Marathon Route #22: Monument Marathon – Scottsbluff, NE

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For most of us runners, there comes a time when you are out there, on the road, all by your lonesome. Some of us choose that lonely marathon. Sometimes you are running a course that can’t be reached by casual spectators. Sometimes your running partner calls out sick (or her child is sick). Sometimes you just hit a spot where your own pace has singled you out between curves or hills or checkpoints and it is you and the road. The road stretches out in front of you languidly and says, I want you to run all over me.  If you really love to run, you shift into overdrive and burn rubber.  Enjoy the ride!

This was the case in Scottsbluff, Nebraska for the Platte Valley Companies Monument Marathon.  I thoroughly enjoyed this course for a variety of reasons, the foremost being consistent scenic beauty throughout the course. I really felt that at any moment, if someone was taking my photo, I could end up on the “Rave Run Spread” in Runner’s World magazine.  Next, the small town feel of Scottsbluff and Gering are wonderfully warm and hospitable. Also, I lucked out with the weather but I am sure that in September, the temperature is ideal.  This was a state I tried to minimize.  My ex wife is from Eastern Nebraska and I felt I had already spent more time here than necessary in this lifetime.  I was not expecting such a picturesque wonderland. Having seen the two most popular courses in Omaha and Lincoln, I would unreservedly recommend this race as my top pick for Nebraska’s most scenic marathon.

Course Review

The course starts atop a bluff overlooking the course in Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area.  I was incredibly fortunate that the hotel I was staying at offered to drive me to the start of the race, because I was being quoted $40 by the local cab company.  This is a great park to explore outside of the race for it’s great trails, architecturally rustic stone and timber picnic areas and panoramic views of the area. Starting upon another bluff gives you not only more scenic opportunities, but also a nice kick start to your race.  You drop 500 ft in the first 3 miles and another 300 ft over the following 6 miles.  Just enough of a downhill to allow gravity to help, without having it hinder your body with full force impact at every step.  The first three miles are particularly attractive, running through a little canyon with imposing and craggy facades to either side.  These  hearty hills fade as you start to level out around mile 4 and 5 and head into the verdant fields from mile 6 to 9. Although the downhill is still slight here, I recommend taking the little advantage it offers.  Right as you flatten out, you hit the most boring portion of the race, a run through the more industrial section of town.  This may ease things for traffic on race day, but I really wish miles 10 and 11 ran through the more scenic downtown of Gering, rather than it’s plainer southern streets.  This mundanity is short lived because by mile 12 you are back in view of the Scotts Bluff National Monument and really don’t leave it’s orbit until the very end of the race.  At around Mile 12, you start feeling the incline of the only significant hill on the course, but by the time you feel it’s full force you are headed between the two major bluffs, like settlers out of pioneering days (they do have mock ups of covered wagons all along the entrance to the national monument so you can feel like you are out racing the horse drawn carriages up the hill.  Just as you might be getting tired you have a great down hill on the other side all the way to the rail road tracks for 3 miles.  A little bit of country roads takes you to a back track of the National Monument.  For a little over two miles, you wend your way with barely noticeable rolling hills along a water way for over flow with comfortable dirt trails and more picture perfect vignettes. Eventually, you break on through to the other side, run by the golf course and adjoining neighborhoods but ends up on the local Pathways Bike and Hike trail that runs adjacent the National Monument for about a mile.  Mile 24 takes us back along the edge of town but mile 25 starts with a gorgeous tree lined road (a boon no matter what time of year you are running this course) through a cemetery, to a hilly country road for the final furlongs of this race.

Lessons Learned

Hotel Amenities:

After exhausting all opportunities, I did end up getting a hotel room at the Monument Inn & Suites for this marathon and they were very accommodating on many levels.  Something I will remember when I stay at hotels in the future is that the hotel seemed more than willing to accommodate simple requests that were a little out of the norm.  Firstly, the hotel room was very spacious and comfortable. When I saw that they had a shuttle to the airport, I asked if the shuttle could be used to take me to the start of the marathon and they practically jumped at the opportunity to help.  Later, I asked if I could have a very late check out so that could shower and rest a little after the run and again they eagerly agreed.  This was one of the best stays I’ve had this year at a hotel and it made the expense more than worth it.

Tourists Take Photos:

I have a couple great shots of me running because some tourists were already taking photographs and I asked if they would snap one of me.  In this day of selfies that promote antisocial behavior, most tourists are already in amateur hour photography mode anyway. I need to look for them for future opportunities.

Physical Review

This wasn’t my fastest personal marathon, but it wasn’t my slowest.  A modest amount of altitude, a modest amount of heat, but after the previous week’s trials and tribulations, this felt like a victory lap. I felt comfortable running throughout, no major pains or discomforts.  I took my time, kept a consistent pace, and finished in 5:55:11.  I have said that bad decisions make great stories and this may not be my most dramatic run report, but this is one of my favorite marathon routes this year and it really surprised the heck out of me.  I hope the race directors do a decent job during the actual race because this is a phenomenal course and I’m going to start recommending it to all my friends.  If you have run this race officially, I would love to hear your feedback because I look forward to coming back and running this race officially someday.  After this, I’m off to Casper, Wyoming.  Thank you for running alongside me in all these marathons and I look forward as always to your comments and questions.


Marathon Route #21: Fargo Marathon- Fargo, ND

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Target Races – for most runners I know, this is how they train and race.  They choose a race based on destination or a gathering of friends or notoriety and popularity and they base their training around performing well at that race.  In a year of running 50 marathon routes, you would think I would just be grateful to finish and find my body still in working order. Instead ego slowly creeps in, willing myself stronger or faster, reaching for the endorphin rush of improvement and PR glory (cue crowds cheering, doing the wave, and creating a continuous row of high fives for the final marathon mile). So it was with the Fargo Marathon.  A notoriously flat and fast course with traditionally temperate running climes and low altitude with terrific hometown support and pacers deep in the time field. I felt this was a confluence of ideal conditions that would lead to my first sub 5 hour marathon.  All of my physical and mental planning had been geared towards planting my flag at this race. As I have learned many times, plans do not survive the enemy.

Race Review

This is one of the best run marathons I have attended.  City support for all the races are at an all time high.  You may know that I try to volunteer at local races in each town I visit. There were so many races in this event I figured they would need the help. Nope. When I went to volunteer, they said they were all set!!!  I have NEVER been told that.  These Race Directors do an amazing job getting local businesses and organizations to rally volunteers and represent during the races and the expo.  I did end up volunteering at the Fargo 5K Hero Run and learned a lot about getting 10,000 runner’s across a finish line, but the pure numbers and passion are hard to compete against. The Expo was also incredibly well done.  There were many vendors providing a great deal of information, product and running opportunities.  Two sponsors dominated and enhanced the Expo experience – Blue Cross and Blue Shield ND and the partnership of Scheels and Under Armour. Both had immense areas filled with well wishing volunteers, creative opportunities to interact, and wonderful ways to mark the occasion with photos, creative designs and swag, and social networking contests. However is was the depth of vendors, whether they were promoting other races, products, or services that really made the expo a must.

On race day, the races now start and finish in the Fargodome.  Especially if you are a marathoner, this is a great start because you get the “Professional Sports” treatment with all the half marathoners cheering you on in the stands and runners streaming by the start line on the JumboTron screens.  I will say, there were really long lines for the interior bathrooms that made us wish there were some portapotties outside.  They also didn’t open the floor of the arena as early as stated in the event schedule which had some runners in a slight tizzy on the few stairways that gave access to the start line.  It was a thrill to start inside and run up the docking bays, feeling almost like a home team running out of the locker rooms and onto the field.   Most of the beginning of the course is fairly boring, running through suburban neighborhoods, but volunteers are aplenty and many neighbors line the streets to cheer you on.  Another fun addition to the course is live bands all around the city.  Everything from and Elvis Impersonator to a big 12 piece brass band and everything in between kept a constant soundtrack around the course.

For me, the scenic highlights of the course started around mile 7 as the race starts to wend it’s way along the Red River starting around Trefoil Park, passing Mickleson Field and heading across the bridge into Minnesota. The trails along the river are beautiful, nicely paved and well shaded which was a boon this year with unseasonable warm temperatures. Another favorite portion of the race for me started around 11.5 as we raced up and back to the Minnesota State University Moorhead. There’s a wonderful mile where you get to see many of the runners who are ahead of you as you head out to circle around the wonderfully shaded campus and then you get to see the runners who are behind you.  I love the support and camaraderie of all the runners cheering each other on, waving and cheering friends and teammates as they were nearing the the half way point. On this strip I was able to connect with friends from former races I didn’t even know were in town. Then it was back to trails along the river for a few miles after the half.

It is at this point that my memories of the rest of the route gets a little sketchy.  I started the race confidently on pace for my PR.  I don’t think I was going too fast, but I did feel fatigued within the first hour.  I chalked it up to the heat and doubled my fluid intake at the support stations.  I pushed through the second hour and I was still on my pace mark and feeling strong, except for my lower right back.  That area was sore and aggravated to the touch. I started stretching a little bit each mile.  Still feeling strong I headed into the third hour, at which point I REALLY had to use a port a pottie.  No big surprise, I had doubled up fluids.  So I stop, wait and line, enter the stall only to have no flow.  Only then did I realize I WAS PASSING A KIDNEY STONE.  The pain from my back had migrated to my hip area and I really hadn’t thought about it.  So I went back on the course. I switched to one minute walking, one minute running. I kept waiting for the mule kick to the groin that usually accompanies these things.  Whether it was the size of the stone or the fact that body has learned to shut down certain pain receptors when I’m running, I never got that sharper twist to the gut I was expecting. Just ACHING. Eventually I switched to one minute walking, 30 seconds running.

I got to talk to a lovely young lady around mile 22 who was struggling a little bit and she was running her first marathon.  She had twisted her ankle and it had been getting worse and worse but she was still moving forward. I could only commiserate and congratulate her. She asked me what do you focus on when the plan goes sideways.  I said you focus on the goal.  The goal is to finish the marathon, so you break down whatever is left of your tattered plan into little baby sized bites and swallow it a step at a time.  I also told her that for most people, lifetime running is the over all goal so you need to step out if you feel you will do irreversible damage.  Otherwise, running is right, left; right left.  I said I also focused on other people I knew, people who were missing a leg or half a lung or were recovering from the ravages of cancer.  If they can finish, surely I can? Little did I know that a young man I ran with earlier in the race had lost his father five weeks before the race.  He was there, running, learning all he could, testing himself with this huge burden. You would never have known it to watch him run. Sometimes you need to continue to spite those very reasons.

I do remember running through downtown and getting ice, a popsicle, and a full bottle of icy cold water but otherwise most of the end of the race is a blur.  I crossed the finish line back in the stadium, thanked the runners who had helped me focus during the tough miles and got some painkillers out of my car before my natural high wore off.  As much as I like the Fargodome, climbing up the stairs to get out was not fun with my ailment or after running the marathon.

Lessons Learned:

First Aid Accessability

I have moved my personal first aid kit to an easily accessible spot in my car so if I need to send somebody for medication, it is easy to find and access.  The best pain killers they had at the medical stations and even at the finish were ibuprofen and aspirin.As much as I hate my painkillers, they do lessen the pain.

Hot Weather Gear

It was hot, much hotter than in previous years and the clothes I was wearing really absorbed my sweat and weighed on me during the marathon.  I need to reassess my wardrobe for these hotter months to make sure I have clothes of light, wicking material.

Physical Review:

It was tough running under the duress, but I was able to finish under six hours at 5:44:58.  This was the second stone in about ten months, but they continue to be small and pass easily, within 7 hours in this case.  I was able to rest over the next couple days and head out and explore North Dakota, because friends had made fun that Fargo was more like an extension of Minnesota.  This was a highlight state for me because it was the last state I needed to visit for lifetime travels of the US.  I can now say I have been to all 50 states and that I saved the best for last and have the T-Shirt to prove it.  Later this week I will run in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Black Hills before getting to Nebraska and run in Scottsbluff.  Thank you for joining me on my journey. I look forward to reading your comments and questions and hopefully seeing you soon.