Thursday, May 3, 2018

Race Report: Nebraska State Fair Marathon

After returning from nearly two weeks of travel abroad in Australia and Vietnam, I took three weeks off from traveling and distance running to 1) recover physically from taxing travel; and 2) hold off from spending money!  Sometimes your wallet needs a little bit of a break, haha!  So, my next race was scheduled for the end of August - a race in the state of Nebraska to check off that state for marathons, deciding upon doing the Nebraska State Fair Marathon in the small town of Grand Island, Nebraska. The course would go through most of the city's network of recreational hiking and biking trails, of which there are 30 miles of scattered around its 29 square miles.  The State Fair has only been held in Grand Island since 2010, when it was moved there from its longtime home in Lincoln, when the University of Nebraska needed the land of the Lancaster County Fairgrounds cleared for a new Nebraska Innovation Campus.  The 2017 edition of the fair would coincide with the state's 150th anniversary of statehood.  Having had a distance race in Grand Island since 1978, the State Fair Marathon was originally the Bill Seymour Half Marathon, until the YMCA and Nebraska State Fair partnered to progress the development of the race into its current incarnation, which has offered multiple distances since 2014.

Despite having a direct flight from LGA to OMA on Friday night, it would leave at 8:20 pm, arriving at 10:48pm. Mind you, I still had summer Fridays at that point in time, and I was able to get out of work at 1pm.  So, I called up Delta and got myself moved to an earlier flight, landing in Omaha two hours earlier than I was originally ticketed for.  This time, though it wasn't direct, and I would have to connect in Atlanta, but the two hours of additional time in Nebraska would be MUCH better for the sake of sleep prior to a Saturday morning marathon.

I slept a good portion of the flight and we landed at around 9:30 in Omaha, with my friend Michael  there to pick me up.  We drove straight back to his house in Lincoln - about a 45 minute trip - and got in just a little before 11pm, promptly heading to bed.  We were waking up in a mere five hours, so whatever sleep I got would be very helpful.
At 3:55am, the alarm beeped and I got up and prepped myself for the race, wearing my INKnBURN "Dapper" Tech shirt.  We were out the door by 4:20 or so, and Michael drove us the 90 minutes to Grand Island.  As soon as we left Lincoln, we could see lightning in the distance and in the direction we were driving; we ended up having to drive through a lightning storm as we passed through the town of York.  Strangely, we didn't hear any thunder -- but all around us it was a constant display of lightning flashes lighting up the night sky every 5-10 seconds.  It rained a bit, but nothing terrible to drive through; as we approached Grand Island, we were in the clear and had passed all of the bad weather.  When we arrived, it looked like it had gone through the town, with the pavement wet from rain.  All the while, I slept on and off through the drive, getting some extra rest before I was to run another 26.2.

The race startline
We arrived a little before 6am, and parked in the big open lot next to the State Fair entrance, and I was able to promptly pick up my bib.  While there, I ran into several friends including Jake, Deb, Lynn, Glen, and Todd.  It was 64°, with high humidity from the storms that passed through and some wind, but nothing we couldn't handle. We organized ourselves before the startline as a morning prayer was recited and the national anthem was sung, then we were off!

The course left the state fairgrounds and took us down the main drag of State Fair Boulevard before veering off onto a side street that fronted Fonner Park's Island Oasis Water Park.  We looped around Fonner Park Road and then took South Locust Street southward for the next 1.5 miles past Grand Island's downtown area, a big Wal-Mart, and US-34.  These first couple miles were pretty speedy, taking advantage of drafting behind other runners and the flatness of the course.

Starting out on the Riverway Trail
Running on the Riverway Trail
Eventually, at the 2.75 mile mark, the route took us westward onto the Riverway Trail, a flat concrete path nestled between two expanses of grass and prairie.  While the half marathoners continued straight along the trail, the full marathoners veered left onto Blaine Street, as we headed south for the next 1.5 miles on the flat country roads.  Thankfully, we were back on asphalt, but unfortunately we had a bit of a headwind to run into.  At Wildwood Drive, we turned right, and I was able to regain a half minute on my mile pace as we passed mile 6 of the race, then turned right once more along curvy Juergen Road, while the tailwind gave me a consistent pace as I headed northward. We hit mile 7, then turned right once more onto Schimmer Drive.
Flat flat flat!

Horse on the loose!
At around the 7.5 mile mark, runners noticed a horse on the loose galloping along the side of the road, and in some cases running right into the road. The horse would sometimes mind its own business, but there were definitely still some moments of trepidation as it sped up, thinking it would try to charge at one of us runners.  I didn't stick around long enough to find out if it got corralled, as we returned to Blaine Street, heading north this time back to the Riverway Trail, but this time continuing westward.

The Stuhr Museum
We were back on the concrete paths, this time passing some of the slower half marathoners taking their time as they passed mile 4, while us marathoners were coming upon mile 9 of our race.  The course took us across railroad tracks and into George Clayton Hall County Park, where we were directed to make a loop around the ring road of the park, a roughly one mile length road, thankfully back on an asphalt surface.  We then re-emerged onto the concrete path now the St. Joe Trail, as we crossed the Wood River, then took the path parallel to US-281/Tom Osborne Expressway, with the Stuhr Museum in view to the right.  Instead of crossing Highway 37 to Central Community College with the half marathoners, the marathoners did an additional mile taking us on a loop of the Stuhr Museum and the manmade lake that surrounds it.  The Stuhr Museum is dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Pioneers who settled the plains of central Nebraska in the late 19th century.  Designed by renowned architect Edward Durell Stone (who also designed the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts), the square shaped Stuhr Building is the heart of the museum. We would also pass by the major outdoor exhibit of a steam locomotive, the Union Pacific Engine 437 train display.

Cemetery running
After completing the loop of the Stuhr Building, we returned alongside the road (Highway 37) and crossed the street to run along the path around Central Community College before heading up the St. Joe Trail northward.  We had completed the first half of the race, and would run a mile northward along the path not very well shaded by trees.  We emerged onto W. Stolley Park Road, where we turned left, making our way around the perimeter of the Grand Island Cemetery.  It was very odd running on the path around the cemetery - it didn't seem all too appropriate to be staging a marathon along these paths.  Even worse, the half marathoners actually had to run THROUGH the cemetery along its gridlike paths.

Grand Island!
After leaving the cemetery grounds, we were once again led onto concrete paths, part of the Grand Island trail network, that took us northeastward parallel to the city's street grid.  This trail, the John Brownell Trail or Beltline Trail, is a formerly abandoned rail corridor that runs for nearly 2.75 miles behind backyards of homes through. It is named after a gentleman who built support for the city of Grand Island to acquire and convert the former railroad track into a recreational trail when BNSF Railway abandoned it in the late 1990s.  We ran its entire length through the center of town, as we passed Suck's Lake (what an unfortunate name for a lake), Pier Lake and Pier Park.

Out and back along Highway 30
We finally came off of the Brownell Trail onto Sutherland Street, where marathoners turned left and the remaining half marathoners took a sharp right onto Cherry Street; the marathoners would continue along Plum Street before beginning a LONG out and back along US Highway 30, part of the historic transcontinental Lincoln Highway, at roughly the 18 mile mark of the race. This out and back section would be roughly 3 1/4 miles out, 3 1/4 miles back, with a loop at the turnaround point.  I took off faster as we ran on the out leg, as we had a nice tailwind taking us northeastward.  Along the way, I ran into Todd, doing great time as he was headed back, as well as another INKnBURN ambassador, as we acknowledged each other's noticeable shirts.  This part of the course was probably the hardest because of how monotonous the surroundings were; despite being broken up with some light entertainment along the route, like a polka band - The Pavelkas - playing as we ran by.  Additionally, we were "blessed" by the constant whiff of manure as trucks carrying livestock passed us by.

Highway 30 turned slightly sharper northeastward, before looping around Capital Avenue and Gun Barrel Road at the 21 mile mark, then returned headed in a southwesterly direction on the "back" segment for the next three miles.  This was super tough because the headwinds were pretty relentless, slowing me down significantly to some of my slowest mile times for the entire race.  As I pushed on forward, some friendly faces, notably my friends Glen and Cathy, were heading out toward the turnaround.

Friends celebrating with the finish!
The course continued to retrace it steps as it curved back around onto Plum Street, then took Cherry Street southward, where the half marathoners had intially turned after getting off of the Brownell Trail. With just over a mile to go, I ran into my Irish/St. Louisian friend Denis, and we decide to run together for about half a mile before he powers onward to finish strongly.  The remainder of the route curved around the city streets near the fairgrounds before we could faintly hear the loudspeakers at the state fair.  Coming into the finish, a group of guys in red shirts who loved my t-shirt, offered high fives as I approached the fairgrounds. I run under an inflatable arch and make my way through the last hundred feet across the finish mat in 4:56:24.  I'm very happy to have another sub-5, especially since my last marathon that I did under five hours was over two months prior.

1.2 miles to go!

Victory Headstand!
I'm handed a HUGE medal for this race, making me very happy; I wait for Cathy and Glen to come in and celebrate as they cross the line 15 and 25 minutes later, especially joyously cheering on Cathy's completion of her 48th state!  I find Michael, and we spend a few hours enjoying the fair that afternoon, walking around the carnival area, then through the petting zoo and checking out the livestock show areas.  And of course, what's going to a fair without taking part in eating fair concessions - which include corndogs and funnel cake!

Ready to eat some fair concessions!

Mmmm.... so much cholesterol.

NE State Fair coinciding with 150 years of statehood!
Peace out, State Fair!
As the afternoon came to a head, we decide to head back to Lincoln.  Mainly, since I need a shower badly, haha.  After freshening up, Michael and I head out to Boiler Brewing Company for some "refreshments," and of course, more food.  I end up trying an exceptionally good Double Hawaiian Trifecta stout - a double stout dosed up one side and down the other with coffee, coconut, and chocolate. We take some beers to go with us to head to Michael's friend Mindy's birthday party, and I enjoy some downtime with fellow runners, including friends of Michael's I met back in November who had come for the New York City Marathon!  A great time had by all, until my body was like.... Jim, time to sleep, you've been awake for too long. Haha! I end up pass out at around 10pm.

Michael and I before I head out
Thankfully I have time to sleep in the next morning, and not only that, my flight is in the afternoon.  We head back to Omaha with a couple of stops; an outlet mall I saw when we drove in, and then brunch!  At the outlet mall, I happened upon a Cole Haan outlet and ended up bringing back with me some incredibly cheap and on sale designer loafers, which I somehow was able to stuff into my bag, and then head to brunch to meet up with another local Nebraskan friend, Jamie, at a restaurant not too far from the airport.  After a filling brunch, I head to Eppley Field, and get on my flight back to NYC via Minneapolis.  Another whirlwind trip, but this time back on  US soil... and it's just the start of another few months of consecutive weekends of travel!

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