When Christie suggested (and I accepted) the 50 Marathons in 50 States Challenge to me in April of 2017, we immediately began looking for a marathon to run during the week after Christmas. With our busy schedules that week was perfect for us for me to officially begin the challenge as there is no work and no school that entire week. Pursuing through the marathon races online, we found and settled on small marathon race in Springfield, Missouri known as the Run for the Ranch Marathon (and half-marathon).
From their official website:
Run for the Ranch began in 1999 as a fund raiser for the Good Samaritan Boys Ranch, Ozark Mountain Ridge Runners, and other local charities. The event is held annually on the last weekend of the year and is traditionally one of the last chances in the calendar year to Marathon in the United States.
The race is held right next to the Missouri State University and runs through a local park and suburb area around the school. The half-marathon in 4 laps, and the marathon is 8 laps. Never having run a marathon in “lap format” before, I was looking forward to this course as it was labeled “fast and flat” which is much different than the mountain roads I train on during the year in Virginia. The average temps in Springfield, MO that time of year are in the low 40s, which is perfect in my opinion for running weather. I knew without a doubt that I would break the long-elusive 4 hour mark for my marathon time.
Mother nature however had other plans in store for myself and other runners.
The Drive to Springfield
We left early Wednesday morning (Dec. 27) and drove cross country to Springfield, MO. This was our first time driving westward as a family and we passed through West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, until final reaching Springfield the next day. The road trip was wonderful with hardly any traffic and we even stopped in the town of Santa Claus, IN for a couple of quick photos. One note of interest is that when we stopped for the night midway we found ourselves in a hotel in Ferdinand, IN which was right on the timezone line between EST and CST time. You could literally go to one side of the hotel and be on EST, and walk to the other side and find yourself in CST. Bizarre!
During the drive Christie and I were constantly checking the weather for the morning of the marathon, and with each day it did not look good. Not in terms of inclement weather, but how cold it was going to be! Early reports called for temperatures to be in the teens, with winds around 10-15 mph. Having brought all the winter running clothes I own, I was more concerned for Christie and the girls as I did not want them standing out in those freezing temperatures for long periods of time.
So upon arriving in Springfield, our first stop was at the local Walmart to stock up on some cheap, but warm, sweat shirts, sweat pants, and other winter clothing to layer on top of what we already had packed. Caitlin had also purchased a cow/buffalo critter cap in Kentucky, which became a source of conversation everywhere we went.
Passing Time Before the Race
Having a whole day to spend before the marathon, we checked out some local attractions to the Springfield, MO area. Having lived on the East Coast my entire life, I always pictured Missouri as being a very flat state. My assumption was way off as the state of Missouri is full of rolling hills and mountains, with the city of Springfield itself located on a plateau (hence the race being held on a fast and flat course). We saw several billboards and ads for cavern exploration attractions, so we checked out Fantastic Caverns in which you are given a tour via a pull cart on a tractor instead of walking through. The tour guide was super friendly with a sarcastic dry humor which made the experience fun.
We also paid a visit to Wonders of Wildlife Natural Museum and Aquarium, which is apparently built by the same company that own Bass Pro Shops. Growing up in Baltimore, MD I have been to one of the best aquariums in the world many times (Baltimore Aquarium), and I will say that this aquarium in Springfield ranks right up there with it. While not as big, some of the displays and sea life they have to look at were gorgeous.
The race was scheduled for 10 a.m., so after eating an early breakfast, packing up our stuff from the hotel, we bundled up and headed out to the course. The weather forecast was spot on as it was 18º with winds and flurries. Being a small race (roughly 100 marathon participants, 150 or more half marathoners), we were able to park right by the start / finish line. This was perfect as Christie, Corinne, and Caitlin could come out and cheer me on each time I passed through during my 8 laps, and then hop back into the car to get warm.
Having layered up with my cold weather running gear, I felt completely comfortable and super confident about breaking the 4 hour mark, even in this type of weather! We all lined up, the starter pistol sounded, and we were off.
For the first half of the race I felt great. The 3.5 mile or so lap passed through the same aide station twice, so I was sure to grab a quick sip of water each time I went through. There was not much crowd support along the race (virtually none due to the extreme cold), and with each lap us runners settled into our own pace so there was not much of a crowd running around you adding to the mental challenge. With each lap I was able to see my time and current pace and I was getting quicker and quicker, coming in around 10-15 minutes ahead of schedule at the half-way point. Then lap 5 hit.
All of a sudden, I crashed and felt my body telling me to slow down. I knew I had made the traditional mistake of heading out way too fast, something I blame on overconfidence (I ran my last half marathon in 1:38:07). Slowing down to a brisk walk pace, I began to realize my goal of under 4 hours may not happen…and I wondered if I would even be able to finish.
With the aide station coming up for the first time on lap 5, I grabbed some food in the form of a honey biscuit, and munched on that while telling myself that a good time was not important anymore. All I wanted to do was finish at this point. After eating I gradually started to feel better, and was able to pick my pace back up into a jog, and then a slow comfortable run. About this time the wind also started to pick up which was another smack in the face and test of will power.
For the last 3 laps I tried to keep a steady pace, taking a brisk walk through the aide station while drinking water / gatorade each time and nibbling on another honey biscuit I carried with me for the rest of the race. I picked up the pace for the last lap, and was able to finish with a respectable time of 4:03:26. Christie and the girls were there to cheer me on as I sprinted towards the finish, and Caitlin ran alongside me (cow / buffalo hat included) taking my hand to cross the finish line together. I faired the best I ever have after a marathon as I did not cramp up hardly at all as I made sure to keep walking after finishing. Post-race treats included water, a mug of hot chicken noodle soup, a power bar (and I snagged a couple of pieces of pizza for Corinne and Caitlin to help warm them up too).
Lessons Learned and Gratitude
While my time was not under 4 hours like I had hoped, this race served as a great learning experience for me. First of all I will be sure to not start out as quick as I did next time I am shooting for under 4 hours. I have read that advice many times but overconfidence pushed it out of my mindset for this race. Second, I know that I need to fuel better earlier during the race. Looking back I should have eaten a gel / power bar / biscuit much earlier in the race…perhaps around half-way point or a bit earlier. It would have given me the energy to avoid crashing as hard as I did. This is something I will work into my training leading up to my future marathons.
A big thank you goes out to the race marshals stationed throughout the course who sat there in the bitter cold and wind bundled up helping to direct traffic ensuring all the runners were safe. Christie, Corinne, and Caitlin also deserve an immense amount of credit for helping me through this race as they were at the start / finish area each time I passed through despite the weather. Without them there I would have faired ever worse.
Photos from Race Day
This race is part of Aaron’s 50 Marathons in 50 States Challenge:
Click on a state to see a recap of that marathon.