Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Review: Mainly Marathons



Two years ago, I wrote a review of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series, and it’s by far my most viewed post.  Having done numerous races sponsored by Mainly Marathons, I’m long overdue to write a review of their races.

Overview

Mainly Marathons sponsors series of marathons on consecutive days.  Many of their series involve racing in a different state each day.  These types of race series appeal primarily to two demographic groups.  First, there are the runners who want to do marathons (or half marathons) in every state.  If you’re in a hurry to finish the states, or if you’re trying so save on airfare, this is a way to pick up several states at once.  Second, there are the frequent marathoners.  For people trying to run as many races as possible, a series can give you an opportunity to race on weekdays.  Believe it or not, for some people, doing races every weekend isn’t enough.

It’s a Family-Owned Business

Mainly Marathons is operated by Clint and Hanne Burleson.  Clint is the race director for all their races.  Hanna administers all of their Facebook groups.  As their business has grown, they’ve hired a few employees who travel with them to put on the races, but it’s still very much a family affair.

Volunteers

Some of the runners will volunteer on the days they aren’t racing.  By volunteering at one race, you can get free entry into another race.

The Opinions Expressed …

This is not a sponsored review.  I have no relationship to Mainly Marathons other than as one of their customers, and I’m not being compensated in any way for this review.  Most of the opinions expressed here are my own.  In a few cases, I’m also relating experiences and opinions I’ve heard from other runners.

Some of the information I’m presenting here I’ve heard second hand.  I apologize if any of my details are incorrect.

History

The first Mainly Marathon series was the Day of the Dead Series in 2012.  This was a four day series in Las Cruces, NM where the Burlesons live.  Over the years, the Day of the Dead Series has evolved.  In 2013, they moved one of the races to El Paso, TX and another to Wilcox, AZ.  In 2014, they moved all the races back to Las Cruces and expanded the series to seven days.  This year, the Day of the Dead Series will just be two days.

In 2013, they added two series which were five marathons in five different states in five days.  The Dust Bowl Series included races in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico.  The Center of the Nation (CON) Series included races in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming.  The five states in five days format quickly became popular with 50 Staters, Marathon Maniacs, and other frequent marathoners.  Center of the Nation seems to be especially popular.  It seems every time I make a new friend at a Mainly Marathons series, I’m asked, “Are you doing CON this year?”

Each year since then, they’ve expanded their calendar of events.  They’ve also added additional states to some of the existing series.  In 2017, they’re holding 81 marathons, organized into 12 different series.  In the past, they’ve also held a New Mexico State Parks Series.

The Aloha Series in Hawaii, which debuted this year, was the first Mainly Marathon series outside the contiguous 48 states.  Next year, they’ll be adding a series in Alaska as well.  Then they’ll have races in all 50 states.

A complete list of series can be found on the Mainly Marathons website.

The Traveling Road Show

Clint and Hanne travel from race to race in their RV.  Other members of their crew also drive from state to state each day.  They arrive early to set up and mark the course; they wait until the last runner has finished; and then they pack up and drive to the next state to do it again the next day.

Runners doing a series each have their own routines, but typically they fly to a central location and drive to the first race.  They stay in different hotels each night.  Each day, they get up, run a marathon, pack up, and drive to the next city.

Clint usually recommends a few budget hotels in each city.  He also usually suggests a restaurant where runners can get together for dinner.  Some runners go to the group dinners; others make their own plans.  At the end of the day, everybody tries to get some sleep.

In the morning, you get ready to do it again.  If you’re not sure about the location, you can find the GPS coordinates on the website.  You know you’re in the right place when you see the Burlesons’ familiar RV.


Most of their series are organized into a spring racing season and a fall racing season.  After one series ends, the Burlesons will make their way to the first state of their next series.

My Own Experience

I’ve done 22 races with Mainly Marathoners.  In 2013, I learned a few of my friends were doing a race in Las Cruces called “El Maraton del Rio Grande.”  When I searched for information about the race, I discovered it was the fourth race of the Day of the Dead series.  The third race in the series was also in Las Cruces, so I decided to do them both.  The closest major airport was in El Paso.  Since the first race of that series was in El Paso that year, I did that race too.  The second race was farther away, so I rested day on day two.  At one of the group dinners, I comment that I was only doing three of the four marathons.  That’s when I learned you’re not supposed to use the O word.

In 2014, I did all five races of the Appalachian Series.  In 2015, I did all five races of the Independence Series, plus the first four days of the Day of the Dead Series.  In 2016, I did one race of the Heartland Series, because it was in my home state of Minnesota.  Finally, I just completed all four days of the Aloha Series.

That’s a total of 22 races.  The first 21 were marathons.  On the last day of the Aloha series, I ran the 50K instead.

You Can Mix and Match

In addition to marathons, Mainly Marathons also offers half marathon, 5K and 50K races.  All four distances are available each day.

You don’t have to do all the races in a series, although many runners do.  You can also mix and match distances.  I’ve often seen runners doing marathons some days and half marathons other days.

Clint goes out of his way to be flexible.  If you signed up for the marathon, but aren’t feeling up to it, you can drop down to the half marathon.  Alternatively, you can switch to a longer distance.  You just need to pay the difference in entry fees.  On the last day of the Aloha Series, I was signed up for the marathon, but decided to run 50K instead.  When I completed enough laps for a marathon, they recorded my time.  If I couldn’t finish 50K, I would still get an official marathon time.  When I finished 50K, they recorded that time.

Usually all races start at the same time, but in Hawaii, the marathons started at 4:30 and the half marathons started at 7:00.  Some of the half marathoners were sharing rides with marathoners.  No problem.  If you were running the half marathon and wanted to start at 4:30 with the marathoners, you could do that.  You just needed to let Clint know.  That opened up new possibilities.  For example, you could run a half marathon at 4:30 and also run a 5K at 7:00.  You had to pay both entry fees, of course.

Time Limits

There aren’t any.  Mainly Marathons caters to back-of-the-pack runners.  They have a “no runner left behind” policy.  At the Aloha Series, there were runners on the course for 10 hours.  The Burlesons will stay until the last runner finishes.  Everybody who completes the distance gets an official time.

This Isn’t the Big City

The race venues are chosen, in part, to make the drive times between states manageable.  After all, you can’t expect to run a marathon and then drive for eight hours before racing the next day.  Usually, the drive times between cities are less than two hours.  At most, you might have to drive for five hours.

That often means holding races in a part of a state that’s far away from the major population centers.  Some of the races are in small towns that you’ve never heard of before.  In the series I’ve done, I haven’t had trouble finding lodging, but dining options in some towns can be limited.

These races don’t have thousands of cheering spectators.  Most of the encouragement will come from other runners or their friends.  That said, everybody encourages each other.

The Course

Most of the races are held in city parks.  The course is usually paved, but I’ve done one Mainly Marathons race that was on grass.

The course is always multiple laps on a relatively short out-and-back course.  You can usually expect to do between 12 and 20 laps to complete a marathon.

This type of course layout serves two purposes.  First, it allows them, in most cases, to get by with a single well-stocked aid station in the start/finish area.  It also maximizes the opportunity to see the other runners.  I’ve often see people walking or running with different friends at various times during the race.  Even if you’re running by yourself, you’ll see all the runners who are going in the opposite direction.  If you don’t see every runner on the course, you’re not paying attention.

Lap Counting

Timekeeping is all manual.  There’s a large table in the start/finish area covered with rubber bands.  Each time you finish a lap, you put another rubber band on your wrist.  If you forget how many laps you’ve run, you can always count the rubber bands.  When you approach the finish for your last lap, you let the timers know you’re finishing and they record your time.

While most runners are honest, I’ve heard allegations of runners cheating by not running the required number of laps.  In case there’s any doubt, the timekeepers have video cameras at both ends of the course (and sometimes at points in between) so it’s always possible to check if someone ran the full distance.

Entry Fees

A few of my friends have expressed the opinion that these races are expensive.  They’re not as expensive as New York City or Disney, but they are more expensive than many races of comparable size.

When I started running, most races were put on by running clubs or other non-profit organizations.  They only had to charge enough to cover their costs.  Now, many races are sponsored by for-profit enterprises, so they charge whatever the market will bear.  These races are no different.

Ultimately, it’s up to each runner to decide if the race experience they’re getting is worth the money.  That’s a subjective decision.  When I make that decision, I consider not just the entry fee, but all my travel expenses.  Doing a series of races allows me to save on airfare.  For what it’s worth, my average cost per race doing a Mainly Marathons series is usually less than my average cost when I’m making a separate trip for each race.

The entry fee to sign up on race day is fairly expensive, but you pay a lower fee if you register several months in advance.  They also offer “volume” discounts if you sign up for all days of a series at the same time.  They also have discounts for member of the 50 States Marathon Club, Marathon Maniacs, or any other club that lists their races on their race calendars.  Finally, you can gain free entries by volunteering at races.

Website and Social Media

The website is www.mainlymarathons.com.  It lists all the series, and within each series, there’s information about each race.  There are also pages with results and photos from past races, as well as what to expect.

The results pages list runners alphabetically, but you can also sort the results in other ways (e.g. by finish time).

If you’re on Facebook, you might want to check out their various Facebook groups.  There’s a MainlyMarathons group with general news and information.  This is a good place to post questions.  Clint and Hanne are pretty good about answering questions promptly.

They also have separate groups for each series.  If you know you’re doing a particular series, this is a good place to connect with other runners doing the same series.

Expo

You can usually pick up your race packet for the entire series the day before the first race.  Otherwise, you can pick up your race packet before your first race.

If you’re running the same distance each day, you’ll just get one race bib for the entire series.  If you’re mixing distances, you’ll get more than one race bib.  Likewise, you’ll get a T-shirt for the series, whether you’re doing one race or multiple races.  For the marathons, the race numbers are usually assigned according to how many marathons you’ve run.  The lowest numbers go to prolific marathoners like Larry Macon or Jim Simpson.  If you see someone wearing s single digit number, you can assume they’ve run at least a few hundred marathons.

They don’t have a big expo with multiple vendors, but they do have some merchandise for sale, including shirts, artwork, and bumper stickers.

Aid Stations

There’s usually one aid station in the start/finish area.  Depending on how long the laps are, there might be a secondary aid station.  The main station is similar to what you might expect to find in a large trail race.  Beverages include water, Gatorade, and chocolate milk.  Foods include various cookies and crackers, fruit, pickles, olives, and sandwiches.  If one of the runners is celebrating a birthday, you might see birthday cake.


They usually have a grill where they prepare various hot foods.  One time during the Day of the Dead Series, I was eating burritos during the race.

If you have special dietary needs, let them know.  They’ll do their best to accommodate you if they can.

There’s also an area next to the aid station where you can leave a drop bag.  Bring whatever gear or special foods you’d like to have handy during the race.

Camaraderie

The layout of the course gives runners opportunities to encourage each other.  If you do every race in a series, you’ll see many of the same runners each day.  If you go to the group dinners, you’ll see them again in a social setting.

Many runners will carpool or share hotel rooms to save on travel costs.  These races are bonding experiences.  When you do a series, you make friends for life.

The Medals

You get a finisher medal for each race.  For the multi-state series, they’re usually in the shape of the state.  Often, they’re designed to link together to form a chain.  There’s an extra piece at the top for anyone who does at least one race of a series.  You get that at packet pickup.  There’s a piece that attaches at the bottom to identify the year.  Finally, there’s an extra medal for anyone who does every race in a series.  Here’s an example:


Awards

These races encourage back-of-the-pack athletes.  There aren’t any awards for the fastest finishers, but there’s always one for the slowest.  The last finisher in each race wins the “caboose” award.  You can only get one “caboose” award in a series.  If the same runner finishes last more than once, the next slowest runner gets the “caboose” award.


They also encourage runners to reach long-term goals.  If you finish 50 states at a Mainly Marathons race, they’ll give you a special medal.  They also have special awards for reaching the top levels for Marathon Maniacs.


Mainlyners

If you go to many Mainly Marathons races, you’ll start to see some of the same runners again and again.  These runners are called “Mainlyners.”  You officially become a “Mainlyner” after completing 25 of their races.  If you complete 50, you get a special award shaped like a skull.  If you complete 100, you get a larger award shaped like a skeleton.

Summary

Would I recommend a Mainly Marathons race or series?  It depends what you’re looking for.  If you want the hype and hoopla of a big city race, you won’t find it here.  If you want a point-to-point course that gives you different scenery along the whole route, you won’t find that either.  If you’re looking for a social experience, these races are ideal.  Likewise, if you want to do a lot of races all around the country and save on travel costs, these races make that easier.

I’m not a “Mainlyner” yet, but I’m sure I will be in the future.  I’m not aiming to run 100 marathons in a year, but I sometimes enjoy the challenge of racing on four or five consecutive days.  I’ve also made several friends at these races, and I look forward to seeing them again.

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