Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mount Desert Island Marathon Recap

Race day morning dawned bright and early. Except dawned might be a bit of misnomer since we immediately pressed our faces to the window to find it was raining. We checked the weather, and it was also colder than expected.
I'm going to invent a napping marathon for these situations. I will win my age group every time.
We did an outfit change and went down to breakfast, opened early for runners, which was a nice touch. Michael also wanted to buy a postcard before we left. The front desk clerk was really nice, but he needed a calculator to figure out how much change he should give Michael - who paid for a 30 cent postcard with a dollar. We were a little nonplussed.
How do I maths?
We weren't sure how bad parking would be, since there didn't seem to be tons of spots downtown, and the added half (whose participant had to be on their buses before the full started) made us a little nervous. There ended up being tons of spaces, even right before the race start. Right after we parked, we went to bag drop and then went to wait in the car. During this time it really started pouring. I did not want a repeat of Sleeping Bear, where I was drenched the whole time.

We got really lucky, and the rain almost completely stopped when we left for the start. In the bathroom line we got some tips about the course from someone who drove it the day before. He let us know that the hills in the first half were all rolling, and that after that, there were several much flatter miles. This ended up being a huge mental help, since I knew when we went up, we really would go down. I had studied the course profile, but all the hills looked awful on it to me.

We picked a random spot in front of the line and asked someone to take a picture of us. We had to take a second one after we were told to look happier. Sorry it's hard to look excited when I'm shivering.
I love my fleece hat, if only it didn't make my eyebrows look demonic.
We had heard a bagpiper warming up in the fire station, so we knew there would be one. (Apparently, there are also tons of bagpipers in the MDI area. They desperately needed to find one on Facebook the week before the race and got about five distinct suggestions!) After some pre-race announcements, the RD said there would be a tribute to Boston. The bagpiper came out of the fire station behind us, and we parted to let him walk to the start line. I couldn't see at the time, but there was no direction from any race personnel to clear space from him, it just happened. The whole thing was very moving without feeling over the top. After a moment of silence, we were off.

MDI had certainly been scenic the day before, but it was even prettier (somehow) in the morning light on foot.
The hills were there, but honestly I didn't really notice them because I was so busy looking around. Michael and I chose to run together at a comfortable pace. We ran by effort - taking it easier on the uphills and using our momentum on the downhills. Despite the fact that we had run a marathon two weeks prior, it honestly felt fine. I'm sure dropping the pace helped, but mentally knowing I could cover the distance was a nice boost too.
I found it hilarious for some reason the class trip is to Quebec. But it's the land of my people, so I can't hate.
There were a couple spots with spectators in the first half, and their cheering was a nice boost without being bothersome. My favorite sign (which I did not think to take a picture of) said "Remember that you love running." It sounds corny, but being reminded of that when you're hurting is actually helpful. The only problem was it suddenly got warm and sunny, and we were not dressed for it! We shed our hats and gloves, and I jerry-rigged them into my fuel belt. We started calling it my tumor.

Unrelated, but Maine, how are you so pretty?
We made it to the halfway point feeling great. The rolling hills had been different, but most of the grades were gradual, and it was almost fun running on different terrain.
I think this is Somes Sound, but I don't actually know.
The weather really warmed up at this point, and it was nice to have the sun, even if it was a little too hot for my liking. We also started joking that Al Borges, who we call Whale Borges, would come swimming by in the ocean. Michael then pointed out Maine locals might not know who that is and think we were terrible people for making fun of him. We're probably terrible people anyway, so I suppose it's fair.
He could be the next Loch Ness Monster if he does get fired and needs a new career.
Fatigue didn't really set in until 21 or 22 miles, but even then it was nothing like the wall during Sleeping Bear. Not running anymore sounded super fun, but continuing to run wasn't totally awful. We did stop for a bathroom break here. Thankfully I held out for bathrooms, I felt bad for the people who bailed to the woods only to immediately round the corner to see real bathrooms. The women did not look happy.

At this point, we started walking up the larger hills and got caught in a group on one where we had to squeeze between construction barrels and traffic. A racer next to us struck up a conversation about the hills and how he was struggling. I agreed we were as well, being from flatland Michigan and innocently inquired as to where he was from. His answer: San Francisco.
How can you expect anyone to find hills to train on there?
I'm not usually successful in maintaining a poker face in daily life, and at mile 23 in a marathon, I think I conveyed "wtf" almost immediately. He then explained he trained using Crossfit and hadn't run more than four miles at once in over a year. He admitted he knew it would be hard but didn't think he would struggle this much. I'm not being facetious when I say I nearly beat him with a nearby construction barrel. 
This meme has never been more appropriately used.
There's not enough room in this post for my Crossfit rant, but this is why I absolutely loathe Crossfit. I've recently started strength training and love it, but there's a difference between that and a cult that says you can effectively compete in long-distance running events without any specific training, let alone anything close to the recommend training. As soon as we had enough room to take off, we did like bats out of hell with probably the most impolite good-bye ever. And the poor guy still had no idea what he did wrong. If you ever take anything away from my blog, let it be that running helps you run.

When we got to mile 25, a man lounging in a lawn chair informed us we were at the top of the final hill. I'm still not sure if he was officially part of the race or a spectator wanting to giggle at our pain. He was camped in the parking lot of the Top of the Hill Restaurant, so it wasn't like you wouldn't know you had made it to the top without him. But honestly, with 1.2 miles left to go, it could've been a Bigfoot telling me where I was and I would've just rolled with it.
If you look closely, you can see we still had hills to run up. What liars.
We went down and into Southwest Harbor to the finish line. It felt amazing to cross and know we had qualified as Marathon Maniacs. In my finisher's photo I look like I'm dying (and Michael can't stop laughing whenever he sees it). He's even laughing in the photo like he knows what gold is being created.

Time: 5:21:31
I'm going to request to use this picture for my work ID.
We got our mylar blankets, which we honestly didn't really need, and collected our drop bag. The school entrance wasn't signed, and we had to ask where most of the bags were. We swung through the equally hard to find food tent and got a finishing picture from some runners we had been leapfrogging through the second half.
Afterwards, we saw our first choice shuttle bus coming in and scuttled across the course to the line. We didn't make it because there were too many people, at which point we started to get nervous. We 100% needed to be on the next shuttle to make our flight. We frantically started estimating how many people the shuttle could hold and I got stared at as I took a shuffling head count. We had been debating asking to cut in line, but it seemed like we should be the last people on the bus.

The next shuttle came, and we were going to be the first two people off.

I begged the two people (who were together) in front of us to give up their spots. I could see why they might think we were lying, but they had to have heard us discussing the situation and definitely stared while I counted. It's not like we pulled this out of our butts at the last second. It was warm outside, and we were essentially asking them to wait an extra 30 minutes for a guaranteed sit-down spot on the next shuttle. They literally got in line one second before us, so they hadn't waited any longer than us. They nearly said no, at which point I probably would've cried, but they did finally acquiesce.

We still couldn't understand how we almost got bumped - the bus held 45, and we were 44th and 45th in line. Once we got on, Michael was still over the line, so he started pushing. I saw the terror in the other runners' eyes as they were getting inexplicably shoved back. We managed to squeeze on, and I discovered the problem. Several people ahead of us (standing) had absolutely giant Ironman backpacks on. I don't want to take away from their accomplishment, but if your gear is forcing people off the bus, it's not okay.
One person per bus at Kona.
I thought the worst was over at this point, but then we experienced the bus ride from hell. The bus driver could not brake smoothly to save his life and that, plus the hills, nearly made me motion sick, and I don't normally have problems with that. My hands went numb from clutching on so hard, and I need to extend an apology to the woman who had to have my butt in her face the whole way.

I nearly fell off the bus when we got back, and when I dropped something in the intersection, I almost just left it there. We stumbled back to the car and got through our post-race routine as fast as possible. I changed my shirt on the street, and I'm pretty sure all the non-runners were scandalized.

The stress continued as we had to get off the island without making any wrong turns. We went as fast as we were comfortable with on the way back. We wobbled to security and heard our names called for final boarding as we were putting our shoes back on. We ran to the gate, only to have the agents laugh at us - apparently "final call" means we still have ten minutes. Long story short, we made it on the flight. The post-marathon was like it's own marathon, and it was 100% more stressful and nowhere near as fun.

I then spent the following two hours after the flight on the Michigan Flyer listening to someone enumerate all the people she wanted to punch in the face. I just wanted to rest, but I also didn't want to die after everything I had been through.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mount Desert Island Race Rating

Race: Mount Desert Island Marathon
Date: October 20, 2013
Location: Bar Harbor, ME
Year Running: 12th
Registration: $75 (for a four day window only, so register early!)

Race Information
Size: 722 full, 317 half, 61 full relay teams
Course Limit: 7 hours (or 8 hours with an early start)
Min. - Max. Elevation: 10 - 261 ft
Min. - Max. Temperature: 42 - 59
Charity Supported: 501(c)(3)

Airports: Portland (PWM), Bangor (BGR), and Boston (BOS). We flew into Portland because it was about $100 cheaper than Bangor and had late direct flights back to DTW. Boston was similarly priced, but added another two hours to the Portland drive time.
Rental car: 99% necessary. There is a shuttle to/from the Bangor airport, though the times are extremely limited. There is also Greyhound service from Portland, but I saw that station in person and would have thought it abandoned if I hadn't read another racer talking about using it.
It looked even shadier in person, trust me. Portland was no Detroit, but I wouldn't have necessarily felt comfortable wandering around on my own in a lot of spots. Like here.
It would also be really hard to do anything in Bar Harbor without a car. The town is within walking distance of the hotels (about a mile), but the Acadia shuttle service ends on Columbus Day. It's pretty pricey to get to Bar Harbor, paying a little extra to have a car to explore Acadia National Park is totally worth it.
Host hotel: Two - the Atlantic Oceanside Hotel & Event Center and the Acadia Inn. Acadia Inn was $50 less a night (or $70 less if you assume we would've gotten an ocean-view room) and was perfectly fine. They opened breakfast super early race morning and were incredibly helpful when I needed help with our bag check tags. The race activities are all at the Atlantic Oceanside, but it is less than two minutes walk away, with a sidewalk.

Communications: Great to the point of almost being too much. They didn't print the Athlete Guide, but I'm not kidding that I was about ready to scream in frustration if the RD sent one more email reminding us to read it.
Expo: At the Atlantic Oceanside in the Event Center. There were no lines for packet pick-up and plenty of volunteers. Shirts and bags were at a different table, but right across from the bibs. It would be easy to get in and out without seeing the vendors, if you wanted. There was a women's apparel vendor, as well as the sponsoring running club's booth, which had both Brooks and generic race-branded gear. (Saving money, wuddup, my fleece was $2 less than a Brooks t-shirt.) A few of the race sponsors also had booths set up. It was small, but it had enough to look at for a race of this size.
Other Activities: There was a 2 mile-ish fun run followed by a breakfast ($10), a pasta dinner ($18), and a post-race party (not sure on cost). The breakfast was secretly the hotel continental breakfast (unless we totally missed it), and I'm not sure it'd be worth $10, especially since the run is free. The pasta dinner was amazing, and Zoe Romano was a great guest speaker. It is a little pricey, but it raises money for the MDI High School Music Boosters.

Race Day
Parking: Throughout downtown Bar Harbor, all parking restrictions are lifted on race day. We got there super early, but could have gotten there with even ten minutes to spare no problem. If only someone would learn how to parallel park. Ahem.
Shuttles: Back to Bar Harbor from the race finish. I will avoid the rant that is coming in my race recap, but, do not rely on the shuttle for the time you need! We scurried in for our first choice, but the lines were so long that we still had to beg our way onto our last chance shuttle. Nowhere was it indicated there would be a significant wait for the shuttle. The ride was about 30 minutes and included standing room, which was zero fun. (There was also a morning shuttle to the half start from the marathon start.)
Bathrooms: Several. We only waited a couple minutes before we were due to line up.
On Time: Three minutes early, according to my Garmin.
Corrals: None, but not needed. There was plenty of room to pass on the roads in the first miles.

Type: Point-to-point
Terrain: 100% concrete
Bathrooms: Few and far between, they officially recommend the woods as a back-up (which is definitely workable).
Crowding: None
Highlights: Acadia National Park, Maine coast, ocean views, the only sound on the East Coast, fall colors
It is seriously 26.2 miles of this. Totally incredible.
Course Support: Aid stations approximately every two miles. And because there is a god, their sports drink of choice is Gatorade. (I used to hate on the lemon-lime flavor, but anything beats clear Heed.) Each also had water, and several had multiple flavors (!) of Gu. The volunteers were very good about announcing what they had.
Spectators: Perfect amount. The race provides very detailed spectating directions, so there would be groups at key intersections. Lots of people played music and had signs, but there were still plenty of peaceful stretches to just enjoy the scenery.
Local knowledge of race: Seemed fairly good. They started cordoning off parts of Bar Harbor the night before, and locals in the other towns we ran through didn't seem bothered by us.

Food: I was honestly so stressed about the shuttle I don't remember. They did have someone slicing bagels with cream cheese who would take custom combination requests. There was also fruit and water. I think there was more, but it's all a bit of a blur. The tent was really hard to find, especially if you were coming from bag drop.
Atmosphere: Fun. There was a big party going on that we didn't have time to stop at. Everyone got a free beer, which I'm sure contributed.
Party: There was one that night, which I think is too bad for a Sunday race. It's great for people staying, but there's no airport with flights out late enough to let you hit the party up and still leave the night of. Unless you're a local or taking an extended trip, it would be hard to justify the extra hotel expense.

Shirt: Haha, time for another shot of the jacket of hideousness. The orange is even orangier in real life.
Paint a trash bag orange and wear it around. It will be more stylish.
Medal: Nice quality and very cool design in the shape of Mount Desert Island. Race specific medal, not sure if the ribbons are as well.
Soft-sided Backpack: It's a decent size, though it's a bit of a bummer to have the race sponsors on it. (But they're not on the jacket, so I guess it's fair. Smart call on their part.) I wish it had the race name or distance displayed a little more prominently.

Final Thoughts
  • The Race Director is from MDI and really wants to make the race successful. He really seems to put his heart and soul into making it a great experience.
  • The half was a late addition this year (not sure what prompted it), but it didn't cause any problems for the full, and I didn't see any complaints from the halfers.
  • If it were at all possible, I wonder if they could get a discount and offer better times on the Bangor shuttle to Bar Harbor, as well as put the Acadia NP buses in service for the weekend. Both of these buses are still used at that time of year, so they're physically available.
  • Communication is key, but they could reduce the number of emails a bit. We already registered - there's no need to keep marketing to us in the weeks leading up to the race.
  • Put some signs up at the finish line. In our post-race daze, it was hard to navigate around, especially when it required crossing over the course again.
  • For the love of all that is good, fix the post-race shuttle situation! Even something as simple as a sign indicating the bus capacity would have helped us do our begging before the final seconds and reduced tons of stress. If there's going to be an extended wait, make that clear. Even better, get more shuttles or bring in the local taxis to the finish. I'm not kidding that I would've sold my first-born to make it back to our car in time.
  • Fix the jacket situation as well. I love my fleece, and while it didn't exactly break the bank, I had already funneled quite a bit of extra money into the race. I'm trying to believe the RD is acting in good faith, but it almost seemed like they wanted to super encourage us to buy extra gear. Then again, tons of people ran the race in that jacket (ugh), so what do I know.
  • The views make this race amazing! The whole way is absolutely stunning views and really made the time fly by. If you want to run a scenic race, make it this one.
  • 50 Staters: 100%. I'm not super knowledgeable about the couple other marathons in Maine, but I can't imagine how any could be more scenic or fun than this one. It's a bit tricky to get too, but we still saw almost everything we wanted in a weekend.
  • Non 50 Staters: If you can justify the travel expenses, definitely. Maine was beautiful in ways I wasn't even expecting. I'm in love with the West, but the coastlines there were amazing, and the fall colors were in peak season. It's well-organized and fun.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How I Passed for a Bar Harbor Local, or Maine Recap Part One

I can now say from personal experience that I do not recommend getting four hours of sleep before embarking on an extensive travel day.
Sometimes I really regret being caffeine-free.
I rolled out of bed at the ungodly hour of 4 AM to be at the Michigan Flyer stop by 4:45. I'd never taken it before, but I have to say I really appreciated being able to walk two blocks and then be driven to the airport. (I know it's not free, but when you add up gas, parking, time, and aggravation, I thought it was more than worth it.) It was fun walking through the city in the perfect quiet moment - the bars had been closed for a few hours, but it was still too early for even runners to be up and about.

There were also some of the most hilarious people waiting at the stop with me. This old couple nearly had a WWE throwdown over which garbage can to use, and some poor girl had to repeatedly explain to her elderly father why he couldn't cut in front of me when the bus arrived. (Please note, there were about 10 of us. Everyone was getting on the bus.)

The drive was pretty pleasant and I managed to doze so I would not be the crankiest person ever by the end of the day. After arriving, I spent a thrilling 45 minutes in the security line, and nearly had a heart attack when the TSA agent confirmed I was going to Portland, Oregon. Was it a trick? No, this dude just had no clue that Portland, Maine, was a real place.

I didn't get a picture, but we flew on the tiniest airplane. It was even smaller than the commuter flight to Toronto or the connector to Champaign, IL. We ended up sky-checking our bags, which honestly I love doing. You get the comfort of hauling your junk around with you and get a visual of it being loaded, but you don't have to do the overhead bin dance of stress.
Approximate size reference.
The flight was less than two hours, and we were officially in Maine! Almost all my family vacations have been out West, so it felt pretty bizarre to be on the East Coast, though it was incredibly beautiful. To land at the Portland International Jetport (no, I did not make that name up), you fly out over the ocean and circle back towards land, so we had great views of the coast.

Next came (one of) the most stressful parts of the trip - picking up the rental car. I found this crazy tip online that if you signed up for USAA, which is free, you could get a discount, waive all underage driver fees, and add any other USAA member as an additional driver for free, even if they weren't a member of your household. Michael and I signed up, and somehow, for reasons beyond my grasp, this was legitimate, and we rolled out without paying any extra fees. We had to laugh because the only trouble we had was them repeatedly demanding Michael show a major credit card, not a debit card. They never even asked to see his license! (It was also hilarious to get the upsell spiel when it was just two of us with one suitcase each. How would we ever fit?!)

Our next stop was to get something to eat so that I did not have a hangry explosion. We had already gotten directions to a restaurant, but it took longer than expected because holy hell driving in Portland. After some adventurous turning and never being quite sure if streets were one-way or not, we found a free spot close by. We had a surprisingly good lunch at a place called Hot Suppa! My grilled cheese used local Maine cheese and was super fresh.
Lost the pictures on my phone, so just pretend this is mine.
We had planned another activity in Portland, but our spot was only for one hour. This meant more adventurous driving! Approximately 75% of the time was spent by me driving past perfectly adequate spaces because I hate parallel parking. We did find some magical two hour free spaces in a random neighborhood. (Also, if the streets weren't bad enough, you needed an IQ of 200 to decipher their parking sign instructions. It didn't help we kept thinking it was Saturday, not Friday.)

Our next stop was the International Cryptozoology Museum. One of my biggest guilty pleasures is Bigfoot shows. I once broke Michael after over five consecutive hours of Finding Bigfoot on Animal Planet. (It's so hard to stop once you start. You know they'll find Bigfoot two seconds into the next episode if you change the channel.)
The logo is not Bigfoot because reasons, I guess.
I'm glad TripAdvisor clued us in on how to get there aka go down an alley past a shady smoke shop to an industrial door. The museum was pretty fun. It was more of a personal collection, with the "signs" all print-outs from Microsoft Word. I wasn't expecting the Smithsonian though, so it was entertaining.
Haters gonna hate.
The one part of the museum I found really interesting was a cabinet discussing when certain animals we consider ordinary were officially documented. Apparently the cheetah was not officially a real animal until the 1900's. I don't really have an opinion on Bigfoot, but it made me think about how species discovery works and what animals we take for granted, per say. I also loved the pop culture case, which had a variety of Bigfoot (and other cryptid toys).
100% going to get a pair to walk around campus in this winter.
We stayed until closing before embarking on more driving fun. I nearly lost it when a street dead-ended into oncoming traffic at a light that gave people turning both left and right the right-of-way simultaneously. We did get to use the Maine Turnpike once we finally suffered enough to be allowed on the highway. It was different in that you paid a dollar to enter...and that was it. I mentally pumped myself up for more toll booth hell when I saw the turnpike ending signs, but there was nothing. I feel like the Maine residents tried but missed the concept.

The drive to Bar Harbor was about three hours, but only got really bad during the last hour from Bangor on. This involved a million turns in the dark with uncertain speed limits. We managed to locate the hotel without any serious mishaps and checked in to find a pretty nice room. (And we saved $50 a night by staying .2 miles down the street from the other host hotel, psych.)

And then? You guessed it, more driving. We went to a pub called the Thirsty Whale for dinner because it had seafood that did not cost a million dollars. I tried lobster (I don't like and am mildly allergic to most seafood.) I really liked it, I hadn't expected it to be sweet like crabmeat, which is one type of seafood I have no problem eating. Our server nearly face-palmed though when we ordered root beer instead of alcohol. Hey, it was still locally brewed and quite delicious. I would never drive after drinking, but I have to wonder if roads would've made more or less sense if I were drunk.
Who knows why we stuck out like sore thumbs?
We both totally crashed that night. We had signed up for a two mile fun run followed by a breakfast the next morning. However, after a brief discussion after the alarm, we elected to skip the run and roll into breakfast as late as possible. (Technically, we had only paid for food, so we felt less obligated.) I normally would feel bad about doing something like this, but I'm really glad we did, because I think we enjoyed our day a lot more with the extra sleep.

We finally did haul ourselves out of bed to walk to the expensive host hotel. The breakfast ended up being just their continental breakfast, which was a bit disappointing. It was still good, though. Afterwards, we walked to the next building for the expo. There were no lines or issues with packet pick-up, though it felt strange to be getting an "experience" marathoner bib. It still hasn't quite sunk in that I am a marathoner. I briefly tried on the official race jacket and found it did not fit at all, so I ended up buying a race-branded fleece. Best decision ever.
Eager Feet Mom insists our tailor could easily fix this. I respectfully disagree.
After the expo, we drove to downtown Bar Harbor again to pick up Subway sandwiches for lunch and for the car ride back to the airport the following day, because there would be no time to stop. (I was so super prepared I had brought my cooler so we did not die. I might be too Type A for my own good.) We ended up checking out a few shops, and I bought a lobster finger puppet because why not. I met another nice tourist, and we played with them in the store for five minutes also because why not.

Finally, we headed out to Acadia National Park, which was barely re-opened on time. Trust me, we were sweating it out like crazy. Thanks, government. We watched the introductory park film (rating: not award-winning) and paid our entrance fee. I was amazed by how many people were so upset they had to pay $10 (for the whole vehicle for seven days). It's not like this is a particularly cheap place to get to, if you make it to Acadia, you can afford the $10. I also had to show my ID because the ranger seemed to think my Spartan-branded Visa was suspicious.

We spent the day driving the Park Loop Road, which let us see a bunch of really cool sites without putting tons of stress on our bodies. I wish we had had more time, because I would've loved to hike up Mt. Cadillac, rather than drive, but it was still fun. Mt. Cadillac is the highest point in Maine, but we met a couple from Washington who thought the whole thing was hilarious because they had a mountain behind their house that was 1,000 feet higher.
Unfortunately, the low elevation impaired their picture-taking abilities.
We stopped and ate our sandwiches on some of the rocks and got a million weird looks. I guess no one had heard of a picnic. We also managed to snatch enough cell service to check football scores. (We were in a terrible situation where Michael had no service and my phone wanted to charge me international rates for data, even though we were no where close to the Canadian border.) I was a bit sad to see there was a gift shop at the American.

Later in the day, we went to one of the carriage trails to fit in our shake-out run. I found the carriage trails interesting because you had to know where you were going, where to park, and what you wanted to see on the trail - you couldn't just stop and consult a sign. I had done some research beforehand and found a small waterfall, which was conveniently one mile from the trailhead.
Hadlock Falls (the dark spot on the right)
We were about ready to eat our own arms at this point, so we went to the pasta dinner early. Thankfully, they were already open and we rolled right in. They had the most amazing garlic bread - seriously a 1/4 loaf of bread drenched in oil. I had two but could've eaten approximately 100. At this point, we finally solved the mystery of why people had been asking us in confusion if we were from Michigan all day. Michael and I had Spartan stuff on, and we found out from the MDI High School volunteers running the pasta dinner that their mascot was the Trojans with green and white for colors. It finally clicked - people thought we were locals!
It looks like Sparty if you squint. And by squint I mean close your eyes and imagine Sparty.
I felt bad for causing people so much mental distress. A family next to us finally asked after what was an extensive debate between themselves. I nearly broke before this point though because I had to listen to a high schooler explain to her grandma why gluten is the most terrible thing in the world and why she had to get gluten free pasta and she has so much more energy because she's not digesting unnatural gluten and she's an expert because she read one article. I restrained myself but almost lost it again when he grandma started explaining why marathons are bad for you. (Apparently, you should only run twice a week for no more than three miles each. Who knew?) I know I have a lot of pet peeves, but overweight couch potatos giving exercise advice is definitely in contention for the top spot.
One of my grandparents can't walk for five minutes but has no qualms about lecturing me about how I will die of pneumonia after swimming.
After dinner, we got to hear the guest speaker, Zoe Romano. She went to France this summer and ran the entire Tour de France route, the first person (and obviously first woman whoot whoot) to have ever done so, and raised over $190,000 for charity. She was super down-to-earth and made me feel like I could accomplish any goal if I put my mind to it. (Time to put my mind to getting more money to afford it!) She really emphasized mini-goals, which I think are so important mentally. I felt nervous about meeting her, but I really wanted a signed picture, so I'm glad Michael forced me to stand in line. She was just as nice and really easy to talk to.
The awkwardness level here is acceptable.
After going back to the hotel, we realized we didn't have anything to attach our gear check tag to the bag with. I went to the front desk and got sandwich ties. This was pretty much the best runnerhack I've ever discovered. Maybe people do this already, but I totally want credit for it. We packed our stuff together to prepare for an early morning departure and settled in for a relatively good night's sleep. Our Marathon Maniac qualifying race depending on it.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Sleeping Bear Marathon Race Rating

I have returned following my extended hiatus, which I spent doing grown-up things like eating pudding for dinner getting a job. During this time I decided I would like to rate each race, as well as writing a recap. The MDI Marathon sort of showed me how mediocre Sleeping Bear was by giving me something to compare it to. With that in mind, I feel I can better provide some insight into my races. (I'd also like to note other bloggers came up with race ratings long before me, though I did write my own criteria list.) Without further ado, an even less witty than normal post:

Race: Sleeping Bear Marathon
Date: October 6, 2013
Location: Empire, MI
Year Running: 2nd
Registration: $75
Race Information
Size: 112 full, 244 half
Course Limit: 6 hours
Min. - Max. Elevation: 600 - 825 ft
Min. - Max. Temperature: 41 - 60
Charity Supported: Empire Lions Club

Airports: I'm not actually familiar with any airport in Michigan but Detroit. An ITA Matrix search shows Muskegon (MKG), Grand Rapids (GRR), and Kalamazoo (AZO) are all options. Honestly, though, flying into Detroit (DTW) and renting a car is probably the cheapest option.
I think this is what non-DTW flights are like, though I'm not sure.
Rental car: 100% necessary if you're flying in. 
Host hotel: None. This is one area where the race could really improve. We were able to stay in the area, but the cheapest option was $120+ a night. (We ended up paying even more to get a place with late check-out.) Hotels are cheaper in Traverse City, but then you'll be 30+ minutes away from the race. If the Race Directors could get even one place to offer a race rate, it would be fantastic.

Communications: Great. They were especially on the ball when we wondered if the government shutdown would affect the race (it wouldn't). They sent out an official Athlete Guide about a week before.
Expo: This was held in the Empire Town Hall. Packet pick-up was one table without a line. The Race Directors had another table with some fuel options and race-branded gear. 
Other Activities: The local church served a pasta dinner at the expo. Almost no one took advantage of it (even though it was competitively priced). It was good for a meal, but not necessarily for meeting other runners, which was too bad.

Race Day
Parking: In a large field a 1/4 mile from the start. There was ample parking for the marathoners, but I'm not sure how they accommodated all the halfers. 
Shuttles: None. The walk was an easy 1/4 mile with volunteers directing us. 
Bathrooms: Several. We waited in line for less than five minutes with less than 15 minutes to the start.
On Time: Exactly on time, according to my Garmin.
Corrals: None, but not needed. There weren't many people, and there was ample space in the beginning for everyone to get into the appropriate spot after the start.

Type: Out-and-back
Terrain: 92% concrete, 8% dirt (non-technical road); a few hills at the beginning and end
Bathrooms: Approximately every two miles, limited opportunities to use the woods
Crowding: None
Highlights: Fall colors, dunes, Lake Michigan, Glen Arbor. Unfortunately, the leaves had barely changed. I think having the race one or even two weeks later would make a significant difference in how scenic the course is, which is one of the major goals of the Race Directors. I can't think of any reasons why this wouldn't be possible. The views of the dunes and the lake were really fleeting, and most of the people in Glen Arbor didn't really realize we were participating in a race. This race has all the pieces to be really scenic and great, but it doesn't quite put them all together.
This is what the scenery could potentially look like.
Course Support: Aid stations approximately every two miles. You went by each one twice, though the volunteers tried to come to the side of the road most runners were on. The only real bummer was the fact that miles 11 and 14 shared an aid station, so the longest gap without an aid station included the halfway point. Not having an aid station there was pretty hard mentally. Each station had water and clear Heed (side note: Who invented this?!). A few also had Powergels. 
Spectators: Virtually none unless someone had family/friends leap-frogging them on the course. The positive side is if you wanted someone to come cheer you on, they could meet you anywhere as many times as you wanted.
Local knowledge of race: Virtually none. There's not many year-round residents, but I didn't see signs in either Empire or Glen Arbor advertising the race. No one treated us like a nuisance, but we were spread out enough from each other that non-runners really had no clue we were in a race. This was especially tricky when traffic picked up in Glen Arbor.

Food: There was a magical tub of water with sliced apples. There was also hot cocoa, but I only knew it was there when I heard someone else ask for it. There were a few other things, except I was so busy being cold I didn't notice what else there was.
Atmosphere: Mellow (and that's being kind). The music at the finish line was almost like a lullaby. After a volunteer gave you your medal, you were set to drift. No one was even really cheering at the finish line. 
Party: Apparently they had one the week after(??), though I never heard any more details. Since almost everyone traveled a not insignificant distance to get there, I'm not sure what the point was.

Shirt: Gender-specific, long-sleeve technical tee. Not race specific. Extremely sheer to the point I absolutely must wear at least a cami underneath.
Medal: Good quality weight and shine. Race-specific ribbons (though they ran out of half ribbons and gave them full ribbons. Apparently they sent out new ribbons fairly quickly.) The logo is the cutest thing ever.
Don't use my hand as a size reference. It is literally the size of a child's.
Soft-sided Backpack: I really like the bright orange, especially for future bag drops. It's a bit too small to use as a swim bag or for my laptop, but it's still a decent size. Again, I love the cute bear. 

Final Thoughts
  • The Race Directors are experienced and know what it takes to put on a race. While I do have complaints about the race, nothing was dangerous or even particularly awful. 
  • Getting a host hotel discount would help an affordable race be even more affordable. This would be a great race for streakers or even people who like going Up North in the fall.
  • Moving the race back a couple weeks would really improve the scenic value. 
  • Add an aid station somewhere around the halfway point. And for the love of God, serve something that is not Heed. 
  • Put up some signs advertising that a race was happening in Glen Arbor and maybe even along the course.
  • Play some pump-up music at the finish, and encourage volunteers to cheer.
  • 50 Staters: No, Michigan has tons of other options. I'm guessing one of them would be better
  • Non 50 Staters: Maybe, if you're close or can easily afford the travel. The National Lakeshore wouldn't be very crowded, and the weather would probably be nice enough to turn this into a mini-vacation.