Monday, May 9, 2016

Quick Trip to Run the Indy Mini

Thank goodness for having a big pile of frequent flier miles! Not only was I able to cobble together a quick trip to Cincinnati to run my most favorite race, the Flying Pig, I was also able to cobble together a quick trip to Indianapolis to run the Indy Mini half marathon. Another free plane ticket, another free stay at the airport parking lot, The Spot. Hooray! I was able to salvage my plans to run both of these races without being on the road for so many days and saved myself hundreds of dollars in travel expenses.

The travel went smooth as silk! My flight to Indy was at 1 PM, so I was able to leave the house late morning and avoid rush hour traffic. My reserved spot at The Parking Spot airport parking lot was waiting for me, the shuttle was right there waiting for me to unload my bag from the car and hop on, and before I knew it I was being dropped off at Terminal B at Bush Intercontinental Airport. I had just a short wait before the plane was loaded, and we arrived right on time into the beautiful new Indianapolis Airport.

Indiana's pretty capitol building

Checked into my room at the Marriott Courtyard, bag dropped at the room, I headed right back out for the pleasant walk to the convention center for the Expo and packet pickup. My route took me past the very pretty Capitol building in the heart of downtown Indianapolis. It has been years since I was in Indianapolis. Way back then it was for a medical convention and after getting our booth set up at the convention center, my co-worker and I snagged a couple of tickets for the football game that evening. I remember very little else about being in the city or working that particular convention but I do remember going to that football game and having a great time. A few former Texas A&M defensive players were playing for the Colts so it was fun seeing players I'd watched in college now play in the pro's.

Indy Mini Race Expo

Packet pickup

The Expo wasn't too crowded and I was able to quickly get my bib and event shirt, and then browse a little, but nothing caught my eye in the official logo-wear booth, and I was pretty much not interested in anything else, having just attended another big expo the week before in Cincinnati. Besides, this one didn't seem to have as much "hype" and as many vendors or cool free stuff as the Flying Pig expo.

The ubiquitous magnets!!

I walked back to the hotel and stopped in the bistro off the lobby and had dinner - a sandwich and a beer - before calling it a day.

Sleeping in the next morning seemed like a good idea, but by 9:30 AM I was dressed and downstairs having a cappuccino and breakfast sandwich. What to do next? The front desk clerk told me about a really nice up-scale food market just a block away. She suggested I might want to pick up lunch or dinner there. It sounded interesting so I made the short walk and then browsed the store a bit. It reminds me of Trader Joe's or Rice Epicurean with all of the prepared food counters and other selections. I bought myself some prepared chicken with green beans, potato wedges, and a roll for lunch and bought some cupcakes to bring back to the room.

50 States Half Marathon Club dinner meet-up at Hard Rock Cafe

That evening I walked to Hard Rock Cafe, where a group of fellow runners were meeting for dinner. We had a nice turnout, about 14-15 of us in all. I have to say that the Hard Rock burgers are massive! I could only eat about 1/3 of that burger and about 1/2 the fries and was wishing there was a way to bring it back to the room and save/reheat for lunch the next day.

Soldiers & Sailors Monument

Soldiers & Sailors Monument

On my walk back to the hotel I went through monument circle where the Soldiers & Sailors Monument is located. Such an elaborate monument, built in the late 1800's! The bricked plaza creates a roundabout and is rimmed with nice restaurants and shops, bricked road and sidewalks...very pretty. Several horse carriages were parked in the plaza, waiting for passengers.

As I continued walking down the side street toward the Capitol building, a carriage drawn by a very large draft horse - a Belgian or Clydesdale - was keeping pace with me. I admired the beauty and musculature of this giant horse as we walked along. When we got about 2/3 of the way down the block the horse suddenly whinnied - very loudly - and I confess I jumped a little. It was so loud! The horse then snorted, the characteristic "raspberry" sound made me smile inside. Horses are such beautiful yet strange creatures!

I returned to my hotel room and starting laying out the things I'd need for the race tomorrow: clothes, shoes, bib. Our running club members were all in different corrals so making plans to meet up the next morning was difficult. A few planned to meet at 7:30 AM for a group photo, but others of us weren't planning to get there so early.

Race day morning I was up at 6:30 AM, had a banana and some Cheerios for breakfast, then started to get ready. I discovered while checking the Indy Mini race app that I needed to be in my corral (Wave 4) by the 8:00 AM corral closure for an 8:15 start. So I left the hotel at 7:45 for the short walk to the start line area just behind the Capitol building and found the entrance to my corral, which was Corral V in wave four. In total, there were 26 corrals (A-Z) and five waves.

It was a long wait, but suddenly a whole bunch of beach balls appeared in the sky, bouncing off of unsuspecting heads and bodies. The next 15 minutes were spent either ducking or batting! Then, as each wave in front of us was sent across the start line, we moved up. Then....finally...our wave was turned loose to cross the start line.

In the first mile we ran across a bridge over the White River then past the Indianapolis Zoo, and then headed generally west. At about mile 2, Meb Keflezighi and his entourage (click to watch video) passed us to huge cheers and whoops from the runners! He started at the very back of all of the runners and then waved and cheered us on as he passed us all. Very cool! He has made himself so accessible to the running community!

While the first five or so miles were through mundane sections of the city, a little bit of urban blight here and there, the water stations - or Pit Areas as they were called - were large, frequent, and well-stocked and staffed. They'd hired cranes to hold the Pit Area banners up high so that we could see them from a distance. Nice touch!  There was plenty of entertainment along the race route as well. Bands, soloists, high school drum lines, line dancers, polka music players, square dancers, high school cheer squads.

Race route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

Just before mile 6 marker, we turned into the tunnel under the stands to get into the Indy Speedway track. That was a really neat experience knowing that this was the tunnel through which all of the race staff and vehicles enter.

Then we were out on the inner pit access road for a few hundred feet before actually being fed onto the track itself. It was huge! When cars are traveling 200 mph around this track, it doesn't seem very long, but when you're running/walking, it seems to go on forever! We were put onto the track on the far side or corner of the south end of the track. Way off in the distance, we could see the spectator stands at the other end, a mile away. It looked way further away than that.

The track is completely flat on the straightaways, but I was surprised to see that it is ever so finely grooved but otherwise smooth and perfect. I finally got to the first corner of the turn and the track began to bank, but there was enough flat surface on the inner edge to avoid it. Some runners did move up the bank just for that experience.

As we came back down the other straightaway, I could see a scaffolding spanning the track, and photographers looking down, so I knew that had to be where the race track finish line was....the iconic bricks of the "brickyard." The photographers were there to snap our photos crossing that strip of red brick, and many runners including myself got down and kissed the bricks, a tradition performed by the winners of the Indy 500. Silly, but I knew I'd regret it if I didn't do that.

Then what seemed like another eternity, we finally exited the speedway and got back onto local streets and started our long four miles to the finish line.

Crossing Indy Mini finish line


There was plenty of food in the finishers' chute which was very impressive. Snacks, cookies, bananas, fruit cups. I grabbed it all! I thought about making my way to the beer tent, but then decided I was done, and that I'd just walk the short block back to the hotel. I grabbed a cappuccino from the coffee bar at the hotel and headed up to my room to snack on my goodies, eat my previously purchased cupcake and rest my feet for a bit.

Finisher medal, very cool replica of Borg-Warner trophy

Indy Mini is done! The medal was almost the sole reason for doing this race. That, and the fact that all of my running friends raved about this race. It is huge...the largest half marathon in the country at about 36,000 entrants. But astonishingly well-done for such a giant race. This was the 40th running of the race, and also happens to be just a couple of weeks before the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. The race finisher medal, a replica of the Borg-Warner Trophy, is a nod to that Indy 500 anniversary.

Now to get cleaned up, packed, and make a late departure from the hotel. Then I'll have a late lunch/early dinner at Panera while waiting for my Go Green shuttle to pick me up and take me to the airport.

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