Saturday, June 4, 2016

Race Report: Race the Runways

I was in Maine last summer, but it was a very quick trip -- a plane to Boston, and then a bus up to Portland from the airport, with the Shipyard Old Port Half the following morning, and then an exodus by the early afternoon to Massachusetts.  The story starts similarly this time around; with it being the end of April, my cousin Kathy (a JetBlue flight attendant) secured me a buddy pass on a JFK to PWM direct flight, but with the days getting closer to my departure, the available seats began to dwindle at an alarming rate.  By Friday, the seats were practically gone, and I was 3 or 4 down on the standby list.  Our second option - get me to Boston, and then I can get on the bus again.  So, Kathy got me on standby for the Boston flight, though I was waaaaaay down on the list, maybe 12 or 13.

Welcome to Brunswick
Nevertheless, I got myself to JFK (always easy from my job, it's a 20 minute trip, tops), and bypass the massive security line at T5 with my trusty TSA PreCheck, and sat at the gate, awaiting word if I'm able to get on the flight.  Boarding begins, and everybody files on board, while 6 of us wait with bated breath if we're able to get on the flight.  The boarding door is about to close, with the 10 minute rule and several checked-in passengers have not made it to the gate, so those of us waiting are shuttled behind the door, and are put onto the plane LITERALLY at the last moment.

It's a quick flight over to Boston, and as soon as I land, I beeline my way to the ground transportation stop where the bus to Portland comes hourly, and I get on the bus for the two hour trip northward to Maine.  Upon arrival, I still need to make my way to the airport to retrieve my car rental, so I hail an Uber to take me the 2.5 miles away to Portland International Jetport, where I have my rental car waiting at Hertz.  I then drive 45 minutes north to Brunswick, where my friend Dana is waiting for me at the Best Western she booked.  As it was already a very late night, and the race was the next morning, we killed the lights and shut down for the evening.

Step and repeat with Dana!
Bright and early the following morning, we were out the door, kindly asking for some extra time at check out (the lady from the night before was not so accommodating...), and then proceeded to the startline of the race on the grounds of Brunswick Executive Airport, a public use general aviation airport that used to be Naval Air Station Brunswick, before it was closed in 2011 as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure committee decision; and "Brunswick Landing: Maine's Center for Innovation," a business park.

Per their website:
"The 2016 event is the 6th year of the race. The Half Marathon is unique and challenging.  It is one of only a few races (that we know of) run on an active airport.  While it’s practically flat, it’s the wind that may make it challenging.  Some years its been dead calm and in others, we’ve had gusts over 50 mph.  Over 4.5 miles are run directly on the runways.  Don’t worry about aircraft taking off or landing.  We are in communication with every plane landing or taking off.  We run on the INACTIVE runway right next to the active runway. 
The event benefits Veterans No Boundaries, The Road Runners Club of America – Kids Run the Nation program and the Coastal Humane Society.  The MidCoast Triathlon Club is a Non-Profit club who believes in promoting health in our community.  Our club welcomes Swimmers, Bikers and Runners of all ages and abilities to join our group training events.  Our goal for the Race The Runways is to hold a quality event for runners and walkers promoting health and fitness in our MidCoast Maine community."
The race course
Andrea wearing a Pride Run hat!
This year, the race date was pushed back three weeks at the request of the airport, because of the weather.  The race directors had to do extensive plowing last year to open blocked roads.  Thankfully, with a milder 2016 winter, there was no snow affecting this year's race, and the day's temps were considered the best temperatures the race has ever received in its short six year history.

It was a nice later race start than we were used to, with a 9:30am gun start.  We arrived early enough to meet up with friends Andrea from Rhode Island and Carmen from NYC, and catch the 1-milers (including Carmen) do their thing. At 9:15, everyone assembled together onto Neptune Road, while race director Mark Grandonico made final announcements before we we set off, and then introduced me to sing the national anthem.  I did my thing, and then headed back with Dana, Andrea, and Carmen to a good corral area in the middle of the pack, and then we were off!

The startline

Our first trip onto the runway
We turned left onto Orion Road, went past a set of intimidating looking gates and at the 1 mile mark, turned onto the runway of the airport, heading northward for a windy mile before making a turn into a tailwind onto the other side of the runway and then a sharp left along a cone-marked "exit" back to Orion Road, heading northward. While 5k runners turned back to Neptune toward the finish, we half marathoners continued on past our 5k mark and onto Seahawk Ave where we turned right and headed out to the new FAA Airport Control Tower.

Runners on the first stretch of runway
Exiting back onto Orion Drive

The paths and wooded areas
We continued onto roads surrounding the airport - Katahdin Drive, and then onto Alagash Drive, which was more of a paved pathway that went around the outside of the fenced in portion of the north end of the airport's runway - where we found some actual elevation change outside of the obviously flat portions of the course that made up the airport runway.  Beyond a patch of grass as we rounded the northern boundary of the airport was an active roadway, Maine Route 24. Alagash Drive weaved in and out of woodsy areas with clearly marked signage showing that we were entering and exiting Bowdoin College owned land (which I later found out, via Instagram, was steeped in controversy due to land grants and eminent domain issues with previous owners), as we made our way to the western edge of the airport's property.  Around the 5 mile mark was when the leaders of the race were making their way back to the finish line on what we realized was an out-and-back section of the course.

More flatness on the runway...
We made our way back onto the airport property at the 10k point of the course, but this time we ran on the furthest west runway, where we got on an extensive 1.5 mile out and 1.5 mile back section.  The first 1.5 miles was great, with a nice tailwind pushing us along... and then we made the turn at mile 8.  I took the phone out and recorded a video as I made my way on the turn, and then was greeted by the nastiest headwind (it had picked up SIGNIFICANTLY compared to the earlier northward section of runway) for the next 1.5 miles, slowing my pace by a good minute.

A video posted by Jim (@jimbobwaay) on

Runway selfie!
We finally exited the runway for the last time just before the 9 mile mark, as we returned onto Alagash Drive but heading in the other direction for the next two miles.   We continued down this road through a forested area, emerging onto Admiral Fitch Avenue, the entrance road into Brunswick Landing.  The course cut down this section of road, passing by a Navy airplane on display, before turning left onto Forrestal Drive, a small feeder road taking us to the back end of Neptune Drive, which curved around for one final mile (and passing a retirement community) back toward the parking lot of the Recreation Center, where the finish line was located.

Victory Headstand!
In the end, I crossed with the fastest half I had run all year - 2:09:22.  The flatness of the course helped significantly, as did the tailwind at some points of the race!  But I think it's actually a measure of me getting more fit and capable of going faster!  After finishing, I stuck around to wait for my friends to cross the finish line, and then Dana and I rushed back to the hotel to pack our things and shower, as per usual.  We were out the door by 1pm, and then headed off to Freeport for some much needed lunch (yay lobster rolls!) and beers!  Dana had a flight that afternoon, so after lunch and some quick outerwear outlet shopping (yay Patagonia and North Face!), she headed off while I explored more of Freeport (yay LL Bean!) and then drove off to check out one of the most photographed lighthouses in Maine at Pemaquid Point.  As night fell, I drove down to Portland to settle in to my Airbnb for the night, and got some delicious dinner at Eventide Oyster Company (a MUST go to dinner spot).  I scheduled an extra day, and got to reunite with a friend who was in town doing a show at Portland Stages, visit several more lighthouses down the coast, hit up the very cold Ogunquit Beach, and even stop near the Bush family (as in Presidents George H.W. and George W.) compound in Kennebunkport.  My trip came to a close as I flew back home from the quaint little Portland Jetport, and then went back to work the next day.

Showing off our bling at lunch!

Deliciousness, thy name is lobster roll.
Pemaquid Point Lighthouse

Another lighthouse on Sunday...

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