Every marathon has a lesson. This one??
Systems are helpful but raw miles in training are necessary.
A terrific event, which I enjoyed, despite a very difficult final four miles.
The Gory Details
Kal-Haven Trail Sign
The Kal-Haven Trail Race is in its 20th year. It’s a terrific, local event, put on by local runners, volunteering to help others do something we all enjoy. Compared with big city marathons, it really shines. Simple and straight-forward, the race caters to both long-distance enthusiasts, offering a solo race and a two person relay (17 miles each), as well as less adventurous runners, with a six-person relay (with legs of 3-6 miles each).
And value?? Oh my!! For a mere $30 entry fee, we got a great race, full support, not one but TWO tech shirts (one for finishing, one for entering!)! Race Directors Terry and Julie were very visible at the start and finish, answered my questions via email before the race, understood runners and worked liked crazy. The volunteers were magnificent…I truly felt encouraged and supported. They even provided boiled potatoes and PB&J finger food at the last aid station…just for the solo runners!
The Kal-Haven trail is part of an extensive network of rail trails in Michigan. It was a marvelous running surface. The flat, gravel surface was smooth, well-drained (despite heavy rains earlier in the week) and visually enjoyable as we spent the full day almost always in wooded areas. In fact, I usually find one or both of my heels to be sore/bruised after a road marathon. The day after this race, my heels were just fine, thank you.
Typical section of Kal-Haven Trail
The race is point to point, originating in Kalamazoo and heading west to South Haven, right on Lake Michigan. I actually discovered it about four years ago when we vacationed in South Haven. I ran its last three miles for a couple of days, enjoyed it and then looked at the map at the trail head. I noted Kal-Haven was 33 miles long and said to myself “Self, that’s a perfect distance for a race. I’ll bet somebody else has thought of this!” When I got home, I googled it and discovered this event. I’ve wanted to run it the past two years but other events interfered. This year was a go.
I took advantage the offer of an early start and hit the trail at 7:23am, 37 minutes ahead of the official start. Man, it was cold…the bank thermometer said 16F as I drove in and it felt it. Mercifully, there was hardly any wind and we were sheltered by trees. The sun had not yet fully arisen over our right shoulder and so I was able to enjoy the beauty of the changing light over the frosty new day. My run evolved into a three-act play.
Act One was pure joy. I had no time objective for this race and resolved to simply run comfortably. As usual in a new place and surface, it took me a couple of miles to find some sort of rhythm and a little longer to even feel moderately warmed up. But the rhythm fell into place around mile five or so and I hit the 10 mile mark in 1:47, averaging just under 10:30/mile, using my usual 4/1 run/walk ratio. I ran about 6 of these miles with Amy, a baker from Ann Arbor, who gave me an appreciation for gluten breakdown.
I got to the halfway mark in the bucolic village of Bloomingdale feeling good. As near as I could tell, my midway split was about 3:05, with which I was quite pleased. I refilled the water bottles for the second time and discovered how wonderfully pleasant a Dixie cup of pretzels could be.
Act Two started a bit beyond the half-way point and was a time of comfortable but determined effort. Involuntarily, the mile splits were now in the low 11s. I still felt fine while realizing we still had a long way to go. Yet, as I looked at the elapsed mileage on my Garmin, it was cool to see it flip over 20 and realize I would soon be at the marathon distance. I kept the 4/1 ratio going, stayed hydrated, worked on my fourth banana of the day (I started with 2 and stashed 3 more in Bloomingdale early before the race) and kept moving. I turned on my MP3 player along here as well and the music was a lift.
It was truly fun to approach the marathon mark. To someone for whom a marathon was itself a mere dream in 2006, the distance of 26.2 remains magical. And here I was again. I found myself smiling and grinning as the display got to 25.5, then 26.0 and then picking out the spot ahead where I imagined the marathon line would be. I hit the lap button as the Garmin ticked to 26.2 and noted later it was a running time of 5:01:59. I let out a whoop and grinned ear to ear (which raises the philosophical question: “If a marathoner whoops in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does he make any noise?”). To still be running comfortably past the marathon distance was a significant psychological lift. I pressed on, though with splits dropping to the lower 12 minute range.
Act Three extended from mile 28 to the finish and was an ever-slowing slog. The wheels gradually came off the wagon. Fatigue set in and the battle began as to how best to keep going. I knew I had done 31 miles in colder weather just 11 weeks ago, which was helpful. I throttled back at mile 27.5 to a 2/1 run/walk ratio and that helped for several miles. Boiled potatoes at an aid station were a treat. But eventually, running just was not going to happen. I pulled the forearms parallel to the ground and “power walked” for about a mile and a half, falling in with Tom for a good bit of that time. We got into the part of the trail I had run before. I knew there was only about 2.5 miles to go but I couldn’t keep up with Tom, so thanked him for the pleasant conversation and sent him on his way.
The last two miles were just plain tough. My legs were done. There was no sharp pain and I found some strange pleasure from that, realizing I likely had no injury. Yet it was as if they had simply gone on strike. The 33rd mile took all of 20 minutes. Yet, it was familiar territory; under I-196, under the Blue Star Highway, a left turn, past some nice houses on the water, up the hill and done. Marathon Distance or higher race #21, done, in an official time of 7:17:51.
Mileage from the race start
Post Race was a true joy. Unlike last year’s Chicago Marathon, (when I also walked the last 3 miles, cramped miserably and was not quite with it for a good hour or more) I really felt fine from the waist up. I was cracking jokes with the time keepers about my slowness, then found race-director Julie who had already noted on her trusty clipboard the fact I needed a ride back to Kalamazoo. She had a volunteer ready and less than five minutes after I walked over the finish line, she had me and others in a car headed back to the start. Wow, that is really impressive organization! Volunteer driver Cristi dropped me off at my car after a delightful conversation all the way back to Kalamazoo. The cooler in my trunk held the much-awaited bottle of chocolate milk (my now-favorite post-race treat). I found a fast-food rest-room in which to change into dry clothes and wash my face, and headed home, listening to a fabulous basketball game with Butler beating Florida. Not Purdue or Notre Dame, but at least Butler is in Indiana!
I’m a systems geek, as those of you who know me are painfully aware. And running has plenty of room for systems. They all worked in this race, from my chart describing what to wear at each temperature to the two watches I wear for pace and time splits to the view on heart-rate monitoring to the electrolyte tabs I put in my water which prevented any cramping to the nutrition I downed before and during the race to the music I loaded on my MP3 player to the KT Tape I put on my left knee which avoided ITB pain to the paper tape on the balls of my feet. And there is more…you get the point.
Yet, as the logician would say, these systems are necessary but not sufficient.
To comfortably finish a race of 33.5 miles, one has to have more miles done in training than I did.
Weekly Miles-6 months up to Kal-Haven 33.5 mile ultra
Here is my chart of weekly mileage for the six months up to and including this race (and, yes, this too is a system, thanks to Running Ahead’s on-line running log). I averaged around 23-25 miles per week. It seems to get me through marathons OK but to do an ultra, I need to amp this up to an average of 40 miles per week.
Do I have the time or inclination to do that? I’m not sure right now. And that’s the lesson. All the clever systems in the world don’t replace a training base appropriate for the race.
Pay the price to reap the reward of striding strong across the finish line. I didn’t do it for this race. So I walked across the finish line instead. To run across, I need to run more.
A useful lesson in a very enjoyable event. Thanks for listening.