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As I did in 2004, 2015, & 2016 - I returned to downtown Columbus to tackle my "home" race: the Nationwide Children's Hospital Columbus Marathon. As I said last year, this is one of my favorite races and when you look at what goes into this race from all aspects, it isn't hard to see why this is one of the best marathon events in the country.
For me this year, the stars had seemingly aligned for what would be a fantastic day, which I'll get to later. Before I get to that part though, here's my overall review of the 2017 Nationwide Children's Hospital Columbus Marathon.
COMMUNICATION (leading up to the race): Spot on as always. Darris Blackford (Race Director) and his team are always so great about letting those who have registered know exactly what is going on with events related to the race, how to stay connected, how to help benefit Nationwide Children's Hospital (NCH from this point forward), and so on. The update emails are always well organized and give just enough info to keep one's interest without making you want to hit delete right away. The official Facebook / Twitter / Instagram accounts are also great at providing event information. These are also awesome methods for race organizers to interact with participants by providing answers to FAQ's or simply giving kudos on one's training run.
RACE DATE / WEATHER: As always, the NCH Columbus Marathon takes place the 3rd Sunday in October. Normally, this equates to pretty decent weather. This year, however, it was more humid than normal with the threat of some storms moving in during the race. Obviously, organizers can't control or predict the weather, but having this race in October definitely helps manage it!
EXPO: Due to construction in the Greater Columbus Convention Center last year, the expo location was moved from where it was in 2015. However, that project has been completed and the expo found its way back to that original location this year. The Battelle Grand Ballroom is, from a logistics perspective, an absolute dream. Official race merch right as you walk in / walk out, vendors of all kinds all across the main level. On the upper level, overlooking all the vendor awesomeness below, runners collect their race collateral (bib, VIP perks, gear bags, t-shirts, etc) in a horseshoe-type setup - up on flight of stairs, loop around the upper level collecting race gear, down the opposite side. This setup makes it very easy to get in, move throughout the expo, get what you need, see what you want (or don't), and head out.
PARKING: Personally, I followed the same game plan this year as I did in 2016. Paid ahead for a parking pass for one of the garages near the start/finish line. $30 extra out of pocket, but WELL WORTH IT. Essentially no traffic issues for us the morning of the race (even as we got closer to the start area) and a VERY short walk to the Children's Champion Tent. This paid off later as we had another VERY short walk back to the car after the race and NO traffic issues whatsoever as we left.
CHILDREN'S CHAMPIONS: Did I mention that this race directly benefits Nationwide Children's Hospital? One of the biggest ways participants can help - beyond simply registering for the race - is to sign-up to be a Children's Champion as well. Children's Champions are runners & walkers who fundraise for Nationwide Children's Hospital. While there is no minimum fundraising expectation, Children's Champions have the opportunity to earn perks based on how much they raise such as a race-day jersey, custom medal engraving, access to a VIP area pre/post race and more. By the way, the VIP area is pretty cool - free breakfast, massage therapists, post-race lunch, private gear check, etc. While these perks definitely make the race experience enjoyable, raising funds to help children in need makes it incredibly worthwhile. I've had the privilege of being a Children's Champion since 2015 and will continue each year I run the Columbus Marathon!
START: The corrals/start line experience is AWESOME. I've been in Corral C all four times I've run this race and I love it. Lots of room to move, PLENTY of porta-johns, great view of downtown Cbus, etc. The build up to the start is also very fun - great deal of music and fireworks that help enhance the positive atmosphere. When you hear "Thunderstruck", you know it's go time!
FIRST HALF: During the first mile, runners are still pretty packed together. However, just before the first mile marker, the course widens and you have TONS of room to do whatever you need to do - move over, speed up, slow down, etc. Also, spectators - SPECTATORS EVERYWHERE. If you're looking for a "quiet" race, the first half of the Columbus Marathon is NOT for you. The energy the spectators - casual observers, scheduled entertainment, aid stations, and, most importantly, from the Mile Champions (patients from Nationwide Children's Hospital) - bring to this event is off the charts. Not to mention you get to pass some pretty cool sights - Ohio Statehouse, Franklin Park Conservatory, Drexel Theatre & Capital University, Nationwide Children's Hospital (with a MASSIVE cheer zone!), Katzinger's Deli, German Village, Brewery District, and back to the Ohio Statehouse again before the course split.
COURSE SPLIT / SECOND HALF: Just north of the Ohio Statehouse, the half-marathon runners will split off and head back to the finish as the marathoners continue north toward the Arena District (Nationwide Arena, North Market) and Goodale Park, before moving to the campus of The Ohio State University. The crowds slim down a bit during this first part of the second half, but not to worry - they'll pick up again! After traveling north on High St and weaving through the OSU campus, runners do a little jog around Ohio Stadium before heading west into Upper Arlington. The crowds begin to swell again as runners approach mile 18/19, or what I refer to as the "northwest corner" - the farthest point from the start/finish line, before turning sharply south and heading back toward downtown. Runners weave through Upper Arlington and are quickly in Grandview where the crowds are back in full force for the remainder of the race. Mile 20 to the finish is largely regarded as the section where many runners run their fastest 10K of the race. The course takes runners through historic neighborhoods on the north side of downtown and then back through the Arena District before heading back to North Bank Park and the finish.
FINISH: Making the final turn onto Long Street and heading to the finish has always been a favorite moment of mine. It's all downhill from that turn with a very slight incline as you come around a curve with .2 to go. The crowds are incredible during the last two miles of the race and are very reminiscent of what crowds were like during the entire first half of the race. A huge big screen and a DJ calling out names await runners as they approach the finish line
MEDAL: Once again, the medal (see attached photo) does not disappoint, capturing the fireworks display from the start of the race. Not the largest medal, but still one of my favorites to earn - and once you've got it, trust me: you've EARNED it.
MY RACE: As I stated at the top, this race had the potential to be something really special. 3 weeks earlier, I had absolutely CRUSHED my marathon PR (4:45) by running a 4:08 at the Akron Marathon. For those who aren't familiar with Ohio geography, Akron has hills - lots of them. By comparison, Columbus is flat - very flat. By following a really great training plan, and crushing a PR on a hilly course, I absolutely thought that breaking 4 hours was in the bag.
I THOUGHT WRONG.
Maybe 30 minutes before the start of the race, I got a sharp shooting pain in my right shoulder which would have me running very tense (and too fast to compensate) for the first 10k. Not good. Upon arriving near the 14th mile, my body just was not having anything to do with this whole day and I had to begin run/walking. Got to mile 20 and a feeling of nausea was kicking in, but no resolution from it. Mile 24 brought said resolution (read: vomit - sorry, it happens). It just was not my day, but I was still able to finish and snagged a COURSE PR by about 15 minutes. Additionally, my goal for 2017 was to run 1000 miles, which I hit right around mile 18.5. Despite the day not going as planned, I'll take these two little victories and move forward!
The Nationwide Children's Hospital Columbus Marathon is a fast and relatively flat race, great for runners of all skill levels. I've said it before and I'll said it again, Columbus and the surrounding communities are made up of thriving arts districts, green spaces, historic landmarks and amazing local businesses - making Columbus a great place to live, work, play, and visit.