Thursday, October 22, 2009

2009 Worldwide Festival of Races Half Marathon

October 11, 2009
Kensington Metropark, Milford, Michigan

For those of you who may not be familiar with this race, the Worldwide Festival of Races was created three years ago by a small, but enthusiastic group of runners with the aim of helping connect runners from all over the world. With a theme of “Think Global, Run Local”, the organizers desired that fellow runners put aside any political or socio-economic differences and instead create a kinship based upon common values and a love for the life of running.

Runners register for free at a website and log their training and race experiences in forums, blogs, audio clips, movies, and pictures. A 5K, 10K, and a half marathon are offered as race choices with runners selecting their own specific location of their race. A race could be run on a personal route or on a course from a larger, organized race. Each runner decides for themselves.

Results from the race are based on the honor system with runners individually reporting their times. The website tallies the results and with all these elements combined, a worldwide experience was launched and has now grown to include over 1000 runners from 45 countries.

This race has been a great vehicle for helping me with my training while also building friendships with runners from around the globe. What a great way to create a community of friends that inspire each other for better running and overall good health!

This year’s WWFOR came at a perfect time in my training for the Marine Corps Marathon. Just two weeks before MCM, and three weeks after my USAF half marathon, my running of the WWFOR filled the training gap with a much more interesting and meaningful run than my usual weekend long run around the neighborhood.

The Setting
I decided to choose a local, yet scenic course about 25 miles from my house in a municipal park called Kensington Metropark. This park is beautifully maintained and well represents the natural beauty of Michigan.

The Huron-Clinton Metropark system comprises a series of parks that start in the east and north along the shores of Lake St. Clair all the way down the Clinton River and the Huron River to the west and south to Lake Erie. These parks form the primary recreation and conservation centers surrounding the Detroit metropolitan area.

At Kensington, the main geographic feature is Kent Lake, which was formed by an overflow basin in the pathway of the Huron River. The lake empties into the Island Lake State Recreation Area in the south, where I had earlier spent several training sessions on trail runs through its rolling hills and deep forests.

There is a hike/bike paved path around Kent Lake that is about 8.5 miles long. This route formed my WWFOR half marathon course. I just ran around the lake and then some, doubling back until I reached 13.1 miles.

The weather on October 11th was perfect. It was a cool and sunny 45ºF with little, if any, wind. The fall season here in Michigan is well underway with the leaves turning yellow, golden brown, and burning red. The park was shared that day by runners, walkers, bikers, skaters, ski-skaters, and boaters. It was nice to seeing so many folks outside enjoying such a beautiful day.

The Race
I have run and biked this lake route many times over the years, but I had never raced it. The course follows the lake over a few small rolling hills, but none are tough. The path is wide and paved the entire way. This was certainly not a trail run, although the scenery made it seem like one.

I decided again to dedicate each mile to someone special rather than count the miles up or down. I have always felt this makes the race even more special. I just think about and pray for someone throughout the mile. It gives me strength and motivates me to run on their behalf as well.

Given the theme of the WWFOR, I made sure to dedicate a mile to all my fellow runners who were out on their runs all over the world. These runners have helped inspire me throughout my training to really give it my best. I have also been fortunate to build so many nice friendships.

I began the race at what felt like a comfortable pace but did not pay any attention to my GPS-indicated pace. I just ran at what I thought was a good clip.

Before I knew it, I was putting on the miles and noticed I hadn’t eaten or drunken anything. I wore a CamelBak hydration pack and decided to take a few swigs at about the 5-mile mark. I also ate three cubes from one Clif Shot Blok pack. That was about it for drinking and eating for the entire race. I couldn’t believe I didn’t want more. Instead, I just listened to my body and I guess that’s all I needed. It all worked out though.

My pace seemed to pick up as I warmed up. I still felt it was manageable and not too stressful. I did not check my actual pace. I just let my legs go!

I listened to running podcasts while I raced. I enjoyed the WWFOR special episodes out there from fellow runners. It was easy to feel connected with everyone else running around the globe.

About half way through, I came upon two great blue herons. They did not seem startled at all as I neared them on the path. They just gave me a look as I ambled passed them. I guess they didn’t peg me as a threat, but hey, I’m a runner, they know we’re the friendly type!

There were many walkers out that day enjoying the perfect weather. Most were not taken aback by the sight of me running this route, but there were a few folks that gave me that look that seemed to convey that they thought I was nuts for running the darn thing.

The Finish
As I neared the finish, I was feeling really good, so I started to pour it on a bit. Now, remember, I’m not trying to leave it all out there for this one, but I admit that I did get caught up a bit with excitement near the very end.

As I plowed up a small hill, I concentrated on my breathing and form. I pushed it a little and even found myself grunting out loud with each step. In fact, I was pretty forceful with each dig uphill and I must have been heard by someone nearby. I thought, however, that I was the only one on this portion of the path. The course felt as if it were my own. I was getting into the run but I felt like I was smoothly flying at the same time. I know it’s quite a contrast but that’s what it was like.

I was then startled out my trancelike focus by a speedier runner that passed me from behind. I laughed and he said he understood. He was quite a bit faster and admitted he grunted quite a bit too during his runs. He was training for the Detroit Marathon. He was happy to hear about me and the MCM.

As I barreled down on the last steps to my finish line, I imagined the MCM finish. It was only two weeks away. I could see it and feel it. I could also sense all my running friends crossing their finish lines also. What a race this WWFOR has become!

I looked at my GPS and was amazed to see that I just recorded a PR! It was a 2:22:27 finish which was a 10:52 average pace. This was ten minutes faster than the USAF Half Marathon a few weeks prior! I couldn’t believe it!

While this finish time may not seem fast at all to you, believe me, it was a nice result for me. I was pleasantly surprised.

I felt so good. The training has been starting to make a significant difference in my runs. I was not really that tired. My legs and heart felt just fine. My breathing was even and not panting. It was a nice, strong finish yet without the usual pains I expect to endure.

As I walked it off back to my car, I reflected back on how the training had started earlier in the year and what a struggle it had been at times. I was satisfied that I was on course and that the MCM would be a great experience.

As I drove home, I had some water, a banana, and three more Shot Bloks. I was not hungry or thirsty, but I gulped it down knowing how important a good recovery was needed so I could keep up my training.

It was a great race, the WWFOR! I appreciate all the support and good cheer from all my running friends around the world. I hope your experience was fantastic and satisfying as well.

Next Steps
Next up is the Marine Corps Marathon on October 25th in Washington, DC. I can’t wait. It will be a great adventure! It will also be a fantastic occasion to meet a lot of fellow runners in person.

Till then, run together my friends.

Semper Fi!


Saturday, October 10, 2009

2009 United States Air Force Half Marathon

On September 19, 2009, I ran the United States Air Force Half Marathon in Dayton, Ohio at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. It was my fifth half marathon and first since the spring of 2008. This race could not have gone better!

I am training for the 2009 Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) in Washington, D.C., which will be held on October 25, 2009. This marathon will be my fourth, but my first since 2005. The USAF Half was a fitting warm-up and a great way to salute our dedicated men and women serving in our armed services.

This race also struck accord with me since I began my career 23 years ago working for McDonnell Douglas (now part of Boeing). We supplied F-15 fighter aircraft to the USAF at WPAFB. I continued my career in the industry and founded an aerospace and defense company 12 years ago. Aircraft and the USAF are in my blood.

When I discovered this race, I knew I had to run it. Not only would it be a great training run for the MCM, but it would also be a patriotic way to dedicate some miles to our fantastic USAF! Adding to all this with my background in aviation, I was amped to be a part of this race!

The Setting
Little did the Wright brothers know what would become of their ingenuity in that Dayton bicycle shop over 100 years ago. Designing and building the first “flying machine”, they dared to do what was previously thought impossible. A heavier-than-air craft indeed flew through the air and safely landed, the result of which shook the world to marvel in some measures awe and in other measures disbelief.

Although the first flight took place in North Carolina at Kitty Hawk, the Wright brothers flew their powered aircraft, the Flyer II and the Flyer III, at a small cow pasture named Huffman Prairie which is adjacent to what is now WPAFB. It was at this field that the Wright brothers continued their development of independent flight controls for each of the three axes of flight (pitch, roll, and yaw). The Huffman Prairie Flying Field today is much like it was in the yesteryear and will remain protected as part of Dayton’s Aviation Heritage National Historic Park ( Nearby, the Wright brothers are honored with the Wright Brothers Memorial Monument. These sites and other classic areas are highlights along the race course for both the marathon and half marathon races.

The race begins and ends at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force ( This museum is absolutely first rate. Featuring historic as well as modern aircraft, the museum celebrates our nation’s pioneering and brave achievements in aviation. It is just not possible to walk among these classic aircraft without feeling such an immense sense of admiration for all the talented work that was devoted to the design, production and flight test activities over all the years. What amazing feats!

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base ( was a perfect setting. Home of the 88th Air Base Wing, the base is the nerve center for our Air Force’s operations in advanced aircraft technology. The base is home for the Air Force Material Command, the Air Force Aeronautical Systems Center, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Air Force Institute of Technology, and many other vital units of the U.S. Air Force.

I was in awe running in such a hallowed area. What a great setting Wright-Patt made for this race!

Permissive TDY allowed many men and women to fly in to race at Wright-Patt. For other deployed personnel who could not make the trip, they had the opportunity to run at the following locations: Al-Udeid, Qatar; Bagram, AB, Afghanistan; Joint Base Balad, Iraq; and Sather AB, Iraq. These locations together with Wright-Patt completed the field and widened the scope for the 2009 USAF Marathon.

The Expo
Wright State University ( hosted the race expo on Friday night. The expo was located in the Nutter Center, home of the WSU Raiders.

I had left work early in suburban Detroit three hours earlier and made the drive easily to the Nutter Center. As I parked the car, two F-16 fighters flew overhead to mark the start of the 5K race. How great that the USAF arranged a flyover for each race this weekend!

I picked up my bib, timing chip (a disposable one with the USAF logo, very cool!), and technical commemorative race shirt. The logo for this race changes each year to feature a different aircraft in the USAF arsenal. The emblem this year is based on an unmanned aerial vehicle called the RQ-4 Global Hawk ( The logo was created by Roland H. Stinnette, USAF AFMC 88 MSG/SVK. The logo was displayed on the shirt, patch, towel, and medal.

I strolled through the different booths in the Expo and saw lots of the usual running exhibits. I stocked up on some Clif Shot Bloks, New Balance running socks (I can always put them to use!), and then I looked at the Armpocket. I met the founder, Jytte Nielsen, and was impressed with her and her products. I’ve wanted to get an arm pouch for some time so I can carry my cell phone and iPod. Her product was just right, so I bought the Sport 20 and was happy to support a small and growing business.

While at the New Balance booth, a man saw me looking at the different socks on display and commented that he sweats too much when he runs and wanted to know which type of sock to purchase. He was new to running and was clearly a little intimidated about his race. He also complained that he sweats through his shirt and shorts and asked if the runners will be bringing a change of clothes to switch into sometime midrace. I’m not sure why he picked me to share these concerns and thoughts, but he did, so I tried to encourage him that all will be fine. He nervously smiled and seemed somewhat relieved and then he strolled away. You never know who you’ll encounter!

I then strolled over to the Boeing booth. I had to chat with whoever was there to get the latest from my old company. As a side note, Northrop Grumman was also there as a sponsor. NG is one of my current customers. This made the race even more personal.

Sure enough, I met a nice guy from Boeing who works in new business development. As we talked further, it turns out we had worked together on several programs some 23 years ago! Although we did not remember each other, the programs we had worked on were the same (there were many people working these big aircraft programs and it has been a long time!). It was fun catching up with this very nice man and it was also fun to recall my early days and fond memories of McDonnell Douglas (the Boeing acquisition is still hard to swallow!).

As I left the Expo and headed to my hotel, I saw the setting sun casting a calm orange glow over Wright-Patt. I smiled and thought about the morning to come. I was ready.

The Race
Despite getting up and out early on race morning, the line of cars trying to get on base was stretched for a couple of miles. It took over an hour and a half to get into Wright-Patt. Security was observing each car and randomly checking people for identification.

As I waited in line, I saw a pair of F-16s flyover for the start of the marathon, which was an hour before the half marathon start time. I was getting excited, but felt cooped up in the car, stuck in traffic.

Once through security, I parked the car and caught a bus to the museum. This is a very large base and the organizers made sure all was in order. Each bus was packed with runners eager to get to the start line.

The weather was perfect. It was about 50ºF with a sunny and scattered cloud-filled sky.

Of course I had had to get to the bathroom before the race began. It was getting urgent. However, the lines at the museum and the portable outside toilets were long. Nonetheless, I gutted it out and finished my business in time to hear the announcer readying the half marathoners.

I jogged to the start line as a pair of F-16 flew over for my race. I knew now this was it! My heart was pumping fast. The historic planes on display on the tarmac at the finish line also got me fired up.

I had toured the National Museum of the Air Force with my family about six years ago. Little did I know then that I would be running here now!

I had so many thoughts and emotions running through me that I really had no time to collect them all. I did not have time. Once I reached the runners gathered at the start line, the gun fired and we were off!

I crossed the start line, said a prayer, and smiled one of my biggest grins. I was back! This was it! Let’s roll!

My tradition with endurance races is that I don’t count the miles up or down. Instead, I dedicate each mile to someone special and pray for them along the way. This has always helped me through the miles and it made my steps more memorable.

For this race, I sorted out the people I wanted to dedicate miles to and made sure I included a mile for all those serving in the U.S. Air Force.

We headed down a runway and then down a narrow road leading into the National Historical Park commemorating the early days of aviation. The pace was quick and the field of runners were bunched together to get into stride, finding their place in the pack.

The small road was tree-lined and provided some shade to the rising sun. I tried to get into my own pace, trying not to get too caught up with everything and going out too fast.

I should mention that I had set no time goals for this race. My only goal was to safely finish. From a training perspective, this race was a long run in my preparations for the Marine Corps Marathon in October. The USAF race was not a race to leave it all out on the course.

I heard a gal trying to move further ahead into the pack. She said to her friend running alongside that she felt like a bowling ball making her way through all of us other runners. I asked her if she was calling me a pinhead and she laughed. Everyone was in a good mood.

As we entered the Huffman Prairie area it struck me that this was the world’s first airport. There was even a sign to that effect. I tried to imagine the Wright brothers attempting to perfect their flying machine. Sure enough, I looked up and saw a replica of the Flyer III flying overhead. This was really a first-class race!

Throughout the race, several aircraft flew overhead for our inspiration. We had our own mini air show!

Beyond the air fields we entered into two other areas of Wright-Patt. One was an historic portion of the base with late 1800-era buildings while the other area was more of a 1950s-era section. It was fun admiring the different types of architecture of all the buildings.

We also passed the operational airport at Wright-Patt. There are runways everywhere, but most are no longer in use.

There were many recreational areas also for base personnel. There was a rod and gun club, golf courses, and a tennis club. We were running around the perimeter of the golf course for some time. The golfers gave us a few gazing looks.

There was some decent crowd support along the way. For the service personnel guiding us at each turn, we received lots of encouragement. The base residents were all out along the streets cheering us on. At the base outskirts, local fans gave us a hand too.

The runners got a lot of support from the aid station volunteers. Each station was well equipped and made for an easy exchange of water, Gatorade, orange wedges, and gels.

Two aid stations were themed. One was a rowdy beach complete with Margaritaville blasting and several volunteers wearing coconut bras and straw skirts (some men and some women!). The other was a Gilligan’s Island theme. I don’t know how those volunteers listened to that theme song over and over again!

My run throughout the race was amazing. Let me first say that I am not fast and I did not even pay attention to my time. I just tried to keep an even pace.

I had no problems with any of my body parts. My left knee, which had caused so many problems earlier this year, was not causing me any pain now. My breathing was fine. I had no stomach problems. I tried to use only water and I did not take water at every aid station. I just tried to replace what I was sweating out. I ate only when hungry. I really tried to listen to my body.

If I had to complain about something, my feet were a little sore near the end. I think this is due to me still getting used to my cushioning shoes. I had always run in stability shoes but I noticed I was supinating too much. The wear on my shoes showed this as well using a foot load sensor in a local running store. Since running in my cushioning shoes, I have felt much better.

This race, more so than any others, was the least problematic. I think this is due to really sticking to my plan and running my own race. I did not force a thing. I really enjoyed this race. I just soaked it all up!

The largest hill was a highway overpass we ran. It was no big deal though and offered a nice change of pace from what was a very flat course.

The runners were great. Everyone helped each other with shout outs of encouragement and good race etiquette. I really liked seeing the young men and women of the Air Force. We should all be so thankful for their service.

The Finish
As we neared the finish line, we could hear the announcer urging us on. The route to the finish is along a long runway which never seemed to end. These runways are much longer than they look! We ran toward the museum, and then turned to run down the tarmac between the historic aircraft and shouting fans who were cheering loudly.

I saw the finish line banner and my heart jumped. I felt the crowd. I thought of the entire race in a flash, my training, and it just all swelled up at once. I felt like I was flying!

I crossed the finish line and said a quick prayer of thanks. The base commander shook my hand. I thanked him and then received my medal. What a great feeling!

I didn’t know until later, but I had finished in 2:32:52 or an 11:40 pace. My last half marathon was some five minutes longer. I was just happy to have finished and with such a great experience along the way.

The Recovery
I proceeded to the aid tent and grabbed some food and drink. They had plenty for everyone. The race organizers really did a great job.

I took the souvenir towel they gave us and dried off a bit and then laid down on the aluminum wrap blanket to stretch out and relax.

As I recapped the race, I noticed above in the clouds a formation that perfectly resembled a dove! I saw the wings, head, and tail. It was like a picture! I smiled and thought what a fitting end to a great race.

I watched runners cross the finish line and then saw the presentation of the awards. General Norton A. Schwartz, Air Force Chief of Staff, was present. I thought it showed a lot of dedication for him to invest significant time to this event.

I then stretched my legs by walking back to the museum. I strolled through the museum for 45 minutes along with many other runners. I checked out all the historic aircraft, including several I had worked on over the years. This is a large museum spread out through three very large hangars. I admired our aviation heritage as I got the blood pumping in my legs again. I wish I could have stayed longer, but I had to get back home.

I was tired, but overall, I was feeling great. I went to the bathroom and a little boy asked me if I was OK. I guess I looked pretty tired. I said, “Son, I’m feeling great.” He then asked me why I called him son when clearly he was not my son. Too funny!

I caught a bus ride back to my car and changed my shirt for the race shirt. I have this tradition of not wearing any race shirt until I finish the race. This day was no different, so when I put the new Air Force shirt on, it felt great. I was satisfied and proud.

I called my family and let them know I was feeling great. They were happy too. I then grabbed a Starbucks (yes, I got a hot one – it’s a habit). The place was filled with runners. We all shared congrats.

I then started my drive back home.

Mission Accomplished
As I drove away, I saw a final view of WPAFB. I gave my final salute and with a smile I knew I’d be back again.

I really enjoyed this race. Everything could not have been better. I am so grateful.

Thank you family, friends, and fellow runners. Thank you Wright-Patt. Thank you United States Air Force. God Bless!

Next up is the World Wide Festival of Races Half Marathon on October 11th. I’ll run it at Kensington Metropark in Milford, Michigan.

I’ll then head to Washington, DC to run the Marine Corps Marathon on October 25th.

Till then, run strong my friends.

All the best,