Sunday, January 25, 2015

Deep Run in the Heart of Texas

Waco is famous for cattle coming to market. This cowboy statue drives in a herd.  When the race starts, they play sound effects of cattle stampeding.

Reading this site, you cannot help to notice I set a lot of running goals.  Seven continents, 50 mile runs, 50 states before I am 50 years old, and even shorter term ones such as running 3 half-marathons in 3 days.  One goal that is less driven by events and more by fitness is that ability to run a marathon at any time.

So, the opportunity arose this weekend for me to knock off state 29 by signing up late for a marathon in Waco Texas.  And while this turned into a mini-ultra (see more below), happily the run showed me that indeed I can drop in a marathon without much warning.  This comes from maintaining a certain fitness level and knowing how to pace a race and stay within my capabilities on any given day.  This knowledge of my skills and body came in handy today as this “toughest marathon in Texas” dished out hill after and after hill after hill.  And then a few more hills!  Fortunately, I happen to like hills.

Running by Baylor
In my mind, Waco is connected to the tragedy at the Branch Davidian complex.  But really, that happened miles outside of the town, and the city is rightly known for Baylor University, the Brazos River and Lake Waco.  All of these landmarks featured on today’s course.

The race is called the Miracle Match Marathon, and it’s hosted by the Waco Fire Department.  In fact, many of the brave men and women who protect Waco participated in full gear.  The miracle match refers to stem cell Donors, and with a family member narrowly avoiding needing one recently, I was happy to toss in my registration fee to help the cause.  I liked how every mile marker highlighted a donor or recipient by name.

We circled the exterior of the Baylor football stadium
The event features all sorts of running distances of which the half was probably the most popular. When the marathoners and halvers separated at 6 miles, the course thinned considerably.  So, in the end, this was just a long city run.  We started with 3 miles in and around Baylor which was great.  It’s a beautiful campus, and there were students out to cheer us on.
Waco also is near an air force base, and airmen and women were abundant volunteering and extolling us to a quick pace.  A few yelled at us runners good natured.  Actually, I picked up my pace just in case they were not actually friendly threats.
An inlet of Lake Waco
And then we hit the hills as we made our way to and along Lake Waco.  Forget Texas being flat.  Them thar hills out there!  Up one and down another.  50 feet up.  75 down.  100 up etc.  But like I wrote, I enjoy hills.  In fact, I took my every 5 mile one minute walk breaks on the downhill portions only to be teased by other runners zipping by me.

Top of the stairs looking back down
The race features an optional “Jacob’s Ladder” staircase 100' climb. If you do this, you get a wrist band which is then exchanged for a ladder to hang off your medal. (See the photo at the bottom.)  Of course, not at all caring about time, I did this; I did skip the offered chili pepper at the bottom and beer at the top.  And a good thing my time did not matter.  A fellow runner and I were completely confused at the top where to go, and no one was around to give directions.  The street had a chalk line.  In fact it had two.  We chose….  poorly.

And thus my 26.2 mile run became 28.2.  Fortunately, it was not worse, as a course official saw us and turned us around.  We had managed to run back part of the half marathon course which was reconnecting with the marathon before leading to the finish along the Brazos River.  How about some more hills - this time in reverse?  The diversion cost me a sub 4:30 finish, but I was not at all upset.  When we hit the course again, it was obviously the right way to go.  I felt more dumb than annoyed. In fact, 10 of us enjoyed getting back on the beam together.  At least we had company in our extended run.  No special wrist band or medal extension for this excursion though. 

So, state 29 was a bit longer than normal, but the sunny yet cool day was gorgeous.  Everyone was super friendly, and even following last week’s Star Wars Disney Weekend of running (10K + half marathon over two days), I was in fine form.

Next up - Little Rock on March 1 and state 30.

The dark ladder under the two is hanging off the finisher medal which itself is sitting on the bib that is then on the finisher pull over they give you for besting those pesky hills.

Updated state map with 21 states to yet shade blue - and 30 months to run them