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The Last Word on the White Rock Marathon, From Our 17th-Place Finisher

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I’m still recuperating from the White Rock Marathon, after limping to a 17th-place finish. I beat up my hamstring pretty badly and almost dropped out with 10 miles to go, until I saw my shivering colleagues, Merritt Martin and Andrea Grimes, offering up a liberal dose of hometown cheer. They made me feel like Tony Romo capping off the winning drive in the Super Bowl.

Literally a few seconds before I saw them, my hamstring started to rumble, and I seriously considered walking back to my apartment, conveniently located just a few miles away. But I would have felt like a loser if I quit, after they took the time to drive around Dallas on a dreary December morning, so I kept on going and finished just fine, save for one last-muscle spasm a half mile before the finish that had me sprinting on one leg to the finish. (Six months from now, when I no longer have use of my hamstring, I’m taking Martin and Grimes to court.)

This was my 10th marathon. I’ve been running races since I was 12, coming to the sport not long after I played goalie and allowed 11 goals in a single game. (Our defense didn’t do me any favors.) I’m not sure how White Rock compares to some of the other marathons I’ve run. The weather clearly put a damper on the crowd support and post-race festivities, but I still think the race organizers could do a better job at a few things. Here’s my unsolicited advice.

Find a way to separate the half-marathon finishers from the marathon finishers. At White Rock, both the marathon and half-marathon runners finish the last two miles together. It becomes extremely crowded at the finish, and casual spectators can’t tell who is running what.

Keep Ross Perot Jr. away from mike. Having the wealthy developer speak to the runners before the race -- and giving him a chance to brag about his often-desolate Victory Park, where the race started -- is not exactly the pep talk we all wanted. He put half the field to sleep. Now that I think about it, I see why reporters aren’t allowed to cover his Christmas parties.

Don’t get so anal about security at the American Airlines Center. After the race, exhausted runners had to endure a pesky security checkpoint before they could enter the warm confines of the arena. When you’ve just run a marathon or half-marathon, you don’t want to wait in a slow-moving line so a rent-a-cop can check to see that you’re not on Team Al-Qaeda. Are we really so paranoid now we think a terrorist might run 26.2 miles, risk hypothermia and hide a stack of dynamite underneath his tank top?

Have more bands around White Rock Lake. I love White Rock. It’s my favorite part of Dallas. But the nine-mile stretch around the lake was the loneliest part of the race. It can be the toughest too if you look west toward a distant skyline and realize that’s where you have to finish. So figure out how to bring the same energy to that section that you have everywhere else on the course.

Finally, let’s talk about crowd support. Considering how chilly it was yesterday, there were plenty of animated and rousing spectators along the route. This is a very good thing and speaks well of Dallas. The University Park and M Street folks were the loudest and most enthusiastic of all the people on the course. They rocked. The people in Lakewood who actually were out there cheering were rather boisterous, but there weren’t as many of them as I would have thought.

Finally let me address the folks who live on Swiss, where the course moves straight up before heading into downtown: There are probably not many occasions where it’s OK to cheer for a strange human being running down your tony street. But a marathon, where people are exhausting every last muscle fiber in their flailing bodies, is one of those times. It’s OK to say something encouraging to someone you don’t know. It may even help them. As it was, yesterday you folks looked alternately horrified that this mass of humanity was rambling into your enclave or completely indifferent, like this sort of thing happens every day of the year.

And on that topic, the twentysomethings who live in Uptown, through which the course ambles after its first mile downtown, were, as I would have guessed, the most apathetic of all the residents who lived along the course. Almost none of them were out there, and those who were looked hung over after their 22nd consecutive night at Primo’s. You guys are so cool.

In the Chevron Houston Marathon, which I ran earlier this year, the course runs through several inner-city neighborhoods, where spectators avidly cheered on the runners. I enjoyed that part the most. In White Rock, you run through a series of neighborhoods that are about as diverse as rural Iowa. Given that the course loops around White Rock Lake, you can’t really include any parts of Oak Cliff or Northwest Dallas, but the race organizers should consider having the route run through East Grand Avenue into Fair Park after it loops White Rock. It would give newcomers a more representative view of the city and give runners some encouragement in the later stages of the race, where they need it the most. --Matt Pulle

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