This report is almost two reports in one. The marathon report and the Joe report.
As I said earlier, who’d have thought I'd travel across the country to run a marathon. My perspective was why else would I go to Indiana except to run a marathon. In fact why have I gone almost anywhere in the last couple of years that didn’t involve running (or lately work)? Better yet why would I travel across the country to meet another runner I knew only from a blog? Kind of like internet dating for runners, huh? More than one person thought I was crazy to travel that far to meet up with someone I didn’t really know. I stopped telling people that we were sharing a hotel room. I guess they were all afraid to read accounts of the ax murder from Indiana or other such insanity. When I went to Washington and met Rob, Lisa was with me. I guess people felt better about that. Funny she doesn’t come off as the body guard type to me, but anyway.
I’ve met nothing but stellar folks through the RBF and had no worries. Everyone has been genuine. Joe and I have shared a few emails behind the scenes so I was comfortable in meeting up. I got the feeling that Joe would do just about anything for you. He is a host beyond compare. I wish I could run every race with the support of someone like him. He took care of everything, down to the smallest details. All I had to do was show up and run. He was concerned about me staying warm and reminded me to drink during those first few miles we spent together. Joe is engaging, personable, spiritually grounded, an adoring husband, father and grandfather, a real class act. We did in fact talk for nearly the entire 26 hours that we spent together. Our work shares many common themes and family was a large part of our conversation. There’s no way I can adequately thank him, except to say that I would be pleased to do it all over again (I might have to make Indiana a repeat state) and to say that I would gladly be host to he and his family in California should the opportunity arise. A race wouldn’t have to be the reason of the visit.
My greatest fear about the Tecumseh Trail Marathon was the weather. Winter has come very late to southern California and I was running in 70-90 degree weather up until Thanksgiving. I spent a great deal of time the last couple of weekends before the race scouring the local running store, sporting goods stores and discount retailers for the best deal on cold weather running gear. I ended up with a pair of Asics Tiger running tights from A Snail’s Pace. I was happy to know that the running store had a better price than the big box sporting goods store. I did get a Nike Thermal Fit half zip pullover at the big box. They had one on the sales rack in my size. I bought another water resistant Champion C9 jacket from Target as backup. My son donated his old Under Armor t-shirt as the base layer. A long sleeve tech top, a beanie and gloves rounded out the attire.
The torrential rain in Bloomington on Friday made getting to race HQ difficult. Joe and I had quite the adventure getting there. I can honestly say I’ve never driven washed out gravel roads on my way to packet pickup before. We even saw a deer sneaking into the woods.
Race morning dawned early. Having arrived at race HQ the night before in the dark, the parking situation was unknown. We decided to get there early to assure a good space. We both tend to obsess a little over things like that. It turns out by the light of day that there was plenty of parking but the early arrival allowed for watching the sunrise and enjoying the parade of runners coming in.
This was the first trail race for Joe. We noticed a pretty significant difference in the crowd from the standard road marathon. Trail runners in the Midwest seem to be predominately male, older and of sturdier stock. There was a noticeable lack of lanky and lean. The logistics of getting 500 runners to the starting line took longer than planned. The 10:00 race start became 10:45. More than one runner was concerned about finishing the course in the allotted amount of time. As I looked around at the trees and hills I was excited to get going.
We stayed on the warm buses as long as we could. Standing around waiting for the race to start was rather frigid, but once we got moving I was warm and soon began to wonder if I had overdressed. The beanie came off first, followed by the gloves. I thought about taking off the micro fleece but was afraid that I would get chilled from the sweat I had built up underneath. I ended up wearing it the whole way. Around mile 15 or 16, around 2:00, the weather began to cool again and I put the gloves back on.
Joe and I ran together for the first 6.5 miles. At this point the crowd was still bunched up. Joe and I filed in single file. The single track demanded this. When the lead runner walked we all walked, mostly on the uphill, which in a trail race turns out to be a really good idea. Joe stopped early on to stretch. I continued on slowly at his request and he caught back up. It was then that I started worrying about his IT band issue. I had really hoped to run together as much as possible but I’m afraid that I didn’t do a very good job of maintaining a suitable pace. I had fun running ahead and taking pictures of Joe running up the trail.
Many times I felt like a kid again. Running through the woods seemed to me to be a perfect way to spend the day. The hills, the terrain, the trees all reminded me so much of family vacations in Findley or Mohican State Parks in Ohio and running around the Boy Scout Camps on Jones Road and at Firelands as a kid. I couldn’t help but smile and have a blast.
I was at first at ease with our decision to split up. Joe had mentioned this point more than once in emails and I have run with other partners that would expected the same. After the point that Joe and I separated ways the crowd thinned out considerably. It would have been easier for us to run our pace without being passed or having to pass on the single track trail. The farther I went the more I second guessed my decision to march on. I spent considerable brain power debating whether I should have gone on or stayed back. Early on I caught up with a group of about 6 other runners. At a stream crossing the group broke up and broke up completely at an aid station.
Aid stations in a trail race are quite the different affair than a road race. Rather than grab and go, runners stop and take a break, drink their fluids standing still and enjoy the cookies, crackers and pretzels. I could get used to this laid back approach to racing.
The remainder of the run was spent nearly in solitary, slowly catching up to other solitary or pairs of runners. Walking the hills became a survival tactic after mile 13. The conditions of the trail deteriorated as the day wore on. A couple of hundred people in front of you leave a muddy trail even muddier. At times the mud was so slick that running was nearly impossible, gingerly walking through was the only option if you wished to remain upright. All the extra work maintaining balance was taking its toll on my legs.
The farther I went the more people I ran into that were really struggling. I caught up to one guy that was hobbling along. I asked if he had sprained an ankle or something. He commented that it was his darn IT Band. I really turned my thoughts back to Joe at that point. With the way others were feeling and the continual deterioration of the trail I really hoped that Joe had decided not to go on. The trail crossed and recrossed the same stream multiple times within a half mile with no real rhyme or reason. We would also climb hills only to circle back down the other side. The trail seemed to be designed by someone on a maniacal, sadistic rant. A quarter mile stretch of shoe sucking, slippery mud nearly ruined my day.
I chatted with a few people along the way. I met up with Marc from Washington DC. Joe and I had met him at the race HQ that morning. Marc had recently run the Marine Corp and Philadelphia marathons and his first triathlon this summer. I ran for a half mile or so with an ROTC cadet from the University of Indiana. He was the only one of his group that had accepted the challenge from his captain. He had three weeks notice and only got in one 12 miler as training. He is a swimmer and bike rider and was doing great aerobically; his legs were really tired at mile 13. He had already taken a fall in the mud but I was confident he would make it. I saw both Marc and ROTC finish in about 5:50 as we were driving away. I was glad to see ROTC finish. I joked with another guy wearing a back pack about planning for an overnight stay. I shared the trail momentarily with three girlfriends that were testing the limits of their friendship out there. They finished about 5 minutes behind me.
There were no mile markers along the way, only at the aid stations. This made determining pace very difficult. I had started my watch at the beginning and just let it run. I think I was at 15 miles at around 3 hours. I wondered whether I could get 10 more in 2 hours. Around mile 22 my legs were getting very tired, feeling like Jell-O. I began stepping more deliberately over the trees across the trail and across the streams. At some point I just completely gave up trying to stay out of the mud and water. I remembered an older guy telling some kids that their feet would not get cold. He was right. They were cold with the initial shock of the water and then warmed right back up. Although the trail had taken its toll, I never felt as though I couldn't go on.
Sometime along the way I was able to hear the cheers of the finish line in the distance. Then they were distinctly off to the right. The trail approaches a gravel road which I assumed I would turn right on to the finish, but no. There was still about a mile to go on the trail before we came out on the road farther down. As I rounded that last corner the crowd was small but loud. There was a man with a camera taking pictures that I assumed to be the official photographer. Then he moved his camera and I recognized Joe. I was both glad to see him and sad that his race had obviously ended early. I got a high five and then he met me at the HQ and made sure I had food and water. I told you this guy takes care of people. I had some warm tasty vegetable soup and a chocolate chip cookie. After changing into dry warm clothes we headed out for burgers and Cold Stone ice cream. Joe had never had Cold Stone before. It was fun to treat him to his first. We discussed the race, his IT band, his decision to drop and his plan to seek qualified medical care at this point.
My final time was 5:24:29, my longest marathon ever and beyond my original goal of 5:00, but the experience was worth every extra minute that it took. I was however, first in the 45-49 year old male from California division, go me! There were actually three Californians in the race. The first to finish was a female and the third was another 45-49 male. I didn’t get to meet them, that would have been fun.
If you’re looking for a fun and challenging romp through the woods, put the Tecumseh Trail Marathon on your planner. If your travels take you to Indiana look up Joe, I’m pretty sure he’d be thrilled to meet you and you’d certainly be blessed to meet him.