Friday, May 31, 2013

Army Marathon Race Report

This was the inaugural year for the Army Marathon and to be honest I didn’t have very high expectations.  It’s not that I didn’t think that and inaugural marathon could be good, I’ve run a few, or that a marathon representing the Army could be good.  It really had more to do with the location of the marathon itself, Central Texas, specifically from Killeen to Temple.

If you have read, for reasons beyond my understanding, several of my race reports you know that I love Texas, or more specifically, I love going there to visit and race.  I’m not crazy about the heat and humidity and therefore I don’t live in Texas.  In any case, I didn’t have high expectations not because I have a low opinion of Texas I just have a fairly low opinion of that part of Central Texas.

Before any Central Texans break out the pitchforks let me explain.  In my experience that part of Texas is simply not very scenic.  It’s not ugly, sorry El Paso, but it is really just kind of green and brown rolling hills covered in grass and various scrubby trees.  There also isn’t much to do there other than just be there.  However, I was pleasantly surprised.  Both the towns of Killeen and Temple were a bit nicer than I had remembered, there was a huge variety of a potential places to eat and our hotel, which was the host hotel, was very nice and very accommodating.  In fact, we requested a late checkout, I don’t remember if it was for 12:00 or 1:00 but it was an hour after normal checkout and we ended up getting to stay until about 2:15 so the GeekGrl could shower before our drive back to Dallas and our flight back to Albuquerque.

Unlike the inaugural Navy marathon that we did earlier this year, the inaugural Army marathon had many more participants and no blasting winds.  It was also immediately apparent that the people from the Army were actually involved in the Army marathon.  The guy who won the Navy marathon was in the Navy and on a small section of out-and-back that ran alongside and up to the back gate of a Naval Air Station there were some Navy guards posted but that was the extent of it.  The Army marathon was loaded with runners who were stationed at nearby Ft. Hood, there were many Army personnel in uniform at the start, along the course and at the finish line and it appeared that Army personnel may have been in charge of logistics for the whole thing.  I could very well be wrong about that last part but it was certainly an efficiently run and well organized race.  In all fairness though, I am aware that neither the Department of the Navy nor the Department of the Army actually took responsibility for or put on either of these races, rather, it was civilian race organizers so there is no credit given or taken to or from either branch of service. (Disclosure – in my late teens and early 20s I was in the Department of the Navy in the Marine Corps.  I am now in the Department of the Army as a National Guardsman.)

Anyway, the expo was small but had everything you might need for last minute race purchases.  The GeekGrl and I decided for some reason that the best idea would be to buy new shoes and run the marathon in them the next day so that’s exactly what we did.  The town of Killeen had plenty of places to eat but we chose a Chinese buffet because it was immediately next to our hotel and we mostly wanted to just eat and chill.  The food was pretty good overall and of course there was a lot to choose from.  We both overate but it didn’t come back to haunt us the next day.

Race morning came and it was very pleasant weather wise and remained that way all day.  It started heating up a little at the end but for the most part it remained overcast and mild.  The energy at the start line was really high and there were a lot of really young folks who looked lean and fit.  That was undoubtedly the Ft. Hood contingent.  The crowd was actually noticeably younger than your average marathon but there were also the usual suspects, the old guys with hideous knees covered in ace bandages, the various women dressed in tutus and springy head ornaments and then of course there was the large group of middle-aged runners like myself who still haven’t given up on the idea of a new PR but who are not burning up the course by any stretch of the imagination.

There was one particularly weird thing about this marathon though.  At the starting line I placed myself at what I estimated to be about 15% back in the pack.  That’s generally where I expect to finish up and I wanted to minimize the weaving around that is often required to pass towards the beginning.  As soon as the starting gun went off there was a huge surge like I was in a local 5K and runners where just streaming past me.  I stayed focused on warming up and then settling into a good pace but after a mile rolled by and runners were still pouring past me I really started to wonder what the hell was going on.  I felt solid and on a good starting pace so I began trying to remember if there was also a half-marathon and a relay going on at the same time but as far as I could remember there was only the full marathon and then a 5K that took place at a completely different time and place.

Mile two clicked by and people were still passing so I asked a guy near me who looked to be at least close to my age if there was either a half or a relay going on and I just couldn’t remember it and he said, “No, just the full.”  Whatever, I then thought that maybe this race was just unusually full of young studs and studetts because of the proximity of Ft. Hood and so I was going to finish up a lot farther back in the pack than I expected.  I continued chugging along trying to pay attention first to my pace and second to other runners who looked like they might be in my age group.

The course was gently rolling for the most part.  I was initially thinking of it as really hilly but the GeekGrl was so emphatic that the hills were so mild as to be barely noticeable that I have downgraded my estimation from hilly to gently rolling.  Anyway, you go up and down and you do it all the time.  You actually start by going up and the steepest and longest hills are always in the upward direction not the downward.  However, I must admit, the elevation change isn’t significant.  I don’t think it even breaks 800 feet for the entire course and so put in those terms the Army marathon is actually one of the top 5 flattest marathons I have run.  Ok, so there is a second really weird thing about this race, it’s shockingly flat for such a hilly race.

So there I was chugging along, looking for competition and monitoring my pace when at somewhere around mile 4 I started passing people, not in large numbers but enough to notice and think that it seemed awfully early in the race for me to be passing people.  I’m a come from behind guy for the most part, a closer.  My expectation is that I ignore the first mile because for the most part nobody is where they should be and then from about mile two to maybe mile 18 I pretty much hold my position maybe passing and maybe being passed but the numbers are low.  After mile 20 I really don’t expect to be passed only to pass.  Sure, every so often someone will slip by or, as in the case of last year’s Lincoln Marathon where I had close to a complete meltdown, an army will pass but, like I said, mile 20 on is pretty much mine.

By the time I hit mile nine I was passing a lot of people.  By the halfway point it was like I was on a moving sidewalk and most everyone else was slogging along in the unaided fashion and by mile 18 I was actually already seeing what can only be referred to as carnage, people hobbling along the side of the road clutching at their stomachs or hamstrings, people sitting on curbs with their heads between their knees and people who were simply stumbling forward in a trance staring off into the great unknown.  Now I knew what was going on.  It’s not so much that the race was filled with a bunch of studs and studettes from Ft. Hood, it was filled with a bunch of studs and studettes from Ft. Hood who were long on heart but short on experience.

I think my conclusion was born out by my own race results.  In my age group at both mile 4.5 and 13.1 I was running in 9th place but at the finish line I was 6th; steady and closing.

The scenery along the course was nice enough.  However, I have been miserably spoiled not only by the amazingly beautiful Vernonia marathon earlier this year but also by many other ultras that I have run.  However, the one drawback had to do with transportation from the finish line back to the start though part of that was caused by our own plans.  The website said there would be busses taking runners from the finish back to the start beginning at 10:30, which was something like 15 or 20 minutes after I expected to finish.  Because of that my plan was to take a bus back, shower up, grab our rental car and then head back to the finish line to get the GeekGrl so I could get her back to the hotel faster so she could get her shower.  The first bus didn’t leave the finish line until more like 11:15, which completely blew out timeline.  I tied to follow through with the plan but the late bus and the fact that the nearest parking to the start line was about 3 miles away completely messed things up and left the GeekGrl sitting around at the finish line for over an hour waiting for me.  She would have been better off taking a bus and walking the mile from the start to our hotel.

Anyway, it all worked out and amazingly enough we both got showered, got lunch and were able to drive back to Dallas in time to catch our flight back to Albuquerque.  We both enjoyed this race and despite our typical pattern of not repeating races we might go back and run it again.  It’s always kind of a novelty to be one of a few people who have run a race since its inception though I really don’t know about going back year after year after year.  It is, after all, during prime spring season marathon time.

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