Cox Sports MarathonThis weekend saw the first running of the Cox Sports Marathon in Providence, Rhode Island, along with the Willow Tree Half Marathon and the New Balance 5k.

The weather might have made for a slightly tough 5k, but it was ideal for long races such as the half marathon and the marathon. The average temperature was in the low 50s with a high of 54°F (at least by noon.) The race got off to a wet start with a gentle drizzle that turned into a mist early in the race.

The temperature noticeably warmed up once the precipitation stopped, but the sky remained overcast and a slight breeze throughout most of the race kept the runners from getting too over heated.

Being the inaugural running of the race, all of the winners of all three races were guaranteed course records. After the race, one of the race promoters asked me to email her some suggestions on how they can improve the races next year, so I am going to intersperse my suggestions along with this race report in the hopes that it can help out another race director that is trying to get a new race going.

The Expo

The weekend began with an expo over where the starting line for the half marathon and the marathon was going to be. Registration and packet pickup was inside of a building off to the side of the green, but the pasta dinner tickets and the t-shirt pickup were outside on the green along with a handful of vendors. It would have made things a little less confusing to have them lined up in a row or at least in the same general areas, but given the relatively few people that were there when I stopped by in the early afternoon it was not too bad and it did not take me too long to figure out what to do.

One suggestion that I had for the pasta dinner tickets was to provide some way of accepting credit cards at the expo itself. I know that you could use them if you ordered them online, but given my unique problems finding a place to stay before the race I didn’t know until the night before that I was going to be going to the pasta dinner and I assumed that I would be able to swipe my card. I could have brought a check, but I didn’t, and had to pay cash.

I would also recommend that directions to the pasta dinner be provided where tickets are picked up, since I had no idea how to get there.

The Pasta Dinner

Finding the pasta dinner took me a little while. It was about a third of a mile from my hotel, and after checking in I went for a jig jog to loosen up my legs and to see if I could find it. I used a combination of looking at the official race program for the name of where it was (Snowden Hall) along with the fuzzy directions given to me by the guys that sold me the ticket. This is the first time that I have been in Providence and hadn’t even been to my hotel yet when they gave me the directions, so I didn’t do very well following them.

That left asking for directions to Weybosset street under the assumption that that would be easier to identify and that people in the area might know where that was. Unfortunately, the only person who knew where it was happened to be on the other side of the river, so I failed to find it using his directions by the time I got anywhere near the road. Nobody else knew where it was even when I was only a block or two away.

I did eventually find it, and it was pretty much a straight shot of walking out my hotel door and not stopping until I got there.

There were about 30 to 40 people at the first session of the pasta dinner. The food was not bad, but it was not all that particularly great either. There was plenty of it, though, and I was happy to eat my fill.

I sat down with the first person that I saw was eating alone, Kathleen Jensen from Illinois. She ran her first marathon back in the late 90s, swore off of them, and then in 2006 decided to try and run a marathon in all 50 states. Since then, she has run in over 30 marathons in different states, along with numerous shorter races. While very impressive, I just can’t wrap my head around how she affords it in both terms of money and time.

Bill Rodgers and Geoff Smith were the keynote speakers at the dinner, both of whom are well known runners in the area and combine to have won 6 Boston marathons and numerous other marathons throughout their careers. They gave a very interesting talk that detailed the changes that the sport has gone through since the 1960s and their thoughts on how bringing money into the sport has improved it in recent years. There was no microphone, so it got a little difficult to hear them at times over the ambient noises of people eating and the occasional young child screaming.

On the way out the door from dinner, they gave away bags of chocolates. I almost refused one since I don’t eat chocolate, but thought better of it at the last minute. My wife has her final exams starting this week for law school, which meant that there was going to be a call for chocolate all week. Despite making herself a batch of brownies yesterday afternoon, she has already gone through most of the bag while studying and working on her paper today.

Race Morning

The shuttle service to the starting line was pretty straight forward. School buses pulled up to the designated corner, runners loaded up, and they brought us to the starting area. The race wound up getting delayed by about 10 minutes, apparently because some of the buses were running a little late. I got there a bit early to make sure that I could take care of everything I needed to before the race started.

There were a few problems before the race that could certainly have been improved upon.

First, there were not enough portable toilets at the starting line. That’s a common complaint at a lot of races, but given the lines I would have guessed that half again or twice as many would have probably been about the right amount. The problem would have been worse, except that there were restrooms inside of the buildings around the green where the expo had been, which was next to the starting line. That’s the second problem.

Apparently, the runners were not supposed to go into the buildings because there were classes going on. I never saw any signs asking runners to stay out, nor did anybody ever mention that the building would be off limits. Given the rain, the wait and the lack of outdoor restrooms it seemed rather natural to congregate in the building, especially since there was a large and empty cafeteria just inside. The local police thought differently, however.

The officer that asked me to leave was very polite and apologized for making people exit the building, but he explained that there were classes going on and we weren’t supposed to have come in. No problems there. The officer at the front of the building near the cafeteria, however, was apparently quite rude and was screaming at people to get out of the building. Quite a few people that I spoke with were a bit upset by him.

The third problem that I had with the pre-race area was that the baggage drop off was in the same place as the outdoor portion of the expo, which was on the grass. The parking lots were all blocked off, and it would have made more sense to me to set up the tents where the runners could change out of their warm ups and keep their feet relatively dry. There was no way to keep your feet dry in the wet grass in the rain. (Except for some smart souls who tied plastic bags to their feet – I am going to have to remember that trick for the next time!)

The Starting Line

As I mentioned earlier, the race started about 10 minutes late. The race directors did a pretty good job of making sure everybody knew when (and even why) the race was starting a little late, so nobody should have been caught off guard.

We got treated to the most humorous rendition of the star spangled banner that I have ever heard. The woman who sang it had a beautiful voice and sounded great, except that she got nervous and kept forgetting the words and stopping. Eventually, she just skipped to the end of the song. All of the runners clapped and cheered for her, so I hope that she took it in the honest spirit in which it was offered and wasn’t too embarrassed. When she was singing, she sounded great.

I did not have any problems with the start of the race or with the hill that came within a quarter mile of the start. I rather liked that, actually. I did hear some complaints about the start being a little too narrow for 2000 runners and that it got pretty packed in tight. I started in the second line behind some half marathoners that I knew were going to go out about 10 seconds per mile faster than me, so the course cleared out nice and quickly for me.

Elevation Profile

I really enjoyed this race, and found that the bumps along the way kept things interesting and kept you from stressing your legs with the exact same repetitive motions as you go along. There were 3 or 4 good climbs along the way, but of the hills were just little changes of scenery and until we got to the end there weren’t very many places where it was too steep of a descent.

Cox RI Marathon Elevation Profile

Training in snow and on ice while trail running all winter definitely made a huge difference. Had I tried training on flat roads, or even had I not run a very hilly race down in Georgia 5 weeks ago, then this race might have been a little more difficult. As is, I really enjoyed it and thought that they found a nice route to take us through.

The Early Miles: 1 through 12

Mile Time
1 6:05
2 6:08
3 6:10
4 6:09
5 6:03
6 6:19
7 6:08
8 5:55
9 5:59
10 5:58
11 6:00
12 5:50

Within the first mile of the race I met Devin Jones, who recognized I was running about the pace that he wanted and started chatting with me. Being an incessant babbler during my marathons, we hit it off pretty well. He was looking to run around 2:40 for his first marathon, and I was looking to run (ideally) 2:37 to 2:38 but (realistically) 2:40 as well. I wanted to run between 6:00 and 6:10 per mile while maintaining effort, which meant that there would be a few faster and slower miles due to the regularly spaced climbs and descents along the course. The first 12 miles involved a couple of fun bumps and 1 good climber around mile 6.

Devin and I could see one marathoner in the 15 to 20 people that were up ahead of us that Devin had spoken with before the race. He had apparently planned on running a 2:45 marathon, but for some reason went out in 2:32-2:33 pace I’d estimate over the first 12 miles. Personally, I am not a big fan of huge positive splits to hit my goal time; it is too painful to do it that way.

Devin and I just cruised along, chatting away and knocking off the miles. The marathon and half marathon split off at around mile 8, and shortly thereafter we were told that there were 2 guys ahead of us and that they had about a 2 minute lead on us. I was not too worried at this point, assuming that at least one of them was likely to blow up in short order.

Water and Aid Stations

Water was regularly spaced throughout the race about every 2 miles or so. Any time that I wanted to take a gel, we usually came up on a water stop within a half mile. I don’t usually drink a lot of Gatorade or other electrolyte solutions when I’m running, so I never even bothered to check what they had. Getting at the water was a little tricky at times since at stations where they offered both the volunteers usually held water in one hand and Gatorade in the other. Since I spent most of the race with at most 1 person next to me, it was not that large of a challenge and I have no idea whether they continued to do that later in the race.

Most of the water stops had plastic cups. While it is possible to pinch the cups to make a spout, it is much easier to do so when you have paper cups. There was one water stop that had paper cups, and there was another one that actually handed me the half full 10 ounce bottle of water. I think we came up on them before they were prepared.

One suggestion that did not really impact me but will help out the volunteers is to put out trash cans past the aid station. I only passed one water stop that had a trash can, and all of the volunteers cheered for me when I tossed my cup into it. I prefer helping the volunteers that help me when it is easy to do so, and providing trash cans means that there will at least be a little less trash to pick up (or to lose) and there will be less for runners to slip or trip on.

One major problem that I did not experience but that I heard about was that there was no water early in the race for some of the mid- and back-of-the-pack marathoners. The water stations were all cleaned out by the time that they could get there until the marathon and half marathon split off from one another, which meant that they couldn’t get water for the first 8 miles. It certainly isn’t an ideal situation under the best of circumstances, but in different weather conditions it could have been dangerous and set up some of the runners for serious problems later in the race.

The Early/Mid Miles: 13 through 16

Mile Time
13 6:06
14 6:10
15 6:15
16 6:05

Shortly after mile 12 (it may have even been in mile 12) we started to have a shadow. A Team-In-Training volunteer on a bicycle was riding behind us to protect us from traffic and make sure that we didn’t get lost. This was the first time that I had an official shadow in a race, and it was a good feeling. After he had been riding with us for a mile or so I asked if he was just riding with us or if he’d been assigned to us, since I couldn’t actually see him as I try not to turn around more than I have to while I’m racing.

I really appreciate the help from all of the bicycle volunteers in the race. Since I had traffic at my back in quite a few spots and I never got hit by a car or lost, they must have done a pretty good job. The biker assigned to Devin and myself was a little chilly riding at only 10 miles per hour, but we stayed comfortable and amazed him by our ability to not shut up while we ran.

I could tell that Devin was starting to have some trouble with the pace that we were setting, but I brought him through the halfway point at 80:26, which is right where he would want to be for a 2:40-2:45 marathon. As we cut the lead down to around 30 seconds as we reeled in the second place runner, Devin started talking less I started watching the lead runner up ahead. He was easy to pick out due to the flashing lights on the police escort ahead of him.

We finally passed the second place runner in the 16th mile. I asked him how the pace was treating him and was going to offer to pull him back into pace, but he gave me the evil eye as I passed so I decided to drop a hammer instead. That was actually pretty easy at this point since we were running down hill.

The Late/Mid Miles: 17 through 19

Mile Time
17 5:50
18 6:12
19 6:20

Picking up the pace in the latter half of the 16th mile and through the 17th mile meant that I also dropped Devin at this point. I think that that was probably a smart move on his part, since I think that he would have been hurting pretty bad had he tried to keep moving at the pace we were going. I was starting to get hungry to take the lead, and I knew that there was no way that I could lose this race to any of the 3 people that had been running with or ahead of me up to this point.

The first and second place runners had fallen back too fast over the last half dozen miles for them to be feeling good, and I knew that Devin’s inexperience had caused him to set a little too aggressive of a goal. I felt great, on the other hand, and could feel no differences between mile 17 and mile 8.

Towards the end of mile 17, the course takes a left turn followed by a hard left onto a paved trail along the river. This was great, since I was tired of sucking down exhaust and having a nice buffer of shrubs and trees for a few miles came at a great point in the race.

I buckled down and concentrated on running down first place. My shadow had ridden ahead, since there was no traffic and it is difficult to get lost on a path that has minimal turns and no way to go but straight. Every time that I looked up, I was gaining on the leader. I was pretty sure that I would catch him midway through the 20th mile, and was looking forward to a climb that I remembered from the elevation profile that was right around that point.

The Late Miles: 20 through 24

Mile Time
20 6:34
21 6:21
22 6:27
23 6:51
24 6:49

The marker for mile 19 fell at the bottom of a hill. Catching the leader was pretty anti-climactic since by the time I got to the top of the hill and was getting ready to take the lead, he started walking. I felt bad for him; he looked awful.

I wish I’d seen his bib so I could find out how he did at the end; I have no idea what place he finished in or even if he did. Once the official race photos come out I’ll take a look and figure out who he was.

I offered to pace him and tried to get him to start running again. Walking rarely helps you recover late in a race unless it is part of your race plan and if it had been then there is no way that he would have led the race for 19 miles.

There was nobody else in the marathon for the next 7 miles.

By the time I reached the half marathoners in the final 2 miles, I had 6 or 7 bicyclists shadowing me. They kept telling me that nobody was even close to me, and I had to keep telling them that I didn’t want to hear that.

It was pretty cool to have a police escort leading the way on their motorcycles. For the most part, they stayed about 50 to 100 meters ahead of me which made it pretty easy to tell which way to go. There was one point where I was running to the outside around some cones and an officer on foot was pointing left; once the escort got by him he yelled for me to get to the inside. That was nice; it let me run some better tangents, but the way the cones were laid out it seemed as though you needed to stay on the outside of them.

Shortly after that turn there was a water stop where the people manning it stared at me with their arms crossed and I had to grab a cup of water off of the table myself. I managed not to knock any over.

In what was probably cruel to most of the marathoners but was great for me, there was a short steep climb followed not too long after by the same hill we got to climb in mile 6. I went up it much slower this time, as my left calf was giving me 2 second spurts of pain every 5 or 10 minutes and I just wanted to maintain my lead without blowing out my achilles. I had hoped that that pain was a phantom or taper pain in the past week or so, but apparently its something that is actually asking for recovery time.

The Final Miles: 25 through 26+

Mile Time
25 6:18
26 6:01
26.4 2:19
(.4 pace 6:04)

The race directors in the Cox Sports Marathon did a much better job of merging the half marathon with the marathon than they did down at ING Georgia. In Georgia, they merged us together with quite a few miles left to go, had an 8:1 ratio of half marathoners to marathoners and made the marathoners wade through thousands of half marathoners, and then put five 90° turns on bricks that got consistently narrower in the last couple of tenths of a mile. Even the race leaders had to merge, which I hear caused quite a bit of criticism.

Here in Rhode Island, there was a bit over a 2:1 ratio of half marathon to marathon finishers, they only merged in the last couple of miles, and the roads were set up so that it was easy for the marathoners to run by. This may have only been an easy transition for myself near the front of the race, and perhaps 20 minutes behind me was a different story, but from my perspective it was handled much better.

I dropped my last few hammers in the predominantly downhill finish, cheering on the half marathoners that weren’t wearing headphones as I passed them and acknowledging their encouragements and cheers as they yelled for me when I went by. It was a very heady feeling, and I enjoyed myself immensely. The trick now is to get into better shape so that I can lead another long race like this some time.

The Finish Line

Blaine Moore crossing the finish line at the Cox Rhode Island Marathon.
Photo Credit: Andrew Dickerman

Coming through the finish line, the police escort blared their sirens and I got to listen to my name get announced over the loud speaker. I also learned a very important lesson about breaking the tape. Once you go through, you should grab it with at least one hand. It was pretty heavy and since I kept running through the line, it did a good job of wrapping itself around my legs.

Thankfully, I did not trip and fall on my face, although that probably would have made for good TV if I had. ABC 6 has their race coverage online if you’d like to see some video from the finish line, including an interview with myself but not including me falling down at all.

There were no solar blankets for finishers, which can really make a big difference in equalizing a runner’s temperature after a long endurance effort like a half marathon or marathon. Thankfully, I stayed pretty warm even though I had stopped, which is when a runner’s core temperature can drop by what feels like approximately 20°. The baggage was located pretty close to the finish chute, though, so it was not a big deal for most of the runners to get into dry clothes as long as they remembered to bring some.

I hung around in the finish area for a while after the race. It took me at least 10 minutes to get my bag, since I got to do a few television interviews, took my picture with the race sponsors, greeted some of the runners as they finished the race, and generally hammed up the whole winning experience. I had never won a race this large and I was enjoying every minute of it.

When it came time to chat with the woman from the Providence Journal, I decided I really needed to start cleaning up so I met up with her by the baggage area. Shortly after talking with her, I spotted Devin and learned that he had run a very respectable 2:55 and change in his first marathon. It took me 6 tries to break 3 hours. Devin didn’t come through unscathed, however. He not only had need for the classic use of band-aids on the body of a marathoner, but he needs a different watch as well. His wrist was chafed bloody by the finish.

A brief note on splits

You may notice that my mile splits (and my pace split for the last 385 yards) don’t actually add up to the standard distance for a marathon. Nor does my half marathon time really make sense if you took the trouble to figure it out. That’s because I wore a watch that autolapped itself every mile. Half the time I forgot to look down and see what it said, but it kept track of where I was. Unfortunately, it isn’t 100% accurate, and even more unfortunately I did not run the exact tangent along the entire course as I ran most of the race next to somebody and also spent some time running around the frequent puddles, especially early in the race.

My official time, which for the next year is the course record, is 2:43:28. That’s just over a 4 and a half minute personal best for me.

Crowd Support

A little something needs to be said about crowd support in the race. First, there were not a lot of people out to watch it. You could go miles without seeing anybody, and when you did see people it was usually in groups of about a half dozen people outside of the finish line area.

So given those limitations, you’ll be surprised to learn that it was amongst my favorite crowd support in the dozen plus marathons that I have run. The spectators were without exception all enthusiastic and cheering, and that enthusiasm hadn’t waned at all the second time I saw the same people in the few places where you run through twice. Some of the people cheering in the race moved around on the course so that they’d see you in multiple places, and a couple of the random people in the crowd even had safety equipment on and was directing traffic the second time that I saw them (that would be Devin’s wife and friends.)

I was impressed with the people who came out to watch the race.

On the opposite note, I was also disappointed with the people that didn’t come out to watch the race. They were not only rude but seemed a bit daft as well. Most of my exposure to these folks in downtown Providence came first from my attempt to get directions the day before the race, but second when I was watching 5 and 6 hour finishers and cheering them on to the finish.

The streets near the race course were closed off, and there were do not enter signs and gates blocking the roads. I lost count of the number of cars that ignored the signs and drove right through. Quite a few of them even turned onto the race course and shadowed the runners or tried to get in front of them. I am giving those drivers the benefit of the doubt and assuming they even noticed the runners on the closed road they were trying to turn onto. A couple of people even drove onto the course and parked their cars.

The Post Race Party and awards

One glaring omission that I mentioned to the race promoters was that there was no food at the finish line. I had brought my own (it is an inaugural race after all and you never know) but I thought that they should have had something other than water and Gatorade available to the runners.

Of course, no sooner do I walk away then I find the post race party, which had plenty of food. There was nobody to tell me that there would be food there, and the party was even with the end of the race rather than with the finish line chute so it wasn’t obvious that that was where it would be. Towards the end of the awards ceremony, there was only a little bit of food left, so I think that they actually planned that part out quite well. A few signs or people mentioning that there was food around the corner is recommended for next year.

The band was very good.

The awards ceremony was sparsely attended, since it fell after the official cut off time. I recognize that some of the age group awards weren’t decided until then, but there probably would have been more people there to accept their awards (or to cheer people on who got awards) had they been a little earlier. I decided to wait around because it isn’t every day that I win a large race like this, and I often like to be at the awards ceremonies anyway even when I don’t win something.

Blaine Moore holding the Prize Cup
The Prize Cup
(click to enlarge)

There were no cash prizes, and most of the award winners got a nice plaque. The plaques were about on par with the one that I won in the Mystic Places Marathon in 2005. The winners of the marathon, however, got treated to a special presentation by the families of John McNulty and Bobby Doyle, two running icons in the Rhode Island (and New England) area that have passed away. In addition to the plaque, we won a commemorative cup. This thing is massive and my initial estimate of 6 to 7 pounds proved correct; it weighs 6 pounds.

On my way home from Rhode Island, I stopped and got some ice and a bottle of champagne to fill it with when my wife opened the door for me. We didn’t actually get to enjoy the bottle last night, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I didn’t factor in the whole studying for law school exams bit. The chocolates (which I also put in the cup) did go over really well though.

Race Attire

Since none of my friends or family were going to be in town to watch or race the marathon and wouldn’t need to pick me out of a crowd (not that that would have been a problem but I didn’t realize that a few days ago), and since I wasn’t competing for any specific team, I decided to wear my most comfortable singlet which also has the distinction of bearing a large state of Maine on the front of it. This makes it easy to cheer for me since Blaine and Maine sound fairly similar and I don’t mind being identified by either moniker.

I also decided to wear a hat since it was raining at the start and was dark enough that I wouldn’t have wanted sunglasses, but I couldn’t risk getting blinded by the sun late in the race if it peeked through the clouds. It never did (until near the end of the awards ceremony) but when you suffer from migraines then you learn to improve your chances of avoiding them wherever you can.

The only real change from my normal racing attire came in my choice of shoes, which garnered a lot of talk both before and after the race (and since, from folks that have seen the picture up above.) When I was in Georgia for the marathon, I asked my Mizuno rep to bring up a pair of the Wave Revolvers to Maine Running Company for me. He managed to get me a pair of them shortly after the Boston Marathon, which gave me a chance to try them on for a couple of runs and decide that I would wear them in the race.

I liked them, and not just because former Olympic Trials marathoner Heather Bessette thought she should buy them to match her racing singlet. They were very comfortable and provided plenty of support even over 26 miles, which I wouldn’t have trusted any of my other racing flats to do. (Heather ran a 3:19:40 just 2 weeks after having a rough day in Boston!) I’ve been training for the past few months in Wave Precisions, so if you are interested in learning more about their running shoes you can see what they have to offer on Mizuno’s website. (Unsolicited recommendation, although they do co-sponsor a local racing series and I have won free shoes from them.)

Relevant Links

Here are links to news articles and pages about the race, which I will add to as I find more:

Share your stories and your thoughts on the race in the comments below or send me a link to your own race report if you ran any of the races this weekend. I know that the race promoters are looking for some constructive criticism so that they can improve the races next year, so they will be very happy to read anything you have to say about what you thought.

All in all, I was very happy with the race and think that things went really well, especially for an inaugural race.