Date: October 11-15, 2015
Distance: 13.1 + 13.1 +13.1 +13.1
This was the second race series I have completed with Mainly Marathons–the first one being the Independence Series this past spring. Touted as “the world’s best 5-day and 7-day multi-state races series,” I would have to say they certainly live up to that slogan.
In short, I would describe these races as being perfect for anyone who is trying to complete full marathons, half marathons, or 5K races in all fifty states–or for anyone who simply loves an excuse to travel and spend time with like-minded, friendly, race enthusiasts who care far less about finish times than they do about savoring the moment and celebrating friendships and shared experiences.
The entire race series–all seven days–also included the states of Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama. Fortunately, I had already completed races in GA and TN, and I plan to finish Alabama this coming January so I got to skip out on those. Plenty of other runners, however, savored all seven days of full marathons. Being around these folks makes me feel a bit like a slacker since I only did the half distance and I only did four of them.
West Virginia and Virginia
Nonetheless, for me that was plenty challenging. The first two races were both held in Bluefield, WV/VA–two consecutive days of running the same, hilly course. They counted as two separate states, however, because day one started in WV and day two started in VA. The park where we ran conveniently crossed the state border. I wasn’t sure how I would like running the same course two days in a row, but it was beautiful and that made it enjoyable. It was also, however, humid and hilly, and I think the hills contributed to me hurting my knee during the first day, despite my efforts to run much slower than normal (2:56:30). The knee thing surprised me since that was a completely new injury–one of the ligaments or tendons behind my knee on the outer edge started hurting quite a bit near the end.
My sore knee meant that I pretty much walked the entire second day (3:41:21) and hoped my ability to skip day three of the series (TN) would allow me to be good to go for day four after rest, ice, and ibuprofen.
Despite my sore knee being a bummer, day two brought me a very good present–my husband was able to fly out and join me for the rest of the week. I was really happy he was able to do that so he could see first-hand what these races are like and so we could spend some rare time together. His job requires constant travel so we really appreciate the times we are able to be together. Plus, I’m not gonna lie–having someone else to drive the 2-3 hours between races was a godsend.
The first evening he arrived, we even enjoyed a great “date night” with a fabulous dinner and movie in Morganton, NC. That made this week feel much more like a vacation.
As hoped, my knee felt much better by race #3. I was also pleasantly surprised that my ankle wasn’t giving me any grief, as that tends to be my nagging sore spot when I increase mileage. Day three, again, brought beautiful weather–sunny skies and no wind. This course, too, was very nice. All of the courses in this series were held at local parks with nicely paved running paths. Still, I took things easy (2:51:14), and even walked the entire last lap (about two miles) with my husband. That was really nice to be able to do.
My last day was my favorite day. The course was easier and I felt really good. Still, after having run three previous races, my time was slower than usual, but I ended up finishing with my fastest time of the series: 2:43:25. For me, I’ve found that some combination of running and walking was best–particularly since I was having knee troubles earlier in the week. For this race, I ran .4, then walked .1 and kept up that pattern pretty much the whole way. It worked because I was able to finish without hurting, was satisfied with my time, and even had none of the usual quad soreness that I often get the next morning following any race. Success.
On a side note, congratulations to Mainly Marathons–this raced marked the 100th race of the races they have put on as part of a race series (they started these three years ago).
About out and backs. All of the races with Mainly Marathons are out-and-backs. At first, I thought, “how boring to run the same loop six or seven times.” What I have found, however, is the benefits of this set up far outweigh the negatives. Having a centralized check in point allows for a “base camp” at the start and finish. Base camp is where the timers are, where the water table is (you provide your own water bottle and they fill it up for you with your choice of water or Gatorade), where you can stash your gear (my outer layer almost always comes off about 1-2 miles in), and–perhaps most notably–it’s where the food truck is. An out-and-back course also means no one ever feels as though they are in last place and you get to see the same friendly, familiar faces time and time again and lots of nods, smiles, and “great jobs” are exchanged between runners throughout the race.
Oh, and the food. I wrote about my food amazement when I described the Independence series–the variety of food available to the runners is second to none. Thanks to Mainly Marathons, I’ve found that one of my favorite mid-race snacks is a quarter-sized peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with cinnamon raisin bread. And, awesome post-run fuel might include homemade blueberry pancakes, banana bread, brownies, quesadillas, or gourmet-styled grilled cheese sandwiches. Those offerings are in addition to chips, candies, and a plethora of other options.
As with last time, I embarked on this trip with the illusion of being able to easily drop a couple of pounds due to all the running I would be doing. Instead, these races make it quite possible to more than make up for your calorie burn. (Plus the post race burgers, Mexican food, and beers I indulged in didn’t help either). Oh, well. Vacation, right?
Inspirations. Another reason I like these races has to do with the people who manage them (the support crew is awesome) as are the people who run them. I’m particularly impressed with the folks who complete full marathons (26.2 miles) every day of the series–some who even do it in under four hours each day–while smiling and encouraging others along the way (thanks, Vincent).
I was also lucky to have met Sharon. Sharon and I shared a shuttle to the airport as we were picking up our rental cars prior to day one of the series. I learned that Sharon–who is in her seventies–has run full marathons on all seven continents and has almost reached her goal of completing full marathons in all fifty states–for the sixth time. The SIXTH time!
Amazingly, there are others like Sharon. A lot of people drawn to these races have clearly been running almost their whole lives. I’m sure, like Vincent and Sharon, there are many more stories of similar accomplishments, based on the number of “seasoned” runners along the course who delight in talking about running. As I passed groups of people talking, I could hear they were almost always sharing running stories and talking about future race plans. That made me smile.
I’m much closer now. My goal to complete a half marathon in all fifty states is now even more within reach–only nine more states to go. Compared to Vincent and Sharon and the many others like them, however, I’m reminded that my goal is easy compared to what they have accomplished. I’m both inspired and humbled by them and the many others who shared their encouraging words with me this week. They have no idea how much their “Looking strong,” “Keep it up,” and “Good going” comments meant.
Missing my running pal. I missed my running partner, Denise, during this series. We ran the Independence Series together (and most of our other previous races as well), but the timing for her didn’t work out with this one. I’ll also need to catch up on four of the New England states without her this coming spring as she was able to do the New England Series this past August and I wasn’t able to tag along for that one. The New England Series will take place again this coming May.
Why do this? Not everyone will understand why I enjoy racing or why anyone would spend an entire week of vacation time to put themselves through a bit of pain, a lot of driving, a string of cheap hotels, and early morning wake up calls. For me, it has everything to do with the satisfaction I get from accomplishing goals, feeling stronger, and getting to hang out like-minded, positive people. We are all out there running (or walking) at our own pace without regard to finish times or prize money. We are there for the community, the excuse to travel to places we would otherwise never see, and we are out there running because we can.