Arena Attack Half Marathon Series: Amherst Edition

by Steve Morse

(Continued from home page)

The best deal of all … the Arena Attack Indoor Half Marathon, with your choice of 2 nearby locations: Amherst, MA and Hartford, CT. That will run you $60 plus gas and toll charges. If you tack on a filet of fish, fries, and Coke for the drive home, add an extra $5.

Yes, the Arena Attack Indoor Half Marathon was identified by Half Marathons.Net as one of The World’s 13 Toughest Half Marathons, right up there with Everest, the Sahara, the Antarctic, and the Great Wall Half Marathon ($1250 plus round trip airfare to Beijing). More compellingly, the Arena Attack Indoor Half Marathon, according to Half Marathons.Net has the distinction of arguably being the most boring half marathon.

Run entirely on the concourse of indoor hockey arenas in Amherst and Hartford, the Arena Attack Half Marathon series boasts of windless, climate controlled conditions; a perfectly flat course with easy access to rest rooms and a water stop; chip timing; and plenty of parking. I can attest to every amenity: there was no wind on the concourse; it may have been winter outside in Amherst but inside was shorts and singlet weather; I ran by the aid station approximately every 1 minute and 40 seconds; and my finish time was down to the hundredth of a second. It was also the first time I participated in a race and did not have to wait in line to use the toilet. That is worth $60 in and of itself.

The Half Marathon consists of approximately 67 laps round the concourse. For the extraordinarily ambitious runner, there is the Arena Attack Indoor Full Marathon (133 laps). For those interested in a just a taste of concourse loop running, the 5K brings you around 16 times. The official results provide the following facts and figures: 35 5K finishers, 48 half-marathon finishers over 2 heats, and 11 hearty souls who completed the full marathon. And here is a bit of history for you: according to the race director, The Amherst Arena Attack full marathon was the first indoor full marathon held in Massachusetts since 1928, when one was held at the Boston Square Garden. Who would not want to be a part of an event that can proudly brag of being historical and tough?

I’d never run an indoor ½ marathon before, or a ½ marathon on a circuit that is approximately 316 meters long, so I did not set lofty goals. I thought a 1:44 might be in my grasp, but that pace proved a little too swift. One issue is that I was having some difficulties tracking my lap count, and even if I could, had no idea what my average lap pace should’ve been. As a holdout who refuses to use a GPS watch, I had only a vague sense of how far I had run until I reached the midway point. By then I had so many numbers bouncing around in my head that I was incapable of even the simplest of calculations. I realized at about Lap 42 or 43, or maybe 44 or 45, but definitely somewhere in the 40’s and not yet the 50’s, that it was time to liberate myself from incessant counting and clockwatching. Instead, the situation required I simply Go Zen, enjoy the moment and keep running in circles until I was instructed by the enthusiastic and wholesome UMass Amherst women’s Ultimate Frisbee Team (official race volunteers) to stop. Which I did. In 1:50:18.85. That is definitely a PR. Not for a half marathon, but for an indoor half marathon. Better yet, that time was good enough to get me on the podium for my heat, 3RD in the Men’s Division (no age grouper here), and 4TH Overall. Based on my interpretation of the data, my 3RD place finish should rank me as one of the tougher half marathon runners in the world. Unfortunately, using the same method of data interpretation, my performance may also rank me as one of the world’s most boring half marathoners.

How much I enjoyed a race can always be answered by the simplest of questions: Would I do it again? In this case, absolutely. A resounding yes. The podium finish didn’t hurt, but it was icing on the cake. I found the experience of running the same circuit nearly 70 times to be freeing, especially the last 30 or so loops. Yes, there were times when I would not have minded just a little change in scenery but as the race progressed I grew to embrace the familiarity, knowing that right around the next bend would be the spectator area (20 folding chairs), and then the aid station, and then a straightaway with a chipped tile, and then the next bend near the closed concession stand, and then the timing area, etc. I cannot imagine that if I had the time, money, and ego to run the Mt. Everest or Sahara half marathon that I would have enjoyed it that much more. What is running, anyway? Movement forward, at a pace that is either challenging or satisfying, or maybe both. And I for one found the Amherst Attack Half Marathon to be all of those things: challenging and satisfying forward movement. What more can a runner ask from a race: I broke a sweat, earned a finisher’s medal, left with a story to tell and some bragging rights, and didn’t break the bank. So, yes. Count me in. I hope to be back in Amherst, or Hartford, or both next winter.

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