North Centrail Trail Marathon - Sparks, MD November 27th, 2010
This one only kind of counts.... My brother in law was signed up for this race that sold out and I planned to just go run somewhere for a couple hours while he was running the race and get back in time to take a photo of him at the finish line.
After talking to the race officials I found out the course is on a public trail that was formerly the railroad tracks. The railroad went away and the trail became a multi use path for the local community.
So I then decided to take the shuttle to the 13.1 mile turn around to run the second half with Brett. Then 40 minutes before the race I decided to just run the whole thing and pace Brett once he catches up with me. So I took off at 8:35am, 25 minutes before the official race start.
While it was sunny and clear outside it was certainly cold. Starting temperature was around 33 degrees with the wind bringing it in the mid 20's. This would be a glove and hat race for sure. Starting off early I was the only one running and the first to go through the cones and aid stations. People cheered me on even though I didn't have a race bib as the course rolled along pavement through rural roads until it turned off on the railroad course.
When they list the course as a "Trail Marathon" they are using this very lightly. It's not pavement so I guess technically they are correct. Yet, it's packed gravel and hard as pavement in some areas. There are just leaves all over the course and some grass here and there. Either way you could close your eyes and run down the trail without tripping over anything.
Still a little heavy legged from last weeks 50 miler I wasn't exactly sure how this race would go. The cold wind was keeping my legs frozen and it took me well over 2 miles to really feel like I was even warming up. Starting at the school and turning on my Garmin I was excited to see a blank screen of a dead battery. Despite it being on the charger for 12 hours last night. Damn thing. So, back to the old fashioned way of running. Probably for the best anyway...
At about 4.5 miles I was at the 9:00am time. The official start for the racers. I was running along the trail trying to figure out what my pace was likely to be versus what the fastest runners times were, how far ahead I was and how far along I could make it at this pace before the leaders caught up to me. I figured that the leaders were gaining about 2 minutes per every mile we ran so they wouldn't catch me until about mile 12 or 13, the turn around point. For some reason this was really fun and distracting for me. Just finding that math problem and constantly revising my estimate based on what I felt like I was running for a pace. Kind of makes me want to ditch the watch more often.
But then I kick it up and really wish I knew how fast I was running. I love the feeling of a fast, effiicent stride that feels so effortless and simple. My body feels light on my feet and I don't feel like I'm even working hard to go this fast. I always think of it as "Riding the Wave" meaning, it's not going to last forever so I better push it while I feel great. Matched up at the same time as a great Allman Brothers or Phish jam and you can just about write me down for a 20 minute 5k in the middle of a marathon. Zero self restraint. And I'm ok with it.
Right around the ten mile mark each aid station would start getting really excited as I came within sight of them. I was holding a good pace and they thought I was the leader only to quickly realize I was just some guy out running. Soon enough I was heading into the 13.1 mile turn around in a whopping 1:46. Not horrible and possibly even way too fast for me as that would be a 3:32 marathon. My only other marathon time is 3:53 from Tucson 2009, my first marathon distance ever.
Not twenty seconds after I reached the halfway turn around the leaders caught up to me and passed me by. A minute or two later Chuck Engle came flying by and a good half dozen other runners. I took off hoping to put some more distance in before running into Brett. I made it to mile 14 before reaching Brett (who was at mile 12) so I only had about a 4 minute lead on him and I knew I was headed into a bonk soon as I was dehydrated and starving. I only planned on going out for 60-90 minutes this morning so I didn't eat in preparation of running a marathon and I didn't want to eat or drink anything the race volunteers had at aid stations since I was running bandito style. I could feel it coming so I decided to crank up the tunes and embrace the pain.
I made it to mile 18 before "Operation Embrace the Pain" turned into "Why the Hell didn't I just take the bus and run the half??" Headphones were gone and I was holding on tight to a sliver of a lead over Brett as more and more people passed me by. Somehow it was both impressive and depressing at the same time. On one hand it was really interesting to see how fast these guys were going at each point in the race with the out and back style of the race. On the other hand I had a 25 minute head start and they were blowing by me at 18 miles in. Just killing me and my 8 minute miles. Thats ok though because while I was getting passed by the 2:45 marathoners I was able to see the hundreds of other 4:00+ hr marathoners still coming the other direction yet to reach the half way mark. Cheering them along was really fun and encouraging for me and it made the aid stations really lively with all the people. The volunteers were AWESOME and treated me like I was some kind of stud super fast runner. I tried to tell them all I was just a runner but they all saw me alone the way up earlier and treated me like one of the racers. This of course only made me want to blow through every aid station to help fulfil the image they've painted for me.
Eighteen miles in I hit my usual bonk. Figures. I slowed to around a 9:00/mile and felt my 3:20 possibility slipping away. One gel left tucked away in my pocket, saving it for a rainy day. That or about 20 miles in so I can pound out the last 10K. I knew this was coming as my stomach was empty going into the race. I was a bit tired too but not bad, mostly it was just tight muscles due to the cold ass wind whipping by my legs. I pushed through the next two miles and saw Brett coming up on my tail. Having just downed my last gel with the last 10k to go I wasn't ready to push on with Brett who blew past me in 9th place overall at less than 7:00/min mile pace. I pushed hard for about a half a mile to try and keep Brett within sight while my gel and more caffine kicked in but his pace was too much and I pulled back.
Ticking away the miles as I close in on a finish line is my favorite part of the entire race. The beginning excitement and fresh legs is great, the middle runners high as your body has eased into the pace is exciting but the throught of coming up the last mile or half mile to the cheering crowds, clapping hands, smiling kids as you round the last corner and come within sight of the finish line?? That is why I love to run and why I love racing. I came out of the woods and the trail the last two miles and hit the pavement running. The last couple miles I was already running what was less than 8 minute miles and I had my form in line and my stride even and smooth. Pumping my arms as the pavement rounded the corner to mile 25 at the top of a long 200 meter hill. Instead of dreading it or being dropped into a dark hole of depression I laughed and charged up the hill. "Bring on the hills!" I thought, holding strong to the same pace the entire way to the top of the hill.
One more mile to go. Flying down the hill, rounding the bend to another long steady climb I was catching people not quite relishing the hills like I was. This was the part of the race I usually get a great kick as I close in on the 31 mile mark so with only a mile left I felt really great and with more hills on the horizon I let it lose and kicked it hard.
People lined both sides of the road along the hill and as always, this makes me feel that much more like the last three plus hours was totally worth it. Thinking of this portion of the race often gets me through some tough miles and I pushed past one person after another as I flew by the crowds to the last corner. Angling around the people with the big inflated "FINISH" only a hundred feet in front of me I pull off the road and come to a stop. 26.2 miles done. 3:32 total time so a good 21 minutes off my previous marathon time.
I made my way into the elementary school and out of the cold. My body was locking up already and ready to cramp and knock me into the grass any second. Marathons definately beat it out of you with the faster pace. Brett was in equally bad shape but came in strong with a 3:01 which was good for a 3rd place finish in his 30-34 age group and an award in his hands for the ride home. He got 17th overall. Had I been "official" i would have fallen into right around 75th place with my 3:32 out of around 500 people.