Pages

Missouri: Sneaky hills of St Louis

There are just some races that I have wanted to run after reading an article about them or seeing a booth at an expo. The Go! St Louis marathon was exactly one of those. I don't remember where I first heard about it, but it has been on my "to do" list for a few years now. At the beginning of 2017, as I was planning out races for the year, I noticed that St. Louis sat nicely within already scheduled races but it did have one issue, it was a Sunday race. Kaela and I have been trying to do Saturday races in order to see a little bit of the town and still be able to drive and get home at a decent time on Sunday. However, I was able to convince Kaela since it had an early race start and it was also just a 6 1/2 hour drive. So with that we planned to head to the "show me state" in April.

Race: GO! St. Louis Marathon
Location: St. Louis, MO
Date: April 9, 2017
Finishing Time: 4:30:13



Originally, we planned to just head down to STL on Saturday (day before race) and then just head back after the race so I wouldn't have to use an time off work. However, since neither of us had ever been to St. Louis we decided that it would be better to head there on Friday to do a little sight seeing before the race. So after a half day of work on Friday, we headed out west. On the way we stopped by Rudy's for BBQ lunch and then Schulers Bakery for some sweet treats in Springfield, OH. We rarely pass by Springfield without getting at least one of these. 

Since I had an extra day to rest my legs, I drove to STL as Kaela usually drives me home to let my legs rest. Kaela and I spent the drive just chit-chatting about a little of everything. It's always great to just unplug from the day to day routine and just be able to talk about anything on our minds with no real interruptions. I really do enjoy those road-trip conversations. As we approached STL, we had decided that would make more sense to just head to the expo on the way in to prevent having to make a special trip on Saturday. Parking cost for the expo was $10, but since I usually just run in and out, we found a parking spot close by and Kaela stayed at the car in case we needed to move before getting a ticket. The expo felt like a typical small race expo, taking place at local college arena. Bib pickup when you walk in then having to enter the arena and head down stairs to the main expo floor. I had seen this same set up for a few previous events. I grabbed my participant bag, and then purchased a few caffeine Gu gels as I had ran out in Myrtle Beach, before making my way back out.

Expo Floor

Back at the car, Kaela had already inputted the address for dinner in the GPS car and we were off to The Shaved Duck. The week before race, I spent some time on Yelp, TripAdvisor and Google, trying to find some good options for dinner. The Shaved Duck was rated in the top 10 on all the sites in St. Louis, so we decided that we should give it a try. The restaurant was only a few miles from the expo but the estimated time was about 20 minutes and I couldn't figure out why but shortly into the drive we found out. On every single block on the road we were on there was a 4 way stop. I think we easily hit 10-15 4 way stops on the way. Finally we arrived and set up at an outside table since we had Bella. Loaded fries with pork, flatbread pizza, and a bbq tri-tip sandwich later, we basically rolled back to the car. As a side note, I highly recommend a meal at The Shaved Duck if you are ever in St. Louis.




Kaela's beverage for dinner



Back in the car, we heading to our AirBNB in Maplewood, which is just outside of St. Louis. This was first time using AirBNB and I definitely learned my lesson and things to pay attention to when selecting a place. Pulling down the street the house was on, we started to feel a little worried about the area that we were in, and then when pulled up to the place we were staying it didn't lift our thoughts of the place. This is where I forgot to tell Kaela that we were actually staying in the basement of a house with our own entrance. This is something I should have ran by her because she would have made me think about what that actually meant, hearing people walking above you all day/night (yeah, I didn't even think about it). When we walked into the place, you could instantly smell pet dander/hair and then could see the amount of dog hair and dust throughout the studio. I won't rant here about it (already did that in the review) but let's just say we never once let our clothes, bags, or even bare feet touch the floor during our stay. We did some rearranging of furniture, cleaned up, and laid in bed watching Hulu for the rest of the evening.

The next morning, I woke up early for my shake out run. It was a pretty cool morning, but it felt nice to get some fresh air and be outside of the studio. After the run, we spent the morning, planning out some race day logistics (where is the start, where do we park, where would Kaela see me) by actually driving around St Louis. After that was completed, we decided to be tourist for a little bit. We started at Forest Park, where we walked around the outside of the zoo and saw some animals through the fence. Taking a stroll down their paths we stumbled upon the 5k that was a part of the GO! St Louis race weekend in the north end of the park. I wanted to get off my feet a little bit so we found a park picnic table and just relaxed for a little. We talked about what else we wanted to do, as it was still really early and we didn't want to spend the entire afternoon sitting in the studio, we needed to fill the time the other items.



Bella felt left out so we had her take a picture with a turtle

We drove around some fancy neighborhoods checking out houses and walked around Maplewood "downtown" area with small shops, before stopping at Schlafly Bottleworks for lunch. Breweries are always a must stop for us, but since its pre-race for me I was only drinking water while Kaela enjoyed a beer flight. We grabbed some appetizers and just enjoyed the beautiful weather. There was a couple sitting next to us, that Kaela was certain we saw running together that morning (and of course she was right ;)) that we started to have some conversation with. It was their first wedding anniversary weekend and they were taking a short trip to see a friend in the area. We talked about races completed and goals for future runs for about 30 minutes before parting ways. It's funny how runners can just start up a conversation with each other like they've known each other for years!

After lunch, we went on a mini expedition to find this goat farm I stumbled upon thanks to Google, which ended up being a ladies back yard. Kaela wanted to explore, but I didn't want to get in trouble for trespassing (lol). Then we went to get some frozen custard from Ted Drewes which we read was a must when in St. Louis. After all of those things for the day, it was still only like 2pm, which was way too early to head back to the studio. I didn’t want to continue to be on my feet walking around places so we decided to head back to Forest Park, park the car, and literally take a nap in the car. It felt nice to have my legs up, but as the day went on, the temps continued to increase and I felt like I wasn't staying hydrated enough. This caused me not to rest all that well but at least we were getting some fresh air.

Around 4:30, we made our way back to studio to feed Bella and start my prep for the evening.

Lay out clothes | prep nutrition and race day items | eat dinner | stretch |shower | sleep

BUZZZZZZZ *3:30AM ALARM*

I slowly made my way out of bed, trying to keep quiet while Kaela was sleeping. Prepped my breakfast using a microwave for my bagels since we didn't have a toaster and then used my phone flashlight to help me see so I didn't have to use the lights in the studio. As I ate, I listened to my pre-race worship mix, read a few encouraging verses, and did final check up on the course route on my iPad. Now I talked about how the weather was cool the morning before for my shake out run, but race day morning was quite different. At 4:30 it was in the mid 60's and it was only going to get warmer as the morning went on. I knew it was going to be a challenge to push through warmer temps.

Before I had realized, it was time to finish getting dressed, pack up the car, and get out the door. We weren't heading back to the studio after the race so we made sure everything was back in order, and completely packed up the car before heading downtown. I assumed that there was going to be some traffic heading to the start with limited parking garage options so with a 7am race start we decided to try and be downtown by 6 to allow some time for unexpected situations.

Once we got off the highway, heading towards the parking garage, Kaela noticed some cars just parked on the side streets at meters. We pulled over and check and sure enough "Free on Sundays"! She pulled into an easy to exit spot and we were all set and $10 richer. It also worked out well with the location of the car because Kaela would have to pass by it twice while she was walking to see me, so she didn't have to carry everything with her that she needed for the day. From where we parked, I wasn't 100% where the start actually was, but I knew it was close to the Arc, so we just walked towards that until we saw the stream of runners and then basically turned into Lemmings following along.

On the way to the start, I started to get the "bubble guts" (maybe TMI), and was looking for porta-john. Passing by a Hilton, Kaela recommended that I just duck in there, which made for much nicer facilities. Back on the way to the start and after a little over a mile of walking, we made it to the starting area. Kaela took my pre-race photo, I gave her and Bella a kiss and I was on my way to the starting corrals.


The corrals lined up on a road that hugged the Mississippi River. I walked down to the end of my corral to give me some space to get a little dynamic stretching in before the start. I spent the time before the race really just people watching. You can see all sorts of emotions on peoples faces from nerves to excitement to the "I need more sleep" or "I actually paid to do this" looks. While gazing around I noticed a pacer was making their way into the corrals and CRAP, I forgot my pace bands in the car, so I was going to have to do a big "no-no" of doing math while running to keep myself on pace. I took a look around and couldn't spot a pacer in my corral. I just chalked it up to wanting to stay under 4:30, which if I hung around a 10 minute mile pace would get me there.

After a short delay at the start while they finished prepping the first section of the course, it was time to for the National Anthem. I said a prayer for strength, focus, and to know that each step taken is a gift from God. A few moments later, the first wave of runners were on their way. I have mixed feelings on the wave start process, but if it is done properly it definitely helps with backed up traffic in the first few miles. Now just a couple more waves went off before I had my chance.


3…2…1…GO, ST LOUIS!!!

We were off heading through the crowds cheering on around the starting area. About a 1/2 mile in, we took a hard left following the road and straight up hill. Like literally like climbing a wall, ok maybe just figuratively, but it definitely was a way to wake up my calve muscles early. I made the joke to someone next to me, "I was told this is a flat course", which was returned by another runner that shouted I was very much lied to. As we crested the hill Kaela was posted up on the right hand side with Bella cheering us all on and taking photos.


Lady to my right is the one that fell
Right after I saw Kaela, we started to head under the highway when a lady beside me got tripped up on either a manhole or her own feet, and took a hard awkward fall to the ground. She was running with someone but I stopped to offer my help as well and to make sure she was ok. Other than a few small cuts, she seemed good but mostly embarrassed by the fall. I made a quick joke to lighten mood that she at least got that out of the way in the first mile and can enjoy the next 12 (since she was doing the half marathon).




We wrapped around a few side roads making our way around to the MLK Bridge that would take us into Illinois. I started to have some Déjà vu but couldn't quite figure out why at first and then it hit me. This race started almost identical as the Flying Pig in Cincinnati, OH. You start down by the river, power through a quick climb, then wrap around to a bridge that looks back at the starting area and then takes you into another state. It was so similar it was creepy. The climb up one side of the bridge helped warm up my legs early. On the bridge I passed a few firefighters that were running in full gear with tanks (bunch of bad asses!). It was only the second time I had ever crossed the Mississippi and this time it was on foot.

Making our way into Illinois, we followed the road under the highway into East St. Louis. I think there is a reason we were only here for a mile and passed by the police station; the neighborhood looked a little "beaten up". That being said the folks from Vantage Credit Union were out in full force cheering us on as we passed by their branch. We hit our first aid station before heading back under a different highway and taking the entry ramp to the Eads bridge. The climb up to the peak of this bridge was a little steeper, working a short stride to keep from overextending and heel striking.

As we approached the center of the bridge, a beautiful view of the skyline of St. Louis emerged. Maybe it’s the photographer in me but I love seeing an entire city downtown that can be captured in a single frame. On the other side of the bridge, I lengthened my stride a bit and let gravity take over for a bit. Close to the end of the bridge, the 7k racers made their way off to the right to finish their morning. I tried talking a few of them to keep on running with us, but they were either listening to their music too loud or just flat out ignoring me (I'm going to go with the latter) as they turned to their finish.

At about 4.5 miles in, we made a left turn to head down Broadway for the next few miles. Kaela found a nice spot around mile 5 to take some really nice photos on my approach. I didn't see her until I noticed the flash going off on the camera. Before the race we had chatted about her carrying some additional items for me because of the weather and that I would let her know if/when I needed them. I felt good through 5, but let her know that when I saw her around mile 11, that a fresh application of body glide was going to be needed. I did however, drop off the GoPro as I only wanted to capture the beginning of the race for the race vlog.


Heading down Broadway, we cruised past Busch Stadium, where the Cardinals actually had an early afternoon game later that day. Passing a few parking lots and bars, we started to get to a more residential area of St. Louis. Around mile 6, there was local company handing out little chocolate treats, but I opted against as it was way to early to start any indulging. Instead I opted for my favorite Honey Stinger gel, Fruit Smoothie! Broadway turned into 7th and it took us directly into Anheuser-Busch. As we approached the gates, I could just smell the all the great smells of beer making. I was in the minority in the "great smells" thought, as lots of runners around me seemed to be disgusted by the smell. We ran through the main road in their facility, passing some main offices and a few Clydesdale hanging out, before heading out.

Up to this point the crowd support had been spotty as we were running in less residential areas, but for the next 5k section of the race it was pumping. It all started right as we left Anheuser-Busch, there was a bar on corner called Howards of Soulard (had to look up name, no way I was remembering that). There was a crowd of people in PJ's, onesies, and costumes, enjoying "beverages" and cheering for all the runners as we passed by. As we made our way through some neighborhood streets, families were set up outside their houses playing music and holding signs of humor and encouragement to keep us moving. It's always nice to have those type of people in the "easier" miles to keep spirits high.

Wrapping through a few neighborhoods, we made our way by Lafayette Park (another location with lots of crowd support) before approaching the split at mile 10 for the half marathoners to head back to the arc and the finish line. I was surprised with the amount of people that were staying on the marathon course, as usually it feels like all but a small handful make the turn for the half. Even so, once again I tried telling people to just double up their distance and stay with us, but this time I know for sure they were just ignoring me. As we made the split, I noticed the "Jefferson Hill" that I had heard a little bit about that the half marathoners were hitting at mile 10 but I would be hitting at mile 23. I tried to take that out of my mind for now, knowing full well it was going to not be pleasant a few hours later.

Up to this point, other than the bridges, there wasn't much of a noticable incline on the course. I noticed in front of us a small grade that seemed to go on forever. I started chatting with a guy next to me, Dave, that had run the race quite a few times. I asked him about the elevation for the rest of the race, and he told me that there were a couple instances of long steady grades like the one we were about to tackle and then that monster of a hill we saw at the split. We chatted for a few minutes but I gathered from his short responses that he was more interested in running alone, so I wished him good luck as I pushed on. My stride and pace felt nice as I powered through the hill and when I reached the top I noticed the pace car with the leading runner heading back towards the finish. He was about 11 miles ahead of me (mile 22 vs mile 11) and there was no one even close to him that I could see.

On the other side of the hill (overpass), Kaela had taken shop at a corner in the course. It was a point that would act as the pivot point for an out and back, so we thought would be best place for her to hang out. She took some great photos of me coming down the hill and then quickly grabbed my requested body glide. My body was feeling good but I knew that as the temperatures started to increase that the extra 15 seconds spent would be well worth it. I had just grabbed a gel that there we handing out an a aid just before the hill and passed that off to Kaela to try during a training run (Rule #32 - never try something new during a race).




I headed South towards Tower Grove Park for a 4.5 mile lollipop type loop. We had a long climb to start and then a few rolling hills before making it into the park. I kept my focus on my stride to keep my energy used in check. I was passing a lot of people that must have gone out a little too hard as before we even got to half way mark they were starting a walking routine. Once we were in the park, we had to keep an eye out for speed bumps as we circled the park roads. They did a good job at having signs warning of them coming, but then I think they got a little lazy and placed the "speed bumps ahead" signs directly on the speed bumps. There wasn't much crowd support in this section, other than a handful of families that were having picnics just along the side of the road, so it was a quiet stroll through the park. We approached another aid station just after mile 13, and I called out to volunteers that needed one water and one gatorade, and a teenager said he had me covered and handed me two cups. A few steps later I noticed it was two waters and I had to call him out in front of his friends. Luckily another volunteer was quick to grab me a gatorade. I appreciate anyone that helps out for races but every once in a while I have to give them a little crap to make it interesting.

Shortly after the aid station, I was headed out of the park and heading back North on the same road we used to come in. Heading back was a little easier than previous since the long climb at beginning, was an enjoyable long decent. Around this time I started to feel a little tightness in my calves and quads but just ignored since a lot of miles still left to run. Also the temperatures started to increase a bit and even though the sun wasn't out shining, it started to feel real sticky out. I made it back to the start of the out and back around mile 16. Kaela was just cheering me as I approached and then noticed instead of taking the tangent in the road, that I was heading directly towards her. The body glide started to feel light again and I knew that it was not going to last the last 10 miles of the race so another application would be best. She gave me an update on a friend of ours running her first 15k and also some "good luck" text from a few other friends. Quick kiss and a "see ya at the finish" and I was off heading West for yet another lollipop loop.




I started to feel the sun hitting the back of my neck and knew that I needed to make sure that I was keeping hydrated. We took a few turns before heading into Forest Park. Since Kaela and I spent a decent amount of time in the park the day before, it seemed quite familiar which helped keep my mind focused on familiar landmarks. The aid station around mile 17 was definitely bringing some energy as we entered the main area in the park with volunteer jumping, dancing and singing to the DJ set that was happening. On the other side of the road I saw a lady that seemed to be swaying back and forth looked completely out of it. I was about to say something to a course marshal when I noticed another lady doing the same thing.  We ended up running together as she told me a story of her friend that had the same issue in another race and it ended her up in medical tent with a DNF. I didn't catch her name but she was on her own journey for 50 states (plus DC) and this race made #34. Yet again, she didn't seem interested in having conversation, so I said good luck as she fell back to a walk.

The park was just as I remembered it the day before with wide roads and rolling hills. We made a big loop near where the 5k was the day, passing by the final relay station for the marathon. It was nice to have a large crowd at the relay switch to help bring up mood as the suck started to sink in. Once we left that area, we were heading East on our way back to the finish and directly into the sun. At this point I put on the Shady Rays to help with the glare from the road. A few more rolling hills and a pretty strong headwind really started to break down my stride and I felt the turnover wasn't there. I told myself to keep pushing to get to mile 20 before taking a quick walk break. However, my inner thighs had a different plan for how long I was going to be running. As I approached the aid station around mile 19.5, I kindly asked if they had vaseline. I must have been the first person to ask for it from them because the volunteer had to go into a grocery bag and break it out. After an awkward session of taking a nice scoop and rubbing generously between my legs (that doesn't sound right) while I talked with the volunteer, I was back on the road.

Oh it felt so much better not to have the burning and my legs seemed to have a little extra jolt in them as well. I was doing some quick math and felt that I was still on a good pace to hit 4:30 but didn't have as much of a buffer as before I entered the park. I cruised through the next few miles, before walking up the long hill (overpass) heading towards the split. The sun was out in full force at this point just beating down with no mercy. I cruised the down hill until arriving at aid station around mile 22.5 that had some ice cold towels to help cool me down. I grabbed two, soaking my face, arms and shoulders with one, and then just using the second to keep around my neck. I walked for about a 1/4 mile before trying to get back to a somewhat respectable pace, and then that’s when I had a flashback to what was just around the corner; the mile 23 "mountain".

It looked a lot worse than it really was, but being an overpass over I-64, it had to get up quick making it look towering. Right at the corner, there was a group of people handing out beer, and I took a second glance before realizing that probably not the best idea. I decided to power hike the initial steep part of the hill before going back to pace. My legs really started to feel the 23 miles that were behind them but I did my best to keep moving at more than a fast walk. We passed under a giant American flag being held by two firetrucks and that seemed to give me a little spark, but it was short lived. We turned right on Washington Street and I noticed a nice downhill grade that I needed to use to my advantage. Taking a look at my watch I knew it was going to be really close and that I needed to continue to push to meet my goal. I stayed close to the sidewalk, where the building were providing a little bit of shade, even though was making the course just a little bit longer.

Two quick turns with a mile and half left, I was falling fast. We were on a road that basically completely shade but it had a few rolling hills, that I tried running the downhills and power walking the uphills. At the end up the final uphill, I recognized that this was the same area that we started the race and that we were going to be heading through the starting corrals to head to the finish. Right about where the lady fell at the beginning of the race, a group of people were walking back saying that I only had just over 1/2 mile left. My watch time was around 4:23 but my distance said I had closer to a mile, but my brain only registered what the people said and I took off. I flew down the steep hill, almost losing my footing, before making the final right turn to the finish.

Eyes on the finish
I was pushing with all the energy I had left, but as I looked up it seemed like the Arc was not getting any closer. My quads started to tighten up, but after a quick look at my watch, I had no time to stop for a quick walk and dealt with the pain. I got to the point that was around .7 miles from where the people said "just over 1/2 miles" and finally saw the finish line. I extended my stride and put it all in my push off trying to cover as much ground as I could with each step. A couple hundred yards from the finish, I realized that I wasn't going to hit the goal and was instantly deflated. I then heard them say my name as I approached the finish, and it gave me the final boost I needed to make it across the finish.

4:30:13

...and just short

I instantly went to a hobble with a tight quad as I walked through the finishers area. Kaela greeted me on the side of the fence and asked if I made it in goal time, and it was tough to say I missed by only 13 seconds. I received my medal, some water, and snacks while trying to keep moving to prevent completely locking up. Towards the end of the area, Ted Drewes was there handing out some cool ice cream sandwiches for the finishers. The nice volunteer said that I looked like I needed two, and I graciously thanked her because that meant I was going to get one since I knew Kaela and Bella would share one lol. Stumbling out of the finishers area, I met Kaela on the stairs below the Arc as we ate our ice cream and I tried to stretch out my legs a little bit.

We then made our way up the ten million numerous steps to get to the main road outside the Arc area. I told Kaela some of the stories from the race as we headed back to the car. She realized we hadn't taken a "finishers photo" so we lined up with the Arc at my back, and just like that St. Louis felt complete. Back in the car, I got us lost since apparently heading West to go East doesn't help but finally on the right track we ordered dinner from Buffalo Wild Wings, got gas, and made the trek back home.

It was a tough thing to swallow knowing that I was so close but just fell short. But all things considered, I was super thrilled that I pushed through some crazy warm weather to finish strong. In addition to the heat, I was surprised on how those long "sneaky" hills really took the steam out of my legs throughout the race. In the last mile I averaged under a 9 min/mi with a peak of mid 7's! I could look back and see different points in the race that maybe if I handled just a little bit differently that perhaps that would have made the difference. But with running, I have learned not the play the "what ifs" because that list is never ending.

I had a blast during this race and would recommend to anyone wanting to run in the area. The course was a great mix of challenge and scenery to keep your mind busy. The volunteers were amazing and the aid stations seemed to be placed right where I needed them. My only complaint would be the lack of music/bands/dj/circus clowns on the course (ok maybe not last one). The crowd support was relatively light and having more entertainment on the course would help keep you from being inside your own head. That however is just a small thing that does not at all tarnish a well organized race.


And with that, state #16 was complete. I'm glad I was able to fit in this race that I have wanted to do for a few years into the schedule this year. Next stop is the Mississippi Blues transfer to Nashville and running the St Jude's Rock and Roll Nashville Marathon just 3 weeks later!





Jonathan Flores

| Christian | Husband | Runner | Photographer | Writer | Musician |