Saturday, July 14, 2018

Race Report: Prairie Fire Marathon

I was supposed to sing the national anthem and run the Prairie Fire Marathon in 2016, but ended up having to defer my entry to 2017 because of a cousin's wedding happening on the same day here in New York City. Thankfully, the race director, Bob Hanson, was kind enough to move my entry to the following year, as well as me singing at the start.

My backbib for my milestone race!
As luck would have it, my race schedule evened out in a way for me to reach my milestone 50th lifetime marathon at the 2017 Prairie Fire Marathon.  It was very exciting, as I would be able to have my parents there to help me celebrate.  The weather reports the week prior did not look too promising, with thunderstorms forecasted to wreak havoc in the area.  As the weekend approached, the weather reports changed, and we were slated to have very nice weather on race morning - maybe a little warm, but nothing awful.

...except, Friday night, I was supposed to leave New York City to fly to Kansas City, where I would meet up with my friend Seth, flying in from Fort Lauderdale.  Over the course of the day, my flight ended up getting compounded delays, ultimately becoming two hours delayed by the evening.  The flight landed in New York late, and we waited with bated breath before being able to board, after the plane had fully deplaned and the crew (brand new, and only slated to fly that route that night) got onto the plane to get ready for us.  The gate agent then announced boarding, and first class passengers (myself included, as I was upgraded) were able to board.  However, less than five minutes later, the twelve of us sitting in First ended up having to deplane, as air traffic control in Kansas City grounded our flight due to inclement weather in that area.  The flight would now not leave until the following morning.

I immediately got onto the phone with the Delta Platinum Medallion customer service line and was able to confirm tickets for a flight the next morning taking me directly to Wichita, where Seth would meet me.  However, all of the earliest morning flights were fully booked, so I was ticketed for an 11am flight through Minneapolis, ultimately arriving in Wichita at 4:30pm.  Knowing that a routing leaving LaGuardia at 6am through Atlanta would have me land in Wichita at 10:30am, I chanced getting on the 6am flight on standby, hoping to snag a seat that could get me to Atlanta to take the 9:30 flight that definitely had open seats to get me to Wichita.  Thanks to the gate agent Wilfredo, I was able to snag the last standby seat on the plane, which was (lucky me) an exit row seat, and I was the last one to board the flight.  I got to Atlanta on time and headed over to my connecting flight, where I got upgraded to First Class at the gate on the MD-88 headed to my hometown.

Flying over the school I went
to from Preschool to 12th grade!
Landing in Wichita was a breeze, and it turns out, Seth was able to time his arrival perfectly (despite traffic on US-54 due to installation of bridge beams at the interchange with I-235 over the weekend) so that he could pick me up straight from the airport.  Another running friend, Cade, was on the same ATL-ICT flight, and he was picked up by a couple other running friends (Glen, Todd, and Karen), and we all headed out to the expo at the Century II Convention Center Exhibition Hall in downtown Wichita.

With Hannah, her mom 💜, & her boys
At the expo, bib pickup was a breeze, and I got to meet the race director (who invited me and my friends to the pasta dinner that night) as well as his social media director, Lacy.  Timed perfectly was also seeing my longtime friend Hannah and her family; Hannah and I came into running right around the same time, and she had a big goal to break the 2-hour mark in the half marathon on Sunday.  I also got to give Hannah's mom Pam a huge hug - she had been receiving treatment for pancreatic cancer (Sadly, in March of 2018, Pam passed away.)  I also got to meet Ross Janssen from the KWCH Storm Team, and his 13 year old corgi Millie, who my mom is a big fan of.

KWCH Meterologist Ross Janssen and local celebrity Millie!

Enjoying brews at Aeroplains Brewing
We were all pretty hungry, me and my group of friends from out of town headed into Old Town to grab a bite to eat at Rain, a cafe that doubles as a gay bar during the evening (unbeknownst to my friends who made the decision to eat there.)  After a great lunch chatting amongst our group, Andy, Seth, and I headed over to Dillons to grab some groceries, before meeting up with Jeanette and JC, my Filipino friends from New York, who were finishing up lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant not too far away.  They were taking Ubers all around town, so we picked them up to take them to Delano where we would meet up again with the rest of the crew to hit up AeroPlains Brewing as well as take a look at the Delano Fall Fair happening in that area that weekend.  We followed that up by one more brewery, Central Standard Brewery, before we headed back downtown to the Hyatt Regency to join in on the pasta dinner.

Passing the mic at the pasta dinner
(Photo by Prairie Fire Marathon/
Captivating Sports Photos)
The Pasta Dinner was a fun event.  Bob told me to bring whoever I wanted, so Jeanette, JC, Andy, Joe, and Seth joined me, and it was a nice way to hear each other's stories - some folks running their first distance race, others well into their hundreds.  It was also a great way to inspire each other to continue running after Sunday's race.  Among those at the pasta dinner included Phillip Fields, a 50 state marathon finisher (as well as DC and the 10 Canadian provinces) who has been running marathons while under treatment for leukemia since his diagnosis in 2007, and continues to run to raise funds for research and treatment of pediatric cancer through Nemours, a children's health system based at locations in Delaware and Florida; as well as Paul Gavriani, a fellow New Yorker, aiming to complete 50 states, 50 countries, and 7 continents of marathons. As the dinner ended, the crew went off to their hotels, while Seth and I drove to the east side of town to finally head to my parents' house to crash for the night.

After introducing my parents to Seth, and settling in, I gave my parents the lowdown of the course, and my anticipated time of arrival to a spot on the course near where they'd be at already for Sunday morning mass at our longtime church, St. Thomas Aquinas.  The course ran in a residential neighborhood behind the church, so I told them to meet me there after 9am, around the time I assumed I'd be approaching mile 11 1/2.  That night, I slept soundly in my childhood bedroom, conking out at 10pm after a wild 24 hours of travel and socializing.

At the start w/ race director Bob Hanson
(Photo by Prairie Fire Marathon/
Captivating Sports Photos)
We woke up around 5:30 the next morning, and my dad had woken up as well, preparing some coffee for Seth and I before we left.  We were out the door before 6am, and were easily able to find parking at the Waterwalk condominiums just to the east of the start area.  It was a chilly morning, and runners were just beginning to arrive. We warmed up with a little more coffee provided by aptly named PrairieFire Coffee Roasters, a local roaster, while I waited in the start area for Joe, a reporter with the local CBS news station KWCH TV, to arrive.  We found each other at about 7:05, and got me mic'd up with the start/finish line on Waterman Street in the background, as he asked me the interview questions before the speakers got too loud with pre-race amp-up music. Soon enough, it was time for me to get to the start for the national anthem, but before then, I spotted my longtime family friends Brian and Ching, who woke up early to come downtown to hear me sing and cheer on the runners as we started.  I gave Ching my phone to take video of my national anthem.  A little after 7:20, Bob spoke some, introduced Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell, and then handed the mic to the start announcer, who introduced me before I sang the national anthem.  Bob even stepped in to remark that this was going to be my 50th marathon, and that I was a hometown boy returning for this milestone race.  I sang one of my proudest national anthem renditions (despite the prolonged beeps coming from timing chips being too close to the start mats) and then headed back behind the startmats to find Hannah and her husband Noel, situated with the 2:00 half pacers, before we were off promptly at 7:30!

Singing the national anthem
(Photo by Prairie Fire Marathon/Captivating Sports Photos)

And we're off!
(Photo by Prairie Fire Marathon/
Captivating Sports Photos)
Immediately, we crossed the Arkansas River and turned right, making our way up McLean Blvd.  It was a little crowded with everyone around us jockeying for space, but we kept up the pace alongside the 2:00 pacers as we passed Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.  The speakers blaring music were lined up all along McLean, so we could hear them for nearly half a mile.  We'd turn right again as we crossed back over the Arkansas River, heading east on Douglas Avenue, Wichita's dividing line between the north and south parts of town.  It was surreal running along Douglas; I've driven or been driven over this street for so many years as I grew up; I even remarked that to Hannah, as she nodded, focused in on keeping her pace early on in the race. This would just be the start of my familiarity with the major streets of the course.

Running down Douglas Ave
We passed several downtown Wichita landmarks, including saucer like Century II and the noticeable glass-and-block facade of the former Bank of America Financial Center (now called the Ruffin Building) - both buildings I have performed in at several points in my performing "career" as a kid and as an adult.  We hit the 1 mile mark and were ahead of pace, clocking in an 8:52 mile; considering that 2:00 is an average 9:09 pace, the pacers were definitely going a little faster than they should have.  I continued to keep up as we continued east and made our way underneath the elevated railroad tracks that demarcate Wichita's Old Town neighborhood.  To our right, we could also see the massive Intrust Bank Arena, its presence a newer fixture in the downtown skyline.

On the out-and-back on Grove St.
(Photo by Seth Kramer)
The Great Plains Jazz Orchestra was out playing some great music in front of Larkspur Restaurant as we passed by, then it was only a matter of time before the orange cones became right next to us, as we filtered ourselves through the construction traffic that apparently had popped up only in the few weeks before the marathon.  It continued for a few blocks, and would only a be a nuisance as we passed Hydraulic Avenue and the mile 2 mark, a slower 9:10 mile, but still on pace.  I took my walk break at the 19 minute mark, sending all my best to Hannah and Noel as they soldiered on, with 2:00 in their crosshairs.  The orange cones were not out for long - they would be all but gone by the time we passed underneath I-135 and on the other side, Wichita East High School.  At Grove Street, we made a right turn, and proceeded to complete an out-and-back section that would take us past Kellogg to a turn around point and the ability to see other runners and friends along the way.

On Douglas, with Crown Uptown
The mile 3 mark was just before the turn around, and we hit the 5k mark at roughly 29 minutes. Strong time for me, and my legs still felt good.  Before long, we were back at Douglas, and continued our eastward progression, with the high point of the race still yet to come.  In fact, we could see it in front of us - the red roof of the Hillcrest Apartments, an 11-floor apartment building built in 1927 in the Tudor Revival style, and rumored to be the first high-rise cooperative apartment house built west of the Mississippi.  It stands just past Hillside Street, which marks the western border of the tony residential neighborhood of College Hill, made up of homes built between 1900 and 1934.  Just after Hillside is also Crown Uptown Dinner Theatre, 1920s-era vaudeville theatre established in 1977, considered to be one of the Wichita area's most beloved and unique venues, and a theatre I would go to when I was a kid for children's productions! This is also the steepest hill of the race, rising only about 50 feet at the 4 1/4 mile mark.  It's also right across the street from the building I went to for dental appointments all through childhood, where my family friends owned an orthodontics practice.  We turned right onto Clifton Avenue and began our curvilinear trek through residential neighborhoods of College Hill and Crown Heights.  We rounded College Hill Park, heading eastward along Lewis Street, crossing the busy thoroughfare of Oliver Street, eventually finding ourselves on the backside of the Dole VA Medical Center on Waterman Street, still heading east.  We crossed another busy thoroughfare, Edgemoor, before heading northeast along Ridgecrest for the last section of course before separating from the half marathoners.  They continued straight for a couple more blocks before heading back west, while we continued on eastward, turning a slight right onto Lynwood Boulevard, a road that would cross Woodlawn and take us directly into Eastborough.

Running through Eastborough
Folks from out of town wouldn't realize it, but as soon as we crossed Woodlawn on Lynwood Blvd, we were entering another city.  The city of Eastborough is considered a suburb of Wichita, and is completely enclosed by the city.  Envisioned as a quaint English village on the Kansas prairie, development began in 1929, and it was incorporated as its own city eight years later.  With a small population of 760, Eastborough relies upon Wichita for water purification and sewage treatment, but has its own municipal government (a mayor and five council members), and police force of seven officers. Those from the area know of Eastborough's "infamous" reputation of being a dependable speed trap, as the speed limit crawls down to 20 mph along its main thoroughfare of Douglas from 35 on either side of the city's boundaries.  As soon as we crossed Douglas, I exclaimed, "slow down, we're in Eastborough now!" to the laughs of locals who knew of the reduced speed.

Back in Wichita!
We continued down Lynwood before turning right onto Hampton Road as it headed southwestward toward the lake in the lower corner of the residential area. Behind the lake was a 10 foot high masonry wall that was erected in the early 2000s, as Kellogg Avenue, a major freeway through the center of the metropolis, required demolition of a row of homes abutting it on southern border of Eastborough. The construction threatened to destroy the picturesque pond that served as an attraction and gathering spot, but thankfully, it was reconfigured and redesigned in order to maintain its landmark nature. We would cross over the curb and head around the water feature before ending up on the other side of the lake, following Lakeside Boulevard on a northeasterly direction.  After crossing up Mission Road, we ended back on an easterly route along Douglas, before exiting the city and reemerging in Wichita city limits.

Running down Central. So surreal.
We turned left onto Rutland, curving our way northward along Armour, and turned right again onto the main thoroughfare of Central Avenue, a street I've been more intimately familiar with having driven on it on a daily basis while growing up.  We were on a nice downhill stretch running into the sun before we turned once again through a residential neighborhood.  Along the way, we passed the former corner home of a family friend, one with a recognizable circle drive which brought back memories of parties I attended as a child.  Eventually, we made our way on East Wichita's busiest street, Rock Road, and the furthest east part of the course.  We had seen the single lane blocked off as we drove downtown this morning, but now we were running on the section of Rock - probably THE road I am most familiar with.  Now running here was super surreal to me!

Even more surreal...
running ON Rock Road
This section of Rock Road was pretty short, as it was only 1/4 mile, before we turned left back into the residential neighborhoods along Polo Street, and into a business park where a rock band was playing music for the runners.  We would weave through the neighborhood for about 1.5 miles on various curvy streets, as well as along a path that cut across a small creek that fed into a lake further south.  On Whitfield Street, we began to run northwestward then westward, and I knew that at 11th Street, my parents would be standing there to see me along the course.  As expected, they had attended church and then positioned themselves along the course at 11th and Whitfield, and they were there waiting for me with phones in hand taking video... mom on her iPhone, and dad on his flip phone.  Yes, dad was taking video on his ancient flip phone, something I had no clue was capable of taking video.  After a quick group photo, I continued on, and they promised to see me at the end at after the noon hour, roughly 4.5 to 5 hours after my start.

Champagne stop with JC!
I continued to soldier on, and proceeded further through the various residential streets, then made my way along the northern and western edges of Edgemoor Park as we headed southward on a mile-long straightaway that would cross over Central Avenue.  We would be back on Douglas, heading westward though, and a familiar looking shirt was in my view just in front of me.  By then we had passed the halfway mark of the race, and not only did I see JC in front of me, but Seth had joined in as well. Together, we turned right onto Dellrose, and then came upon a family having brunch on their driveway while watching the race... JC and I ended up coming up and asking for champagne, which they gladly poured for us!  It was actually quite good champagne, but needless to say, we had to stop a few more times over the next mile to quell the heartburn feeling we were experiencing.

Frank Lloyd Wright's
Allen-Lambe House
The three of us took our time as we began our westward trek along 2nd Street, which would take us all the way back to downtown Wichita.  As we conservatively ran/walked forward, I pointed out some of the nicer homes of College Hill that we were passing, especially the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Allen-Lambe House.  Jeanette would catch up as well, looking quite strong despite being only a couple races back from injury; I decided to keep the momentum going with her and posted a faster mile with her before finally reaching an aid station in order to take my first GU of the day, about 16 miles into the course, just after the underpass of I-135. Jeanette continued on and would run consistent miles toward a strong finish.

Heading west, with Epic Center and downtown in the distance.
Riverside Park
Over the next couple miles, I'd run-walk alongside Seth and JC, as we continued to head downtown, passing through Old Town, and eventually past the tallest building in Kansas, the Epic Center, finally reaching the confluence of the Arkansas River and the Little Arkansas River, as well as the roads that followed the curve of the river.  As we passed the iconic "Keeper of the Plains" statue and the Veterans Memorials along the river, we would end up adding Oklahoman Shelly to our mix and we would take the next couple miles together as we made our way across the Nims Street bridge over the Little Arkansas River around the roundabout within Riverside Park, looping our way around the modest riverfront homes near the park.  We of course would make sure to pose along the way for the photographer taking pictures along one of the out-and-back sections.

The “Light Columns” at Central,
Meridian, and McLean have
stood there for over 15 years!
At mile 20, I decided to make a decision to soldier on forward alone for the remainder of the race, in order to solidify a sub-5 hour marathon in my home state.  I said my goodbyes to the group, and I headed westward along Stackman Drive's curve toward the Wichita Art Museum, then took Museum Boulevard past the city's water treatment plant, Old Cowtown Museum and Botanica.  The course then curved counterclockwise around Sim Park Golf Course, including a fairly familiar long straight shot down Amidon, a road I remember running down during the Prairie Fire Spring Half nearly 3 1/2 years ago.  We then crossed 13th Street, and then had 5K left to go on a fairly long, curvy stretch of McLean Blvd all the way down to the Hyatt, following the curve of the Arkansas River.  This also happened to be one of the windiest stretches of the course, so while I took my time to not over exert energy, I was also compensating for the headwind I was running into.

Just a little over a mile left to go!
Coming around the corner to the finish!
(Photo by Prairie Fire Marathon/Captivating Sports Photos
Almost done, and thrilled to be under 5 hours! (Photo by Glen Anderson)
One step from the finish mat!
(Photo by Prairie Fire Marathon/
Captivating Sports Photos)
I progressed forward at a decent clip and knew I was well within a good time to run under 5:00.  The wind was tough, though, so I don't know how much it was going to add to my time.  Before long, the Hyatt was in view and getting closer, and I knew that the finish line would be just over the bridge we had run over in the beginning of the race.  At 26 miles in, it would feel like quicksand.  Andy was waiting alongside the course, hoping to run his friend Karen in, as I passed, and then I made the left turn over the bridge, pushing with all my might to make it over the uphill.  I saw several other friends who had finished alongside the course, and heard my name yelled out over the speakers.  With 20 feet left to go, all of a sudden, my right calf began to spasm and cramp on me.  I hobbled over the line, finishing in 4:56:25.  And for the first time, were able to have my parents see me cross the line at a marathon.

My parents and me from my 1st marathon (Chicago 2014) and my 50th marathon (Wichita 2017)
BLING on the Arkansas!

Victory Headstand with the iconic Keeper of the Plains statue!
Celebrating my finish with my parents
After the race, I waited for my friends to come through the finish less than 20 minutes after me, and met up with Melissa Murray from KWCH, who was there to greet me at the finish and take some more B-roll footage of me that would be used in the feature they'd show on the 5:00 news. After getting back to my parents' house to shower, Seth left to drive back to Kansas City, and my parents and I met up with my cousin Flor at Wichita Brewing Company for a late lunch. We went back to the house afterward and caught the whole interview on TV, which can be found here

Wandering my old school!
Since it was Columbus Day weekend, I had an extra day that I could spend in Wichita, so I met up with an old family friend in the morning for breakfast, in between picking up her daughters from their halfday programs at school - my old stomping grounds of Wichita Collegiate.  I then spent the rest of the day wandering the halls of the school that I called home for 15 years - preschool through 12th grade.  Homecoming would be the following weekend, so I would end up missing the big celebrations scheduled for Friday. I did, however, get in touch with the new high school vocal music teacher over e-mail, and got to sit in on rehearsal, which was fun! I had a 5pm flight back home to New York City, but thrilled to have done so much this weekend, especially completing my 50th marathon!

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