Tucker and I survived a fresh bed of slippery snow in this year’s Beverly Park Trail Run. The course was a little over 4 miles, but who’s to know for sure when running on single track. It’s not so much about the pace, but instead about charging up hills, jumping over water streams and diligently avoiding roots. I’ve always wanted to do this race and finally had the opportunity in 2014. It’s low key, but that’s the best kind and why trail runners run. Can’t wait to do it again next year. Tucker too!
The marathon starts at Jonas Ridge, NC (peak) and finishes at Brown Mountain Beach Resort (creek). Needless to say, it’s a downhill marathon, which sounds easy, right? Wrong! My legs were begging for even the slightest incline before the halfway mark.
Approximately 400 runners were shuttled to the start from the finish line and we all lined up just as the sun rose over the horizon. This made for an absolute beautiful backdrop as the light filtered through the red and yellow fall foliage. The first 6 miles were rolling hills along a paved ridge road. With a smaller field of runners compared to a typical large marathon, we soon found ourselves in tiny packs of three to five. Fine by me, as I enjoy the scenery, physical challenge and overall observing more than chatting with a fellow runner. I think those sentiments are heightened when the act of talking becomes laborsome with an elevated heart rate. Don’t write me off as a total grump against humanity though. I love the occasional, especially when witty, comment or cheer along the way.
Miles 7-15 were the toughest for me personally, even though they should have been a cakewalk on paper. The course changed from pavement to gravel and dramatically dropped in elevation. This is where I started cussing the race director under my breath. The day before and on the race website, runners were told the following, “not a trail in any sense of the word…there will be no large stones…may be some loose stones in some places.” Runners were also instructed they need not wear trail shoes. Totally incorrect! I’ve run on gravel roads before and also on many trails. The difference between not wearing trail shoes has to do with the size of the rocks. This was a gravel road covered with lots of loose rock. Maybe with smaller, pea-sized gravel trail shoes would not be needed, but with larger, loose gravel one would be much better off with trail shoes. Couple that with my favorite, but not the best for gravel, New Balance Minimus Shoes and I was feeling sharp pains in my feet from the rocks. The worse part was knowing my more rugged, Salomon Speedcross 3 Trail Running Shoes were sitting in the hotel room after being advised they were not needed. Speaking of hotel, avoid the “host hotel”, another misjudged recommendation from the website.
Ok, ok, back to the marathon and the good parts! Around mile 16 where the course levels off, the loose gravel becomes less frequent and the shooting pains subside. Besides the trashed feet, I’m feeling fresh and start to pass other runners who had previously flown by me on the downhill section. It’s a small, encouraging victory and I can start to visualized the finish line. Mile 20-22 was probably my fastest two miles. I’m not fully confident because I decided to run based on feel and forewent any kind of timing feedback during the race. No stopwatch, no GPS, no mile splits, just good ‘ol mind/body signals. Within those two miles, I ended up passing about 10 other runners. The adrenaline was pumping but I was also sympathetic with those reduced to walking. “Hitting the wall” is an experience one will never forget. For me it was the Des Moines Marathon, my first back in 2005.
The final 5K push to the finish started to play out. “Just hang on” I told myself and especially to the side ache creeping up. The biggest mistake one can do at the end of a marathon is to pick up the pace too much trying to shave off seconds, only to have a run-stopping side stitch add minutes to your finishing time. Experience makes it easier to gauge just how fast a finish should be, but even with multiple long distance races under my belt it’s still an unknown and one of the reasons I keep signing up for marathons. At the Peak to Creek Marathon it was a close call. The beginning of mile 25 was going well with me barely holding on during the last two tenths. I ended up finishing in a time of 3:26:28, not my best but far from my worst. Overall, not too shabby given my preparations and recent training. On to the next adventure!
This last fall, I had the opportunity to run the JFK 50 Mile footrace in northern Maryland. I say opportunity because the race is one of the oldest ultra marathons in the country, in its 51st year and fills up fast. I originally registered for it last spring, nearly 7 months before the start. From the race website…
…the JFK 50 Mile is in spirit a military race. It always has been and always will be. In 1963, the initial inspiration behind the event came from then President John F. Kennedy challenging his military officers to meet the requirements that Teddy Roosevelt had set for his own military officers at the dawn of the 20th Century. That Roosevelt requirement was for all military officers to be able to cover 50 miles on foot in 20 hours to maintain their commissions. When word got out about the “Kennedy Challenge”, non-commissioned military personnel also wanted to take the test themselves as did certain robust members of the civilian population.
The race has a strict 12 hour cut-off time. The other interesting aspect is the ban on personal listening devices. I’m one who constantly runs with music or audio books, especially during longer runs. I even had a playlist queued up only to find out the day before. The mental challenge just got tougher.
The first 5.5 miles of the race gains over 1,100 feet in elevation. From 2.5 to 15.5 miles the course is on the Appalachian Trail (AT) and is very rocky in sections as it rolls across the mountain ridge.
After that, we ran on the C&O Canal towpath which stretches a marathon distance from mile 15.5 to mile 41.8. This was the most challenging part of the race for me. It was totally flat, dirt and gravel, without much variation in scenery. And no music! I knew this was going to be the “low” point of the race (mentally) and was prepped for the thoughts of quitting. It’s funny how preparing the mind for negative thoughts can make them more tolerable.
After the canal, the final stretch follows a gently rolling, country road for 8.4 miles to the finish. If you get to the country road after a certain time in the afternoon, you’re forced to wear the “vest of shame”. This vest is reflective and meant to protect you from vehicle traffic but also serves as motivation for middle of the pack runners. I ended up reaching the checkpoint just after the cut-off and was handed a bright orange vest. No shame was felt, as I was finally on the home stretch.
The final stretch suddening dropped in temperature and the wind picked up. I was tired, exhausted and just wanted to walk. So really, the cold air was a blessing in disguise and forced to my pace to at least a jog. I did it, crossed the finish line and immediately started searching for Michelle. I knew if I sat for too long, I’d end up falling asleep. I’m not sure if I’ll do another 50 mile race after the JFK. It was a great challenge but also very time consuming to prepare one’s body. No regrets though, I’m glad for the experience!
The inaugural Morgan Creek Country Race was last weekend. It was also my first experience at Morgan Creek park on the west side of Cedar Rapids. The course ended up being about 7 miles, mostly on rolling grass with two creek crossings. My favorite section of the course was the arboretum with soft pine needles. I ran to the race in order to get my training mileage in for the day, which ended up being an 11 mile warm-up and finished just under 50 minutes. I’m hoping this race comes back next year…love all the new off road events that are popping up.
My 26th marathon was a dandy! Michelle and I visited Fort Collins, CO for the 2nd time this year and this time around we really got to experience the Old Town. My highlight was running the Blue Sky Marathon, which I believe is named for the trail, but also turned out appropriate with the clear blue sky hovering above us. The first part of the run took us up Towers climb (800′ of elevation gain) near Horsetooth rock. The climb up was tough but what really hurt was my zealous ego sprinting down the other side. As a consequence, my quadriceps suffered from mile eight on. The race was made up of two big loops. The second was the longest and in the middle lay five miles of large rocks or a basically a boulder field. It was slow going but the views made up for the tough terrain. Not a very fast race, but a helluva training run for the JFK 50 next month.