Air Force Marathon 2009

Saturday was a beautiful day for a marathon! The weather was ideal: cool at the start, with a light breeze.

As with most major running events, this one was well organized, well staffed, and well supplied. I only have one minor complaint about the race expo, and that is the selection of the halls of the Nutter Center as the location. We probably went to packet pickup at the peak time, but we had little other choice, because of our arrival schedule in Dayton. 10,000 people do not fit well in the concourse of a basketball arena, especially when the flow of people is choked by vendors filling up the walkway with their merchandise.

Given our experience with the absurdly long 2+ hour waits for buses at last year’s Marine Corps Marathon, I also was hoping for more detail in the printed literature about the parking shuttle schedules for race day. (The last thing you want is to be on the far side of the Pentagon’s 67 acre parking lot when the starting gun goes off!) I tried to just trust that this race would be better, and indeed it was. (The volunteer who was staffing our pickup point on race morning was having frazzled exchanges on her radio because we had to wait almost five whole minutes!) We followed the suggestion to arrive an hour before the start, and we were just fine.

5.  The finish lineWe were treated to an impressive flyover (“the sound of freedom,” as those in the Air Force apparently like to call it), paratroopers unfurling enormous POW and American flags; and the woman who sang the national anthem did a truly beautiful job. I was struck by the respect of the crowd. Every single individual who was present was absolutely silent and attentive during the anthem.

I cannot think of the last time I had so much room at the start of a race. Participants, at least the ones who started near me, did a good job observing the pace lineup, so there was no shuffling and tripping over feet as runners jockeyed for their chosen pace. This made for an unusually pleasant start.

The first couple of miles seemed like one very long and continuous, but relatively gentle uphill climb. While the wheeled athletes were given a few minutes’ head start, the initial hills caused several of them to get a slow start, and I passed some early in the race. I chuckled to myself, because I knew that in just a few minutes, they would be screaming past me again. remainsI enjoyed making mental notes of the things I would have pointed out to my son, had I been pushing him in the jogging stroller: lots of geese, two fire stations, a flock of starlings trying to intimidate a hawk, construction equipment, police cars, rusting remains of old aircraft, and more. Most of the participants were silent, so the early part of the race had a meditative feel, just the sounds of birds and feet interrupted the quiet morning. Perfect!

There was a great turnout of folks in the Fairborn section, with people lining both sides of Main, Grand, and Broad streets. I called out to some diners enjoying a delicious looking breakfast at their the sidewalk table that they were being pretty unfair. Residents had lots of patriotic decorations that boosted the festive environment, as well.

I always enjoy the lap around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Mini, so I expected to enjoy running down a stretch of real USAF taxiway during this race. However, this segment came in the second half of the race, so the long, straight slog with no shade and no breeze was not very enjoyable. pylonsI tried to make it fun by crossing over the pylons onto the taxiway itself, rather than the shoulder, but it was hard to get very excited. (See my track line at right: the other side of the yellow paint line wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.) While I was running this stretch, there was what appeared to be a replica of a Wright Flyer flying overhead. While it was neat to see, it buzzed around so slowly that it reminded me of how slowly I felt I was going.

In contrast, the volunteers staffing the aid stations in this stretch did a wonderful job combating the monotony of the second half of the course. They were amazingly friendly and enthusiastic. After the taxiway, the route along the tree-lined Bayou Road and Patrol Roads was a most welcome change. Four of the last six miles retraced an earlier portion of the route, following a downhill and steeply banked Highway 444. This caused more eccentric motion in my quads and stressed my ankles more than I was accustomed to, so this is definitely an area that I will need to focus on in training for other long races. (The only problem: where to find hills and banked curves in Fishers?)

Dayton area race spectators should be made aware that there was not enough cowbell. We need our cowbell! I had the unexpected treat of seeing my family near the 22 mile marker. David could have been ringing his cowbell, but he had been too busy using it as a digger. Still, what a welcome boost to see them!

This course had a ton of aid stations. I never wanted for more fluids or gel packets. There must have been more than one per mile on average. I could have handled a less offensive flavor than chocolate gel packets, but I certainly would rather have that than nothing, or to fuss with carrying my own with me.

finishWhat a welcome sight the finish line was! As with the Marine Corps Marathon, the finish line was in sight long before we actually reached it, but this year there were no cruel tricks like a steep uphill climb to the finish. Instead, the last tenth of a mile passed under the wings of several of the aircraft at the Air Force Museum, which I found to be a fun way to finish. As expected, the finish area was congested, but not the worst I have seen. After milling around and picking up lots of goodies, I started to look for my family. Because I finished earlier than I thought (yay new PR), I was looking for a while. The slow shuffling wasn’t the wisest thing I could have done, and the price I paid for not stretching better was the sudden onset of the worst muscle cramps I have ever experienced. I was instantly and completely immobilized. Watching the knots form visibly as my calf muscles seized up completely solid and rock hard, combined with the shooting pain, was impressive if not exactly comfortable. I didn’t know that muscles could even do that. Two anonymous good samaritans came to my rescue and helped loosen my legs, and their beating and kneading hurt even worse, but they quickly worked it out. They were yet another example of the great people who make up the running community.

All told, the USAF put on a great event. It was great to be there with my supportive family. We’ll see if Emily plans to write about her experience also.

kmlAir Force Marathon in Google Earth (157 kB)

One Response to “Air Force Marathon 2009”

  1. Christopher says:

    Other runners have left comments about this race:

    I agree with most of the positive comments, and I had forgotten one point that G. T. made. With the half marathon’s delayed start and sharing its last 5 miles with the full marathon course, there was some tripping over other runners as the two paces converged.

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