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.
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.
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.
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.