Monday, September 17, 2012

Going the Extra Mile (or 2): USAF Half Marathon Recap

Did you know Half Marathons are 15.02 miles? Actually, if you were one of 500-1,000 runners who were misguided TWICE during the Air Force Half Marathon on Saturday, your half marathon could have been as long as 17+ miles. 15.02 was my lucky distance.

Does the USAF Marathon have a different tool for measuring? Is it a choose your own adventure race? No, no. More like a lack of signs, ill-informed volunteers and just poor planning on the race staff's part.

Let's start from the beginning. Saturday morning dawned with a chilly and foggy 47 degrees.

My family was all bibbed up and ready to start our races. My mom, sister in-law, niece and nephew started out first with the 10k, leaving my brother and I with our sherpa, the Turtle (that's what you get for not participating!) Bro and I were bouncing off the walls waiting for our 8:30am start time, slap happy with excitement. As usual, the Turtle stared at us blearily, with "What did I marry!?" practically oozing from his expression. (hehehe)

Just a taste of what the Turtle had to deal with....keep in mind this is 6 am

A calmer moment
When the gun went off, I flew over the start line, super pumped. I felt amazing, my U2 start song was blasting and I was raring to go!

Mile 1: I was flying! I passed my mom, sis in-law and the kids, who were on the 3rd mile of their race. I was so proud to see them on the course (the kids were the youngest competitors of the 10k!)

Miles 2-3: Feeling great, keeping a 6:30 average pace. I chucked off my arm socks, leaving them Hansel & Gretel style on the side of the road as reminders to my brother that I'm ahead of him (I'm terrible).

Mile 4: Mile 4, mile 4....Buehler?? My Garmin says I'm at 4.25, huh, well I guess I just missed the marker.

Cones have sprouted up, dividing the race and the lead car with the 1st place marathoners are coming at us. Huh. I don't remember ever seeing the lead marathoners in years past.

Suddenly, we approach a T-intersection with a road to the left. The cones are going straight ahead as well as making a curve to lead you down the road. Runners are going in both directions. As the half and full runners are now mixed together, I think to myself a SIGN might be a nice thing to have right now. I spot 2 airmen standing on the corner with a race map and shout to them, "Do Half Marathoners go down this road?" They nod yes, I turn down.

About .25 - .5 miles down the road, I start to notice half marathoners coming toward me, along with the marathoners who were already running down that road. Full marathoners are shouting at us "Half Marathoners, turn around! You're going the wrong way!"


WHAT!??! No way. This is NOT happening to me. I don't believe it. I slow down a little, try to figure out if I should continue on, (because surely they're joking or misinformed), or turn around.

I turn around, cursing in my head and as I approach the airmen at the corner who had misguided me, I notice several runners bitching them out.

Ok, Tink, so you went a mile out of your way, at best. You can make this up. Come on. I keep going in the correct direction, (so I think), and slowly get back in my groove.

What's this? More runners turning around.


I approach another airman with a map who's talking to more panic-stricken runners. I do the unthinkable. I stop. I ask him where I'm supposed to go, and he helplessly tells me he doesn't know. I ask him if he can show me on the map where we are right now. He can't. But, he says, he can go run down to another airman who has a walkie talkie and can tell us where we need to go.

Can't you just put me in a golfcart or something and take me to the finish? I quit! At this point, I don't have any idea where I am or where I'm supposed to go or how many more times I might get turned around. What the hell is happening here?!

And that is the exact moment where I decided to sign up for the Towpath Half Marathon.

Just as he's about to take off to get help, this beefy half marathoner comes up and starts freaking out on the airman about how much money he paid for this race. Dude, the longer you talk to this guy, the longer it'll take for him to get us help. It's not his fault he wasn't informed!

I calmly put my hand on Mr. Beefy's arm and gently tell him the airman is trying to get us help. Mr. Beefy doesn't like this (or maybe he hates the human touch) and flings my hand off his arm and starts freaking out on me.

Aw hell, I didn't sign up for this.

So, I turn around and just start running back where I came from. Again. I find myself amidst marathoners and the 2:00 pace group for the half marathon. WTF. It's a sea of people (now I know what the Turtle felt like back with the cattle in the Disney Half). I jump up on the grass and start whizzing by people, hearing "Look at her go!" at my back. I recognize other runners I'd been with before also trying to weave thru the masses.

Eventually, I come by mile marker 5. I look down at my Garmin: 7 miles. AHHHH. Really?! I'm that far behind on the actual course? This is insane!

Slowly, reality sinks in and I just plug away. Mile by mile, I make my way toward the finish, all the while joining in on conversations with other runners as we compared what mile we were really on. At one point, I passed the Turtle's sister (who was walking the half) and hysterically scream at her what happened and to make sure she goes the right way. I may or may not have come across as a little possessed.

At mile 11, when my Garmin showed I was at 13.1, I flung my hands up in victory and shouted, "HEY! Where's the finish line?! I'm done!" and everyone around laughed, which started another round of "Hey, what mile are you on?"

At the mile 12 marker, I spot my brother. I sidle up to him and casually say, "Hey, what mile you on?" He blinks confusedly at me and goes, "Uhhh..12? What mile are you on?"
I gleefully say 14.5 and continue on.

Mile 12 is a big, demoralizing horse shoe, where you have to pass the finish to loop around to cross it. It sucks on a good day. But after running the most miles I've ever run, I just wanted to quit right there. However, feeling my brother breathing down my neck, I sped on.

After crossing the finish at 1:51:57, I waited for my brother to cross 2 minutes later, when I triumphantly pointed at him saying, "I ran 2 extra miles and I still beat you!"

My official 13.1 finishing time was 1:34:27...however, that doesn't take into consideration slowing down to figure out where to go and getting caught up in the sea of people. I would have PR-ed had it not been for this, I know it.

My family of finishers!

I spent the remainder of the race, (we had to wait for the Turtle's sister to finish), going from giddy from my runner's high and trading war stories with other halfers, to totally pissed (runner's high worn off), to utterly depressed and crying (It's just not faaaaaiiiir!).

2 days later, I'm back to just being pissed. There's no excuse for this to have happened. I understand that race staff cannot be everywhere at once, however, signs can. What is so complicated about putting up signs directing Half and Full runners on where to go? The USAF Marathon is not cheap, and people pay the money expecting quality. If this were some $20 trail race in the deep woods, I'd understand, but this was a road race on an Air Force Base. There is no excuse. 500-1,000 runners is a lot of people who were robbed of PRs, division placement and just the satisfaction of their true time recorded. (some runners have requested to be DQ-ed so this race isn't on their record)

As soon as I got home from the race, I signed right up for the Towpath Half Marathon in October. Hopefully, I'll still feel just as good and fly thru that race. Towpath, here I come!


  1. WOW. I can't even imagine how pissed I would have been. I think this is my biggest fear about Ragnar this week actually, that I'm going to miss the signs and everything and screw it up.

    That said, what a hell of a finish!!! Way to go on the extra miles!!!

    1. Thank you! Hopefully it won't happen to you, but this is so rare, I'll think you'll be just fine, but study the course map just to be sure!

  2. I am so sorry for your experience. So interesting to read about the chaos. Glad I missed most of it.

  3. WOW just WOW - that is a major bummer! I would be really frustrated also.

  4. Interesting to read your experience... I was just ahead of the 2:00 pace group when you (and others) came running back into us. Added an extra 1/2 mile to my Half. It really was chaos, at times dangerous with frantic runners all mixed up in the middle miles. I had high expectations for this race, but came home (6 hr drive) disappointed and doubtful we'll come back. Why they have such different courses for the full/half/10k all winding thru each other is puzzling to me? When I studied the course maps the night before, I was confused and figured I'd just follow the thousands in front of me... surely they can't be wrong... right?! LOL!

    1. Oh wow, what a long way to come to have this be your experience! I don't blame you for not wanting to do it again! Pouring over the map after the race, I still can't figure out where I had really gone!

  5. Oh man that blows. cannot believe a race that size could get that effed up. Wow you are speedy though. Love the video!

  6. OOH I would be SO ANGRY....I don't know what I'd do. You totally would have had a PR if the course hadn't been messed up!!