Thursday, November 13, 2014

Get your kicks on Route 66 - Litchfield Route 66 Half Marathon and 5K

On Saturday, November 8th I took a little road trip to Litchfield, IL to meet my mom for a quick mother-daughter weekend.  Litchfield ended up being roughly an hour drive for both of us, although my route was via interstate and hers was via state highway.  Even though we both left for Litchfield later than planned, we arrived within 10 minutes of each other.  I had just checked into the hotel and called to check her status, and she was already pulling in.  I had booked the hotel through  because I am slowly trying to earn a free night and since the other hotels I had booked through this site were ok at best, I wasn't expecting much this time either.  This hotel was different because when I saw the lobby, the pool, and the room complete with a microwave and fridge, I was impressed.  The view from my window was of a primarily industrial area, but not even a half mile away I could see the drive-in theater that served as the packet pick-up, start line, and finish line for the 5K and half marathon.  This was literally the closest hotel by far and I chose this hotel pretty much on a whim.  The hotel was so close in fact that we decided to walk to and from the race on Sunday.  The map below shows our hotel and the drive-in.  This is the closest that I have ever stayed to a start/finish line and it was a nice hotel for a great price!

We had both arrived just before noon and were hungry, so we decided to grab lunch at the local Pizza Man.  We have a Pizza Man back home and have been to several others throughout Illinois, so we knew that we could get a good meal for a low price.  After lunch, we drive through the downtown area and came across the beautiful local library which happens to be a Carnegie library.

Litchfield Library - one of the many Carnegie libraries throughout the world
Then we made our way to the Litchfield Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center, where we ended up spending well over an hour viewing the various displays and memorabilia.  I am a bad former Illinoisan because I thought Route 66 started on the east coast and ended on the west coast when it actually starts in Chicago.  I saw the end of it earlier this year while we were in Santa Monica, California but I didn't know that it started in Illinois before I visited this museum.  Oops!  As we were leaving the museum, I couldn't help but notice the world map with all the colored pins indicating where visitors were from.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that so many international visitors had toured this museum as well. 

Museum from the Ariston Café parking lot

Route 66 - Illinois Route

Things my mom remembers and that I am MUCH to young to appreciate

After the museum we went to packet pick-up at the Sky View Drive-In Theater

Last year during the inaugural Litchfield Route 66 Half Marathon and 5K weekend a free drive-in movie was available to runners.  That was a pretty unique feature of the race.  But this year due to unforeseen circumstances beyond the theater and race's control, a drive-in movie was not available.  This was posted to the race website early enough so that runners would not show up expecting the movie and the race directors did let us know that they would like to offer the movie again in 2015.

Despite not having a movie, the other swag was pretty sweet!

Front of the long sleeve fleece/jacket


Compression socks I received FREE for registering early
Souvenir cup
After dropping off our swag at the hotel, we decided to beat the rush of carb-seeking runners and get dinner early.  I had picked out the restaurant in advance based on the restaurants the race recommended.  I saw that the Ariston Café was offering runners a discount, but by the time we sat down and were soaking in the nostalgia and ambiance, I had completely forgotten to mention it to our waitress.  The Ariston Cafe is actually across the street from the museum we toured earlier, but they did not open until 4:00 p.m. that evening.  We LOVED this restaurant for so many reasons.  The menu has a wide variety of items, which does not include their daily specials.  Their salad and soup bar was delicious and your meal comes with warm bread.  I ordered the pasta in typical carb-loading fashion, which came with garlic bread on top of the bread basket.  The waitress asked us if we were traveling Route 66, and we explained that we were in town for the race. She gave each of us a postcard and a magnet to remember our visit.  She then encouraged us to sign the guest book on our way out.  As we ate our meal, we overheard the people in the booth behind us say that they were from Australia.  Crazy! 

After carb loading, we decided to relax the rest of the evening in our hotel room.  As I was setting out my gear for the race I noticed that I had bib #17, which was the lowest bib number I have ever had.  I was excited about this, yet also worried that there wouldn't be many half marathoners and I would end up being last.

The half marathon started at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday and since we were so close to the start, we were able to sleep until just before 7:00!  We ended up leaving for the start line just before 8:00 a.m. and before I knew it, I heard "GO!"  Remember how my paranoia kicked in the night before when I worried about too few half marathoners?  Well a half mile into the race the arch of my left foot started feeling funny.  I don't know how else to describe it, but it felt funny.  I had started in between the 10:00 per mile and the 10:30 per mile pacers with no real intention of staying with them, I just didn't want to start all the way in the back.  So now I am running and thinking about my foot, not paying attention, thinking "what if I am too slow and a sag wagon picks me up" or "what if I don't finish?"  But then I was distracted by the people cheering on the sidewalks and at the street crossings.  Since Litchfield is a smaller town, they brought in Police and what looked like EMS from nearby towns to help.  I wasn't about to walk in front of any of those people, so I kept going. 

The course was unique and well-planned so that we would be supported with the most volunteers, crowd support, and Police/EMS with minimal street closures.  We ran on Route 66 until we got to an industrial park, ran through the industrial park, back onto Route 66 to a turnaround point, back through the industrial park, back onto Route 66, ran past the start to another turnaround, back through the start, on Route 66 to the industrial park again, to the turnaround, back through the industrial park, back on Route 66, through the start, to the other turnaround, and then to the finish. Whew!  Seems like a lot but the route was very easy to follow and was well-marked.  It was also flat as a pancake.  No hills, just a ramp up to railroad tracks and that was it!  I did run-walk like I have been all year, but this time my walking intervals were shorter for whatever reason.  In addition to not wanting to walk in front of spectators, I also knew another runner on the course and she was super fast!  I ran with her in the Katy 80 Mile Relay earlier this year.  Because of the looping course, I ended up seeing her multiple times before I was certain that it was her, so I finally waved and said hello.  She finished well ahead of me and was actually on her way back while I was still heading out to the industrial park.  I hit the 10 mile mark and was in a bit of disbelief.  So much so, that I thought my watch was broken.  I just kept running.  I crossed the 12 mile mark and there were ladies in prom dresses cheering for us.  I couldn't walk in front of them either, so I kept pushing. 

I went through the final turnaround, back through the start, and finally into the driveway leading into the drive-in and finish line.  When I stopped my watch at the finish, I was still in disbelief......I had somehow managed to finish 10 minutes faster than the previous weekend in Indianapolis!!!!  I have no idea how it happened and there was no quick fix that I attempted that week.  I was actually worried from the start of this race that my time would be slower because it was a smaller race and I wouldn't be constantly surrounded by other runners.  Maybe it was all the bread I consumed at the Ariston.  Who knows? 

I grabbed my medal, a granola bar, hot chocolate, water, and then headed back to the hotel to shower before check out.  Mom was already back at the room and she reported that she also finished her 5K faster this weekend than in Indianapolis. Sweet!  Good job Mom!!!

We checked out right at noon and then ended up talking in the parking lot for a while.  Then I heard a voice ask if we could take a picture and when I turned around, I saw that it was my former relay teammate and her fiancé! I was so happy to get to talk to her because she is getting married this weekend in Las Vegas the day before she runs the Rock 'n' Roll half marathon there.  Good luck guys and congratulations!!!

We all finally got on the road around 12:30 p.m.  It was on the drive home that I realized that I run like I drive.  I have a "comfort zone" that I tend to stay in when I run and when I drive.  On this part of Interstate 55 the speed limit is 70 mph.  I am comfortable going around 5 mph above the posted speed limit, so I set my cruise control at 75.  Before I knew it, I was surrounded by a caravan of cars so I turned off the cruise control and got into the flow of traffic.  At one point I looked down and realized that I was going 80 mph.  I stayed there for a minute or two until all the cars had passed, and then I returned to my comfort zone of 75 mph.  At that point it hit me, I did the same thing during the race.  I had started between the 10:00 and the 10:30 minute per mile pacers and I managed to stay with them for a while, probably because I was thinking about my foot and not finishing to the point that I didn't realize I was keeping up with them.  They both ended up passing by me during the race but then I would see spectators and the Police/EMS and I didn't want to start a walking interval in front of them, so I kept pushing.  This in addition to the bread is the only explanation I have, but this race ended up being my fastest for the year!  Not only does that leave me with great memories but I also got to spend quality time with my mom, took a look at the history of Litchfield and Route 66, got to see a runner friend, and left with plans to return to Litchfield when the drive-in opens for the 2015 season.  Mom and I both think our men would enjoy the trip down memory lane.

Back in April, I emailed the race director a list of questions about the race and these are the responses I received.

Q&A with the race director:
How did this race get started?
A little background info may help: My wife and I are originally from Indianapolis and both attended Greenville College where I majored in pastoral ministry and she studied Physical Education. My wife and I both ran track and XC at GC, and I always had a desire to get into the racing industry...and use it for compassion effort. Post college I spent 7 years an an executive director for a youth center (2007-2013),and in 2013 we took a big chunk of our savings and launched RaceMaker Productions. We were aggressive with adding races in those early years, but had to stay fairly local due to finances. In August 2010 we were contacted by Litchfield City tourism after hearing great things about our events in neighboring towns. They wanted to do a triathlon as a part of a new weekend festival "Do the Lou..." they wanted to do it 5 weeks out on September 15 I believe. We told them what we needed (at that time it was 100% of race costs covered, and all entries go to the youth center I ran) they agreed. We did the race and had 25 people register (which I predicted, they just wanted to see what the race looked like cause in 2011 the whole event would be bigger. We grew that triathlon in 2011 to 150 or so athletes, and we anticipate around 300 triathletes in 2014-which is great for the area. 

So the half marathon wasn't too different. We have grown very close to a couple city employees and many individuals who live in Litchfield. Along the way I had mentioned how cool it would be to do a race out of the drive in, just because there are not many drive ins left, and it would be neat for athletes (pre-race movie etc). We never went aggressively after it though. Last summer a member of the tourism committee got it in her head that the city should have a half marathon or full marathon-it would be great for hotels/businesses etc. I was contacted, and quickly through out the idea of the drive in half marathon 5k. We discussed it in a couple meetings and came up with a race on route 66, and out of the drive in. We launched it 7 weeks out from race day...never had the 5k, mile dash, or half! I have a couple staff that do my design work and website work...I typically (so far) come up with 100% of the concepts for each event. I thought drive in, route 66...we came up with the's old school so I thought of a hand full of mottos and the city loved a "race down memory lane." It just sort of took off. 

Do you market your race at other races, either through goody bags or by having a booth at an expo?
We are a private company in the industry...which is very competitive. We have never directly marketed at another event. We have partnerships with different folks to cross promote (running shops, bike shops). We are heavy on social media. We have an email database of 6000. I timed about 70 events a year for 3 years with another company-that help build our name a ton (and teach me a lot seeing every size and level of race in existence). We will be at some events/expos this year that we are paying for our giving away entries etc. to some of our big races...we are looking forward to that.   

Has the community embraced the race, or do they find the road closures and crowds a nuisance?
Community is amazing and without them we would not be able to do this race...especially as well as we did. They lined the course, they volunteered, they were creative for the "cheer contest" etc.  

Your race offers very unique amenities fro the drive-in movie offer the night prior to the race to the post-race food.  How did these unique features come about or what made you decide to go above and beyond to offer such a unique race experience?
If you check out our other events-we pride ourselves on having a high ROI for athletes. The quality of race, the overall event experience and the SWAG-we try to do it all at the highest level possible. Obviously prices are key and we price competitively with our competitors-but a big difference for us is keep our overall costs down and don't depend on major profit margins. We know what we need to make off a race, and we really try to be creative, different, and maximize every dollar we can so that the athlete is treated right!

I LOVED this race and not just because of my improved time, which is slow compared to most of the other half marathon finishers in this race.  The support from the residents and employees of Litchfield was amazing and you just felt welcome there.  As I mentioned above, we are already making plans to come back for a weekend when the drive-in opens next season.  Unfortunately I will not be able to run this race next year if I decide to run the Monumental Half Marathon again to continue year two in their four-year series.  Although it would not be impossible to run both in the same weekend (Litchfield is just 3.5 hours from Indy and you gain an hour coming into Illinois), I just don't think it will be feasible for me on top of everything else I want to do next year.  But I highly recommend that YOU check into running this race in 2015.  You won't be sorry!

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