ORN: 26.2 miles, 5:18:13, 4/1 R/W, 12:03/mile
You know a race is fun when you are sad to see the finish line, knowing the race is over. It's even better when such a race is a marathon. Better yet when you run the last half of the race 2.5 minutes faster than the first half. Yet over the top better when your fastest mile of the day is the 26th.
All of this and more in the Heritage Trail Marathon on October 2. A perfect weather day on a fun, local trail made for one of the best running experiences I've ever had. Here's the whole story.
The Gory Details
Lots of pix in this race report, thanks to the race organizers who published nearly 1,500 images to the web, all free to download. What a treat!!
This is a local race, a mere 10 minute drive from my house to the starting line. So, unlike my usual race morning routine, I could "sleep in" until 5:30am, have a warm bowl of oatmeal in my own kitchen and then take a short drive to the start. Check in was simple and well before sunrise. Chilly too...my thermometer at home said 40 when I got up.
When checking in, I got my first surprise of the day. I learned the organizers had to alter the course for the marathon. Where the original plan has us running the full 13.1 mile length of the Wabash Heritage Trail and then back, trail construction and a logistic conflict with another event in downtown Lafayette forced them to make the course a 6.55 mile out and back route, which half-marathoners would do once and marathoners would do twice. Understandable, given the circumstances. But, as a card-carrying overthinker, it took me a while to re-orient my race plans regarding hydration, aid stations and landmarks for effort assessment. (photographic note: when training for this race during August I shot a photo album of the trail and two short videos from around mile 2 and around mile 4.5)
I worked through it OK and the sun came up on a clear, beautiful day for running. Musical Note #1 happened when the organziers gathered the 200+ total participants in the marathon, half marathon, 15K and 5K runs for some instructions about the trail and then we sang the National Anthem together. It was a nice touch and we didn't sound bad at all! The event began as they launched each of the four events at five minute intervals. The 46 of us running the marathon gathered first and took off right at the appointed 8:00am start time. I'm in the back of the pack here, just behind runner 143.
The initial out section served to help me find the day's rhythm. The trail was narrow and, with the early pack, not one where I could do my usual run/walk for a while. We were also eventually passed by the leaders of the half marathon and then the 15K fasties. I wasn't sure just where the aid stations were, nor how I was going to reload my water bottles along the way. Not unusual, really. But, by the time I got close to the turn around point, it was starting to settle in.
Musical note #2. Just after the turnaround, I met local running friends Tony and Lu who were taking a slow approach to the half marathon. Tony had bragged on his lovely wife Lu's birthday at the start when we talked. As I saw them running towards me, I broke into a loud version of "Happy Birthday", and noticed that "Lu" is the perfect name to sing that song to!! Try it...all four lines rhyme...even better if you use "Lu-Lu" for the name. She must have liked it...I got a hug on the trail.
On the first trip back, things quickly fell into place. I reoriented my earlier thinking to the reality of the aid station locations as they were. The traffic thinned, the blue sky was gorgeous through the trees, my blood was warmed so the long sleeves and cotton gloves were perfectly comfortable. The legs felt good, though I knew full well that good legs at mile 8 were necessary but not sufficient for a good race.
Musical note #3. Figuring I'd be alone a lot in this small race, I took along my mp3 player, plus some new earbuds from Yurbuds. They had advertised them as having a "lock in" feature which kept them from falling out of your ears, something I've been annoyed with every type of ear bud I've used. And they were falling out. But, putting my proclivity to overthinking to good use, I realized how I could rearrange the cord to keep them in. I sat back and enjoyed my favorite local station.
I got back to the start/finish line, feeling good. I reloaded the water bottles, reoriented the cord, smiled for a photo and went out for another 13.1 miles.
And the race got really fun. Fully familiar with the altered course, still enjoying a perfect fall day, pretty much by myself all the time, dialed into the tunes, it was a treat to keep going. On my way out, I started to see the leaders on their way back. Boy, were they moving. But, hey, so was I, just not as quickly. The 4/1 run/walk cycle was feeling just fine. In fact, somewhere in the 15th mile, I recall feeling sad a walk break sounded. I smiled, knowing I needed to walk, but was glad I was so antsy to keep running. I got to the turn around point once more, 20 miles into a trail marathon, and grinned more...I still felt fine and I was 6+ miles from home.
Musical moment #4 hit around mile 22. Todd Agnew's "Grace Like Rain" came on the radio, a marvelous arrangement of the familiar tune "Amazing Grace". It's a favorite of mine for several reasons. And it made me laugh. I recalled being around mile 22 of the US Air Force Marathon in 2009, hearing this song play at an aid station. I was dehydrating badly at that point and the song was a huge encouragement to me. How funny that the same song would come on again at about the same point on a day when I felt terrific!
Before the race, I had decided a great race on this course would happen if I still felt good at the last crossing of the Wabash River, about 3 miles from the finish. Well, I crossed the Wabash, felt good, and grinned again. Let's let it open up and run well to the end. And so I did. It was pure joy to move smoothly, comfortably, confidently through the woods with 23 miles behind me. When I came to the small marker indicating one mile to go, I scrapped the run/walk and pushed the pace home...as near as I could tell, I ran the last mile between 8:30 and 8:45, my best mile of the day. Across the finish line, marathon #23 in the books.
Why did this race go well? I think several reasons. First, the weather was perfect. It was in the low 40s at the start and was perhaps 55 at the end. No wind. A flat course along the river with firm footing helped, even with all the logs we had to go over. I had enough miles in the bank. In otherwords, all the factors lined up for a good race. And it was good.
Long report...a good race, worth remembering. Thanks to Planet Adventure for a good organization. And thanks for reading.