A few days removed now from the inaugural running of the All American Marathon, I am still trying to wrap my thoughts together into a meaningful and impactful review. The moments from start to finish are still so very clear in my mind. So many moments that were memorable, so much satisfaction in completing this race. If you are a frequent runner or racer, I am sure you have felt the same way I feel at some point. Sometimes you run races, and they are just that. A race. It might be well organized, it might be well attended, it may offer tons of great swag, an awesome medal etc.. You walk away from the race however, feeling sort of ho hum about it. This race was not that kind of race. At all! This race made an impact on me. Memories that will linger on in my mind forever. That is the kind of race I love to run, and because of that will surely return to run this race again.
Race morning was an early one. Actually, one of the earliest. I got up at 3am. On four hours of sleep, I bolted for the coffee maker when I walked downstairs. After a few cups, I made sure that my son was up, and took my shower. This event also included the Mike to Mike Half Marathon, which would be my son’s second race at this distance. We got ready, and left the house just after 4:30am, for the hour long drive to Fayetteville. At that time of morning, traffic was pretty nonexistent so we arrived right on schedule. I knew where I wanted to park, but had to ask one of the numerous policemen how to get there. Road blocks, and blue lights were everywhere. A quick detour of a few blocks, we parked at the courthouse. Probably about a five minute walk to the race start.
Plenty of time left until we had to head to the starting line, we donned our gear, and readied the bag for bag drop. A few minutes before 6am we walked over to Festival Park, where the race was starting. We arrived, and found plenty of space to move around. Even with over 3,000 runners, Festival Park was an accommodating starting area. We had to ask where bag drop was, which was not really conveniently located. Normally I don’t use a bag drop, but since this was a point to point race, and because my son would be finishing about two hours before me, we had to use it. That way he would have a change of shirt, and his phone at the finish for me to communicate with him via text where I was on the course.
We lined up. We just sort of made our way into the sea of runners, and tried to position ourselves between pacers that were running our approximate goal pace. Note to organizers… Pacing signs need to be bigger next year, and a corral start should be used to ease congestion. The start and first mile were pretty tight. Announcements were made, and my first sighting of Meb Keflezighi on the stage as he wished runners good luck just minutes before the race began. The National Anthem, then Ready, Set, and a boom start from a military howitzer artillery gun, and we were off. An inspirational start.
Dylan and I were off. He quickly took the lead, and I just tried to follow as we weaved our way through the sea of runners. I kept my eyes on his blue shirt so that I wouldn’t lose him. Our plan was to try to run together as much as possible until the split of the courses at mile 9. I finally caught up to him after about a mile. We circled Market House, and wove around the town center to Morganton Road. The beginning of this course is hilly and a big challenge. Right from the start. As we made our way up, and up and up, I remembered this exact portion of the race route from the only other race I’ve run in Fayetteville a few years ago. Run for the Red 10k. Back then I never even dreamed I would be back in Fayetteville running a marathon.
About four miles in on a tough uphill section, Dylan slowed down a bit. Now on the All American Freeway, the road that leads into and out of Ft. Bragg, this relatively flat section lasts about five miles. I felt good. Dylan was behind me, and slowly but surely, every time I turned around to find him he was falling further back. Eventually I couldn’t see him anymore. We passed a section here that was very inspiring, Wear Blue to Remember, tons of American Flags and picture posters of Ft. Bragg’s fallen service members. Quite touching. I saluted as I passed, and said a prayer for those servicemen and women who keep us safe.
On course aid/water/nutrition stations were abundant at this event. Every other mile for the first ten miles, and then every mile after that. It was truly amazing, and the most course support I have ever seen at a marathon. So well done, and each and every station was loaded with volunteers. To all of you, I say thank you! You were extremely supportive, and vocal. I appreciate you more than you know. Generation UCan was the lead nutrition partner on the course, and the reason that Meb was at this race. What a great product, it really kept my energy up for the duration of the race.
As the courses split at mile nine, as always, the marathon route really became less traveled. I found myself turning back one last time to see if I could give a final wave to Dylan, but still didn’t see him. I was now anxious to hear from him to see how he finished. Now on the Army Base, I felt privileged to get to see where all of the service men and women work, and live. There were Army vehicles and a few troops all along the rest of the route. Some were playing music, others just offering encouragement. We were running in their house now, so I thanked them all as I ran past them. There were many course signs offering support from the race organizers and troops along the route as well. My favorite one, I passed just before the half way point. The sign read, “When the President dials 911, the phone rings at Ft. Bragg”. I thought it was awesome!
As the race route thinned of runners, I felt pretty good. My hamstrings were holding up. I was able to keep pace, even though I was sore. Actually really sore at points, but keeping my thoughts on the troops, and enjoying the experience were more important. Race day temperatures were rising. We started the race at about 55, and with a beautiful, almost cloudless sky, the a North Carolina sunshine was warming up the race course quickly. Thankfully there was a nice breeze every now and then, but it was really quite warm. I can only assume that by the time I reached 13.1 miles, temperatures had to by then be in the mid 60’s and rising. I was sweating a lot, especially when running into the direction of the sun. Having aid stations every mile though was terrific, and much appreciated. I kept my hydration up. So much so that I had to use the restroom once on course.
I glided through mid course. I could hear the propellers of a plane in the distance, and occasionally during my run I could see a Blackhawk helicopter flying over the race route. Things you normally don’t see during a race. Running at Ft. Bragg offered many unique experiences that I will remember. Hearing that plane, I knew I was nearing Pope Airfield. I saw the transport planes with roaring engines, and had to stop to take a picture. The photo reminds me of a point in the race that I was just trying to enjoy the serenity, the quiet. Airfields normally don’t look like this, or certainly are not quiet. Racing through this section of the course was quiet.
My phone buzzed. It was Dylan. He texted me about two hours after the race began. He had finished in around 1:51:00. Not as good as his first Half, but considering the hills, a job well done! He sent me an encouraging text. “Let’s go Dad”. I was at mile 18, then 20. Chugging along. I could already see the salt stains on my shirt. I knew, racing my fifth marathon of the year, that I wasn’t going to set any personal records today. I was just trying to enjoy myself, and the run. It was so amazing. I felt blessed and encouraged. It’s still just amazing to me that I can expect my body to hold up when I put it through an experience like a marathon, much less five in five months. I was enjoying every moment.
The miles passed slower and slower during the 18-21 mile section, and this was the first time that I really felt tired. My body was aching. I had thoughts like, “how will I ever finish this.” I found strength though in the tough moments, and realized this was my wall today. I will push through it. I found strength in the encouraging words of the volunteers and servicemen and women. The signs, the cheers. I needed them. Except for a 30 second walk break during a monster of an uphill at mile 23, I ran the rest of the way, even when I didn’t want to. I was determined. I wanted that sub 4, and even though I had run a marathon just three weeks prior, I wanted to beat that time, too. I gauged my pace, and was gunning for a finish under 3:54:00. As I made my way closer and closer to the finish line at Bragg’s Parade Field, I could start hearing cheers become louder and louder. I knew I was getting closer, and I wanted to finish strong.
I could now see the finish line on the opposite side of the field. I kept my eyes peeled for Dylan. I wanted to find him in the crowd of supporters as I ran toward the finish. There he was, just about 200 yards away. He cheered as I passed. I crossed the line in 3:52:25. I received my medal from a woman in uniform, and I thanked her. I spent a few minutes catching my breath, then made my way to my son. He congratulated me, and I congratulated him. He had already put on one of my flip flops that I had put in the drop bag. He had a few bloody blisters that he had already had taken care of and wrapped at the medical tent on the field. This led me to think, for the first time, how my own lingering blister had made out. It felt a little irritated, but nothing extreme.
The post race festival was great. Tons of food, vendors and a huge stage for the award ceremony. We found some shade, and watched the winner and other runners receive awards. I felt pretty good, just tired. There were Army vehicles parked on the field. There was a circle spray painted on the field for paratroopers to land in, as they dropped out of the sky. Members of the 82nd Airborne unit. It was the perfect ending to an inspiring and amazing race. Then we got to meet Meb, winner of the Boston Marathon. He was so kind, and autographed my race bib and medal ribbon. He was down to Earth, and it was such an inspiration to meet him. I will never forget it. It was an amazing day. We took a shuttle back to Fayetteville, a race provided amenity.
Top notch event! Amazing day, and inspiring in every way. This one was special, very special. It was not just any old race. It was well thought out, planned and executed. Amazing for an inaugural event. This event will grow and grow, and my hope is to return and run it again and again.
Chip Time: 3:52:25
9/68 Age Group
I couldn’t have asked for a better day. I got to share it with my son. The weather was beautiful, and the race was truly amazing.