Friday, October 26, 2012

Prairie Fire Marathon Race Review

Last week I wrote about my performance in the Wichita Prairie Fire Marathon, but I intentionally left out many details of the race logistics or course information so that I could write this post.  Actually, I've blogged about this race in previous years, but in looking back, I don't think I did a good enough job describing the event.  Plus, the Prairie Fire has evolved and changed.  Full disclosure, this is my hometown marathon, and I want to see it do well.  However, I'm planning on stating all the facts both good and bad.

The Prairie Fire Wichita Marathon has been in existence for 3 years now replacing the Wichita Marathon which was a point to point course.  The Wichita Marathon was taken over by the Kansas Sports Commission and renamed after the sponsor, the Prairie Fire coffee roasters.  One of the first changes was to the course.  It became a dual loop course, with shared start and finish lines, all within the Wichita city limits.

Prairie Fire Wichita Marathon course as mapped by my Garmin.
Prairie Fire Wichita Marathon elevation as measured by Garmin.
As the map shows, there is a loop running through East Wichita, and a figure-8 loop on the West side of town.  The two are connect by a 3 mile stretch of road which divides the city into the North and South part of town.  The biggest slope around miles 3 and 14 occur while entering and exiting the College Hill neighborhood.  Otherwise, the elevation is very flat and fast.  The geographic center of the course is through the downtown area.  The East part runs through established neighborhoods while a lot of the Western loop run through parks.

Another change was the addition of an expo the day before.  I can't say that there is anything that really stands out about the expo, but it's better than nothing, and you can find some deals there.  Most of the deals might be difficult to take advantage of if you're from out of town since a lot of the vendors are local.  Actually, one nice thing about the expo is that it's only a block from the starting line, so if you're coming in from out of town, you can stay at a hotel within walking distance of both like the Hyatt, Drury, or Fairfield Inn.

Prairie Fire "Fit For Life" Expo

Prairie Fire "Fit For Life" Expo Packet Pickup
Although I'm only trying to address the marathon, the Prairie Fire is also made up of a half marathon, and a 5k.  The half marathon is actually the most popular of the 3 races with over 2100 finishers in 2012 compared to the 723 runners who completed the full marathon.  Meanwhile, the 5k results indicated 979 finishers.  All races start together and eventually split off with the half and full joining up 2 more times along the way.  One valid concern is that the courses are laid out with signs and volunteers so that runners stay on the correct roads, and that is one of the things Prairie Fire has improved upon since its inception.

Arriving to the starting area 45 minutes before the race, one thing became obvious right away that can also be an issue at large races.  A shortage of port-a-potties.  Not that there weren't a lot of them, it's just that everyone tries to use them at the same time before a race.  I found some public bathrooms in a nearby parking garage that most runners didn't know about, and I still had to wait in line over 10 minutes.  The bottom line is, don't show up to the starting line at the last minute.  Despite bathroom lines, and thousands of people at the start, it's still not as congested as a big city marathon, and therefore not as hard to get around or find a parking spot.

While running the marathon, I was pleased with how much shade there was going through the neighborhoods to help keep me cool on a sunny morning.  The bad thing about the shaded streets was there were some turns to navigate.  The turns honestly didn't bother me at all, but I hear other runners complain there are too many of them.  Another thing related to the turns, the course transitions between roads and sidewalks in a few places.  Some transitions happen in a way to slow you down, but they are later in the race where you aren't competing with other runners for position.

The Prairie Fire Marathon uses the Bib Chip timing system which are disposable stickers on the back of your bib to track you.  It's nice not to have to deal with chips on your shoes.  As of this year they expanded the timing equipment to register your 10k, half, and 20 mile splits.  They also allowed you to register your number with social media like Twitter and Facebook to automatically post updates as you crossed the mats.  On the down side, they have yet to post those splits all in one place as part of the final results.

One of the unique aspects of Prairie Fire for my family is that they can park along the course almost anywhere and cheer me on, then along some roads, drive beside me until another car comes up behind them and forces them to speed up.  While in the downtown areas of the course, there are a variety of bands playing tunes to add some energy along the way.  And about mile 25, the runners are taken over a trendy foot bridge that passes the 44 foot tall Keeper Of The Plains statue where the Big and Little Arkansas rivers merge.

Keeper of the Plains
Now that you've gotten this far, maybe you just want to know what schwag you get for your entry fee.  I think I can do one better.  I'll post pics of all the Prairie Fire shirts and medals I've received in the 3 years since it's inception to give an idea.  Interestingly enough, the inaugural year they didn't have the word "Finisher" anywhere on the finisher t-shirts.  The committee remedied that in future years.

2010 Commemorative T-Shirt

2010 Finisher Technical T-Shirt

2010 Finisher Medal

2011 Commemorative T-Shirt

2011 Finisher Technical T-Shirt

2011 Finisher Medal

2012 Commemorative T-Shirt

2012 Finisher Technical T-Shirt

2012 Finisher Medal

2012 Finisher Medal
In my opinion, the Prairie Fire Wichita Marathon has about everything a big city marathon has except overcrowding, traffic congestion, and high entry fees.  In fact, at the finish line awaits free massages, beer, pizza, and Prairie Fire coffee for all the runners, thanks to the sponsors.  Maybe I should just run the half marathon next year so I can spend more time filling up on beer and pizza.


Robin said...

Sounds like a great local race! Nice bling.

Coy Martinez said...

I like the yellow shirt where the rabbit is sneaking in from around your waist.

This marathon though sounds a lot like the one I just ran in. There were lots of turns. I ran up stairs and down stairs and over gravel. To be honest, I kinda like that. It makes the race seem a tad more adventurous. When I see a long straightaway on a hwy I sorta get bored. Just me though!

Maybe I'll head that way in a year or so to run it with Michael! :)

Terzah said...

It sounds like a really nice race! My hometown has one called the Heart of America Marathon that I hope to run one day--but it's super hilly (no PRs) and it's on Labor Day (hot and humid)--so I'm OK with waiting a few more years for that one.

TX Runner Mom said...

I just discovered your blog. Looks like a great race with great swag! Congrats on a great job!

Suz and Allan said...

Ok, you're right. This sounds like a great race to do and while I'm not sure I'd be up for doing the full the half might be a possibility for 2013 or 2014. Thanks for posting such a thorough review on the race!

Anonymous said...

Love the medals...I myself have never run in a huge race...possibly some day but I am not going to hold my breath! Blessings my friend...oh and on a separate note here...I have decided to write a series of blog posts about being thankful..for the month of November...I am trying to start a "Count your many blessings" movement within the blogging community...I will post on Sunday the 4th for Nov. 1-4 then next week 5-11 and so on...are ya with me? Pass it along either way, blessings and hugs!

Ali Mc said...

Looks like a pretty awesome course! too bad I am not a marathoner YET ;)

I love the cutie rabbit shirts :)

On the Right Track said...

I like the one with the rabbit sneaking in from behind...but is it me? or does that rabbit kinda freak you out lol?

Anonymous said...


Not Quite an Ultra Runner said...

I'm trying to figure out the elevation for the half Marathon. I'm assuming it's essentially flat as it is Kansas, but I don't want to be drawn into the idea that all of Kansas is flat! Looking for a nice flattish half for the fall.