Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Race Report: Eagle Creek Trail Half Marathon

ORN: 13.1 miles (-ish); 3:05:07

Quick Summary:

Wow! How do you capture fascinating, tough, gritty, enjoyable, glad-it-is-over, all at once?? I'm not sure...but that was what Planet Adventure's Eagle Creek Trail Half Marathon turned out to be. On a brutally hot, humid day, we ran a very technical, demanding course. I gave it a hard effort throughout; yet that effort earned me the slowest HM time I've ever had. And I wasn't the least bit dissatisfied...I simply "ran the best race conditions allowed."

And had some fun conversations as well...see the last story below.

Lots of photos today. A couple are mine but most come from Dave Mari, Michael Hoyt and the race organizers, who provided thousands of hi-res photos free for the download. What a concept! Enjoy.

The Gory Details

The race site was just under an hour from our house so it was easy to be out the door by 5:15am and have plenty of time to get parked, get the packet, relax and prepare for the (scheduled) 7:35am start.

Somewhat spontaneously, a Marathon Maniac photo-op happened before the race. Almost magically, folks with Maniac singlets appeared from all directions and we had quite an assemblage. Equally quickly, cameras appeared everywhere...maybe 20 or more folks snapping pix all at once. As close as I'll ever come to being a paparazzi subject! Since I was only running the half, I didn't wear my Maniac shirt but slid in the back of the photo anyway.

Maniac Meetup

Not surprisingly, in the middle of this photographic extravaganza was our irrepressible fellow Maniac, photo dude and friend to all, Dave Mari. I first met Dave at a MM photo meet-up before the Austin Marathon last February. Dave runs almost every weekend somewhere, camera in hand, meeting tons of folks. Amazingly, he actually remembered me and greeted me by name. It made for a fun start to the race.

Dave and Joe

The race had multiple events. The marathoners started first, albeit 20 minutes late. We half marathoners started 10 minutes later. After a similar gap, the 15K participants took off, followed by 5K runners. All told, 500 runners participated.

Did I mention this was a trail race?

Driving across the flatlands of northern Indiana, you'd be hard pressed to think there could even BE a trail race here. Much less find one inside the city limits of Indianapolis (Mayor: Peyton Manning). Even less find an elevation chart like this:

elevation chart

But the organizers put this all together and presented it accurately as a tough, largely single-track trail race.

The course had four real sections. The first 3+ miles were the toughest, a gnarly, twisty, narrow, up and down, course through the woods. As we started, this predictably turned into a woodsy conga line. The line carried me along with everyone else. I managed to recover from 5 near trips and falls and just kept moving.

conga line early

Just before we finished this tough section, a group of 15K runners blew past us at a rare, sorta-open section of the early course, braving stickler weeds to do so. And one of them looked familiar.

"Are you Margaret?" I yelled. Surprised, she turned and said "Yes!" "Did you work at Athletic Annex many years ago?" "Whoa, that was a long time ago, but yes!" she replied, moving out of earshot. "Great, I'll find you later!" and off she went, really moving quickly down the rough terrain.

Eventually, we burst onto the second section, a city thoroughfare, Indy's busy 56th Street. This 3/4 mile section was dead flat over a reservoir. We then reentered the park for the third portion with a much more runnable, if still up and down, trail.

Runnable Section

It was funny how much easier it was to do hills on nicely prepared stairs than a rooted trail!


While my splits were around 15 minutes/mile in the early conga line, then around 9:30 on 56th, they converged to the expected 11:00 on these more runnable sections with the pack thinning. I felt fine, despite the heat. I carried my own fluid and the Elixr tabs I'm now using in water make a huge difference. At a key intersection, I saw Dave again and, true to character, he snapped a photo! We had a nice chat, as we both caught our breath as best we could in the stifling humidity of the woods.

Joe mile 7ish

The fourth section of the course was a flat, scenic run on a causeway around a portion of the reservoir. It looked nice but was tough to run on. The rock base was made of large, sharp, quarried stone. Uneven and, were one to fall, quite able to inflict some dandy cuts or scrapes. So I took it easy, stopped to chat with a couple of fishermen and kept moving.


Coming off the causeway, we retraced our steps back to the start. The runnable part of the course was enjoyable and I kept moving well. The temperature climbed to the mid 80s, as it was about 10am when we reached 56th Street, out of the shade and under the sun.

The final section was every bit as demanding as it was at the start, only more so on tired legs with higher temperatures. We had fully 50 downed trees like this to climb over or under on the 3.5 mile trek back to the start. It took plenty of concentration, besides the obvious physical effort.

Trees in Trail

I felt fine but, as I met many marathoners heading out for their second lap, I was very glad I had fought the urge to enter this race as a marathon in early August. I truly don't think I could have done it in this heat.

It never gets old to get closer to the finish line. As I crossed ditch after ditch and climbed dead logs galore, I could hear the music and loudspeaker getting closer. It was fun to pop out of the woods and make one more circle of the grassy area to cross the finish line.

Finish Line

The time of day was 11:04 as you can see; my race time was 3:05 and I was fully satisfied with it, as surprising as that might sound. I was gassed...no more effort I could have really put out in those conditions. And that was fine.

The organizers had some good fluids and food available at the finish. That and a seat in the shade was all I wanted for 10 minutes post race.

But then I remembered one task remaining. Where was Margaret?

I got up from the picnic table, started looking at each knot of people still standing around and finally saw Margaret and her husband getting ready to leave. I reintroduced myself and asked her if I could tell her the story.

With Margaret

On November 27, 2004, I met Margaret. (I wrote fully of this encounter that evening on my professional blog here.) I had just restarted running in May 2004 but was fighting calf and Achilles tendon pain. So, I went to a real running store and met her. She didn't try to sell me a shoe. Rather, she sat and asked me questions. We talked for 20 minutes before she even brought out a pair of shoes. Then she took more time, pondered what she saw as I ran up and down the sidewalk outside the store. We tried, retried, talked, observed, and re-tried. I found several possible pairs. The Brooks Adrenalines turned out to be perfect. I bought them and the pain was gone inside of two weeks. It was a wonderful "coincidence" to tell Margaret this story while wearing the Brooks singlet which the company gave me 18 months ago as part of a promotional program. She got me started with this excellent company.

My encounter with her on that chilly grey day in November 2004 was a central step in my running. It got me running, year round, pain free. And I've never forgotten it. Nor forgotten Margaret.

I've actually seen Margaret twice in the intervening years; both times as she blew past me in a race in Indy. I've never had the chance however to stop, talk and fully express my thanks. Saturday was the day. She was wonderfully gracious and, predictably from our first meeting, more interested in knowing how I was doing than receiving my thanks. Yet, it did bring a warm smile to her and I hope a bit of encouragement, probably of a different kind from knowing she had just finished the 15K as 3rd female overall and first in her age group.

You never know what bit of interaction can have a positive impact.

The race "medal" was made from a downed tree branch from this park and will be unique part of my collection.

the medal

A fun race. Be like Margaret...just listen well to someone today.




Wes said...

hahaha! Conga line... that right there is funny. Yea, trail races are a different beast. The one I am thinking of doing in Sept has 4000 feet of elevation change, but each "hill" is only like 50 feet. That's a lot of up and down!

Nice work Joe! Smart move not doing the marathon, and the Margaret story is priceless. I wasn't making fun of your legs. I, too, have skinny legs. Its an adaptation common in runners and cyclists. LEAN AND MEAN!


Sarah said...

Congrats Joe! That looks tough, especially the section with all the trees to climb over. I'd certainly be proud of your time in those conditions. And great story about Margaret!

Darrell said...

I love the varied terrain of this event. Trail races a so much fun. Reminds me of Tecumseh and Otter Creek but without the mud and with heat. The medal is pretty cool too.

Anonymous said...

Was wondering if you could post the total ascent for the half?