Running with Ruth

Stories that Inspire & Motivate...Not for New Runners Only! By Ruth Gursky


My Favorite 1/2's


Article 2:
A Few of My Favorites 1/2’s

Since “coming out” as a half-marathoner, friends have asked me to name my favorite races. While it’s difficult to choose, here are a few fun, flat and well-organized races (my personal race priorities) worth checking out:

The “happiest” race, by far, is the Disney Marathon and Half-Marathon in Orlando held in early January. OK, so the races start at 6 am and the last bus to the race start departs the Disney-owned hotels at 4:45 am! Setting that little issue aside, these races offer runners a flat course that begins in Epcot and transverses the highways and by-ways of Disney-owned property taking runners into the Magic Kingdom - where America’s favorite cartoon characters, Winnie the Pooh, Goofy, Minnie Mouse and more, come out to cheer you on (the 1/2 ends here). For those doing 26.2, the course continues through the Animal Kingdom and Disney-MGM Studios and finishes back at Epcot. How fabulous is that?! I suggest that if you’re not serious about your finish time, take along a disposable camera, as there are photo ops galore in the Magic Kingdom and along the route! Fortunately for us, the race organizers overcame a complaint lodged in the inaugural year that it was a "lonely" race – in pure “Disney-style,” you’ll now meet legions of volunteers along the route, handing out water and cheering you on. Now, they might not be “your” family members, but these enthusiastic fans are great at shouting “Lookin’ good!” or “Keep it going!” just when you need it most! Another advantage of running on Disney property is that they can line-up as many porto-potties along the course as they want without any limits imposed by local authorities – in other words: NO POTTY LINES! At the finish line, you’ll be delighted with the finisher’s medal bearing the likeness of Donald Duck (for the 1/2) or Mickey ears (for the marathon) – plus – the opportunity to have your photo taken with Mickey or The Donald! For those of you with PR’s (personal records) in “expo shopping” (like yours truly), your credit card will get a good workout with the phenomenal race merchandise sold at this race expo! T-shirts, sweatshirts, fleece jackets and baseball caps are sold at most races these days, but at Disney, you’ll also find pins, posters, mugs, bobble-head dolls, stuffed animals, water bottles, pens, key rings and just about every kind of race-related tchotchke imaginable! If you have a partner and/or kids who usually have to be dragged to your races, this one will require no arm-twisting! The race organizers have a fun-filled weekend in store for everyone – and with the winter holidays over and schools back in session, you’ll be delighted that there are no lines for your favorite rides and attractions! So, if you haven’t experienced a Disney race – just do it! It’s a great Boston qualifier – and guaranteed fun for everyone!

The Lakeshore Marathon and Half-Marathon, a/k/a the “other” Chicago marathon, is another great race to try, scenic and flat. Held on Memorial Day, the weather is warmer than the mega fall marathon and thanks to the smaller number of race participants, the course runs along the shore of Lake Michigan (instead of transversing the city, as the fall race does). The day I ran was cool and not particularly windy – but I suspect that given its “Windy City” nickname, this could be a factor! This is the first race I’ve done which didn’t have a mass start. Due to the narrow running path, runners are seeded based upon projected finish times, and waves of 50-100 are sent off every few minutes from the starting line. As a result, if you don’t own a watch with a timer, it’s difficult to know your exact finish time till you visit the Lakeshore website after the race. For this back-of-the-packer, that’s not an issue – but for those who are concerned about your time, this could be a source of frustration. But all things considered, the opportunity to race alongside one of our Great Lakes is totally worth it!

Another fun, flat race is the Philadelphia Distance Run, a half-marathon held in mid-September. This race can serve as a great training run for those planning to run a fall marathon. For first-timers, get your “feet wet” in this mega-race and I predict you’ll be hooked for life on distance running! The course takes you through downtown historic Philadelphia, passed the Philadelphia Museum of Art (and its grand staircase made famous in “Rocky”) and around the Schuykill River. For “marathon shoppers,” plan to get to the race expo early for great bargains in sneakers and running gear! Finally, it’s worth acknowledging that for the last few years, the race organizers have been giving out medals (race t-shirts used to be distributed to finishers at the finish line), making yours truly a happy runner – with yet another piece of “jewelry” to proudly wear home on the train!

Other races worth noting are:
Mardi Gras Marathon and Half-Marathon: Held in New Orleans in early February, just before the city’s Mardi Gras festivities are in full bloom, this race give runners a tour of the infamous French Quarter and some of the city’s most fabulous homes - and the finish, inside the Nokia Sugar Bowl, is awesome! Running from the street into the bright lights of this domed stadium made me feel like a “real athlete!” In my mind, I heard an announcer call out my name, followed by the roar of the assembled spectators…in reality, by the time I finished, most finishers and their guests were chowing down on chili and other Southern-style finish line food! Much to this runner’s chagrin, medals were given only to marathoner finishers (hate that)! And don’t expect a lot of crowd support – in fact, one gets the distinct feeling that everyone in the city is still asleep – but hey…crowds aren’t everything!

Myrtle Beach Marathon and Half-Marathon: Held in late February, this race offers us nor’easterners the chance to get out of the cold and visit one of South Carolina’s premier coastal towns at a time of year when it’s almost tourist-free. The first half of the race offers vista views of the Atlantic Ocean (although when I ran it, you needed a good imagination to “see” the ocean through the dense fog). The second half takes runners through the commercial section of town – not much to see, but it’s flat as a pancake…so no complaints from yours truly!

Rock & Roll Marathons and Half-Marathons: This series of well-organized races features live bands at every mile. Races are held throughout the year in L.A., Phoenix, Virginia Beach and Nashville.

As the popularity of the half-marathon increases, more marathon directors are offering them, which I think this is a great running trend, as I hope to criss-cross the country 13.1 miles at a time!