Thursday, June 9, 2016

40th 500 Festival Indy Mini-Marathon -- May 7, 2016

If you were to ask me what my favorite race is, I would have to answer the Chicago Marathon. After all, I started running in 2000 with the purpose of running a marathon, it's my "hometown race" and the fact that I've kept running since is just a testament to the love of the sport, and the journey of running.

The Indy Mini, though, runs a close second. Very, very close second! I ran my first Mini in 2001 and last Saturday was my ninth time running the race. Since I lived there for about five years a long time ago, it too has a hometown feel to it, and given that I love the Indy 500 the way I do, a chance to run a lap around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a thrill in itself.

My race weekend started with a thrill when I met Meb Keflezighi at the expo, an experience I recounted in my previous post. Here's a funny photo I found from last year's expo when I met a cutout Meb, I was so happy for the chance to meet the real one this time around!

The Mini expo is actually pretty nice, it's small and easy to get around, and one of my favorite things is to check out the display that shows memorabilia from all of the previous races. They have shirts, medals, newspaper articles and photos that show how the race has evolved.

It's hard to believe that for almost 20 years the race was run on the Friday before the Indy 500, and the race actually finished on the track. Most of the races were hot and the middle of the course was really hilly, unlike the flat, fast course that starts and finishes downtown.

What is also interesting was how you can really trace the history of the race going from a local event to one of national prominence. While Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter won the first couple of races, most of the races in the 1980s and early 90s were won by local runners, including Gary Romesser, who won the race five times and was still cranking out fast times into his late fifties.

The Kenyan runners started arriving in 1993, and African and Eastern Europeans have won the race since. That's OK, because even with the fast runners up front and the fact the race has grown to over 35,000 participants, it still has the feel of a local race. That's just a testament to the organizers and volunteers, many of whom have been with the race since the start!

Anyway, after checking out the expo and getting a bite to eat, we headed back to the hotel to rest up before the big event. Thanks (again) to my brother-
in-law, Adam, we had a room at the JW Marriott hotel, which is stationed right next to the starting line.

Last year we were on the 23rd floor but this time, we were up a bit higher -- on the 32nd -- and our room once again faced west, so we had a great view of the starting line and could see several miles of the course. Let me tell you, it is so nice to have a hotel next to the starting line, it's just so relaxing to not have to worry about finding places to park or other logistical challenges.

With this year also being the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, the hotel had this really cool decal on the side of the building. It is way more impressive in person and you can see it from a long way off. Indy is really pulling out all of the stops for the 500, and there is a lot of excitement surrounding the race.

All in all I slept pretty well on Friday night, and it didn't take much to get me out of bed just past 6 a.m. After getting ready and getting some breakfast, I headed back to the room for the start of the 5K at 7:15.

This photo was taken a little bit before the 5K started, but that was the view we had. Like the Mini, the 5K seems to be gaining in popularity as the race actually sold out this year.

I'm not sure how this happened, but I got a pretty good corral assignment and was in the 2nd starting wave (the waves went off ever 12-15 minutes). With that in mind, we headed down to the start so we could get all of our stuff together.

I wasn't the only one in the Knapp/Bretz house to be running the Mini, as Darcy's son Spencer decided to join us this year. Spencer is 20 and a sophomore in college, and while he hadn't put in a ton of training,
his goal was just to finish and have a good time.

Also in the field was my mom, Pat, who at 79 continues to absolutely rock it. My mom has always taken good care of herself and it shows as she looks even younger than she is. And given that she had two siblings live into their nineties, she is going to keep living the dream for a long time.

I jumped in my corral a few minutes before it was time to start. The weather was pretty fantastic, in the high-50s with not a lot of humidity, and what breeze there was came from the west, which meant a bit of a tailwind heading back downtown.

Since I knew I wasn't among the faster people in the second wave, I moved to the back of the corral and went on the left side of the street. That was also where Darcy said she would be too.

As the first wave cleared out, ours moved up to the starting line. The moments before a big race like this are so exciting. I always have to remind myself to remember to enjoy the moment instead of getting nervous about it.

A few minutes later we were off! I came in with the goal of running about 2 hours, 30 minutes, which is a pace between 11:25 and 11:30 per mile. It was a little hard to not get caught up with the faster runners at the start, but I tried to stay disciplined and follow my own plan.

That worked after mile one as I posted a split of 11:29! One thing I noticed over the first few miles was that I was really, really focused, and my mile splits were a representative of that. I'm sure part of it is just because it's the Mini and is a big race for me, but I've also noticed that ever since I was paired up with Lucas and formed #LittleBuddyRacing for my Cal's Angels fundraising that there has been a little more focus to my running. I'm glad, as it was kind of a struggle for me in the weeks after the Viking Half.

If you would like to contribute to my Chicago Marathon fundraising for Cal's Angels, check out my page here.

The first 4-5 miles went pretty quickly -- well, mentally at least -- and before I knew it we were passing the Allison Transmission plant and entering the town of Speedway. I mention the Allison plant because their employees have always supported the Mini and this year had a really great water stop. Everyone I grabbed water from called me by name and were really enthusiastic.

The town of Speedway itself has come a long way in the last few years. With many of the race teams and Dallara, the chassis manufacturer for the IndyCar series, having relocated onto Main Street, the street has gotten a big facelift over the years.

After that it was a quick jaunt onto 16th St. and then under the tunnel that takes you into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

For me, this is what puts this race near the top of my list of favorites. I have been going to the Speedway since
1979 and attended my first race there in 1988. This year was the 100th running of the 500 (on May 29), and it was a spectacular event that I will remember forever. Not only was it a great race, and had a surprise winner in rookie Alexander Rossi, it was so awesome to be a part of a crowd that was estimated at more than 350,000 people.

Anyway, back to my race! After running through the tunnel we move to the back straightaway, where we join the track for our 2.5-mile run around it. Needless to say it is BIG, when you are standing at the end of one of the straightaways looking towards
the next turn it seems to stretch on forever. The massive grandstands also cut an imposing figure around the track too.

After negotiating the back straight and turns 3 and 4, we make our way down the long front stretch, which is enclosed by grandstands on both sides. When cars are at the point of where I am taking this photo, they are going just under 230 miles per hour, and by the time they reach turn 1 they are nearing 240! One driver once said it's like driving down a long hallway and turning left into a closet. It's a pretty imposing site to the drivers, no matter how long they have been coming here.

While inside the Speedway, we cross miles 6-8, and I was still feeling pretty well. I was walking through the water stops but otherwise was running in between them, which was great, and I was still on schedule for a 2:30 finish.

By the time I reached Mile 9 I started to get a little tired, and from that point in I took some sort of walk break every five minutes or so. What was funny, though, was even with the walk breaks I wasn't missing my mile splits by all that much.

I rolled along to Mile 12 and that is where you make the final left onto New York St. and the straight run to the finish.

The first portion of the street is a bridge over the White River which gives a nice view of the downtown skyline.

The last mile is interesting because it's a nice roll downhill off of the bridge, and then it is a gradual uphill to the finish. Like the last half-mile of the Chicago Marathon when you make the turn onto Roosevelt Road, walking that mile or even running it in training is easy, but it is a little work at the end of a half marathon!

I tried to keep going as best I could, but with a little more than a quarter-mile to go I stopped for a quick walk break to gear up for the finish. Just as I was about to get started again I heard some cheering behind me, and I looked back and saw Meb and his five running partners running along in bright yellow singlets.

Meb had a huge smile on his face, and as he came by me he gave me a high-five! After meeting him the night before, that was a really cool way to end the race! Meb had started at the back of the pack and finished the race with a time of 1:41, so he definitely got the chance to meet a lot of people!

I ran it in the rest of the way from there and finished in 2:32:10, a little behind schedule but faster than the Viking Half, so I was very, very happy!

After getting my finisher's medal, I met up with Darcy and we sat along the end of the course and waited for Spencer to finish his run. He finally came bopping down to the finish and crossed in a time of 3:26:28. Not bad for his first try, and he already has started talking about next year!

My mom didn't finish, but she walked long enough to make it past the Speedway, and she was very happy with that. She hung out with us that afternoon and we had an early Mother's Day dinner at Ruth's Chris before taking in an Indianapolis Indians
baseball game.

So all in all I couldn't have asked for a better day. After I got back home I sent my medal to Lucas, and found out from his mom that he'd had surgery that week and my medal was put in with all of the other "special" things he takes with him to the hospital. I'm so happy that I was able to make him smile.

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