Five Reasons the 1812 Challenge Rocks!

So if you haven’t heard, I ran the 1812 Challenge half marathon on September 1, 2019. It was my comeback race. It was amazing. This race is so awesome, I decided it needs its own “Rocks!” post similar to the Garmin one. In random order, here are the five reasons why the 1812 Challenge is my new favorite race. 

  1. Volunteers

Any runner from 1 mile to a full marathon will tell you that every race is about volunteers. We cannot run without them. No volunteers, no race. Kind of like mornings – no coffee, no workee. Yeah, yeah, we hear it all the time. 

Seriously, this race has the best volunteers. It has an army of volunteers. The race field was 1,200 runners. There were 200 volunteers. Our every need was taken care of in every way possible. Not only were the volunteers plentiful, but they were insanely happy. You could tell they genuinely wanted to be there and cared that we had a great race. 

These volunteers did not need coaching to smile, cheer, or encourage us on our way. They just did it and it was genuine. They wanted to be there and the runners were the center of the universe. I have never before gotten that vibe from race volunteers before. 

By the way, have you ever volunteered for a race? If you haven’t, then you should. Don’t be that runner that just races all the time without giving back by volunteering for someone else’s race. We’re the ones that know all the little tricks like how the person with the box of kleenex is an angel because when your legs run, your nose does too. If you are racing, you should be volunteering too. Give back. Pay it forward.

  1. Spectators

This course has the best spectators. It was the first time I ever had people say “good morning” to me on a race course. There were people outside in their yards with a mug of coffee (as in the ceramic 12 oz mug from your kitchen, not a travel mug) enjoying watching us go by. People turned up their stereos for us. 

One person was playing violin on course. Another person played the bag pipes. None of these people needed to be outside. But they were. They were cheering us on. They were awesome. I especially enjoyed all the Disney characters at mile 12. There were people of all ages from children to adult, and everyone was happy to be there. It wasn’t like in the big cities when you get the feeling that the spectators are just there to party. These people were spectating the 1812 race for us. Now, its possible some of those coffee mugs held vodka, but I don’t think so. 

This course was pretty rural. If it wasn’t for the spectators, it would have been lonely and boring. Thank you to everyone who came out to sit in their yard and watch us. You’re awesome. 

  1. Organization

The 1812 Challenge has flawless organization. From the expo to the finish line, everything went off without a hitch. I’m sure there was a lot going on behind the scenes, but from the runner’s perspective, this was a perfect race. 

First, the Expo was held on Saturday at the same location as the start/finish for the race. I’m so glad this was the case. I probably would have gotten lost on race morning if I had not been to the Expo the day before. The Expo had plenty of things to do and was not boring like some other expos. There was swag, music, and running gear sales. 

Parking was surprisingly easy, free, and did I say easy? For both race start and also for leaving the race location afterwards. One of the most stressful moments of race weekend is getting to the starting line on time. It can also be stressful trying to leave a race to get back to shower, rest, and have a full meal. The parking for this race was amazing. It was easy in, easy out. A big part of why race day went so well was that I was not stressed and frustrated trying to get to the start line. Finding the start line was easy, so I could relax and focus on my race.

Another impeccable part of organization with this race was directions. You would not believe how many marathons I have been in and the runners are frustrated because we get confused on turns and where we should go. This course was very well marked and very well staffed. There was no question at any point in time regarding where we should be. We knew at all times that we were on course and were well aware of turns. 

Especially for a race with multiple distances where the 13.1 runners sometimes diverged from the 18.12 runners, there was no question about who was supposed to be where. This is in marked contrast to large races I have ran where we get confused on where the full marathon splits from the half marathon. If it’s not organized well, that’s a horrible mistake to make. Luckily, the 1812 Challenge is organized with precision at every aspect.

Another thing that was impressive was porta potties. Porta potties were plentiful and had short to no lines. I used a porta potty at mile 5 and really appreciated it. This was one of the very few races where I did not just run behind a tree somewhere and squat. I am super impressed with the porta potty situation for this race. 

  1. The Course

When they say this course is flat and fast, they mean the course is flat and fast. I have ran races listed as “flat and fast” only to have the huge hill from miles 10-13 completely slow me down and cramp up my legs. The course map was also posted well in advance of the race. I often use course maps when considering a race to decide if it is something I can do based on elevation. 

The course was also well laid out. I was not bored. I had plenty to look at. I enjoyed having multiple turns. I tend to get bored if I’m just running a straight-away for 4 or 5 miles. We were able to see the beauty of Lake Ontario, the tranquility of cows on a farm, and the gorgeously quaint main street of Sackets Harbor. One of my favorite activities is learning about a new place by running their race. This course definitely allows you to see the sights.

  1. Timing

Apparently, this race used to be at the end of August and was moved to Labor Day weekend this year. Some people have complained about the change, but personally. I love it. Even though the change is only one week, pushing it a little into the fall brings me hopes of lower temperatures. My optimal race temperature is about 55 degrees. If it is 70 degrees or above, then I need to use my MS cooling vest and we may be looking at physical problems/symptoms.

The weather was perfect for this race with 56 degrees at the start and a high of about 72 for the day. I liked having it Labor Day weekend because the end of August tends to be feast or famine – everyone is either running around trying to get ready for back to school or every one is on vacation. For me, Labor Day weekend was perfect because I had the time to enjoy the race without needing to worry about idiots around me. 

I was really happy with the 7:30 am race start time. Again, this is for temperature reasons related to my functioning. Some half marathons start later in the morning and it is too damn hot! The 1812 Challenge has nailed the timing aspect. 

I was also impressed with the on the course race timing. When finished, I was able to punch my bib number into a little machine, and it printed me a slip of paper with all my race stats. This is one of the most incredible pieces of technology I have seen in the course of my running career. I love it! No more standing in front of boards and saying excuse me to the group of people around you trying to find your bib number and times. Then try to find a pen to write it down because who carries a pen to a marathon? I love the new timing technology. That race stat slip is my favorite piece of paper.

Bonus Reason why the 1812 Challenge Rocks! Because I could not stop at just 5 …

Bonus = Theme/Swag

I love how this race commemorates the 1812 theme. From the medals to the race swag, the theme is just awesome. The visuals are great. I love the artistry of a patriot from that time period. 

This race also ties in with the 1812 beer and has pint glasses and other swag that goes with the theme. Not to mention, an 1812 beer is included with the race. The beer ticket is attached to the bib. 

The challenge theme is awesome because 18.12 is an unusual distance. It’s more than a half marathon, but less than a full marathon. It’s the perfect way to challenge yourself for those scared to make the jump between distances. While everyone else has stickers that say 26.2 or 13.1, you can have one that says 18.12. Just so that people are like what? And it will be cool. Do the 1812 Challenge. Put the 18.12 sticker on your car. You will start a thing. You’ll see. 

I am so looking forward to returning to the 1812 Challenge in 2020. I can’t wait to figure out which challenge is in store for me next year – 13.1 or 18.12! 

Be Like Meb

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In 2014, as a still grieving world watched in baited anticipation, Meb Keflezighi became the first American man to win the Boston Marathon in 31 years. This win came at a time when our nation, the city, and the worldwide running community needed it the most. #BostonStrong

When Meb tore that finish tape, we took back both the finish line and the starting line to the Boston Marathon. Meb brought hope back to the greatest race in the world that a year prior was literally bathed in blood. Race after race, year after year, millions of people toe the line to run the greatest distance in all of running. We run through joy, pain, happiness, and grief. Marathoners cannot be kept down. You just don’t mess with people who run 26.2 miles for fun.

Then, in 2018, five years after the bombing, Desiree Linden became the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon in 33 years. Not only do marathoners prevail over adversity, but we succeed.

Tomorrow is Marathon Monday, Patriots Day in Massachusetts. It marks the 6 year anniversary of the bombing that took lives and drastically altered thousands others. It is also the first anniversary in which the date is again, April 15. Among the many esteemed athletes in tomorrow’s race is running legend and one of my personal heroes, Joan Benoit-Samuelson.

Joanie’s original triumph in the Boston Marathon came 40 years ago, in 1979. This was the same year I was born. In 1979, Joan won the Boston Marathon setting both a women’s course record and an American women’s marathon record. Joan also became the first women’s Olympic marathon winner in 1984. Tomorrow she is toeing the line again in the greatest race in the world.

Joan, Desiree, and Meb, along with Kathrine Switzer, of course, are some of my running heroes. These are people I look up to in my sport. Although I know I will never achieve their levels of greatness, I hope to at least be able to match their longevity, tenacity, and never ending love for this great sport.

Meb recently came out with a new book titled “26 Marathons ..” I have yet to read it. I am on the waiting list to get it out of the library because all copies are already checked out. I’m looking forward to my turn.

Meb is one of those role models that is so inspiring, all I can think of is the 90s Gatorade commercial with Michael Jordan. Except instead of “I want to be like Mike,” “I want to be like Meb.”

Not only did Meb run with heart, but he ran with brains. It takes a lot for an athlete to realize, admit and process that they are retiring from the sport they so love. I can’t imagine it.

I am starting to realize that given some physical disabilities I have, that my race days are probably numbered. I don’t want to admit it yet, but a part of me knows that.

I’m always setting running goals. For the most part, they have been attainable. Until recently. My body betrays me.

So my latest running goal, is that I want to be like Meb. I want 26 medals. A marathon is 26.2 miles long. 26 makes sense. I currently have 15 medals, and am hoping for medal # 16 this year.

I need 11 more medals in addition to what I have now. Will my body hold out for 11 more races or will it let me down? Only time will tell, but I’m going to try.

If I reach 26 medals, then I’ll back off. Maybe I’ll just stick to 5ks or some 10 mile races. Although, one of my other goals is 3 more full marathons. I’m not sure which is more realistic given my body – 3 more full marathons or 11 more half and full medals. I guess I’m going to find out.

You’ll be pulling my Mizunos off my cold dead feet. I’m hoping that’s not how I go out. When I “retire” from racing, I hope that it is my choice and not because my body no longer cooperates.

Then there are days when I just want to be like Joanie. I want to run until I’m “old” (not that she’s old because she’s not) and every day I am putting one foot in front of the other is a good day.

Last week, I was running outdoors (slowly – like 8:40 miles), and passed a person from my church on the running trail. I saw her this week and she exclaimed at how fast I run. Even though, I was running slow for me, her comment made me feel good. I’m still out there. I’m still going.

This year I am signed up for a half marathon over Labor Day weekend. If I can pull it off, it will be my second race since my stroke a few years ago. This will be my first race that I am completely changing my training plan and using the Canadian method. It is supposed to be a gentler method. I typically only train 10 weeks for a half marathon. This Canadian training plan is going to take me 17 weeks to prepare for a half marathon. I’m hoping that if I build slower, I’ll be less likely to get injured and will be able to run longer in life.

We will see what happens. A 17 week training plan means I start training at the beginning of May. If I was using my “traditional” training plan I have been using the past decade, I would not start training until the end of June. I’m going to do a slow build up for this race. Not only do I want to make it to the starting line, but I want to cross the finish line too. I want to cross it with as much strength and love as all my heroes do when they finish their races.

Good luck to everyone running Boston tomorrow. May you be like Meb. My love and prayers are with you all as you run the oldest, most prestigious, and beloved race in the entire world. #BostonStrong