The Lincoln National Guard Marathon and Half Marathon is Nebraska’s pinnacle race. While other races advertise their perks and hawk their promos, the Lincoln Marathon just is—it’s an institution. The race, organized by the Lincoln Track Club, was founded in 1978 by and just hosted its 38th marathon this May.
This year, I joined the runners who turned out for race day. This was my first-ever race, so why not start with Nebraska’s best? I’m
a bit definitely biased, but here’s why the Lincoln Marathon is one of the best races in the Midwest:
1. You may get a PR. After their initial racing debut, every runner starts chasing PRs (personal records.) After all, you’re not really competing against other runners, unless you’re one of the handful of elite athletes who actually has a shot at winning. Everyone else just wants to get faster. The Lincoln Marathon’s super flat course draws many PR chasers, making the entry process almost as competitive as the race itself…
2. Signing up is half the challenge. See #1. Finally, there’s a purpose for Lincoln’s flat topography. The 2015 Lincoln Marathon sold out in 7 hours and 18 minutes. What’s more impressive is that registration is on a first-come, first-serve basis for 12,000 runners. What’s absolutely mind-boggling is that this year, registration began at 3 a.m. There’s no sleeping in January 3 if you want to get a spot in the Lincoln Marathon; these people are serious.
|Runner number 10,174. That's what I get for sleeping until 7 a.m. on registration day.|
3. The community support is unparalleled. There I was, standing in line for the Porta Potty five minutes before the first wave began. Can’t forgo coffee on race day. A nice Coloradan struck up a conversation:
Coloradan: This race is the best. There are people lining the entire course. I love their energy!
Me: Oh. Aren’t they all like that?
Coloradan: I’ve raced in New Hampshire, Chicago, Texas, Zimbabwe and Singapore, and I’ve never seen community involvement as intense as Lincoln’s.
I think she was right. My favorite supporter was the Grandpa with the “I don’t know you stranger, but I’m proud of you!” sign. I spotted him at the start of the race, and he showed up again at Mile 10. Thanks, race-day Grandpa.
4. It’s run by volunteers. According to their website, the Lincoln National Guard Marathon and Half Marathon is one of the largest events in the country put on entirely by volunteers; there are no paid organizers running the race. Interested in volunteering? It’s not to early to sign up for next year’s race. Volunteer roles include packet stuffing, packet pickup, race day packet pickup, finish line help, course monitors and course bikers. They’re also the ones giving you Gatorade at Mile 3 when you can still feel your legs, and again at Mile 11 when you just want to die.
5. The Memorial Stadium finish. Crossing the finish at the 50-yard line in Memorial Stadium is an experience to be had. Not that I remember. I was too busy fighting the desire to slow my slog to a walk, and maybe even just sit down and call it a day. What’s 12.9 v. 13.1? For the Lincoln Marathon, the difference is Memorial Stadium. It’s (kinda) worth it. Even better, go as a spectator and watch your tortured friends, relatives or coworkers stumble across the finish. You’ll get the majestic Husker aura without the pain—probably the best way to go.