Garmin Marathon in the Land of Oz

Photo and autograph from Meb Keflezighi … plus a PR in the half marathon … not even a torrential rainstorm could dampen my enthusiasm for last weekend’s Garmin Marathon in the Land of Oz.

(pun intended)

I’m glad I decided to run the Heartland 39.3 series of half marathons instead of my usual spring marathon. To go from running only 2-3 marathons a year, to racing every other weekend, has been fun. This break in my routine is just the boost I needed to energize my training for the Kansas City Marathon.

From Meb’s appearance at the pasta dinner on the eve of the race, to crossing the finish line with a PR of 1:38:36 (average pace of 7:32/mile) to earn a second-place finish in my age group, this has been a memorable weekend. The Garmin Marathon in the Land of Oz had been bittersweet in my memory … Sweet, because a friend went above and beyond to support my effort to BQ the last time I ran here (booking a hotel room for us and meeting me along the course with Prolong sports drink). Bitter, because I fell short of my BQ (had to travel to South Dakota to accomplish that goal).

But this weekend, as the kids would say, was sweet.

Meb was scheduled to speak at the pasta dinner months ago, long before his triumph at the Boston Marathon. I watched the race streaming online from my desk at work. When Meb won, I jumped to Garmin’s website as fast as I could to order a ticket to the dinner. Apparently I wasn’t alone, because it was a sold-out event by the next day.

Last year the Garmin marathon was held the weekend after the tragedy in Boston. So it was good, on the weekend after this year’s triumph in Boston, to welcome the American champion, the first American to win at Boston in 31 years.

“Boston was special this year,” Meb told runners on Friday night. If ever there was a year we needed an American to win, it was this year. And if ever there was an American to represent our country, it was Meb. He told the story of his childhood in war-torn Eritrea, his family immigrating to the United States when he was a child. He discovered his gift for running in the seventh grade, when he and his classmates had to run a mile at school. The teacher told them if they tried hard and ran fast, they would get an A. So Meb ran fast. He posted a 5:20 mile that day. “And it got me an A,” he said. “The teacher told me, ‘You’re going to be an Olympian.’ I had to go home and ask my father, ‘What’s an Olympian?'”

A refugee who becomes a citizen who wins the Most Important Race in America. An all-American success story! Meb is now the only man in the world who has won both the New York and Boston marathons and an Olympic marathon medal.

Meb didn’t race in Boston last year because of an injury. But he and his family were at the finish line, cheering on the runners. They were at the epicenter of the blasts, but left the area about five minutes before the explosions occurred. “That could have been me,” Meb told us. “It could have been my wife; it could have been my kids.”

On that fateful day, Meb determined to win the Boston Marathon in 2014. If we’re honest, he was probably the only one who thought he could win. There were at least half a dozen runners – much younger runners – with much faster times than Meb coming into the race. (At nearly 39 years old, Meb is the oldest winner of the Boston Marathon since 1931.)

Meb wore the names of the four victims who died as a result of last year’s tragedy written on the corners of his racing bib. During his training over the past year, Meb said, “There wasn’t one day that went by without thinking about those people.” And as he neared the finish line, Meb heard the roar of the crowd chanting, “USA! USA!”

“The crowd kept me going. To have that chant … to come in first … We did it for Boston. We did it for the USA. We did it for the world.”

Meb didn’t speak for long. But he spent a lot of time afterward signing autographs and taking photos, which is more important. He’s an incredibly nice guy, very patient and personable.

Upon arriving at the race on Saturday morning, I was immediately impressed by the porta-potties. I know, I’m easily impressed, but this was no small thing. Lines to the porta-potties were clearly marked and separated by tape, so that each line had access to three specific porta-potties. There was no confusion about which line used which facility, or whose turn was next. This made the lines move much faster. Every race should do this.

The course itself was relatively flat overall, though a couple of hills slowed me down. I decided not to look at my Garmin and just stick close to the pacers. Turned out to be a good strategy. Honestly, I was a little initimidated by the thought of maintaining such a fast pace. I thought I’d run better without knowing. Since I was clueless, it just felt like a strong, steady pace. I may even push a bit faster in two weeks at Running With The Cows.

A portion of the second half was on an asphalt running trail. When I ran the full marathon here a few years ago, I was skeptical about that course. But, the trail is fairly wide and well maintained, the runners are spread out by then, and it works just fine. It’s nice to run through the trees in the park. The only downside to running on the trail is that, when the pace team got a little ahead of me, I lost site of them around the curves. It’s easier to push myself when I can see those flags up head.

The weather was ideal for the first 10 miles of the race, with temps near 60 degrees and just the right amount of cloud cover. But in mile 10 it started to rain lightly. Not bad at first, but gradually getting harder. Thunder and lightning made me wonder whether they would stop the race … so I ran harder, determined to get to the finish line before that could happen. By the time I was walking to my car it started to hail. But soon after, the bad weather moved out, the rest of the day was gorgeous, and the race continued.

Runners are a hardy breed. But the volunteers who stood in the rain to support the runners are saints.

The “Yellow Brick Road” at the finish line was a nice touch, and all the Wizard of Oz costumes were fun.

Can’t say much about the finishers’ area. At that point it was raining so hard all I wanted to do was get to my warm car and change into some dry clothes. Fortunately, I always have a large beach towel in the back seat of my car. Usually this is used to keep me from sweating all over my leather seats after a run. I used the towel to dry off, then cover myself up in the car while I changed into some dry clothes.

Of course, race organizers don’t control the weather. But there are a few things they do control, which could be improved:

  • I arrived at the pasta dinner a couple of hours early so I’d have plenty of time to leisurely browse through the expo. I had more time than I expected, though, because there was no expo. Besides some items (mostly for women) in a Ultramax corner of the hotel, there was nothing to browse.
  • There was just a slight nip in the air in the morning before the race started. I felt fine, but I noticed a few runners using mylar blankets to keep warm. Apparently they saved them from a past race, and brought them to keep warm then discard at the starting line. What a great idea, I thought, making a mental note to myself to save my blanket after the race. Only problem: No mylar blankets. We were wet and cold, yet the race offered nothing to help us keep warm. I saw a reference online to mylar blankets at the race, but when I crossed the finish line I didn’t see any and nobody offered one to me.
  • Garmin’s marathon medal is gorgeous, fun and colorful. The half medal, not so much. But even so, any medal looks better draped around a runner’s neck, than handed to him in a little plastic baggie.
My only regret …
When I got home and looked up the race results online, I learned the first-place finisher in my age group crossed the line a mere 43 seconds ahead of me. It’s frustrating to know that, had I achieved my 1:35 goal, I might have won my age group. If I had known The Competition was up there in front of me somewhere, I wonder whether it would have motivated me to finish just a bit faster.
Which reminded me of something Meb told us on Friday night: “Sometimes, it’s not about the medals, but about getting the best out of yourself.”
I’ll remember that in two weeks when I race at Running With The Cows.

Meb Keflezighi received a standing ovation – two of them, actually – at the pasta dinner on the eve of the race.

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One comment on “Garmin Marathon in the Land of Oz

  1. Pingback: Garmin Marathon in the Land of Oz | Fishing River Running Club

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