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 81ยบ 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!

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