This weekend, I did the Cowtown Challenge in Forth Worth, Texas. The challenge is to do a race on Saturday and a race on Sunday. On the 23, I did the 10k (they also had a 5k). On the 24th, I did the whole marathon (they also had a half and an ultra which was, I think, 8 miles extra).
The weather started out cold. The 10k was dreadful. I think it was still in the 30s when I finished. The marathon heated up to the 60s, but started in the 30s.
First of all, I loved how the marathon centered in the Will Rogers Center in Forth Worth. The expo was there and post race food was also there. This gave spectators a place to hang out that was heated (it was about 33 degrees in the morning), and runners a place to sit down after the race. They had tables and chairs setup for the marathon. This is the only race I’ve done with an indoor meeting spot, and I liked it.
The organization of the actual race was really nice. I didn’t have any problems picking up my packet, even though I had registered for both races months apart (I didn’t learn about the challenge until later). I got my packet and a tech shirt for the marathon, a t-shirt for the 10k and a t-shirt for the challenge. They also give a finisher’s shirt. The finisher’s shirt was a bright red, long-sleeved tech shirt. It was nice. I love races that give finishers shirts. Everyone was nice and helpful.
The expo had lots of free stuff, like always. They had free 26.2/13.1 Cowtown car stickers. I hardly ever see those for free. Most of the other stuff was standard protein bars, yogurt, pens, bags, etc. They had lots of clothes and shoes you could buy. The official Cowtown Merchandise was a little expensive, but you don’t expect much of a discount at a race expo.
When I was looking at February races, I knew I had a race at the first of March. I asked a few friends about this marathon and they told me that Fort Worth was fast and flat, so I should do the Cowtown. It would be no problem to do the Cowtown and then a race the next weekend because “the Cowtown is easy.” They lied.
I talked to someone on the course and they said there was a White Rock marathon in Dallas that really was fast and flat, but the Cowtown is hilly. I’m going to be honest. I thought it was pretty much all uphill. A cop yelled to me at one point, “It’s downhill for a few miles after this turn!” and I said, “Yeah right, I think EVERYTHING in Texas is uphill. Is that even possible?” and he laughed and said, “No really. It’s downhill.” It was downhill for a bit, but then another hill. I was sorry I left my Fitbit at home by accident because I would have gotten awesome hill credit (I tried to buy a new one, but neither Wal-mart nor Best Buy in Forth Worth had them).
|Total elevation gain: 570 feet|
All races start and end at the Will Rogers Memorial Center. The half, the whole and the ultra all start in the same place and split later.
The marathon course was really nice. It first passes through the Greenwood Memorial Park and near the cemetery. It’s a pretty nice run, with trees and birds (but on pavement). I enjoyed this part of the run. It was a nice, peaceful warmup. Then you hit some city streets.
The next major site is at around mile 6. I had read on the map you run through “stockyards.” I don’t know anything about Fort Worth, so I was picturing running through cow dung and dirt. This is actually a historic stockyard that’s been turned into a shopping and restaurant district. If you’ve never been to Forth Worth, many of the streets have patches covered in cobblestone bricks. The whole area of the stockyard was covered in this. It’s very uneven, bumpy and a little tough on your feet. It was quite nice scenery wise. There were cowboys hanging out to cheer the runners on. As I ran through, I saw a sign that said the stockyard is the home of twice daily cattle drives. I made a mental note to go back later. The stockyards had a lot of race support. Lots of people cheering. It was the perfect mile 6 pick-me-up.
[I went back at 4 to see the cattle drive. It wasn’t really that great, but the kids who were watching loved it. About four cowboys (some of the same that watched the race go through) chased about six longhorn cows slowly down the stockyard main road. I joked that the marathon runners ran through faster than the cattle. I did hit a cupcake shop and Riscky’s BBQ. Yum! I earned those calories.]
After the stockyards, the marathon hits flat, paved streets until mile 9. I was talking to a runner when we passed a mile marker (8 I think). She said, “Shit. I hate mile 9 and 10.” I hadn’t really looked at the course elevation map. I only looked at the sights. I said, “Really? What’s at mile 9 and 10?” She said, “You’ll see soon enough.” Well, I did. Mile 9 goes straight up (it seems), and you can see the hill from the bottom. It was about a half a mile straight up into heaven. That hill separates the men from the boys. Mile 10ish goes downhill, though, but after a large uphill, downhill can be just as bad. The course goes up and down after that, but that was the worst of it.
I’m a back of the pack run/walker, and I noticed that I was running with mostly half marathoners. I was a little worried about the half marathon split. I didn’t think I was last. I was actually making 13-14 minute miles. I was still worried. The split was around mile 10.5. The cop at the split saw my yellow sign and said, “You go this way, unless you’re giving up on us!” I said, “No, I’m great! I’m not giving up.” I was sure I was looking at him like he was crazy. I think he was kidding, but did I look that bad? I felt great . . . should I give up? I was a little paranoid at that point that I was *too* far back, even though my Garmin said otherwise. Still, I took the marathon turn.
After the course veers off, the marathon goes under a bridge. I felt so alone under the bridge. I didn’t see anyone behind me or in front of me. I was thinking, “Crap, I’m going to get lost in downtown Fort Worth!” Still, I kept running and skipping my walk breaks. I wanted to see someone…ANYONE. I was so relieved when I heard cowbells. At least I knew I was heading in the right direction. They were around the next water station, and I saw a group of runners. Thank goodness. I decided I would keep up with them for the rest of the run, but I eventually passed them. Soon after I caught those guys, I saw more people. There were some people behind us too. I felt relieved and invigorated.
This next part of the marathon, which goes through some residential areas, was not very well marked. The pavement was marked with blue arrows in spots, and there were traffic cones in most spots, but there were some areas where it wasn’t immediately clear which direction to go. It was relief when I went the way I thought we should go and then saw a marker or traffic cone. Also, in this area, the traffic wasn’t stopped for us slow guys. An SUV almost ran over the lady directly in front of me. I think the traffic cones were designed to have traffic only use the one lane and yield to the other side, but this guy had somewhere to go and he wasn’t going to yield. There were lots of residents in their yards with signs, some offering tootsie rolls, bananas, beer, etc.
I was relieved when we hit the parks. It says on the map we ran through Forest Park Trail, which looked like a paved recreational trail. We shared it with non-marathon walkers and bikers. I loved it. Then we went through Overton Park, near a golf course (the traffic here at the intersection was a little hairy too, if I remember correctly). The last few miles were along Trinity Park. We also shared that with recreational users, including some kids who were cheering us on. I liked this part of the course, even though it was sidewalk. It overlooked the water and was just a nice path. I see why Fort Worth residents run and walk so much!
The finish has a few twists and turns were you think, “It’s here…wait” but I didn’t have much of a problem with it. The Will Rogers Center is a massive complex. Race organizers were quick with the medal and water.
The After Event
I heard some people complaining that you had to walk across the Will Rogers Center to get your finisher’s shirt. The finisher shirts were in the same place as the expo. I didn’t mind, but I’m not fast so I wasn’t in pain. It would have been nice to have some tables outside. You also had to go in to get your challenge medal. I thought it was nice to go in there and sit down and enjoy your post-race snack anyway.
I also heard some complaining that you had to stand in line for food. One of the great things about being back of the pack is that there was no line. They were throwing entire cartons of yogurt at me. The milk guy gave me six chocolate milks. I got as many protein bars as I wanted, a whole thing of bananas, apples. It was like a shopping trip. For the 10k, where I was quicker, I did stand in line for 20 minutes to get a little bit of food. I can see where that would be bad if you had just run a 3 hour marathon. Most races I’ve done have had more food tables, so traffic goes quicker, but this really didn’t seem that bad to me. At least there was food to go around. I’ve done some races where the back of pack runners don’t have any food left at all.
The Event Hotel
If I did this event again, I would stay at the Hilton. I stayed at the Sheraton. I stayed there because they were the event’s hotel and they said they would give you late check-out. They denied me late checkout because, “So many people are asking for it, we can’t allow it.” Of course they are. You advertised that as a perk of staying with you.
Another downside is that the Sheraton’s restaurant was not that great and it’s not really within walking distance of anything better. When asked, the guy at the desk said, “Depends on how far walking distance is to you?” I noticed on the shuttle ride that the Hilton was a lot closer to good places to eat.
The Sheraton’s restaurant doesn’t have a very big, varied menu. I wouldn’t have been able to eat there more than once and not eat the same thing. I thought it was funny that it offers a pasta special. I asked about it. They gave me a blank look and said, “I don’t think there is a pasta special this weekend.” I know eating pasta before a race is a myth, but I joked, “On marathon weekend, there is no pasta?” and she just stared at me. That doesn’t make them bad. It seems funny that the hotel “hosting” the event doesn’t (she did eventually tell me, after I ordered the chicken, they had seafood pasta and lasagna).
The parking lot is not very convenient at the Sheraton and the valet actually claimed to have lost my car for a good 15 minutes marathon morning. He found it, but how disorganized is that? They did have a shuttle to the race, but since I had to check-out, I just drove to the race. I took the shuttle for the 10k and it was fine. It just seemed like this hotel, from the check-in, to the restaurant to the valet, was very disorganized. I’m not used to paying so much for such a bumbling experience.
That being said, the rooms were large, clean and nice. There are no fridges in the room, which I would have liked. They also have a spa. I wouldn’t stay there again. The only reason I paid the premium was for guaranteed late check-out, which I was denied by two different members of hotel staff.
Overall, it was a fun race. I don’t think I would have visited Forth Worth otherwise. I took a trip to the zoo and saw the stockyard areas and a cattle run. The city seems like a nice little city and I’m glad I went!