Running in Circles
It was an interesting road training and running a spring marathon this year and for a time it looked like it would never happen. It started with the Cowtown Marathon in sunny warm Dallas on March 1st, or so Bob H. and I thought. The Cowtown Marathon actually was turned into a half marathon thanks to a major ice and snowstorm to hit Dallas two days before our race. We ended up racing in West Lafayette, IN, in record cold. Through it all, we kept the Experience Triathlon motto in mind: “Sunny and 80.”
A little bit about Dallas before I get into the real reason for the blog title. Flying into Dallas in the ice and snow storm was interesting but paled in comparison to the 25 mile drive to our Ft. Worth hotel with the roads covered with an inch of ice. Now we Chicagoans are a tough breed and scoff at a little snow but trying to drive on ice with the people from Dallas was a trip in and of itself! Driving on ice is nothing we were prepared for and it took us over two and a half hours to drive the distance to the Expo. When we got there, we walked into a 200,000 square foot convention center completely by ourselves with the exception of about seven volunteers. It was really starting to get a little freaky. We got our race packages and went to the hotel room and all the while the snow and ice were still coming down. With the weather being what it was, we opted for dinner in the hotel and a good night’s sleep.
When we awoke the morning before the race, the snow and ice storm had turned into a light freezing drizzle that was freezing on the same roadway and paths we were to run the 26.2 miles on. “Uh, oh!” is what we thought. We again visited the expo and were comforted to see that this time there were hundreds of racers there collecting their packets and talking about tomorrow’s race. This bolstered our thoughts that they wouldn’t dare cancel the race with this many people ready to go. That thought held until just after 5 PM on Saturday, when we received the word from the race director that the ultra marathon, marathon, 10K, and 5K had indeed been canceled due to the weather. L However, we would be able to run the half marathon as a consolation prize. We found out later that of the 30,000+ runners that should have run that weekend, only about 6,000 actually showed up on Sunday to run the half. The reason obviously was the road conditions, ice and snow covered, sand spread to try to provide some good footing. The bridges were mostly ice covered and you had to run in the tire ruts for any traction, and I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything. Getting to run it with a great friend, Bob, spending some fun times while we waited to know if we were running or not, and, oh yeah, for our pre-race dinner we went to the Ft Worth Stockyards (which we would pass through the next day) and ate steak, barbeque ribs, and fries. It will have to go down as one of the most unusual pre-race dinners ever and one of the most unusual destination races ever, one never to be forgotten. It’s those times in life when nothing goes as planned that remain imbedded in our memories.
Now on to the reason for the blog title and our next attempt at doing a marathon. While in Dallas and knowing that the race was being canceled, Bob and I started searching online for other marathons that were in the upcoming weeks and within a limited travel distance. We looked at quite a few marathons and the travel involved and finally decided on the Circular Logic Marathon in West Lafayette, IN. I mean, how cold could it be in late March in the middle of Indiana? We were about to find out!
The weekends leading up to the marathon were warmer than normal and our additional long runs were done in relatively nicer weather than you’d usually expect in March in Chicago. With the race only a week away the weather turned, we got four inches of snow, and the projected outlook for race day was cold with possible lake effect snow in West Lafayette. I told Bob the day before the race that someone or some thing didn’t want us to run a spring marathon. We kept our “Sunny and 80” disposition and drove through some snow showers on the way to West Lafayette.
So to say this race is a little unique would be an understatement. The course consists of 26 laps around Cumberland Park in West Lafayette, where a portion is on the sidewalk and there’s a hairpin turn on the back side of the loop. To get the entire 26.2 miles in, the first loop around includes a short .2 miles out and back on side area and then 25 one mile laps. This was going to be an interesting race.
Race day dawned cold, record cold for West Lafayette, but clear and sunny with no wind to speak of so at least we had that going for us. As we readied ourselves in the hotel room with layer upon layer, I would say our expectations of a break out race were not very high. It’s not that we weren’t going to go out and do our best, no way! It’s just that there were a number of factors to overcome to come away with a great race. We were prepared to do the best we could, take whatever the race course or weather could throw at us and keep the SN80 motto going. Now a very wise person has told me many times that when you relax a little, stay in control of your emotions, and stay in the box is when breakthroughs happen. Well Coach Joe, you’re absolutely right because that’s the kind of day it was, a breakthrough day.
So the race itself is a very interesting setup and extremely fan friendly. I mean, where else can your cheer crew see you 26 times to shout encouragement or give you the boost you need in the later portions of a marathon? The water stop, not stops because there’s only one, is just past the start line, I mean the finish line, no, I mean the lap line, OK you get the idea – they’re all one and the same. The water stop is a table with your bib number affixed on the front and you put your two bottles there and grab and go as you pass by – 25 times if you want. You rehydrate, then about 25 yards down the course you drop the bottle in the laundry basket and, lo and behold, when you come back around the bottle miraculously appears again on the table. All right, not so miraculous because a volunteer carts them back to the table and they replace them in the proper spot, refilled if necessary. Pretty slick if you ask me.
The race started somewhat promptly at 9:00 AM with temps around 17 degrees, sunny, and no wind. We did our first lap at 1.2 miles and got a very pleasant surprise as we crossed the start/finish/lap mat: on a very large screen TV after we crossed the mat was our name, our lap time, and how many laps we had done – sweet!! You’ve got to admit that not many marathons allow you to adjust your pace each and every mile. This was going to be a good day because I had left my running watch at home, but things were coming together. The other advantage was you got to know people as you went round in circles, not necessarily talking to them but seeing them constantly on the course. There was a gentleman whose shirt read, “I did marathons in all 50 states TWICE,” and the guy running completely barefoot that was hard to miss because he passed me at least three times and each time the bottom of his feet were dirtier than the last time I saw him (hey, whatever keeps your mind going for 26.2 miles, am I right?) and the honor of finishing lap 18 and actually seeing the overall winner cross the finish line – now that was a treat not to be forgotten. The other advantage was being able to see Pat H. strategically placed on the back side of the course, right near that hairpin turn which as the race progressed became more and more of a chore. Pat, you have no idea how much I looked forward to seeing you on each lap; your support of Bob and I was absolutely key to us, especially as the race progressed and that turn became more and more difficult. Thank you also for keeping Cheryl updated on my progress because she couldn’t make the trip. That meant so much to both of us. Oh Pat, I’m still waiting for the 26 horn honks J. There was no shortage of people out there cheering you on, from the racers themselves, to the volunteers, to the spectators. All got involved, a neat perk of a circular race.
As a breakthrough race I was able to accomplish all my goals and log an eight minute PR thanks to my amazing wife, Cheryl, who supports my crazy lifestyle with the vigor of a cheerleader. Thanks, honey, I couldn’t do this without all the support you give. I got my marathon and you got my facial hair back, a good deal for both of us. 🙂
To Bob, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your friendship, your support, and being able to bounce race plans off of you for these races. I’m looking forward to our year ahead and our long training days towards Ironman Arizona & Wisconsin.
Now to Coach Joe, I know I threw you a major curve ball when I dropped the Cowtown Marathon on you very late in the process but you handled it as you always do: calmly and with the determination that you’ll get me ready to race. You’ve done an outstanding job of training and supporting my goals and for this one we hit a major home run, thank you. You also taught me there’s more than one way to train for a breakthrough marathon performance.
The bottom line is I that wouldn’t do every marathon like this, but there are enough positives to it that I’d encourage it to anyone thinking about it to do the Circular Logic Marathon. Both the Cowtown (half) Marathon and the Circular Logic race experiences have left lasting good memories for me.