Fun. Great. Exciting. Awesome. Groovy! These are other words that describe this marathon.
I woke up at 5:30 on Sunday to get ready for the Flying Monkey Marathon. I knew what to expect and I thought I had prepared enough but there is no telling what the Monkeys of Percy Warner Park had in mind for the day. I had my usual oatmeal and packed my stuff to get out of the hotel and was ready to go. Mike & I left for the car to pack it up. The first bad omen of the day occurred. As I was pushing the cart with all our bags and cooler to the car, I could have sworn I saw a blurr go by and knock my mug off the cart to the ground breaking the mug. Damn flying monkey are leaving the park and hitting us before we even leave for the race. My mug does have some special meaning for me. It was a birthday gift from my oldest girl when she was just barely over 1. You can see her “signature” on it. I will try to glue it but I think the oatmeal days in it are done. I brought that to many a marathon over the years.
It was a cool morning but not cold by any means as we headed for the park and then drive into a grassy field to park the car. After a quick visit to the port-o-let, I went to the car and brought the cooler full of beer boiled/grilled brats (A Wisconsin Special) to the food area. A volunteer was going to heat them up for me while I was running so the runners and volunteers could have a good treat after the race.
Near the starting area, I was finally able to meet up with Melanie from Life is a Marathon. I have been reading her blog for 2 years now and it was really cool to finally see her in person instead of just seeing her in pictures and print. Before the race had started, I had decided to run with her group of friends for awhile so we could talk some and just have a good time. This marathon was not a serious one for me (like it is possible for anyone) so a good conversation would be welcome to knock the miles off to. She introduced me to Amy, Matt and Liz who would also be running in the little road party. What a cool bunch of runners to spend time with.
Mike & I before the race.
The weather was warm now, warm enough that I was not cold in my singlet for the start. I would guess it was close to 55F but it would soon climb to the upper 60’s to low 70’s by the end of the race. Great weather for a fun run, not great for a race. Good thing I wasn’t there to race.
Mike went up ahead before the start as Trent, the race director, told us some final instructions as we lined up in on open field with just a small tent and a starting/finishing chute. Soon the horn sounded and now there was no turning back.
Did I mention this race was crazy? Here is what I knew so far. The race was 26.2 miles long. Duh, that is the distance of a marathon. There was about 3500 feet of elevation gain and loss throughout the race. WOW, that is A LOT. The people in the race were quite festive and all seemingly happy, some even dressed in costume including one as Dorothy Gale. Get it? Dorothy Gale from Wizard of Oz? Flying Monkeys from Wizard of Oz? If you don’t get it by now, never mind.
Within the first mile and a half, we have already climbed nearly 300 feet. They even reminded us of that with a sign that said, 300 feet up, 3200 more to go. We maintained an easy pace and it felt quite easy. The cool thing about this first part was that at one point, climbing a hill, the leaves were falling all over. It was like running though a curtain of leave falling like snow flakes. It became a game of who could catch one before it hit the ground. Like I said, we were not running seriously. The miles and hills clipped away as the group talked about this and that telling stories of past races, run, injuries, future races, etc. Some other runners would join the group for a bit and then go on. It was a festive group and I enjoyed just listening to the stories. I found it fun to talk to Matt and Amy and hear their stories of past races and accomplishments. Like I said, really cool people.
This race is considered one of the hardest in the country and I would have to agree. There are at least 5 climbs of 250+ feet and an additional 5 or so climbs of at least 150 feet, if not more, not to mention all the “small” hills all over. How anyone could possible “race” this course is beyond me. One cool thing about the course is that you run every part of the course 2 times, but the second time is in the reverse direction of the first time. It is not an out and back course, it is a loop course with a few shorter loops to bring you back to the other direction and 2 small out and back areas. This is a laid back race and just after mile 5, we enter a small out and back with a very short loop at the end. Just before the loop was many “?” chalked on the ground not saying which way to go. Seems we could choose our own way and that is what people did. Some went left, some went right. We went right passing people going the other direction around the loop. Funny? Yes!
Turns and Curves and Ups and Downs.
After the loop and O&B, we start to descend the biggest hill of the course. Here is the biggest problem of this hill. It seemed A LOT shorter going down it that climbing up it at about 19.5 miles.
By mile 11 or so, the monkeys began to get feisty. While I did not actually see any of them, I knew they were there stalking us as we ran along. I was glad I was in a group as if I was alone, I could have been a goner. They still taunted us by throwing acorns at us hitting us occasionally. Good thing flying monkeys don’t have great aim or velocity or we would have been toast!
The group went past the halfway mark in about 2:15:30. It wasn’t too long after this that I decided it was time to go on by myself, so I left the group and forged ahead. I was feeling really good so far so picking up the pace actually felt good. I got to the mile 14 marker and Ben Schneider, the leader, passed me going the other direction. He was at mile 24 already. HOLY CRAP! On this Course!!!!
If you saw my mile splits can easily where the up hills were and where the down hills were throughout the race. I would have an average just over 10:00 per mile but some miles were down to the low 9’s and even into the 8’s, where others were in the upper 11’s and even a couple in the 12’s. There was no even running this course. You could possibly “even run” based on effort, but not pace. Suddenly, just before mile 16, I caught up to Trent, the race director. We ran for a bit together before he stopped to talk to the volunteers at the water stop just past mile 16. I wasn’t passing too many runners at this time which I found odd but I figured we were spread out a lot. Later I would pick off a lot of them.
At the 19 ½ mile mark, there was a water stop with extra friendly volunteers and quite a few people watching the race near the stone wall entrance to the park. Did I mention the volunteers at this race were awesome! They really were. Hooping and hollering it up whenever a runner can into view and encouraging us to keep going (like stopping was really an option, NOT). They would ask how I was feeling. “Groovy” was always my response to honor the theme of the race. Now the hell was to begin. I begin to ascend the largest and seemingly never ending hill on the backside of what is know as nine mile hill (the hill isn’t 9 miles long, it is just situated at the 9 mile mark of the 11.2 mile loop around the park local use all the time).
The 6 mile mark on the left and the 20 mile mark on the right. Big Hill.
Suddenly I had to walk some. I was taking my usually walk breaks through the water stops, but this hill was too much to handle. I actually convinced myself that walking the really steep parts would benefit my final time and not hinder it. I really think that was the case. While this hill only lasted a little over 1 mile, it seemed like it went from mile 19.5 to mile 38! I think I walked close to half of it. Relief came in the form of the same O&B with the loop at the top of the hill but there were hills on this too. This time I went to the left around the loop. Entering the O&B, I saw a lot of runner coming out which actually got me going. Runners to catch!
After the O&B, it seemed like I kept climbing some until I had a very long down hills section from just before mile 22 to just after mile 23. This was too steep of a hill to really use well. Now the issue was my toes. They were not blistered, but on every foot plant on a down hill, my foot would slide slightly forward in my show making my toes hit the front of my shoes. A little painful but not too bad. I was picking off runners frequently now and I was finally able to run a good pace again after the massive mountain I had just climbed a couple miles before. All the runners seemed friendly and still somewhat happy to be out there. It takes a sadistic type of runner to attempt this marathon and if you do, why not be happy while sharing misery with your fellow runner.
At mile 23.5, I hit the “This is not a hill” hill. Let me tell you, they lied; it was a steep little hill. I walked 2/3 of it. Passing the steeplechase horse track at mile 24.5, I was passed by the first runner in over 10 miles. Crap! Was I slowing? While this run was just for fun and not for time, let’s be honest, it now was for time and I wanted to break 4:30. I needed to maintain just over a 10:00 pace to break 4:30. He didn’t stay too far ahead of me and I was able to pass him back around mile 25.5.
I never know when I will blow up in a race so I still wasn’t positive I would break 4:30 but I didn’t want another Fargo incident (finish time 4:00:16) so I kept up the pressure. Good thing there were other runners I was still passing to keep me encouraged. Just before mile 26, I entered the field path to take me to the finish line and I pass the final runner that I would pass. After a quick turn, it was all downhill to the finish line and I knew I had sub 4:30 in hand. I eased up so I wouldn’t pass the guy ahead of me so I didn’t look like a jerk at the finish line and finish in a time of 4:28:24 according to my watch. I got my monkey medal and kept walking so I wouldn’t collapse. I was tired (duh!) My finishing place was #100 on the dot! Glad I passed the one guy at mile 26 to get top 100! I even negative split this bastard of a course (2:15:30 / 2:12:54)! It sure didn’t seem possible going up the mile 20 mountain at the time.
Mike found me and told me how he did and we watched Melanie, Amy, and Matt finish. Mike finished in 3:52:15, far off what he usually runs, but like me, he has run 2 previous marathons in the last 5 weeks. The post race food was everywhere but, as usual, I can’t eat any of it as my stomach was not ready at all for food. They had so much food for the runner and volunteers it was crazy. Yazoo beer too (I did have some of this, but not too much). After a free post race massage, it was time for awards and door prizes. They had lots to give away, posters, wine, sandals, stickers, monkeys, etc. I talked to a lot of the other finishers as they read off winner/door prizes and to my surprise, I was called out. I was able to get to final bottle of Flying Monkey Red Wine. Could this be made from real blood of captured flying monkeys? I can’t be certain but it sure seems that way. Mike won some sandals as well but quickly found out they were too small for him. His daughter now has a new pair of sandals.
A final picture before we headed out with myself, Melanie, Amy, and Matt.
After a few quick pictures and good-byes, Mike and I headed out for a quick shower at the JCC before hitting the road for the long drive home. We were officially on the road by 3:00 and it wasn’t long before it was dark which makes the trip much more boring. Just north of Louisville in Indiana, we stop at a “Texas Road Use” for dinner. I was really hungry and ate every last piece of my sirloin steak and shrimp combo as well as rolls, fries and sides. I was actually still a little hungry after all that but enough is enough.
I was able to take a short nap for about an hour while Mike drove though Indiana. I took back over in northern Indiana as Mike slept all the way through Chicago. What a difference a time of day makes. On the way down, we lost over an hour driving through Chicago and this time I did not even hit the breaks 1 time from the Indiana/Illinois boarder until way past northern Chicago getting off on Hwy 41. We finally hit our work where Mike’s car was at 1:15AM. But not before it started to rain 1 mile from the end. Come on! So we moved Mike’s stuff to his car in the rain and then we headed home our own ways. I finally got to sleep just after 2:00AM but able to somehow get up at 6:45AM to get my girls ready for school. I did get another hour after they left.
In summary, what a really cool race! I really want to run it again if I can get back to Nashville next November. Trent puts on a great, low key race. I highly recommend this race, that is unless you are going to take my spot. For $70, you get 2 shirts, a sticker and magnet, very friendly volunteers, an awesome post race food spread, a very unique finisher’s medal, and some new friends. And, of course, a freaking hard ass course including sore quads and knees thrown in for good measure.
One of the 2 Monkey Shirts we received.
I have now run 27 marathons (8 this year to date) and this one definitely ranks up in the top 3 along with Grand Rapids and Icebreaker. If you ran this race to and have found my post, please leave me a note and say hi. Also leave your site as well if you posted a report. I would love to hear what you all thought.
Bill – 1 Monkey Kill!