Saturday, November 22, 2014

#53--Las(t) Vegas Rock & Roll Marathon

Las Vegas, NV
November 16, 2014

Well, this was it.  The culmination of 16 years of training, travel, 4:30 AM alarms, and sore muscles.  I've looked forward to this for a long time, and although I was always confident that I would eventually reach my goal, I could never be sure.  26.2 miles is a long way, every single time.  Not only is it difficult to complete a marathon, it is difficult to stay healthy enough to even start a marathon after the months of rigorous training.  Although I've had my share of hurdles to overcome, here I was, about to realize my goal.

The logistics of planning 50 marathons has been a challenge, to say the least.  It was basically a coincidence that the last state was Nevada and that the last race would be in Las Vegas.  I was actually signed up to do the race many years ago, but had to cancel at the last minute when our son (then our only one) came down sick.  It ended up working out well, though, because Las Vegas provided the perfect place to celebrate my accomplishment.  We invited friends and family to the race, and nearly 40 people were able to come.  With the race being on Sunday night, this meant that a lot of people had to miss a day of work, line up sitters, etc.  It was a big sacrifice, and I appreciate everybody who came.

 The weekend was busy with race activity.  Like most Rock and Roll races, there was a large expo.  I went on Saturday afternoon, which allowed my to miss most of the Massacre in Madison, as the Huskers got throttled again in a big game.  We will save that for another blog post, I suppose.  With my packet in hand, we went back to the hotel, where people were starting to arrive.  We hosted an impromptu reception of sorts in our room, with friends and family from California to Texas to Illinois.  This was definitely not my usual pre-race routine, but this was definitely not a usual race.

Race day came and I was anxious and nervous.  The race didn't actually start until 4:30PM, and there was a 5 hour course time limit.  I always run in the morning, and the last couple races have taken me more than 5 hours.  What if my knee acted up again, and I let all these people down?  These doubts lingered in my head all day Sunday.  Fortunately, I was able to relax most of Sunday by myself, hydrate and eat.  Hotel room service food isn't ideal pre-marathon fuel, but I did the best I could.

The time for the race had finally arrived.  Many people came by the room and gave me a big send off before I walked a mile or so to the start.  The race started in front of the Mandalay Bay promptly at 4:30.  There were 41 waves of runners, most of them doing the 1/2 marathon.  I was in the 12th wave.  Two of my best friends from college actually managed to somehow find me among the tens of thousands of runners right before the race.  It was great to see them.  With the excitement of the race, I went out a little faster than I usually do.  The course headed north up the Strip.  At about mile 3.5, I was greeted my a large cheering section, and was excited to see my wife and kids.  Oscar handed me a gatorade and wished me luck.  After a brief visit with them, it was back on the Strip.

The course was cool, I suppose, and definitely a novelty, running on the Strip at night.  Weather was chilly, but perfect for running.  The course was very flat and fairly fast.  I ran the first 1/2 in just over 2:05.  I felt great and strong during most of the race.  I wasn't sure how I would feel during the race, with this being the final one of the 50.  I am not a terribly emotional person, but there were definitely times during the race when I got a little choked up thinking about it all.  Mostly, I just tried to do what I have always tried to do, run the best I can on that particular day and enjoy doing it.  The miles went by quickly and before I knew it, I had reached mile 20.  My legs started to get a little tired, and my pace slowed some.

As I neared the finish, I wondered about my family.  How would they make it?   It was late and cold.  My kids are usually in bed by now.  How about my parents?  Would their knees hold up so they could see me finish?  As the finish at the Mirage came in to view, I could hear my name.  I looked over and saw my family crowded against the fence.  I stopped to receive their congratulations, and was happy to see my kids bundled up and content in the stroller.  I was surprised to see that one part of the barricades had been disassembled by my brothers-in-law, Chip & Brian.  The rest of my family had convinced the security guards to look the other way, and my wife and kids joined me on the course for the last 20 yards or so.  I pushed the stroller across the finish line, with my wife running by my side, tears running down her face.  It was an emotional end to a very long journey for everybody.

I finished in just over 4 hours and 20 minutes, a time that was better than my first marathon in Chicago.  I was happy, proud, and relieved.  It was over.  I had done it.  This dream, 16 years in the making, was finally a reality.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What I Learned Running a Marathon in 50 States

  1. Sweat cleans places a shower will never reach (Thanks Dr. Sheehan).
  2. There is probably no better feeling than doing your absolute best at something.
  3. It’s ok to walk during a race.  You probably aren’t going to win anyway.
  4. You run much faster with a friend or group of friends.
  5. One of the most peaceful things is a long run on a cold, dark morning.
  6. Stretching is important.
  7. Baby Joggers are awesome.
  8. Babies are awesome.
  9. Food is fuel, and the best kind is clean burning, whole foods, mostly plants.
  10. If you have to run in the street, always run against traffic.
  11. Work out in the morning.  There is no better time.
  12. I always get my best ideas when I run.
  13. There is nothing better than a hot shower after a long run on a cold day.  Unless… (see #14).
  14. Bloody nipples hurt.  A lot.
  15. In marathons, like life, there are no shortcuts.
  16. I can give tasting notes on the various flavors of “GU.”
  17. I am absolutely convinced that anybody can run a marathon if he or she wants to.
  18. Running 50 marathons is probably a little nuts.
  19. Running hundreds of marathons is really nuts.
  20. Running is play.  Running is natural.  Watch your kids and see how much they run. 
  21. Running is not hard on your joints.  Being overweight and out of shape is hard on your joints.
  22. Running is my religion.
  23. There is no best shoe.
  24. Most people don’t need orthotics.
  25. There is no better way to lose weight and get in shape than running.
  26. Running, not laughter, is the best medicine.
  27. Running AND laughing?  Even better.
  28. Say “thank you” to the volunteers at races.
  29. High Five the kids at races.
  30. I’ve never regretted going for a run.
  31. After the first 90 seconds of unbearable pain, an ice bath helps a ton after a hard workout.
  32. When you have been moved to tears during a marathon, you get it.
  33. Love and a love of running will be the greatest gifts that I give my children.
  34. Expensive running socks are worth it.
  35. Most runners take themselves way too seriously.
  36. Most people take themselves way too seriously.
  37. Be grateful for what you have.
  38. Be grateful if you can run. 
  39. Take toilet paper with you on long runs.  Trust me, and don’t ask why.
  40. You are capable of doing much more than you think you are.
  41. Fig Newtons are awesome.
  42. A 20 mile run is not a good time to plan your wedding.
  43. NOT running sucks.
  44. Great things are never achieved alone.
  45. I work hard, but I have been incredibly lucky.
  46. I have the best wife and kids in the world.
  47. Running has made me happier and healthier than I would be without it.
  48. Running a marathon in every state has been a blast.  It really has.
  49. I’m ready for a break.
  50. 26.2 miles is a long way.  Every time.

Monday, November 17, 2014

#53 in the books

I did it!  I finished the Las Vegas Rock & Roll Marathon last night in just over 4 hours and 20 minutes.  With that, I have run a marathon in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  Thanks to everybody who has followed me and supported my goal the last 16 years.  What a long, strange trip it's been.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


My crew....race starts in 90 minutes

Friday, November 14, 2014

#50--Mayor's Midnight Sun Marathon

Anchorage, AK
June 21, 2014

This was my 50th marathon total, NOT my 50th state.  Nevertheless, this one felt like a milestone.  FIFTY MARATHONS.  It doesn't seem possible.

The name implies that this marathon is run at midnight.  Although possible with the 22 hours or so of daily sun this time of year, this race is not run at midnight.  It starts in the morning and is run on the Saturday closest to the Summer Solstice each year.  This year, it happened to fall on the longest day of the year.

This is obviously a destination marathon and one that I have looked forward to for a long time.  The biggest challenge, logistically, was arranging coverage for our 3 small children while my wife and I made a mini-vacation out of this race.  Thanks Mom & Dad, Tracy and Mike!

Secure in the notion that our kids were well taken care of, we left Omaha Wednesday afternoon.  Getting to Anchorage was relatively easy, with a flight from Omaha to Seattle, a brief layover, and then on to Anchorage.  Each flight was a little over 3 hours.  Arriving in Anchorage a little before midnight, with the sun still shining, was disorienting to say the least.

The weather was perfect in Anchorage, mid 60s and sunny.  We rented bikes and spent the first half day biking around town and along the coast.  We logged 30 miles or so on the bike, probably not ideal 2 days before a marathon.  I picked my race packet up later that afternoon, a task that only took a few minutes thanks the the small expo.  From there it was back to the hotel for R&R.

The morning of the race, there was a steady rain.  I didn't come real prepared for in-climate weather.  I grabbed an extra trash can bag from the hotel and turned it into a poncho.  I boarded the shuttle to the start of the race at Bartlett High School.  The gym was open, so we didn't have to stand in the cold rain for 2 hours, thankfully.

The starting gun went off at 8, and the thousand or so runners began to run through a steady, cold rain.  I didn't really hear anybody complaining, not that it would do any good anyway.  I didn't really know what to expect out of myself on race day.  I had done very little running since my double a few weeks ago, and although I hadn't had any IT band pain in my knee for weeks, I was more than a little worried about that, particularly on this hilly course.  I settled into an easy, 10:30/mile pace and tried to avoid other runners.  The first stretch of the course is on a trail similar to the trail along HW 2 for the Lincoln Marathon, fairly congested.  The pack thinned out some and I watched the miles tick by.  At mile 6, the rain had let up and I discarded the home made poncho.  The course then turned into an army training area, with miles of old muddy tank tracks to run on.  With my recent trail running experience, I found this to be the funnest part of the race.  The course was scenic, but the clouds and fogs obscured the mountain views.  I ran the first half in about 2:25.  From there, my pace quickened some and I was able to come in at 4:35, running a "negative-split" marathon for the second straight time.  I finished in the top half of all marathoners.  I grabbed some recovery food at the finish and then boarded a bus back to the hotel.  For a change, I didn't have to leave right away, so I was able to take a long, hot shower and actually relax and enjoy the accomplishment of finishing my 50th full marathon.

***That's it for the countdown.  52 marathon posts in 52 days.  This weekend I will run the Las Vegas Rock & Roll Marathon, finishing my 50th state and 53rd marathon total.  Thanks to everybody who has followed this blog and read my posts.  It's been a fun trip down memory lane for me.  I appreciate your interest and support.  Now, it's off the Nevada for my Las(t) Vegas Marathon!!****

Thursday, November 13, 2014

#49--North Olympic Discovery Marathon

Port Angeles, WA
June 1, 2014

This was the Sunday marathon of my weekend double.  Port Angeles is in far northwest Washington, so it was a 6 hour drive from the Mt. Hood area in Oregon.  Needless to say, spending six hours in a car right after a difficult trail marathon was not ideal!  My wife drove most of the way, so that at least allowed me to recline and rest a little.

We got into town around 8PM and found the hotel.  There was a great Thai restaurant right across the street.  After carbo loading, we checked into the hotel.  I laid my stuff out for the morning and then as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out.

We stayed at the host hotel, and they started breakfast at 530 for runners.  After fueling, I walked across the street to catch the bus to the start of the race.  There, I was able to pick up my race bib.   Allowing packet pick up on race day is almost a must for doing a double weekend, and usually only done by smallish marathons.  I am grateful when they allow this.

The race started promptly at 730.  Weather was perfect.  Overcast, no wind, cool, and dry.  The course was a point-to-point run.  It was run on the Olympic Discovery Trail, a paved trail near the Olympic mountain range.  It was generally flat and fast.

I started out slow, as expected.  I felt surprisingly strong, and was actually able to pick up my pace as the race went along.  I ran the second half faster than the first, and my last 6 miles were the fastest 6 miles I ran all weekend.  The finish area was right in front of our hotel.

The hotel offered late check out for runners.  I had 15-30 minutes to shower and change before checking out.  We left the hotel right at 1PM and headed to Seattle, to catch a flight home the next morning.

I felt an unusual satisfaction after this weekend.  I knew this would be a major challenge.  With this double weekend behind me, I have only four more states to reach my goal.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

#48--Timberline Marathon

Mount Hood National Forrest, Oregon
May 31, 2014

This was the first marathon of my Pacific Northwest Double.  Just a few weeks after my trail marathon in Delaware, I was very nervous going into this because of my slow time in Delaware, my knee pain that has hampered my training, and the prospect of running another marathon the next day!

My wife accompanied my on this trip, the first time she's gone along for one of these double weekends.  It was great to have her along.  This is a pretty exclusive, very low key trail marathon.  We stayed at a mountain climbing lodge at the base of Mt. Hood.  It was a neat experience, with community meals and a dorm style living.  We were fortunate enough to have a private room with bunk beds!

There was no packet pick up until race day.  The start of the race was a little hard to find.  I did manage to make it right before the start of the race.  The first couple miles of the race were very hilly and quite technical, reminiscent of Delaware.  After that, the course "flattened" out into a beautiful two lap course around Timothy Lake in Mt. Hood National Forrest.    The course was stunning, and this was quite possibly the most beautiful marathon I've ever done.

There were only 3 or 4 aid stations along the course and these only stocked water and gatorade so runners could refill their own containers.  I expected this and brought along my Ultimate Direction water belt and bottle.  I consume a gel pack every 45-60 minutes to keep my blood sugar up.

I ran the first half of the race in 2:40, 10 minutes slower than my previous race in Delaware, but I felt much better at the half way point than I did a few weeks ago.  My pace the second half of the race slowed only a little, and I finished the race in just over 5 1/2 hours.  Given the course and my difficulties training up to this race, I was satisfied.

I collected my shirt and medal at the finish.  We drove back to the lodge and I was able to take a quick, cold shower.  I quickly refueled and we began the 6 hour drive north to Port Angeles, Washington for the marathon on Sunday.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

#47--Trail Triple Crown Marathon (Formerly Delaware Trail Marathon)

April 26, 2014
Newark, DE

Numbers don't lie.  This was by far my slowest marathon and the toughest one I can remember.  I ran a trail marathon in Wyoming in 2001 that was pretty hard, too, but I think this past weekend was harder.  I have only run a few trail races and most of them have been pretty easy courses, relatively.  I saw that this small trail run in Delaware would fit nicely into my 2014 schedule, so I signed up months and months in advance.  I did so with warning, as the website warns 50 staters like myself:

"Note to 50-Staters: This is the hard way to earn your Delaware marathon finish! Expect ruined shoes and a possibility of not finishing.  If you do finish, it will likely be your slowest ever finish time."

Undeterred by the warning, I signed up.  In my training, I never included any trail runs.  BIG MISTAKE.  Flat, fast, easy "trails" like the Mopac don't count, I guess!  

Getting there was easy.  Newark, pronounced "New-Ark", is a short drive from Philadelphia.  There was no expo and no packet pick up the night before.  Just show up at the state park before the start, get your number and shirt, and start running.

The marathon was part of a day of racing.  The triple crown, included a half marathon, 10K, and 5K.  Runners could do one, two, or all three of those, hence, the triple crown.  The marathon was a stand alone event.  Sixty or so runners competed in the marathon.

There was a lot of rain the night before the race, but race day was absolutely perfect.  The course was a little muddy from the night before, but not terrible.  The course was mostly single track trail, with some rugged terrain, but manageable.  Lots of tree trunks and roots to hurdle.  The high light of the course if you want to call it that, was a knee-high creek that runners had to wade across.  It was probably twenty yards across, and the water was very cold.  The marathon crossed the creek at various spots FOUR times!  The first time I put on knee high water proof boot covers to try to keep my shoes and socks from becoming totally drenched, but they didn't work that well and I had to carry them 2 or 3 miles after the crossing to find a place to properly dispose of them.  It wasn't worth the hassle, so I crossed the remaining 3 times without cover.  Coming out of the creek, my trail running shoes and socks were completely soaked, of course, and covered with mud.  It was a neat experience, though.

I finished the first half in 2:45, which, given the course conditions, wasn't too bad.  As I started the second half though, I could tell it was going to get much tougher.  The constant up and down running had really taken a toll, and my legs at 13.1 felt like they usually do at 20 miles.  My pace slowed considerably the 2nd half.  I was passed by more experienced trail runners, who were quick with words of encouragement.  Another thing that kept me going was the encouragement from the runners competing in the other events.  They knew how tough the marathon was, and their cheers and acknowledgments helped.

I never considered dropping out of the race.  Even if I wanted to, I don't know how I could have.  Once you were out in the trails, you had the get back somehow.  There wasn't much support out there.  I suppose if somebody was really hurt, they could have called for help and gotten an injured runner out safely.

It helped knowing that there was no cut off time for the race.  After four hours, the aid stations were self service, which was fine by me.  I just had to keep going.  Relentless forward progress.

As I neared the finish, there was a group of teens in the park playing volleyball who stopped and stood and cheered as I crossed the finish.  I was one of the last runners, but not THE last, to finish.  I was exhausted mentally and physically.  I was handed a tiny finishers medal and commemorative coffee mug.

I wasn't sure how I was going to get cleaned up after this.  I had already checked out of my hotel and had a flight to catch in Philly.  Fortunately, the park had a public bathroom with running water and a soap dispenser.  I had an extra pair of clean socks that I used as a wash cloth and a pair of dry shorts that I used as a towel.  I washed off most of the mud and blood from my legs, and drove to the airport, exhausted but proud, with #47 in the books.

Monday, November 10, 2014

#46--The Marine Corp Marathon

October 27, 2013
Washington, D.C.

This was a marathon I had looked forward to for a long time.  It has a well earned reputation for being one of the finest mega-urban marathons, due in no small part to the efforts of the marine volunteers.  I was fortunate just to get in, because registration many months before was a fiasco.  Starting next year, organizers are moving to a lottery system, similar to the NYC Marathon.

This was my last marathon for the year, and I took the whole family.  Two adults and 3 small children in a hotel room for 5 days posed its own unique challenges.  Between nap times, resting for the race, and trying to connect with college friends, we didn't get to do as much sight seeing as I would have liked.  The boys loved riding the metro trains, and still talk about it to this day.

Ever since the Boston Marathon bombings, security at large races has really intensified.  This race was no different.  At peak times, it took hours to go through security and pick up the race packet and schwag at the expo.  I had to make two trips to get it all done, one with kids and one without.

Race day came early.  I tried to sneak out of the room without waking everybody up, but I wasn't successful.  I think marathon day was harder on my wife than me.  I took the metro to the pentagon, where the race started.  There, the start was patrolled by marines toting automatic machine guns.  There would be no repeat of Boston here, that was for sure.

The course was very scenic, with quite a few of the early miles through the rolling hills of northern Virginia, in surprisingly rural areas.  Aid stations were well stocked and plentiful.  I struggled almost from the beginning.  This was my 3rd marathon in 15 days, and I was TIRED.  The pain of the marathon faded when I ran through a make-shift memorial where pictures of fallen marines lined the course.  Their sacrifice really puts the marathon in perspective.  Another highlight was seeing my wife and 3 kids, who were somehow able to make it down to the National Mall to cheer me on.

The finish was fantastic, as runners raced up a hill to the Marine Memorial. I posted pictures in a previous post.  After crossing the finish, a marine put the medal my neck and shook my hand.  It felt weird to accept congratulations from men and women who put so much on the line for us.  I took the opportunity to thank each one.

The line to get on the metro stretched for blocks.  I thought I would save some time and hopped a bus that would take me to the next metro stop.  My plan didn't save any time, and I didn't get back to the hotel until almost 3PM, some 9 hours after I left!  My wife was good natured about it all, or just numb, I'm not sure.

We spent the next day doing some last minute sight seeing, taking in the Lincoln Memorial and getting our picture taken in front of the White House.

The Marine Corp Marathon was one of the highlights of what was a very busy 2013.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

#45--Atlantic City Marathon

Atlantic City, NJ
October 13, 2013

After checking out of my hotel in Baltimore, I got on I-95 and headed for Atlantic City.  I ate Lara and Power Bars in the car to refuel.  It took about 3 hours to get to AC.  I checked into the host hotel, Bally's, and walked to the expo at Caesar's.  This is the second marathon I've done where the host hotel is a casino (Baton Rouge being the other one).  It is a little weird walking through a smoke filled casino floor to pick up a marathon bib, but that's what I did.  Once I picked up my packet, I went back to my room and ordered room service, as I wasn't feeling up to venturing out to find dinner.

The race started at 8 AM, on the boardwalk right in front of Bally's.  The half and full marathons started together, but it didn't feel too congested.  The sky was overcast and it was very windy, but cool and dry.  After a brief jaunt on the boardwalk, the course turned into downtown Atlantic City.  There were a few hills early in the race, which taxed my already aching quads.  I settled into a comfortable pace after a while.  The course soon returned to the boardwalk and the half marathoners finished where we had started.  Runners doing the full continued along the Jersey shore and ran in some of the residential areas of the city, before once again returning to the boardwalk.  The last several miles were into a very stiff wind, which made the finish tough, physically and mentally.  One half mile before the finish, Rosalita by Bruce Springsteen started playing on my iPod, a happy coincidence and fitting end to my New Jersey marathon.

At the finish line I chatted with a couple runners who had also run Baltimore the day before.  We talked about the races, training strategies, and other marathons we had run.  We said good bye and I went back to the hotel to pick up my luggage, which I had to leave with the Bell man before the race, because the hotel did not offer a late check out.  I improvised as best as I could to get cleaned up and refreshed in the hotel lobby bathroom, before getting in my car and driving to Philadelphia, where I would return the rental car and board a flight back to Omaha.  I was satisfied with my time and proud to have completed my third "double-marathon" weekend.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

#44--Baltimore Marathon

Baltimore, MD
October 12, 2013

I have wanted to visit Baltimore for a long time, so this was naturally going to be my Maryland race. The weekend started with a 3:30 AM alarm Friday in order to make my 5:50 flight out of Omaha.  After connecting in Chicago I rented a car and drove to the host hotel in downtown Baltimore.  After checking in and dropping off my luggage, I headed to the expo.  The expo offered the usual check in procedures and running related booths.

I would have liked to tour the city a bit, but I was really tired and with 52.4 miles of running ahead of me, I walked to the Lexington Market and devoured a lump crab cake, one of the city's signature dishes, at Faidley's Seafood.  Later that night I took a taxi to the Little Italy section of town and loaded up on pasta for the weekend ahead.  There were several runners also there and we compared notes and shared stories of other marathons.

The race started at 8, which I don't like because I am always up way before that and I usually need extra time after the race to get checked out of the hotel, make a flight, etc.  The hotel offered a 1PM checkout, which would be cutting it close.  I also had to make it to Atlantic City by 6PM to pick up my packet.  It shouldn't be a problem, but I was unfamiliar with what traffic on I-95 would be like.

Although the forecast called for rain, the start was dry with temperatures in the mid 60s.  With the humidity, it felt much warmer than that though.  In a departure from other races, the marathon and marathon relay started at 8 AM in one place, with the half marathon runners starting roughly 90 minutes later at a point near the half way mark.  This made for a less congested start, which was nice.  One noticeable change from previous marathons was an obviously enhanced police presence.  Security measures were tighter and the fact that bomb sniffing dogs patrolled the start reminded all of the Boston Marathon tragedy.

The race is considered to be pretty hilly, and that was certainly the case.  There were also TONS of pot holes in the roads, so you really had to watch your step.  The course was a good glimpse of the city.  Lots of miles along the harbor, through the many parks highlighted by various monuments and sculptures, and a good deal of time witnessing the poverty in the housing projects just outside of downtown.

I ran an easy pace, but not as easy as I would like.  I had to be done in time to get back to the hotel, shower, and drive to New Jersey.  I finished in just over 4 1/2 hours. The half marathoners who joined the race finished at about the same time.  Although the start was not congested, the finish was.  There were long lines for food that I didn't have time to wait in.   I grabbed my medal and a bottle of water at the finish, and ran about another half mile to the hotel.  I took a fast shower, grabbed my luggage, and checked out right at 1PM.  I got in my rented Hyundai and headed for Atlantic City, NJ.

Friday, November 7, 2014

#43--Missoula Marathon

Missoula, MT
July 14, 2013

This weekend I completed my 43rd marathon and 41st state, running in the 7th annual Missoula Marathon.  I've gone almost 4 months since my last marathon, which seems like an eternity.

My sister watched our sons for the weekend, while my wife and I took our 3 month old daughter on the trip.  We flew from Lincoln to Denver to Missoula and back.  Missoula is a very cool college town nestled in between the mountains of western Montana.  It is beautiful, as anybody who has seen "A River Runs Through It" can attest to.

We arrived Friday night after an uneventful flight.  The Expo and packet pick-up was held at a downtown park, where the finish was going to be for the race.  There was a 5K Saturday morning that added to the general level of excitement.  Packet pick-up was easy and after that we walked through the Missoula Farmer's Market.  I've been to many and this was one of the best.  After checking out the vibrant downtown and getting some lunch, it was time to get off my feet and rest for the marathon.

The marathon and half marathon were each point-to-point courses, starting at 6 AM.  All runners had to take busses to the start.  I had to get up at 3:15 in order to eat, hydrate, and get to the bus on time.  The start of the race was punctuated by fireworks provided by the University of Montana Army ROTC.  Temperatures were in the high 40's and it was calm and clear at the start.

The course was mostly flat and very scenic.  I ran the first 1/2 in 2:07.  There was a long steep hill at this point that got me out of my groove.  I was a little under-trained for this race, too, as my achilles has been acting up and I've been forced to cut back on my training for the last 6 weeks or so.  Add to that the upper respiratory congestion that I caught from my daughter, and the last half was pretty tough.  I held on to finish in just over 4:37, a very average time for me the last several years.

The finish area downtown had lots of food, drinks, and music to entertain runners and their families.  We enjoyed as much of this as our 3 month old would allow, and then it was back to the hotel to shower and rest.

The Missoula Marathon was a great experience.  The city is beautiful and really embraces the race, with a whole weekend of activities and events.  The race itself is well organized and executed.  With 1,500 runners doing the full and 3,500 runners doing the half, it is just about the perfect size race, too, in my opinion.  I am glad I chose Missoula for my Montana marathon.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

#42--Tobacco Road Marathon

Cary, North Carolina
March 17, 2013

This was the second part of my "Atlantic Coast Double."  After a tough trail race yesterday, I had my doubts going into this one.

The race was in Cary, North Carolina, which is a town right next to Durham.  I made it in time for packet pick up.  The expo was small and efficient.  The race director was walking around talking to runners and answering questions.  A very nice touch.  The Embassy Suites was the host hotel, and they had a pasta buffet the night before the race.  It didn't cost much more than most pre-race pasta dinners I've had, and it was very good.

Transportation was kind of a pain.  The start and finish was at the USA baseball complex, 10 miles from the host hotel, which is strange.  Parking at the baseball fields was limited, and you had to pre-register for a parking pass, a detail that I neglected.  If you didn't have a parking pass, you were forced to drive 6 miles or so to an off site parking area, where busses would drop you off at the start.  Runners were encouraged to get there at 5AM for a 7 AM start.  This seemed excessive, but with memories of my near miss in Arizona last year still pretty fresh in my mind, I was there by 5:15.  We made it to the start a full hour before the start of the race and I did my best to keep warm and occupied.

The race started promptly at 7.  There were a few rolling hills the first 2.5 miles.  From there, the course   turned on to the American Tobacco Trail.  We spent the next 20 miles on this trail.  For Lincoln runners, think of the Mopac trail from 84th St heading east.  The trail was soft, flat, and straight.  Although it was pretty boring, my quads needed a break after the hills yesterday.  Aid stations were frequent and well stocked.  There were lots of porta-potties, too.

I ran the fist half in 2:16 and the last half in 2:25.  Considering the race I ran yesterday, I was pretty happy.  The post race party at the finish seemed like it was going to be fun, but I had to catch the shuttle back to the parking lot, get in my car, drive to the hotel, shower, change and go to the airport.

This was my 8th marathon since Labor Day.  I don't race again until July.  I am looking forward to taking a couple of weeks off!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

#41--Instant Classic Marathon

Chesterfield, VA
March 16, 2013

I had only done one trail marathon until this one.  That was a race outside Laramie, Wyoming.  That race was really hard and I've avoided trail races ever since.  I only signed up for this one in Virginia because I was going to be able to make a double weekend out of it.

I didn't do a lot of research about the race.  When I did, I found this elevation map.  Although altitude wouldn't be an issue, the dozens and dozens of climbs might be.

I was pretty nervous going into this.  The weather forecast didn't help.  It was supposed to rain the night before the race and all day Saturday.  When I woke up Saturday I looked outside and it was still dry.  I put on my trail shoes and headed to the race.  A few minutes before the start, it began to rain.  There were maybe 100 runners at the start, and nobody was fazed by it.  The race started at 7:45, and we all dashed into the trails of Pochohontas State Park.  

As far as trail races go, this was pretty easy, I think.  There were some creeks to cross, tree roots to hurdle, and rocks to avoid, but it wasn't too bad.  As the map shows, there were tons of hills.  You were either running up one or down one.  There were very few straight, flat stretches.

The race ended up being a lot of fun.  The trail was pretty sandy, so it absorbed a lot of the rain.  There was certainly some muddy areas, but nothing like I had feared.  After 30 or 40 minutes the rain stopped, and by the end of the race the sun actually came out.  It never got too hot.  The scenery was great and the course was challenging, but not terrible.  There were no spectators, basically, only volunteers every 3 miles or so at the aid stations.  These were stocked with skittles, M&Ms, pretzels, water, and gatorade.  I walked up the steepest hills in order to try and conserve energy for the marathon in North Carolina the following day.  I finished at 5:07:53.  I grabbed some water and gatorade, fruit, and a burger.  I walked to my car and changed into some dry clothes and hit the road.  

This was a no-frills race in just it's second year of existence.  Packet pick up was at the local running store, with no expo.  There were no timing chips.  There was no music or spectators on the course.  Volunteers grilled burgers and brats at the finish for runners.  As somebody who has up until now preferred large urban marathons (NYC is still my favorite), this small, low-key trail marathon in Virginia was a real treat.  When the race organizers decided to call it the "Instant Classic," I think they were on to something.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

#40--Myrtle Beach Marathon

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
February 16, 2013

With Myrtle Beach, I continued my winter swing through the south.  Winter marathons are tough to train for and can be even harder to run, with unpredictable travel and weather.  A few years ago, this race was actually cancelled because of snow!

I left on Valentine's Day and took my wife.  Somehow, I convinced her that it would be a very romantic trip to watch me run yet another marathon.  My sister watched the kids for the weekend and we made it to Myrtle Beach easily.  I was lucky enough to find a nice restaurant for dinner that night.

The expo was small and efficient.  One of the benefactors of the marathon is a preserve for rare wildlife.  The highlight of the expo was seeing several baby tiger cubs playing with each other.

The race started at 6:30 AM.  I like early starts because I am usually up anyway and sooner you start, the sooner you finish!  It was cool at the start and the temperatures were forecast to be in the low 50's for most of the day.  It was perfect conditions.  Continuing with the wildlife theme, there was an elephant at the start line to help see runners off.  I'm glad he or she wasn't easily spooked.

I ran a slow, steady race.  We had walked around a bunch the day before, so my legs were a little bit tired.  The course was flat and fast.  Surprisingly, there weren't as many ocean views as I had hoped for, but there were a few.  Aid stations were plentiful and well stocked.

I finished in just under 4:40, running almost even splits for the two halves of the race.  I met my wife at the finish and we walked to a nearby movie theater.  I was the only one at the movies with my sweaty running clothes on, a race bib on my shirt, and a medal around my neck.  Isn't this how you are supposed to spend Valentine's weekend?  

When we walked out of the theater, a very cold rain had started, which turned into a light snow later that night.  As we packed our bags to return home, I realized there was more snow on the ground and it was colder in Myrtle Beach than in Lincoln.  Not exactly the getaway I had hoped for.  We had a nice seafood dinner that night, but anxiously checked the weather.  Fortunately, the flights home the next day went smoothly.  I was happy to have finished my 40th marathon, anxious to see my two sons, and ready to train for the double marathon in Virginia/North Carolina next month.

Monday, November 3, 2014

#39--Louisiana Marathon

Baton Rouge, Louisiana
January 20, 2013

This was just the second year for this marathon.  I always thought I would run my LA marathon in New Orleans, but this fit better into my schedule this year.  It was a well executed, no frills marathon.

Getting there was pretty easy, with an on time connecting flight from Houston.  I checked in at the host hotel/casino, the Belle of Baton Rouge.  This was kind of an odd fit for a host hotel.  There was a very nice, small packet pick up and expo.  The pasta dinner Saturday night featured two inspirational speakers, one woman battling recurring brain cancer while she competes marathons and triathlons, and a man who is a bilateral arm amputee who, despite his disability, has done nearly 100 tri's with a special bike and unorthodox swimming technique.

The race started at 7 AM in front of the state capitol.  Conditions were cool, calm, and clear.  It was a relatively small field of runners, which was nice.  The course ran through the cypress tree lined parks and neighborhoods of Baton Rouge, and included a segment through the campus of LSU.  I felt good and ran a very steady race, crossing the half mark in just under 2:15 and finishing in just over 4:30.  Aid stations were well stocked and plentiful.  There were very few spectators and basically no entertainment on the course.  I don't need either one, but they are kind of nice to have.  I have found that Sunday marathons in a southern city generally aren't well attended by local spectators.

The finish line was again in front of the state capitol.  There was a great finishers area, with fruit, water, beer, and local flavors including red beans and rice and jambalaya.  The latter two are just about the perfect recovery food, with a great combination of carbs and protein. 

I had a flight to catch so I wasn't able to stick around for the post race party, which was getting a lot of buzz.  After a quick shower, I headed back to the airport.  Proud of finishing my 39th race, I was nevertheless humbled by the lady sitting next to me who just finished #361.  Now she is crazy!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

#38--Marshall Marathon

Huntington, West Virginia
November 11, 2012

I signed up for this marathon late to serve as a substitute for the NYC Marathon.  For a 50 Stater, this was a great race and I would recommend the West Virginia race for any 50 Stater.

Huntington was surprisingly easy to get to, with a flight into Huntington connecting from Charlotte, NC.  I rented a car (no accident this time) and drove to the packet pick up.  It was small and crowded, but went pretty smoothly.  There was a pre-race pasta dinner on site included in the registration fee.  For those who signed up early, they received a Brooks running jacket in addition to the race t-shirt.  For the $55 entry fee, this was the best value I have ever seen.  Most pasta dinners are $10 at a minimum.

The race started promptly at 7AM in front of the football stadium.  It was calm and cool, with temperatures in the 50s most of the race.  It was generally flat and consisted of two loops in and around town.  The highlights were the portions along the Ohio River and those through the city parks and university.  I was battling a GI bug and spent an inordinate amount of time in the porta-potties along the race.  Note to director--there could have been more!  Aid stations were plentiful, but never had any Gels or Gu's or anything.  Thanks to the kid at mile 21 handing out oreo's.  Almost right on cue, John Denver's tribute to West Virginia, "Country Roads" came on my iPod at mile 24 and took me home.  The finish was on the goal line inside the stadium.  You could carry a football the last 100 yards.  I didn't have enough left to do a dance in the end-zone, but I did spike the ball!  The University closed the rec center and allowed runners to use the shower facilities, which was a huge bonus for those of us checked out of hotels and looking to get out of town.

I was very pleased with the Marshall Marathon.  It is a great value, small regional marathon that should appeal to any 50 Stater.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

#52--Day of the Dead Marathon

October 27, 2014
Las Cruces, NM

With this weekend marking the "Day of the Dead" holiday, it is a good time to post about the marathon I recently completed in Las Cruces, New Mexico.  This was a really unique race.  Named after the Mexican holiday honoring the deceased, "Dia de Los Muertos," is not one marathon but actually a series of SEVEN marathons on SEVEN consecutive days!!

I was supposed to run in Albuquerque, NM, but changed plans at the last minute.  Thankfully, this race was still open.  I only ran the first marathon of the series, but about half of the 25 or so runners who showed up for the first one on 10/27 intended to run most or all of the races.  CRAZY!

Getting to Las Cruces wasn't real easy, but travel went smoothly and I checked into my hotel, where the World's Largest Chili Pepper greets guests at the front, shortly before midnight.

After a short night, I showed up to the race an hour before the start at picked up my bib and shirt.  I mingled with the Marathon Maniacs and we traded stories about favorite marathons, etc.  One of the guys was running his 200th marathon that day.

The course was flat and fast.  I guess you could still call it a course.  It was along the Rio Grande River bike trail.  Runners would run out a little over 1 mile and turn around and return to the start.  We did this 13 times.  It was very monotonous, but runners would high five others as we passed one another on the trail time after time after time.

The race organizers take care of the food and stocked the tables in front of their RV with anything you could want or imagine.  I don't think I've eaten so much during a race before.  I particularly enjoyed eating olives, a first for me during a marathon.  One lady even offered to warm up some lasagna for me if I wanted.

There was no time limit and I wasn't going to be able to catch a flight until the next day, so I wasn't in any hurry.  I basically took a short break during each turn around spot, enjoying the food and drink offered, and visiting with the organizers, volunteers, and fellow runners.

Temperatures climbed into the 70's, which for this time of year is pretty warm.  That affected my pace some.   After mile 16 or so, my left IT band flared up, and this forced me to walk a fair bit and stop and stretch some.  This race was only a week after my Maine marathon.  Although my knee didn't bother me in Maine, all of the hilly miles on the cambered road had finally caught up to me.

I ran slow, finishing in just over 5:40.  This actually put me in the top half of the runners for the day.  Most, I assume, were pacing themselves for the following days races.  The last place runner was awarded a commemorative caboose, the only prize given to any runner.

New Mexico marked my penultimate marathon.  The Las Vegas Rock and Roll Marathon, which I have called my Las(t) Vegas marathon, will be my 50th state.   What a long, strange trip it's been.

Here are some pics from "El Maraton."