Sunday, March 27, 2016

Dust Bowl Half Marathon Series : Ulysses, Kansas

Welcome to Ulysses!!!
It's (my) day 2. Of course, it's really "day 3" for the Dust Bowlers... 
It was, again, very chilly -- 28 degrees as I left the hotel. While I was sitting in the charming breakfast area (TATER TOTS! ON THE BREAKFAST BUFFET! YES, THEY'RE JUST MINI HASH BROWNS!!!) I kept hearing a car alarm go off for a bit, then be quiet. I wondered if if was the wind, or...
When I went outside, I saw two runners standing somewhat helplessly next to a car. They would try to unlock it, set off the alarm, and then lock it again. Oh dear. I tried not to stare -- there's nothing worse than rubberneckers! -- but one of the women asked if she could get a ride to the start with me. I hesitated ... mainly because my mind wasn't working super well, and because I knew I wasn't going back to the hotel after ... but when the woman quickly said, "Oh... I could ask him if that's better ...." (referring to the man next to me, getting into *his* car), and I said, "No -- I mean, of course!" 
The other woman declined a ride as she wanted to see to her car. It was only later than I realized it was "costume lady".
Bev got in the back of the car ("sorry, the front is a mess!") and we chatted as I got myself sorted. She told me this was her first Mainly Marathons series, that she isn't actually a 50-stater, but stumbled across it on the internet and thought it sounded fun. She booked the trip for herself, then posted that she had hotel rooms booked in every town and was looking for a roommate on the group's Facebook page. That's how she met her car-troubled, costume-lovin' roommate. 
It was fun to meet someone else who had a little skepticism about the races ... again, she was only on day 3!! I told her I had been the same way, but as each day passed I had more and more fun. 
Got to the start area, found parking, and then sat in the car chatting for a bit -- it was really too cold to go outside! Eventually, at 7:15, we got out and headed to the "village". 
I love these people ... and I swear it's not just the endorphins talking. Here is the start area ... the watering hole getting set up, the timing/registration table signing newcomers in, and the pre-dawn sky...
Mainly Marathons start/finish area, Ulysses, Kansas
A few minutes before the start, Clint got up on his ladder and made some announcements ... I had the usual wistfulness about not getting a caboose. :) 

Clint on his ladder for the race talk
Then we set out, running around Frazier Park, right next to the Bentwood golf course. Really pretty sunrise ... While I've been here the sunrises and sunsets have been pretty amazing. Of course, that might be because of all the prairie fires I keep hearing about...
why, yes, we did start at O-dark-thirty
Today's course looped around a small lake, this time on a packed gravel path. Mostly flat, with just one gradual, not-super-steep hill. 

the sign in this picture is a list of the wild birds who live here
The area is also a wildlife preserve, so we might have seen wild turkeys, pheasants, and other birds ... but I think the clever ones have gone south. Or are inside keeping warm, at least...

I thought I had read that today would be 11 laps for the half, 22 for the full. Bev had clearly read that, too -- we chatted about it in the car. But turns out we only needed to do 7. Somehow, fewer, longer laps are always better for me, mentally. Seven laps might be the ideal number, too... You do one while you're fresh and raring to go. Or in my case, a little stiff and tired, but therefore a little oblivious. You come in, get your first rubber band, pick up an egg or maybe some candy, and then head back out. By the time you complete your third lap, you're loose, and you realize that you only need three more rubber bands. Come back after four and your're more than halfway done. Sweet!
back and forth, back and forth
And, of course, it's always nice to see Black Cone, the turnaround marker...
hello, Black Cone!!!
It was a little funny to feel like an outsider with insider's knowledge.... to know a bunch of folks, at least by name and by sight, and therefore get more than my share of cheers and greetings. Had a quick chat with Trisha (Tricia?) -- she couldn't remember where we had run together, but knew she knew me and my name and my smile. I told her Center of the Nation last year ... and that I ran with my "hairy husband Wil". At which she said, "OF COURSE! Sunny and Wil! Always smiling!" 

Trisha --genuinely the friendliest runner in the world!
 didn't have a great run, unfortunately ... the wind kicked up and I just felt tired, and I couldn't force myself to pick up the pace. So it took me more than 3 hours to get around... but most of the morning I spent chatting and cheering my fellow runners on, so that was nice. 

I do love the way Mainly Marathons sets up ... note the great big food table on the left, the the watering hole behind it. Then on the right, in the shadow of the camper, is the timing table. Farther back is Norm's Kitchen. Straight ahead is the rubber bands table ... ah, sweet rubber bands!!!

So... much ... food...

seriously, a race without hard-boiled eggs, gummy bears, and Fritos pales in comparison with these races...
This park even had bathrooms with flush toilets and running water ... so after the race I quickly cleaned up a little, put on street clothes, and headed off as I had a long drive through the wilds of Kansas and Oklahoma (and a teensy bit of Texas) ahead of me... 
Well, there's always time for a bib and medal photo, of course!
discovered, when coming home, that I had left my "run happy" hat in the rental car :(
Not a whole lot to tell ... other than I drove mile after mile through ranchland, farmland, and the occasional small town, stopping only for gas.
Pulled into Clinton, Oklahoma, and made a beeline for the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, a charming little museum with nice dioramas and history. 
well if you ever plan to motor west...
Then I drove -- keeping to historic 66 as much as possible -- into Shamrock, home of Texas's tallest water tower...

why, yes, this is a historic landmark...
a piece of the real Blarney Stone ...

(happily, they're going to move this from its current location in a small park to "downtown" Shamrock...)
... and the glorious Tower Station and U-Drop Inn... 

Sadly, the tourist information center and gift shop was closed for Black Friday... and isn't open on the weekends ... so I didn't get to go inside. Pity.
I did stroll around Shamrock a bit ... including trekking out to the park to see the Blarney Stone. I hear they're going to move the stone to a new "Blarney Plaza" in "downtown" ... probably a better spot than its current location... That said, for St. Patrick's Day the town wraps the street signs to the park in green foil, declaring "Railroad Avenue" part of the "Green Mile". 
I checked into the immaculately clean Shamrock Country Inn -- adorable! -- and then decided that I should go ahead and have some dinner while I waited for it to get dark. I was simply unable to resist the lure of Big Vern's Steakhouse and Saloon, where I sat at the bar and had a massive, delicious dinner.
I can't attest to the steak, though the other food was delicious and folks seemed very happy!
I was also served my beer in a frosted goblet. Despite it only being a pint, the glass itself was so heavy that I needed both hands to lift it to drink. Seriously. 
#everythingisbiggerintexas #itsnotaglassitsachalice
Finally, it got dark... and at 8pm, the neon went on at the Tower Station ... this is why I came to Shamrock!

Look familiar? It should ... it was the model for Ramone's House of Body Art in the movie Cars (and in Cars Land, at California Adventure). 

Tower Station, Shamrock

Ramon's House of Body Art, Radiator Springs 

I was sad that the shop was unexpectedly closed ... and anxious that that meant the neon would for some reason not turn on. But it did ... ahhhh.

After dinner I headed back to my room, filled up my mint-green bathtub, and relaxed with a book and a cocktail before having an early night. 

pity about the new shower surround, but the pink tile with dove grey trim, plus a mint green tub and toilet... retro goodness!
I was just about to type that it was a pretty uneventful day ... but then I realized that I ran a half marathon in Kansas today ... that's state #36! 

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