Race Review: Monumental Marathon

Mile 4.5

Mile 4.5

Yesterday I posted a pretty detailed race report focused on how my race went, but I wanted to share a review of the race itself for anyone who might be considering adding the Monumental Marathon to their to-do list.

Please take this review with a grain of salt — I am what I suppose would be considered a competitive marathoner, for lack of a more appropriate term. I finished this race in an almost-PR of 3:10:19 for 26th female. This review is from my personal perspective, and I want a race that sets me up to go fast and takes care of its athletes.

This is our third trip to Monumental — it had become a local favorite soon after it started, with several of my friends running it in 2011 and 2012 (and bringing home some great times). I ran the marathon there in 2013, then the half last year (and my husband ran the full). This year we both ran the full — actually the first time we’ve taken on 26.2 simultaneously.

We keep going back because it’s a top-notch race organized by people who obviously care about the runner experience. Plus, it’s a flat, fast course at a great time of year. It also benefits Indianapolis Public Schools through the district’s foundation and other related charities, and the race has a mission of educating Indianapolis youth about the benefits of exercise, proper diet and healthy living; and vombating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency by promoting health, physical fitness and wellness in the Indianapolis community.

Pre-race: Registration was through Eventbrite and was easy enough, but I found I couldn’t confirm my registration through the site afterwards. I kept running into problems with my registration not being linked to my existing Eventbrite account and not being able to find it when not logged in. So if you have an Eventbrite account, you might want to make sure you’re logged in when you register. They do a great job of sending updates including regarding sell-outs, so if you prefer to wait and register closer to the race date, make sure you’re signed up for their emails. They have sold out four consecutive years so you don’t want to be caught by surprise. We also were able to snag a discount code they advertised on social media.

Also, hotels fill up fast and get expensive just as quickly — this year there was the marathon, a Pacers home game and a Colts home game, and both stadiums are close to the race. Make reservations early. We’ve stayed at the La Quinta Downtown (on Washington Street) several times and really like the location but found the hotel in need of renovations this year — it was clean but worn down. And the first room we were given smelled like mildew; we were moved to another room but it was still concerning. That said, it’s a way less expensive option that some of the others downtown and still within walking distance of the start/finish/expo. We stayed last year in the Comfort Suites City Center and would definitely recommend it.

Ladies-Sky-Line-Heather-Orange-500x500Expo: Held in the convention center and pretty typical. Seemed like fewer vendors selling gear this year but lots of races offering discounts if you signed up at the expo. I will say the email with bib numbers didn’t come out until Wednesday and ended up in my junk mail. I wish they would’ve posted a link on social media as reinforcement. Monumental sells some pretty cool gear of their own, too.

A note on shirts — I am rarely a fan of race shirts. For starters, hardly anyone offers a women’s XS. I don’t know if you’ve looked at many fast female long-distance runners, but there’s an awful lot of extra-smalls in that crowd. Again this year the shirt is an awkward fit on me, and each year I’ve run it they seem to over-do the screen printing. It’s stiff and sticky. The shirt seems to be a nice quality shirt, though, so if you don’t have sensory issues like my husband and I, the screen printing might not be an issue. (Visually I still think it’s a little gaudy. I’d be perfectly happy with something simple like this other shirt, above, that they sell.) The only race shirts I actually wear are my Boston Marathon long sleeves (small logo on chest, text on arm, that’s it) and a couple of Nike DriFit tops that actually came in XS.

Weather: This year we had perfect weather, around 40* at the start and ending around 50*. Last year was colder and windy, but 2013 was a good year, too. Looking at some temperature data, typical would be a low around 40* and a high around 55*-60*.

Starting area: This changed a bit this year and my only complaint is that the gear check tent is hard to reach. It was much easier to find this year than past years — but the finish is fenced off for about a block so to reach the gear check you have to stay on the sidewalk and fight against people going the other way. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it stressed me out. The corrals were easy to access, and while they had assigned elite, A and B corrals, there didn’t seem to be any policing of that. But, it seemed like most people had policed themselves and that’s even better.

Course: The course is about as flat as you’d want — too flat and your legs wear down from using the same muscles the whole time — my watch registered 278 feet of elevation gain but I think that’s high. In 2013 my old Garmin 405 clocked 180 feet of gain, and they haven’t changed the course much. I can’t find an official number for the gain, but it’s not much. And what there is is mostly sandwiched together from 15-18.

This year they listened to participants and made a few course changes, including moving the start and finish line slightly. This included straightening out some of the downtown turns early in the race when it is more congested, and dropping a mile 1 water stop that was in one of those congested turns. There are still a lot of turns in the first couple of miles, and I’d recommend running more on feel than worrying about what pace your watch says because the downtown high-rises have caused my Garmin to record some wonky data there.

You are with the half-marathoners to about mile 7 so make sure to pace smart and don’t get sucked in.

There were several times in the race the pavement was pretty beat up and I had to dodge potholes and other hazardous footing, so it would be nice to see the city get behind the race a little bit and make sure those are repaved (hint, hint!).

Water stops are every mile but not at the mile markers, which is great. Water and Gatorade at each stop and consistently water first and in different cups. Thank you! There were a couple of left-side only stops which, as a righty, are awkward for me but I’m nitpicking because so much of the race is excellent.

They also had three stations handing out CarBOOM gels. I’ve never been one to use on-the-course fuel but it is there if you want it.

Crowd support is good throughout the race. There are areas with larger crowds than others, especially downtown, but with the exception of a couple of spots where it is hard for spectators to access (along the river), it is pretty consistent that you won’t go long without fans. And — credit to whoever does this every year — there’s a lonely stretch from 20-21 that always has a ton of funny signs along side of it. (Chuck Norris never ran a marathon!) I’m always impressed that the residents seem to “get” how to support a marathon (unlike my hometown). Tons of bands, too.

Finish: The half and full courses meet up again at 23.5-ish, but it is handled smartly. The half marathoners are coming straight and are coned off to the left, while the marathoners make a right-hand turn onto Meridian and stay in the right-hand lane. This make the final right-hand turn onto Washington much easier, and then you’ve got around 400 meters to kick.

They straightened this part out a little bit — in past years you made a sharp left and had maybe a tenth of a mile where you could actually see the finish line. Making the turn around the half marathoners got a little crazy, too.

They’ve also figured out that runners get cold fast, especially in the shady and cooler downtown. This year they handed out Heatsheets and toboggans like in past years. Last year they also gave out some strange Tyvek zip-up things which I’m still undecided about. Standard finish line goodies, and a volunteer who knew to open my water bottle for me and is basically a saint in my book. Gatorade recovery protein bars, chocolate milk, cookies, crackers, bananas, water, Gatorade, etc. Some step-and-repeat banners so you can get a nice finish photo with your medal. Massage tent with a line a mile long … Could I make a request here that maybe there’s a separate line for marathoners? Not to be a snob, but a marathoner finishing in 3 hours probably needs a massage more than a half-marathoner finishing in the same time. And there’s a lot more half-marathoners coming in at that time than there are marathoners.

Also at the finish was a results tent where you could get a printout of your data — including each split they recorded (10k, half, 30k, finish). If you’re a dummy like me and messed up your watch, this is a nice touch.

Next to the gear check tent this year was a Steak & Shake tent serving chili, but I didn’t check that out. Conceptually I like the idea of warm food at the end but my stomach was in no way ready for chili. I had packed Hammer Recoverite in my gear check bag (already in an empty bottle so I just had to pour in water), so I skipped most of the goodies.

The finish line was a little crazy — it might have been a little easier if the gear check and some of the other treats/tents had been inside the fence. I had to grab my gear bag, come back around to the other side of the finish, then hustle through the crowd to see my husband finish. Then again, my situation was probably a little unusual and I can’t expect everyone to cater to me. But I can dream!

For the record, it does get cold fast. Not kidding at all. Pack some sort of long sleeve and gloves in your check bag. I tossed my gloves at 23 and my Reynauds kicked in and left me with nonfunctioning white fingers within minutes of finishing.

A quick note on medals — they are halfway through a four-year series that will culminate with the race’s 10th anniversary in 2017. Each of the four features a different monument and has a cut out corner that will form monument circle downtown. People completing all four years will get a special medallion that goes in the middle representing the state of Indiana. If you’re a person who is in to medals, this is pretty cool, although if you’ve missed the first two years you’re just going to have medals missing a corner. Like with shirts, medals don’t mean much to me in the grand scheme of choosing or liking a race. (After I wrote this sentence, I added the “grain of salt” disclaimer above. If you like medals and shirts, that’s awesome and you’ll probably like these. They’re just not high on my priority list.)

In short — I like this race a lot. It’s become a go-to for us; a race we can rely on to offer a great experience in a cool city that’s just two hours from our house. I’ve run seven different marathons and (not counting Boston) this one is truly great. (I still think the St. Jude Memphis Marathon has the best finish setup.)

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