This race took place on April 16, 2022, and the Omahalf was celebrating its 5th year. I decided I could easily knock out Nebraska this year on my 50 states quest, since it was just a three hour drive from me. I had never actually spent time Nebraska before, and the closest I'd come prior to running this race was the state line, and that was work-related. One of my best friends — who is a native Nebraskan — warned me that Nebraska was boring, and on my super uneventful drive there, she kept me entertained with memes about there being nothing to do in Nebraska. All joking aside, I had a very pleasant visit. I later learned there is quite a bit to do in Nebraska if you know what time of year to visit and what events are happening, which is something some of the local Nebraskans dutifully explained to me to ensure I came back to visit again, and insisted they didn't want others to have the impression that Nebraska is "boring."
This particular race, at the time of this writing, is considered a small business, and if you prefer the smaller races to the races that have a more big-city feel with tens of thousands of runners, this might be one to consider. There were only approximately 800 runners that registered. I am sure as the years continue on and the race gets better and better, it will continue to grow and attract more runners. I did appreciate this being a smaller race, and I was super excited to connect with so many other out of state runners who were also running the 50 states. Every other runner I encountered explained that they were checking Nebraska off their 50 states list, and I was able to excitedly share that I was too.
Omahalf Recap: Bitterly Cold & Windy
The start/finish and venue for packet pick-up were all located in Aksarben Village, and I later learned the fun fact that "Aksarben" is Nebraska spelled backwards. The race organizers included this fun fact in their last email to us that included the race day logistics. Aksarben Village is home to many shops, restaurants, hotels, and of course Stinson Park, where the race started and finished. My favorite thing about this race was that everything was super convenient, in keeping with the race's motto of "Run simple."
I opted to stay at the hotel chosen by the race for packet pick-up, which was the Courtyard Marriott. It was less than two blocks from where the race would start and finish, and I had many dining options within walking distance that I was able to take advantage of during my stay. During my check in at the hotel's front desk, I noticed the hotel typically serves breakfast at 7 A.M. on Saturdays. I kindly asked the front desk if they could please make it a little earlier just for race day, and I gestured at the runners standing in line in the lobby to pick up packets. To my absolute delight, the hotel staff generously agreed to open the kitchen early on race morning for hungry runners. It benefitted my stomach, and the hotel was happy to welcome the additional business.
Breakfast on race morning was black coffee and a toasted bagel with butter. I had the pleasure of having breakfast with a group of four runners from Texas who were also running the 50 states, and all of them were wearing fun long-sleeve shirts from a Disney race they ran before all of their races got canceled because of COVID-19. We shared stories of our recent races and swapped race recommendations for the states we've been to. Of course, the most pressing topic of our conversation was the weather, since the temperature that morning was a balmy 28° F with 15 MPH wind, and it was not forecasted to get above 35° F by the time we would be finished with the race. None of us felt prepared, and I myself had been debating shorts or leggings nearly all night long the night before.
I drove from the hotel the two blocks to one of the parking structures and found a perfect parallel spot on the street, and kept warm in my car until fifteen minutes prior to the start of the race. The race was scheduled to start at 8:00 A.M., and I felt like so far everything was going perfectly, despite the frigid temperature and relentless wind. I exited my car and jogged lightly to the start, taking care to keep moving and get my blood flowing by jogging in small circles around the park. I felt warmed up enough that I was more than ready to go by 8:00 A.M., but to my great disappointment and the disappointment of everyone else, the decision was made at the last minute to stagger the start. We all stood shivering the chute until 8:10 A.M., with the exception of a handful of runners who went with the first wave. It was my understanding that they were allowing a wave of slower runners to go if they were worried about missing the cut-off time, which was 3 hours and 15 minutes.
I should have gone with that first wave, but I didn't think I'd be standing there for a full ten minutes. I also wasn't worried about missing the cut-off, but I was starting to second-guess myself as the minutes creeped by and I watched the clock tick down and eat away into my start time. By the time our wave began slowly shuffling under the start/finish arch and got going, all of my warm-up efforts had been for naught, and any semblance of warmth I had felt when exiting my car had completely dissipated. I talked myself into believing that my first two miles would be a warm-up, and by the third mile, I felt the blood slowly begin to return to my extremities. I was so thankful I decided at the last minute to wear leggings instead of shorts, and even more thankful I also opted for gloves and a fleece ear warming headband.
The race started and finished in Stinson Park at Aksarben Village. This provided easy access to the West Papio trail system, and the course itself was out and back on the Keystone Trail. The course was fairly flat, though my only complaint is that on portions of the trail the sidewalk sloped slightly at a sideways angle for several miles. The slight angle of the sidewalk became more noticeable as I felt a slight pain in my left hip around mile 5, and this may not have been noticeable or bothersome at all to others, however I definitely felt the difference when the sidewalk flattened out and I got relief.
There wasn't much as far as scenery, it was all unplanted corn fields to one side, and Papio Creek on the other. I could see some industrial development occasionally peeking out on either side, and at one point there was even a glimpse of a neighborhood in the distance. The biggest concern I had was that this course was bitterly cold and windy, and the cross winds on the trail were absolutely brutal after reaching the turnaround point and then running against the wind direction. Although I was wearing a long-sleeve shirt, and high-waisted leggings, I still somehow ended up with gnarly wind burn on my abdomen, and of course my face was red and splotchy from wind burn like I had spent a day at the beach. Wearing sunscreen moisturizer really didn't do my skin any favors that morning... I would have been better off wearing a balaclava.
Due to the relentless wind (and I do mean it didn't stop, not even for a second), my time slowed considerably after the turnaround point. Prior to the turnaround, I was set to finish in what I thought would be a PR, but that all went out the window as I fought the arctic blast. My focus then became just finishing the race, and looking forward to a long hot shower and warm food.
So, my disclaimer for the below photo is it is not what I actually ended up wearing on race morning. There is an unwritten rule in the running community that you should never wear the official race shirt on race day. There is both a superstition around it and a practical reason: First, it may bring bad luck to wear the official race shirt before crossing the finish line. Second, it isn't a good idea to wear a piece of gear you have never trained in before, and that goes with the unwritten rule of "nothing new on race day."
The purpose of the photo on the right is to showcase my gear and say the Omahalf race slogan of "Run simple" was no joke. This has been one of the simplest experiences I've ever had with a packet pick up. Our "packet" only consisted of our race bibs and these beautiful moisture wicking long sleeve shirts. When debating what to wear, I knew I would definitely be wearing my ProCompression socks, but I kept obsessively checking Dressmyrace.com to help me decide whether I would run in shorts or leggings. The leggings ultimately won out when I checked the wind speed. Gloves and the fleece headband were not optional... they were a must.
It was advertised that water and Gatorade stops would be approximately every 2 miles along the route, and porta potties at mile 1.5, 2.5, 10.5 and 11.5, as well as the START/FINISH area. I did not find the aid station situation to be precisely as advertised... and I wouldn't say there weren't enough, but I just think the set-up could have been more efficient in that it would have been beneficial to have them spaced further apart along the course and maybe one or two more.
The first two aid stations seemed to be really close together, and by the time I reached the second aid station, I guess I was early, because they were still taking Styrofoam cups out of the plastic wrapping for the Gatorade and didn't have all the water bottles out yet. I opted to eat my first Huma gel for electrolytes and grabbed a bottled water. I have to give every single volunteer a lot of credit, since they were out there freezing with us. Whenever we passed an aid station, volunteers were bundled in blankets and fleeces, and they might have even been colder than we were, since we were constantly moving and they were stationary in one spot. So thank you to the volunteers for braving the arctic weather with us.
Know Before You Go: Parking/Access
There were several free parking garages within walking distance of the start/finish with approximately 2,000 parking spots available. This was extremely convenient, and although my hotel was only about a half mile walk to Stinson Park, I opted to drive closer to the start/finish instead of walk, and park on the street near one of the parking garages so I could stay warm in my car until the very last possible minute.
Overall, this was a good race to check off Nebraska on my list in that everyone was super accommodating and kind, and the race was pretty well organized. I just hated the fact that Mother Nature wasn't very accommodating. Next year if I plan to visit Nebraska again, I may try the Good Life Halfsy, which is one of the bigger races with more of the big-city atmosphere in Lincoln.
Courtyard Marriott Omaha Aksarben Village
1625 S 67th St
Omaha, NE 68106
Happy running and safe travels,