Tuesday, August 23, 2016

15 reasons why the Falmouth Road Race is such a big deal

CAPE COD, Mass. -- Sunday's 44th running of the New Balance Falmouth Road Race was my 134th race, and definitely the first one with a 7-mile distance. I finished in 1:27:00, well off the average 1:10:55 finish time for the 10,535 who finished, but great for me right now.

I was initially confused about how a 7-mile race could possibly be a lottery event with such a prestigious reputation, but now I completely understand. Here are 15 reasons why #FalmouthRR is such a big deal and a must-add to any runner's bucket list:

1. Nobska Light. I haven't seen quite every lighthouse in the United States of America, but so far the one in Falmouth that is being restored is at the very top of my list. Before going to the Health & Fitness Expo on the Saturday of race weekend, we went to the lighthouse, took pictures and just basked in the glorious zen view of this nod to our seafaring past, looking out over Martha's Vineyard. It is the best Mile 1 Marker in the history of running and no race will ever come close to it. Originally "Nobsque" Light, erected in 1828, according to the old plaque below, and good folks are helping to preserve it.

2. The Tommy Leonard Start Line. Once you finally make your way there, you look to your left and see the race founder's face on the plaque hanging on the Captain Kidd bar in Woods Hole. Tommy was a bartender from boston working at the Brothers Four seven miles away in Falmouth Heights, and that is the distance that some runners had covered in the first actual race in 1972. Tommy made it a regular and official event in '73. Read the history here.

3. It is the Boston Marathon's little brother in New England. I don't mean they are affiliated, I mean this is the second-biggest running event in the region only to that one, and the same types of athletes and traditions are found here on the chill heaven that is Cape Cod. In 1975, the race included a great showdown between reigning Olympic marathon gold medalist Frank Shorter and defending Boston Marathon winner Bill Rodgers. Can you imagine them racing on the map below? This is a picture of them, from the official race site. They're flying down a hill. That's the same Bill Rodgers who told me in 1982 that I could be a runner, if I only ran, walked, ran and walked. (It was my first interview of a sports figure after I was hired by The Miami Herald out of Indiana University, and he was wearing an EAT NORWAY SARDINES T-shirt as we spoke about his running-boom message and sardine-eating proclivity in the Herald cafeteria.) Elites like Sarah Hall, Meb, Molly Huddle and Joan Samuelson have been examples of the star power this race draws. I swiped this map from my awesome friend @nycrunningmama after she blogged the race two years ago!

4 The people. Start with the 2,000 or so volunteers for this race, who are extraordinary in so many ways from the expo through the finish. They were so friendly. Then there are all those part-time and permanent Cape Codders who form a veritable human chain with unbelievable support for runners, especially in the second half after the roller-coaster ride that is the first 3 1/2 miles. There are an estimated 75,000 spectators along the way! The Falmouth Road Race puts your first name on your bib, so they all know to scream your name as you go by. This spectator support level was by far the thing I was most surprised by and eager to share with you. (This photo courtesy of the race site.)

5. Martha's Vineyard to your right. See No. 1. For most of the race, you can gaze at that big island just a short ferry ride away. Some people come over from there just to run. Some people go there after they run. It reminded me of a great trip we had there once and that I need to go there again. President Obama was out there somewhere while we were running by.

6. Heat management. They make sure you are amply hydrated at the start, and then once you get to the 2-mile mark, you'll never go without liquids. A forecast in the 80s had fortunately cooled to the mid-70s for this one. But you're still in the sun most of the way -- especially after the hills -- and water management was hugely important. Not only were there volunteers offering water seemingly EVERY SINGLE STEP, but there were a crazy number of locals who sprayed their hoses on the appreciative runners who passed by. One guy was even on the top floor of his home spraying the hose out over the pavement for us to run under. It was amazing. They helped me keep my cool:

7. No medal. Why would I make this a reason to run it? Because enough with the overabundance of medals in today's running community! Seriously! Disney is the biggest instigator of this. And last month, just out of curiosity, I ran one of these new virtual races and was mailed my Route 66 medal after self-submitting my many training runs that equaled a distance of 66 miles. I somewhat guiltily hung it on my medal rack, but I'm going to stop there. Let's go back to really appreciating what a medal means. They don't give you one here for seven miles. It's a great accomplishment, but you want a medal? Go run that Boston race across the bay in April and get a unicorn. I was happy to get a Yasso chocolate-chip coffee ice cream handed to me instead at the Refreshment Center.

8. Cape Cod. We stay with family nearly every August in Osterville, a quiet and awesome village in the town of Barnstable. On Friday, we made our usual trip up to the outer Cape, this time to the famed Beachcomber in Wellfleet for oysters, lobster rolls and the dazzling beach scene (pictured here) with towering sand-dune cliffs. Also pictured here is a book I bought at the Osterville book store, by the same author and local radio personality who wrote the first version that I read last year. And below that is my wife Lismo in one of the many chill moments we enjoyed just hanging out. The geography of Cape Cod itself resembles the biceps-flexing emoji that I and other runners use ALL THE TIME on IG and TW, so imagine that Falmouth is the lower part of your biceps (Provincetown is the fist). It was the first time we had been to Falmouth, and now that we know all about it, we are not only going back for sure, but are already pontificating what it would take to have a place there some day. Falmouth is beautiful, it's kind of chill, it is idyllic.

9. Buses to the start. Again, this has a decided Boston Marathon feel in the beginning. The race begins at 9 a.m., with pulse wave starts. I got up at 5 a.m. in Osterville, and we left at 5:45 for the short drive on Route 28 to Falmouth, stopping at a Dunkin' Donuts for coffee and a banana. Lisa and Rachel drove me to the runner dropoff at a local high school, and from there I boarded one of the long line of yellow school buses that took us to the start area in Woods Hole beside all the boats. Pro tip No. 1: Have someone drop you off nearby and walk to the school, because you'll be stuck in a jam if you want to be dropped off AT the school's front entrance. Pictured here is the typical Cape Cod house with shingle siding where the bus dropped us off, so beautiful.

10. Woods Hole starting area. I was there at the start area two hours before the race. I am glad I was there that early, avoiding any hectic situation. There seemed like a thousand portapotties, and I hit them three times, the last one only requiring a line. Runners lounged on the grass or on the seawalls, taking in the chill vibe. Pro tip No. 2: Make sure you find a SHADY spot. There were 12,800 runners at the start, bunched into a thin roadway, and if the sun beats down on you, you are going to be hot when you finally do go over that start line. I looked for shade at any cost.

...and here's a 360 video I took of the area where I chilled on the water:

11. You can enjoy the Cape. This is not one of those events like the New York City Marathon where you need to be legs-up the day before and avoiding touristy activities. It's a 7-mile race! Don't overdo it, but enjoy yourself on the Cape! We spent the day Saturday PADDLEBOARDING in Barnstable, weaving our way past small crafts and alongside great mansions. Thanks to Stand Up and Paddle of Osterville for making it so easy for us, and to "Pernille the crazy Danish girl" (lol) for pointing us in the right direction! It was $50 a person for two hours (that was plenty), for the three of us. It was my first time paddleboarding and I was a little worried about using new muscles in my high-ankle area, but there need be no such concern. I fell in twice, and my only real worry was not getting a couple of iPhones wet. All's well that ended well. It was a beautiful day, enjoying life before the big race.

12. Strategy. We had breakfast on Saturday of race weekend at the Pickle Jar (highly recommended!) in Falmouth, and near there I noticed a Super Lube oil-change shop that had a sign with a message for runners. It read: "RUN THE RACE WITH PATIENCE." Evidently they knew something I should know. Pro tip No. 3: Be patient and prepare to conserve energy the first 3 1/2 miles, because it is a roller coaster starting with an immediate uphill climb at the start -- up, down, up, down, up, down. It's almost entirely flat the second half, so use your speed there. After resting up in the morning, it's easy to want to go all-out the first few miles and you have to resist that urge and just bide your time. I'm including this as a reason to run the Falmouth Road Race, because you want a strategic race.

13. The Health & Fitness Expo. I was a little rushed, unfortunately, so I did not get to try on the race shirt that I bought, which I regretted later because it was so tight-fitting it was 2 or 3 sizes too small and I am stuck with a $40 expense. Here's what it looked like in my #FlatMe the night before, just as I decided to call an audible and go with an ASICS top I brought:

So make sure you have some time dedicated to really breathing in this expo. There was a lot going on. I did get to see most of the virtual race shown on a large screen, the only preparation I did for what the field was going to look like (other than seeing Nobska Lighthouse). There is gear galore. There was a seminar by the Korey Stringer Institute about performing in the heat. I am a hardcore and longtime Vikings fan, so that sadly brought to mind the story of the Vikings' Pro Bowl lineman who died of heat stroke at training camp 15 years ago. I was glad to see that his legacy is helping others. I bring this up because this expo does a lot more than just sell gear to runners. Be sure to take the time to enjoy it, as it is open from Thursday through Saturday. You'll be glad you did as it's one of the better expos around.

14. New shoes? No problem! The distance is friendly for a pair of kicks right out of the box, although I don't usually try new gear for any race. I had just received a new box of the Accelerate Hope shoes from ASICS that are enabling runners everywhere to help in the fight against various types of cancer. My new GT-1000 5 GR shoes have the gold ribbon design to raise awareness about pediatric cancer, and anyone who buys these are helping Cookies for Kids' Cancer to help that particular cause. For every specially marked product from the collection made available in retail stores nationwide from August 1 to November 30, 2016, ASICS America is donating $10 for each pair of shoes purchased to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, with a guaranteed minimum donation of $100,000, up to $150,000. Speaking of good causes, another big reason the Falmouth Road Race is such a big deal is the sheer volume of money raised by runners to help charities while helping themselves to an entry.

15. The Big Finish. When you see the giant USA flag -- one of the biggest in the nation, if not the biggest! -- you know it is time for that finish photo. In fact, this is one of the best finish-photo events on the international racing calendar. They are just waiting to pounce on the reality of your existence and you had better be running hard and happy as you reach that glorious conclusion! The video of my finish was available within 24 hours and the pictures from marathonfoto.com rolled in fast as well. I'm trying to decide which pic or package to get, but for now here's a sampler of the happy ending, including the perfect item on the menu for recovery food on the Cape.

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