Earn Your Mittens Challenge, Part 2: Kalamazoo Marathon

If you are new to my blog, first let me say welcome and thank you for checking it out. If you want to know how my race went, keep reading. If you are more interested in hearing what I think of the Kalamazoo Marathon in General, scroll down to where it says “Overall Review of the Kalamazoo Marathon.” You can also read how my wife did in her second half of the Mitten Challenge Here

So how do you follow up a tough marathon that included battling 25-40mph winds? Drive three hours right after you finish and do it again the next morning.  That’s basically what the Mitten Challenge is all about.  

Following the completion of the Wisconsin Marathon, getting a quick bite to eat, and putting on some warm clothes, we walked back to the car, and started the three hour drive from Kenosha to Kalamazoo, MI.   Other than getting confused by the GPS directions on the south side of Chicago and getting diverted for about 10 minutes, the drive to Kalamazoo was uneventful.  

Since I was running the mitten challenge and Tina was running the half and half challenge, we had the option of picking up our race packets on race day.  All other runners do not get that option and need to get their packet at the expo the day before.  However, Tina and I were able to get to the expo in plenty of time, so we got our packet and took advantage of the time to stretch out our legs some.  The expo was held at the Wings Event Center. The expo had about 20-30 vendors including races, sponsors, and some running gear for sale.  Picking up the packet was quick and easy.  They also had a location to exchange your shirt if you were not happy with your sizing.

After finishing up at the expo, we made our way to the hotel in downtown Kalamazoo.  It was the host hotel and cheapest we found.  It was a pretty nice hotel.  We felt a little out of place with our gym bags, back packs and cloth grocery bags full of food. Once again, after getting everything in the room, we went to explore what Kalamazoo had to offer.  

After running a marathon and half marathon that morning, we felt it was important to get the legs moving to keep them from getting stiff for the next morning.  We found quiet a few shops but most of them were closing up for the night (around 6:00).  We did find a restaurant to eat at which had some good burgers.  Typically I don’t eat burgers the day before a marathon (ok, I never eat burgers the day before a marathon), but I wasn’t truly racing the next day and it just sounded so good, and it was.  We did a little more walking before heading back to the hotel.  Both Tina and I crashed hard and early as we were both exhausted. 

Sunday morning, our alarms went off at 5:30. We got ourselves out of bed (very slowly) and got ready for the mornings run, packing our bags and checking out of the hotel.  In the lobby of the hotel was bottles of water, fruit, granola bars, and bagels for runners to enjoy. Love when hotels do this.  From the hotel, you had the option to drive to the start line on your own or take the shuttle.  We were not planning on coming back to the hotel so we drove ourselves.  

One thing I wish we did the night before was drive to the starting line.  We were a little confused that morning on where it was but we eventually found it in plenty of time. We arrived early as we usually do but did do for other reasons.  Since we were both there as part of the Mitten Challenge and the Half and Half Challenge, they asked all runners taking part in these challenges to be there early for group photos. 

Half and Half Challenge

Mitten Challenge runners

After pictures we basically just stood around and waited.  With the marathon the day before and just wanting to finish on this day, I didn’t even consider doing a warm up.  As runners started to line up according to pace, I was unsure of where to start. I started with the 4 hour pacer. I didn’t really think it would take me 4 hours but thought it might be a slow start so it would be a safe place for me to start from. With the half and full marathon starting together, this provided a lot of runners to run with from the start. 

View from where I started.  Somewhat of a new perspective for me.

For the first time in a few years, I choose to wear headphones and listen to music off and on during the marathon. I did this just to keep relaxed and possibly keep my mind off the soreness and just enjoy the run. No pressure.  The great thing about the AfterShokz Titanium Headphones is that you can listen to music and still hear conversations going on around you and also have conversations with other runners while still listening to music. 

The gun went off and we walked to the starting line.  Once at the starting line, we started to run.  My legs were giving me the first signs of how they felt, and they felt a little stiff as expected.  No surprise.  As I ran the first mile I felt them becoming lose and running was becoming more comfortable.  I made my way to the outside of the pack to make sure I was able to pass runners with ease until I was running with those who were going more of my pace.  Mile 1 was flat, miles 2 and 3 offered a down hill. Mile 3 took both the half marathon and full marathons through downtown which was a very nice section of the course. Splits were 8:14, 7:58, and 8:03. Mile 4-9 all had a net elevation gain. During the 4th mile, the half and full separated. The full went straight, the half made a right turn and started making its way towards the campus of Western Michigan University (home of the Broncos).  Mile 4 was run in 8:26 and mile 5 was in 8:19.  At this point, the uphills were very minimal.  Mile 6 is where we saw the first hills as we entered campus.  Nothing to serious, just a couple of climbs, about 85ft of elevation change.  Mile 6 was run in 8:18 and just like that, we were off of the campus.  


At this point, I am just trying to keep relaxed.  The question was still going through my head, when will I have to walk?  Mile 7 was completed in 8:24. A pack of 4 women along with a couple of guys came up around me. Conversations started between the group. It was obvious the women were all there running together as they were dressed exactly alike.  Turns out they were from Minnesota, and the guys were from Grand Rapids, and somewhere around Detroit.  As I think a lot of runners do, there was talk about what times everyone was aiming for. The women offered to pay my race entry fee if I could pace them to a 3:35 marathon.  I am assuming they were being sarcastic, but stated that I ran a marathon the day before and didn’t have too much confidence and would probably have to walk eventually.  Either way, the group ran together for a while exchanging how many marathons we had all ran.  My 17 marathons was tops, while the guy from Grand Rapids was running his first.  He stated how strong he was feeling and we all kind of laughed knowing what was ahead.  My advice to him was not to count down the miles until mile 23.

We kept running together for the next several miles.  Mile 7 was in 8:24, mile 8 in 8:07.  Mile 9 had the greatest elevation gain.  Total gain was 102ft. Key here was to just relax all the way up.  Mile split was 8:17.  Mile 10 was boring as it went around a business research park, split was 7:59, and mile 11 was down the same hill we went up on mile 9.  That was a 8:14 mile, only because I had to stop to use the bathroom.  I did catch back up with the pack.  Mile 12 we started running through some of the neighborhoods.  What made this great is that residents were having mini parties along the course cheering the runners on.  This was seen from mile 12 until the end.  Crowds weren’t along the course every step but they were spread out nicely.  Mile 12 was in 8:07, mile 13 in 8:12, mile 14 in 8:06, and mile 15 in 8:02.  Somewhere in those miles was the bacon aid station.  I did not partake but still fun.  I did take an orange slice and a Twzizler during this stretch. Kind of shows how relaxed I was. Also somewhere around mile 12, at the aid station, the pack fell off. I didn’t feel like I picked up the pace but I guess I did enough. Never saw any members of the pack after that.  Also on a turn right before mile 14, I turned my ankle.  Luckily I was able to keep moving. I think the cheerleaders standing at that turn noticed and were worried.  


Mile 16 was a nice elevation drop, 93ft.  Mile split was 7:46.  Miles 18-20 were flat. Mile 19 we entered one of the cities bike paths.  Made for a nice change from the roads.  Miles 18-20 were run in 7:38, 7:56, and 7:54.  After the 20th mile I was starting to think that I was going to make it to the end without walking.  At times I felt my legs getting a little tired and backed down.  Mile 20 also brought on the gummy bear aid station.  Remember, I am running this relaxed, so of course I had some.  

From mile 21 to the finish I was starting to pass runners, surprisingly.  Mile 21 was run in 8;01. Mile 22 brought on the last tough up hill.  Not the toughest hill, 83ft, but like Heartbreak Hill, it was the placement of the hill.  This hill is known as popsicle hill.  Once again, yes I did have a Popsicle (otter pop)…or 2. Felt pretty good.  Mile 22 was completed in 8:04.  Still feeling good, I kept going and gradually picking up the pace.  Mile 23 was in 8:03, mile 24 with a down hill was in 7:52.  At mile 24, my phone stopped playing music.  I pulled it out of the shoulder pocket to check on it and saw Tina texted me asking if I was still alive.  I texted, while running, that I was good and had not walked yet. Mile 25 was in 8:04.  I passed a couple of runners and as I did they stated that the 3:30 pacer was just up ahead.  I told them thanks but I just wanted to finish and didn’t really care about my time.  Part of me wishes I would have pushed a little more but my last mile was my fastest of the race.  The crowds along the last mile were great and supportive.  I passed a woman with about a half mile to go.  She didn’t seem to want to let me pass her so we took off. Maybe a faster finish that I thought I would have but it felt great. Last mile was a 7:26.

Yep, there I am texting Tina.
I crossed the finish line in 3:30:37. Very happy with this time considering running a marathon the day before. I was given my finishers medal for the Kalamazoo Marathon and my Mitten Challenge medal for completing both marathons.


Overall Review of the Kalamazoo Marathon

Pros

  • For this being a smaller marathon (not too small but also not a huge race) the support from local residents was fantastic.  Families just came out on their lawns, watched and cheered as runners went by.
  • The local police departments did a great job of keeping the course cleared of cars. Since  I wasn’t running all out, I made sure to thank as many as I could.
  • Aid stations were great, spread out very well and had plenty of volunteers. 
  • Challenging course with enough hills to keep you honest.  It was also very beautiful course as well
  • Live band at the finish 
  • It was easy to find parking before the race and easy to leave after.
  • There was post race food which included water, fruit, and chocolate milk. 
  • For $8 you could purchase a hot dog, veggie burger, or BBQ Chicken meal. Also came with a drink.  If you did the Half and Half or Mitten Challenge, this Meal was free.  If we didn’t get it for free, it would have been worth the $8. 
  • Popsicle hill was awesome!
  • Nice looking shirts
  • Free race photos to download after the race
  • Very well marked course
  • Easy expo to navigate, packet pickup was easy.  Also had a chance to exchange shirt sizes
  •  very energetic announcer (hey, he at least tried to say my last name as I finished) 

Cons (this will be short)

  • I love cold chocolate milk after a race, but for some reason, they got the chocolate milk out before the race even started and left it sitting out on a table.  There is a 5k and 10knoption as well so I am sure they wanted it out for those runners, but keep some in the cooler for the marathon and half marathon runners.  Mine was warm.
  • If you don’t like hills, then this may not be the race for you, but even that wasn’t too bad.
  • There were a couple of boring sections of the course but what marathon does not have those? Running on Western Michigan University Campus was one of those spots.  Students are gone for the summer and it’s not a very attractive campus. 

Overall this is another very well run marathon. The whole weekend was great really. We had great experiences in both Kenosha and Kalamazoo. Both events we would like to come back to.  Will we do the challenges again? We will see.  I think I am more open to it than Tina is. But, I did earn my mittens and that was the goal for the weekend. 

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6 thoughts on “Earn Your Mittens Challenge, Part 2: Kalamazoo Marathon

  1. Very nice recap and great job! I ran the Kalamazoo half and came across your blog just before the race. I’m looking forward to following along with your running adventures. I’m about to run marathon #3 and I’m very inspired by people like you who manage to run back-to-back marathons. So far I’ve given everything I have for each one and need quite a bit of recovery afterwards. I’m hoping it’s true that you start to build up more endurance. Between that and perhaps slowing down a bit, I’ll see if I can reach a point where I can run them more often. In the meantime, it’s fun to read your story about pulling it off so successfully!

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      1. Thank you! I’m running the Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City, MI. A nice & scenic flat course. I used the half as a training run where I picked up at the end, so nowhere near PR territory, but a good, solid run. Much more exciting than doing another long run around home. 🙂

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