Continuing the trend of ridiculous things happening during the weekend, our little group, which had now expanded to 4 with the addition of the magnificent Christy, left Wisconsin to head east to Michigan for the Kalamazoo Marathon the next day. On the way, we were going to pick up Emily, who had also run Wisconsin and was coming over to Kalamazoo with us. We had rented a small SUV for the occasion, and it was pretty tight seating in there with 5 of us, but we made it work – until the air conditioner mysteriously stopped working about 10 minutes into the trip. You’ve got 5 girls who have just run a marathon (mercifully we had all had time to shower) and now we’re driving 3.5 hours to Michigan in a car with no air conditioning in the middle of the afternoon – all of which is on the highway. Amanda and I literally pressed every single button we could find on the very fancy touch screen in the car to no avail. Air was barely coming out at all, let alone cold, so the trip consisted of putting the windows down just a little bit every few minutes until the pressure and noise built up too much in the car to continue, then putting the windows back up and sweating. Eventually, we decided to stop at a gas station to stretch our legs and get some cold water to drink, and I joked that maybe the air conditioning would work once we got back in the car – like a computer that needed to be restarted or something. AND LO AND BEHOLD, that is exactly what happened. For 10 minutes. Until it stopped working again and we were forced back into misery for the remainder of the ride. Ughhhhhh.
We finally made it to Kalamazoo at around 6:45 PM, which was stressing me out because I was supposed to meet my uncle and my cousin for dinner and I felt bad about making them wait for me. Fact – having people waiting on me is one of the things I find the most stressful in the entire world. They asked me where I wanted to go for dinner, and literally the only place I knew of in all of Kalamazoo was Bell’s Brewery, which just so happens to be the brewery where one of my favorite beers, Hopslam, is made. The brewery has a really cool atmosphere and great food, and I had a blast catching up with my uncle and cousin! It was great to see them!
As we were getting ready to leave, Kate, Amanda, Emily and Christy walked in – talk about perfect timing! I stayed with them and headed outside, where we hung out for awhile and chatted with other runners. And then we were accosted by a man who was there with a bachelor party and was easily more drunk than anyone else at the bar, including the bachelor himself. For some reason, he started talking to us and decided to stand on our benches and show each of us his homemade jorts (jean shorts) up close and personal.
As if we were not thoroughly traumatized enough, when we got back to our hotel, we realized the air conditioning in there wasn’t working either. SERIOUSLY? We had turned it down to the coldest setting and it was hot when we got into the room, so we called the front desk and they sent up the “building engineer.” He told us the air conditioner wasn’t broken and it just turns off when it reaches the desired temperature in the room. Um, sir, our desired temperature was 50 degrees and it’s easily 78. He told us we could switch to another room if it still wasn’t working after awhile. Who is going to do that at midnight? Not me. So instead, the other 3 passed out while I lay there sweating. Hooray!
We were told to be at the race pretty early because there was limited parking on the medical campus where the race started. We also needed to pick up our swag! Kate, Amanda, Christy and I were all doing the “Earn Your Mittens” Challenge, which was an extra incentive for people doing both the Wisconsin Marathon and the Kalamazoo Marathon. We got a special bib in Kalamazoo and an extra medal! Kate and I were also members of the 50 States Challenge team, since each of us had been the first person to sign up for the race from our respective states. That means we got free entry to the race and a free pair of New Balance shoes! Score! We took a picture with all of the other 50 State Challengers!
Prior to the race, we took an aggressive amount of pictures and Amanda and I decided to find our coach and harass him.
So, who is our coach? I know you’ve been just dying to find out. I’ll properly introduce him via an interview next week, but, drum roll please…our coach is 62 (or maybe 63 or 64? whatever)- time marathon winner and professional bad ass, Justin Gillette!
Justin and I became friends when he came down to Columbia and won our marathon. He runs a ton of marathons and runs them fast, so I thought, who better to teach us to run fast while running a lot of races than a person who actually does that? Obviously we’ve been thrilled with our results so far. He won the Kalamazoo Marathon again this year despite having to stop to pee at Mile 3 because Amanda and I distracted him before the race. Oops!
The race began and Kate was quickly in pain. She did have a severed tendon and had just run a marathon the day before, after all! At about mile 2, she told Amanda and I to go ahead without her because it was going to be a really long day and she had to walk a lot. There was absolutely no way in hell we were doing that, though. We already felt bad enough leaving her the day before, so we swore to stick together this time. Also around mile 2, we heard two guys that were right behind us ask what those “gel things” are. I turned around and said “Um, do you mean Gu? The stuff you use for fuel on your long runs?” And they said “Fuel?” So apparently these two gentlemen had decided to wake up that morning and run a marathon. They were wearing basketball shorts and t-shirts and had full marathon bibs on. I’m pretty sure it was a long day for them. At mile 4, there were some cheerleaders for Kalamazoo College, and we decided we just had to take a jumping picture with them. They even let us hold the pom poms!
One thing we noticed basically right from the beginning was the absolutely incredible crowd support in Kalamazoo. People lined the streets, and it seemed like each neighborhood had it’s own block party going on. Everywhere we turned, someone was offering us food! It was amazing! We decided to just eat our way through Kalamazoo since it didn’t look like we’d be running all that much, and I’m going to just go ahead and say that this was one of the best decisions we’ve made in recent memory. While running through the only part of the course I didn’t like (weird industrial park kind of loop thing), we saw a neon green poster up ahead that said “Marathon Maniac Aid Station,” but there was nothing there except a poster. Knowing Maniacs, I figured they might have hidden some stuff behind the poster, and sure enough, THERE WAS BEER.
We split one between the three of us, and that’s probably the fastest any of us have ever consumed beer. It was awesome. After this point in the race was when we started running through all the neighborhoods and really felt the love from Kalamazoo. Seriously, this city is amazing. I have never seen anything like it. They support the marathoners 110%, even the back of the packers, as we were today. People offered us everything from pretzels to gummy bears, freshly made pancakes, popsicles, and bacon. It was seriously unbelievable. I am so glad we were doing this race slowly and for fun, because the idea of missing out on all that awesome stuff makes me real sad.
The also had some spectators out in costume, including the Pope. The Pope was serving bacon, obviously. No one is sure why, but we liked it.
I think it was around mile 16 or so that Kate started getting really cranky. I had a pretty epic hate spiral in Wisconsin the day before, but she was even in a worse mood. It hurt her calf to walk, but she was having trouble breathing when she ran, so there was basically no pace at which she felt comfortable. We tried to distract her by doing stupid things and interacting with every spectator we saw. Oh, one thing that was random and amazing was how knowledgeable the spectators were! As part of the “Earn Your Mittens” Challenge with the Wisconsin and Kalamazoo marathons, we had special orange bibs instead of the blue bibs that the marathoners were wearing. It was amazing how many people actually knew what the orange bibs meant! They’d yell “GO MITTENEERS!” and ask where we were from. It was pretty cool that so many people cared enough about the race to actually read about it, but like I said, this is a town that really loves its marathon.
We slowed down more as Kate’s pain and hate spiral continued, but this was actually pretty nice for me and Amanda. We were both feeling really good from the race the day before, but it was nice not to have to think about running up some of the huge hills! Granted, the course isn’t overly challenging, but there’s probably 3 or 4 hills where you just look at them and think “absolutely not.” In fact, I kept telling Kate and Amanda that I never want to be really fast like Justin because he has to run up the hills. I never want to be so fast that running up the hills is a requirement even when I don’t want to. Yes, I am a very motivated individual. During the latter part of the race, Kate’s hands were swelling and she was having a hard time getting enough oxygen even when we were walking. So naturally, I stopped at the medical tent and asked them if they had any oxygen – probably not the best idea, because they gave me a look of alarm and started freaking out about who needed oxygen. I was like “Umm…never mind…just hypothetically” and ran away. Oops!
The last few miles of the race went through an absolutely gorgeous park and looped around a lake. There, we took a picture with Elvis. The whole thing is actually extremely genius – you can pose for a picture with Elvis and then they give you a little rubber wristband with the web address where you can go to download the picture. The website is a philanthropy associated with clean water, so they are attracting a lot more attention to their cause! I was super impressed by that idea, so maybe look for a T-Rex in costume at a race near you sometime soon. Ha!
There was no T-Rex at mile 25 of this race because it just wasn’t possible, so we took some more pictures instead. Hey, after the previous day’s performance in Wisconsin, I think we all deserved a break. The only problem was that we had to check out of our hotel by 2, and we were slated to finish the race around 1:45 – uh oh!
They announced our names as we ran across the finish line with our hands over our hearts for Boston. And guess who was manually punching in all of the numbers at the finish line? That would be Justin, our coach, who had won the marathon about 3 hours earlier and was now sticking around helping. He’s awesome! We ended up finishing somewhere around 5:42, which all things considered, I thought was pretty awesome. And I felt great at the end. Kate, not so much, but hey, we earned our mittens! Another double survived!
Right after the race, I immediately grabbed Kate’s phone and called the hotel to tell them a sob story about how we had run slower than anticipated because our friend was gravely injured and asked if they would let us grab our stuff and rinse off quickly. I knew that if there was any town in which they would allow for this type of accommodation, it was Kalamazoo, and I was right! The staff could not have been nicer and more understanding. We didn’t end up leaving until almost 3 and they couldn’t have cared less. It was so amazing and appreciated. Kalamazoo really cares about the runners and that showed the entire day from beginning to end.
I really can’t say enough good things about this race. From the course to the organization, the perks and swag, the double opportunity, the city itself, and the spectators, the whole thing is pretty much flawless. I have never seen that much enthusiasm in a town of this size for a race. Everyone told me I would love this marathon, but I’ll admit that I was a little skeptical because Michigan has a lot of great races and I want to run them all. Turns out, everyone was right. I don’t think I could have come up with a better experience if I had organized it myself. THANK YOU, Kalamazoo! Everyone else – go do this race RIGHT NOW. Ok, in May 2014. But you know what I mean.