Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Race Report: Sioux Falls Marathon

Embarking on this second round of 50 states, I did my best to try to find marathons in different cities than where I had run a half in in my first round of 50.  For South Dakota, that meant looking to the eastern part of the state, and that's how Sioux Falls made its way onto my calendar. However, it wasn't apparent until the beginning of the summer how scheduling would be to make it to Sioux Falls directly after returning from an overseas trip to Jordan, eight time zones ahead. Knowing myself, I'd make it happen - and so I scheduled my flights with me taking a flight leaving the Middle East on Thursday, and arriving in New York on Friday morning.

Jamie and I ready to go to Sioux Falls!
Of course, to save up my vacation days, I decided to work a full day on that Friday - the only day I'd be coming in that week - and go into the office after a 13 1/2 hour long flight from Abu Dhabi to JFK. I was mostly useless in the office, but I still managed to catch up on e-mails and such.  At the end of the work day, I grabbed all my bags and instead of going home, headed to LaGuardia Airport for my evening departure to Omaha. On the plane were my friends Karen and Glen, as well. After sleeping the entire flight, I landed in Omaha before 11pm, with my friend Jamie picking me up, and promptly conked out once again once I got to her house in the Omaha suburb of Ralston.

At the expo at the PREMIER Center
The next morning, I did a load of laundry, essentially emptying the contents of my luggage from the past week into her washer and dryer, before we got on the road to embark on a 2 1/2 hour drive northward to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  We arrived around 3pm, making our way straight toward the expo at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center, an indoor arena where the race would start and end the next day, before checking into the TownePlace Suites in the western part of the city, making it just in time to watch the contentious US Open Women's Tennis Final on ESPN between Serena Williams and eventual winner Naomi Osaka. After the match and televised press conference, Jamie and I headed into downtown to check out one of Sioux Falls' up and coming breweries, WoodGrain Brewing, which had a delicious Imperial Milk Stout on tap called Cocobolo; with cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and chili flavors, it was also aged in a fresh rum barrel for 10 months, giving some additional sweetness!  Having a 10 oz. pour was more than enough - its 11.4% ABV made me feel loopy!

STRONG beer! Imperial milk stout...
As the evening began to draw near, Jamie and I decided to pass the time by going to the movies, just on the other side of the highway from our hotel.  We watched "Crazy Rich Asians" - my second time seeing the movie - enjoying it once again but this time having engrossed myself in Kevin Kwan's great trilogy of books.  I was also very surprised to see a fairly large crowd watching the film - in its third week of release, and in the middle of the country, nonetheless!  After the movie, we headed back to the hotel, and I promptly went back to sleep - maybe still a little jetlagged, but knowing I'd have to be up in about six hours anyway, to get myself ready for the race the next morning.

Morning came quickly with my 5am wake up, and we were out the door and headed back to the PREMIER Center by 5:30. Parking was easy, and marathoners were gradually making their way into the arena to prep for the race.  The marathon started at 6:30, and I made my way up to the announcer's booth, perched underneath the arena's jumbotron to sing the national anthem after all the marathoners had made their way into the start area.
Getting ready to start the marathon
Promptly at 6:30, we were off, and made our way out of the arena and out onto the sleepy streets of Sioux Falls.  The sun was still not up yet, making for a chilly morning, only 55° outside - but I welcomed it after spending a week in the Middle Eastern desert!  We exited out onto Western Avenue, then began to weave in and around the streets surrounding the arena. Within the first mile, we saw a beautiful sight - a massive American flag on a flagpole at a flag store, waving in the wind, and backlit by the sunkissed orange sky, the sun barely beginning to make itself known above the horizon. We made our way around the perimeter of Sioux Falls' Veterans' Memorial Park, then encountered our first slight uphill, as we continued south along Menlo Avenue through the residential area of North End West, then turned onto West 4th Street, seeing the spires of the Cathedral of St. Joseph in the distance.  We turned onto Duluth Avenue, passing right by the century-old edifice on one side, while enjoying a beautiful view of the downtown area downhill from our high location.
Running through North End West
Cathedral of St. Joseph
Downhill into downtown
We eventually turned onto West 9th Street, enjoying a steep downhill into the downtown area below, where we began to zig zag through the city streets, and enjoyed the crowd support of the few who were up early to cheer us on.  We passed by the Old Courthouse Museum, a beautiful former courthouse building made of native Sioux Quartzite stone, a local building material of the late 19th century that is considered the most unbreakable stone in the world, harder than granite, marble, and slate (only gemstones are tougher.) Its beautiful 1893 clocktower stands forthright within the downtown skyline.  We had crossed over the Big Sioux River along 8th Street, then passed by the city's old depot building, originally built to accommodate train passengers along the newly built extension of the Illinois Central Railroad, now home of the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation.  Eventually we made it onto 6th Street, where Jamie was waiting to cheer the marathoners on as we passed by. When we turned at Phillips Avenue, beginning to head north into Falls Park, we had already ran 5 miles through the streets of Sioux Falls and its downtown area.
The Old Courthouse Museum to the right
Jamie captured this photo of me at mile 5!
Entering Falls Park...
We had now entered Falls Park, Sioux Falls' crown jewel, a 123-acre park established around the city's namesake waterfalls on the Big Sioux River, just north of the downtown area.  The park includes a café, observation tower, and the remains of an old mill, and by 7:30 that morning, the place was already jumping, many people enjoying watching the runners pass through the park's pathways.  This was also the start of running along the city's 19-mile main loop of its expansive greenway system, which mostly follows the course of the meandering Big Sioux River.  We ran along the bike paths that passed underneath the streets above, and began to see some of the half marathoners make their way through the downtown streets that we had just ran. The course continued southeastward on the bike path, still following the river as we made our way past parks such as Beadle Greenway, Nelson Park, the River Boulevard Greenway, and Cherry Rock Park. It was along this path that the lead runners of the half marathon began to pass me by, until they turned off at a bridge back across the river next to Cherry Rock Park at about mile 7.6, while we continued on, passing by two more parks, Riverdale Park and Rotary Park, in the process.
The Sioux Steel Company property, some 10 acres of land along East 6th Street
Running along the Big Sioux River in Downtown Sioux Falls
Under bridges on the greenway
At Norlin Greenway Park, we came off of the riverside trail, and took a circular ramp down to the street level, as we began to run along an asphalt trail adjacent to Southeastern Avenue.  We went past the baseball diamonds in Paisley Park, momentarily removing ourselves from being right next to the river, instead running alongside a railroad through a mostly boring stretch of street. Just before reaching Lions Centennial Park, at Marson Drive, we were directed to turn left, and reached the mile 10 mark of the race. For the next 4 1/2 miles, we embarked on a sojourn through the residential streets of southeast Sioux Falls.  It was largely lonely and quiet, but still, several residents came out to cheer us on on this beautiful Sunday morning. We had another slight hill as we ran along 57th Street, with the road ramping up over a sunken railroad bed, then soldiered on until we reached Cliff Avenue, as we took a nice downhill toward the bike trail, once again running along the Big Sioux River at roughly mile 14.7.
The asphalt trail on Southeastern Avenue, part of the Greenway

Running through one of the parks
We continued along the bike trail as it meandered past a few more parks, skirting the edge of Yankton Trail Park and its 21 soccer fields, also notable for being where the early settlers crossed the Big Sioux River on the trail toward the city of Yankton, which was then the capital of the Dakota Territory. We passed under Western Avenue at the 17 mile mark of the race, eventually making our across a bridge over the Big Sioux River, as we began to ran on a rather lonely section of the course, where the trail was positioned on a steep embankment overlooking the Big Sioux River to our right. For the next couple of miles, first running along the edge of Sertoma Park, we ran along this largely quiet section of the route, most of it positioned behind commercial buildings that front Louise Avenue.  I found Jamie again as we passed by the 18.5 mile mark under the 41st Street Bridge, where she was handing out bags of Happy Cola flavored Haribo gummies, specifically requested by me - apparently, she developed quite the reputation as the "candy lady," giving out candy to runners as they approached this mark of the race!  She told me she'd find me a few miles later, with an actual Coca Cola for me to drink. :D

A lonely bridge southwest of the city
The trail then meandered eastward, following the course of Skunk Creek, a tributary of the Big Sioux River.  On the other side of the creek, we could see runners headed back out (I even spotted Glen ahead of me, and I called out to him,) eventually seeing their mile marker 22. We were only about 19.5 in, so we had an idea of how much more trail headed alongside Skunk Creek we had left before we would be going along the trail on their side of the river eventually.  We crossed a bridge just before the 21 mile mark, then ran through Dunham Park, which was crawling with people - Sunday morning meant baseball and softball games! As we dodged spectactors and kids warming up for their games, I found Jamie again, and took a swig of that waiting Coca-Cola, which was MARVELOUS, before continuing on, as we made our way back along the bike trail in the direction of the Big Sioux River.  It was significantly windier, though, so we ran into a headwind over the next couple miles, until we finally veered northward at the confluence of the two bodies of water.  We crossed a bridge back over the Big Sioux River, one that acts as a dam, but also connects both the Country Club of Sioux Falls with the Minnehaha Country Club, before we continued up the eastern bank of the river northward. Eventually, we hit mile 23, with only a little over 5K to go.
A boring section behind some commercial buildings
Another spot where Jamie found me, later in the race.
1.2 miles to go!
For the next two miles, we continued up along the bike trail along the Big Sioux River northward, until we reached the mile 25 mark. To our right, we passed by the Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum of Natural History, and notably the buffalo pen - though they were all resting in a part of the pen further away from our trail. As we continued northward, the quietness of the day was interrupted by the sound of speeding cars, as across the river, the Sioux Empire Fairgrounds were being used as a drag racing venue that morning.  It was a totally missed opportunity for me to take video as it only popped into my head later, that I could've parodied the "RuPaul's Drag Race" theme song to "Sioux Falls Drag Race..." but my mind was on other things... I was concentrating on finishing this race under 5 hours!

Victory Headstand in Falls Park
After we reached mile 25, we took Brookings Street all the way to the PREMIER Center, a straight shot to the finish line, back inside the arena.  With my goal to finish under 5 hours in sight, I crossed over the finish line mat in a strong 4:53:29, despite feeling physical exhaustion from all of the travel I had gone through in the days prior.  I found several of my friends at the finish line, devoured a couple pulled pork sandwiches, and then with Jamie, made our way to Falls Park so that I could do my customary headstand photo.  I had luckily gotten the hotel to give me a late checkout, so we headed back and I showered and packed up my bags, and we were out the door about a quarter past 1 - more than enough time to take us back to Omaha and to get straight to the airport for my 5:50pm flight.  Another marathon, another state, heck... another time zone!  I was ready to get home, and sleep in my own bed finally!
Bringing home the bling!

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