As I talked about here, I recently completed the Maple Leaf Half Marathon in La Crosse, Wis. This race coincided with the city’s annual Oktoberfest, which was the perfect reward for a long run.
The race started at Riverside Park, which is the city’s park that runs along the Mississippi River. The park was cold and empty even up until 20 minutes before the race. They did not have sufficient bathrooms (especially since they only had one port-a-potty along the race – at mile 7), so the line was ridiculously long. But for a small town and a small race (just under 550 runners), they had a well organized gear check and the local radio station DJing the start (even if they did start with Gettin Jiggy Wit It as the race began).
The course followed the Oktoberfest parade route for the first two miles, heading from the south side up to the north side of the city, and then over to an area called French Island, which is where the city’s airport is located. The first two miles were great because the route was closed to traffic for the parade that started right after the race. The streets were packed with people who were staking out good places for the parade. Unfortunately, once we turned onto French Island and headed off to mile 3, we were running with traffic. The small town that owns French Island refused to close off the right to traffic. It was annoying and I witnessed 3 near-misses of car-runner accidents.
The course itself was fairly flat, with only 50 ft difference in elevation. The hardest hill was on the main causeway, which we hit right after mile 1 and then on the way back just before mile 12. We ran straight out and straight back. There were no bathrooms along the route until the turn around (where the line was at least 15 people deep for one john). The water stations were well staffed and spaced every 2 miles, however, the Gatorade was VERY watered down. Runners get Gu (non-caffienated) at mile 6.
After mile 11, we turned back onto the Oktoberfest parade route, which was even more rambunctious as the college students woke up for the drunken festivities. The cheering crowd makes you feel like you are running a really important race. After running back up the causeway hill, right past the Oktoberfest grounds, then around the corner to the finish. At the end, you get a medal and a free button to get into the Oktoberfest grounds, along with the usual bananas, oranges, bagels, water and the same horrible Gatorade.
It was a great time. My in-laws were finally able to see me run and afterward I was able to enjoy brats, cheese (yes, in Wisconsin you get cheese thrown out at parades) and beer. I will likely be back next year…any takers?