Race Review: Sunburst Half Marathon: Someday, They May Get it Right.

If this is your first time to my blog, welcome! I hope you enjoy.  If you just want to know what I think of the race overall, skip to the bottom.  If you want to know how I actually did, keep reading. 

As mentioned in my last blog entry, this would be another double weekend.  In May, I did 2 marathons in a weekend.  This weekend, it was 2 half marathons in a weekend.  First up, the Sunburst Half Marathon.  If you have followed me for long, you probably know this is a race that I love to hate.  Read more about that in my previous blog entry.  

Anyways, packet pickup as well as your last chance to register is The day before the races in downtown South Bend at the old College Football Hall of Fame. There is a small expo.  About all there is at the Expo is Fleet Feet Mishawaka and a couple of sponsors/businesses.  Picking up the packets was quick and easy.  You get your bib first from one tent and go over to another tent to get your shirt.  If you find that you need a different shirt size or, if you are like my wife and don’t like V-neck shirts, you have to wait until race day to see if you can exchange your shirt. The expo works great for me because it is only 2 blocks away from my office and so I am able to get Tina and my stuff over my lunch. 

Following work, I went right home to Carbo load before the race the next morning.  Tina made lasagna, meatballs, and garlic bread.  Oh and of course, plenty of water. Fantastic pre race meal! 

After dinner, we took the kids over to my in-laws for the night.  Can’t say how much we appreciate our parents watching the kids so that we can do these races.  Great to have them in the area to help us out and their willingness to watch our kids, sometimes over night.  Then it was off to bed early.

Alarm clock went off at 4AM.  I think I was more excited for the early wake up call than Tina was.  For the first time, the half marathon would be starting at the same time as the full marathon to beat the heat, so the half marathon started at 6, while Tina’s race, the 10k, started at 7. 

We arrived in South Bend by 5:00, keeping with my 1 hour early rule.  I am sure that Tina would have been fine with me breaking this rule on this occasion.  Good news for her though was that we were able to exchange her shirt for a men’s shirt.  While waiting, I got my mile warm up in.  Legs felt alright but not 100%.  

The area around the starting line had plenty of port a potties lined up in an alley.  Average wait was probably 5 minutes.  Music was also playing starting at around 5:30.  One thing that was missing before the race was water.  In the past, there had been coolers of water for runners to get a drink before the race but not this year.  I don’t know if this was an attempt to keep the race “green” but I think, especially with the warmth and humidity that was expected, hydration trumps going “green.”  

As we lined up to start, I found some familiar faces at the starting line.  Local runners Laura Gillette, Chad Ganger, Ed McCollum, Bruce Faltynski, Todd Hoffer, and Liciano Villegas all came together for the start.  This is what I do like about this race, all the local runners in the same race.  In this case, we were all running the half.  

Following the national anthem, the gun went off and we were running before the sun came up.  The key for me in the opening miles was to relax and not go out too fast.  

As you can tell by the above photo, I would say we were all pretty relaxed in the first mile.  Non of us were out to push the pace early.  First mile was 6:23.  Whoops.  Maybe we were going a little faster than we thought.  One thing we noticed was that the mile mark seemed a little off early on.  Maybe it was just the first mile we though.  Not really.  It seemed to get worse as the race went on.  More on that later. 

The second mile started to slow down thankfully.  Mile 2-5 were run in 6:33, 6:34, 6:37, and 6:38. At mile 2, I decided to let Chad run in front of me, keeping back about 10-15 feet.  I just felt the need to back off a little.  At about mile 3, Ed came up and passed me.  I let him go as he went and cought Chad.   Miles 4.5-7.25 are probably my favorite miles of the Sunburst Half Marathon.  At this point, we are running through the park in Mishawaka.  There are s lot of turns but it does change things up some.  

At mile 4.5, I cought back up with Chad and Ed.  We ran through the park together, keeping a decent pace.  Mile6-8 were run at 6:45, 6:38, and 6:35. Around the 6th mile, Todd and Laura cought us and all of the sudden our pack got larger.  

At around the 8th mile, after an up hill climb, Ed and I put a little distance between ourselves and the pack.  As we headed towards the Indiana University South Bend Campus, Ed left me behind.  At this point, I just wanted to run consistently.  Whatever happens at this point, happens.  

After we went through the IUSB campus, we entered a new part of the course, running through the Potawatami Zoo. Leading up to the race, Bruce and I discussed this part of the course. I loved the idea, I questioned the decision.  It’s not a large zoo, in fact, it’s quiet small.  The paths are not too wide and there are a lot of shap turns.  You did see the goats, if you looked closely and quick you saw monkeys, lions, zebras, peacock, buffalo, and Emu. We were not in the zoo long, but it resulted in my slowest mile in the race.  Mile 9 leading up to the zoo was 6:47, mile 10 through the zoo was 7:04.  

Mile 11 is where it became obvious that something was not right with the measurements in the course.  The mile markers were off by .4 according to my Garmin at this point.  Garmins are not the most accurate, but I have never seen my Garmin that far off.  Mile 11 was ran in 6:49. 

Mile 12 is when I started to catch back up to Ed.  I don’t think either one of us were feeling too strong at this point and the worst part of the course was still ahead.  A nice downhill on mile 12 kept our pace where it has been with a 6:48.  

Right after mile 12  one of the biggest struggles on the course comes up, Hallelujah Hill.  It’s not a big hill, but it’s a steep hill, and placed in the last mile is brutal.  My advice, don’t push it up the hill, just take it easy until you crest the top.  

After the hill, the last mile was flat. I tried to pick it up the last mile but that was not happening. Mile 13 was run in 6:49.  Unfortunitly instead of having .1-.2 left to run after mile 13, there was still a half mile left. Pace did pick up for this last half mile and I crossed the finish in 1:30:10.  Far from my goal of the day

I received my medal after crossing the finishline and found a few of the guys I had been running with throughout the race.  Sure enough, all of us had the course being long.  Frustrating way to end a half marathon. Overall I finished in 16th and 5th in my division.  This is about normal for what I have ran at Sunburst the past few years. 

Todd Hoffer and I after finishing.  Todd is the Race Director of the Randy Miner Memorial Country Run that I will be racing in on Saturday afternoon. 

Ed McCollum, Justin Kowalski (2nd place overall), Chad Ganger, myself and  Liciano Villegas following the race. Todd Hoffer and I with womens 3rd place overall women’s finisher, Laura Gillette.  

Following the race

After I finished, grabbed a chocolate milk and Popsicle, I went to the top of the hill to meet Tina for the last mile of the 10k.  I told her that I refused to run up the hill again so I would just meet her there.  You can read Tina’s review Here

Former college teammate Bruce Faltynski had some issues during the race and ended up running back on the course to catch his wife Shelby as she finished the half.  They cought up with us as Tina finished.  I think he annoyed  Tina a little when cheering for her. 

Review of the Sunburst Event

Let’s start with some positives. 

  1. The shirts were of better quality design than last years. 
  2. If finishers medals are important to you, this years were alright.  I noticed that they decided to leave the race date off th ribbon after last years mistake.  Probably smart. 
  3. Packet pick up was quick and easy
  4. Volunteers were great
  5. Well marked course and police were there keeping the course clear of traffic. 
  6. I enjoy running through the parks in Mishawaka
  7. 6:00 start this year for the half marathon along with the full marathon 

Now for the bad (hang on)

  1. Let’s start with the biggest issue, the course measurement.  Anyone who had run certified courses before knows that your Garmin will never be exact.  In a full marathon, you can count on your Garmin reading anywhere between .1 and .3 miles long.  It is near impossible to run the exact shortest distance for a whole race.  If you figured out how this can be done, please, tell me your secret.  With that being said, I have never ran a certified half marathon course and had my Garmin read 13.5 miles.  It was a long course and I think Sunburst messed up somewhere
  2. The way that Sunburst handled the reaction from it participants on Facebook has been way out of line.  You can see their Facebook post Here. I think about every runner took this as, “you are all wrong.” You can read the comments from the post and draw your own conclusions.  They did later post again on Facebook explaining that the course will be remeasured. We will see what that says.  I will edit this post as news comes. 
  3. Alright something else about the course that doesn’t have to do with measurements. Let’s make the zoo a one and done thing.  It seemed like a good idea, something different, but the paths through the zoo are too narrow and turns are too tight.  Really slowed down everyone’s momentum.  
  4. Aid stations were well staffed, my only complaint is that some cups barely had water in them and others were about full. Unfortunately you don’t know what you will get until you grab one and by then it might be too late to get another. 
  5. I am going to stick up for the back of the pack marathon runners.  Once again, Sunburst ran out of food and chocolate milk at the finish line.  Sunburst provides food and chocolate milk to full marathoners, half marathoners, 10k, 5k, and the 5k walkers.  My suggestions would be a sepreate area set aside for marathon runners.  They paid more (both financially and physically) than any of us who ran a shorter race.  Make sure they have what they need after they finished.  I have seen some of these 5k walkers after they finish. Some of them are vultures. 
  6. The big drawl of this race used to be that it finished at the 50 yard line inside Notre Dame Stadium.  Because of renovations to the stadium, it’s been a few years since this happened and who knows it may never happen again.  I know this idea will piss of the Notre Dame Alumni and fan base, but let’s move the finish line off campus.  There is a minor league baseball stadium in downtown.  Put the finish line there. It’s a lot closer to the start.  Besides, you run on campus for less than a tenth of a mile, what’s the point?
  7. Picking up your checked bags is only for the half and fill marathons. This year you had to walk all the way around some buildings to get your Stuff instead of just after you left the runners only area.
  8. Fleet Feet was about all there was at the expo.  Nothing against Fleet Feet, it’s my go to running store, but other than Fleet Feet there was nothing.
  9. No bottles of water at the finish.  Had to walk a little bit to get any water.  Then when you finally get water, it’s in cups like at the aid stations.  Would be nice to get to take a bottle of water after the race. 

My future in this race is uncertain at best right now.  I can’t say I won’t do it again or even that I won’t run it next year.  I can easily see me stepping down and just running the 5k with my daughters. I can also see myself just skipping it all together.  Time will tell.  Right now though, if you were from out of town, I could not recommend you coming here and spending money on this race.  Too many changes need to happen before I could do this. 

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2 thoughts on “Race Review: Sunburst Half Marathon: Someday, They May Get it Right.

  1. Great race recap. I don’t mind too much about the distance of the course but the refreshments both on the course and after would have bugged me. After a hard work out you want to know certain things will be available at the end. Very bad planning.


  2. Great recap. I was registered for the full marathon. I flew up from Florida on Friday morning, checked into a hotel, and set out to run a qualifying time for Boston. I was trained and ready. Sunburst was a major disappointment for me. My Garmin was off by .42 miles at the 11-mile mark, and that was pretty distracting as I kept trying to mentally recalculate how I needed to shift my pace in order to stay on my qualifying time. As I rounded the corner after Hallelujah Hill, I saw the 13-mile mark and knew that I had missed the marathon turn. Never did I see a sign for marathoners to split, never was there a race official prompting marathoners to turn, and I totally missed the turn. By the time I realized it (and turned around twice), it was way too late to recover. I ended up finishing the half-marathon feeling more discouraged and frustrated than ever before in a race. Major bummer!


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