Race Review: Fort4Fitness Marathon 

The 9th annual Fort4Fitness Fall Festival had a new feature to its 2016 event.  The Fall Festival has had a half marathon, 10k and 4 mile run in the past, but this year, they added a marathon.  For whatever reason, I always said I would not drive an hour and a half to Fort Wayne to run in Fort4Fitness until they added a marathon.  To me, Fort Wayne was too big of a city not to have a marathon.  Once it was announced that there would be a marathon, I jumped on board and registered. 

So the big question, when the marathon was announced, was what will the course be? Probably about a month or two later, it was announced that the course would be a series of 4 loops. The first loop (yellow route on the map below) was just passed 3 miles long.  2nd loop was the 10k course, 3rd loop was the half marathon course, and the 4th loop was the 4 mile course. A lot of people were not happy about the course, and decided not to even run the race.  I see some really good advantages to this though.  For one, as a race organization,  they didn’t have to go out and find more volunteers for aid stations.  Some of the aid station forvthe marathon were used 4 times by each runner.  Also, really didn’t need to close off any more streets than they did in past years, just needed to close them off earlier.  Are there other places around Fort Wayne to showcase on the marathon course? Probably, but that does require double the resources as they were already using.  

You also can’t tell me this is the first time a marathon has done a looped course.  Look at the Olympics and the way the US handles the Olympic trials.  It’s all the same loop for the most part.  Fort4Fitness at least offered some variety in their loops while also making it easier for spectators as well. 

For us, race weekend began on Friday. I have made it a habit to take the Friday before a marathon off from work.  This allows me to get a little more sleep, keep off my feet more, and more time for the expo. We left for Fort Wayne roughly around 2:45 after the girls got out  of school.  We don’t usually take the girls to these marathon weekends but Fort4Fitness has a kids marathon program.  We had our girls do this at another marathon last fall and signed our girls up for this one.  Basically, over the span of about 3 months, your kids register 25 miles worth of running and run the last 1.2 miles on the day before the rest of the races. Fort4Fitness allowed you to count other activities as miles such as an hour of baseball equals a mile.  I am sure biking and basketball and other things counted, but with our girls, we only counted running. This is something I would love to see more races do. 

We arrived at the expo at roughly 4:15-4:30 to pick up our gear (Tina ran the half) and the girls bibs.  Included in the gear bag was a gender specific race shirt (full marathon was a red long sleeve, Half was a black long sleeve, and the 10k and 4 mile was a blue short sleeve shirt).  This year, the shirt was a New Balance shirt.  I have always been a fan of their shirts (much more than their shoes).  

Also, we were given a bag with some other race and sponsor info.  The bag we were given by Vera Bradley.  If you are unfamiliar with the company, they basically make women’s bags.  Tina is not a fan of them but they are popular in this area. I am not sure if they are made in Fort Wayne, but there is at least a large warehouse and they are a sponsor of the race.  The race bags were geared towards women it seems.   Obviously not my choice, but it probably cane down to what was available in the ware house, plus the whole company is focused on women, so what would you expect? 

The packet pickup itself was very easy (located at Parkview Field, home of the Single A affiliate of the San Diego Padrees, Fort Wayne Tin Caps). Just go to your table with your bib number (emailed a day or two ahead of time) and your stuff is waiting for you. It wasn’t too clear at first if the bag you were given was to be used at gear check or use another bag.  After asking a volunteer, we were told that we could use whatever bag we wanted to.  Luckily we both brought bags to use. Packet pickup. 

We did check out the expo which was actually larger than expected.  A lot of Fort Wayne business were on hand as well as health providers.  But there were some outside vendors present.  I did make a purchase from Brilliant Reflective which makes iron on reflective strips to add to your clothing or gear.  Can’t wait to try them out.  

While at the expo, I ran into Casey Shaffer at the Fort Wayne Running Club table. I competed against Casey for a few years.  Casey went to St. Francis in Fort Wayne and I went to Bethel College.  We were in the same conference do we were at a lot of the same meets.  While I say we completed, it was more along the lines of he dominated.  I don’t believe we were really ever that close in races, but still, he is a great guy.  Casey would be running the 10k the next day.  More on him later.

This was the first true running expo that the girls had ever been to. I think they enjoyed all the free stuff they were able to get.  This may also be the last expo they go to for a while.  Last thing we need more of is chapstick and water bottles.  But some booths did give them free apples, so that was appreciated. 

Before the kids marathon, we checking in at the Marriott hotel, located right next to Parkview Field where all races start and finish.  If you are coming from out of town, this is the best bet on where to stay. After checking in, we headed back out to meet my parents (who the girls would go with after their run) and get to the start line.

There were over 1000 kids who signed up to do the kids marathon. Due to the on again off again rain, I don’t think there were 1000 kids there at the last 1.2 mile run but there were a lot.  They had kids line up by age. 10 and over up front, followed by 9-8, 7-6, and 5 and under. I am telling you, running with your kid for 1.2 miles with that many other kids and parents is more difficult than running a regular marathon.  Your head has to be on a swivel, making sure a kid doesn’t trip you up as they cut you off and keeping track of your own kid. I ran with Emma, Tina ran with Chloe and some how we all survived. 

 The kids marathon finished around the warning track and along first base line in Parkview Field, just as the other races did the next day. 

After the kids run, the girls went with my parents for the night.  Tina and I ordered take out pasta and ate in our hotel.  We both feel asleep very early. 

My alarm went off at about 5:30 the next morning.  I had sucessfully gotten 8 hours of sleep.  I think now that I have qualified and ran in one Boston marathon (2015) I have really taken a lot of pressure off of myself and am a lot more relaxed.  This has helped greatly with my pre race sleep. It even helps with my day of race stress.  For example, the morning of the race, I couldn’t find my Buff that I wanted to wear.  In the past I would have been so worked up over this.  Instead, I grabbed a different one and was calm about it. There was so much prep that I didn’t do the night before that I usually do and just left it to the morning of the race.  This is also a convience of not having to worry about driving to the race location. A few of the members of the Two Rivers a Running Club who made the trip.

The marathon started at 7:00, Tina’s race didn’t start until 8:30. Tina joined me at the start area and headed back up to the room to relax a little longer until her race started.  There were plenty of port a potties for the marathon runners.  I would say there were 20-30 lined up and around 400 runners.  Not a large marathon but not too bad either.  Never was there a long line waiting to use the port a potties.  

The marathon had a different starting line than the other 3 races.  The marathon started about 100 meters up the roads. This was obviously to get the distance within the requirements for Boston qualifiers.   The weather was as good as we could have asked for.  Temps in low 50s, no wind.  Only bad thing was the high humidity but that was alright with cooler temps. My goal for the day was to run under 3 hours.

The race started with a loud cannon and we were off. I thought there was a good chance I could finish in the top 10, so I started at the front.  At the same time, I did not want to get sucked into a pace that was way too fast for me so early in the race.  

I had heard this annology on the Runners World podcast (Run Your Best Marathon), think of the runners as Dominos, you want to be knocking them down at the end and not allowing them to knock you down at the end.  Another one from that podcast episode is to pass no one at the beginning.  Both of these kept running through my head early on in this race. 

The opening mile is about 30ft of elevation gain.  Not bad but enough early on that I want to really control my opening mile, allowing those who want to, to pass me.  I am probably back in 15th at this time.  No big deal. My first mile was in 7:04.  Maybe the slowest first mile I have ran in a marathon in a long time, but it felt great!  Miles 2-3 were a little fast, I did pass a couple runners but I never over worked myself.  Miles 2 and 3 were run in 6:55 and 6:52. These were also down hill. 

Mile 4 we ran right by the start line and repeated that first mile, so we were back to that 30 foot elevation gain. Once I got to the hill, I relaxed and backed off again. Mile 4 was in 6:56.  Mile 5-6 were more elevation gain. Those miles were 6:57 and 6:49. At mile 6, I took my first gel.  My legs don’t feel great, but not bad either.  At this point, a kids along the course says I am in 15th.  Plenty of time to get in the top 10. 

My next 6 mile splits (7-12 miles) were each withinh 5 seconds of the others.  6:49, 6:48, 6:49, 6:51, 6:50, 6:53. Miles 9-13 started the half marathon loop. At mile 10, I remember working my way up to a runner thinking, passing this guy will put me in the top 10.  Before I could pass him, he ran towards the port a pottie. Now I was in the top 10.  Right then, another runner came sprinting (and I do mean sprinting) out of the port a pottie. I am guessing he was falling behind the pack he was running in and wanted to badly catch up.  I said out loud to myself, I will see you before the finish.   Mile 12, I took my second gel. 

Miles 12-13 probably had the toughest uphill at this point.  Mile 13, if I have to say I had a mistake in this race, was my mistake mile. It was uphill and in the back of my head I wanted to be at 1:30:00 at the half way mark.  I ran mile 13 (an uphill mile) in 6:45.  

Mile 14 was more of a down hill mile and I let my stride lengthen some.  Maybe a little too much and ran a 6:37.  The next mile I took more control at holding myself back and ran a 6:45, followed by another 6:45 and a 6:46. 

At mile 18, my legs were starting to feel it.  As my coach told me in the days leading up to the race, run the mile you are on. For the next 3 miles, that’s what I did. On the 18th mile I caught back up to the runner who sprinted out of the port a pottie.  As I got up to him, he asked what mile we were on.  I replied saying that we were coming up on 18 miles, but thought to myself that he must really be in a bad place if he can’t remember what mile we were at.  He had to really be paying for his early pace.  At this point I was not sure what place I was in.  I took on my last gel at mile 18.

Mile 19 was probably the last hill to encounter that I would call a challenge.  It wasn’t much of a hill but it was enough to take notice.  It was also steeper. Ran mile 19 in 6:50. Right after mile 19, a bike came up right behind me. Took a look over and it was Casey. Obviously he had finished his 10k earlier and was checking in the marathon runners.  I remember him asking what place I was in saying I had to be top 5.  I told him I was probably top 10. He asked how I was feeling and said that the last mile took some out of my legs and I was just trying to recover.  We talked a little more until I noticed it was becoming more difficult to breath.  I told Casey I needed to stop talking to focus on breathing.  He understood and said he would check on who was ahead of he. Mile 20 was run in 6:44 followed by 6:47 at 21 miles.  

During the 22nd mile, I saw Casey again right before starting the last lap. Casey shouted to me that I was in 5th place.  The top runner was gone, no way of catching him, the next runner was out of reach as well, but 3rd and 4th are within reach.  I just couldn’t believe I was top 5 and could be top 3.  After starting the last lap (4 mile loop) I could tell I was going to move up a spot, the next runner was hurting and passed him fairly quickly. The next runner ahead was Grant Stieglitz who is a Fort Wayne runner but also makes his way to Goshen during the summers for training runs.  I did talk with Grant for a moment as I ran up next to him.  His knees were bothering him and he asked if anyone else was coming, I said the next guy back was walking as I passed him. Miles 22, 23, and 24 were run in 6:48, 6:50, and 6:57

There is a big difference between catching someone and passing them.  I caught up to Grant, but that was all I could do.  I stayed with Grant for as long as I could but eventually he dropped me.  Mile 25 was in 6:58 and mile 26 was in 7:34.  My slowest mile.  Only 2 miles were slower than 7:00; my first and last. 

 I crossed the finishline in 3:01:39.  Might not have been under 3:00:00 but I am pleased with this run for a couple of reasons.  I was able to hold back at the start and not go out too fast, I didn’t walk at all, and for the most part kept a steady pace throughout the race.  Also I didn’t quit go negative splits.  My second half was 19 seconds slower than the first half. I do have another marathon coming up on November 5th at the Monumental Marathon.  I think this sets me up well for possibly going under 3:00:00.  

​To my knowledge, when I finished, I was in 4th place.  Little did I know, this included one female runner ahead of me. So I finished on the podium in 3rd overall (too bad there wasn’t an actual podium). Yes, it was a smaller marathon, but i will gladly accept 3rd place over all as an accomplishment.  It’s my highest finish in a marathon. 

Race Review

For this being the first year of the marathon, I thought that it was very well done and I really don’t have anything to complain about.  

The course: very nice course.  Not the flattest course I have ever ran on, but the hills do keep you honest.  If you are close to a Boston Qualifying time, this is a very good option. Also, if you have friends and family who want to come out and watch you run, the looped course makes this very possible.  They will see you at least 4 times, and if they move around just right, they could see you probably at least at 8 different points.  Also would be easy to get around by bike.  It is a closed course and the police did a great job of controlling the crossing car traffic. With everything going on in the country, I made sure to tank each officer I saw on the course.  The course does offer some scenery along a couple of golf courses and some nice neighborhoods where the communities did come out and support the runners.  And of course, the finish is awesome.  You enter Parkview Field in the left field corner of the stadium and run all the way around the warning track and then to around to the first base dugout where the finishline is.  

Aid stations:  aid stations offered water and Gatorade.  They got it right by having the Gatorade first at all the aid stations.  Also at the end of each lap was an aid station with Gu.  Plenty of volunteers at each station. 

Swag:  as I stated, the shirts are pretty sweet and the medals looked good to.  I don’t care much but there really wasn’t much difference between the full and half medals.  The size were the same, the ribbons were about identical.  I would suggest making the full a little bigger.  

Post race food:  first off, any race that has chocolate milk at the finish is doing it right.  They also had apples, bananas, pretzels, and granola.  There might have been more, but that’s what I got.  My only issue was that it wasn’t really clear on where the food was.  I guess I thought since the concessions were open that there was no free food for runners. I even went back to the hotel to shower before finding it in the tent behind center field.

Would I recommend this race? Absolutely! Come check it out next fall.  Great course, great support, great environment.  
Oh, and I did find my Buff.  Thankfully I opened the curtain before checking out…


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