Four Marathons, Four States, Four Days…For Fun?
Editor’s Note: This post is written by guest contributor, Steve Patten, and has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Minneapolis Running.
Run 26.2 miles once and your friends and co-workers may ask some questions. You get responses from awe, to concern, to disbelief. Attempt four full marathons in four states in four days and even other marathoners will call you nuts. You’ve just crossed that invisible line from committed to crazy!
This was the trip I set out on a few weeks ago with my wife and four children, ages 8-14. We would be joining up with a group called Mainly Marathons to run their Heartland Series which consisted of races in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. The plan was for me to complete a full marathon each of the first four days, and for my wife to complete a half marathon during each of the last three days. Crazy? Fanatical? Maniacal? Take your pick! Even though I had run sixteen marathons previously, this would be unlike any other experience.
A Race Unlike Any Other
I could recount the trip day by day, but each day was similar to the last: wake up, start running at 5 AM, finish, drive to the next state, sleep, and repeat. But unless you’ve experienced a few days with a group like Mainly Marathons, it’s unlike anything else you’ve imagined.
One of the biggest differences from a normal race is the course. These races are set up with multiple out and back loops, usually covering about 1.6-2 miles per loop. After returning to the start area each runner picks up a rubber band from a table and goes out for another loop. To complete the marathon distance each runner needs 10-16 bands, depending on the specific course.
Though this may seem very boring, there were actually a number of advantages. Since the races take place early in the morning and mostly during the week, spectators are usually in short supply. By doing this you are constantly encountering other runners and encouraging each other. The smaller course also means there is no need to close streets or divert traffic, and no need for multiple aid stations. It also allows for a no race time limit; walkers are welcome to all distances, even the full marathon!
I am generally a lone wolf kind of runner. Most runs, long and short, are solo, and I like it that way. But while completing my marathon each day I was constantly seeing the same people and it gave multiple opportunities to greet each other with a “Good job,” “Way to go,” or just a quick thumbs up. I had the opportunity to run with this group for one day in 2014, and at first, it really threw me off. I left with the opinion that the race was very well organized, but just not my cup of tea. After being part of this wild group for a week it started to become my cup of tea.
In addition to the social aspect of the races, there is also an incredible diversity of runners present. There are people completing their very first 5k, or half or full marathon, Guinness record holders, and everyone in between; all types of runners are more than welcome. During the week of marathons, I met a young lady who was attempting to set a world record for the most half marathons completed in a month. There were a number of folks who have completed hundreds of marathons, and even one runner who plans to finish marathon number 2,000 before the end of 2017! No matter your experience or pace, the group is extremely friendly and welcoming to everyone.
The Aid Station
When an aid station has it’s own dedicated page on the race website, you know it’s unlike any other you’ve experienced; to merely refer to it as a water stop would be an insult. Even if you’ve completed an ultra marathon you may not have seen a spread like this. There are the standard chips, pretzels, candies, cookies, pickles, olives, cold cut sandwiches, etc. But add to that treats like chicken and green chili quesadillas, fresh potato salad that accurately claims to be “better than mom makes,” blueberry pancakes, and french toast.
Norm Duesterhoeft, Mainly’s traveling cook, understands that when runners are putting out this many miles, they need real food. Gels and chews won’t cut it. Norm, along with his wife Kathy, travels as part of the race crew and puts out all kinds of wonderful food each from his mobile kitchen in the trailer behind his Winnebago. Norm even has a cookbook featuring runners’ favorite recipes!
While Mainly Marathons races are officially timed, measured, and USATF sanctioned, they don’t focus on the fastest finishers. There is no finisher tape and no awards for first place. The medals are uniquely designed to connect to each other so that your medal grows longer with each race you complete during the week. Special awards are also given for first-time marathon or half marathon finishers. The only medal that is given out for finishing order is the caboose award. This caboose-shaped medal is given to the last half marathon and marathon finishers each day. It’s meant as a reminder that we’re all in this together and at the end of the day it’s not about winning; it’s about finishing. Whether you run the marathon in 3 hours or walk it in 7, you finished.
And how did I finish? Happy, exhausted, and with memories to last a lifetime. If you’ve never experienced races like this the only way to truly understand is to do it yourself. Whether you join for one day or multiple days, it will be a time to remember. You’ll be exhausted by the end of it, but it is well worth it.