I went out for a morning jog of 5-8 miles on Saturday, November 12. And stumbled into a Half Marathon. And went sub 2 hours. Go figure...go read.
The Gory Details:
Earlier this fall, our oldest son and his wife invited my wife and me to join them for a couple of nights at a cabin in the woods in southern Indiana. They had rented it earlier in the year and wanted some time with just the four of us. How cool when your adult kids make such an offer!!
|David, Susan, Gretchen, Joe|
David and Susan both had the Friday off, so they picked up Gretchen mid morning Friday. They hiked around the very large and beautiful Brown County State Park near the cabin. I had a very full day so drove down after work. It's a little over a 2 hour drive...I arrived at the cabin a bit before 8, driving the whole way in the dark. I was tired and glad to be off the road.
While the three of them were out for dinner on Friday, Susan had noticed a flyer announcing a Half Marathon on Saturday morning. Was I interested? she asked. Not really; I'm so tired and I ran a full marathon last weekend and I'd really just like to not rush around in the morning. Besides, she didn't recall any details, like where or when the race was happening. We had no cell signal out in the woods; so I couldn't look it up. I hoped to get in 5-8 miles sometime on Saturday but wasn't concerned just when or where.
Wonderfully, I slept like a rock and gradually woke up around 7:30 on Saturday. G and I chatted a bit, sleepily, as we came to the surface under warm covers. She decided to get up around 8:00 and encouraged me to get up and run. We both had noted the road to the cabin was narrow with no shoulder and quite a bit of traffic...not a good place to run. So, she suggested I drive over to the State Park to run trails. This sounded good, so I pried myself out of the warmth of the covers and got out the door at 8:20 ish.
The car thermometer said it was 29F as I drove but it was sunny, not windy and looked to be a beautiful mid-November day. I drove to park entrance, showed them our annual Indiana Parks pass and headed in.
Just inside the entrance, to my surprise, I saw some "Parking" signs, directing cars to a big flat grassy field. I saw a couple of folks in shorts on this cold morning. It all looked familiar. I pulled into the designated parking area, got out of the car to investigate when I heard a loudspeaker in the distance saying "Three! Two! One! Go!!!!!" Hmmmm, I say to myself, this might be the race Susan mentioned but I still didn't see anything. Then a guy came running to a car near me carrying what looked a lot like a race t shirt and I asked "Did a race just start?" "Yeah, just a minute ago!" and he took off.
Hmmmm again. Shoot, let's check this out, I quickly decided, still not seeing anything but finding the situation quite familiar. It was so chilly, I pulled on an extra long sleeve shirt and started jogging towards the sound, on the other side of a small hill.
Once cresting the hill, there was a familiar sight. Streamers and cones along a park road, a small arch with a "Start/Finish" sign on it, several folks standing around. I decided I had nothing to lose, so turned on my Garmin, reset my Timex watch to zero and ran towards the start/finish line like I knew what I was doing. Mind you, I had no bib, had not registered, didn't even know when the start time was or if this was the same race Susan had seen advertised. I just started running.
As I approached the start line, I could see the tail end of the pack going up the first, steep hill and around a curve. So, I just kept going, didn't ask permission, hit the start button on both watches as I crossed the starting mats and chuckled "Hey, I'm in a race! I wonder how long it is??!!" No one standing around said a thing and I didn't pause to ask!!
I quickly caught the tail end walkers and chatted with them as I passed. The race experience is so familiar! As I worked past the walkers, I started catching the slower runners; all of us plodding up a very steep hill. Several were wearing the race T shirt, called "The Hilly Half". This confirmed I had stumbled onto the race Susan mentioned. Appropriately named, the first mile was straight up a very steep hill. Eventually, I saw the "Mile One" marker and was still passing folks.
But then, I started seeing faster, younger runners coming back at me. OK, I say to myself, this must be an out and back course! So, I won't get lost. But why do I see folks returning already?
Soon, I saw a big cone on the middle of the park road with a sign "5K Turnaround". Oh, I'm starting to get it. This is a 5K...and it might be part of the HM, maybe?? So, when I got to the volunteer at the turnaround, I just asked her. "Hi! I got a late start...how do I follow the Half Marathon route?" She smiled and said "Oh, the half marathon, you're fine, just keep running straight!" Good...settled the fact this was indeed a HM. And there was a steady series of orange cones on the park road, so I just kept going, still mostly uphill.
In another half mile or so, I caught more walkers. Ah, OK, this is the tail end of the HM, I say, the organizers sent them off first, makes sense. Again, I'm chatting with them as I pass, enjoying the spectacular fall morning. In a mile or so, though, I saw more runners coming back at me. Wow, I say to myself doing some math, these guys must be really fast if I'm at the tail of the HM but seeing the leaders coming back. It didn't really make much sense, but, hey, I was warm in bed just an hour ago, so I didn't worry much.
Well, wouldn't you know it, I kept passing people but a bit past the 3 mile marker, there was ANOTHER cone in the middle of the road with the sign "10K Turnaround". Oy!! They had a 10K and a 5K and a HM, all going on at the same time! So, once more I check with the volunteer at the cone and she's very friendly and tells me "Oh, you're fine, just keep on running that way for the Half!" What a hoot.
Well....leaving the 10K ers behind at mile 3.1, I'm now TOTALLY by myself. No one is around. The cones are still in the road and I know where I am, so, at worst, I can turn around and get back to my car. But there are no runners anywhere in sight. So, I just keep running. It's flatter by now, on a ridge line with spectacular views in the clear fall morning. I'm doing around 8:50 miles and feeling fine, not using walk breaks.
I came around a bend in the road and saw another volunteer directing traffic. He seemed a bit alarmed to see me and asked "Are you running the Half Marathon?" I had settled on my explanation for the day and gave it; "Yes, but I got a late start." He looked concerned. "Well, buddy, the sag wagon has already passed here, they were behind the slowest runner, they weren't expecting you." I replied "Hey, I'm sorry! But I can take care of myself, so don't worry about me!" and kept running. Not sure quite what he thought of that. I just kept rolling.
Integrity still had to rule, despite the spontaneity of it all. I had not paid for the race, didn't have a bib, the organizers had no coverage for me on a liability basis. So I didn't take any water from the correctly placed water tables and tried to just be positive and not a pain. I hadn't had any fluids at all, in fact, since dinner the night before. So, how will this go?? I sure felt good so far.
Around mile 5.5, I came over a rise and, happily, saw the aforementioned sag wagon. Two guys driving an ATV were puttzing along behind some walkers. OK, finally this MUST be the back of the HM pack. I caught the sag wagon, slowed and talked to the driver as I jogged next to him, telling him my "late start" story. He thought that was funny and wondered if I was going to keep passing people. Told him I hoped to and just wanted to have fun on a gorgeous morning. More chatting, more fun. So, after a couple of miles totally alone, I was back with people and started passing them once more. I also saw the leaders heading back, so it all made sense.
About this time, I saw a photographer. Later, the organizers published pix free on FB. I really like that about small races. Smiling, still in my heavy top layer...
A bit after this, I heard a guy yell "Joe Ely, what are you doing here??!!" It was my chiropractor!! He's a runner too and I had seen him earlier in the week, but we didn't mention this race. I just passed him quickly and yelled, "It's a long story, Doug, but I didn't exactly plan this!" He laughed and headed back. Even two hours from home, I see someone I know.
The course looped a bit on the far end to get the distance right and I just kept running, with a pace just above and just below 9:00/ mile. I was just running by feel, enjoying it. I felt fine. I walked up the steepest portions of the uphills but otherwise ran continuously. The entire course was on park roads, so it was a road race, not a trail race.
The trip back to the start was fun...I steadily passed people all the way. At one point, I pulled alongside a couple of runners and asked "Hey, I got started late, what time did the half actually start?" Turns out it began at 8:30am. I was a full 30 minutes late across the start line. Really made me laugh.
Did I mention the day was beautiful?? It was and the temps gradually warmed. I stashed my top shirt layer well before the turnaround and picked it up on the way back, tying it around my waist. And still didn't take any water. Glad it was so cool. And was still enjoying myself.
Around mile 10 or so, I still felt good and I began to wonder, shoot, what might my finish time be?? With a 5K to go, I started doing math for the first time. I knew the first two miles, steep uphills, were well over 10 minutes each, and I didn't feel like I was running hard, so figured I get done in 2:05 to 2:08, which seemed a good morning workout. But, by the time I got to mile 11, I looked at my watch, did some further math, and realized I had an outside shot at a sub 2 hour HM. It all depended on what I could make up doing down the final 2 miles. I know, from experience, the downs never wipe out the ups, though.
I just ran and kept enjoying it, chatting and laughing with folks.
Mile 12 appeared quite quickly, it seemed. Apparently, the race had advertised the final mile as "The Beer Mile". A local microbrewery was handing out small cups of brew right at the Mile 12 marker. Another smart aleck remark hit me. I said to the guy standing there; "I don't always drink beer..." and he laughed and finished my sentence for me "...but when I do, it's at the 12 mile mark of a half marathon!"
Still laughing, I looked at my watch; 1:50 and change. Oh my, I thought, this is crazy, can I pound this final mile point one and go sub 2? Shoot, the whole morning had been crazy, let's give it a go.
Running fast downhill is not as easy at it seems, as you know. But I tried to let it all loose. I got to the mile 13 sign at 1:58:15 or so, but I still couldn't see the finish line, such were the trees, curves and hills. But I let it fly, came around a curve, saw the finish and gave the best sprint I could. I knew I had no chip, so had to hit my watch to get a time. I crossed, looked down and had it in 1:59:42. What an amazing thing!
Waiting for me there was Dr. Doug, my chiropractor. "What on earth is this story?" he asked in amazement. I caught my breath and told him. We had a great laugh. He had driven down from Lafayette just for this run...I had stayed in bed until 8:15. What a contrast.
Later, I looked at the race results, to see how I might have fared. Overall, I would have been 83rd of 206 finishers. In Men 60-69, I would have been 5th of 14 (and only one minute away from 3rd...shouldn't have talked so much along the way!!).
So, there you go, the oddest and perhaps the fun-est HM I may ever do. Broke all the rules; no fluids, no carbs, no stretching, no warm up, too chatty, no registration.
Persevere. You never know what might happen.