By guest contributor: Iain McCorquodale
My wife and I lost a close friend to a brain tumor in July of this year, and committed to run one half marathon a month over the next 12 months to raise funds for Marie Curie, a UK charity that provides care and support for people living with any terminal illness. More details can be found at www.justgiving.com/12halfmarathons. We are also substituting one of the half marathons for the 2018 London Marathon, the biggest in the world. So far, with the help of friends and business associates, Alisa and I have raised around £5554.50 for the charity, but with 10 more runs to go we are hopeful to raise more.
The running vests you may have spotted with “Team Marie Curie” on them were for the charity. It is named after Marie Curie, the chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, and the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences. All we did was run 13.1 miles!
The Plano BalloonFestival Half Marathon actually started the day before for us as we visited Plano to pick up our race packets. Then we went to the festival to spend a great evening listening to music, cheering on the parachute display team, watching some balloons launch whilst others managed a ‘burn’ in time to a Neil Diamond classic. I can’t really imagine a better day-before for a run, and there was also homemade pizza and fireworks!
The downside to the night-before-the-day-after is that we were staying in Cedar Hill which is about 50 miles from Plano, so we got home at 23:30 and had to be back on the road at 04:00. Not ideal preparation.
There were around 1,200 runners assembled without undue fuss in time for the 07:00 start time. Given most runners have specific concerns before a big run, yes, there were enough restrooms, and yes, they were really clean. This was the first time I’ve not had to queue before a race so that was an added bonus. There was no mass participation warm-up, which I see as a positive as it’s usually just an excuse to flap around in time to 80’s aerobic classics, with minimal benefit.
Bang on 07:00, the gun went off. No offense to anyone from Texas who may read this, but I genuinely thought we’d have a “gun” at the start. We usually have one in the UK, and we don’t allow firearms. 😊
The route itself was relatively flat through the surrounding parks, trails and suburbs around the ‘Landing Field’ used by the balloonists. I’ll be honest and say I thought Texas was flat, but quickly discovered there were some rolling inclines (it would be a stretch to call them hills, relative to my normal runs). The other benefit was that apart from perhaps 3 or 4 miles, most of the route benefited from natural shade. Sadly, the lowest amount of shade was in the last 3 miles when I was feeling rather ‘jaded.’
In terms of the context for the run, as it was based around the InTouch Credit Union PlanoBalloon Festival, it was a real first for me to see the hot air balloons launching overhead, and to be running underneath Spyderpig certainly helped take my mind off the heat. I saw one balloon pilot who I thought was in for a soggy ending, however a local runner assured me he was just entertaining the crowd by buzzing the pond. I couldn’t resist stopping for a photo, and I’m really pleased by how well the impromptu shot looks. I have yet to find another run with such a unique and inspiring backdrop.
Back at the finish line, and after my crowd inspired sprint-finish, I settled in for bacon, eggs and hash browns for breakfast and some lovely gifts from local businesses supporting the festival. I’ll pause here to mention the great atmosphere and the way everyone was so welcoming. It’s worth mentioning more than once.
In summary, I would definitely run this again, and recommend the Texas hospitality and the Plano Balloon Festival Half Marathon to anyone. The runners, organizers, numerous volunteers and of course the various police departments all worked together to make this a very pleasant experience.
My wife finished 3rd in her age group! Our next run is in Jedburgh, in the Scottish Borders, where the temperature is a decidedly cooler 30 – 40 Fahrenheit. They have a lot to live up to as we continue our journey!