Running in a Football Stadium

As I was looking over the races I have done, I noticed I have run through several iconic stadiums and tracks, places where famous races and sporting events are held.  It is one of the more enjoyable aspects of running races – I get to go places I would otherwise never see.

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Inside Lambeau Field

This past weekend I ran the Green Bay Half Marathon where I ran around the inside of Lambeau Field.  I am not a big football fan but I have to admit Lambeau Field is impressive.  The stadium is the oldest continually operating NFL stadium.   Inside the stadium, there is a 50-foot tall chrome replica of the Lombardi Trophy.  Weighing 14.5 tons, it is reported to be the largest object ever covered in chrome.  No kidding.

The world's largest Lombardi Trophy

The world’s largest Lombardi Trophy

Just like the trophy, the stadium is huge with seating capacity for over 81,000 people.  The only thing bigger in Green Bay is the residents’ enthusiasm for their home football team, the Green Bay Packers.  I can’t describe it.  It is something you need to go to Green Bay and see for yourself.

Running down the warning track in Anaheim Stadium

Running down the warning track in Anaheim Stadium

The course for the Disneyland Half Marathon included a lap around the warning track of Angel Stadium of Anaheim.  There was a camera on the runners as they ran past home plate so they could see themselves on the Jumbotron.   I was amazed at how thick the grass was in the outfield.  I use to think that it must really hurt to dive to catch a ball.  Not after I saw that grass.  It is so thick it would be like diving into a very thick mattress.  (For comparison, the turf at Lambeau Field was nowhere near as thick as that baseball field. )

The entry into Churchill Downs

The entry into Churchill Downs

In 2015 I ran the Kentucky Derby Festival Mini-Marathon where we ran a lap on the infield at Churchill Downs.   The marathon was a couple of weeks before the Kentucky Derby.  While we were running on the infield, there were horses out exercising on the track.  I am not sure if American Pharaoh was among them but it is exciting to think that the future Triple Crown winner was running there too.

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The Olympic Stadium in Berlin

In Berlin I ran the Breakfast Run, a free 6K run the day before the marathon that helped tame pre-race jitters.  The race started at Charlottenburg Palace and ended on the track at the Olympic Stadium, site of the 1936 Summer Olympics.  Etched into the wall was a list of the winners of those Games, most famously Jesse Owens who won four gold medals.  Lots of history there.

IMG_4803Just a few weeks ago, I ran around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indianapolis 500.  The speedway is by far the largest venue I have ever seen with seating for 250,000 – 300,000 people.   Thankfully we did not run on the banked part of the track – that would have been painful.   I ran one lap around the track – 2.5 miles.   Race car drivers have to complete 200 laps in the Indy 500.

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DECC, site of Grandma’s Marathon Expo

So far I have run on a professional baseball field, a horse racing track, a historic Olympic Stadium, an auto racing track, and a professional football field.  I don’t know of any races that go through professional basketball courts, tennis courts, or golf courses.  I can guarantee there aren’t races on hockey rinks, though I do recall that the Expo for Grandma’s Marathon was held in Pioneer Hall and Curling Club at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.

Next year I plan to run the Eugene Half Marathon in Oregon.  The half marathon course ends in probably the most iconic track and field stadium in the US, Hayward Field at the University of Oregon.  Some of the legendary runners who have competed on that field include Alberto Salazar and Steve Prefontaine (also known as simply “Pre”).  Bill Bowerman was a long time track and field coach at the University of Oregon.  Bowerman became well known for making running shoes for members of the University of Oregon track team using his wife’s waffle iron.  He later co-founded Nike with Phil Knight.  Running on Hayward Field will be the perfect way to round out my races through iconic sports stadiums and tracks.

Future Runners

I just read a Wall Street Journal article (May 6, 2016, “The Running Boom Goes Bust”) that declared running was declining in popularity. According to this article, millennials aren’t running as much as baby boomers. The article stated 2013 was the peak year for finishers of foot races with 19 million. Since then, the number of finishers has decreased, only 17 million in 2015. They cited a number of reasons for the decrease including higher race entry fees (due to higher security costs and permit fees); increased interest in studio-based activities like spin classes and CrossFit; and a fear of competitive events (no kidding).

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 9.32.11 PMI, for one, am not ready to sound the death knell for my chosen sport. The statistics cited in the article were focusing on people age 18 to 65+ years old. The article completely ignored younger kids who are getting involved. There are plenty of events geared towards kids 10 years old and younger. These events are getting a whole new generation interested in running.

In conjunction with the 500 Festival in Indianapolis, they have two events for young runners – the Rookie Run and the 500 Festival KidsFit. The Rookie Run is for kids between the ages of 3 and 10 years old. They run an age-based distance of 2 blocks for the youngest runners to 1/3 mile for the older kids. The participants get t-shirts and medals. The 500 Festival KidsFit is a 10-week program of lessons and activities to promote healthy lifestyles and exercise. The kids in the program run one mile each week before finishing the final 3.1 miles of their half marathon along the Finish Line 500 Festival 5K course. For kids it would be especially exciting because the grandstands are full of cheering spectators for the Indy Mini-Marathon and 5K. I am certain that there will be future runners among participants in both the Rookie Run and the KidsFit program.

There were also younger runners who entered the Indy Mini-Marathon.  A newspaper article about this year’s Indy Mini-Marathon had an interview with Henry DeRyke who at age 12 ran the race alone. He finished in 2 hours and 3 minutes. I love his comment “I just like to run.”  Henry is not unusual.  I am seeing more young runners – as young as 12 or 13 – entered in the half marathons I run.

In Birmingham, Alabama there is a Kids Marathon the day before the Mercedes Benz Marathon/Half Marathon. The Kids Marathon is for kids in grades Kindergarten through 5th grade. Over the course of 5 months, they run or walk in a training program in increments – 1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, 3/4 mile and 1 mile – logging each run. They run the final mile of their 26.2 mile marathon on the actual marathon course.  They had a motto “If you had fun, you won!”  What a great idea to plant in a future runner’s head.

Young runners in Birmingham - each grade level wore different colored shirts

Young runners in Birmingham – each grade level wore different colored shirts

I watched the Kids Marathon when I was in Birmingham. Most of the young runners I saw were smiling and enjoying the cheering spectators. The announcer said every kid’s name when they crossed the finish line. They each received a special medal. I saw a boy running with a little girl – they looked to be about 5 or 6 years old. As they passed me, I heard the boy tell his running buddy “I am glad we entered this race!” The smile on both their faces confirmed it.  Yes, I think they will be running more races.

At the Berlin Marathon, there is the Bambini Run and the Mini-Marathon. The Bambini Run is for kids up to age 10. The kids run or walk 500 or 1000 meters. There is also a Mini-Marathon for kids aged 10 and older where they run the last 4.2195 K of the official marathon course. Last September over 1500 kids participated in the Bambini Run and over 10,000 ran the Mini-Marathon. Nope, no death knell there either.

There is one thing that does worry me. I have run a couple of races where parents were participating with their kids. Some of the kids didn’t look like running a race was something that they wanted to do. During a Santa 5K last December, I saw a boy stopped at mile 1 in tears. He told his father he couldn’t keep running. But Dad was urging him along with “there couldn’t be many 6-year olds running the race” so he could win. One look at his red, tear-stained face made me sad. There wasn’t any of that Brooks “Run Happy” stuff going on for him. Later in the same race, as I neared the finish line, I passed a little girl who was struggling to catch up to her mother (a woman who looked like she could be a Boston Qualifier). This young girl looked absolutely miserable while her mom yelled back at her to keep running.  She picked up her pace a bit, probably to hasten the end of her misery.

While I like to see parents getting their kids interested in running, maybe their approach needs to be a bit different. I realize that some kids might throw out that “I can’t” excuse (one of my personal favorites as a kid) to get out of running.  It might work better if they let the kids set their own pace. Kids don’t regularly run 3 miles in gym class in grade school. They are busy sitting at their desks. What might seem easy to a parent who runs a few times a week could be a bit more of a struggle for a little runner who doesn’t.   There shouldn’t be crying in races.  They should be happy.  It would be dreadful for a kid to grow up hating to run.   They shouldn’t feel like running is punishment.Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 9.39.45 PM

I am happy that race directors are creating events that will generate excitement among younger kids about running.  I often wish someone had gotten me started running when I was younger. It would have been easier for me back in my youth to run the races that I have on my ”to-run” list. While millennials are headed off to spin class and CrossFit, I still find the easiest and cheapest exercise is lacing up my running shoes and heading out the door for a run.  I am hoping those future runners do too.

Racing Meb

IMG_4788Last weekend I headed to Indianapolis, Indiana to run a half marathon – State #30 on the road to running in all 50 States.  I picked this particular race – the Indy Mini Marathon – because the course included a lap on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  There isn’t any other way I would be able to get on that iconic track and kiss the bricks.

But that wasn’t going to be the most exciting part of the race.  The race organizers had arranged for Meb Keflezighi to make an appearance at the Expo.  On race morning, Meb was going to start the first two waves of runners before heading to the last corral and running the race himself.  It would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for amateur runners like myself to run with one of the most famous competitors in the running world.

To make things more interesting, they had a contest where the participants in the Indy Mini Marathon were asked to predict how many people Meb would pass before he reached the finish line.  The person who predicted the closest number received a free registration for next year’s race.

Don't climb this before you run the Indy Mini

Don’t climb this before you run the Indy Mini

Race morning I was a bit sore from all the sightseeing I had done the day before the race.  Among other things, I had climbed 330 stairs to the top of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument and my quads were sore.  No amount of stretching had helped me.  [Note to self: no climbing hundreds of steps the day before a race.]

It occurred to me when I got into my corral that I was going to be racing Meb.  Well, it wasn’t actually racing.  My corral started at 8:00 AM but Meb didn’t start running until after the last corral was off at 8:30 AM.  It was more like Meb was giving me a 30-minute head start.  Regardless, I was going to do my best to stay ahead of him.

The course took us out of the downtown area towards the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  I think there was more on-course entertainment than any other race I have run.  The Rock ’n’ Roll races claim to have entertainment every mile.  This race seemed to have entertainment on every block.

IMG_4803When I reached the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at Mile 5, I was stunned by the size of the grandstands.  I later read that they have seating capacity for between 250,000 and 300,000 spectators.  I did stop and kiss the bricks but only because I knew everyone would ask if I did.  As I headed out of the speedway after Mile 8, it occurred to me that Meb hadn’t passed me yet.  Good, I thought, I must be running pretty well.

I was approaching the Mile 10 marker when I heard people yelling behind me “Meb’s coming! Meb’s coming!”  I turned to see a group of runners in neon green singlets weaving through everyone on the course.   Meb was in the middle of them.  He was running with 5 very fast young men who had “Meb’s Crew” printed on the back of their singlets.  Before I had a chance to pull out my camera, they had zoomed past me.  I picked up my pace in a vain attempt to catch up to them.  But my quads were still screaming at me from climbing the monument the day before and I couldn’t run fast enough.

I later learned that Meb had stopped for selfies and high fives with the runners he passed.  What a thrilling experience that must have been for them.  As he approached the finish line, Meb grabbed the hand of a man running next to him.  They crossed the finish line together, arms raised, in a scene reminiscent of his finish at the 2015 Boston Marathon when he did the same thing with Hilary Dionne.  Oh, to have had that honor – I would have been over the moon.  In case you were wondering, Meb passed 15,327 runners/walkers during his race (over 30,000 people were entered).IMG_4651

I love Meb.  I have been privileged to meet him twice, including the 2015 USA Half Marathon Invitational where I took a selfie with him at Mile 6.  He is the most gracious, approachable professional athlete in any sport.  He deserves all the praise and admiration that people bestow on him.   Seeing him at the Expo and again during the race just made me admire him even more.

Wow – They Did It Again!

I have written about some pretty determined people over the last couple years.  People who ride bikes for thousands of miles, over deserts and mountains.  People who swim in the coldest waters on Earth or run across the Sahara Desert.  They leave me shaking my head in disbelief of their incredible feats.  Recently I came across news articles about two of the people I wrote about back in October 2014.  It was interesting to read about their latest adventures.

First there is Reza Baluchi.  Back in 2014 he was trying to “run” in a bubble from Florida to Bermuda, a distance of 1,033 miles.  His bubble looked like one of those balls you can put a hamster in to run around the house.  From what I read it sounded like he wasn’t well prepared for this adventure.  It didn’t surprise me that 3 days after he departed, he sent up a signal to the US Coast Guard (USCG) to rescue him when he was 70 nautical miles off the coast of Florida.

Reza is one determined man.  He spent the last 18 months redesigning his bubble and training.  His training plan consisted of jumping rope in a sauna (it gets very hot in the bubble – up to 120 degrees) and running 20 miles a day.  A couple weeks ago he announced that he was ready to head out again.  This time his goal was to trace the Bermuda Triangle – Miami to the Bahamas then south to Puerto Rico and then back to Miami.  I have to hand it to him.  Reza dreams big.

The USCG warned him not to start his adventure.  They don’t want to spend a lot of time and money plucking people out of the ocean when it can be avoided.  The USCG deemed his “hydropod” unsafe.  While Reza planned to be rolling around out in the Bermuda Triangle for five months, the USCG picked him up 3 days after he started.  I hope that Reza picks a new goal but maybe he believes the third time is the charm.  Time will tell.

One of the other people I wrote about in October 2014 was William Trubridge, a New Zealander who free dives (diving unaided).  Free diving is one of the most dangerous sports I have come across.  Deaths are not uncommon.  I had watched a documentary about his attempt to break his own world record free diving to a depth of 300 feet.  For his dive, William went to Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas, the deepest blue hole in the world at over 660 feet deep.  William can hold his breath an astonishing 7 1/2 minutes.  I still cringe when I watch him prepare for a dive.  William contorts his body in ways that seem totally unnatural.

William is another person who isn’t ready to quit.  He recently broke his own world record with a free dive to 122 meters (over 400 feet).  Two days later he decided to have another go at it.  He broke his own world record again by diving 124 meters (almost 407 feet).  He admitted later he struggled a bit coming back up on the second dive.  He was having trouble focusing on his ascent and was worried whether he would blackout when he came to the surface.  I wonder if the water pressure from being down so deep is doing something to his brain.  It can’t be good.

If you look at marathon runners next to people like Reza and William, what we do looks pretty tame.  Running around some city’s streets for a few hours?  Mere child’s play.  When I am done running the 50 States and the 6 Major Marathons, I will want a new adventure.  I can guarantee you it won’t be running around the ocean in a ball or free diving.  There is plenty of adventure to be had other ways.

Interested in learning more about Reza Baluchi?  Check out his website (runwithreza.org) to learn more about him.  According to his website, he has completed several marathons and a few ultra marathons.  In 2007, Reza ran around the perimeter of the United States, a distance of over 11,700 miles in 202 consecutive days. 

Here is a YouTube video of William Trubridge’s 122 meter dive.  You can also visit his web site for more fascinating videos.  http://williamtrubridge.com