GO! St. Louis Marathon ~ Part One

Ken STL Maraton 2016

Above is my grandson Kenneth, who is wishing me success all the way from Vienna, Austria where his momma ran the Vienna Half Marathon. (In fact, by the time I woke on Sunday for my marathon, she had already finished her Sunday half marathon in that much earlier time zone.) Not sure about the “Grampy” part, though it does rhyme with “crampy” and that is apt.

We arrived in St. Louis on Friday and had some time to fill before we could check in at our favorite bed and breakfast, so we went to the race expo to pick up my packet, get hustled by the vendors there (I took the free samples but didn’t buy anything — and who buys expensive kitchen cutlery or gutters for their house at a running expo?), and asked various people various questions. Then we found a place to have a light lunch. We drove part of the course (as well as we could determine from the tiny maps on our phones) and pretty much just goofed around until we could check in. We stepped up for a slightly more expensive room this visit since it was the one with the bath tub, and I wanted to have the option of soaking in epsom salts after the run if necessary. (Alternatively, an ice bath. Or both.)

Soon after that, #1 Son, Seth, arrived. (Seth lives in St. Louis.) We then drove to the nearby Hill area of St. Louis where the Italian community is concentrated for a last spaghetti plate of carb loading before the run. (Also some adult hydration.) And we made a stop at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, which is a must-see when in St. Louis. By then it was my bed time, sufficient rest being part of the training plan (a part that I do not shirk).

On Saturday, after we had a great breakfast and conversation with our host, Seth arrived again and we set out to drive the full course so I could get terrified get an idea of what to expect and when. The marathon starts in downtown St. Louis and by the first mile is crossing the Mississippi River to take us into Illinois and East St Louis. The route only spends about a mile in Illinois before crossing another bridge to return us to Missouri. Assuming we followed the route once we were back in Missouri (and I think we more or less did because we saw road closed signs stacked and waiting at given corners, portapotties staged nearby, and even little water fountains rigged on fire hydrants — all of which suggested a race route), it was a pretty bleak area. Empty lots, vacant, burned-out buildings, pot holes, and general loneliness lined these streets. I guess it was a way to add another mile to the route, or maybe it was a way to take the route around an area where they didn’t want to close the streets. In any case, it wasn’t pretty, but I was hoping that I would be so delirious by then that I wouldn’t notice.

Like many older cities, downtown St. Louis has a lot of one-way streets, and sometimes we couldn’t drive the exact route, at least not without making a lot of oncoming cars angry. But we wove along what seemed to be the course and were soon heading south of the downtown toward the Anheuser Busch brewery. This was an out-and-back stretch, so following the course took us back to downtown (after passing a spot intriguingly marked on the map as the “chocolate station”), to the very point where the run started. This marked 13.1 miles covered, and for those running the half marathon, it would be their finish. For the rest of us, it would be a way to calculate the amount of suffering still to come.

From here the course headed west, and for about two of those miles, the course was headed uphill as well. Hills look completely manageable from the comfort of a car, with two rested legs. I knew, however, that I would likely think differently the next day. In fact, this marathon is listed as one of those mythical “fast, flat” courses, and I understand the redesign of it two years ago removed some of the hills it formerly had. Nonetheless, there are hills. The approaches to the bridges across the mighty Mississippi River include long, steady hills, and while they are not steep, they are long and steady. Their corresponding descents on their far sides are welcome, of course, but the damage is done by then. So too, with the departure from the city. Its two miles of uphill (long and steady) crests at a given point and then there is a nice long downhill-ish straightaway that leads into Forest Park. The course meanders for a few miles within the park before returning to that nice long downhill-ish straightaway, which has become, of course, an uphill run. It once again peaks at the same point, and then it’s pretty much downhill (or flat) the rest of the way to the finish. I expect to be fully delirious by this point though, so it will likely be wasted on me.

With the course inspection completed, we bopped around St. Louis a bit, seeing some of the old familiar places and otherwise relaxing. I was back at the BnB hours before my usual bedtime and sat around. I checked my gear, panicked a bit when I couldn’t find some essentials, relaxed a bit when I found them, and generally took my ease, doing my best to stuff down all of the anxiety rising in me.

Earlier in the week, as soon as I could look at the long-term weather forecasts for St. Louis, I saw a 30% chance of rain on race day. By Friday before the marathon, the weather people had taken that out of the forecast. And replaced it with a 50% chance of rain. And then the day before, they changed it again to a 60% chance of rain and thundershowers (which could, in theory, cancel the run altogether), but they would clear out in the afternoon (which would be about the time I finished under such delightful conditions).

And so, early to bed for a fitful sleep on Saturday. Come what may, I would do my best.

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