The Journey to the Start
Full Marathon Course
Deciding to start running a marathon is not an easy decision, but somehow it was for me. The only race I had run prior to that decision was a 5 mile Turkey Trot. Yet, a marathon didn’t seem that daunting. I had been running regularly, and I was training for a half marathon the year before until I missed the sign up window. I didn’t want to pay the cash if I wasn’t sure I could finish. I reached 10 miles as a maximum run in 2011. That told me that I could take on a race longer than a half marathon. I call it optimism, but I think it was more like ignorance. It made sense at the time. Either way, on January 1, 2012, I signed up for my first marathon, The Air Force Marathon located at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, OH. At the same time, I signed up for my first half marathon as well, The Flying Pig Half Marathon in Cincinnati, OH.
Half Marathon Course
I googled free training plans and found one to start following immediately. I used Hal Higdon’s novice half marathon training plan to get me ready for May. However, I couldn’t follow it religiously, because I had also decided to sign up for a Tough Mudder in April. So, I ran 3 times per week using Hal’s principles of gradually increasing my long run length, and then twice per week, I ran half of the long run distance. The other days, I did various P90X workouts to prep for the Tough Mudder. Prepping for all of these races at the same time, didn’t seem to be too much. I had the running bug. I was invincible, I could do anything!
10K Course Map
I suppose at this point I should back up. I started running, because I needed to shed some unwanted sympathy weight from when my son was born in 2009. I looked at Christmas pictures, and I looked like my body was swollen from some sort of infection, but I wasn’t sick. I was just fat. The scale cracked 200 pounds, and that was enough. I used to love running, but my knees were degenerating, and I was forming arthritis before the age of 30. When I was 20, I had my ACL repaired and lost a lot of cartilage in a nasty flag football injury. My doctor advised me to stop running. So, I did. However, I HAD to lose weight. So, I started running again. I thought if my knees only have so many miles on them, I might as well enjoy them while I can, and I kept running. My knees started feeling better. I went to the Orthopedist to have my knees checked, and they hadn’t worsened. So, I kept running.
The Tough Mudder was awesome, and I learned a lot running the Flying Pig Half Marathon as my first significant race. I cranked up the training and modified Hal Higdon’s Novice Marathon training plan. I plugged away and ran the 20 miler and tapered. I was so excited that I had trouble keeping my taper runs at a normal pace. I couldn’t help but run fast. Before I knew it, I was ready for my first Marathon!
2013 Tech Shirt (picture courtesy of Air Force Marathon)
I went to the expo 2 days before the race and zipped by all of the vendors. I’m not a big vendor person. I feel like they are trying to sell me things that I don’t need, and the discounts aren’t very significant. I’m sure many people feel otherwise, but it isn’t my thing. However, there were quite a few vendors there from the local area. In the past few years, I’ve come to realize that the expo is actually quite good from a vendor perspective. It is the same every year, and if you are an expo person, this is a good one with a lot to purchase. The major running stores in the area set up large spreads along with tons of other vendors. The bib and t-shirt pick-up is very organized if you bring your bib number with you, because everything is organized by number and not last name. Every year, you receive a tech t-shirt and running hat. In 2012, 5k and 10K participants received regular t-shirts, but in 2013, they received short-sleeved gender specific tech shirts. Similarly, the half and full participants received long-sleeved gender specific tech shirts. I like them for my workouts. Overall the expo is very nice and organized, and since it is at a basketball arena, there is plenty of parking.
On Your Mark, Get Set…
Parachutists at the start
…and get there EARLY on race day. They usually open the parking lots 2-3 hours before the start of the full marathon and the 10K. I recommend getting there within 30 minutes of the gates opening. There is ALWAYS a huge line of cars waiting to park as the gun goes off. Do not forget that you are parking on an active Air Force base, so security is very important. There are 3 entrances to the parking area and each has a long line if you don’t arrive early. You will also have a long walk to the start line. It can be close to a mile depending on where you park, so be prepared for that. You will walk past the United States Air Force Museum on your way to the start line. If you aren’t too tired, be sure to take a recovery walk around the museum after the race. It is free and definitely worth your time. There are plenty of portable bathrooms set up between the parking lot and the start line. I’d skip the first line of them as you walk from the parking lot. These are always jammed, and there are more than enough right next to the start line, so don’t waste your time in a long bathroom line when you don’t have to.
B2 flyover at the start
As you get close to the start line, there will be an area for runners and spectators to have any bags searched. You can thank the issues in Boston for this, but I find it to be only a mild inconvenience. Again, you are on a military base. Safety will always come first.
If you get there as early as I do, you will have plenty of time to check your bag and rest. Feel free to bring an old mylar blanket you received at a previous race or a grungy sweatshirt to put on the ground and sit to rest your legs. There are no corrals, so there is no need to go claim your spot at the front of the start corral. There is plenty of room. You start on an old airplane taxi-way/runway, so there is no need to elbow your way to the front. The road is very wide at the start.
The featured aircraft for 2014, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (picture courtesy of Air Force Marathon)
There are signs that give suggested places to line up according to your pace. There will also be pacers that arrive close to the start time and line up. You can use their spacing as well to gauge where you should be standing. If you are using a pacer, feel free to go say hi to them. You’ll be with them for a few hours, you might as well be friendly.
When it’s time to start, the announcer will let you know, and assuming federal funding permits it, there will be a flyover of the featured aircraft for the race. My first was the B2 Stealth Bomber. Pretty amazing if you have never seen one flying. This upcoming year, it will be the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Here’s hoping for a flyover.
…and they’re off (Picture courtesy of Air Force Marathon)
BOOM! Woh! That isn’t your normal start gun. Was that a cannon? Yes, yes it was. The race starts down a very wide old runway. This portion of the base used to be an airfield, but has been changed into an office park over the years. Luckily, the wide runway still exists, so there is plenty of room to let the race thin out. Save your energy in this long straightaway, because you are about to hit the hill. Within the first 2 miles, you will ascend a hill that is roughly a 300 foot elevation climb that lasts a mile. I know this hill well. I use it in my weekly training. If you don’t believe me, look at the race elevation chart below. Conserve your energy here. This is the largest climb, but if you burn out now, you’ll never make it up and down the series of hills that mark the final 6 miles of the race. More on these later.
Full Marathon Elevation Chart
After the hill, you continue to circle Area B of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB). As you are beginning to exit Area B, the Full Marathon and 10K will split at Mile 3. The 10K will head back to the Air Force Museum and the Full Marathon will turn towards WPAFB Areas A and C. It’s a couple miles to get there, and there are some small hills here. Make mental note of them. You will be running the other way on your way back to the museum. They don’t seem like much now. They will hurt later. Before you enter Area A, you will take an on-ramp to the highway. As you probably can guess, it is a pretty tall one. So, take it easy up the hill. You will also be coming up the other side on your way back much later.
Once on base, you will run past the Air Force Materiel Command headquarters. Then, you will run through some brick base housing. There will probably be a few officers and their families out cheering for you. However, in general, this marathon is not a spectator marathon. They do not let people on the base just to watch the races. A person has to have a valid military ID in order to gain access. Otherwise, people can see you in only a handful of places: at the start and finish, on the course by Wright State University, and in Fairborn where the largest crowd support will be located. The people that come out in those areas are great. However, the rest of the race is relatively spectator-less. The race does excel at trying to find entertainment along the way for you, and the hydration stations hold a contest for the best station. So, you will see plenty of fun things from them. One of my favorites last year was the station dressed up as minions from Despicable Me dancing to the movie soundtrack. It was pretty funny, and I was partially delirious. It was a nice combination.
This is what mile 20 of your first marathon looks like
Once you leave Fairborn around mile 10, you will reach the boring part of the race. Miles 10-20 are mindless. You will run around the back of Area C and have a nice view of the flight line and the hangars where some C-17s are stationed. You will also pass right by Huffman Prairie
where the Wright Brothers perfected their airplane design. Then, you are out of the base at Mile 21 and climbing the highway again. This hill is tough. Slow down and take your time. You will come back down the other side and have some time to recover before you hit the Kaufman Rd hills that you already ran up on the way to Area A. However, your legs are heavy now, and you will see many, many people walking. Fight the urge. I didn’t and gave in during my first marathon. I noticed I was going up the hill for the highway very slowly and decided I could walk the same speed. Once I did that, I lost my stride, and I ran/walked the rest of the way. My time suffered horribly. It was my first marathon. I’ve learned a lot since then.
Once you pass the stoplight and see the old power plant on your right, you are done with the last uphill of the race. It is literally all downhill from there. Let gravity and the crowd carry you home.
Where’s the Bling?!
2013 Finisher Medals (picture courtesy of Air Force Marathon)
Congratulations, you are done! If you need medical assistance, there are people waiting to help you as you cross the finish line. Don’t be shy or too proud. These volunteers are amazing. If you are able, make your way to one of the uniformed officers who will hang a medal on your head. Colonels and Generals frequently volunteer to hand out medals. It’s one of the things that make this race special.
The face of exhausted satisfaction
Once you have your medal, get your picture taken or head for the free food. There is always a ton. There are usually sports drinks, water, chocolate milk, cookies, bagels, bananas, and La Rosa’s pizza. All free. I usually do skip the pizza. It is the last thing I want after running. However, I do take advantage of my free beer ticket. There is also a ton of more food to buy. LaRosa’s also sells pizza, and Chick-fil-a is usually there as well.
Once you are semi-recovered, you can go grab your official results at the results tent, grab your bag from bag check. Hopefully, you brought a change of clothes. Go change your clothes and walk around the Air Force Museum proudly displaying your medal to let all of the lactic acid flush from your system.
Overall, this race is top-notch. My two complaints are the lack of spectators, and the hills are in the worst spots. Otherwise, it is a pretty flat race, and it is extremely well-organized. Last year, I ran the 10K and half marathon instead of the full marathon. The 10K starts an hour earlier than the half marathon, so if you can finish that in under an hour, you can run both. However, you can’t wear both bibs at the same time, or you won’t have your time recorded for one of the races. My wife was my pit crew last year, and I switched bibs between races. It worked out well. I’d probably do that again. Since this is my hometown race, I’m admittedly biased, but it is definitely worth running. Just make sure you arrive early, and you train on some hills.
In case you were curious, the run/walk up the hill to the highway destroyed my time. I was on pace for a 4 hour marathon, and I ended up at 4:34. Not bad, but not good either. If you are going to only run 1 marathon. This is a good one if you live close, but I’ve always said if you are going to only run one and only one, it should be in Disney World. That may be my next race review. Also, I may change my mind as I run more Marathons. I learned a lot during this race. I also learned that running a full marathon isn’t twice as hard as a half marathon. It’s more exponential than that. However, the satisfaction of running a marathon is exponential as well.
I thought I was invincible before I started training for a marathon, but now I’m a marathoner. My invincibility disappeared around mile 20. I’ve gained perspective. I may not be invincible, but I’m certainly at the very least hard to stop.
For more information on the Air Force Marathon races, please click here.