Friday, June 28, 2013

Cape Cod Marathon in Review

At first glance, the location of the Cape Cod Marathon may be a bit of a let-down to out-of-towners expecting to be running on the arm of the Cape out towards Provincetown.  But technically, the Cape really starts around Plymouth, so the Cape Cod Marathon course is indeed on Cape Cod!

I ran this race in 2012.  I figured I may as well get a North America marathon actually in my own name (see Marine Corps review for that story), and I may as well do a cool "local" race while living in New England!

The race is a Boston qualifier, but I have heard many people say it's a challenging course due to elevation changes.  Yes, there are certainly plenty of rolling hills because it's New England, and that's how we roll (Ha ha).  The most dramatic rise that sticks out in my memory was up to a lighthouse during a really cool section of the race that was right along the beach.  But it was no mountain and even if you walked to the top, it would only add a couple minutes to your time.  I thought the terrain kept the race fun and interesting; the scenery was beautiful through gorgeous rural neighborhoods and along the beach and through quaint Cape towns.  Some sections were very wooded and therefore shady, while others were exposed to the elements.  A hurricane was brewing just off the coast and hit us a couple days after the race, so I did not have to contend with sun, and I was pleasantly surprised that the wind was not an issue on the open, unprotected sections of road.

The race is chip timed, which is always good even though it's not a huge crowd.  The finish location was ideal because you come right down main street in Falmouth, so the crowds are great.  Otherwise, there isn't much crowd support to speak of.  Sure, some dedicated fans will drive to various points along the route to cheer for their runners, and folks manning water and aid stations also vocalize their support.  There were a couple random musicians, which was pretty cool, but I'm pretty sure they staged because they felt like it and not because the race organizers asked them to participate.

The check-in and start process went smoothly.  Support during the race was adequate with the exception of toilet facilities.  There simply were not enough toilets located along the route, which meant for a significant wait whenever you needed to stop -- bad for time and achy muscles!

My main complaint with Cape Cod Marathon was the finish.  I crossed the finish line, received a medal and a foil blanket, and then had to go wandering for at least five minutes before I found water bottles stashed on a table.  And that was it!  There was NOTHING else at the finish line; no energy drinks, no bagels, no bananas, none of the usual immediate-post-race snacks or support.  No volunteers providing guidance to the tired and delirious runners, no direction towards waiting areas to meet up with your family or friends, nothing pointing back towards the registration tents and parking.  It was really bizarre.  It made the race seem extremely small-time and unprofessional, which I simply was not expecting and which completely turned me off.  I ran a great race, and I enjoyed the course a lot, but I don't think I'll be returning for a second experience.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Three Tips to be a Successful Obstacle Course Racer

Three things!  That's all it takes for you to survive Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, Warrior Dash, Ruckus, and any of the other obstacle/mud runs out there!  You do not need to be a professional athlete with a bunch of endurance races under your belt.  You don't need to be an Olympic-caliber weight lifter.  You don't need to have 4% body fat.  Three things will not only get you through these races, but they'll also guarantee you will enjoy yourself and keep coming back for more!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Tough Mudder Virginia 2011 in Review

Not too long after I moved back to America, Tough Guy-style races became a craze that swept across the nation and has not lost any momentum as the years have gone by!  It seems to me there is a trifecta of major race companies in the US: Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, and Warrior Dash.  There are all sorts of more regionally-focused mud and obstacle runs as well, but these three went nation-wide and are now working towards international domination as well.

In 2011, my brother rounded up a group of friends to run the Tough Mudder race being held at Wintergreen Ski Resort in Virginia in October.  Since I was conveniently working in Washington, D.C. at the time, I was roped into the team and I brought a few friends along as well.  Every one of us on the team of 15-ish people was new to Mudder, but fortunately two of us were Tough Guy alumni and had a vague idea what we were getting into.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Marine Corps Marathon in Review

In 2011, my brother ran his first marathon.  Something went terribly awry with his knees around the halfway point, and he gutted his way to a finish time somewhere around 4:30, which is completely respectable even without spectacular injuries!  Unfortunately, he had already signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) in October, just a few months away, and there was absolutely no way he would be running that race.  I suddenly found out I would be spending a few weeks in Washington, D.C. for work, so I took his spot.  We didn't officially transfer his registration, so my name does not show up anywhere in the results for the 2011 race, but I was there!  I have a photo of me at the finish with my medal to prove it.  :D

MCM was the first marathon for which I actually trained.  I still did not train enough (things like work and school have negative effects on my long run training days), but I did one or two 10-mile, 15-mile, and 18-mile runs, as well as one 20-mile run before race day.  So it was definitely a step up from my training program for Athens.

I felt that the race was well-organized.  There are thousands and thousands and thousands of runners, but the process for arriving and dropping your bags off and getting to the starting line was efficient.  Of course it took over ten minutes to actually cross the starting line after the official race start because of the hordes of runners jamming the roads.  But they use chips, so it doesn't matter.

The course takes you through some of the most famous landmarks Washington, D.C. has to offer.  The first part is not particularly exciting, as it just weaves through some of the neighborhoods on the Virginia side of the Potomac River.  Then you cross into Georgetown and run through some of the Embassy neighborhoods and that's where one of the most significant hills of the race is located.  Personally, since I was used to training in Massachusetts, the hill was not a problem, but I know it's a tough spot for many runners.  You then run down the main street of Georgetown and then begin encountering the monuments and government buildings of the capital city.  Down by the Presidential memorials, the route is literally a gauntlet through thousands of spectators lining both sides of the road cheering and holding funny and/or motivational signs.  It was spectacular; I have never run a race with so many spectators lining the entire course.  Even better, I noticed some of the same people several times as they were clearly leap-frogging their runner so they could pop up at different points along the way!  The loneliest time is crossing an Interstate bridge back into Virginia because no spectators are allowed on the road even though traffic is blocked off, and unfortunately that's also right around Mile 20 and the stereotypical "wall."  But then you're in Virginia again and you're surrounded by more hordes of cheering supporters as you run those last six miles which culminates with a short (but extremely crappy, since it's at the VERY end) dash up a hill to the finish at the base of the Iwo Jima Memorial.

What did I find to be lacking?  There were not enough port-a-potties along the route.  Every single place where they were located, there was also a significant line, which is frustrating because of the time lost and also because your muscles don't appreciate the stop-and-wait.  Other support was great: water, snacks, there was plenty of all of that.  I also was not expecting so many runners. I felt like I spent the entire first half of the race dodging and ducking around people, and could never settle into a steady pace.  The entire route was crowded.  It's just a fact of the race because it's so popular, but if you're trying to use MCM as a qualifier or to set a personal PR, you might want to find a race with fewer people where you can control your pacing.

What did I love?  The fans!  They are everywhere.  EVERYWHERE, except for that solitary mile on the bridge!  It was fantastic!!  And most of the scenery is great too.  There are spots of urban doldrums, but most of the route goes through lovely neighborhoods and the great monuments and landmarks of Washington, D.C.

Of course MCM is also inspiring because of the military support throughout the race, with uniformed Marines manning many of the support stations and many military people participating in the race in honor of fallen or wounded comrades or for other personal reasons, and supporters all along the route cheering and thanking them for their service.  I almost cried at the end of my first marathon (Athens) because I was so exhausted and happy to cross the finish.  I almost cried during MCM because of the outpouring of national pride and military support which is not usually so overtly displayed.

I also improved on my Athens time by over 20 minutes.  Lesson Learned: Train.  It actually helps.