End of Year Recap (2009 – 2011)

Since this is my first annual recap but my third year as a distance runner, I want to go back a bit and reflect on how my running has progressed over the years.  In order to do so, I will provide a brief recap of the years 2009 and 2010 with a few stats that reflect what the year was like.  So, though I took my first steps in an actual training regimen in 2008, I will start with 2009, which is beyond a doubt where it all began.

2009 Recap

States Completed (1): Illinois

Half Marathons Run: 3
Fastest Finishing Time: 1:47:58 (13.1 Chicago Marathon)
Average Finishing Time: 1:49:32

Marathons Run: 1
Fastest Finishing Time: 4:03:21 (Bank of America Chicago Marathon)

Number of Fellow Runners: 53,169
Best Medal: Chicago Marathon
Worst Medal: Chicago Spring Half Marathon

When I ran my first half marathon in May of 2009, I had no intentions of going crazy.  I was tired, winded and in desperate need of replenishment.  My legs hurt, my face was salty and my lungs felt like they were on the verge of collapse.  Later that year, I would run two more half marathons and my first marathon, all in the great city of Chicago.  At the time, it felt like the culmination of a long process, one that ended with a respectable 4:03 finish in the bustling streets of the Windy City.

However, it was only the beginning of something much more exciting.  Something snapped in my head and my nascent hobby for distance running became an integral part of my lifestyle.  With this greater passion, I set out to run ten half marathons to commemorate the year 2010 and decided to do seven of those outside Illinois.

2010 Recap

States Completed (7): Florida, Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana, Massachusetts, California, Arizona

Half Marathons Run: 11
Fastest Finishing Time: 1:32:06 (Tucson Half Marathon* – all downhill, not my official PR)
Average Finishing Time: 1:43:02

Marathons Run: 1
Fastest Finishing Time: 4:05:22 (Bank of America Chicago Marathon)

Number of Fellow Runners: 149,526
Best Medal: ING Miami Half Marathon
Worst Medal: OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon

2010 was an incredible year for me.  I decided to focus intently on the half marathon distance, running only five short-distance races to keep things exciting.  I pushed myself harder and faster than I thought possible, breaking 1:40 for the first time in Disneyland.  Overall, I was thrilled with my progress – my average finishing time was almost five minutes faster than the previous year’s PR.  I also stepped outside of my comfort zone a few times, running warm weather half marathons in spite of my low heat tolerance.

But along the way, I got to spend time with a lot of friends from Chicago, college and even high school.  It made me realize that these races are a great excuse to reconnect with people that I don’t normally talk to on a regular basis.  In more than one case, I even managed to convince them to run the race as well, which requires more than the average amount of convincing.

I loved the experience of seeing new cities and catching up with old friends so much that my ambitions naturally expanded.  At the end of the year, I came up with the much bigger idea of running at least a half marathon in all fifty states.  And lucky for me, I had a head start with seven already under my belt.

I also set a time limit: to cross the finish line of the last state before my 40th birthday on November 5, 2022.  That meant that I’d have to do around 3.6 states a year to reach my goal right on time.  After making that calculation I thought, that’s doable.  Once I commit to this, I’ll be able to do 3, maybe 4 states every year and not go hungry trying.  A reasonable person with limited means like me would budget accordingly, prioritize and pick the most sensible states and stick to it.

But any avid runner knows that just visiting a race website is enough to plant a very persuasive seed.  Simply knowing a race is out there in a new state, with new splits, bibs, and medals is enough to get the ball rolling.  So it was with that impulsive drive that I began scheduling the great challenges of 2011.

2011 Recap

States Completed (9): Texas, Georgia, Colorado, Ohio, Michigan, Connecticut, South Carolina, Mississippi, New York
Countries Completed (1): Costa Rica

Half Marathons Run: 9
Fastest Finishing Time: 1:37:18 (Holiday Half Marathon, PR)
Average Finishing Time: 1:43:57

Marathons Run: 4
Fastest Finishing Time: 3:40:59 (Traverse City State Bank Bayshore Marathon, PR)
Average Finishing Time: 4:00:56

Number of Fellow Runners: 141,649
Best Medal: Flying Pig Half Marathon
Worst Medal: Stratton Faxon Fairfield Half Marathon

This was a great year for my racing career and one of many firsts.  I broke four hours at the marathon for the first time in Michigan, ran my first trail race in South Carolina, experienced for the first time a race above 5,000 feet in Colorado, ran my first international race in Costa Rica and learned the pains of running three marathons in nine weeks.

But more importantly, I got to experience the following for the first time: the varied tastes of Texas’ wine country, the inauguration of Costa Rica’s new fútbol stadium, the feeling of shooting a semi-automatic shotgun, the delectable morsels and thrilling rides of the Disney Food & Wine Expo, the diverse characters of all five of New York City’s boroughs, the empty slopes of Beaver Creek’s spring ski season, what it feels like to run in pitch darkness (more than once), and many, many delicious burgers.  None of these would have been possible without the hospitality and generosity of my friends and family.  I’m extremely glad to have found an activity that lets me explore the country, stay healthy and rekindle friendships with amazing people.

So now that the year is ending, I look forward to 2012 with great excitement.  It is going to be another year that goes above and beyond the 3.6-state minimum required to reach my goal on time, almost guaranteed by my new mini-goal: to be halfway done before getting married in late September.  As of this writing, I have signed up for three new states and have picked out races in the remaining five.  Though it will certainly be packed with enough running to keep me on my toes (figuratively and literally), I will definitely need to exercise prudence to avoid going overboard.  For one, escalation always comes with increased risk of injury.  But more importantly, every race I plan is a weekend away from home, which is not only a potentially costly expense, but time away from my close friends and loved ones in Chicago.

So I guess that means I have to start converting all of my friends into fervent runners.  It seems that’s my only option.

Onwards to the New Year, with expectations high and shoes laced.

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Race Medals

(Click to enlarge)

Alabama (#18)

2012 Mercedes-Benz Half Marathon (Birmingham, AL)

2012 Mercedes-Benz Half Marathon – This medal, like the Flying Pig, changes little year-to-year and for good reason: it’s a huge draw for its participants.  The iconic logo is an instant eye catcher and it’s a very classy prize for any participant.  My only gripe is that it’s the same across all three races (full, half and relay), the only changes being the ribbon and the distance written on the backside.
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Alaska

Arizona (#8)

2010 Tucson Half Marathon (Tucson, AZ)

2010 Damascus Bakeries Tucson Half Marathon – This is one of my favorite medals.  Its brown, copper color matches the race’s desert course, the design is more than just a simple drawing and the ribbon makes up for the actual medal’s monochromatic palette.  Plus, I ran this race in 1:32, so that helps.
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2015 Lost Dutchman Marathon (Gold Canyon, AZ)

2015 Lost Dutchman Marathon (Gold Canyon, AZ)

2015 Lost Dutchman Marathon – It’s fitting that a race that runs through the burnt reds and oranges of the southwestern desert under a perfect blue sky should have a colorful medal. Organizers ditched their usual subdued approach and went for a full explosion of color, from the ribbon down to the medal itself. As a novelty bonus, the sun’s heat rays rotate.
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Arkansas (#19)

2012 Little Rock Marathon (Little Rock, AR)

2012 Little Rock Marathon – This race prides itself on the size of its medals.  As other races sprout up around the country offering large prizes, Arkansas has to up the ante.  This year they went all out for their 10th anniversary in what can only be described as a huge, tacky, but loveable mess.  The medal design changes considerably every year, but it’s always enormous (the center 0, for example, is roughly the size of most normal medals).  The corresponding half marathon medal is much smaller.
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California (#7)

2010 Disneyland Half Marathon (Anaheim, CA)

2010 Disneyland Half Marathon – The Disneyland Half Marathon medal was usually a huge golden silhouette of Sleeping Beauty’s iconic castle.  For the 5th anniversary, race organizers took the castle and wrapped it in a large 5 and slapped Mickey in front to commemorate the milestone running.  It’s not as large as the older medals, but still heavy and worth the hefty registration fee.  Who knows if they’ll return to the classic silhouette, given that they created a completely new medal for the 6th running in 2011.
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2011 Holiday Half Marathon (Pomona, CA)

2011 Holiday Half Marathon – I very much enjoy this holiday-themed race and the ironically designed medal (there are no snowflakes in southern California in December).  The ribbon is also a colorful light blue with red lettering with snowflakes throughout.  A great race for just its third year.
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Colorado (#11)

2011 Horsetooth Half Marathon (Fort Collins, CO)

2011 Horsetooth Half Marathon – The Horsetooth Half Marathon and its accompanying t-shirt do the same thing: intimidate runners with its intimidating elevation chart.  Though it’s only for the first two miles that runners truly suffer through a 9% grade climb, the organizers make sure you don’t ever forget Monster Mountain.
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Connecticut (#14)

2011 Stratton Faxon Fairfield Half Marathon (Fairfield, CT)

2011 Stratton Faxon Fairfield Half Marathon – This is one of my least favorite medals and the reasons should be obvious.  The color palette is pretty ghastly, I have no idea what the lines on the left are supposed to be (though if I had to guess, I’d say waves) and the ribbon doesn’t make up for it.
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Delaware (#39)

2014 Delaware Running Festival Marathon (Wilmington, DE)

2014 Delaware Running Festival Marathon (Wilmington, DE)

2014 Delaware Running Festival Marathon – This double-loop course offered a square medal to its half marathon finishers and an oval-shaped prize to the marathoners.  The ribbons are also different colors depending on the distance and that downward arrow spins for marathoners only.  However, it’s not perfectly cut out, so the spin is a little awkward.
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Florida (#1)

2010 ING Miami Half Marathon (Miami, FL)

2010 ING Miami Half Marathon – Miami’s flashy, colorful medal has become a must-have for long-distance fanatics.  The 2010 medal is the same as the 2009 make except with a slightly different color palette and the roman numeral “VIII” written in palm trees over the top.  It’s a pretty large medal with two spinning components and a tiny diamond in the middle — definitely worth the warm, humid weather.
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2011 ING Miami Half Marathon (Miami, FL)

2011 ING Miami Half Marathon – The 2011 version of the half marathon medal added a few extra design elements.  Instead of a solid backdrop for the palm tree, organizers added the Miami skyline on one side and “Miami Famous” on the back and the ribbon changed colors from orange to blue.  Everything else runners had come to love about the design stayed the same.
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2012 ING Miami Half Marathon (Miami, FL)

2012 ING Miami Half MarathonFor the 10th anniversary of the race, organizers decided to stick with the popular spinning palm.  Though previous medals have had two separately spinning layers, this one has just one circle.  However, it definitely makes up for the fewer moving parts by being enormous.  The skyline was also moved from the inset to the top, which was a nice touch, despite Miami not having particularly recognizable buildings.  It’s a huge medal worthy of the 10-year honor.
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2013 Walt Disney World Marathon (Lake Buena Vista, FL)

2013 Walt Disney World Marathon (Lake Buena Vista, FL)

2013 Walt Disney World Marathon – With the exception of their 15th anniversary, the Disney World Marathon medal is usually a large hunk of gold, usually with Mickey ears or with the mouse mid-run.  However, for the commemorative 20th anniversary, they put together a truly elegant medal that pays tribute to Walt Disney and his most famous creation.  Similar to the 2011 ING Miami Marathon medal, it features two spinning layers, with an old-school black and white Mickey on the back and laurels gracing the sides.  It’s going to be tough to top this medal.
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2014 Lifetime Fitness Miami Marathon (Miami, FL)

2014 Lifetime Fitness Miami Marathon (Miami, FL)

2014 Lifetime Fitness Miami Marathon – Organizers abandoned their spinning palm idea for the first time in years, but the result is breathtakingly beautiful.  Not only did they retain the gold, blue and orange color palette, but they changed the axis of several spinning rings, giving this medal the look of a perpetual motion machine.  I thought they would phone it in after losing their long-standing titular sponsor, ING.  Fortunately, that did not happen and both medal and ribbon delivered on wow factor.
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2015 Lifetime Fitness Miami Half Marathon Medal (Miami, FL)

2015 Lifetime Fitness Miami Half Marathon (Miami, FL)

2015 Lifetime Fitness Miami Half Marathon – Are you starting to see a pattern? It seems like the organizers of this race pick a mold, and then add something to it every year until it becomes a bloated hodgepodge of elements. The medal is basically the 2014 design but with the tacky “MIAMI” and “FAMOUS” block letters on the side and more palm trees. Unless they “reset” their design again (like they did in 2009 and 2014), I’m a little worried for 2016.
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Georgia (#10)

2011 Publix Georgia Half Marathon (Atlanta, GA)

2011 Publix Georgia Half Marathon – It was the first year that Publix acted as title sponsor to this race.  Prior to 2011, ING was the main sponsor and the medal was either the shape of the state of Georgia or a peach.  This year, organizers decided to combine the state fruit with the capital skyline.
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Hawaii

Idaho (#24)

2012 Idaho Falls Half Marathon (Idaho Falls, ID)

2012 Idaho Falls Half Marathon – You always have to give races a pass if it’s their first year.  Though the organization and execution of the race was very impressive given the tiny field (under 200 runners) and point-to-point course, the medal is obviously lacking in design and wow factor.  Give it a few more years and they’ll probably up their zazz but for now, very forgettable.
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Illinois (#6)

2009 Spring Half Marathon (Chicago, IL)

2009 Spring Half Marathon – This was my first half marathon ever and it wasn’t until I crossed the finish line that I realized all finishers got medals.  In other words, when your expectations are nil, anything you receive satisfies you.  It’s a good thing too, because this medal is tiny, very abstract and difficult to read.  Had this been my third, fourth, or twenty-eighth half marathon, I would have been very irate.
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2009 13.1 Marathon (Chicago, IL)

2009 13.1 Marathon Chicago – This medal is the definition of race bling.  It’s heavy, it’s shiny, it’s almost ostentatious, and that’s why it’s awesome.  The only downside is that all other 13.1 races had that same design in 2009 with only the ribbon changing.  In fact, I believe the 13.1 series of races does the same medal for every race, but changes it yearly.
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2009 Chicago Half Marathon (Chicago, IL)

2009 Chicago Half Marathon – The Chicago skyline is a popular theme for most races.  The Sears Tower, Hancock Center and the Smurfit-Stone Building make up the bulk of this medal, which is actually quite heavy.
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2009 Bank of America Chicago Marathon (Chicago, IL)

2009 Bank of America Chicago Marathon – I was lucky to receive this medal for my first marathon.  In the regal shape of a shield and emblazoned with a large footprint, it was the perfect token to commemorate a year’s worth of training and nervous anticipation.  Plus, the 2008 medal was ugly.
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2010 North Shore Half Marathon (Highland Park, IL)

2010 North Shore Half Marathon – While the race course is very pretty, this medal is obviously not.  However, this can be forgiven because all runners received flip flops, a towel and a backpack, which I use all the time as a gym bag.  In the absence of this amazing swag, I would have been much  more disappointed with this boring black circle.
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2010 Rock ‘n Roll Chicago Half Marathon (Chicago, IL)

2010 Rock ‘n Roll Chicago Half Marathon – As a race with only three runnings so far, this has been the best medal of the three.  2009‘s was decent but clunky and 2011‘s was also a bit uneven (for lack of a better word).  The 2010 medal, though, was an effective use of space, neatly set in a classic circle.
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2010 Chicago Half Marathon (Chicago, IL)

2010 Chicago Half Marathon – The design changed somewhat from the year before, but veterans will recognize that it is mostly the same.  A starry arch covers the same skyline and the ribbon changed from a simple blue sash to a white and green one with the race name and logo printed on it.  A definite improvement over a safe concept (though I’m not too crazy about the 2011 design).
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2010 Bank of America Chicago Marathon (Chicago, IL)

2010 Bank of America Chicago Marathon – You’re never truly disappointed in a marathon medal upon finishing.  They could give you a wad of gum tied to human hair and you’d cherish it for that moment.  That’s how I felt about this medal.  After the post-race high, I looked at it again and thought, they had so much potential with the 10-10-10 date and this is what they did with it?
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2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon (Chicago, IL)

2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon – The race organizers kept the same simple gray circle design from the past year but added the theme of the year (“Let’s Run Together”) and a field of runners, a bit reminiscent of the 2006 New York City Marathon medal.  I liked the look, despite the fact that it didn’t trump 2009’s design.  2012’s medal came with even more detail, this time showing off the Hancock Tower instead of the more famous Sears.
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2012 Chicago Polar Dash Medal (Chicago, IL)

2012 Polar Dash Half Marathon – This is part of a series of races that was created by Team Ortho, originally in Minneapolis.  Each medal from that series was 1/4 of a larger circle, with the same basic design on each.  It’s a large, yet thin slab with stained glass pieces surrounding the center image.  It’s nice, except that this one doesn’t say “Chicago” or “Half Marathon” anywhere on it, meaning it’s probably exactly the same as the Minneapolis race (and it was also given to all 10k finishers).
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2012 HalfMadness Half Marathon (Batavia, IL)

2012 HalfMadness Half Marathon – It’s becoming popular to tack on a bottle opener to finishers medals.  As someone who prefers to proudly display his medals than actually use them (and therefore keep them in a kitchen drawer), this gimmick does nothing for me.  But I do appreciate how they minimized the sponsors and went for bright colors.
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2013 Paleozoic Trail Run 25k (Willow Springs, IL)

2013 Paleozoic Trail Run 25k (Willow Springs, IL)

2013 Paleozoic Trail Run 25k – I was very pleasantly surprised by this medal.  Given that it was an inaugural trail run of just about 200 people, this hefty, distance-specific and detailed medal comes with a colorful ribbon.  I was expecting a generic decal, so the engraved dinosaur skeleton was a huge step up.  The event was not without many flaws, but this was not one of them.
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2014 13.1 Marathon Chicago Medal (Chicago, IL)

2014 13.1 Marathon Chicago Medal (Chicago, IL)

2014 13.1 Marathon Chicago – Although the event itself hasn’t changed much since its inaugural race in 2009, the medals and sponsorships certainly have.  The original design was a giant 13.1 with a sphere serving as the point, with little else.  In the years since, Allstate took over as the title sponsor, followed by Michelob Ultra, which feature a little too prominently in the otherwise elegant, circular design.  I believe every race in the country has the same design, with only the city changing.
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2014 Rock 'n Roll Chicago Half Marathon Medal (Chicago, IL)

2014 Rock ‘n Roll Chicago Half Marathon Medal (Chicago, IL)

2014 Rock ‘n Roll Chicago Half Marathon – Some people love the medals for RNR races, some people find them too generic and uninspired.  I tend to find that at least for Chicago, the organizers go out of their way to find buildings or landmarks that aren’t the expected Sears and Hancock Towers, which I appreciate as a local.  This year features the crowd favorite Cloud Gate (more commonly known as the Bean) and a few architecturally appealing (yet otherwise commonplace) buildings.  It’s colorful, shiny, and that’s good enough for me.
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Indiana (#4)

2010 OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon (Indianapolis, IN)

2010 OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon – Worst medal ever.  Proves that even running a PR can’t distract you enough to notice you were just given a thin, dull knickknack that you can barely recognize.
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2012 OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon (Indianapolis, IN)

2012 OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon – Much better.  Organizers must have either received many complaints or noticed themselves that a race billed as the largest in the country should have a decent medal at the very least.  The design is very similar to 2011‘s, which was awesome, so no complaints from me.
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2012 OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon 500 Club Medal (Indianapolis, IN)

2012 OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon 500 Club Medal – This medal is given to the first 500 finishers of the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon.  The cutoff is usually in the 1:29 range, but high humidity slowed the field down by three minutes in 2012, allowing me to weasel my way into the exclusive club.  It’s exactly the same as the finisher’s medal except smaller, “golden” and says “500 Club” in the upper right corner.
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2014 Indianapolis Monumental Marathon (Indianapolis, IN)

2014 Indianapolis Monumental Marathon (Indianapolis, IN)

2014 Indianapolis Monumental Marathon – This race for years had given out a detailed medal with its signature logo. In 2014, they started a 4-year concept meant to entice repeat runners where each year’s medal is a different corner of a larger square. Presumably if you run the races from 2014 to 2017 you’ll be given the center circle as a bonus gift. It’s almost enough to get me to do it …
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Iowa (#27)

2012 IMT Des Moines Marathon (Des Moines, IA)

2012 IMT Des Moines Marathon – It seemed like this medal didn’t change from year to year.  It was usually a simple dark grey oval with the race logo and date beneath.  I was surprised this year to receive this golden medallion with little confetti-like bits of color.  It’s nothing special, but you can tell there was some love put into the design.  Then again, I’m biased because I scorched my old PR before earning this.
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Kansas #(32)

2013 Garmin Marathon in the Land of Oz (Olathe, KS)

2013 Garmin Marathon in the Land of Oz (Olathe, KS)

2013 Garmin Marathon in the Land of Oz – No marathon in Kansas would be complete without reference to L. Frank Baum’s iconic  novel.  This year’s medal features the Tin Man and the one thing he seeks: a heart.  It is large, cute and sharp around the edges.  The 2012 medal was yellow and featured the Scarecrow, so it’s likely that next year will be the Cowardly Lion’s debut, though I don’t know what color would represent courage.
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Kentucky (#21)

2012 Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon (Louisville, KY)

2012 Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon – This medal features a winged horse atop a fleur de lys, attached to a very colorful blue/orange ribbon.  Although it’s not as in-your-face as 2011’s medal, it was appropriately regal for its historic namesake.  I was worried that the “Presented by Walmart” would encroach too much on the design, but fortunately it’s tucked away appropriately.
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Louisiana (#30)

2013 Rock 'n Roll New Orleans Marathon (New Orleans, LA)

2013 Rock ‘n Roll New Orleans Marathon (New Orleans, LA)

2013 Rock ‘n Roll New Orleans Marathon – Some people criticize the Rock ‘n Roll medals as being all the same, but in this case I have to disagree.  Every year they warmly embrace New Orleans’ culture and try to infuse their finisher’s hunk with as much Mardis Gras as possible.  This year’s was no exception, with designers showcasing the city’s hallmark elements of jazz and masqueraded frivolity.  But what really sells it is the beaded necklace from which it hangs.
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Maine (#42)

2014 Maine Half Marathon (Portland, ME)

2014 Maine Half Marathon (Portland, ME)

2014 Maine Half Marathon – This race hands out a heavy and colorful finisher’s medal with a spinning component featuring the silhouette of a moose. Though the race itself isn’t as rugged as the medal suggests, it’s a nice addition to anyone’s medal rack. The half marathon medal is no different though, so it’s up to you to explain that to your friends and family.
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Maryland

2014 Maryland Half Marathon (Fulton, MD)

2014 Maryland Half Marathon (Fulton, MD)

2014 Maryland Half Marathon – I always downplay my expectations for small races in rural areas, so I was pleasantly surprised by this medal.  It bears the logo of the race, displays the date, uses negative space, and has a matching, colorful ribbon.  Truthfully though, I was already pleasantly surprised by the UnderArmour t-shirt that all participants get.  I guess that’s what Maryland does (in addition to crabcakes).
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Massachusetts (#5)

2010 Boston’s Run to Remember (Boston, MA)

2010 Boston’s Run to Remember – This medal is tiny.  But it is shaped like a badge, which fits the race theme of paying tribute to Massachusetts Law Enforcement Officers who have lost their lives while on duty.  In addition, it has the Boston skyline in the middle, thus serving as a nice example of big things in small packages.  The 2011 medal was similar, but in silver.
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Michigan (#13)

2011 Traverse City State Bank Bayshore Marathon (Traverse City, MI)

2011 Traverse City State Bank Bayshore Marathon – There’s nothing particularly noteworthy or outstanding about this medal, but it’s thick, robust, has all the necessary information on it, comes with a colorful ribbon and changes little year to year.  Then again, most runners go for the serene course, the picturesque Grand Traverse Bay and the small-town comfort.
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Minnesota (#23)

2012 Grandma’s Marathon (Two Harbors to Duluth, MN)

2012 Grandma’s Marathon – Every year,this race puts out a very detailed, monochromatic medal with a landmark of the surrounding area.  Recently, they’ve showcased a lighthouse, the large steel structure by the harbor, and a bridge.  This year they stepped away from more traditional designs and adopted a modern look.  I wasn’t thrilled with the aesthetic change, but I’m sure over time I’ll come to enjoy it more.
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Mississippi (#16)

2011 Tupelo Marathon (Tupelo, MI)

2011 Tupelo Marathon -The skull & crossbones medal has become a staple of this tiny, 250-person marathon in rural Mississippi.  The accessories change, but there’s always a skull.  This year they adopted a Grateful Dead theme and used a shiny, gold metal instead of their more grimy materials of years past.  It ends up looking a bit like pirate’s gold, which is great, but the font choice was less than ideal.
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Missouri (#2)

2010 Go! St. Louis Half Marathon (St. Louis, MO)

2010 Go! St. Louis Half Marathon – St. Louis is doomed to have its Gateway Arch forever represent its city … and that’s just fine because it’s a pretty awesome structure.  This medal does just that, but adds a strange, additional loop for the ribbon – I guess if the Arch had served that purpose, you wouldn’t notice it as much.  Regardless, a great medal.
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2014 Go! St. Louis Marathon Medal (St. Louis, MO)

2014 Go! St. Louis Marathon Medal (St. Louis, MO)

2014 Go! St. Louis Marathon – This is a medal that is completely different every year, but will always feature the city’s signature Gateway Arch.  It’s so iconic and instantly recognizable, so who can blame them?  This year they opted for a retro-style look, which first struck me as a play on the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign.  The ribbon is equally colorful, making this a delightful prize for a hilly course.
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Montana (#25)

2012 Madison Half Marathon (Gravelly Mountains, MT)

2012 Madison Half Marathon – Given that the race was in the middle of nowhere, fields just under 200 runners and tries its hardest to minimize its impact on the environment, I was pleasantly surprised with this medal.  I was expecting a generic circle with Hermes sandals or an American flag and instead got this nice decal with the race’s logo and altitude proudly stamped on it.  Nitpicky complaint: there’s no unique medal for the half marathon finishers.
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Nebraska

Nevada (#29)

2012 Hoover Dam Marathon (Boulder City, NV)

2012 Hoover Dam Marathon (Boulder City, NV)

2012 Hoover Dam Marathon – Calico Racing, despite putting together relatively small races, always delivers a medal befitting of the event.  This one features both the Hoover Dam and the new bypass in a square frame, along with their cat logo.  I wish they had added a date and even specified which distance was run but I suppose an event as spartanly run as this one needs to cut some corners.  Nice medal for a great race.
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New Hampshire (#41)

2014 New Hampshire Marathon (Bristol, NH)

2014 New Hampshire Marathon (Bristol, NH)

2014 New Hampshire Marathon – This is, thus far, the smallest medal I have ever received. But after the stunning views of Bristol’s autumn foliage, serene mirror-like lakes and friendly community, I would have welcomed a piece of park with a ribbon made of dental floss. But as a warning to anyone wanting a sizable medal: you won’t get one.
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New Jersey

New Mexico (#37)

2014 Shiprock Marathon (Shiprock, NM)

2014 Shiprock Marathon (Shiprock, NM)

2014 Shiprock Marathon – I tend to lower my expectations for small races such as this one, which takes place in Northwest New Mexico.  So when I finished and they handed me this colorful medal, with the outline of the titular formation cut out of the middle, I was quite happy.  Not only does it pay tribute to the giant towering Shiprock, but it doesn’t hide whatever medal you might have hanging behind it!
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New York (#17)

2011 ING New York City Marathon (New York, NY)

2011 ING New York City Marathon – New York Road Runners don’t need to hand out a flashy medal as an incentive to fill 47,000 slots, though they usually put together a nice, classy medal.  This one is pretty austere, with the skyline barely noticeable behind the year.  If this were any other marathon, I’d have a complaint or two, but given the prestige, I hang it proudly.
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North Carolina (#31)

2013 NC Half Marathon Medal (Concord, NC)

2013 NC Half Marathon Medal (Concord, NC)

2013 NC Half Marathon – This race started in 2012 with a medal email blast.  I saw it and came extremely close to signing up just to earn the racetrack-themed medal with moving parts and LED lights.  This year the organizers did away with the moving cars and changed the race backdrop to a waving checkered flag but keeping the flashing lights.  The middle is a spinning component, but both sides are the same.
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North Dakota (#43)

2015 Fargo Marathon (Fargo, ND)

2015 Fargo Marathon (Fargo, ND)

2015 Fargo Marathon – This is a race that typically gives out very wacky, colorful and gaudy medals. For 2015, they decided to fashion a medal out of a local landmark. Runners pass the art-deco theater sign about two miles from the finish, which means fatigue will probably prevent you from seeing it. The half marathoners receive the same medal in a smaller version.
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Ohio (#12)

2011 Cincinnati Flying Pig Half Marathon (Cincinnati, OH)

2011 Cincinnati Flying Pig Half Marathon – This is a perfect example of a medal that gets people out to a race.  It changes very little from year to year, often in the form of an accessory such as pilot goggles, or in the catchphrase.  But you can always count on a detailed flying pig and its haunches on the back.  I’m actually considering running the full marathon just as an excuse to get another one of these.
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2014 Air Force Marathon (WPAFB, Dayton, OH)

2014 Air Force Marathon (WPAFB, Dayton, OH)

2014 Air Force Marathon – Nothing says raw power like a fighter jet. Every year, the Air Force Marathon features a different military plane on its medal and promotional materials, and every year the medal is a crowd favorite. Each distance (from the 5k to the marathon) features the same plane, but the medals are bigger according to distance.
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Oklahoma (#28)

2012 Williams Route 66 Marathon (Tulsa, OK)

2012 Williams Route 66 Marathon – This is a race that, like the Tupelo Marathon, has developed a following for two reasons: lots of 50-staters use it to knock out Oklahoma off their list and it gives all finishers a gorgeous medal.  It changes every year, but is always inspired by vintage American automobiles and has made 26point2medals.com‘s top 3 for the last three years.  This year’s is an homage to the 1936 Dodge pickup truck and it looks fantastic.  Very colorful and with an equally bright ribbon, it will definitely stand out in anyone’s medal rack.
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Oregon (#34)

2013 Portland Marathon Medal Front (Portland, OR)

2013 Portland Marathon Medal Front (Portland, OR)

2013 Portland Marathon – This is a race that has made the Top 25 at 26point2medals.com’s yearly medal rankings every year since they started the list in 2009.  The event always gives its finishers a medal that looks like a gold coin, detailed with a place or event of local historical significance.  Routinely compared to works of art, these medals look like they belong in a fine coin collection.  After winning the top spot in the 2012 list of the nation’s best marathon medals, organizers set out to try and outdo themselves from the previous year by infusing a bit of color to the otherwise completely gold palette.  A colleague of mine compared it to a French military officer’s medal of commendation, which I suppose is an

2013 Portland Marathon Medal Back (Portland, OR)

2013 Portland Marathon Medal Back (Portland, OR)

appropriate comparison.  It does have a touch of royalty on both sides, making it for an instant eye-catcher in anyone’s medal rack.  While it is a bit small, the detail pops out once you take a close look.  The organizers also heavily emphasized their commitment to aiding and paying tribute to the 2013 Boston Marathon, which is likely why they added blue and yellow.
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Pennsylvania

2013 Philadelphia Marathon Medal (Philadelphia, PA)

2013 Philadelphia Marathon Medal (Philadelphia, PA)

2013 Philadelphia Marathon – What this medal lacks in original design or color, it makes up for it in size.  Though not the biggest medal out there, it’s much larger than it looks.  It also sports the Liberty Bell on the back with an embossed square should racers decide to engrave their official finishing time.  I wasn’t too thrilled with this classic look, as previous years have added some color to the design.
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Rhode Island

South Carolina (#15)

2011 XTERRA Trail Run Harbison (Columbia, SC)

2011 XTERRA Trail Run – I was too dehydrated and exhausted to look at this medal.  Sure, it’s pretty generic and doesn’t give you much aside from the XTERRA logo.  But then again, it fits the race’s threadbare organization and course.  I wouldn’t expect a shiny, colorful medallion for such a brutal, savage race.
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South Dakota (#26)

2012 Run Crazy Horse Marathon (Hill City, SD)

2012 Run Crazy Horse Marathon – This is one of several races that makes their finishers medallions out of clay.  I’m not entirely sure if they are individually handmade or if they’ve managed to churn them out in a more mechanical, efficient way.  Regardless, it’s a beautiful medal and shows the Crazy Horse Memorial as it will look in a few decades once it’s finished.  The leather strap and brightly colored race title also help in making this an awesome trophy.
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Tennessee (#20)

2012 Oak Barrel Half Marathon (Lynchburg, TN)

2012 Oak Barrel Half Marathon – I picked this race for the medal.  Each finisher receives this elegant, wooden prize, which displays the race logo in incredible detail.  The medal changes every year, but retains the same basic design and charm.  It’s one of my favorite medals so far.
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Texas (#9)

2011 LIVESTRONG Austin Half Marathon (Austin, TX)

2011 LIVESTRONG Austin Half Marathon – This is another one of my favorites.  Each section of the stylized Austin skyline is stained glass, matching the color palette of its titular sponsor, LIVESTRONG.  It’s elegant, classy, and the black/yellow ribbon is a delightful bonus.
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Utah

2013 Moab Trail Half Marathon Medal (Moab, UT)

2013 Moab Trail Half Marathon Medal (Moab, UT)

2013 Moab Trail Half Marathon – Finishers of this otherwordly adventure race receive a generic Project Athena Race & Adventure Series medal, regardless of the distance completed.  This is the kind of medal that disappoints me because it has absolutely none of the race components in it.  No beautiful arches, sandstone cliffs, no date, no year, not even the name of the race itself.  Though the race was amazing, I wish they would siphon money from somewhere else (offer cotton t-shirts, perhaps not offer every finisher a coffee mug) and add some zazz to their medal instead.
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Vermont

Virginia (#22)

2012 Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon (Fredericksburg, VA)

2012 Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon – This medal is large, colorful and has a different design on both sides.  The ribbon is equally patriotic and colorful, which is perfect given the race’s theme and organization.  While it doesn’t have the same epic quality as its bigger brother, the Marine Corps marathon, its a great addition to the collection.
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Washington (#33)

2013 Leavenworth Oktoberfest Marathon (Leavenworth, WA)

2013 Leavenworth Oktoberfest Marathon (Leavenworth, WA)

2013 Leavenworth Oktoberfest Marathon – Finding a previous version of this medal proved difficult, so I had no expectations of what to receive.  Plus, given how remote the race was, the course’s scenic beauty was enough of a payoff.  But this elegant bottle-opener was a big surprise.  Heavy and very tastefully designed, it’s definitely worth the trek into the mountains of central Washington.
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West Virginia

Wisconsin (#3)

2010 Wisconsin Half Marathon (Kenosha, WI)

2010 Wisconsin Half Marathon – It was the 2009 medal for this race that made me realize that not all finisher’s prizes were simple medallions, but instead could be quirky or funny.  Wanting a slice of that Wisconsin cheese, I signed up and earned this bad boy.  As far as I’ve seen, the medal always has cheese on it, with the design changing only slightly from year to year.  However, the medals for the half and full marathon are the same (both say “Wisconsin Marathon”), which can annoy some runners.
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2010 Madison Mini-Marathon (Madison, WI)

2010 Madison Mini-Marathon – The year before was the race’s inaugural year and it sported a nice, standard medal.  2010 improved on that design by incorporating the Wisconsin State Capitol and making it larger.  I approve.
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2013 Ice Age Trail Run 50k Key Chain (LaGrange, Wisconsin)

2013 Ice Age Trail Run 50k Key Chain (LaGrange, WI)

2013 Ice Age Trail 50k – I was a bit blindsided by this trinket.  After finishing my first ever 50k in a dizzying fit of exhaustion, I paid little heed to this when it was handed to me.  It wasn’t until a few minutes later that I realized nobody had given me a medal.  Instead, I had this tiny, albeit impressively detailed keychain which was the size of those pennies that they flatten at museums as souvenirs.  I won’t complain because it has already grown on me (har).  But still, they should tell you beforehand so you can manage your expectations.
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Wyoming

State 8: Arizona (2010 Damascus Bakeries Tucson Half Marathon)

It doesn’t take much to convince Jason Velkavrh to race.  Over the last two years, we’ve run fourteen of the same races with the most recent of which, thanks to Velk’s increase in training, were actual competitive endeavors.  In early November of this year, we finished the Hot Chocolate 15k within 30 seconds of each other at a very fast pace.  Afterward, over some beers at Finn McCool’s, we decided that if we were to train hard in the winter and find a chilly half marathon, we’d destroy our PR’s for sure.  After some internet research, we found that the Tucson Half Marathon was not only run in 40’s temperatures and a dry, desert climate, but also on a mostly downhill course.  So we went for it.

Tom Hines, ladies and gentlemen

After getting into Tucson via Houston, we settled in at a Sheraton on Grant Road using his vast horde of Starwood points.  The next day, we went to the Hilton El Conquistador to pick up our race packets, which had a disappointing cotton shirt but a surprising pair of wicking socks, a few vendors and little else.  While Tom Hines drove down from Tempe, Jason and I ventured into an Italian restaurant and continued our extreme carbo-loading regimen by eating what felt like an entire loaf of garlic bread.  Shortly thereafter, we met up with a very bearded Tom a few blocks away and drove to Fantasy Island, which was not a sex motel as the name suggested.  Instead, it was a series of desert trails, perfect for off-road biking.  After a brief stroll through cactus fields, we hopped back into the car and drove 7,000 feet up the Catalina Mountains, which was spectacular.

This was my first time in any desert climate, so the rising mounts of orange and brown were truly breathtaking.  We eventually made it to Ski Valley, stepped outside into the chilly air, took very deep breaths, and drove back into town.  That night we went out for a sushi dinner before calling it a night.

We were up at 4 AM sharp and out the door by 4:40.  We parked at Canyon del Oro High School and boarded a bus to the start line.  Along the way, we noticed that the shoulder of the highway was lined with traffic cones and that’s when we realized we were driving on the actual race course.  The bus eventually dropped us off on Biosphere road, though you would never have known that because it was still pitch black outside and the only lights came from two spotlights powered by generators, a cluster of heat lamps and the stars above.  With temperatures in the low 40’s and a breeze cutting over the mountains, runners were huddled together like emperor penguins around the heatlamps, conserving as much heat as possible before darting down the desert highway.  Had the speakers not been blaring 80’s power anthems, I would have sworn we had boarded the wrong bus.  There were no large banners with the name of the race, no signage, no tents – just hundreds of shivering runners waiting for 7 AM.

After hearing an a cappella rendition of the national anthem, the race organizers began the event.  I don’t know how this happened, but I remember waiting in the tiny start corral in pitch darkness … and then running in daylight.  The change was that dramatic.  The first hundred yards would set the pace for the rest of the race and that pace was fast.  Given that my half marathon PR was a 7:31 pace, I decided earlier that I would run the first half at 7:30 and then kick it into overdrive in the second half at a 7:10 pace.  But there was one snag to that operation: Jason.  He started running fast, really fast.  I caught up to him and informed him that our first split was a 6:56, hoping he’d slow down.  But he didn’t.  At that point, much like it did at the Hot Chocolate 15k, hubris took over.  As we continued the gradual downhill run, our splits stayed consistent and fast – 6:50, 7:04, 6:44.  Jason wasn’t slowing down.  Since I stop to walk at water stations (he doesn’t) I started falling slightly behind.  I kept up an unhelpful mantra, telling myself that we were going much too fast and that this pace was far from sustainable.  I was running a 10k pace, so how could I possibly keep it up for over twice that distance?  I could feel it in my breathing, but fortunately not in my stride.

I kept running at that unreasonable pace and receding into the distance, so did Jason.  My ever mounting concern about an inevitable 9th mile bonk aside, I managed to take in the scenery around me.  The sun was rising slowly over the Santa Catalina Mountains to my left, giving me an impressive 30 foot shadow that stretched over the highway and into the cactus fields.  I was expecting the heat to climb at this point, but never did I feel remotely warm.  I was definitely sweating – but the morning chill stayed with me.  As I approached mile 9, the gap between Jason and me had narrowed to only a few seconds but with a split of 6:56, the pace had stayed the same.  We crossed mile 10 in just over 1:09 and continued downhill.  For the first time, I was leading and it was looking like finishing with a sub-7-minute pace was possible …

I didn't take pictures of the race course, but this is desert and downhill, so it's the closest I have.

… until we hit mile 11.  Up until this point, the majority of the race had been run on North Oracle Road, a thin desert highway that runs southwest towards the city.  At mile 11, runners turn left onto East Hawser Street, a mile from a residential neighborhood and two from the finish.  We had seen the elevation chart earlier and knew that there was a slight incline around this part but hadn’t expected the sudden rise that it really was.  Under normal conditions, it wasn’t much of a hill.  But since our legs had been doing less work for more speed for over an hour, it felt torturous.  After slogging up to the top, we picked it back up slightly and dashed past subdivisions towards Coronado Middle School and the finish line.  Crossing the finish line in 1:32:06 was a personal best by over six and a half minutes.  Jason, however, improved his record by over ten and a half minutes by finishing in 1:33:37.  We collected our medals, stocked up on free food and took a bus back to our car.

For the next hour we would incredulously reflect on our superhuman accomplishments.  We tried hard not to fool ourselves.  It was obvious that the 1,000-ft descent was 90% responsible for our blazing times, the remaining 10% due to absolutely perfect conditions.  Temperatures were in the upper 40’s, humidity in the low 50’s (surprisingly) and winds at our backs.  But still, our impressive times were now in the books and the trip’s overall goal accomplished – not just to secure a PR, but to obliterate our PR’s.  With a time that I would not consider remotely possible on a regular course, I came home happy and proud.

Illinois (2010 Bank of America Chicago Marathon)

I’m glad I chose 2009 to be my inaugural marathon year.  Leading up to the event, I was afraid of another repeat of 2008 or worse, 2007.  As someone who doesn’t perform well in warm conditions, I was close to praying for cold weather.  Lucky for me and the 35,000+ finishers, the weather on October 11th, 2009 was chilly.  Starting line temperatures were in the mid 30’s, and by the time I finished it was still cold at around 45.  The day was overcast and there was no significant wind in any direction.  My long-sleeve shirt that I planned to remove stayed on the entire time and not once in the race did I find myself sweating.  It was the perfect way to ease someone into running additional marathons.  By teasing you with the easiest possible race, a flat, fast course in near ideal conditions, it was almost impossible to not fall into the trap of signing up for next year.

Mama and I upon finishing the 2009 Marathon, in 40 degree temperatures

Oh, if only we could be so lucky all the time.

This past Sunday was October 10th, the date of the 33rd annual Bank of America Chicago Marathon and, like three of the past four years, the event was held in unseasonably warm weather.  The ten days immediately before the weekend were all picture-perfect marathon days.  But no, for those three days, locals and visitors were treated to aberrant temperatures that cost the majority of the field new PR’s.  All throughout the week I was tracking the weather, watching both the projected Hi and Lo for Sunday slowly creep up like a game of Red Light Green Light.  It just goes to show you that ten-day forecasts are completely useless.  The so-called Hi of 62 that weather.com was predicting ten days out was as baseless as reading tea leaves.  I’ve learned to not put much faith in such canards but it’s so easy to want to believe in these meteorological soothsayers.

I kept a regular mantra throughout the week, repeating certain facts to myself in hopes of mollifying my escalating concerns.  It’s not going to be humid; the Hi will hit around 3 PM and you’ll be done long before that; your nutrition has been great this year so you won’t bonk until very late in the race, etc.  So did any of those hopes help me out in the end?  Let’s see how the day went.

The race began at 7:30 with temperatures neither warm nor cool.  Some estimates said 58, others 67.  I joined a 3:45 pace group and ran with them for the first four miles through the Loop before accelerating my pace around Lincoln Park.  Once in Wrigleyville, the race’s northernmost point, I was feeling great.  There was a constant, refreshing breeze, the shade was ample and the spectators were out in full force.  I saw Steph and my family in Old Town south of Wells & North.  My mom was waving a small Costa Rican flag while my dad taunted runners with a much larger one like a bullfighter.  It was exactly the kind of boost I needed – the sun was beginning to rise and I could feel the temperatures rising.

Somewhere around the financial district (mile 12), my right knee started to hurt as it did back in the spring of 2009.  Feeling it was like running into bad blood after years of avoidance.  I got angry.  But a mile later, it was gone.  I passed the 13.1-mile mark in 1:50, feeling confident and fast.  However, miles 14-17 would prove that my confidence was ephemeral.  By this point, the sun was out, the shade was limited and the breeze had stopped blowing.  I wasn’t going to be able to sustain my pace, so I slowed myself down to 9 minutes per mile.  I was able to keep that for about four miles, where my calves began to cramp just before Pilsen.  I slowed to a walk to relieve them and continued on my way.  Shortly after that, my quads cramped.  By the time I reached Chinatown, I was no longer running consistently.  Instead, I would run until something would seize up, then stop and walk.  After I saw Steph and my dad at the red gate in Chinatown, my right hamstring completely seized up and I had to come to a complete stop to let it settle.

From that point onward, all of my miles were in the high 11:00’s because my legs weren’t letting me run for more than a minute at a time.  At some point in that last 10k, I admitted to myself that a 3:45 time wasn’t in the books, and that a slower time than last year was very likely.  I decided that it was better to finish smiling than to continue to push hard and risk throwing up, fainting or worse.  It wasn’t until I let this sink in that I started to have fun again.  Miles 14 through 19 were painful and difficult because they were the first harbingers of disappointment.  But once I came to terms with the fact that I wasn’t the only one suffering through the rest of the course, I managed to enjoy myself.  There is certainly camaraderie in misery and I felt it.  Everyone around me was struggling, limping or leaning on someone else to placate their legs.

Though I had earned some peace of mind, the race did not get any easier.  By mile 23, the sun was out and the long northward stretch up Michigan Avenue provided no shade.  With my body relegating most of its resources to cool me down, my legs were suffering.  But I kept my pattern of running and walking until suddenly I beheld the Roosevelt Street Bridge.  I had no idea I was so close to the end, so I took off, aches and pains be damned.  With that last-minute surge of energy, I climbed the bridge, whose sidewalks were thick with emphatic spectators, turned onto Columbus Drive and crossed the finish line in 4:05:22.  Even hitting the wall so disastrously, I was only two minutes slower than last year’s time.

Walking through the finish chute, I could feel the sun beating down on my neck.  Temperatures had climbed into the upper 70’s, at least 30 degrees warmer than last year.  Given that huge difference, I wasn’t too disappointed with my time.  I got my medal, banana and cold towel and walked to Buckingham Fountain to meet up with Steph and my family.

Later at home I would check friends’ times to read the exact same story as mine.  Everyone ran quickly and confidently for the first half and then slowed down precipitously in the second half.  Once again, I find myself thinking of those who chose 10.10.10 as their first marathon.  I hope they didn’t cross the finish line thinking, Never again!  Because the experience isn’t about the weather.  If it were, marathons would only take place in the spring and they’d be held in temperate cities with mild, dry climates.  Placing all your hopes of enjoyment on something as uncontrollable as the heat index is foolhardy.  Sure, it’s easy to go home sulking because the sun robbed you of a sub-4:00 time, but that’s not the point of this exercise is it?  Although the weather wasn’t ideal (truth be told, it could have been much, much worse), it was still fun.  I hope the overall slowdown didn’t build up the field’s defenses against the running bug because I plan on continuing this hobby for many years to come.

As for what’s next on the program, there’s the Hot Chocolate 15k on November 6 and then figuring out what 2011 will look like.  I doubt I’ll be able to top this year’s spread, but I’ll definitely keep it interesting.  There’s a possible marathon in Traverse City, a few half marathons to sprinkle throughout the year for good measure, and of course, looking ahead to 10.09.11.  Until then, I’ll be recovering.

Congratulations to all finishers!