Saturday, October 4, 2014

Bib of the Week -- 2001 Indianapolis Mini Marathon

One fun thing I like to do every so often is post a photo of a bib from a race I did in the past and share some memories I have of that event. For years I made it a point to collect the bibs from all the races I had run and hang them in my garage, but after I moved into an apartment about half of those bibs got lost for some reason.

Still, I have a bunch left and continue to accumulate more, so I don't think I will ever run out of bib-related material. With the 2015 Indy Mini Marathon my goal race, I decided to make my first one the subject of today's post.

I was still pretty much a newbie at the start of 2001, having only gotten into running a year before. In fact, my desire to take up running was inspired by the start of the 1999 Chicago Marathon. I was up early for church and warming up my car when I switched on the television and caught the beginning of the race.

It was quite an epiphany for me, because for so long I had always associated runners as being skinny, waify-types. I had grown up in a small town with a good cross country and track program -- one of my schoolmates, Mark Schierer, won the 1987 Class AA state individual cross country championship and was a state champion in track as well -- and all of them were skinny...and fast. I knew nothing about the sport and had never even been to a road race, but what I saw on my TV that morning were people who looked just like me, and it blew me away. Not to mention it looked like they were having fun. So my goal was to run the 2000 Chicago Marathon, which I did.

What I didn't anticipate was that I would love running as much as I did. For much of the first part of 2000 I thought the marathon was going to be a one-and-done thing, and I would hang up my shoes once I crossed that item off my list. Funny thing was, the more I ran and the more I raced, the more I began to enjoy running and the running community.

So even after finishing the marathon, I decided to continue on. My sister Karen lives in Central Indiana and was running at the time, so she mentioned the Mini Marathon, and how it was a big race in downtown Indy that included a lap around the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In reality, she could've stopped there. I have had a deep, intense love affair with auto racing and with IMS that dates back to 1979, and the thought of running a lap around that amazing place was all I needed to know. Sign me up!

I also found a willing participant in my friend Noah Schwartz, who was a co-worker of mine back then and still is a friend to this day. He had run the marathon too and after some consistent training was turning into an absolute monster on the road.

So we were all set for the first week of May. I had that goal in mind, but a second one was to get a seeded number so that I could start up front and get off to a better start. With time running out to get a qualifying time, Noah and I entered the Wacky Snacky 5K on Feb. 25 in hopes of running a 19:30 (Noah) and a 22:30 (Mike) to get our seeded bibs.

Though the weather was crappy (25 degrees and 30 mph winds) we were both going to go after it. Noah certainly did, I went over a little big of a bridge about a quarter-mile into the race and looking ahead I could see him running with the leaders! Me, meanwhile, took things out way too fast, running a 6:48 first mile that to this day is still the fastest race mile of my life.

It was hard from then on in and my splits got progressively slower, but a late flourish gave me a finish in 22:26, meaning I set a 5K PR (which still stands) and while Noah slowed down too he broke 19:30 and got his seed as well.

So we were all set and headed to Indianapolis the day before the race. I was feeling had been going well and I felt like I could maybe break 1:50 if all went well. Noah was thinking even bigger as he wanted the special finisher's medal they gave to the Top 500 runners.

We stayed at my parent's house just up the road from Indy and headed down with Karen (who was running), my dad and brother Tim in tow. I still don't know how I talked my dad into going, but I'm glad I did because it was the only race he ever saw me run.

Looking at the Weather Underground website, it says the high temperature that day was 82, and that it was about 65 and cloudy when the race went off, but with the humidity it was kind of sticky. Still, conditions were pretty good all things considered.

That year, the race used a dual-start line procedure which saw half of the field line up on one street and the other half on another street two blocks away. Noah and Karen started on Washington Street and I was over on Maryland, with the fields merging just past about a half-mile near Victory Field.

The cool part was that my seeded bib got me line up right behind the elite women. There were only a couple dozen of them so at the start of the race I was only about 15 feet from the actual starting line. I thought that was pretty awesome.

In the end it was a blessing and a curse. While it was great to get such a clean release off the start line, the fact I was starting behind the elite women and in PR shape led to me cranking it up a little to much at the start. I was able to settle myself down a little bit and I hit five miles in 41:03.

The five-mile mark sits just outside the Speedway, so when you pass that it's a quick jaunt down 16th Street before hanging a left and going into the track. We went through a tunnel under the actual track and through the museum parking lot before finally reaching the track's surface itself on the back straightaway.

Now, before this I had been to the track about three dozen times, and got used to cars zooming around the 2 1/2 mile track in less than 40 seconds. It wasn't until I was on the track itself that it hit me -- this place is just humongous.

Just for perspective (and this still stands today), you hit the six, seven and eight mile marks inside the track, and hit nine miles just after exiting it and getting back on 16th St. Amazing. The track itself has two straights that are 5/8-mile long, each corner is 1/4-mile long and there are short straights (called "chutes") in between the turns. We ran on the actual track on the straights and the warmup lanes in the corners so that we weren't running on the uneven banking.

It was so hot in there too! The aluminum bleachers sucked in all of the heat and what sunlight there was and it was just baking on the asphalt track. One thing I've learned is that if you want to run a fast time, the race doesn't start until you exit the track.

While runners are circling the track they are showing the broadcast up on the video boards, and I was just at the start/finish line -- the yard of bricks -- when Kenyan Simon Rono was finishing up his win in 1:02:36. I'm so amazed by those guys.

I cracked 10 miles in 1:22:30, so I was holding a nice pace of 8:15 per mile. I knew to break 1:50 I had to run to an 8:23 pace so I was happy with that. The last 5K was hard, though, as the warm temperatures started to get to me a little. Still, I averaged 8:28 over that final stint so it wasn't like I fell off the side of the earth, it just felt that way!

The final turn onto New York St. is a little like the feels good to know you are in the home stretch but there is still a mile to go! And it's not an easy one, either, because once you come off a bridge over the White River, it's kind of an incline the rest of the way.

Still, I couldn't help but smile in the final stretch as I knew I was going to meet my goal. When I crossed the line my finishing time was 1:48:51, and I finished 2,738th our of 19,677 finishers. Noah fell just short of the Top 500, finishing 534th in 1:31:30. Still, I'm guessing that is still his PR! Karen also did well and finished in 3:30:42.

The Mini has a reputation for handing out cool medals, and the one we got was pretty sweet.  I ran the race the next six years, and set my PR of 1:42:36 there in 2007. Unfortunately I haven't been able to run it since then, but looking back on my first one makes me even more excited about going back.

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