What goes up must come down: Running Hospital Hill

 

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In its 41st year, the Hospital Hill Run has been ranked highly among the thousands of US Road Races, Including #11 by Runners World in 2013. With so many races to choose from this weekend, it was the addition of the Re-run challenge, where runners take on Hospital Hill during a 5K on Friday night, and then the half-marathon or 10k on Saturday morning which made me choose this as my final destination race of the spring 2014 season.

The expo, as well as the start and finish lines for all races are located outside the Crown Center, and easy walking distance from many downtown hotel options. We stayed at the Fairfield Marriott, who accommodated runners happily with late checkouts and a complementary early breakfast. Runners of the re-run challenge received a cotton tee, however breaking away from the tradition of the tech tee – the Hospital Hill Run gave all runners a high quality embroidered backpack. For those wanting a tech shirt, many were available in the official merchandise store.

This was my first visit to Kansas City, and friends had told me to visit the Power and Light District. After checking it out, and knowing we had an evening race, we decided to visit the Country Club Plaza area instead, enjoying a coffee at Starbucks (across the street from Tiffany’s) and taking in a movie at the  Cinemark Theater. Although this is an upscale area with many restaurants and great shopping, the parking garage was free and the movie was only $4.25 at a very nice theater!

The Friday night 5K was well-organized and a family friendly event, with a generous 90 minute time limit – ensuring that parents and children walking or running together (of which there were many) would finish without pressure. Young volunteers handed each runner a cold towel at the finish line, followed by a beautiful medal featuring the Kansas City skyline. After the race a Beer Garden and BBQ dinner were provided for all runners, along with the typical post race snacks of bananas, bars and chocolate milk.

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The clear warm air of Friday night was replaced with a storm front that rolled in overnight. Runners watched social media as the race directors gave frequent updates of the status of the race. Staying dry in the Crown Center lobby runners anxiously awaited news. Informed that there would be only a 30 minute delay, many runners huddled under bridges and overhangs surrounding the start line. Finally we were underway, and although there was a significant amount of rain – the race went on with no further disruptions. The race director gave all runners the option to do the 10K instead of the half marathon if they felt uneasy in the rain – and ensured the crowd that everyone would get a medal.

A tempting offer, but I had come for the half marathon, and was determined to finish it despite the rain and wind. The familiarity of hospital hill from the Friday night race met runners early on, but that was not the end. Up and down we went – hospital hill, rockhill hill, 39th street hill, cherry hill, broadway hill, and finally… the very steep trinity hill.

By mile 9 the weather cleared, and I connected with another runner who was struggling with blisters from wet shoes and socks. We walked together for some time and talked, eventually running the last part of the race and crossing the finish line together. Collecting our HUGE half marathon medals and bonus medals for the Re-Run challenge, I prepared to head back to the hotel. With the race winding down and the complications from the weather,  I did not expect there to be any of the scheduled post race food to be available. To my surprise not only was there food left (a pancake and sausage breakfast) but they were being made by the staff from Chris Cakes who greeted us with an enthusiastic smile!

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What could have been a disaster of a weekend became one I will never forget – largely due to the communication and spirit of the race director, staff, and amazing volunteers who made sure that we were safe and supported – while executing a world-class event.

 

 

48 hours in Fargo: Running the goFar Challenge

For as long as I have been running, the Fargo Marathon has been on my bucket list. Many months ago, I registered as soon as it announced. There was some social media drama surrounding the date – as it was changed, twice, soon after it was announced. Willing and able to shift my plans with the changes, I kept it on my schedule.

Making the journey from Florida to North Dakota takes some coordination – I was able to stay with family in Milwaukee after the previous weekends races in Ohio – and in the dark of the very early morning, my running partner Sue and I jumped in the car to make the nine-hour drive to Fargo.

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The expo was staged at the Fargo Civic Center. This was an extremely organized event. Tents were placed outside for bib pick-up, which was quick. Inside there was one large room for t-shirt and bag pick-up, as well a variety of Under Armor Merchandise – and a second room with dozens of vendors.

Technical Shirt for the Half Marathon

Technical Shirt for the Half Marathon

T-Shirt for the Friday Night 5k at the goFar Challenge

T-Shirt for the Friday Night 5k at the goFar Challenge

Under Armor Bag given to all runners of any race

Under Armor Bag given to all runners of any race

From the Expo we traveled to our hotel, the Fargo Inn and Suites. This hotel was no frills, and about 6 miles from the start and finish lines. If I was running again I might look into other hotels in Moorhead, MN as this is actually a closer location. However the staff here was friendly and the room was clean. Most of the hotels in Fargo had much higher rates, and we were able to book a room here for $89.00. It is located a few blocks off Main Street and was very easy to get to. There is also a Starbucks less than a mile away that opens at 5:30 AM – a race morning necessity!

After getting settled and organized we headed back downtown for the 5K. This is a large community event with over 8,000 runners. The Marathon offers the option for runners of the half or full marathon to take the “goFar challenge” by adding the 7:00 PM Friday 5k – and therefore being awarded a bonus medal for completing two races.

We were warned that parking for this many runners may be challenging, so we arrived early (about 5PM), and got dinner at The Old Broadway Grill – just down the street from the start line. This also allowed us to check out parking options for the following morning, and we decided we would try to park in the same lot (on 4th and Main) for both races.

The start line of the 5K

The start line of the 5K

This was a great family event, with many children and school groups running with their parents and coaches. The race took runners over two bridges, into Minnesota and back.

5K runners take on the Bridge!

5K runners take on the Bridge!

The 5K was heavily congested, and many narrow areas became very backed up. If I had been focused on a finish time, this would have been more frustrating. The finish line proved to be frustrating to some as runners struggled to get their medals and find their families.

Once through this however, the frenzy opened up into a wonderful party in the park – where the Johnny Holm Band played, and beer flowed as runners relaxed in the warm evening sun.

My only real concern with the 5K is that there was no water stop. While I do not need water during a three-mile run, there were a lot of kids at this race. At about the 2.5 mile mark, there was a family who was trying to bring out water to the runners.

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The best part for us running this 5k, was it made the next morning very easy to visualize. The finish line for this race was the staging area for the half marathon runners the next morning. (The marathon runners had a separate staging area on the other side of the bridge)

Race morning we arrived very early. After our coffee run, we were parked and sipping it as we watched the surrounding lots full up. By 6:15 our lot was full and many cars circled through. The emails and race instructions at the expo had all suggested getting there very early to make the walk to the start line around 7AM. This was early for an 8AM start, however as we watched the stress of runners looking for a spot we were glad we had come early.

At 7:30 we made our way up the hill to the start line where thousands of runners were crowded into two separate corrals, one for the full marathon, which would start and head north – the other for the half marathon which would start and head south.

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There was a prayer said before the start – which did not surprise me after I saw the 5K medal had a bible verse inscribed on the back. Although there were pace signs, there were no assigned corrals, and all of the runners were released at one time with no delays. This caused the field to be tight for several miles. There was however a clearly marked “elite lane”.

There was a lot of crowd support throughout most of the route. Several neighborhoods embraced the race in true style with garage bands and block party style buffets set up. There were a few hills, but overall the course was fairly flat. There was plenty of water, poweraide, GU, and other nutrition on the course such as bananas and orange slices.

I did find that the verbiage “medical drop out” for the med stations was strange. At the stop where I took this picture, I commented on it and the staff there agreed that it was not what they would have selected, and certainly someone could stop for help and not be dropping out of the race!

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The finish line was on Broadway, where runners received both their individual medal – and the challenge medal if they had completed the 5k.

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A short walk away was the finish line party. Runners were offered chocolate milk, pizza, and assorted other treats.

We had to hurry off to get checked out and make the drive back to Milwaukee – but as we made our journey we were able to follow the action that was continuing back in Fargo.

The street party that began at 11AM went on late into the evening – and the race director, Mark Knutson, who had been working all day, then ran the Full Marathon course to help raise money for “Shoes for Kids“. Over the past two years the Fargo Marathon has raised money to donate over 2000 pairs of Nike Pegasus shoes to kids in need through this program. An inspirational end to a wonderful running weekend.