829.4 miles raced; 350 yards swam and 9 miles biked in 2010
Race: Prairie Fire Wichita Marathon
Place: Wichita, KS
Miles from home: 1038 miles
Weather: 50-70s; Bright sunshine leading to cloudy skies
Sometimes you just get lucky. And by taking a leap of faith, based on hunches and personal connections, I got lucky with the Prairie Fire Wichita Marathon.
It was a crazy weekend (plus) in Wichita but in a wonderful way. From television interviews to promote the race to giving pep talks to middle school cross-country runners to minor league hockey games to taking part in a race that was filled with both good parts already and great potential, I could not have been more happy to have spent the past few days in Wichita.
I can say right now that any recap of this race would leave out probably half a dozen things which were both fun and fantastic. However, Wichita is definitely one of my favorite cities in this country. Mid-western charm, sports fans galore and a recommitted positive attitude to a marathon which had been flagging in both popularity and numbers of late, makes this a top-notch city.
I had the extreme pleasure to be in touch with many of those involved in making this race the success it way and in more than doubling last year's marathon finishers alone, this race is on the road to much more. Were their things that can be better? Absolutely. I am pretty sure there is no perfect race out there. But little details were paid attention to and bigger details were handled masterfully. I can only hope to be back here again next year and hopefully sooner than that as well.
All of the races began outside the Hyatt, so conveniently placed that I knew residents of Wichita itself which decided to stay there on the night before the race for the ease of getting to the race in the morning. I myself woke up around 7:15 AM for the 8 AM start and leisurely strolled to the start just 5 minutes before the race started. The Hyatt people could not have been more wonderful to work with which is definitely not something I can usually say about hotels.
A few runners had spoken to me via email and at the expo about running together on race morning. I told of my intention to shoot for a time between 3:05 and 3:10. I said I was not a pacer and would be running my own race but they were welcome to join me.With the masses teaming, the gun was fired and away we all went!
First 6 miles: 6:47, 7:02, 7:18, 14:21, 7:15
I knew this course had a relatively flatness to it, especially for the first few miles, so I wanted to stay in a groove. However, as I had no desire to push to the front of the crowd, I found myself about 13 rows back to even start the race. As I am not a fan of being boxed in, I tried to get out of the main groups at a slightly faster than expected for the entire race. I almost twice landed on my face in the first 200 yards in doing so, however.
First, someone tossed their extra warm-up shirt and like an octopus it wrapped itself around my legs. How I was able to extricate myself as I crossed the first bridge of this run and did not end up in the Arkansas River is beyond me. Next, an iPod wearing young lady decided to swerve directly in front of me about 10 yards after this, apparently deciding to test the theorem that two physical objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. While she did not here or see me right there, I did display both cat-like reflexes and ninja dexterity in deftly sidestepping her Nascarian movement (and Gandhi-esque forgiveness by not pushing her into the river.) I have said this many times and I will say it again - I honestly do not care if you wish to lose yourself in the moment of running and find that it is monotonous without being plugged in. However, I beg, plead and implore you, if you must have the music in your ears, have the common courtesy and wherewithal to grasp your surroundings. You won't always have as forgiving or agile a secondary object (re: a car) as myself.
The biggest concern for most of us runners was that the day was calling for warm temperatures and bright sunshine later in the day. It was already warming up as we ran down Douglas Street for the first few miles. However, the buildings were still blocking the rising sun and we were still quite shaded. In addition, in these first few miles there were a few little risers here and there. The course was definitely not pancake flat as many thought and all of the runners around me were enjoying that idea. We knew we would hit this little portion of up as a down around mile 14 and that made us all smile.
To the Half: 7:04, 7:18, 7:07, 7:06, 14;15, 7:45
By now I was running with more than a few runners, including Zach, Joshua, Brandon, Miguel and a host of others. Many were running just their second marathon and Miguel was only on his first. I was quite pleased they were running so strong and in spite of my desire to simply run my own race and redeem myself from the debacle in Maui three weeks prior, I found myself dispensing advice and answering questions.
Around mile 7 we caught up to runner I had met at the Hatfield and McCoy marathon four years prior, 53 year old Shawn Benham. Shawn would run a stellar race in 3:19 but as a testament to how strong the grandmasters field was, he would actually place just third overall! We reminisced for a moment and Shawn told us that he had seen rain back west (where this course would eventually lead us) so perhaps the hot sun we were all fearing would never develop.
The course continued to twist and turn and there were a few sections where running on the sidewalk and making a tight turn were definitely options which may have to be re-evaluated when the number of people running inevitably grows. For now, running through little neighborhood parks and crossing footbridge after footbridge was a great way to experience the town. Townsfolk were repeatedly surprising us with their hospitality, impromptu aid stations and warm cheers. With thousands of cones leading the way and volunteers at every conceivable intersection, it was no one's fault but the runners' if they got lost on this day.
To mile 20: 6:21, 7:16, 7:23, 7:00, 7:11, 7:17, 7:17
Using the little downhill to kick out the all important first mile after the halfway part, we all saw that indeed the sun was obscured off to the west and if anything, the air felt a little chillier and a tad moist. A few of the runners in my group had fallen back but they were replaced by others. As we began passing the slower half-marathoners it would have been nice (as always) if they would have stayed to one side or another so we did not need to weave in and out. However, I told the runners to soak up the energy of passing someone regardless and use it later when they were tired.
I took a little bathroom break in a parking garage and was quickly back with my group. As the half-marathoners turned towards home, everything suddenly got still and silent. I told my runners here is where the running begins. No crowds, no people to pass and the reality that this is going to hurt no matter how fast you run was setting in. I was trying everything I could to keep everyone tight-knit and to not let them drop off the pace but as we neared the 20th mile, they began dropping back.
To the finish: 14:32, 7:08, 7:10, 7:10, 7:08, 1:26
I tried to keep the group together and realized I was using far more energy than I had allotted for this race in order to do so. I could only hope that my even-pacing would keep them right with me eventually and began running for myself. Clicking off some uncannily equal mile splits, I was feeling good and picked off a few runners as I neared the finish. I tried to get them to run with me and while some tried to do so, they mostly hung back. Soon, I found myself in a position to run one of the better times I have in the past year which is not as much a testimony to how good this race was for me, but how well I planned the past year to be about training for ultra-marathons and endurance and forgetting about any speed I may have once had. Yet, now I was nearing the finish and feeling great.
A few seconds later with a few more cheers filling my ears and I had my time for the day. My official time would be 3:07:46, good enough for second in my age group to a Wichita resident Scott Hill who has done some great running himself in his life. I was introduced to Scott through a network of wonderful women runners in Wichita who all became rather fast friends with me. Many of them who took part in one of the various races Wichita ran will be doing marathons or half marathons next weekend as well. I love the attitude, ladies!
As I capped off my 119th marathon by handing out awards to the age group winners (the vast majority of whom I either knew, made friends with recently or actually were people in the group I was running with during the race), I was already counting the days until I will return to Wichita. I want to thank Bob Hanson and all those involved with the Greater Wichita Sports commission for making me feel so at-home.
You definitely have a good thing going here and I cannot wait to see where it all goes. The sky is indeed the limit!