Friday, October 12, 2012

Allstate Life Insurance 13.1 Dallas Preview

You may have read my course preview for the Allstate Life Insurance13.1 Marathon® Series race in Atlanta a few weeks ago.  Continuing to work as ambassador for this series, I headed south again from my home in Portland to Dallas to run another course in its entirety to give runners an idea of what to expect beyond just a mere course map and elevation profile.

WRRC doing some track workouts.
While my schedule in Atlanta allowed me the opportunity to drive the course prior to running it, this week in Dallas was too hectic for a preview in the car. My handler for the week, Teresa, had me promoting the race at various Luke’s Locker locations in the Dallas area as well as taking part in a great track workout (my first in who knows how long) with the White RockRunning Co-Op. In addition, it was an absolute honor to present a short speech to the members of all three chapters of the Dallas-area Back On My Feet organization. For more information on this fantastic organization, please click here.

BOMF inspiring me.
However, I would not be running the course completely blind or without help.  My run with Luke’s Locker (at the awful hour of 6 a.m. – seriously, how do runners run this early?) allowed me to traverse bits and pieces of the course as well as meet those who had run it the year before.  It was very helpful to get their insight and perspective before I even set foot on the course.  In addition, Teresa and her husband provided me with turn-by-turn directions while following me on bikes during the run and also gave me a deep history of the sections I ran through while doing them. Since I would be traversing the course during normal business hours this meant that the downtown portions of the run would be done by abiding to all traffic lights and pedestrian traffic. However, with two cyclists flanking me and with Teresa’s husband conducting a business call with earpiece in, I looked like an important figure with security detail.  We grabbed more than a few looks that day. I couldn’t decide if we should tell people I was Paul Ryan or Novak Djokovic. (Go ahead. Do a google image search of both. The resemblance is a little odd.)

Course Preview:

First off, like the Atlanta 13.1, the Dallas 13.1 begins and ends at the same place. For logistical purposes, I cannot tell you how much I love when a race does that sort of looping.  Even the laziest of your spectating friends is guaranteed to see you twice simply by showing up! Starting in the shadow of the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House, runners quickly skedaddle out of this area heading for McKinney Ave.  Before even a half -mile has passed you are treated to the warmth of Uptown Dallas. For the next two miles, running on streets wide enough to hold numerous runners but cozy enough to allow revelers to watch from the nearby establishments, the course ever so slightly trends upward in elevation. Don’t worry though as the entirety of this slope equals about thirty feet. You would be hard pressed to even notice the change. Runners have to be just a little careful with their footing here as there is both exposed brick and trolley tracks. I say this just to make a small note even though I have seen many runners, including myself, trip over absolutely nothing. Sometimes it just happens.

Cole Park with stalkers.
Running past the super trendy West Village and heading toward Cole Park, even bright sunshine will be blocked by the neighboring buildings and trees. A quick two turns will have runners circling Cole Park and heading back toward West Village again in the direction of the start line. The first three and a half miles are a nice preamble to the rest of the race course, with barely any change in elevation, allowing runners a chance to warm-up, tell their legs they are running 13.1 miles today and do so in a lovely urban setting. Then the real fun begins.

If you have read my book 138,336 Feet to Pure Bliss you will note that I state how I usually do not care much for how “scenic” a course has been made. For the most part, I am looking about six feet in front of me and miss many of the sights around my body. The next three miles of this course would mark one of those rare exceptions where the local flora and housing simply make me take notice.

Turtle Creek.
As you take a right-hand turn out of West Village, your first gift is a nice two-block long downhill which will allow you to begin to supercharge your engine. Crossing under a rather uneventful overpass is like taking a step into another world.  Winding along Turtle Creek for the next few miles are houses so beautiful and stunning that you assume they are filming movies in all of them.  Well-manicured yards, boat docks and personal fountains dot this portion of the course which just so happens to be one of the priciest real estate markets in all of Dallas. 

Robert E. Lee Park is the first major area you will pass through as you start another slight upward trend in elevation gain. With wide lanes that will be completely shut down for runners, there will be ample opportunity to not only run fast here but also take in the sites. You will keep Turtle Creek on your right the whole way up this road with trees pressing in from both sides to add both green and shade to your day. This trend continues to mile 5 and beyond as you cross over Armstrong Avenue and begin running in the “That is a seriously a house?!” district. Just like at Cole Park, you will make two quick turns around Davis Park heading toward mile six. Take a chance to notice the intricate stone bridges inlaying within the park.  The landscaping in this park is phenomenal. It is also hard not to smile when you see the statues of children playing on large tortoises.

Homes like whoa.
The next miles or so contains more of the same breathtaking landscaping and homes which make you want to ring their doorbells simply to ask what they do for a living and if they are hiring. (Catching a bit of a theme and a tinge of jealousy in my words here?) Simply stunning homes.

Cresting the largest hill of the course a little after the 7th mile has runners popping out onto the Katy Trail. For the next four miles you will have nothing but downhill running (with one little bump at mile 9). I liken this section to the portions of the 13.1 Atlanta course where you don’t have to worry about turns, you don’t have to worry about thinking, you just get a chance to put your head down and run.  A two-lane cycling and running path that follows old railroad tracks (in places they are still visible off to the side) this portion really allows a runner to get in tune with their body and how they feel. You are over half way done and can just begin to feel a little bit of tiredness creeping in.  But instead of noticing it, the Katy Trail (paved but feeling like it could be in the woods)  allows you to focus on the task at hand and forget any aches or weariness.

Katy Trail. Can't shake the paparazzi.
As you arch around Reverchon Park, the American Airlines arena looms in the distance. One last quick downhill has you leaving the Katy Trail and squirting right out onto the city streets.  Passing the Arena means you are now at mile 11 and ready for the home stretch. Granted there is a bit of a cruelty to the course here as there is an uphill half mile or so from 11.5 on.  However, the organizers have put together a fantastic way to make you want to motor up this hill as fast as possible with the King/Queen of the Hill Challenge. To borrow from the 13.1 website:

“Conquer the hill on Ross Avenue and earn your very own polka dot jersey! A special split will be timed from the base to the crest of the Ross Ave hill. The fastest male and female to cover this distance in each age group division will be crowned King or Queen! Divisions include youth (17 and under), open (elite athletes ineligible), senior 1 (over 55), and senior (over 65). Embrace the challenge of this unique race within a race.”

Wrought-iron Pegasus of awesomeness.
After this hill there is a nice flat section before two quick turns take you past the Booker T. Washington School of Arts and an awesome Pegasus statue. Just a few feet later you are reunited with your lazy spectating friends who just sat at the end while you rocked 13.1 miles. 

Without a doubt this is one of the more enjoyable courses I have had a chance to run on. I think those in the greater Dallas area, and from all over actually, will be more than pleased with what the people at US Road Sports have concocted for them.


Bellamy Bloggers said...

This will be my first half marathon, and it's nice to have this commentary to help prepare mentally for what's coming up. Thanks for sharing this! I'm excited to run this obviously beautiful course.

jeremy.cotten said...

this is by far the best course they couldve put together! as a resident of Uptown, i cannot wait for this course! i am doing a test run this evening... cant wait!

downtown, uptown, turtle creek, katy trail, victory park all on one run? amazing!

Mary Beth Nitz said...

I am running my first half-marathon as well on Saturday morning and this really helped to reduce my nervousness and anxiety...I'm actually looking forward to the beautiful, scenic route that awaits us!