Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Race Report: Grandma's Marathon

Grandma's Marathon in Duluth has a storied history that goes back 40 years.  First run in 1977 by a mere 100 runners, the race was named after the newly opened Grandma's Restaurant - the only local business that would sponsor the then-fledgling event.  Today in its 41st running, over 13,000 runners participate over both the main event Grandma's Marathon and the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon.  The marathon course runs point-to-point from the town of Two Harbors and continues along Scenic Route 61 next to Lake Superior into the city of Duluth. The finish is located in Canal Park, near Grandma's Restaurant, which is next to the highly visible Aerial Lift Bridge.  Many people consider Grandma's to be THE race to do in Minnesota, for those aiming to finish marathons in all 50 states (of course, Twin Cities Marathon may digress...)  And lucky for me, I secured the national anthem gig in March, after initially emailing the Executive Director back in October 2016, allowing me to check off the state of Minnesota in my national anthems challenge.

Being a Saturday race, I needed to get into Duluth the night before, and I only had so much time to work with because of work.  I had been set up by my friend Pretty to stay with her friend Julius and his wife Kirsten in their hotel, and they were going to get my bib for me at the race expo.  I set into motion a Plan A and Plan B, when upon realization that my layover in Minneapolis (MSP) was a quick 62 minutes long before flying off to Duluth (DLH).  New York City flights automatically tack on a considerable amount of padding to make up for the sometimes extensive taxiing before take off, but even then, I didn't trust my flight to get into MSP with enough time. I continued to check my flight status while in the air, and unfortunately, bad weather passing over central Wisconsin forced us to divert from our original route.  The inbound aircraft for my connecting flight coming from Chicago was also diverted, rather extremely over Lake Michigan (which, if you know geography, is completely in the wrong direction).

Somewhere in the middle of my flight to MSP, my connecting flight to DLH changed from arriving on time to half an hour late (which would've been fine with me, landing at approximately the same time as my delayed LGA to MSP flight), to being TWO HOURS delayed, and then eventually 2 1/2 hours.  Due to weather, operations switched out the original inbound plane (coming from Chicago) to a plane coming in from Omaha.  However, due to weather, that plane ended up being diverted too, to Kansas City, and then ended up going back to Omaha.  By the time we landed and I made my way to the connecting flight's gate, my Duluth flight was scheduled to leave at 1am.  Not going to happen.

I realized my friend Seth was coming in from Florida to Minneapolis via Charlotte on American, and was due to arrive at around 10:30pm. His plan was to drive the 2 1/2 hours from Minneapolis to Duluth, arriving there by 2am.  So, rather than stay at the airport, I decided to join him (and another friend Sandra, also from south Florida, and who also had a horrific day of travel) at their gate coming in from Charlotte and then we were off to Duluth.

All aboard the North Shore!
During our drive I called up Delta to arrange for a refund for the MSP-DLH leg of the trip, since the weather delay was enough to call for one; and while I waited for awhile, I was treated to an amazing "gift," instead; because I chose to get to my final destination by car, they refunded the money from my entire one way flight - meaning BOTH segments - AND allowed me to keep all of the frequent flier mileage and elite status miles that I banked from the LGA to MSP leg.  I basically got mileage for FREE!  Score!  I pretty much slept the entire drive up to Duluth, and after dropping off Sandra at the dorms at UW-Superior (where she would sleep for maybe one hour before joining her friends at the startline for the half), Seth and I headed to the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center (DECC) parking lot, and decided to sleep in the car for the next two hours until we woke up to change into our race clothes.  We would then board the North Shore Scenic Rail up to Two Harbors.  Another unique element of this race, runners have the option to take an antique steam locomotive along the scenic heritage rail all the way up to the startline, with a beautiful view of Lake Superior as the sun began to rise.

The sun rising over Lake Superior
Maniacs heading up to the start
(Photo by Larry Wasson)
When we were all set to go, I met up with Julius near the trains, who brought my bib for me as well as a goody bag that was dropped off at their hotel by the race directors. It took about 40 minutes to get to Two Harbors, and I pretty much slept the entire way, sitting with a group of maniac friends old and new.  We got off the train in Two Harbors, with tons of runners already having arrived from the buses.  It was slightly muggy, but comfortable; but the air damp from rains that came the night before. I could see lots of large mosquitoes (endearingly referred to as Minnesota's state bird) preying on unsuspecting runners.  I took care of my pre-race rituals before heading to the PA tent to get ready to sing the national anthem. The tent was located in an elevated area overlooking the street, next to a row of port-a-potties.  Fragrant, yes.  As 7:30 rolled around, I sang the anthem to nearly 7000+ attentive runners, their family and friends, and race volunteers and personnel.  Notably, as I sang "and the rockets red glare!" I could feel a mosquito crawling up my right leg.  GAH!  Thankfully, it did not do any damage to my revered marathon running gams... and they were safe before we took off for the 26.2 miles at 7:45pm.

...and the rockets red glare

The startline!
Lots of trees, lots of runners...
The race started a few minutes late, but when we did, we took off to "Chariots of Fire" blaring over the speakers.  It was warm - my Garmin measured the temperature to be 64°F that morning with 83% humidity, though a bit cloudy. Alongside fellow maniacs Donni and Carol, who I ran into at the start, we crossed the start mats and off we went along Old Highway 61, aka the North Shore Scenic Drive.  The NSAIDs I took before the race (yes, I know.. not recommended before a marathon... my legs and right hip were still a little sore from last week's downhill debacle!) hadn't kicked in, but I carried on, notching nice-and-easy 10-minute miles, with an occasional 9:30 or 9:40 sprung in.   These first few miles were a very gradual downhill, with an occasional hill in the distance that allowed us to see the true breadth of the number of runners running this race.
And now the sun has come up!

Lake Superior, a lakeside home, and a bunch of ducks

One of the parts of the race right up against the lakeshore.

What a back tattoo!
For much of the race, especially from the start til around mile 18, your views are pretty simple... trees to the right, and the occasional house.  Trees to the left with several lovely views of Lake Superior, and the occasional lakeside house.  It's beautiful, but in all honesty, it can get monotonous if you rely on views to make the race for you.  Occasionally, runners will see some interesting sights along the way - in terms of other runners.  Apparently, in this part of the country, running in cargo shorts is a thing; I saw three separate runners running in them (Who knew?!)  And with the heat and humidity being quite a factor, several male runners were running shirtless, which showed off some nicely sculpted shoulders, and in some cases, some artful back tattoos.  However, what makes this race a favorite for so many people is the crowd support.  While it isn't everywhere, when and where there are people cheering on the side of the road, they are there IN DROVES, and are reveling in your amazing feat of running 26.2, putting one foot in front of another as an inspirational accomplishment.  Lots of cowbells can be heard pushing you right along, and some folks even put their sprinklers out on toward the road, a benefit to the runners needing the cool-down as best as we could.

Refreshing. Especially since it wouldn't rain til later!

About 17 miles in...
The race is advertised as a relatively flat race, but in all honesty, the race is not as flat as it may seem.  There are a decent amount of rolling hills in the race, as the race has a minimum elevation of 604 feet and a maximum elevation of 736 feet, with a total of 388 feet of gain and 504 feet of loss.  The biggest uphills come at 5.25 miles, 8.4 miles, 9.1 miles, 21 miles, and then the biggest just after 22 miles (the infamous "Lemon Drop Hill").

Photo by Julius Mabandos
My lack of sleep and adequate preparation was a big factor in me slowing down significantly by the 11 mile mark of the race.  By the time I reached the halfway point, I knew I was not going to be able to break 5 hours like I hoped.  I reached the halfway mark in about 2:23, nearly 13 minutes slower than what has been my average halfway point of races in recent memory.  Near the 15 mile mark, Seth caught up with me, after having started near the back of the pack and running with some friends along the way.  Shortly after running with him for a mile, the 5 hour pacers passed by, and he took off with them while I continued to slog on.

Duluth city limits. 8 miles to go!
We reached the Duluth city limits at the 18 mile mark, and almost immediately the surroundings changed to more of the leafy suburban type residential areas I have been used to running in - and on London Road, as it was now called as we started to run within the city.  Lake Superior was still mere hundreds of feet away (those lucky homeowners right along the lakeshore!) but on either side were single family homes eager to greet the runners less than eight miles away from the finish of the marathon, easily seen as a celebrated event in the area.  Families were parked outside on their front lawns and driveways cheering runners on and offering support in various ways - be it the aforementioned sprinkler, or additional water.  But at mile 19, I found a simple tent on the left side of the road, where a woman was grilling hot dogs.  Starving at this point, I stopped to have her make me one, and for the entire next mile, I happily devoured that hot dog.  Along the way, another spectator offered cans of beer to runners, and I gladly took one as well.  Needless to say, my split for that mile of the race was nearly 20 minutes long.  Oh well.
A Mile 19 hot dog and beer.  My food stop gave me a 20 minute mile.  Oops.
A parade of trolls.  A yearly tradition!
At around mile 21, I spotted dozens of troll dolls on the side of the road. Homeowner Barb Collett has for several years displayed troll dolls on the curb in front of her home. The first year she did this, her idea started with ten troll dolls, set up to look like they were offering high-fives of encouragement to runners. Nowadays, the collections has grown to over 150 troll dolls, serving two purposes: providing an unexpected sight for runners to respond well to late in the race, and allowing young marathon watchers to take the trolls home for a year as long as they promise to return them at the following year's Grandma's Marathon.

The dreaded "Lemon Drop Hill"

A gloomy looking raincloud approaches.
Not far in the distance, as we continued into Duluth proper, we could see a bit of an incline under skies that were beginning to look a bit ominous. That was the race's notorious “Lemon Drop Hill,” named after a restaurant that used to be located there but closed down in 1990.  It actually used to be much more of a hill, but the incline was decreased during an expansion of Interstate 35 around the same time the restaurant had closed. Placed so late in the race at mile 22, the climb is a marked difference compared to the general flatness of the rest of the race -- it could be considered a steep but short hill, and after it, there's a nice gradual downhill along the next mile that allowed me to recover and push through the final 5K of the race.

Maybe ten minutes after this photo, the skies opened up.
With two awesome marathoner
friends Rhonda and Dee Dee!
The last 5K included passing the Duluth Rose Garden, and then turning slightly onto East Superior Street as we raced through downtown Duluth.  One of the last few aid stations had Spice Girls, playing "Wannabe" which I rather gleefully joined in on lipsynching and actual singing to as I walked by.  The skies were turning very grey by that point, and it was only a matter of time before the clouds would unleash their rains on the runners.  Still, there were many spectators out along the course cheering the 5 hour+ runners on, as well as entertainment -- I spotted a belly dance troupe performing on the side of the road!

Victory Headstand!
By mile 25, the rain started.  And it came down heavily.  With just a little over a mile to go, me and the runners around me were DRENCHED.  It was a slight bit of a pick me up though; those clouds could also mean lightning, and the race could very well be cancelled if it was spotted.  We made the left turn on 5th Avenue, a slight incline as we went over I-35, and took Harbor Drive all the way around the convention center in Canal Park.  I spotted my friend Jamie Ryder as I made one of my last few turns.  We turned right onto Railroad Street, then made our way around Lake Place Drive and Canal Park Drive before, lo and behold, there was the finish line.  I picked up my speed and crossed the finish line in 5:31:25.  And just my luck... the rain actually decides to stop over those last hundred meters as I cross the mat.

With Grandma's Marathon race director  - and fellow Michigan alum - Greg Haapala

Post race celebration
(Photo by Pretty Soelaiman)
The race was my slowest finish since March, but considering the temperature at the finish was 73°, (with slightly less humidity at 57%), and definitely a good five degrees warmer than at the start, the sun bearing down on us, and my travelling issues the night before, I was happy.  I got to see a few friends as they crossed the line as well, before boarding the buses and heading to Pretty's hotel to grab a shower -- I was staying with her and her friends for Saturday night.  We all headed into town for a late lunch before Seth and Sandra headed back down to Minneapolis for their flights home.  The rest of the day was spent exploring around the city of Duluth, and checking out the mechanics of the famous Aerial Lift Bridge, Duluth's most famous landmark, and the background of my victory headstand photo.

With Sandra at a local distillery!
It was later that evening that I found out that I got pretty sunburned over the course of the race. In the hubbub of the travel issues the night before, I forgot to apply sunscreen that morning before the race.  Stupid me... so I spent the remainder of the weekend, being very conscious of the sunburn on my shoulders and arms.  Sunday morning, our crew drove back down to Minneapolis, stopping at the Mall of America, before heading to the airport for our flights home.  Another race and state, check!

The aftereffects of forgetting to wear sunscreen...  OUCH.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Race Report: Revel Rockies Marathon

We were actually fully boarded on our flight about 5 minutes before our scheduled departure time, but then, we sat on the tarmac.  For half an hour, we didn't move from the gate, since apparently there were several planes trying to taxi onto the runway for take off, and they needed to get past us.  And then when we finally left the gate, we sat for nearly another hour, moving slowly down the line, as the pilot announced we were something like the 20th plane in line for take off.  Such is a Friday night at any of the three New York City airports.  So, my optimism for departing early devolved into a late arrival, but thankfully it wasn't as late as we had anticipated; it was only about fifteen minutes late. But I had made it to Denver!  Melissa was ready to pick me up shortly thereafter, and we headed back to her townhouse and I immediately rushed the bed, to get a decent night's sleep before an early wake up call on Saturday morning.

Leisurely hike in Evergreen...
Of course, that didn't really happen.  I stayed up and found a ripped youtube version of the most recent episode of RuPaul's Drag Race that had just aired earlier that evening while I was in the air. Priorities, of course. Alas, we woke up at 6:30am the next morning, and headed out the door to drive thirty minutes across town to the community of Evergreen on the other side of Denver.  At 8, we were going to sweep the 5-mile trail course at Elk Meadow Park, where the Colorado Masters Running Assocation (CMRA) was holding its monthly race.  Sweeping in this instance, meant hiking along with Melissa and her dog, Maggie, as I huffed and puffed at the 7000-8000 foot elevation, yet at the same time trying to acclimate to the altitude as best as I could in the short period of time I had before my marathon on Sunday.  Upon arriving, I was able to say hello to friends Johnny, Francie, and Lisa, all who I met when I was last in Denver in May of last year for the Colfax Half Marathon, and who were all participating in that day's race, either running or volunteering.

Getting my psoas dug into.
The views were absolutely beautiful along this well manicured trail, and we finished in roughly an hour and forty minutes, picking up flags and signs along the way. After we finished the hike, all of the other runners had assembled at the trailhead, where they were already in the middle of giving out awards, and one of Melissa's friends, a chiropractor named Matt Barnes, who had run the race, was providing free adjustments to other runners.  I've had a nagging pain in my right hip flexor, in addition to the usual sore adductors, so using trigger point stimulation, he really got into my muscles... in particular, my psoas... as I yelped out in pain.  But magically, I was like new after he had done his magic.

Black Sheep in Colorado!
Afterward, we headed up to nearby brewery Lariat Lodge, where we all eagerly devoured our brunch, sitting outside in their dog-friendly "Bark Garden," as gradually, others began to arrive for the lunch hour with their canines in tow.  After brunch, we separated, and Melissa and I drove off to the Steinhauer Field House at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado, where the race expo was being held.  Of course, as a result of my insomniac tendencies the night before, I lulled myself into a sleep as we drove for the next half hour.  We brought Maggie along with us as we headed into the expo and picked up our bibs and t-shirts, and mingled with other runners including some of my Black Sheep Run folks who decided to take on the challenge of a steep downhill marathon.

With our friend Randy, we headed into the town of Golden for a quick drink at another brewery - this time Mountain Toad, which was a popular destination at that hour of the day.  My tiredness began to get at me as we headed into downtown Denver to order pizza for dinner at Mellow Mushroom, and then we headed right back to Aurora to get ourselves into bed, as we knew we were groggily waking up at 2:45am so that we could get out the door by 3:15 to drive all the way across town again to the parking area in Morrison, where we would pick up the shuttles to take us up the mountain to our respective startlines.

The sun peeking out between the trees
I got onto the first available marathon bus I could find, and at about 4am our bus had filled up and we were off. I just so happened to board the same bus as Lisa, Brian, and his friend Emma, heading up the mountain.  It was maybe five minutes before the bus quieted down, and I (and maybe several others) had fallen asleep; we arrived at our destination roughly eleven miles up Squaw Pass Road near the old Echo Mountain Ski Resort at 4:59am.  This left us with a whole hour before our start, and so we assembled in the chilly 41º air, sitting on the asphalt parking area bundled up in our heatsheets.  I located my Black Sheep Run friends, and we huddled together for about twenty minutes before finally getting our stuff to the Penske trucks for gear check.  At 5:45, I got to the PA system to sing the national anthem in front of the most beautiful sunrise with the mountains kissing the sky, completing state #30 in my efforts to sing the national anthem in all 50 states.

SNOW?!  In July?
After the anthem, everyone headed to the startline, which was about a 1/4 mile away down the mountain from where the buses had dropped us off.  Aidin and I walked down together and took photos with the piles of hard-packed snow that were still present at this elevation on the mountain, a funny sight to us knowing that it's June.  At 6am on the dot, we took off, and immediately, we felt the downhill, as we dropped 167 feet in elevation within the first half mile.  The 4% downhill grade progressed as we continued along Squaw Pass Road, and with this being my third downhill race (after the Mt. Nebo Half in Utah in 2015 and the Revel Big Cottonwood Full in 2016), I knew to dial it back, but still let gravity do its work.

Just before taking off at the startline!

What a beautiful morning for a run!
Positioned with the 4:10 pacers at the start, I let them pass because I knew that if I ran with them, I would be running at an unsustainable pace for me.  The first five miles lose over 1,300 feet and gain less than 10 feet overall. The only climb - which is minor - is within the first mile, and even then, I ran a conservative 9:38 per mile pace. The next four miles each drop 240 feet or more and gain zero. Along the way, I saw friends Monique, Aidin, Mitchell, Angie and Lisa, pass me.  The views were absolutely beautiful the entire way down, as the road wound its way past Squaw Mountain, Mount Judge, Snyder Mountain, and Mount Pence. While there were switchbacks and sharp turns, the camber of the road was never severe enough to have to run closer to the center to avoid having to run at an angle.

Down, down, downhill we go!
At mile 5, the road flattened out slightly, and while I took a short walk break, it didn't mess with my splits, as I was still running pretty evenly.  A mile later, the 4:25 pacer began to pass me, but that was fine, as the goal was to stay close to the 4:25 pacer, and even let them pass, but keep them within eyesight. The next several miles felt like the first five, dropping over 1,100 feet to mile 11.  Along the way, I ran into Aidin, and we ran together for a mile, before my pace began to quicken near where we finally emerged out of the trees, making our way closer to the Evergreen Parkway, about 11.5 miles into the race.  The 4:25 pacer was still within sights, maybe about 800 feet in front of me.

Flattening out as we head toward the Evergreen Parkway

Tough rollers at 7,500 feet in elevation
We crossed Evergreen Parkway, and turned right, hugging the shoulder and one of the northbound lanes of the highway.  Here was where we would encounter short, gradual climbs - or rollers - which were quite obvious in the distance.  The 4:25 pacer had gotten away from me visually, but I still kept up with some decent speed as we made our way over the hills.  Over the next 3 miles, we'd be traversing the parkway, going up a 45 foot hill, then back down, and then a 53 foot hill, then a long downhill over the next mile, followed by another 53 foot hill.  We would then cross the halfway point, and then go up the last and largest hill - a 71 footer - followed by a nice downhill.  We'd cross mile 15, and then making a hard left off of the parkway onto Douglas Park Road, where I took my first GU, and also ran into Angie with two other maniacs.  Angie had run a downhill full - the Utah Valley Marathon - the day before, so she was pacing herself easy on this second day.

Taking advantage of those downhills!

The creek alongside the course
The three of us ran together for the next mile and a half, as we ran along Meadow Drive through the town of Evergreen.  We turned left onto the two-lane Bear Creek Road, running parallel to its namesake, which ran right alongside the road.  The eastbound traffic was closed for us runners, while drivers on the westbound lane gingerly made their way around the tight turns through the mountainous terrain.  The sights and sounds of the creek were a nice accompaniment to the doldrums of reaching this point of the marathon.  Unfortunately, at the same time, the course began to flatten out a bit, and this is where I began to slow significantly, finally succumbing to the difficulties of breathing in the thin air of being at approximately 7000 feet in altitude.  While the course still continued downhill, the drops were much more gradual than what we encountered in the first 13 miles, and also less than the elevation loss on Evergreen Parkway.  We then entered the town of Kittredge, basically running down its quiet main street.  Before long, we reached mile 19, at an elevation of 6,759 feet.

Hopeful motivation
Switchbacks over the last few miles
The remaining seven miles were a gradual downhill, dropping us an addition 1,000 feet to the end.  Miles 21 and 22  were only a 1% downhill grade, and the final three miles were a bit more, with a 3.5% elevation loss, as we curved around the mountain pass.  Compared to the first thirteen miles, the camber of the road was much steeper, and in order to keep from running on uneven pavement, we had to stay close to center, or hug the center line as we made turns.  The closing 5K was taxing on my already exhausted quads, and while I tried to increase the pace as we were met with obvious downhill sections, I still had to take periodic walk breaks just to break of the pain in my legs. With a mile left to go, I came upon Melissa, who had paced 2:20 for the half and was running back up the mountain to meet up with our friend Chavet, pacing 5:40 for the full.  We passed one of the entrances to Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, as we heard the announcers at the finish line just over some trees around the corner.  Of course, we were met with a short 20-foot climb right at the very end of the course as we turned onto Union Avenue, literally within the last .10 mile.

Melissa finds me as she ran uphill to get to Chavet, who was pacing 5:30
Official photo by Revel Rockies
25 miles done, and my quads are SHOT.
Coming into the finish!
(Official photo by
Revel Rockies)
I crossed the finish line in 4:52:09, far from my original goal, but the fact of the matter was we lost 4,700 feet of elevation from the start to the finish.  It was 72°, 50% humidity.  I stayed within my abilities and not go out too fast, and relied on gravity as much as I could.  The in the middle of the course really got to me, and having to work hard to run on the flatter elevation points took a toll on my breathing.  As soon as I finished, I took advantage of free pizza and got in line to get some recovery in my legs at the Rapid Reboot tent, then proceeded down to the beer garden to meet up with friends.  The beer had been long gone, but luckily Monique had one that she offered to me, which was refreshing (despite it being an IPA, not one of my favorites).  After the final finishers came in, a group of us headed into Morrison and grabbed much needed food at The Morrison Inn, before Melissa and I headed up into Red Rocks to capture my customary victory headstand photo!

With Revel series race director, Anna Ryan

Victory Headstand in Red Rocks!
We headed back to Aurora and were exhausted from the early morning wake up call, so we took a 2-3 hour nap, and then headed out once again for food - and I got to try some Rocky Mountain Oysters (aka bull testicles) which I had curiously wanted to try ever since coming to Colorado the year before.  We stopped into a local Aurora brewery for one drink before Melissa took me to the airport, and I got on my redeye flight back home to New York City!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Race Report: Sunburst Marathon

Arriving in South Bend!
Who knew there were direct flights to South Bend, Indiana from the New York area?  With an 11:15pm arrival on Friday night, I trekked over to New Jersey to fly out of Newark to South Bend on United, with my friend Carrie and her family on the same flight.  Upon our late arrival, they picked up their rental car and dropped me off at my Airbnb, where I promptly went to bed, since it was an early start the next morning for the Saturday race.

With Mayor Pete
The race had a 6:30am start, so I wake up at 5:15am, and I'm out the door at 5:40am to walk the one mile down to the start at Four Winds Field, home of the South Bend Cubs, a minor league development team for the Chicago Cubs.  I realize I'm wearing the same singlet I wore exactly a year ago this same weekend for the Deadwood Mickelson Half in South Dakota -- as we are all gathering to prepare for the race, the sound tech takes out an antique-style microphone that I would be singing at for the anthem, which strangely enough was the exact same kind of microphone I sang on for the race in South Dakota -- talk about coincidences!  I also get to meet South Bend's Mayor, Pete Buttigieg, a rising star within the Democratic party, who would be firing the starting gun.  More recently, he made national headlines when he ran for the chairmanship of the embattled Democratic National Committee.  Buttigieg, a runner himself, has quite the resume - he's a Harvard graduate, a Rhodes Scholar (and graduate of Oxford University in England), and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.  In addition, he's openly gay and is the youngest mayor of a city with at least 100,000 people.  At today's Sunburst Races, he was running the half marathon.

Promptly at 6:30, we were off... with the weather at a nice, balmy 54 degrees. We headed north along Lafayette Street for half a mile, passing the County-City Building in downtown South Bend, which houses the Office of the Mayor.  We turned right onto Colfax Avenue, greeted by the rising sun as we make our first crossing over the St. Joseph River.  I run a fast (for me) 8:42 first mile, keeping up with the 4:10 pacer who started alongside me.  I would end up keeping up with him for the first 2.5 miles of the race.

Crossing the St. Joseph River along Colfax Avenue
The Twyckenham Drive Bridge
We turned right at St. Louis Boulevard and then weaved our way around Northeast South Bend/East Bank Village into the Howard Park neighborhood, before following Northside Boulevard as it paralleled the north shore of the St. Joseph River.  We would run underneath several bridges, notably the sweeping concrete arches of the Twyckenham Drive Bridge, and a red bridge connecting the campus of Indiana University-South Bend over the river to a collection of apartment buildings on the south bank of the river.  We continued along Northside Boulevard until it turned into Pleasant Street, running through the diverse community of River Park, before turning right onto the downhill of 27th Street and continuing along Northside Boulevard which started up again.  Along the way, a police escort came toward us signaling the runner in first place who was far ahead in front of the rest of the lead runners. As we approached mile 5, the street seemed to come at an abrupt stop at Logan Boulevard, at which we ran along the sidewalk before crossing the street and turning right over the Logan Street Bridge to the south bank.

Running on Northside Boulevard
Discarded paper cups on the bike path
As we crossed the river, little did we know we entered the neighboring city of Mishawaka.  We began to run along the concrete path that made up the Riverwalk, a circular system of pedestrian and bicycle trails on both banks of the St. Joseph River.  The course took us past a wastewater treatment plant facility, which was where we were first greeted with unpleasant smells along the St. Joseph River. Notably, this was where we could also see literal WALLS of thousands of flying bugs hovering over the river, a normal sight in these warmer summer morning hours!  Needless to say, I stayed clear to the right and avoided as much of being close to the shore as possible, with my mouth closed.  I had already been doing so, as cottonwood seeds and seed hairs were flying about everywhere I went, even gathered up in bunches along the path.  I'm surprised my allergies didn't go berserk.  We crossed several pedestrian bridges across Kamm Island, a 7.5 acre park on the south shore of the river, and the brand new Beutter Riverfront Park.  We crossed a footbridge that swayed as runners ran over it at the end of Beutter Park over to Mishawaka's Central Park on the north bank, just as we passed the mile 6 marker and a split mat at the 6.1 mark of the race.

Six miles in, and we're in Mishawaka - getting to run over the St. Joseph River again!

The cable stayed Bridge in Mishawaka
For the next 1.25 miles, we on the Riverside Trail that ran along the north bank, before coming back to the foot of the Logan Street Bridge we had crossed earlier in the race.  We went back in the direction we had come down along Northside Boulevard (where we had first encountered the lead runner), and continued all along the route we had run earlier including 27th Street, which we were now running up, all the way back to the red bridge at Indiana University-South Bend's campus.  Here, we turned right, and headed uphill through a sidewalk on the campus, and ran through its small quad, before crossing Mishawaka Avenue and making our way around one side of the fenced-in IUSB track and tennis courts.  We turned left onto Wall Street, and headed westward, eventually crossing a set of railroad tracks along Sunnyside Avenue, and then turning right onto Longfellow Avenue, where we were met with 10K runners that had started an hour after us and were about 2.5 miles/34 minutes into their race.

Joined up with the 10K runners as we head westward before the marathoners split off

Official photo by the Sunburst Marathon.
On our own now for the next 14 miles
Along the way, the 4:20 pacer ends up passing me somewhere around mile 10.5, as we passed through the vibrant Sunnymede neighborhood. At mile 12, we encounter a humongous hill that half marathoners are running up, but the marathoners turn left.  Having seen the course map, I realize, crap, that's what's left for us at mile 25 (sigh...)  At this point, the marathoners are off on their own now, completing the next 13 miles on trails and neighborhoods adjacent to the St. Joseph River.  We head out for a section of the East Bank Trail alongside the St. Joseph River.  I only have two people visibly in front of me, as they disappear around the bend of the trees.  After passing the halfway point of the race, which I manage to do in about 2:10, we continue on, zigzagging around streets for the next 1.5 miles through the residential neighborhood of Northshore Triangle. Along North Shore Drive, we pass through part of the West North Shore Historic District, with a number of fashionable Colonial Revival style homes with a Prairie influence, designed by Ernest Young, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright.

It's HOT out here. I will most
definitely earn my shower today!
We exit the neighborhood by turning left onto Angela Boulevard over the St. Joseph River, which is where we meet the lead runners for a second time, who are at this point are 7.8 miles in front of me, nearing the 23 mile mark of their race.  I have a LOT of mileage still in front of me.  Now on the edge of the neighborhood of Keller Park, we weave along Riverside Drive running along the shoulder of the street for the next 1.5 miles out as we see the faster runners taking the Riverside Trail back. Along the way, the 4:30 pacer passes me.  We turn left onto Woodlawn Boulevard, and we do about a 1.25 mile loop along Berkley Place, Lathrop Place, and Hollywood Place, before returning right back to Woodlawn Boulevard and Riverside Drive.  Just before I exit Woodlawn, I spot my friend Carrie heading out for the loop, with Ken pacing 5:00 right behind her.  We continue up Riverside Drive meandering for another mile through the Pinhook area of South Bend, where we have a short uphill double out-and-back on Ribourde Drive and Boland Drive, in the area known as Council Oak, named after a now-removed rumored to be 400-year tree that served as the setting for the signing of peace treaties between the French settlers and the Miami, Illinois and Potawatomi tribes who lived in the area.

Heading out along Riverside Drive for a LOOOOONNG time, while runners make their way back along the Riverside Trail next to the St. Joseph River
We finally got to the turn around at the furthest north we'd be along the river, and we followed the Riverside Trail all the way back along the course we had already seen going out. It's super hot now, but thankfully the trees give us shade that we need. The northernmost point of the course just happened to be the 20 mile point, so I still had a 10k of running left to go.  It was stop and go for the most point as we retraced our steps all the way back to that hill we saw at mile 12.  It didn't help that as I began my run along the Riverside Trail, the wind had died down to nearly nothing, and the temps, already increasing over the course of the day, were blazing hot.
Massive trees in the Northshore Triangle

Official photo by
the Sunburst Marathon.
We finally reached the last mile of the race, summitting what I later found out was called "Hallelujah Hill," with St. Joseph High School to our east.  Of course, they positioned a couple race photographers on that hill, so struggle as I might, I made the most of a photo op and ran the short distance up the hill to get a good photo.  Needless to say, I got one -- see below!  We continued up St. Louis Boulevard, making a gradual right turn onto South Bend Avenue, and then a left onto Notre Dame Avenue.  In the distance we could see the golden dome of the Main Building on the campus of the University of Notre Dame.  We were getting close; as several folks slowed to a walk, I picked up the speed and ran a bit more, vowing to finish this race on a high note, despite the temperatures soaring to 81º by the time I reached the finish line. We turned right onto Napoleon Boulevard, then left onto Eddy Street, where we were treated by a raucous crowd of brunchers, cheering us on to the finish next to Irish Green. Sadly, for the second year in a row, the race was not going to finish on the 50-yard line of Notre Dame Stadium, as it has in years past.  Construction work on Notre Dame's Campus Crossroads Project continued all around - a $400 million project including more than 750,000 square feet of classroom, research, student facility, digital media, performance, meeting, event, and hospitality space which will be housed in three buildings.  It would be later announced in 2017 that the 2018 edition of the race would return to finishing in the stadium.  So alas, I was unlucky for this year :(
Trudging up Hallelujah Hill.
(Official photo of the Sunburst Marathon.)
However, I was thrilled to be able to cross the finish in this super hot race in 4:52:24.  With this race and at this point in time, I would have exactly half (19) marathons of all my lifetime marathons under the 5 hour benchmark.  It was HOT, and I was glad to get a cold towel at the finish, and went straight to the food tent to grab a Jimmy John's sandwich, before waiting for Carrie to come across the finish line a little while later.  After taking my requisite headstand shot (I couldn't find a good sign showing "University of Notre Dame" so I opted for the sign in front of the Legends of Notre Dame restaurant just outside the stadium), we then boarded a bus back to the startline.

#victoryheadstand. Unfortunately, not the best Notre Dame sign.  I posed in front of Legends... a *restaurant* on the ND campus. It was the only place in close proximity that had Notre Dame nice and big on a sign! And it was so hot.

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart
The rest of Saturday was spent exploring more of what South Bend had to offer.  My Airbnb was nice and central to much of the city, and Uber works pretty well here (considering it's a college town), so I was able to check out several spots, such as the Studebaker National Museum, dedicated to a variety of automobiles, wagons, carriages, and military vehicles made by the now defunct iconic American automobile manufacturer, Studebaker; and wandering the campus of University of Notre Dame: visiting the beautiful Basilica of the Sacred Heart and seeing the Hesburgh Library and its 134 foot tall religious mural, situated within the views of Notre Dame's stadium - giving it it's nickname, "Touchdown Jesus."  For lunch, I went into downtown South Bend to South Bend Brew Werks, where I was eagerly devoured the most perfect *looking* burger I had ever seen, and enjoyed a flight of dark beers!  Later that evening, I joined the McNishes at Rocky River Tap and Table in Granger, Indiana, before retiring for the night, as I had planned out my Sunday morning early.

Meeting up with Amy in Chicago!
On Sunday, I took the South Shore Line, an easy 90 minute commuter train ride taking me from South Bend Airport to Millenium Station in downtown Chicago.  I got in a little earlier than predicted, so I headed up to a Starbucks not far away to meet with my old college friend Amy - but along the way, I noticed many people with race bibs on; I, of course, began to seethe with jealousy for not knowing another race was happening - but there were actually a few going on!  I later found out that downtown Chicago hosted the Cancer Survivors' Celebration Walk & 5K, the Chicago edition of the Color Run (notably seeing several folks dropping into Starbucks covered in caked on colored powder), and lots of pink for the AVON 39 Walk to End Breast Cancer.  Amy met up with me and we headed to brunch at Cindy's Rooftop at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, overlooking Grant Park and Lake Michigan.  With the rest of the afternoon left to do whatever before my flight, we decided to go to the movies and watch "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" at the AMC Theatres at Block 37.  After the movie let out, I took the Blue line train to O'Hare, and got through security at Terminal 2 in a shockingly quick three minutes.  However... it was a walk clear to the very end of the terminal for the Delta Shuttle flights home to LGA, and it was stiflingly hot with unfortunately no air conditioning.  The flight home was quick... and I was back in NYC in no time!