The inaugural Circular Logic Marathon happened!! The germ of an idea which hit me during a cold, windy 20-mile run in January, 2011, took root, engaged a handful of others and bloomed on Saturday morning, March 31, 2012 as a full-fledged marathon. Here's the essential story, with lots of photos and a couple of short videos.
Running during the winter in Indiana can be a miserable experience. Cold, rain, slush, grey, wind. On such a day over a year ago, I wondered how I could do something to both encourage my fellow midwesterners to run through the yuck AND how I might "give back" to the running community by organizing a race. I run so many races...each one has an organizer and many volunteers...I needed to do my part as well.
My original effort was to organize an indoor marathon on the very nice 200m track at Purdue's Lambert Fieldhouse. I got the support of our running club, made efforts from February through October of 2011 to gain Purdue's approval but, alas, could not gain any interest from the key university authorities.
Sensing the need for a Plan B during the summer of 2011, I wondered if we could do something outdoors. I regularly run through a city park and realized one day certain trails could be connected to form a loop which, to my eye, measured about 1 mile. I ran this loop with my GPS and, indeed, it was one mile. I traced it carefully on Map My Run and found a way to make it exactly 1.0 miles. Could we do it?
Late last fall, I proposed this idea to our running club's officers and got their backing; to the city Parks and Rec department and got their enthusiastic support; and to Jake Franklin, a local guy who owns a race timing company, whom I knew I'd need to have to count laps accurately. It all fell together amazingly smoothly and quickly. So, I cobbled together a race website, posted the date on marathonguide.com, Marathon Maniacs site and a few other Indiana sites, used a measuring wheel to get the course at 1.00 miles, sat back and wondered if I was truly crazy this time. Seriously, Joe, would ANYONE actually sign up for a marathon consisting of 26 trips around a one-mile loop in late March in Indiana?
Race Day came at last. We had 85 individuals sign up for the marathon, 75 of whom toed the line for our 9:00am start. In addition, we had a free-form marathon relay which attracted 16 teams consisting of over 80 individuals. Temperatures were in the upper 40s, with overcast skies and only a mild breeze on a flat course...ideal running conditions.
The wife of one of our relay captains sang the National Anthem, one of our original running club members rang her U of Wisconsin cowbell to start the race and off they went.
After the pack crossed the start line, I stood there for a moment with a buddy of mine who was helping with the timing. "Mat, we are actually having a marathon! It's really happening!" It was quite a moment for me and it was cool to share with a friend. Reality returned quickly though, and I headed backwards down the course to make sure we got the first lap done correctly. We added the Point Two miles onto the first lap, involving a short out and back about 3/4 of the way around the park. That all worked perfectly, thanks to some terrific volunteers at that key junction.
And so the race was started. I was astounded how well it went. Space won't allow all the observations but three things turned out to be very special to the runners.
Litter-free Hydration. I wanted to try something only a loop race allows...having zero paper cups for water. We asked all our runners to bring their own water bottles, marked with their bib number. Then we put them in numerical order on a table where they could grab it each time round, if they wished.
And what a menagerie of bottles it was!! Really beautiful, in an odd sort of way. Every shape and size, all lined up.
When runners came past, our water station crew, about 8 people in all, would spot the number and hold out the runners own water bottle.
My son David, who helped at the table, captured it best when he said "Dad, it made every runner feel like an elite champion!" Indeed it did. The volunteers got to know the names of each runner. So, each time past, the runner got some personal encouragement, as well as a custom refill of water or Gatorade.
About 30m down the course from the water station was the key to all this. We stationed laundry baskets there, into which the runners threw their bottle. Our crew then carried the baskets back, refilled the bottles getting low, and put them back in order. Lather, rinse, repeat. Here's a 45 second video of the whole process, featuring several fellow Maniacs, to boot.
We got fantastic feedback on this system...it worked way better than I had imagined it would. Runners just LOVED the personalized service and thought it was awesome we left no litter. Indeed, cleanup was a breeze at the end. Sara, who led the effort, and her team perfected the process continuously throughout the race and we have a whole list of things to do even better next year. But I get ahead of myself.
Personalized Bibs. The second thing that seemed to make the race go well was our bib system, another idea that hit me during one of my long runs last summer. In races, we always wear bibs on the front of our shirts. But, as runners, how often to we see the FRONT of another runners shirt? We normally only see the back of shirts. So, I thought, since we'll have more than normal back-seeing on this loop course, so why not make a second bib for each runner's back with their name and home town, so folks can get to know other a bit more easily? I found a bib making company who was game for this and so we did it. You can see this bib, along with our race medals in this short video I shot on my dining room table the afternoon before the race.
And some of the bib names were just plain funny:
Amazing what a simple thing like this brought to the race--it really made it personal and let people connect much better with each other.
Another thing we did with the bibs was allowing people to pick their own bib numbers. That was a hoot...many people had special numbers they requested. The most clever of all was the one selected by Bryce Carlson.
Bib #314...no problem there. But look closely at the bib in the picture. Right after he registered and picked 314, he emailed me and asked if I would take a marker and add a decimal point to the bib, which I did once they arrived. Bryce correctly figured out he could be 3.14, the mathematical constant pi, the perfect number for someone running the Circular Logic Marathon (not to mention thrilling me, a Purdue engineer with clear nerdy tendencies). And, the bib apparently was key...Bryce won the race, leading from wire to wire, nearly a mile ahead at the end! Here I am presenting the trophy to him!!
Lap Counting Team. The third thing that worked well and became personal was our chip timing system and people. At the start/finish line, Jake had his RFID system set up to read the chips attached to the back of each person's front bib. This eliminated the need for a timing mat, something which might prove a trip hazard after 26 trips across it.
At the finish complex, Jake had two flat-screen monitors set up and he programmed his system to put up, on each screen, the name of the runner detected along with the number of laps he/she had completed. Our runners loved having this reliable count, every time around. In addition, it told them the name of whoever was near them at the crossing, further enhancing getting to know people.
In addition to the electronic timing, we also had a back up...four folks with clipboards and pencils, whom you can see standing here as Deb Thomford, our women's winner, knocks off another lap.
Jake had this idea, knowing we needed a secondary way to reliably count laps. He divvied the field up into quarters and each person had those numbers to keep track of. Again, the counters got to know the runners and greeted them enthusiastically each time around. It was a special part of the race for all our runners, they wrote and told us.
And, while all of these things made the race personal, the course itself helped. Family and friends could see their runner every lap. Many kids jumped in to run a time or two around the course.
I was personally honored that two of the most enduring names in marathoning joined us in our inagural race. Jim Simpson, the legendary marathoner from Huntington Beach, CA and Larry Macon, the world-record holder for most marathons run in a year, both ran our race. What incredible gentlemen!! They were as encouraging and gracious as could be. The two of them, along with veteran 50 state marathoner Russell Cheney walked the last 8 or so miles together and were the final of our 65 marathon finishers. I was humbled to be able to give these terrific guys their medals at the end, as the sun finally came out on what became a beautiful spring day. What a treat to meet them and be with them.
If you'd like more race info, look at our YouTube Page, our photo/video page, and the race participants' comments on MarathonGuide.com.
It is quite an experience being a Race Director...very different from being a runner. It is a lot of work, more than I expected, both before and after the event. But, then again, I was hoping for 30 runners to show up...and we had over 160 participants.
The big question: Will we do it again?? Yes we will. Set the date: Saturday, March 23, 2013.
Once more, a reason to train through the winter. Once more, a chance for me and others to give back.
And a chance for all of us to persevere.