The Grand Lake Marathon – September 26th, 2015
Somewhere in western Ohio, but 20 miles from the Indiana border, someone decided to build a damn and create a very large lake back in the 1850’s. The purpose of this lake was to serve as a resevoir for the Miami and Erie canal, which connected the Ohio River and Lake Erie. Today it serves as a place for recreation with state parks lining the shore and jet skis and boats dotting the surface of the lake (just think twice about swimming in it). It is also a welcome site in an area known more for farms and corn fields than large lakes. In 2014, some enterprising RD did the math and detemined that if you followed the right route, you could basically run around the entire lake and make a marathon out of it. Thus, The Grand Lake Marathon was born (ok, I’m presuming the stuff about how the race started – but it makes for a good story).
For the 2nd running of this event, the Marathon Maniac Fanatic Pace Team was tasked with running dead even splits to help runners to reach their goal times. We had a very large team given we were covering multiple times in the full and the half. I was the 3:15 pacer, and had a blast doing it…but we’ll get to more of that later. Let’s start with the basics.
The Race – Logistics and Such
The marathon starts in the small town of Celina, OH which is located on the northwest corner of Grand Lake. To start, getting to Celina is not an easy task if you are coming from out of town. If you are flying, the nearest major airport is a good 1.5 to 2 hour drive (Columbus). Celina is small, so there are limited hotel options. A number of out of towners used Air BNB and rented houses or accomodations right on the lake instead of staying in the limited number of hotels. You can fly into Indy, Cinnci, Detroit or Columbus – but either way you are facing a decent drive. If you want to run this race, you have to be OK with a long travel day if coming from out of town. Understandably, this race seemed to draw a very local crowd of people who lived within a few hour drive.
The marathon was small, only about 220 finishers (interesting to note it was down 100 from 2014). There is a good chance you will run alone at some point on this course no matter what pace you are running (although stick with a pace team member and you can avoid that!). If you want/need crowds, you may struggle late in this race. Nothing wrong with it, this is just a small marathon so you can’t expect a lot of spectators.
The course is the main draw of this race. It is flat (30′ of total gain), and has very limited turns (especially on the 2nd half). What this means is that it has the potential to be very fast, and claims to be the fastest course in Ohio. It is a big loop course, basically in the shape of an oval that circumnavigates the lake. At some point, you will run into the wind and and some point you will run with the wind at your back. The scenary is a mixed bag. The race starts in a park right along the lake. During the 1st few miles you spend some time along the water, then transition into a pretty long and straight stretch that goes through corn and soy fields. Miles 9-12 get some really nice lake views in a state park that runs along the eastern shore of the lake near St. Mary’s. Once you get past this, you now need to prepare yourself for some very straight stretches that run through a bunch of farm land. Here the scenary will vary between corn stalks and soy beans. There is a stretch of about 5 miles (15ish to 20ish) that runs on a long straight road. At mile 19 you can see mile marker 20 in the distance. This part of the course goes kind of like….corn, soy, corn, soy, soy, corn, soy, corn, corn, corn, corn, soy, soy…and onward. It also can get lonely because of the small size of this race. What I’m saying is if you are running alone and are trying to run a fast time, you better be prepared for little change in scenary and not a lot of people. You finally hit the lake again in the last 10k of the course and get some very nice views as you head back to Celina. The lake views are very pretty, and make this course worth it. The finishing stretch in Celina is very nice as you run along the lake shore and by the light house. The NE portion in St. Mary’s is probably the prettiest portion overall.
I pretty much described the good of the course above, you do get some nice views on the lake. For the most part scenary is varied except for about 10 miles on the back stretch. Volunteers and aid stations were very enthusiastic and energetic. They have an aid station competition, so they have themes and some get dressed in costumes. It makes it a bit more fun. The volunteers were also great cheerleaders and spectators! I’ll also note that this marathon had more Gu at aid stations than I have ever seen. It was so available that you probably don’t need to carry any of your own.
I thought the participant shirt was pretty nice…good material. The medal was not huge, but was nicely crafted and captured the theme of the race.
I found the race to be very well organized with no real logistical issues. It had a small expo with a few booths. Packet pick-up was easy and fairly convenient. Race started on time and aid stations were nicely run. Logistically very well executed.
Two notable things. 1st – please no plastic cups at aid stations. They are impossible for runners to drink from while moving. Wax paper cups are the only thing that work. 2nd – Need more porta potties on the 2nd half of the course. There were numerous complaints of people needing them with no luck.
On the 1st point, I found myself fairly thirsty on the 1st half of the course. Some of this was not getting fluids efficiently from plastic cups but they could have also used an aid station or two more in the 1st half. It felt like there were some 2+ mile stretches with no fluids. If the weather had been warmer, or I would have been racing this course, it would have been a bigger issue. I’d say I drink more than the average person during a race though, so I may not offer the best perspective.
I love pacing races, especailly with the bunch of crazzies that make up the Maniac Fanatic Pace Team. We had an awesome time in a rented house and just generally had a blast.
Pacing a race offers amazing opportunities to help other runners meet their goals, and give yourself a break from pushing hard. It is amazing how enjoyable it is to run a marathon where you aren’t focused on a fast time. You can take time to chat with fellow runners, and take in all the sights and sounds of the course. You can also take time to do some generally silly things.
I’ll be back pacing a few more races later this year and early next year. With a fresh new PR at Chicago this weekend (along with a NYC qualifier and BQ), I plan on taking it easy until some 2016 races – and pacing will be a big part of that. I encourage you to find a race where this team is pacing – we will keep you entertained, and because we know each other and become friends we offer an experience no other pace team can offer!
So – in summary – this is a pretty good race. It is not easy to get to, but can be a fast course. If you want to use this to check off Ohio, just plan your travel accordingly (and book hotels, etc. early). In general, I found the course peaceful and the lake portions very scenic. If you like smaller races – you will enjoy this one. With a few improvements, this is a solid option for Ohio if small races are your thing.
Lastly but not leastly – a huge thanks to Sabrina Seher (Pacer Boss) for the great organization and keeping us all in line (and getting a billion nicely staged photos), Mark Gill for keeping me company at 3:15 even though he was “tapering” for a 100 miler the next weekend, and Brian Post for making fun of us on the course, but more importantly hooking us up with our nice lake house digs in Celina.
Career Marathon/Ultra #33 (Marathon #30)
Time – 3:13:58 (1:02 below goal)
State #11 – 11th sub 4:00 state and 10th sub 3:15