Monday, April 30, 2012

Race Report: Trail Marathon

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go."  -- T.S. Eliot

I ran the Trail Marathon in Pinckney, MI this weekend. It was an iffy proposition because my IT band had still not healed all the way. After the bad day at the Martian Half Marathon two weeks ago, where I had to quit at 5.75 miles, I was not hopeful about making it through the marathon on this tough course. It is a hilly course, mostly on the Potawatomi trail, but I really did need to get a long run in if I hope to successfully complete the Dances With Dirt Gnaw Bone 50k in two weeks (one of my four key races in pursuit of my Bloodied, Boned, Bruised, and Burned belt buckle).

I was saved in this race by my friend Janet, who recommended that I get some Rock Tape. I credit much of my ability to get through this race to the wonderful therapy I have been getting from Dr. Tom and the magic of the Rock Tape (which I will be reviewing in my post later this week).  I wrapped my knee up as directed with Rock Tape the night before and was hoping for the best come race time.

It was a beautiful but cold morning in Pinckney. The forecast had said 36 and sunny at start time. They were part right. It was sunny but a very chilly 26 degrees,  with 50s forecasted for the afternoon. I was already grumpy because it was so dang early, but this made me even more grumpy. What to wear? I had planned tights, a short sleeve top, sleeves, and gloves, but that was going to be nowhere near enough. Thankfully I had grabbed an extra long sleeve on the way out of the house and had a lightweight vest in my bag. I ended up with tights, long sleeve, light vest, hydration pack, and gloves. I probably could have done without the light vest, but I was glad to have it on as we waited for the start. I had brought a friend, Nicole, who was running her first 50k. She had brought no warm gear and had on shorts, a tank, and sleeves. I felt sorry for her at the start, but she was happy at the end of the race.

I found some of my RUT (Running Fit Ultra Team) friends to hang out with at the start. As I said, it was a beautiful sunrise, with steam rising off the lake. Randy, Running Fit's head goat, started the race. We went out in waves of about 50 people each, self-selected, with about 30 seconds between groups, with Randy saying "Go" for each of the waves. It was chip timing, so it was a pretty informal start.

We ran across the grass and started the "conga line" that happens at the start of every trail race where groups of people have to sort themselves out on the single track. Thankfully, there was a road crossing and a slight road stretch at about a half mile that helped in case runners had not seeded themselves correctly. At least where I was running the sorting out seemed to be a pretty orderly process, not the half marathon the previous year.

I started out at a very comfortable pace. I was purposefully avoiding looking at my watch and just concentrating on running relaxed and easy. As I said, for me this was a training run rather than a race, so I was just out there to put miles on the legs, hopefully for as long as I could before my leg made me stop. I was afraid I might only get 8 to 10 miles, but was hoping that if I had a good day I could make at least 20 of running till I had to stop and then walking the rest of the way in. My plan from the start was to walk the uphills, run the flats and downs.

The marathon course is a 13.1 mile loop (the half course) which runners do twice. I had vague memories of the course from doing the half last year. Mostly what I remembered was that there were some really hellacious hills in the middle of the course. The first four miles or so went by really pleasantly. The trail was in excellent condition. It was damp, but not muddy, and pretty much free of debris. The course was rolling, and I was having a good time staying focused and relaxed.

The real work for me began somewhere around mile five, with the first of several fairly steep hills. I got passed by quite a few people on the uphills, like always, but because I was not racing, I was able to keep a good attitude about it. I passed some of them back on the down hills, like always. Downhills are my thing. 

Miles five through nine were kind of tense ones for me. I figured that if the knee was going to start acting up, this would be the place. However, the anxiety was broken up by the high point of the race for me, visiting my friend Paula at Aid Station Ernie at 6.5 miles. Because I was just messing around and didn't even really expect to finish the race, I sat down for a  minute or two to shoot the breeze with Paula and try to cajole her into a running road trip I am planning for later this summer. Finally I decided I better get going and took off again, much refreshed.

There were some pretty hilly parts between miles 6.5 and the next aid station at 9.5. I was starting to flag a bit so decided to take some gel. Unfortunately my gel was so cold that I could hardly get any out of the flask. It was irritating. I decided I better start using Gatorade at the aid stations for some calories. I had a no calorie electrolyte drink in my hydration pack to go with the gels. If I wasn't going to be able to get the gels steadily, I was going to need calories from the Gatorade. 

I pulled into the last aid station of the loop and was delighted to find another of my RUT team members, Jan, who is recovering from a serious calf injury. Again, I spent a few minutes catching up before heading on down the trail. The last segment of trail is one of my favorites. It has ample amounts of downhill at regular intervals, with a few walking breaks for uphills. I started feeling good after getting some Gatorade in, and I managed to pass some people in the last mile or so of the first loop. Still, my knee started to feel a little "funny" on the last steep downhill, and I still had my doubts about finishing.
Jan (great as a volunteer
but hope he is running soon)

When I came past the start/finish at the end of the first loop, it was really warming up. I got rid of the lightweight vest, told Jer that I was feeling good enough to keep going, that the Rock Tape seemed to be working, but that I didn't know if the knee would last or not.  I told him it might be a while because I was still expecting to walk in.

As I went out of the start/finish on the grass, my knee was a little twingy. I was happy to get back on the dirt trail. Soon the Gatorade kicked in again, and I started to feel good. I was cruising along at this point with a smile on my face.  I was surprised to be feeling so good, especially with the lack of long runs. The uphill walks gave me time to recover and be able to keep a good pace on the flats and downs. I was surprised to start passing people on the second loop. I don't think that my running time had slowed that much, but my time was slower because I walked a few of the smaller hills on the second loop that I had run on the first.

I find that if I am going to have hills, I would rather have a loop course. I knew what was ahead of me hill-wise on the second loop and was mentally prepared. I struggled less mentally with the hills on the second loop than the first.

Me with Paula and Ernie
I cruised into Aid Station Ernie for the second time, got a picture with Paula, drank about five cups of Gatorade and headed out. I glanced at my watch and could not believe my time. For all the messing around I was doing, it looked like I could still be under 5:30. That cheered me up. As I was heading out of the aid station, on the first hill, some guy passed me and said "You look like you are hot." I still had on my gloves (mostly to wipe my nose) and a long sleeve. He said, "I got rid of my long sleeve at the last aid station."  Thanks guy. I had not been hot until that point, but suddenly I was overheated. I took off my gloves and stuffed them in my belt, shoved my sleeves up a little higher, and kept going. I couldn't take off my top because I wasn't willing to risk the chafing from the vest I had at Green Swamp.

Just before the last aid station, I ran into my RUT friends Kai and Farra. I was amazed to see them because they are WAY faster than I am, but Farra was struggling some with her IT band. (In true Farra fashion, though, she still managed to pull off an age group win in the 50k).  I was also starting to feel a little nauseous and knew I needed an electrolyte capsule. I had been sweating pretty heavily in the long sleeve. We hung out together to the aid station. Once there, I popped an electrolyte capsule and ate a handful of trail mix. We talked to Jan for a while and then headed out. Leaving the aid station I was feeling pretty good, with my favorite section of the course coming up.
Farra and Kai

I was cruising along at about 23 miles when I got my first calf twinge. I should have known it was going to happen. I had waited too long with the Endurolyte and was behind on electrolytes. This put a bit of a cramp in my style (pardon the pun) for the last few miles. I could still run downhills, but anything that had the slightest uphill had to be walked to keep my calves from seizing up. Normally this would stress me out, but since I was doing so much better than I had expected and realized that I was going to finish sub 5:30, even if I walked, that I didn't care.

In the last mile to the finish I was able to pick it up. I passed 4 people, including a 16 year old guy doing his first marathon that I had been playing leapfrog with all day. He actually finished ahead of me in the results, though, because we had started in different waves. I finished feeling better than I ever have after a marathon. I was completely shocked to get handed an age group award, a nice coffee mug, at the finish line. I never in my wildest dreams thought that the day would result in an age group award, but I ended up second to a fellow RUT member, Ellen. 

Nicole and her new friend Lisa
After I finished, I waited for Nicole to come around on the second lap on the way to her first 50k. They did two loops plus an extra five mile loop at the end. I was really happy to see she had found someone to run with and looked like she was doing great. I headed back to the car to get warm and took a quick nap before going out to watch her finish. I got back to the finish just as she was crossing the line. We were all delighted to find out that both she and her new friend she was running with had won age group awards.

This marathon was a completely different experience for me, much more relaxed and a lot of fun. I love trail running, but on race day I am usually so stressed out with racing and trying to do everything I can to run a good time that I don't always enjoy the race. I am definitely going to reflect on this and take this insight with me going forward. I need to find the happy medium where I am racing but also enjoying the experience as well.


  1. So glad you had a great day and are ready for DWD #2! The hill reports have me reconsidering No Wimps for 2013 though!

  2. Really glad to hear that you could get in a long run (Marathon) without any major problems! Hope you continue to improve and do well in your next race!

  3. Love to hear about your races - and all the mental thinking that you post.........good for me to think about. thanks


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