My first marathon of the post-surgery era will be in Evansville, Indiana on April 6. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous – it’s just a few weeks away, and I’m not sure I’m marathon ready just yet. Only time will tell! The Southern Indiana Classic Marathon is a relatively young race that I picked in large part because I’d heard good things about it and my cousin Chad and his son live there. It’s within driving distance of my house, and since I have family there, T-Rex Mom is coming along too! I figured her presence could be quite beneficial if I have some type of awkward medical emergency. Also, for kind of a small city, Evansville has a large number of Marathon Maniacs, many of whom I know quite well! All the familiar faces can only help me in my first race back at it.
To find out more about the race, I interviewed co-race director Adam Keister. As always, any italicized marks are my unwelcome additions and are not the interviewee’s fault.
1. Tell me a little about your marathon history. Do you still actively race?
I’m actually not really much of a runner. I’ve never run a marathon. Don (co-race director) used to run, but no longer does. We’re both retired military – I guess I got sick of all the forced running and never did it for fun. Don latched onto running, but I didn’t. We met through the car business, working at the same car dealership in 1999. We’ve been friends ever since and eventually started working out together. As you get older, you don’t look quite as good as you used to and things start getting a little lumpy, so you have to actually work at it!
2. That’s really interesting – you don’t meet many race directors that aren’t actually into racing. How did you get into race directing?
Well, as Don and I started working out and spending more time at the gym, we heard about those mud runs. We wanted to do a Tough Mudder (ugh, WHY?) and we looked around and realized there wasn’t a similar event all that close to Evansville. We decided to start a mud run in Evansville, which somehow led to the discussion of “hey, there’s no marathon in Evansville either!” So we decided to start one of those too, and it’s been great!
3. That’s a very unique “start-up” story. So, what is the course like? Are there any interesting or historic sites we should look out for along the way?
When we started this race, we thought a lot about what the type of runners we wanted to cater to and how to design our course to accommodate them. We decided we wanted a fast course that encouraged people to qualify for Boston, which unfortunately meant we needed to eliminate the downtown and more historic areas. People who are trying to qualify can sometimes be hindered by downtown areas, so we wanted to avoid that. This is a mostly rural course and it goes through a lot of cropland (at this point I rudely/awkwardly interjected something along the lines of “Oh good! I totally love farms!” Oy.) It’s mostly back roads and side streets. There are a few subdivisions too. Honestly, if people are coming to run this race just for fun, they’re not doing it for the course and scenery – they’re doing it because they love to run or they love the after party!
4. I know that in the past, the weather has been a concern for this race and some of the other April Indiana marathons. What conditions should runners expect?
The tricky part about the midwest is that the weather at this time of year is really unpredictable! It could be a high of 50 degrees on race day or it could be a high of 90 – there’s just no way to tell. Come prepared for anything! One thing I can say, though, is that we will not cancel the event under ANY circumstances. People come from all over the country for this race, and we really respect that. We know how important race day is to the runners, so we won’t cancel. We believe that our runners, if they’ve trained properly, are adequately prepared for the conditions. I’m not saying that people don’t need to be careful when they’re running, because they do and they should use caution, but it’s important to us to give them the opportunity to at least start the race and see what they can do. Are you hearing this, Madison Marathon? UGH.
5. What changes can runners expect this year?
We’re really proud of some of the changes we have made for this year. It’s really important to us to make this race a celebration of Evansville, so we decided to do away with the big name sponsors and focus on the local community. We wanted small businesses in the area to be able to participate in the race and really feel some ownership over it, because it’s all about Evansville! Our training program is done by a local runner with his own shop, a local car dealer is providing the official race vehicles, and our local beer distributor will be providing the beer after the race, etc. We decided that we wanted to get back to the grassroots approach and bring something back to the area where we grew up and currently live! Can I just please take a moment to geek out over this? I am so in love with races that emphasize their community’s assets. Take that, Rock ‘N Roll series!
6. I guess this is a silly question, but what is your favorite race that you have run?
None! The only runs I do now are for fun. I just like putting on events and making the experience great for the runners. Smart man. Probably has a much more sizeable bank account than me.
7. What has your learning process been like as a non-runner? It must be kind of difficult to put on a race when you haven’t really run any.
It’s been difficult, to be honest. There’s a pretty steep learning curve, and at first, we weren’t really sure where to begin. This is the fourth year for the race, and every year it gets better. We’ve recruited local runners onto our race committee and we try to get as much input from the local running community as possible. We want to know what people want from our race and how we can deliver a better experience. For us, every day is a learning experience, and we’re committed to making the race better every year.
8. I’m coming in from South Carolina to do your race. What should the other traveling runners and I make sure to do while we are in Evansville? Do you have any recommendations for a good local brewery?
Evansville has a lot to offer! We have a growing zoo, a popular casino, and a revitalized Riverwalk area and Main Street. The city has done a ton of work down at the river and along Main Street, and we want to showcase that and bring people in from outside and show them the best of southern Indiana. You definitely have to see the Riverwalk area. They have completely redone the entire thing and it is absolutely beautiful! There’s a covered area where you can sit and watch the river no matter what the weather. Main Street has opened a ton of new restaurants and bars. We have a great new brew pub downtown called the Tin Man Brewery that you’ll definitely want to check out while you’re here, too. Maniacs dinner at the Tin Man Brewery, anyone?
9. You talked about the great post-race party earlier. What should we be looking forward to?
In keeping with the emphasis on Evansville and the great things we have going on here, our post-race party has tons of local vendors. We’ve got everything from people making parachute bracelets to kettle corn, a local DJ, beer from the local distributor, food from local restaurants, etc. All of that is great and a big draw, but one of the things we really emphasize is getting the local runners to interact with those who have traveled from all over the country. It’s great to be from Evansville, of course, but we want people to know there is a whole world outside of southern Indiana. If people are coming from different states to run our marathon, they’ve most likely run great marathons in other states, and we want to encourage our runners to get out and do those events as well. What better way to learn about all these different places and races than by meeting other runners who have experienced them? Ok, so, the 50 stater in me totally died at this. I really love the idea, because Adam is right – there are great races all over this country, and so many people never think outside their own state. I realize that the kind of travel I do isn’t practical or possible for everyone, but the occasional trip can create a lifetime of memories! So freaking get out there and come hang out with me at a race in a random state, ok? Ok.
10. Tell me more about your charity, Rolling Thunder Inc.
Rolling Thunder is a nationwide group with a chapter in Evansville. They take care of and advocate for POWs, soldiers who are missing in action, and injured veterans. Since Don and I are retired military, this cause is obviously close to our hearts. In addition to backing such a great cause, they have always been a huge help in putting on the event, and they ask for nothing in return. We do donate money to them, but they are really just all about getting out and helping the community put this race on. We have veterans helping out during the race, and you’ll see veteran amputees, etc. They are EVERYWHERE on race day and we couldn’t put on this event without them. They are 100% there to help and they’re a great group of people who deserve our support.
Southern Indiana Classic Marathon, I am coming for you! And ok, yes, maybe I checked to make sure that I would have plenty of time to finish this race just in case my first marathon back was a total disaster and involved some time of meltdown. Sorry I’m not sorry. I’m really excited about the emphasis on local vendors, and even though I have literally zero chance of qualifying for Boston, I do love a good run through farmland. So, who else is going to be in Evansville on April 6 to watch me crawl my way through the countryside to the finish line?