(whew, that’s a mouthful!)
In the days leading up to this race, I broke out in shingles. Yep…shingles. Seriously, sometimes I feel like I just can’t catch a break. I have been pretty stressed out, especially with school, right now; but I have always thought I was pretty good about handling it. Apparently, my body decided it was going to freak out. I can tell you that shingles is super painful and really itchy.
On to the race. (I have to thank my wonderfully generous neighbor and friend for making it possible for me to even do this event. Without him, I might not have been able to reach my goal of 13 half marathons this year.) I drove down to La Crosse after my class on Friday afternoon. I was lucky enough to be able to stay at my aunt and uncle’s house for the night. I got to spend some quality time with my aunt (my uncle was out of town for work) and my 15 year old cousin who has grown to about a head taller than me! (I think I still have about 20 pounds on him, though. Jealous of his metabolism!)
Packet pick up was at the YMCA. Since it was also Oktoberfest, there was some pretty crazy traffic around 4:30 when I got there. Fortunately, packet pick up was really easy. I love that about small races.
The packet included a button to get into the Oktoberfest grounds. I wasn’t going to use it, so I gave it to my cousin, Carli. She was thrilled! There was also a long sleeved cotton T-shirt. I wish it would have had the maple leaf logo, instead of just the names of all the race distances. But, I do kinda like the colors.
After I picked up my packet, I fought the traffic and made it to my aunt and uncle’s house. I had a lovely dinner and a (small) glass of wine out on their screened in patio. It was lovely. Then…early to bed, early to rise.
I left in plenty of time to drive the 15 or 20 minutes to Riverside park. That was where the start/finish area was set up. There are a lot of benefits to running a small race. I was able to find free (!) parking in a parking ramp only two blocks from the park. They did have race morning packet pick up and it seemed that many of the participants were taking advantage of that option. They also had a gear bag check area. I wasn’t going to check a bag, but the wind was cool that early in the morning, so I wore a sweatshirt. Bag check was really easy. Another benefit to showing up early….no lines for the porta potties! And, since I had a little time, I found a bench by the river and just sat and people watched while the sun came up. It really was a beautiful morning. The race started at 7:00 without much fanfare. Someone sang the National Anthem and then we were off. The course was a basic out and back. The only hills were over a couple bridges, and while they were actually pretty steep, they were also relatively short.
The first (and last) portion of the course was also the parade route for the Oktoberfest parade that was happening later that morning. I was surprised how many people were already lined up when we were running out. There were even more on the way back.
Because of the parade, there were random porta potties set up along that section of the course. A few runners took advantage of the convenience. I was fortunate to avoid any GI issues for this race.
I was hoping to come in under two hours for this race. I hoped that I could pull off two sub-2:00 half marathons in six days. So, I tried to keep a sub-9:00 pace on the way out. I was surprised that my pace was faster than I was anticipating. I kept telling myself to slow down. I should have figured that those splits were ‘wind aided.’
There were a couple water stations on the way out, but considering how warm a day it was, I thought there could have been a few more. There were volunteers handing out GU at the turnaround, as well as water. They really needed more people at the turnaround aid station, as things got a little bottlenecked.
As soon as I turned around to head back, I immediately noticed the wind. Suddenly it felt like was running with a parachute behind me. I knew my pace was going to drop considerably and I was now questioning why I had slowed myself down during the first half.
I kept trying to find someone to run with. Actually, I was hoping to find someone I could tuck in behind. I wanted them to block the wind for me…kinda like drafting. But, I didn’t have any luck. Everyone was either running faster than me, or considerably slower than me.
The runners got pretty spread out on the way back. Once I got back to the parade route portion of the course, I was pretty much running alone. There was a lady about 200 meters ahead of me, but I knew I wasn’t going to catch her running into the wind. The parade route had become much more crowded and the crowds didn’t seem to care that there was a race going on. People were crossing the roads, kids were playing, vendors were pushing their carts full of crappy things to sell.
But, there were some awesome course marshalls on bikes who were escorting runners through the parade route. I had two people on bikes that rode with me for a couple miles. It was so incredibly awesome! I felt like an elite!! They were clearing the road and making sure that I had an unobstructed course. And the one lady kept encouraging me. It was so cool. I will probably never get to experience that again, but I loved it. For a couple miles, I felt like a world class runner.
After the parade-route-section of the course, I headed up over the bridge again (my slowest mile split) and then toward the finish line. I really tried to pick it up at the end, but I was pretty drained. My legs were feeling really heavy and I just wanted to be done. It is pretty easy to tell from the split times how the wind affected me. I’m thrilled with my time of 1:56:54. That is actually 33 seconds faster that what I ran only 6 days earlier. That age group place was pretty cool. I ended up 9 out of 54! And I always say that the 35-39 age group is one of the most popular.
*Parking. Love free parking. Love free parking that is only 2 blocks from the start/finish line.
*Course Marshalls. They did an awesome job of patrolling the intersections (portions of the course were open to traffic) and making sure we could run through the parade route.
*Child care. This isn’t something that I took advantage of because my kids stayed home and went golfing with grandpa. The YMCA offers FREE child care to people who are participating in the run. This is one of the coolest perks I have ever heard of.
*Packet Pick up. Getting my stuff was a breeze. I was in and out in just a few minutes.
*Not enough water stops/volunteers. It was a warm day and we all could have used more water. Toward the end, I was grabbing two cups and pouring one over me.
*Post-race food. There were no bottles of water at the end. There were cups of water and Gatorade (really watered down) on a few tables after the finish chute. Because it was so warm, this area got really congested. (And a lot of cups get thrown away.) I like being able to grab a bottle of water and get out of the congestion. The food options weren’t much better. Just some bananas and bagels. I had half a banana and many cups of water and Gatorade.
*Smells. I have a very sensitive stomach. It is even more sensitive during a race when all the blood flow is being diverted to my legs, where it is needed. Running through the parade route was quite the assault on my system. People were grilling things and drinking beer (before 9:00 A.M.!?!?) and there were some spots where I thought I was going to lose what was left of my breakfast. I don’t mind smelling an occasional charcoal grill or something else relatively benign, but this was a couple miles of greasy, fatty, alcohol-y stench.
*Medal. It is a Maple Leaf run. A maple leaf shaped medal would be awesome.
*Course. It was nice to run along the river for a bit, but I was hoping it would be a bit more scenic. And, my Garmin measured the course just shy of 13 miles (something that I confirmed with several other runners after the race). An out-and-back course should never be mismarked–just move the turnaround a little bit.
Overall Grade: B-
The slightly short course, not enough water stations, and post race refreshments take away from the relatively flat course and nice location. Without the wind, this could be a PR worthy course (but, it would need to be long enough). I’m not sure if I would do this particular race again. There are a lot of other options on this particular weekend.