Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Run the Monument Marathon in western Nebraska

Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Run the Monument Marathon in western Nebraska

I’ve already taken it upon myself to do blog posts about the highlights of the Monument Marathon course (in 2012, the first year of the race) and a mile-by-mile accounting of the course (in 2013). What more can I do to persuade people that the Monument Marathon in western Nebraska is The Place To Be?

How about a Top Ten list?

OK, here are:

Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Run the Monument Marathon in western Nebraska

10. Unique division awards.

If you are fast enough to win a division award (and your chances are better here, with a smaller race field), you don’t get a generic plaque – you get a piece of original artwork from a western Nebraska artist! Photographer Rick Myers and painter Yelena Khanevskaya have been lending their talents to the race these past few years. Here are some examples of their work that have portions of the race course as their subject:

This Rick Myers picture was cropped from an image on his Facebook page.

This Rick Myers picture was cropped from an image on his Facebook page. Both the full and half marathon participants will run on this road through Mitchell Pass.

This image of a watercolor by Yelena Khanevskaya is one of many available on her website yelena-khanevskaya.squarespace.com

This image of a watercolor by Yelena Khanevskaya is one of many on her website. This view is of Mitchell Pass from the opposite direction of Rick Myers’ photo.

9. Convenience.

The race Expo and pre-race pasta feed is at the Gering Civic Center, just blocks from the race site.  There is ample, free parking at the race finish at Five Rocks Amphitheater. Half marathoners start and finish right there at the amphitheater. Full marathoners get a free shuttle bus to the race start and gear drop service. It’s easy to find your way around this small community, and it’s only a 3-hour drive from the major gateway cities of Denver, Colorado, and Rapid City, South Dakota.

The sunrise was incredible on Year 1 of the Monument Marathon in 2012. Here was the shuttle bus that year, in the parking lot of Five Rocks Amphitheater, ready to take full marathoners to their race start in the Wildcat Hills.

The sunrise was incredible on Year 1 of the Monument Marathon in 2012. Here was the shuttle bus that year, in the parking lot of Five Rocks Amphitheater, ready to take full marathoners to their race start in the Wildcat Hills.

8. History.

You will literally be running in the footsteps of westbound pioneers, as portions of the full and half marathon courses traverse the Oregon Trail, near where Mark Twain encountered a Pony Express rider. You will pass the gates of two neighboring history museums as well: Legacy of the Plains Museum and the Oregon Trail Museum and Visitor Center at Scotts Bluff National Monument (the latter is a National Park site, so if you have a National Park passport, you can add another stamp to your collection!).

This map, from the website of the Legacy of the Plains Museum, which is right on the Monument Marathon course, shows some selected historical sites in the North Platte River Valley, which has been a transportation corridor for centuries. (It also shows the distance between Gering and selected cities.)

This map, from the website of the Legacy of the Plains Museum, which is right on the Monument Marathon course, shows some selected historical sites in the North Platte River Valley, which has been a transportation corridor for centuries. (It also shows the distance between Gering and selected cities.)

7. Field size.

The Monument Marathon is a small race, with around 500 participants total between the full and half marathon courses. You won’t have to worry about elbowing your way through a crowded field.

At the 2013 race, the field was small enough that the half marathon winner didn't even have anyone on his tail in the chute. Leaders from race title sponsor Platte Valley Companies hold the finisher tape. The community support for this race is wonderful!

At the 2013 race, the field was small enough that the half marathon winner didn’t even have anyone on his tail in the chute. Leaders from race title sponsor Platte Valley Companies hold the finisher tape. The community support for this race is wonderful!

6. Unique race swag.

Each participant will receive a wicking race shirt and a swag bag, which in past years has included such goodies as a bag of locally-grown beans and a cookbook. Your participant medal is shaped like the state of Nebraska and, because we are practical folk, your medal can also be used as a bottle opener. The design of the race medal changes every year – collect them all!

Here is the half marathon finisher medal from the 2014 Monument Marathon.

Here is the half marathon finisher medal from the 2014 Monument Marathon.

5. Charity.

Your registration dollars help support a good cause. Unlike so many marathons and half marathons these days that are operated by commercial interests, the Monument Marathon is coordinated by community organizations and volunteers in support of the Western Nebraska Community College Foundation. The Monument Marathon has helped to raise $150,000 for scholarships.

Here's a screen grab from a THANK YOU video the WNCC Foundation assembled. Your participation in the Monument Marathon helps students like these.

Here’s a screen grab from a THANK YOU video the WNCC Foundation assembled. Your participation in the Monument Marathon helps students like these.

4. Tourism opportunities.

While there are plenty of attractions to visit while you are here, the area remains off the beaten path, so you don’t have to fight the crowds. See here for my personal list of Top 10 Reasons to Come to Western Nebraska. See here for official Scotts Bluff Area Visitors Bureau information, here for Gering tourism info, and here for information about the wider western Nebraska area.

There's no way I could decide which image to use of the tourism opportunities here: museums, hiking, bluffs, a CCC-built inland lighthouse . . . so, here's the logo of the Scotts Bluff Area Visitors Bureau!

There’s no way I could decide which image to use of the tourism opportunities here: museums, hiking, bluffs, a CCC-built inland lighthouse . . . so, here’s the logo of the Scotts Bluff Area Visitors Bureau!

And to represent the things you can do here (cycle, golf, stroll by the river, fish): the Gering Convention and Visitors Bureau logo.

And to represent the things you can do here (cycle, golf, stroll by the river, fish): the Gering Convention and Visitors Bureau logo.

3. The scenery.

People who have never been here before sometimes don’t believe it, but there is some seriously gorgeous topography out this way.

There are a thousand beautiful images I could have chosen to represent western Nebraska scenery, but I decided to go with this one - it's a view from the parking lot of Five Rocks Amphitheater, where the race ends. Even the parking lot of the race has great scenery!

There are a thousand beautiful images I could have chosen to represent western Nebraska scenery, but I decided to go with this one – it’s a view from the parking lot of Five Rocks Amphitheater, where the race ends. Even the parking lot of the race has great scenery!

2. Top-notch organization.

The Monument Marathon is a well-organized affair, with numerous experienced runners on the race crew and a professional timing company to assist with the chip-timed race. The entire community is involved and invested in the race, which means we have great coordination with local leaders, businesses, law enforcement, and transportation officials. (Case in point: The local Nebraska Department of Roads project manager made sure to include a stipulation in their summer highway construction contract to ensure that roads will be open for race – without the race director even having to ask them to!)

Community EMS volunteers from multiple agencies come out early and support the entire race to ensure everyone has a safe race. Did you know? There is even a relay tower placed on top of Scotts Bluff National Monument during the event to ensure clear EMS radio communication.

Community EMT volunteers from multiple agencies come out early and support the entire race to ensure everyone has a safe race. Did you know there is even a relay tower placed on top of Scotts Bluff National Monument during the event to ensure clear EMT radio communication?

1. Small-town hospitality.

Western Nebraska is the kind of place where residents will greet you with genuine friendliness. We tend to go out of our way to make sure you have a good experience so you will tell your friends about us and come back for a repeat visit yourself. Hundreds of community volunteers will assist and cheer for you on race day. Here are a couple of my favorite pictures of course volunteers and cheerleaders.

The drizzle on year 1 of the Monument Marathon in 2012 didn't dissuade this racing fan!

The drizzle on year 1 of the Monument Marathon in 2012 didn’t dissuade this racing fan!

The Pine Ridge Agency Singers sang encouragement songs to runners as they came up a final hill on the Monument Marathon half/full course in 2013.

The Pine Ridge Agency Singers sang encouragement songs to runners as they came up a final hill on the Monument Marathon half/full course in 2013.

An Elmo balloon photobombs these colorful race fans from the 2014 Monument Marathon.

An Elmo balloon photobombs these colorful course marshals / race fans from the 2014 Monument Marathon.

If you don’t quite trust the wonderful things I’m saying about the Monument Marathon (yeah, I’m a bit biased, since I’m on the planning crew), check out the reviews and blog posts from runners who have actually run the race.

Sign up today! You’ll make the race director’s heart happy. 🙂

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Minneapolis Moustache Run race report

After completing my first marathon, while I still thought that a 13-mile run was “only” 13 miles, I wanted to make use of that fitness to complete another half marathon.

There happened to be a half marathon Thanksgiving weekend in Minneapolis near where my mom lives: the Moustache Run. The finisher’s medal was shaped like a mustache! I had to do it!

I was a little concerned about the weather. Late November in Minnesota did not seem like a wise time and place to run a half marathon. On an 8-mile training run at home before the race, Bugman’s hands went numb and pained him badly when they warmed up. I was really concerned about proper layering for that length of time out in the cold.

We lucked out. The day turned out to have ideal weather: low of 21 warming to 39, with only a slight breeze and partly-cloudy-to-sunny skies.

Picture time!

Me on the riverfront before the race. Many of us sported real or ersatz mustaches for the run. The adhesive on my faux facial hair stuck very well, but that must not have been the case for other, cheaper fake mustaches. The course was littered with shed 'staches. It looked like there had been an invasion of bloated black wooly bear caterpillars.

Me on the riverfront before the race. The hat was part of the race swag. Many of us sported real or ersatz mustaches for the run. The adhesive on my faux facial hair stuck very well, but that must not have been the case for other, cheaper fake mustaches. The course was littered with shed ‘staches. It looked like there had been an invasion of bloated black wooly bear caterpillars.

The start line! The race had pacers who ran with balloons on sticks.

The start line! The race had pacers who ran with balloons on sticks.

All the mile marker signs had mustaches on them! (And, yes, that is a "baby on board" sign on that runner's back.)

All the mile marker signs had mustaches on them! (And, yes, that is a “baby on board” sign on that runner’s back.)

The course ran along the Mississippi River downtown, giving great views of the remnants of turn-of-the-century Midwest industry.

The course ran along the Mississippi River downtown, giving great views of the remnants of turn-of-the-century Midwest industry.

Cool juxtaposition of factory ruin and modern building!

Cool juxtaposition of factory ruin and modern building!

In addition to old industrial stuff to look at, there was wildlife, too. We saw a bald eagle fly into a tree just above us to join another eagle. They made the "chatter call" to each other - something I'd never heard in person before!

In addition to old industrial stuff to look at, there was wildlife, too. We saw a bald eagle fly into a tree just above us to join another eagle. They made the “chatter call” to each other – something I’d never heard in person before!

The turnaround! Among the silly racers was this guy, who passed us at the turnaround, wearing a suit, was making all kinds of silly remarks. "Turn around?!?? You mean I've been running the wrong way this whole time?!??"

The turnaround! Among the silly racers was this guy, who passed us at the turnaround. He was wearing a suit and making all kinds of silly remarks. “Turn around?!?? You mean I’ve been running the wrong way this whole time?!??”

Bugman at mile 8!

Bugman at mile 8!

Me at mile 9!

Me at mile 9!

I ran the first half of the race at a fast-for-me pace of less than 11-minute-miles, but I was really starting to slow down and wear out at this point. How sad that I had just run 26.2 miles a month ago, and now just getting to 13.1 was a chore.

Across the river from the Wiseman Art Museum on the University of Minnesota campus.

Across the river from the Weisman Art Museum on the University of Minnesota campus.

By this point I was run-walking. But I made it! Wasn’t quite last, either. Came in 39th out of 42 in my age category, 586th out of 655 overall.

My mom and her husband, Bill, were at the finish line to cheer us on! Yay! And my aunt Mary invited us over to her house for a shower and lunch afterwards. Yay!

My mom and her husband, Bill, were at the finish line to cheer us on! Yay! And my aunt Mary invited us over to her house for a shower and lunch afterwards. Yay!

We got our mustache medals! Yay!

We got our mustache medals! Yay!

Now for some race report stuff…

Course: Wonderful. A few gentle hills. Great views of the riverfront: vintage industry, downtown, nature, upper-end homes and park land. I think there were two water stations which, on the essentially out-and-back course, could be hit twice.

Swag: Medals were AWESOME! Hat was really great. There was an option to order a t-shirt, which we did, but the order got all screwed up. They mailed the shirts. Bugman, who ordered a large, got a small. I did not get a shirt at all. UPDATE: On 12/26, we received a package in the mail with two t-shirts: one large, one medium. The volunteers must have been checking out final wrapup details? Or maybe they saw this blog post or the comment I put on the group’s Facebook page? In any case, glad to have the shirts and will wear them with pride. I like that they are a cotton-poly blend. Anyone need a size small race shirt? The design of the shirt was pretty boring – essentially a reflection of the medal design.

Pre-race: Really nice having an indoor venue with bathrooms near the start where we could warm up. Free coffee, too. Some incorrect information was sent out about parking, though. Wonder if some people wound up getting tickets. It seemed odd to me that they allowed race-day registration – both for the 5K and half-marathon races, even with chip timing. There was a really long line at registration, and I think some people missed the start of the half marathon while waiting in line. There was a gear check service, which was nice.

Post-race: DJ, a free beer and SOCO drink per runner, a photo booth, a mustache teeter-totter? Fun! EXCEPT – all they had at the finish of the race, a half-marathon that ended around lunchtime, was water, sports drink, or some kind of fake milk drink. NO FOOD. Seriously?!?? They were serving alcohol to people who had just run 13 miles and had empty stomachs. Seems very stupid to me. I would have packed something in my gear bag, had I known. Of course, it’s possible that there was food and that, as a back-of-the-pack runner, I missed it all. Even then, seems a major no-no to not have enough food when alcohol is provided. There was not even an option to buy anything.

Overall, it was a fun race, and a great way to burn off calories after the Thanksgiving meal. I’d just be concerned about the weather in future years.

Copyright 2013 by Katie Bradshaw

Cycling the Monument Marathon course

I am a member of a  dedicated planning crew for the Monument Marathon in Gering-Scottsbluff, Nebraska.

Last year, the first year of the race, Bugman and I rode our commuter bikes on one of several rides necessary to certify the course through USA Track & Field. I took that opportunity to take pictures and write a blog post about the course: Monument Marathon and its Western Nebraska Scenery. I did a short writeup after the event, too: Inaugural Monument Marathon in the books.

Now that Bugman and I are riding a tandem long distances, I figured we ought to do a Monument Marathon ride. Since on my first cycle tour of the course I picked and chose the most interesting or illustrative views, I decided that this time I would document the course in a more objective fashion by taking a picture every half mile.

“That’s going to be a lot of pictures,” Bugman said.

Yep. At 26.2 miles, two pictures per mile = 52 pictures.

But my first post on the marathon course contained 62 images. It’s pretty countryside! It needs to be documented and shared!

Bugman and I biked up to the Wildcat Hills Nature Center, cooled off for a little while, then headed out on the course. I turned on my GPS audio cues and took pictures every half-mile, give or take the distance crossed while I fumbled with my camera.

Here are the results of our efforts:

mile 0

Mile 0: looking west/southwest. Wildcat Hills Nature Center parking lot. Paved surface.

Mile 0.5

Mile 0.5: looking north / downhill. Highway 71. Paved surface.

Oops! Missed mile 1.0 – the wind was whistling so loudly on the downhill I didn’t hear my GPS.

mile 1 point 5

Mile 1.5: looking east. Homes in the Wildcat Hills. Paved surface.

mile 2

Mile 2: looking east. Paved surface.

mile 2 point 5
Mile 2.5: looking east/southest. Paved surface.
mile 3

Mile 3: looking west into Gering Valley. Paved surface.

mile 3 point 5
Mile 3.5: looking west. Paved surface.
mile 4

Mile 4: looking west. Paved surface.

mile 4 point 5
Mile 4.5: looking west. Paved surface.
mile 5

Mile 5: looking west. Paved surface.

mile 5 point 5

Mile 5.5: looking east. Paved surface.

mile 6

Mile 6: looking south. This is on Sandberg Road, after the turn off Highway 71. Paved surface.

mile 6 point 5

Mile 6.5: looking east. Hard to see in the photo, but there is a tractor on the road up ahead. Luckily, he turned off the road before we caught up with him. Paved surface.

mile 7

Mile 7: looking north. Paved surface.

mile 7 point 5

Mile 7.5: looking south. Gering Valley (irrigation) Drain. Paved surface.

mile 8

Mile 8: looking northwest. The turn from Sandberg Road to Lockwood Road. Paved surface.

mile 8 point 5

Mile 8.5: looking west over a corn field to Scotts Bluff National Monument. Paved surface.

mile 9

Mile 9: looking west. Paved surface.

mile 9 point 5

Mile 9.5: looking east. This might have been the place where there was a junkyard on the west side. Editorial decision to face east for the photo. Paved surface.

mile 10

Mile 10: looking northwest at the turn into Gering. Paved surface.

mile 10 point 5

Mile 10.5: looking north. The race’s entry into Gering is via an industrial area. Paved surface.

mile 11

Mile 11: looking south. Paved surface.

Mile 11.5: looking northwest towards the Oregon Trail Park ballfields

Mile 11.5: looking northwest towards the Oregon Trail Park ballfields. Paved surface.

mile 12

Mile 12: looking northwest at the turn from a residential neighborhood onto Five Rocks Road. Paved surface.

Mile 12.5: looking east, back over my shoulder at the 4-way-stop intersection of Five Rocks Road and M Street / Old Oregon Trail. The measurement point was at the intersection, but I was too busy paying attention to traffic to take a picture.

Mile 12.5: looking east, back over my shoulder at the 4-way-stop intersection of Five Rocks Road and M Street / Old Oregon Trail. The measurement point was at the intersection, but I was too busy paying attention to traffic to take a picture. There are some late-1800s pictures of this road early in Gering’s development. Before it was a city street, it was a part of the Oregon Trail. Pony Express riders traveled this path, too. Paved surface.

Mile 13: looking south down the tree-lined drive to the Gering cemetery

Mile 13: looking south down the tree-lined drive to the Gering cemetery. Paved surface.

Bugman and I stopped for a break at Legacy of the Plains Museum / Farm And Ranch Museum, so our mile markers will likely be a little off from this point forward on account of the distance traveled in the museum parking lot.

Bugman and I stopped for a break at Legacy of the Plains Museum, so our mile markers will likely be a little off from this point forward on account of the distance traveled in the museum parking lot.

Mile 13.5: looking northwest at some property belonging to the Legacy of the Plains Museum / Farm And Ranch Museum, with Scotts Bluff National Monument in the background.

Mile 13.5: looking northwest at some property belonging to the Legacy of the Plains Museum, with Scotts Bluff National Monument in the background. Paved surface.

Mile 14: looking northwest at Scotts Bluff National Monument. Gosh, the yucca bloom are striking this year!

Mile 14: looking northwest at Scotts Bluff National Monument. Paved surface.

Mile 14.5: looking north. Perfect timing to catch the pioneer wagon and "oxen" on the Oregon Trail at Scotts Bluff National Monument.

Mile 14.5: looking north. Perfect timing to catch the pioneer wagon and “oxen” on the Oregon Trail at Scotts Bluff National Monument. Paved surface.

Mile 15: looking north. Over the hump of Mitchell Pass.

Mile 15: looking north. Paved surface.

Mile 15.5: looking northwest

Mile 15.5: looking northwest. Paved surface.

mile 16

Mile 16: looking northeast. I *love* that some people around here still raise longhorn cattle. Paved surface.

mile 16 point 5

Mile 16.5: looking east. Paved surface.

mile 17

Mile 17: looking west. In that clump of trees is the charming Barn Anew B&B. Paved surface.

mile 17 point 5

Mile 17.5: looking west. Paved surface.

mile 18

Mile 18: looking south across a field of young sugar beet plants on Ridgeway Drive. Mitchell Pass is on the left of the frame (which was back at about mile 14.5). Gravel surface.

mile 18 point 5

Mile 18.5: looking south? southwest? Gravel surface.

mile 19

Mile 19: looking south from the irrigation canal road. The route from about mile 19 to about mile 22.5 is on a dirt-and-gravel private road on Scotts Bluff National Monument property that is primarily used for irrigation canal maintenance. It was pretty difficult to navigate a tandem on, since the surface varies from small gravel to large gravel to packed dirt to loose, sandy soil with the occasional tire ruts. Gravel/dirt surface.

mile 19 point 5

Mile 19.5: looking south at a prairie dog colony across the irrigation canal. Gravel/dirt surface.

mile 20

Mile 20: looking south. Gravel/dirt surface.

mile 20 point 5

Mile 20.5: looking south. I think it was somewhere around this point that we hit a patch of loose soil and I wound up planting a hand on the ground. This surface is OK to run on – you just have to pay attention, but in places it’s not OK for a 350-pound tandem-with-riders on two thin road tires. We walked the bike for a bit. Gravel/dirt surface.

mile 21

Mile 21: looking south at the north face of Scotts Bluff National Monument. Gravel/dirt surface.

mile 21 point 5

Mile 21.5: looking north towards the badlands as Bugman walks the tandem through another sandy patch. Gravel/dirt surface.

mile 22

Mile 22: looking northeast across a pasture towards the edge of a neighborhood of mobile homes. Gravel/dirt surface.

mile 22 point 5

Mile 22.5: looking southwest at the neighborhood around the Monument Shadows golf course. Paved surface.

mile 23

Mile 23: looking west at Scotts Bluff National Monument from a bike path. Paved surface.

mile 23 point 5

Mile 23.5: looking west from the bike path. Paved surface.

mile 24

Mile 24: looking south from the U Street Pathway at the Gering bale facility (the processing center for the municipal landfill). Paved surface.

mile 24 point 5

Mile 24.5: looking west from Five Rocks Road. Paved surface.

mile 25

Mile 25: looking south on Meadowlark Boulevard – part of a zigzag through a neighborhood. Paved surface.

mile 25 point 5

Mile 25.5: looking west from the tree-lined cemetery road across a bean field towards the south bluff of Scotts Bluff National Monument. Paved surface.

mile 26

Mile 26: looking west – just before the cruel twist of landscape referred to among the race planners as “Devils’ Dip” or “Chupacabra Canyon.” Almost there! Gravel surface.

Through these gates and through the parking lot the finish line lies at Five Rocks Amphitheater

Through these gates and through the parking lot the finish line lies at Five Rocks Amphitheater. Gravel surface.

So there you have it: views of the Monument Marathon course from a tandem bicycle in approximately half-mile increments: a mix of nature preserve, pasture, farmland, Oregon Trail landmarks, industrial areas, and neighborhoods on asphalt, concrete, and dirt/gravel surfaces.

This is a high-quality rural race organized by volunteers to benefit the local community college foundation. It is one of only four marathons in Nebraska – the super-rural Sandhills Marathon is a small race with a registration limit, the others are urban biggies all the way on the other end of the state in Lincoln and Omaha. The culture here has more in common with Wyoming than with the rest of Nebraska (Husker football fan-dom excepted).

If this sounds like your type of adventure, register for the race through the main webpage. We’ll be glad to see you!

For tips on what to do and see in the area, check out the Scotts Bluff County Tourism site  or peruse some of the archived posts on my other blog, SCB Citizen.

Back to the biking for a moment, and a bit of reflection. A little over a year ago, biking 26.2 miles knocked me out. This year, we rode 47 miles to cover the race course plus the distance to and from our house, and I was only mildly fatigued afterwards. What a difference a year makes!

Copyright 2013 by Katie Bradshaw

Maple Grove Half Marathon report

IT IS DONE!!!

I am still a bit sore two days later, but I finished my half marathon May 11!

The soreness comes, I think, from the rolling-hilly race course – 661 feet of total climb, for which I was not entirely prepared (my long runs had, at most, about 412 feet of climb). The good news is, the soreness is just muscle complaints. No join pain! Yay!! (Thank you, Dr. Rohrick at CARE Chiropractic for helping me work through my crooked spine and joint issues!)

I’m not going to talk about which place I finished in the race because that would only depress me. (Although I do have a rationalization to make myself feel better: I was in the 30-39 category, running against all those chipper 30-year-olds. My percentile finish would have been much better if I were a few months older and competing in the 40-49 age group.)

Instead, I am going to talk about how well I ran, compared to how I have been running.

I finished in 2 hours, 33 minutes, giving me an average pace, according to my GPS, of 11:18 minutes per mile! Wow!! (The GPS also said I ran 13.57 miles – 0.47 miles further than half marathon distance, likely due to my wavering on the course instead of sticking to the shortest path around curves.)

The only time I have run faster this year was 10:56 on May 3, but that was on a li’l ol’ 3-mile run during my taper for the half-marathon.

I ran so unexpectedly fast that my mom missed me at the first photo opp station on the course. (*sad face* But she jumped ahead and caught me at the next station and at the finish. *happy face*)

I credit three things for my impressive-for-me time.

  1. The altitude. I trained at ~4,000 feet above sea level and raced at ~1,000 feet.
  2. The general race atmosphere. I am less apt to stop during a race than during a regular training run. Also – no waiting for red lights.
  3. The coffee klatch behind us. O.M.G. Talktalktalktalktalktalktalktalktalk! Blahblahblahblahblah! I heard every intimate detail of their conversations. As I recall, this is exactly why a friend of mine prefers rural races – with fewer people in a race, you are less likely to get in front of a group of nonstop talkers. But, hey – it did motivate me to keep up the pace to get away from them. And I did! I powered up the hills, they walked, and I escaped!

I will now proceed to my review and experience of the Maple Grove Half Marathon event itself. A note: I have only run four distance races before: two half-marathons and two 20K races, and all of them were in Des Moines, Iowa, so I don’t have a huge breadth of experience to compare against. I was also taking analytical mental notes during the race, since I am on the race crew of the newest marathon/half event in Nebraska – the Monument Marathon.

First, to answer the question on many people’s minds this past weekend: Why did you travel all the way to Minnesota to run a half-marathon?!??

Simple: I wanted an excuse to visit family, my mom lives near Maple Grove, Minnesota, and it was Mother’s Day weekend.

Race highlights:

  • Beautiful course mainly on bike paths around a lake. The chittering birds in the spring-greening trees all around us was awesome. There was one bird that sounded like it was singing the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth!
  • The people who came out to cheer the runners. There were a few families out at the end of their lawns or driveways, bundled in blankets against the cold, cheering for whomever ran past. This is a definitely a mood-improver for me when I start to flag on a run. There weren’t too many fans out there, but they sure were appreciated!
I loved that this family was making noise. Not so sure their neighbors loved it so much at about 8:30-9 o'clock on a Saturday morning. But the whole neighborhood should have been out watching the race, so there!

I loved that this family was making noise. Not sure their neighbors loved it so much at about 8:30-9 o’clock on a Saturday morning. But the whole neighborhood should have been out watching the race, so there! (Photo by Bugman)

  • The people who brought their pet potbellied pig out for a walk along the race course.
Distractions along the course are always appreciated!

Distractions along the course are always appreciated!

  • It did not rain! The forecast earlier in the week showed rain in the morning. I am SO GLAD it rained overnight and not during the race!
  • The fact that the race bib pickup the day before was at REI, so I could buy energy gels, since I forgot to bring my own.
  • The race was timed with disposable timing chips that were embedded in the race bibs. No need to have a timing chip cut off one’s shoe at the end of the race.
  • The race shirt, which supposedly only finishers got (but the 5K people got them too??), is a wicking shirt in a color bright enough to get half-distracted drivers to notice you when you’re out and about.
Briiight shiiiirt!!! Caution: do not wear on a sunny day unless you have sunglasses.

Briiight shiiiirt!!! Caution: do not wear on a sunny day unless you have sunglasses.

Race lowlights:

  • It was cold and windy. That can’t be helped. But it might have been a nice touch to have heat sheets available for finishers. I didn’t see any.
  • In part because this was only a half marathon and not a full/half race so there were no full marathoners to draw out the finish-area operating time to help slow runners like me, and also in part because the weather was cold and windy, by the time I finished, the “race expo” was all packed up already. No free chiropractic adjustment for me. 😦
  • There were no finishers medals! What?? A distance race without a finisher medal?? I am sad that I did not get a new piece of bling for my “medal tree.”
Bugman and I keep the finisher and placer medals from our various races on a macrame tree my mom made in the 1970s. No Maple Grove Half Marathon finisher medal on my tree, even though I finished. :-(

Bugman and I keep the finisher and placer medals from our various races on a macrame tree my mom made in the 1970s. No Maple Grove Half Marathon finisher medal on my tree, even though I finished. 😦

  • There was zero schwag. The “packet pickup” consisted of the race bib/timing chip. No goodies whatsoever. Not even a course map printout to study the night before. If there were goodies from the sponsors at the expo, I never saw them because they were all packed up and gone by the time I finished running.
  • The course map might have come in handy for many people. This did not affect me, but it did affect about 100 runners: there was a goof in the course marking (some jerk turned a sign the wrong way?) and the lead bike led the fastest runners off course and added up to 1.5 miles 0.5 mile to their distance. This is a race director’s nightmare. You can bet it won’t happen next year!
  • The refreshments at the finish were “meh.” Water. Orange slices. Granola bars. Packs of chips. Bread balls. Basically the same kind of stuff you’d get at the end of a 5K. But maybe there was better stuff and I just missed it because it all got eaten.

Enough with the review stuff! Time for some pictures!

Cooking my pre-race ritual food of steel-cut oats in my mom's kitchen, holding good-luck coffee in a mug that belonged to my grandmother. My mom bought Reese's Pieces for me, too. At Sam's Club. The bag was the size of a small pillow. Thank goodness plenty of relatives came visiting later to help eat them all up!

Cooking my pre-race ritual food of steel-cut oats in my mom’s kitchen, holding good-luck coffee in a mug that belonged to my grandmother. My mom bought Reese’s Pieces for me, too. At Sam’s Club. The bag was the size of a small pillow. Thank goodness plenty of relatives came visiting later to help eat them all up!

Me and Bugman, ready to go! I'm holding a can of food for the food drive. Not only did the race benefit the local Lion's Club, but racers brought supplies for the local food bank.

Me and Bugman, ready to go! I’m holding a can of food for the food drive. Not only did the race benefit the local Lion’s Club, but racers brought supplies for the local food bank. I’m also holding a pair of shrunken woolen socks, which I used to keep my hands warm at the start and discarded at the first water station.

Bugman took a cell phone pic of us on the course. This is maybe around mile 7 or 8. Too bad it was in a random neighborhood and not in one of the lovely wooded glens along the course. Oh well. We are both smiling. Are are also both wearing our Monument Marathon shirts, in hopes raising awareness of the newest marathon in Nebraska, which we are helping plan.

Bugman took a cellphone pic of us on the course. This is maybe around mile 7 or 8. Too bad it was in a random neighborhood and not in one of the lovely wooded glens along the course. Oh well. We are both smiling. Are are also both wearing our Monument Marathon shirts, in hopes of raising awareness of this newest marathon in Nebraska.

Nota bene: if you fly with "save the date" race magnets, you will be targeted for extra airport security screening. The magnets show up as an impenetrable blob on the x-ray and must be examined in person. i recommend putting them in a clear plastic bag and setting them in a tray along with all your liquids. Alas, I only offloaded about 30 magnets. The race was operated by a professional race promoter, so they wouldn't let me distribute anything without paying for the privilege, and the sports stores I stopped in either did not advertise races or did not advertise races they were not sponsoring. Oh well. At least a few of them got out there.

Nota bene: if you fly with “save the date” race magnets, you will be targeted for extra airport security screening. The magnets show up as an impenetrable blob on the x-ray and must be examined in person. I recommend putting them in a clear plastic bag and setting them in a tray along with all your liquids. Alas, I only offloaded about 30 magnets in Minnesota. The race was operated by a professional race promoter, so they wouldn’t let me distribute anything without paying for the privilege, and the sports stores I stopped in either did not advertise races or did not advertise races they were not sponsoring. Oh well. At least a few magnets got out there.

My mom and her husband Bill caught up with us at mile 11. The boost of seeing them (I am blowing them kisses in this photo) helped get me up the big hill to the Maple Grove water tower. I will admit to cussing while cresting that hill. (Who puts a hill at mile 11 in a half-marathon course?!?)

My mom and her husband Bill caught up with us at mile 11. The boost of seeing them (I am blowing them kisses in this photo) helped get me up the big hill to the Maple Grove water tower. I will admit to cussing while cresting that hill. (Who puts a hill at mile 11 in a half-marathon course?!?)

At the finish! At the suggestion of a friend, we cornily held hands as we crossed the finish line.

At the finish! At the suggestion of a friend, we cornily held hands as we crossed the finish line.

Well-deserved "liquid therapy" at home, after the race.

Well-deserved “liquid therapy” after the race.

A cellphone picture of me and my mom at the airport when she was dropping me off to fly home. My mom is an awesome "race mother." She let me cook fish tacos the night before the race, got me my favorite pre-race food, dropped me off at the race and picked me up afterwards, cheered for me during the race, picked me up and dropped me off at the airport, organized a dinner after the race so I could see aunts and uncles and cousins I had not seen in a long time, cooked stuffing and mashed cauliflower for that meal because that's what I wanted to eat after I ran. It's tough to run distance races, but it's easier if you have support. Thanks, mom!

A cellphone picture of me and my mom at the airport when she was dropping me off to fly home. My mom is an awesome “race mother.” She let me cook fish tacos the night before the race, got me my favorite pre-race breakfast food, dropped me off at the race and picked me up afterwards, cheered for me during the race, picked me up and dropped me off at the airport, organized a dinner after the race so I could see aunts and uncles and cousins I had not seen in a long time, cooked stuffing and mashed cauliflower for that meal because that’s what I wanted to eat after I ran. It’s tough to run distance races, but it’s easier if you have support. Thanks, mom!

Well, it’s onward and upward from here! *gulp* Full marathon, here I come…?

UPDATE: I got a very nice email from one of the race organizers, who found this blog through a Google search. It seems only fair to share his comments:

Not to sound cheesy, but we truly try to make this event better and better each year.  So it was good to read your feedback on the race – highlights and lowlights. The biggest thing we struggle with is giveaway items, which you point out.  Myself and co-founder Paul are runners, so we understand how medals and other cool swag is becoming the standard for longer races. We indeed splurge on Brooks technical shirts (men’s and women’s cuts), but run a pretty lean operation otherwise.  Our half marathon has the lowest entry fee in the metro area, and all proceeds got to the local Lions Club (we don’t earn a dime, never have, and that’s the way we want it to be – it’s all about giving runners a great race). Our sponsors have contributed goodies in the past for packet pick-up, but that’s kind of dried up with economic issues of late. Anyway, I don’t mean to spout out a bunch of excuses about our lack of giveaways.  We’ll definitely take your feedback and have things like extra copies of maps at packet pick-up and at the stadium on race day.  We’ll also take a look at having some better food at the finish line – and potentially medals for finishers.
I say “good on ya” for organizing the race. It’s not easy, and I appreciate it!

Copyright 2013 by Katie Bradshaw