughts, no people or technology needed. I am not one of those. I like music, fans, and city views, of which this course had zero. Nevertheless, I was making good time and the miles were clipping by. My foot hurt not at all -- amazing, considering how it felt the day before at the glacier. It seemed like I hadn't been running that long when I came to the turnaround. On the way I passed Larry "1700 Marathons", who had started at 4:30 am because he was walking. He was walking because he was doing another marathon tomorrow. He asked me if I was too, and I said I was not. No more back to backs for me!

On the way back, I passed one of the guys who had started out faster than me. Then I started to pass a bunch of people who had taken the regular start at 7:00 a.m. I was still feeling strong, which has not happened in any marathon this year. Superstitiously, I didn't look at my time. I was going as fast as I could, and didn't want to worry about feeling like I should go faster.

At Mile 19-something, I passed the half marathon turnaround. The half had started at 8:00 (early start) and 9:00 (regular start), so there was one big clump of runners at the turnaround and another about 3 miles later. I enjoyed passing these people very much. It's nice to be almost done with my event and be passing all these people who are just starting.

I finished in 3:57-something, not a great time, but my best time in 2017 so far. This should have been a bad race for me for so many reasons -- no music, gels chafing inside my bra, no spectators, plantar fasciitis, hills, near-total lack of training, the approximately 5000 calories of mostly junk food that I ate the day before -- but somehow it turned out okay! I even felt totally okay at the end, which was a good thing. The end of this race is known for its feast of unlimited grilled salmon. I gorged myself like a grizzly bear pulling salmon out of a river, and topped off my salmon feast with a giant grilled hot dog. Then I had time for a hot shower and a nap back at the airbnb before heading back to the airport.

I've been in Juneau for 36 hours and that is just about the maximum amount of time I would like to stay in Alaska, although somehow I just promised Will I would come back with him... to Fairbanks... in the winter... What was I thinking?? I don't know -- I will worry about it when it actually gets close to happening. For now I'm just glad Alaska is done. I don't have any other marathon planned until Baltimore in October, and I'm pacing that one. Usually when I say I don't have any other marathon planned until... a long time from now, the unspoken conclusion to that sentence is, "...but that will probably change." This time I really don't think I will. There are no marathons in the states I need in August, and I'm teaching class in September, so I'm heading into a dry stretch.

43 down, 7 to go!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Marathon List Fun

I am getting closer and closer to being done with 50 States. I can practically taste it. I think about it more than I care to admit. I may, or may not, have just registered for another REALLY EXPENSIVE MARATHON this year that I totally cannot afford to travel to, at least not without borrowing money from my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel fund. Anyway, I was looking at my medal rack, something that I spend a lot more time than you would think doing, and thinking about the races I liked the best, the ones I liked the least, and the ones I can't even remember, and I thought it would be fun to make some lists.

There is always an element of subjectivity to any "Best Of/Worst Of" lists, and mine are no exception. For the most part, I like big, urban marathons better than small-town marathons, no matter how poorly organized the first or how well-run the second. My impressions of races are also heavily influenced by how I felt and what the weather was like on race day. So these are not really lists of the best and worst races; rather, they are lists of "good race experiences" and "bad race experiences."

Now, on to the lists.

My Top 10:

1) Boston. For an epic event, it has no equal. Every Boston runner feels like a rock star walking to the start line in Hopkinton. For a lot of runners, including myself, a BQ is the greatest running achievement they will ever get.

2) Pikes Peak. I really had a hard time deciding whether this or Boston was my #1. They are so, so close even though they are two completely different types of races. Walking into Athletes Village in Hopkinton is a monumentally awesome feeling, but so is standing on the street in Manitou Springs looking up at the impossibly distant treeless summit of Pikes Peak and knowing that you will be getting up there on foot.

3) Georgia Publix. Atlanta in March is a gorgeous place to go for a marathon if you live in the cold, grey Midwest. This is the only marathon that loops a big city without including a single ugly industrial stretch. Slightly complicated logistics and relentless hills do nothing to diminish this marathon in my eyes. (I'm sure my surprise BQ there helped cement my feelings of affection for the city and the marathon.)

4) Chicago. My first, and still a grand event in my memory. The city has a mural of the marathon alongside the freeway! I will never forget the energy of the expo and the way it felt to be part of the ocean of runners on that perfect October morning in 2005. Who knows, if I had done a less spectacular marathon as my first, I might never have gotten hooked on marathons the way I did.

5) Monument. No, I don't mean Monumental in Indiana; I mean MONUMENT, this beautiful small marathon in Scotts Bluff, Nebraska. Glorious downhill start, stunning views of bluffs throughout the whole course, saturated with Oregon Trail history. I would do this marathon again in a second, and that's high praise for a small race, especially one three hours from the closest airport.

6) Kentucky Derby. Not only a very well-organized race, but also probably my favorite course with its hills that are just gentle enough to shake out the legs but not tough enough to ruin a race. Also, Churchill Downs! Running by giant, muscular Thoroughbreds on the track was a unique experience.

7) Marine Corps. Unseasonably hot and humid the year I ran it, but still a great course through one of my favorite cities. Running along the Mall and finishing at Iwo Jima = unforgettable.

8) Hartford. Another perfect fall marathon. I was very surprised by the beauty of the city and the crowd support. A really, really pretty course, easy on the legs and the eyes.

9) Kansas City: A surprisingly cool city, with a great course that shows off many of the thriving Kansas City neighborhoods. Also, I have never seen more alcohol on any course anywhere.

10) Fargo: Fargodome start and finish combined with big, beautiful open skies and a river path I actually enjoyed make this a unique and excellent marathon experience.

My Bottom 10:

1) Trailbreaker. Getting to run up to the top of a fire tower and ring the bell at Mile 14 or so in no way made up for the tedious out and back on the deserted bike path or the 4 mile out and back on trail. (2 miles out on frozen mud, 2 miles back on churned up melting mud from all the runners' feet.) The lousy medal is just one more thing to not like about Trailbreaker.

2) Via/Lehigh. I can't even remember the actual name, but I will never forget two things: the terrible traffic jam at the race start (caused me to MISS a race start for the first and only time), and the horrendous, mentally scarring experience of the 26-mile shuttle ride from the finish line back to the start on the bus with no A/C and windows that would not open on a sweltering September day. I still can't believe I didn't see someone die of heat stroke on that bus ride.

3) Ocean State. This race had like three or four different names. I registered for it thinking I was registering for the Newport Marathon, and didn't find out till the day before the race that it was actually in Narragansett, and the race organizers stubbornly insisted on holding it the same day as the bigger and better Newport Marathon right down the road. The medal is great but doesn't make up for the crappy course.

4) Indianapolis. This marathon did not show off any of the city of Indianapolis as it was held entirely in a state park with no spectators. I don't think it exists anymore, and that is a good thing.

5) Tucson. The Tucson Marathon may be the only thing I don't like about Tucson. I HATE this course. It runs alongside the highway for almost the whole 26.2 miles, and the view never changes. I love Tucson but I will never do the Tucson Marathon again.

6) New Mexico. This was a long time ago, but I have dim memories of a long slog up in the beginning, a punishing, long downhill after that, and an eternity on a boring bike path at the end.

7) Shires of Vermont: Well-organized, but 8:00 start time was way too late for an end-of-May race. Also, we had to run with traffic on roads with zero traffic control. A miserable, sweltering humid, hilly experience (albeit one with a really incredible buffet post-race).

8) P.F. Chang/Phoenix Rock & Roll. Either the city of Phoenix is really one of the ugliest in the U.S., or the marathon just showcases ugliness on purpose.

9) Med City. Heat, humidity, and long out-and-back on bike path = one of my least enjoyable marathons ever.

10) Maine. May have been a good course, or may have been a crappy course. Impossible for me to say due to the heavy rain that fell throughout the entire race. Also, it was Day 2 of a double, which only made the rain more joyful.

Races That Would've Been in My Top 10 If My Top 10 Were a Top 20

1) Flying Pig. Beloved by just about everyone, and has everything I like in a marathon -- hills, comprehensive city tour, bridges over the Ohio River, stadium start with indoor bathrooms -- but somehow, I liked every single one of my top 10 better than this one.

2) Deadwood Mickelson. The Black Hills of South Dakota -- one of the most beautiful parts of the country. A very well-run event, but a little too much of a grind with that 14-mile climb to make the top 10.

3) Marshall University. Kudos to them for finding somewhere flat in West Virginia to have a marathon; that's no small accomplishment. Loved the double loop, loved the stadium finish. Just not quite a top 10.

4) Harrisburg. Not sure why I liked this one so much but suspect it's because the Susquehanna River is so surprisingly beautiful. Who knew that Harrisburg was a cool city? Not me!

5) St. George. Beautiful canyonlands scenery; too bad it was cold and rainy the day I ran it.

6) El Paso. I'm pretty sure I'm one of the very few people who rates this marathon high. I loved the screaming downhill start, the road around and through the base, and downtown El Paso. Not a lot of people love El Paso, but I'm one of the few.

7) NYC. Couldn't ask for a better course, but I just can't deal with the logistics. It's just too much of a pain in the ass. I lived 30 miles away from the start line when I did this race, and it still took me 3 hours to get there, then I had to wait 2 hours for the race start.

8) Seattle Rock & Roll. Nice course, awesome city. Just not quite nice enough.

9) Nashville Rock & Roll. Ditto.

10) Missoula. I remember the following: cute town, big hill, nice scenery, tendonitis. Not much else.

Races That a Lot of People Love That Didn't Do It for Me:

1) Rehoboth Beach. Nothing wrong with it except the line for the food tent afterwards, but I expected better based on the way people rave about it on (I admit their medal is stellar, though.)

2) OKC. I know, it's meaningful and for a good cause. Also really well-organized and a nice tour of the city. But I will never chance Oklahoma weather in April ever again, and I will never forget the misery of that 10 miles of freezing head wind and rain. Yuck.

3) Los Angeles. Don't remember hardly anything about the course. Wonder if it's more memorable nowadays than it was in 2006?

4) San Francisco. To be fair, I might've liked this one better if I had trained for it.

5) Casper. Really excellent organization, too much out-and-back, too much bike path, too much sun, too much elevation.

6) Pocatello. In my opinion, just an okay race, despite my surprise BQ there.

7) New Hampshire. Such an adorable little small town New England race! So cute! Well-run, but absolutely uninteresting.

8) Kiawah Island. I know what! Let's run around a golf course community! On second thought, let's not. Good organization, great medal, nothing else I really enjoyed about it.

9) First Light. But it has medals that are handmade by people with disabilities, and the proceeds go to charity! Who doesn't love that? Me. I don't love that. Nothing wrong with the race or with Mobile, just nothing great about it either.

10) Des Moines. I like Des Moines, but this course was nothing special. Nothing terrible either, just nothing special.

Races That Didn't Make Any Other List (I don't want them to feel left out):

1) San Diego Rock and Roll. Gave me my first BQ and has some cool parts, but I will never forget that 1-mile long shuttle line at the finish. I know what! Let's stand in an asphalt parking lot with no shade on an 85-degree day for a couple of hours! (I'm sure they fixed that, but no one can ever fix my memory of the experience.)

2) Portland. Literally remember almost nothing about this race except that I was really disappointed with my time.

3) Prescott Whiskey Row. Not a bad race if you like mountains and nature.

4) Mt. Lemmon Marathon. I ran up parts of this mountain so many times that the only thing different on marathon day was that I had a stress fracture.

5) New Orleans Mardi Gras Rock & Roll. New Orleans is one of my least favorite cities. The race was okay and the medal was excellent.

6) Las Vegas Marathon. Not a night marathon or a Rock & Roll marathon when I ran it. Unremarkable course. Strip start was sort of cool.

7) Ann Arbor. Lame choice for Michigan. Nothing wrong with this for a small town marathon, nothing exciting either.

8) Grandfather Mountain. Running up a mountain in North Carolina in July is not a great idea, but ending at the Highland Games and having a table of Little Debbie at the finish line was sort of memorable.

Well, that's all of my races to date. (I've done 3 twice -- San Diego R&R, Boston, and Pikes Peak -- which is why I have 48 listed even though I've done 51.) I have 8 states to go, and wonder where those races will fit in on these lists?