Races and Places

 Jump to:     Shamrock Marathon     •     Army Ten Miler     •     Cherry Blossom Ten Miler     •     Philadelphia Marathon     •     Richmond Marathon     •     Marine Corps Marathon     •     Ironman Wisconsin     •     Des Moines 1/2 Marathon     •     Whistlestop Marathon     •     FANS Ultramarathon     •     Mexico City Marathon     •     Longest Causeway 10K     •     Austin Marathon

It was late spring, 1987 when my mom, single at the time, became ill. Too ill to take care of my sister and me, she sent us to Kansas for the summer, where my aunt and uncle and three cousins graciously welcomed us into their home. By summer’s end, my mom had thankfully made a full recovery. I was so happy to see her when she came to Kansas to pick us up. I couldn’t wait to tell her about our summer: the new friends I had made; all of the movies I had watched with my cousins; and most of all, all of the running I had done. I had a bag full of medals from my races, because that summer, I had become a runner.

My aunt and uncle were my first coaches. Their kids had already been running on a local community track team, and my sister and I joined them. If you ask any of them, they’ll tell you that I hated it. I have no recollection of hating it (selective memory?), but I am sure they are right. What I do remember is running the mile and the 800 in several area track meets. I often won a blue ribbon, not because I was fast, but because I was the only competitor in my age group. What I also remember from that summer is the day I stayed at the track with my grandmother while the rest of the team went to run somewhere else. As my grandma walked laps around the track, I ran. I ran 16 laps that day- my longest run ever and the first time I really realized that long, slow distance was a better fit for me than the sprints my sister ran so strongly.

After that summer, it wasn’t until high school that I really picked up running again, but since then it has stuck with me and become part of my daily life. I have no idea how many races I’ve run over the last twenty years, and some have of course been much more noteworthy than others, but there are a few that stand out in my mind as being especially memorable. Some of those are highlighted below.

Please leave a comment to share your most memorable race experiences!

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Shamrock Marathon, Virginia Beach, Virginia
Deena Shamrock Marathon

Crossing the finish line of the Shamrock Marathon.

Finish time: 4:54:28, 1998. This was my first marathon. I was 18 years old and a freshman in college. I ran the race with three other girls from my cross country team. My mom met me at mile 25 and ran with me to the finish line. I’ll never forget it.

This race has grown quite a bit over the years since I ran it. Still held in March, it has become an even bigger celebration of St. Patrick’s Day than it was in the late 1990s. Now sponsored by Yuengling, the Shamrock has become a race series that includes the marathon, a half marathon, and an 8K. The course is flat and runs along the Atlantic Ocean. For more information, visit www.shamrockmarathon.com.

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Army Ten Miler, Arlington, Virginia / Washington, DC

Best finish time: 1:19:54, 1999. The Army Ten Miler was, for a long time, my favorite race. It’s held in October each year, and like most races, it has grown immensely in popularity over the years. It fills up very quickly nowadays, so watching out for the registration opening date is crucial in order to get a spot in the race. Starting and finishing at the Pentagon, the course takes runners through the nation’s capital via the Memorial Bridge, my personal favorite. When I ran this race for the first time in 1999 in chilly temperatures and pouring rain, I’ll never forget my dear friend Ginger, who had come to cheer for me, standing on the Pentagon steps huddled under her umbrella and waiting to take me home. In 2005, the race was re-routed due to a “suspicious package” on the 14th Street Bridge. I was on pace for my best finish time by quite a bit, but the detour caused by the “suspicious package” (which turned out to be construction materials) resulted in an 11.2 mile race and no official finish times for anyone. For more information, visit www.armytenmiler.com.

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Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run, Washington, DC

Best finish time: 1:19:14, 2001. Run entirely in Washington, DC, the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler takes runners on a tour of the fabled cherry trees, gifted to the United States from Japan in the first part of the 20th century. The race is scheduled to take place when cherry blossoms are expected to peak, usually at the beginning of April. There are times when the race and peak blossom time have not quite aligned, but when they do, it is spectacular. The race has always been popular and tough to get into, but now entry is based on a lottery system. For more information, visit www.cherryblossom.org.

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Philadelphia Marathon, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Finish time: 3:47:34, 2000. Following my first marathon, it took me three years to work up the courage, and perhaps desire, to run a second one. I chose Philadelphia primarily for its proximity to where I lived and late November date. I’d had a solid training season and learned from some of the novice mistakes I had made while training for my first marathon. The race course was essentially a tour of all that Philly has to offer and finished, appropriately, in front of the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, where one can have a true Rocky moment. With a few hills on the course, the race was challenging, but in a good way. The Philadelphia Marathon was my personal best marathon- by quite a bit- for an entire decade. The race now includes a half marathon and 8K in addition to the marathon. For more information, visit www.philadelphiamarathon.com.

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Richmond Marathon, Richmond, Virginia

With my sister after the Richmond Marathon.

Finish time: 3:58:49, 2001. The Richmond Marathon is a great choice for those looking for a race large enough to hear cheers from spectators for most of the course, yet small enough that getting boxed in is not much of an issue once the race spreads out. Billed by race organizers as “America’s Friendliest Marathon,” Richmond takes runners on a course of rolling hills through downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. The mid-November date almost guarantees cool temperatures. If you’re not quite up for a full marathon, other race options now include a half marathon and an 8K. For more information, visit www.richmondmarathon.com.

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Marine Corps Marathon, Arlington, Virginia / Washington, DC

Best finish time: 4:11:53, 2005. Known as “The People’s Marathon,” the Marine Corps truly is like no other race. It’s a fantastic option for first-time marathoners, if for no other reason than because there is so much to look at as you run through some of our nation’s most famous and historic sites. Having water and Gatorade handed to you by uniformed Marines is an added bonus. I’ve run the race 3.75 times, having dropped out at mile 19 during my third MCM in 2007 due to knee troubles. The course includes a few hills, most notably the steep climb in the final 1/4 mile as runners approach the finish line at the Iwo Jima Memorial. Oprah Winfrey’s completion of the MCM in 1994 increased the race’s popularity, and that of the marathon in general, exponentially. Entry is now gained through a lottery system. For more information, visit www.marinemarathon.com.

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Ironman Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin

Finish time: 16:32:28, 2009. I watched a video about the Ironman one day after school when I was in 7th or 8th grade. My thought at the end of it was: I want to do that someday. That day came for me on September 13, 2009. It was the year I turned 30, and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate. I registered for the event a full year in advance (it’s nearly impossible to get a spot in it otherwise), purchased a triathlon bike, and began my training. I had just spent most of the previous year recovering from an invasive knee surgery and knew that having an event this big on the horizon (never mind the $600 entry fee) would motivate me to get back in the saddle. As it turned out, training for an Ironman with the goal of “just finishing” was like having a second job. I had done a few triathlons before, including a couple of half-Ironmans, but preparing for the full 140.6 mile race (including a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run) was completely different. It took up almost all of my time and energy outside of my teaching job for about 9 months, but in the end, was completely worth it. I had chosen Ironman Wisconsin because I was living in Minneapolis at the time and the proximity of the race location allowed me to travel to Madison a few times to train on the bike course. The day of the race was one I will truly never forget. The race started at 7:00 am, with a 17-hour time limit. I finished at 11:32 p.m., just 28 minutes shy of the cut-off time and hours after the top finishers had completed their races. But the time wasn’t important to me. I’d finished, and that’s all that mattered. The event itself was incredible: extremely well organized with an overwhelming amount of volunteer support; calm waters on Lake Monona; a beautiful bike course that takes athletes through the rolling countryside around Madison, and a grand finish in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol. For more information about the Ironman and all Ironman events, visit www.ironman.com.

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Des Moines Half Marathon, Des Moines, Iowa

Best finish time: 1:49:22, 2011. Despite what you may assume about Iowa, Des Moines is a great town with the friendliest of people and a lot of beauty. It was my last home in the USA before joining my husband in this foreign service adventure. I loved living there, and took advantage of the great running opportunities Des Moines has to offer. The IMT Des Moines Marathon and Half Marathon take place the third weekend of October. I have not run the full marathon in Des Moines, but completed the half in 2009, 2011, and 2012. It’s a great course, neither too flat nor too hilly, and not too crowded. Runners begin and finish in downtown Des Moines and run through beautiful Water Works Park and around Gray’s Lake. The marathon course winds through some of Des Moines’ older neighborhoods with fancy houses and big trees. The entry fee is pretty reasonable as far as entry fees go these days, and the post-race refreshments include a lot more than bananas, bagels, and water. Race options include a marathon relay and 5K, in addition to the marathon and half marathon. For more information, visit www.desmoinesmarathon.com.

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Whistlestop Marathon, Ashland, Wisconsin

Finish time: 3:42:29, 2010. The Whistlestop Marathon is a small race (only a few hundred participants) run nearly entirely on an old rail bed that has been converted into a gravel footpath. Its point-to-point course takes runners through beautiful fall foliage near the shores of Lake Superior. The course is flat, but don’t let that fool you; running on the soft gravel takes its toll after a while. Still, this ranks as one of my favorite marathons and ended up being my personal best. As one who shies away from crowds and prefers running in solitude, I loved the smallness of it, and the fall colors throughout were breathtaking. If you’re not up for the full marathon, there is an equally beautiful half marathon run on much of the same course. For more information, visit www.whistlestopmarathon.com.

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FANS Ultramarathon, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Best distance (12-hour run): 50.79 miles, 2011. The FANS (Furthering Achievement through a Network of Support) Ultramarathon is a great way to enter the world of ultra running. There is no set distance that runners are required to complete; instead, the race is based on time, and runners run as far as they can or want to during that time. Best of all, FANS raises money for college scholarships for urban youth in Minneapolis. The event includes a 24-hour run, a 12-hour run, and as of last year, a 6-hour run. I have run the 12-hour race twice and thoroughly enjoyed it. (My 2012 race report can be found here.)The pressure is low, as individuals are able to define their own finish line in terms of distance. For years, FANS was held at Lake Nokomis, with runners circling the 2.4 mile loop around the lake for the duration of the race. Last year, the event was moved to Lake Snelling in Fort Snelling State Park. The new loop is 2.2 miles. For more information, visit www.fans24hour.org.

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Mexico City Marathon

Finish time: 5:32:00, 2013. When I moved to Mexico to join my husband in Matamoros, I had the bright idea to run the Mexico City Marathon. I didn’t really think about how it would feel to train through the most intense heat and humidity I had ever experienced – at sea level – and then run the race at 7,400 feet above sea level. Following a particularly sweaty training cycle, we ran the first half of the race at a comfortable pace, feeling relatively strong. It was M.’s first marathon, and we were running together. At about mile 16, altitude sickness settled in and I spent the final ten miles stopping, vomiting, walking, and jogging. It was not how I’d envisioned the race at all, but we got through it and made it to the finish line. M. wrote a great race report detailing the event. In spite of the altitude, the race was a unique and exciting experience, as the course is the original 1968 Olympic marathon course, taking runners through Mexico City’s diverse neighborhoods and sights. Also, the entry fee of 300 pesos (about $25) couldn’t be beat! For more information, visit www.maratoncdmx.com.

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Longest Causeway 10K, Port Isabel, Texas

Finish time: 46:37, 2014. A great little race on the sea, the Longest Causeway 10K is held each year in January on Texas’ Gulf Coast. The point-to-point course stretches from the Port Isabel Chamber of Commerce to South Padre Island, with two miles of the race run on the Queen Isabella Causeway, the only road connecting the island to the mainland. In spite of the climb up to the top of the Causeway, the course is relatively fast, and the race is not crowded. The event also includes a walk. For more information, visit the Port Isabel Chamber of Commerce.

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Austin Marathon, Austin, Texas

Best finish time: 3:58:29, 2014. I first ran the Austin Marathon in 2006. Held in February, that year’s race happened to fall on the only frosty, 28-degree day that Austin saw all winter. I decided to give the race another try in 2014, as it was driving distance from Matamoros, and training in northern Mexico in the winter couldn’t be nearly as difficult as training in the heat of summer. A lot had changed with the Austin Marathon between 2006 and 2014. The course was completely different, and though more scenic, much hillier than the 2006 course I had run. The race takes runners through a variety of neighborhoods surrounding downtown Austin before winding through the University of Texas campus and finishing in front of the Texas state capitol. The race event also offers a 5K as well as a half marathon, which is run on the same course as the marathon until mile 11, where runners part ways. My full 2014 Austin Marathon race report can be found here. For more information, visit www.austinmarathon.com.

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