Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why I Won't Run Another Race in Ann Arbor

Dear Races in Ann Arbor,

It's not you; it's me. Nope...that's a lie. It's definitely you. Yesterday I ran my second and last* half marathon in the City of Ann Arbor. 

In November when we found out we were having a baby, I decided to register for a spring race to stay motivated. Enter the Ann Arbor Half Marathon.  In 2012 I ran the Dexter-Ann Arbor Half Marathon. While the race was well organized, I found it a little too sleepy. The course was boring with very little fan support. Fast forward three years to the Ann Arbor Half, and I'd say the same thing. This time, however, I expected more. This Ann Arbor race was very disappointing.

This was not only my first big race post-baby but was my first big race post my long hospital stay last summer. I was uncharacteristically nervous for the race. It wasn't my first rodeo; in fact it was my 15th half marathon. I was nearly as nervous as I was for my first.

My husband, baby and I headed to Ann Arbor on Saturday to pick up the packet. The race "expo" (I use that term loosely) was held at Pioneer High School. There were very few vendors. I walked in, grabbed my packet, and we left. There honestly wasn't much to look at. Disappointment number one was the race shirt. I hate race shirts that are unisex. The small shirt is huge, and I'll never wear it. It's also not a good quality drifit material. It's already in the box of shirts in my basement that I will only retain as keepsakes. 

Baby's first race expo
I headed to Ann Arbor early on Sunday morning. It was a cold day (about 16 degrees), and I was sad to head to the race by myself. It was just too cold for my husband to have the baby outside for the duration of the race. 

The race started in front of the University of Michigan's football stadium and ran into downtown. I have never, ever, done a race in a city the size of Ann Arbor (over 115,000 people) that had such poor fan support. The race ran right downtown, and I can count on one hand the number of spectators I saw in the first two miles. It was cold, but I did a race a few years ago in Portage, Michigan where it was eight degrees with more spectators. Downtown Ann Arbor was like a ghost town.

I knew the course would be somewhat rural not unlike the Dexter-Ann Arbor Half, but I thought perhaps there would be more energy. I couldn't help compare the race to other races I've done in large Michigan cities including the Kalamazoo (population 75,000) Half I ran last year and Lansing's (population 113,000) Capital City River Run that I've done three times. Honestly there's no comparison. Those two races crush the Ann Arbor Half. I expected more from you, Ann Arbor.

Much of Lansing's Capital City River Run is on the Lansing River Trail, but there are spectator groups - high school kids, MSU cheerleaders, etc. The Ann Arbor half was just dead. There were some areas with a few spectators, but overall I felt like I was doing a long run with a running club.

I knew the course had a portion that was on an unpaved trail, but I didn't realize how brutal that would be in reality. It was between miles 10 and 11 in the Arboretum, and it was rough. The course was hilly (one of the few things I loved), but transitioning to a gravel trail for a hilly mile was rough. Somehow Lansing and Kalamazoo managed to have courses with paved surfaces throughout. Come on Ann Arbor.

The end of the race ran through the University of Michigan's campus. It was a beautiful morning, and as I got into the last mile I looked forward to the crowd support to bring me into the finish. As I got into the last half mile, it was quiet. Not just quiet - nearly silent. I ran past fraternity houses that were like ghost towns. I've done a lot of races in college towns (it's kind of a thing I like to do), and there are often college kids outside on the fraternity lawns cheering runners on. I couldn't believe nobody was out.

As I turned on Main Street to the finish, there were some spectators. But for a race in a city the size of Ann Arbor it was really sparse. I expected noise, cheering and energy. It didn't happen. Last year during the Kalamazoo Half Marathon spectators lined the course the last half mile or so cheering at a deafening volume. Ann Arbor just didn't bring it. At all.

Then there's the medal. It's average. Here's the crux of my disappointment: Ann Arbor charges similar prices to races like Kalamazoo and Lansing. With a sub par race expo, shirt, medal and course, why would I pay to do that race? Why would I do this race again when there are few spectators and zero energy?

The Ann Arbor Half medal in the middle. Eh.
I parked at Pioneer High School which was over a mile from the finish. I didn't see anything on the website or at the race expo about a shuttle. The wind was picking up, and it was really cold. I walked over a mile back to my car. Just as I got to the parking lot I saw a shuttle bringing runners back. I had seen no indication there was a shuttle, and I was freezing and not happy.

You can do better, Ann Arbor races. Despite my frustration with the race, I had a decent run. I didn't train for the race (my longest run was 5 miles). I stuck with the 8:58 min pacer for the first eight miles. That would've been my PR if I'd been able to stick it out. I decided going in that I wanted to run about 2:10 given that I hadn't put the work in. I ran the race in 2:01:02, my third fastest half. Somehow despite not training and the craziness of the last few months, I still managed to run faster than I had hoped.

Today I hurt. A lot. Not training for a half makes the next day feel like I've run a full marathon. My knees, hips and quads have been screaming all day. I've definitely got to put in the work before my next long race in May.

My goal was to get back into the racing mindset, and it happened. I feel like I am back into running. It was my first half marathon in nearly a year, and I'm back. My frustration with the race only motivates me to do another race I'll enjoy more. I happen to know Kalamazoo is lovely this time of year. 

*Unless there are some serious changes made to the races, I won't do another race there.

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