I started out strong. I was slapping people’s hands and shouting “Wooo!!!!!”, until people said, “Quit that. What are you doing? I can’t hear the race director.” Then, the guy said “go.” Trust me, if it wasn’t snowing, I wouldn’t have had a clue where to go. Luckily, at the back of the pack, I had plenty of people to follow.
We did this little duck shuffle for the first five or so miles. Basically, even though the path was big enough for most American-made SUVs, all these little runners had only left a single track worth of trail, and people willing to lunge into the snow drifts to carve their own course were few and far between. I didn’t mind. Talk about the ultimate pacing tool. It was this way until the first aid station. Everyone else seemed to linger. I blew by the first one. But let me tell you what I missed at that first station, but never again throughout the race.
You street runners will shortly faint. The aid stations had fully stocked liquor selections. (For those law enforcement types reading, it was just “for display purposes only”. Yeah!) I mean everything! Sambuca, Crown Royal, and lots of Stone Cat. They had a selection of hot homemade soups, grilled cheese and ham sandwiches, pb&j, muffins, chips, m&ms, something I’m forgetting, and oh yeah, water and Gatorade. Yep, I was at a roving tailgate party with the occasional running in between.
So I ran along, and ran, and ran some more. Beautiful, you see, because this is in a forest, and there’s all this snow falling, and dogs are howling here and there in the distance. My friend has run off past me, because he is typically a 3 hour marathonner, and I’m aiming for 5 to 5:30. No problem. I’m enjoying the solitude.
What I did mostly on the trails: told jokes to myself. Made up funny things to say. Laughed at myself. Oh, and ran.
After the mile 9 station (which had the BEST food in the world– I almost turned around to go back for more, because it was so good, and did I mention they were playing Irish jig music?), I had a problem 200 yards out. My shoelace broke. Now, these aren’t normal shoelaces. They’re special nifty one-pull lacing “systems” that come attached rather permanently to my Salomon XA Comp trail running shoes. So what the fred could I do about that? I limped along in a half-run until the 1/2 marathon station, which was, conveniently, also the parking lot where my car awaited.
Now here’s a moment. I’m sitting in the back seat of my wagon with my shoes and socks off, looking at a black toenail, a monster blister, a spot where one toenail is sawing through the flesh of another nearby toe, and I’m thinking, “What the fred can I do about that shoelace?” Duct tape? No. Turns out I had my (old, nearly spent) street running shoes in the back seat under my gym bag. Well, okey doke. I threw on clean socks, laced those up, and off I went.
The first five or more miles after this point SUCKED, because think about it: I’d been training in completely different shoes for 200 miles. I have all these calluses in different places, you know the drill. So man. Oh, and these are “street” shoes and I’m running on a trail, and that means lots of oddly-figured lateral movement. Not one real fall, by the way. I did do an “oh Jesus” slip and grab on a downhill segment, but I just thought, “Hey fun!” and rubbed my hamstring a while.
Somewhere around the first station and the second, I realized that I was running for the food. It was mile 20, and there was no wall. I was just wondering what type of soup they’d have. And honestly, I was thinking a lot about those dense chocolate chip muffins they had at that station. I started making jokes to myself about what I’d say to them when I showed up. “I’ve been thinking about you for the last twelve miles. Sure, I visited other aid stations, but I swear, baby, they didn’t mean a thing to me.” I said the first sentence to the nice people at Mile 9 (now 24 or whatever after the first loop). I spared them the last.
It was *really* cool to hear that there were only 2 or so miles left. I borrowed someone else’s cell phone because my battery died in the cold, and called my wife to let her know I wasn’t far off. By this point, I was managing a decent little shuffle, and I just kept on trucking along.
You know it’s the perfect race when there’s not even a big red time clock around. I ran to the finish, slapped hands with a guy dressed in a big furry cat costume, and saw some other guy check his watch and write down my time. As times went, if I split my result in half, I’d have run a fairly decent Boston twice. It was just under 7 hours. My friend, who did two marathons this year and who did 3-something and 4 hours got a minute under 5 hours on this one. Someone at an aid station said people were mostly adding one hour on to what they’d expected to get. Works for me. At the end, this race wasn’t about time for me. It was about endurance. Running for 7 hours (give or take the shoelace, and stops at aid stations) was the longest physical endurance challenge I’ve ever taken.
At the finish, a guy I’d met once before spent some time talking with me about the race, and then said I should come back for the Fat Ass 50K. That meant a lot to me. It seemed to me like someone saying, “Okay. You seem competent. You’re in.” Something like that.
My evening after and the next day went well. I hydrated and kept moving, advice from my friend who ran with me. We hung out at his house and had soup, talking about the race, politics, religion, and Darwinism, all while listening to Prairie Home Companion and him pulling ticks from one of his dogs.
I got a killer massage from my wife last night. She gave me back my body, because for a while there, I thought someone had rented me out to a karate class for practice. Kat also put up my daily 4:30 AM training trips, which meant she’d have to get up with our 2 year old every morning instead of sleeping in. She has been the strength behind my training all this time.
So, that’s the end of my 2004 racing season. I did around 10 races, all first time distances, and felt really good about how they all went. I look forward to 2005, and am training hard all winter. I hope to arrive at racing season 30 pounds lighter, a bit faster, and ready as all hell for more fun in trail races.