Race Review: 2016 Excalibur 10 Miler (3/20/2016), or: “I’ve seen this place before and you were standing by my side…”

excaliburlogo - EditedIsn’t it a marvelous melange of marketing maneuvering and meticulous manipulation that goes on when a race organization announces the start of a new “race series”? As in, “run this series of races over the course of this many months/years and we’ll give you extra bonus bling!” And people just jump in line like a bunch of metaphorical line-jumpers, falling all over themselves to register ASAFP to ensure their place as a “series runner”.

Yeah I know all about that particularly obsessive malady. It’s the main reason I signed up for the 2016 Excalibur 10 Miler.

Oh don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been at least mildly curious about the Excalibur Run. Sponsored by Running Zone out of Melbourne, Florida, the race has been going on for a few years and is wildly medieval/fantasy themed — Medieval Times itself is a major sponsor, among others. Racers choose a faction/kingdom.team, either Blue or Maroon (doesn’t really matter, except for which side of the field you line up in before the race starts), and then early Sunday morning you embark upon the “Quest for Excalibur” by either running the 10-mile race or the 2-person relay (each participant running 5 miles of the course) through the streets, dirt roads, and sidewalks (!) of Viera, Florida.

The fanfare that begins the race includes lots of royal proclamations and sword fighting, while the Finish Line promises a “Royal Feast” of sorts with Dragon Legs (chicken wings), Dragon Stew (lentil and sausage soup), and of course pizza, smoothies, soda, and water — as much as you can shove down ye olde gullet. Plus you’ve got your free race photos, themed photo backdrops, music, all the trimmings. No beer or booze of any kind to be found though; you start and finish at a local high school, so there won’t be any of THAT, thank you very much.

The medals are pretty nifty too. This year featured an Emerald Dragon, whereas the next four years will showcase a Sapphire Sword, a Red Knight, and a Purple Castle. Top overall winners received crowns, and top 3 per age group received Excalibur swords (replicas, I’d imagine?). Say what you want about this race, but they were completely committed to the theme. And despite the medieval theme, I am more than happy to report that nobody involved with the race got the plague! That sort of mishegas happens at other races…

Finally we get the kicker, of course: the 2016 race was the very first year of Game of Stones series. If you run any three of the four races (10-miles, solo or relay) held in 2016 through 2019, you will complete the Excalibur Crown Challenge and receive your “King Arthur Crown”. If you run all four races (one each year, 10-miles, solo or relay), you will complete the Holy Grail Challenge and receive the “Elusive Chalice”. Don’t get excited, it ain’t the Holy Grail itself. I’ll avoid the easy Monty Python references, or even the easy Indiana Jones references

Oh and here’s the chase swag for both challenges:

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So you got a tin cup, a tin crown, some sparkly plastic jewels, four pretty badass looking medals, a bunch of medieval knights and ladies and rogues and kings and queens and scoundrels and paladins and half-orcs and this D&D nerd needs to calm down a bit, and get on with the race review. So let’s dive right in and see if the Excalibur 10 Miler is worth your time and shekels.

PACKET PICK-UP

Boots and I hit the road from Ft. Lauderdale and reached the Melbourne area roughly two hours and change later after driving through what often felt like near-monsoon-like conditions. Packet pick-up was held at Running Zone, and while I feared a huge line inside, we were in the door and had my bib in hand in a matter of mere minutes.

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And then of course we had these in-store photo opportunities, which I had to take advantage of:

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And then we bumped into our buddy Rob:

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Don’t ask what he’s doing with the cash there. I don’t think I wanna know…

It was still wet and rainy out, and I was concerned about slick roads and puddles the next day. It stopped about an hour later, right around when we left to meet the rest of our crew for a pre-race carb-load at the local Carrabba’s. We met up with Kristi, Jackie, Dale and her son Erik, Rob, Teri Jo, and Rebekah, so along with Boots and myself there were nine of us in total. It took about 40 minutes for our table to be ready, but we had ourselves a regular hootenanny of a time.

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Afterward it was the usual return to the hotel, pinning on the bib, laying out the Flat Runner, taking too many dopey pics of Flat Runner, assembling of the gear, and the passing out of your narrator, because quite frankly he was exhausted. The race was scheduled to start at a generous 7 AM, which gave us some extra sleep time. You have to love the little things like that.

Race Day

Up and at them! Since I was representing Team Blue, I had Christened myself as “The Cerulean Knight” which meant… a whole lot of nothing, really. I just dressed in blue and black running attire… but I assure you, I had the heart of an entire war-band of Dumnonian Spearmen!

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The Race started and finished at Viera High School, and we were able to get to the school and parked with little muss and almost no fuss. Walking into the Staging Area we immediately saw Jackie, Dale, Teri Jo, and Rebekah, so we posed for these amazing action snapshots right here:

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Prisoner of the SIsterhood of Nimue!

Prisoner of the SIsterhood of Nimue!

After using the facilities for the ceremonial PRP, I was waiting around for Kristi to arrive when who should I come across but the Blue and Red Knights themselves! Yes sir, they were there to represent both color teams, and eventually knock the crap out of each other in choreographed swordplay later in the day. So naturally I had to grab a picture with both of them:

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I have concert T-shirts older than their combined ages, but never mind that… I also saw Michelle from Crazy Running Legs and we exchanged quick hellos and hows-ya-doins, and I was pleased with myself for remembering her name properly. This will bite me in the ass in a paragraph or two. Kristi arrived soon afterward so she, Rob, and I walked over to the start area to line up somewhere on the Blue side of the field. We lined up somewhere in the midsection (there were no corrals; you basically stood somewhere near the signs stating your average pace). We were towards the back so we didn’t get to see the sword fighting display or see the fair maiden/race announcer, but the national anthem sounded pretty nice. So there was that.

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I was also spotted by fellow Best Damn Race ambassador Jessica in the Start Area… and in true Hokeyblog doofus fashion, I called her “Jennifer” because I am about as adroit with remembering people’s names as I am adroit with juggling flaming mutant flesh-eating tangelos. *sigh*

The good news was that there wasn’t any rain whatsoever; it was a bit on the humid side but cool (mid/upper 60s) and breezy, and no puddles, wet ground, wet grass, nothing of the sort. Very comfortable out for this South Florida runner. At just after 7 the race started, and it started rather oddly. People took off running from the field, but the Start Line (and timing mat) was still a few hundred feet away. I wasn’t risking tripping over a rock or a box troll or a will-o-wisp or the like. Anyway, after a bit of walking we finally hit the Start Line and we were off!

THE RACE

Here’s the race course, courtesy of Google Maps and my trusty, dusty Garmin 920XT:

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The ten-mile course started on a private road leading out Viera High School, looping around the school on Lake Andrew Drive and Jamieson Way, finally turning northbound on Stadium Parkway. At Mile 2 we turned onto Porada Drive and then west on Viera Boulevard, taking that for a about a mile until heading due south on Power Line Road. A dirt road, Power Line continued southbound for 2 miles, reaching the friendly pavement of North Wickham Road. Eastbound we went on Wickham, transitioning from road running to sidewalk running at Mile 6. We stayed on sidewalks after turning north on Stadium Parkway just before Mile 7. The majority of the race remained on sidewalks as we did a brief out-and-back on Jamieson Way, turning north on Breslay Drive before taking the sidewalks back through the tunnel that led onto Viera High School property, finishing Mile 10 on the school track.

The first mile and change was extremely crowded. Most road running was but a single lane of traffic, which led to some heavy congestion coming out of the gate, and a bit of bobbing and weaving. The first mile is almost always the slowest, but when it took us nearly 11 minutes I was flabbergasted. While we weren’t running for “time” but for “fun”, I was expecting something a little quicker. Oh well.

It didn’t matter anyhow. Any chance of running for any kind of “time/speed” competitiveness went straight out the window when both we needed to find a porto potty in the first two miles. And there wasn’t one to be found until Mile 2. And there were only two of them. And there was a massive line waiting for them. So we sat there for nearly ten minutes waiting for our turn. At least I was able to chat with my buddies Terry and Debbie, who were celebrating their 25th Anniversary that weekend. Debbie and I agreed that we needed a do-over since, due to the wait, we were looking at 18-20 minute pace for Mile 3!

Grr. Arrgh.

Grr. Arrgh.

Teri Jo, Rebekah, Dale, and Jackie passed us by while we were waiting and taunted us mercilessly about it. I almost felt bad when we lapped them in the next mile. Almost. No pizza for you!

Right about Mile 3.5 we turned onto Power Line, which was a roughly 2-mile dirt road trek until we turned onto pavement on Wickham. Most people I spoke with did not particularly like this stretch of the race, but I enjoyed it. It was easily the widest and least crowded part of the course, allowing us to make up a little bit of time. Plus about midway through this stretch I randomly bumped into my new buddy Beatrice, who I met in the start corral during the Rock N Roll New Orleans Marathon last month. This naturally called for a photo op:

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Finally we returned to pavement when we turned onto N. Wickham, but this elation was seriously tempered as we passed Legacy Boulevard about a half-mile in. We were shunted off the road onto the sidewalks, on which we pretty much remained for the majority of the rest of the race. We’re talking about four miles of sidewalk running. Were they smooth, paved sidewalks? Sure. Were they narrow? As far as sidewalks go, they seemed a little bit roomier than normal.

But they were still sidewalks; sidewalks next to open roads that should have had, at the very least, a single lane devoted to runners. There were a few stretches of road running here and there, but sidewalk running was pretty much it for the rest of the race.

I am not a fan of sidewalk running during races.

Nope.

Nope.

I am also not a fan of race volunteers attempting to stop runners from running so they can let traffic cross our path, which is exactly what this one guy tried to do with an impatient driver trying to leave a local country club. We were running at a solid pace as we entered the intersection, when all of the sudden he turns to us and holds up a hand as we were mere seconds away.

We didn’t stop. The driver had to wait until there was a lull in runners crossing, not simply tear through the intersection because he felt impatient entitled. And the volunteer should have known better. Much better. I let him know in no uncertain terms as I yelled at him that RUNNERS WILL NOT STOP FOR ANY CARS.

On the plus side, Boots was parked nearby and snapping pics of us:

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The rest of the race was pretty straightforward. Since we knew we weren’t going to be coming in anywhere near the time we wanted to, we just had a nice easy run to the Finish Line. Here’s where I give a great big shout-out to the 12:00 pacer, who had me in total stitches as she entertained her runners like some kind of veritable Julie McCoy of race pacers. (All you Millennials can go ahead and Google our dear Julie McCoy; she was a such a Saturday night at 8 Eastern/7 Central hottie…)

The last mile took us around an empty lot, and then through a tunnel that emerged next to the Viera High School track. We could hear and see the Finish line, and there was Boots again waiting with her camera:

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After that it was behind the bleachers and then onto the track, where we finished our race. Here’s our Finish Line pic. I look royally thrilled, don’t I?

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Did the photographer crack his lens or something? That’s an odd scratch across the picture… anyway I immediately got my water and of course my Emerald Dragon medal:

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We sauntered over to the Royal Feast area where I picked up some Dragon Stew (which seemed to be sausage, lentil, and vegetables) and it was absolutely delicious. The pizza was your standard warmed-up pizza, which goes over just fine after a run. I gave up soda six months ago so I washed it all down with water. It was all you could eat/drink, but there was plenty for everyone. Meanwhile the Awards ceremony was taking place in the adjacent area, with more staged swordplay and photo ops and entertainment going on. Kristi and I elected to walk over to Boots by the tunnel to cheer on our buddies finishing their race.

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Rebekah and TJ clearing a path for the rear guard

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Jackie bringing her game face. She slaughtered a few unbelievers on the way in…

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With the anniversary royalty

Overall I have mixed feelings about the 2016 Excalibur 10 Miler. I loved the theme, the atmosphere, energy, and enthusiasm of the event. It’s fun, family-friendly, and enjoyable. It’s definitely a small event but it puts on a pretty big show. But at its essence, the Excalibur 10 Miler is a small local race. Is it worth driving well out of your way to attend and participate? Probably not. They could probably use more porto units earlier in the race, and the 4 miles of sidewalk running (along with the early race congestion) is a pretty sizable turn-off. If you’re local and want something new and fun to try, hit this one up and have a great time, but it’s not something I’d go far out of my way to attend. Anyway, here’s the video, in which the Medieval/Renaissance band Blackmore’s Night (along with former Rainbow vocalist Joe Lynn Turner) revisit one of Rainbow’s biggest 80s hits: