July 16, 2010

"You've got to realize, it's a marathon, not a sprint."

That's what President Campbell told me a couple of weeks ago.  It was sage advice from someone who knows my drive, knows my passion, knows that patience isn't my strongest trait, and probably why he and the college offered something entirely unexpected and generous, something the current team should check their e-mails for.

Of course he had no idea how prophetic his words were considering that last Saturday I ran a marathon.  Ok, I didn't exactly run the whole thing and yes it was 23% longer than your typical marathon but I finished it.  Here's the rundown:
  • First 4 miles were straight uphill so I forced myself to walk/jog knowing that if I didn't my competitiveness would come back to kill me at the end.  It wasn't tough to do when you suddenly squeeze 200 runners onto a singletrack trail.  Once the trail widened I opened up the throttle a little.  Just over 4.5 miles in the first hour and five in the second hour.
  • Then came the climbs.  Devil's Lake is surrounded by big limestone cliffs - imagine 8-16" steps in place by an intoxicated bricklayer and you get the idea.  I made it up then hauled *ss down the fire road. 
  • Apparently running downhill is a skill I never knew I had, but I passed a ton of people.  A guy said I had great downhill technique and asked if I had run at Carthage (I was wearing a Carthage track shirt).  Run at Carthage?  Dude, I wasn't even running eight months ago.  It turns out he was a former diver at Wheaton and his buddy was on something like his fourth ultra-marathon this year in a quest to hit all 50 states.  Almost 4.5 miles in hour three.
  • Got to the midpoint.  Changed socks, replaced waterbottles, ate 1/2 banana and a handful of turkey.  The next segment was described as "somewhat poorly marked trail."  It was well marked, but no trail -
    just a bunch of ribbons hanging from branches in this forest of big a$$, moss-covered rocks and logs.  You had to use the the tree branches just to make it though. 
  • Then it was out to the edge of the lake on this little 12-18" strip of asphalt set amid limestone boulders.  It was the hottest and hardest part but figured if I could get back into the shade and to the next aid station I could refuel make it through the second set of cliffs then fly downhill the last 4-5 miles.
  • Everything went as planned - another big ascent up some more big *$$ rocks to the edge of the cliff (seriously if the people at the next aid station took four steps back they have their own very effective downhill technique and be splattered on rocks 300' below) before cruising into the final aid station at 20.5 miles.
  • Five hours down, 5.7 miles to go and I was feeling great.  Grabbed my last two water bottles, switched to the "kick it in gear" playlist and tore off down the trail ready to put some distance between me, the Wheaton guy, his ultra buddy and anyone else wasting time at the aid station.
  • Yeah, I tore off down the trail - the WRONG trail - the one designated for people doing the 50 mile race.  I was flying, feeling good until it struck me that I might not be going the right way.  I stopped a woman and asked how far back the "decision point" (between the 50 miler and marathon) was.  "Oh God..." was all she said.  
  • Despair hit - I looked at the GPS and it told me I had 7.4 miles back to the start.  Screw it, I said, I'd run to the 26.2 mile mark, get a ride to the start, turn in my chip. It won't be official, but I'll know that I'd done a marathoner.  Then I found another guy who'd made the same mistake and together we found our way back to the aid station.
  • I was still demoralized, but now there was just 5.7 miles to go and more importantly we knew where we were going and knowing that made it easier because I knew if we just kept moving we'd be getting closer to the goal.  5.7 miles turned into four which turned into three.  The two leaders of the 50 mile race went by us and as they did I turned to my running partner and said I was going to push the pace to the finish.
  • And I did finish - 32.2 miles total.  As I approached the finish, one of the 50 milers was staggering to the finish.  I didn't want to be one of those guys who sprints by in the final steps, but like Steve Mathe in the final 50 of a 1650, I had gas in the tank.
A year ago I was telling someone I had zero interest in ever running a marathon, but after finishing I could see myself doing another.  So North Face Endurance Challenge?  I'll see you in September.



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