Friday, September 21, 2012

Air Force Marathon

The Mario Recap, Marathon #35:

Great race.  So glad I went.  This is going to sound totally strange, but this race reminded me a lot of the Disney Marathon. Except... Well, red-white-and-blue and airplane themed instead of cartoons and a mouse.

Who plunked this metal thing on my new shreddy paper toy?!

The Full Recap, Marathon #35:

I left my hotel 1.5 hours before the gun time.  I had read there had been some parking traffic issues the year before and the race was recommending arriving that amount of time early.  Parking was very quick and efficient and with over an hour to go before the race I found myself parked in a huge field in the dark.

Race day temps were forecast to be in the high 70's.  I knew the low was going to be 49 but somehow that didn't translate into my skull that it would actually be chilly at the start.  Last minute I threw a garbage bag into my backpack when I left home as a wimpy cover-up but I didn't pack any truly warm throwaway items.  I was reluctant to leave my warm rental car (hello, seat warmers!) armed with only a little garbage bag to ward off the cold.  So I decided to wait until half an hour 'til the start to leave my car.

I didn't take into account that I was parked at the outskirts of a huge field.  And this huge field was a bit of a walk to the Air Force Museum. And the start was actually a bit of walk on the other side of said museum. When I finally left my car I snapped a photo of a banner they had put out to help me remember where my car was parked.  I am pretty bad at remembering what a rental car looks like.  I imagined I would be awful at finding a rental car that is parked in a huge field the size of a Disney parking lot.  My searching skills would be especially impaired since I parked the car in the dark and would be returning 5+ hours and 26.2 miles later in sunlight.

I took this as a visual reminder of where I was parked.  Good thing they had them because if you had asked me where I had parked my car when I returned I would have told you a totally different area of the giant field.

I joined up with a crowd of people walking.  We passed a line of portapotties right by the parking area. The lines there looked to be about 15 minutes long.  I remembered reading that there were going to be tons of portapotties at the actual start so opted to keep walking and take my chances at those.

As the long walk continued I started to realize that I was cutting it really, really close to the start.  In retrospect the walk from my car to the start was probably over a mile long.  I had given myself 30 minutes to walk and use the restroom. Not smart. I silently cursed the seat warmers.

The scene on the way towards the start.  That's actually mist on the field. Yes, it was chilly.

I turned Garfield Garmin on during the walk to let him get a satellite signal.  He immediately threw up one of the known glitches I have with my unit. He got stuck on the "Garmin" home screen.  From past experience I know that if I continue to turn him on and off or reset him, or possibly plug him into the wall for a second (not an option in a grass field pre-race) he will eventually get with the program.  But it often takes many, many resets.  I started resetting him and turning him off and on hoping he'd unglitch before the race started.

Right as I was reaching the race area you could hear the National Anthem being sung.  I will say, it is only at the Air Force Marathon when you are walking in a crowd of runners trying to get to a race that people will actually stop moving and stand still to hear this song. Once it was over, I put my walk into high gear to find the portapotties.

I stumbled upon the most beautiful sight:  Two long rows of portapotties, each over a tenth of a mile long with absolutely NO lines.  I guess I was the only one running late. I hopped into one quickly.  As I was in there, I heard the announcer say that the flyover was about to happen.  Every year the race picks an aircraft to highlight on the medal and they have a flyover by that aircraft at the start.  I raced out of the portapotty in time to catch the B-2 flyover:

I heard men talking about how this gave them chills.  None of that for me, but it was sort of cool.  The B-2 is a stealth bomber whose primary function, according to its write-up is, "Multi-role heavy bomber."  Definitely don't want to see one of those flying over me ever again.

Hightailed it from there over to the start area and joined up with the crowd to cross the start line.  I literally got there right in time to not start at the very back of the pack.  Garfield was still being a putz and I resigned myself to possibly not having him for the race.

My only goal for this race was to finish in a way which allowed me to reenter my training plan the week after.  I was thinking I'd probably finish around a 4:20 (got a 4:21 with a portapotty break so pretty spot on there).  I consider one of my greatest strengths as a runner the fact that I can run easy when I decide that running easy is the agenda for the day.  I dialed in "easy long run pace" and went with it.

About half a mile or so into the race Garfield came back to life!  I decided to turn him on at the mile 1 marker so that he would be beeping at appropriate intervals the rest of the race.

The race starts with a nice little climb which has the added benefit of separating out the different paces a little quicker.  If you recall, I was originally going to run Air Force as my A-race of the year.  I read lots of conflicting opinions about whether the course was fast or hilly.  Hills are all relative but here is my take:  I would not describe this sucker as flat and fast.  It is overall fairly fast but there is a nice climb in the beginning and that climb at mile 21 is MUCH bigger than it looks when you're on the 21st mile of the day.  There are also little rollers that don't register on the elevation chart.  However, since I train on lots of hills it wasn't too terrible.  If you're going to race this one, definitely do some hill training.  It isn't a terribly difficult course, though, and I can definitely see how people think it is PR-friendly.  At the end of the day, I think my new A-race (Two Cities) is a faster course.

I carried my camera during the race but took a dismal amount of photos.  This is partly because I was having a good time soaking up the experience and partly because I wanted to keep moving.  So I don't have tons of photos to share. But really, if you've see one Air Force base, you've seen them all.

I was really surprised at all the bands they had out on the course.  Most of the race is run on an active military base so crowd support is minimal.  I thought the bands came at nice intervals.  Band support seemed to peter out a little in the latter miles, and this would be my main suggestion to the race to liven things up.

There was one small loopy-out-and-back section of the race around mile 10.  This part of the race is off-base and has an enormous amount of crowd support.  It totally reminded me of running through the Magic Kingdom at Disney.  As I entered the area the 3:45 pace group was just leaving and I thought about how I'd like to be running with them at Two Cities.  They had two bands in the area.  One was an accordion group and the other was what I can only describe as Hoedown music.  The stuff they were playing was so idyllic small-town USA.  We ran through a residential street that had red, white, and blue streamers hanging from all the trees.  It was incredibly cute and a great pick-up.  I could have run that 1+ mile loop over and over and been totally thrilled.  I suppose that is why it reminded me of running through the Magic Kingdom at Disney because I always think that when I am there, too.

Like Disney, Air Force had some of the best volunteers and amazingly frequent aid stations.  I ran with just a 6 oz water bottle.  For goal races I do tons of reconnaissance work pre-race.  I slack a bit on this when I'm running for fun and had no clue how often the aid stations were.  I assumed they would be about 2 miles apart so started drinking water at the very beginning since I knew it was going to warm up and I wasn't carrying much on me.  Surprisingly, they had aid stations almost every mile.  I had to start skipping some of them.  They had themed aid stations.  I shot this in the luau-themed station:

So, so clever. If I ever run an aid station I am doing this!

My personal favorite aid station was at mile 18.  They had a guy dressed as Elvis talking on a microphone saying, "Welcome to Aid Station 'O,' your rock 'n roll water hole!  We have water on the right and Gatorade on your left.  If you need anything at all please let us know!" over and over as new people came through.

I started feeling good around the half and my pace quickened a little.  I was tempted to see how fast I could go at an "easy effort" pace.  But I reminded myself there was no glory in running faster at what was supposed to be a training run and slowed myself down.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, we ran by Huffman Prairie Flying Field where the Wright brothers flew their aircraft.  I would have snapped a photo of the recreated Wright brother hangar but had no idea what I was looking at during the race (I didn't go to the Air Force Museum until after the race).

Not all the race was hum-drum military base roads.  We were on a nicely shaded path for a bit which was a nice respite from the sun.  Things stopped being chilly about an hour into the race.  Things started feeling warm at about the half mark. Luckily things didn't get hot until the last few miles.  I really thought the weather was going to be a bigger factor so that worked out nicely.

Sweet shade!

Running on a military base is a lot like running backstage at Disney or on the roads between theme-parks.  The signage is sort of the same.  There aren't a lot of people.  It was a really, really odd parallel. At one point some people were cheering on the outside of the barbed wire fence.  Now that is something I hadn't seen at a race yet.

We hit mile 20 and I thought about how that was all the miles that my training plan called for this day.  "If I were home, I could stop right now," I thought. "If I could stop right now, I actually still feel pretty good," was my next thought.  I had gone in with the strategy of running my easy long run pace the first 20 miles and taking occasional walk breaks the last 6.2 if needed.  I even told myself I could do some walking up that monster hill.  But I got to the hill and decided to just keep trucking.  In the end I walked through aid stations but just kept plugging away the rest of the time.

The full merged with half marathon walkers in the latter miles which caused a bit of weaving and dodging.  You can tell who the half marathon walkers are from dejected full marathon walkers from the back.  I have to say, I was passing a lot of marathoners at the end of this race.  That was a little surprising.  The heat, maybe?  The hill?  Who knows.

Coming towards the finish area.  That is the museum straight ahead and the planes to the right mark the home stretch.

I want to mention something I found really odd here, and if anyone has an explanation, please share.  The entire race, my Garmin was remarkably spot-on with the mile makers.  I was never more than 20 or so feet from one when it would beep.  I took a quick portapotty stop at one aid station which added a little distance onto my day, but even then my Garmin was synced up with the mile markers pretty well all the way up until mile 25.  I was amazed.  The last "1.2 miles" was measured as 1.4 miles by Garfield.  I thought perhaps mile 1 had been "long" and I had missed measuring that mile, but everyone else's Garmin seemed to beep when mine did throughout the race so I don't think this was the case.  I do think 26.4 miles measured by your Garmin is totally within reason of what a 26.2 mile course yields.  However, I found it totally insane that an entire "extra" 0.2 miles got added on in that final mile.  I'm just putting this out there in case anyone plans on racing this sucker. You will end up with a "long" reading so adjust your pace accordingly.

I passed a woman holding a sign I loved but have never seen at a race before. It said:  "26.2 puts the F-U in Fun!"  Ha ha.

Towards the finish.  That wing we are about to run under belongs to the plane that brought the POWs home from Vietnam (lots of cool plane shots to come!)

I got my medal from an USAF officer (Looks like a Colonel?  I'd say the guy to the right is a two-star General.  Maybe that is why his line was longer).

The officer that gave me my medal.  My dad went to work every day in a uniform that looked just like this.

Get in my belly!

I collected some food and had a seat on the grass and downed my (in retrospect, sadly small) pizza, a banana, a bottle of Gatorade and half a bottle of water.  Then I started my loooong walk back to the car.

The swag was plentiful but does not live up to my XS women's specific shirt standard.

Decent shirt, but it doesn't fit, so big deal.

I love the medal. Two-sided, heavy, all the pertinent information, and a pretty ribbon.  Definitely one of my favorite medals.

This race meant something to me since my father is retired from the USAF.  There was a snafu on the half marathon course, but the full marathon was very well organized.  The aid stations were plentiful and the volunteers were awesome.  Crowd support is nothing like NYC but it was decent and the volunteers every mile or so cheer for you loudly.  I would definitely recommend this race.  I have to give props to the state of Ohio.  I never thought I'd run one, let alone two (Akron) Ohio marathons in my life.  And both of them have been surprising standout favorites in my marathon history.

I'm very happy I decided to make the trip out to Ohio and to make some allowances in my training plan so that I could participate.  I wore a photo on my back of my dad in his dress uniform with me when I was a kid and am planning on giving him the picture and my medal later.


Rabbits' Guy said...

Good work - oh the joys of many pottis and short lines!!!

Lived and worked for Boeing near Detroit once and we went to Wright Patterson now and then on business. Huge place!! National Cash Register is/was there in Dayton in big old brick buildings I think.

I knew lots of people at Boeing who worked on the B2. They worked in a big building with all the windows painted over and they could not talk about it. It had some code name they used!

alicia. said...

Sounds like an incredible race! I thought about running it this year, but my life schedule is a little bit too crazy. Definitely a race on my "someday" list.

I love the medal and the shirt! Too bad it doesn't fit..

naomi said...

That is a fine-looking medal! And I love the flyover too! So glad this went well given the sentimental meaning of the race!

audgepodge said...

I like that hat! And the medal too - looks like an Olympic one :D

Good job, dawg!

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