Sunday, September 02, 2012

Race Report: North Country Run--Trail Marathon

ORN:  Saturday, August 25, 2012:  26.2 miles, trail, 5:41:52, 13:03, R/W 3/1

Quick Summary:

Does this make me a Real Trail Runner?  Camping out the night before? Enjoying single-track, in sand?  Running in 85+ degree heat plus humidity?  Falling twice and banging up my knee?  Eating boiled potatoes whenever I can find them?

This race had all of this and I enjoyed the challenge, despite the heat.

A reasonable level of details:

The North Country Run is a combined half marathon/ marathon/ 50 mile ultra in the  Manistee National Forest in the north part of lower Michigan.  It's a six-hour drive north of my home and I decided to go all in and actually camp the night before.  The race organizers connected us with an open field a mile from the start line where we could set up a tent for free.  This was useful, if not only for the amazement factor within my family.  We're not fact the last time I went camping was on an ill-fated adventure during our honeymoon in 1975.

From Running-General
But camp I did, borrowing this tent from a coworker and I actually slept.  The lullaby of owls hooting in the forest set me to sleep and I awoke at 5am to a spectacular display of the Milky Way across the dark sky, 18 miles from the nearest light bulb.  

The morning went comfortably, getting easily to the start site in plenty of time for the obligatory Marathon Maniac photo op.

From Running-General
The course was really the plus of this race.  We did 1.2 miles on the road to stretch out the field a bit and then the rest of the day was on narrow single track.  There was a lot of variety in the woods, various species and layouts of trees through which we could wind.  The course was also deceptively hilly...challenging but not overpowering.

From Running-General

I had my first fall around mile 9...simply caught a tree root with my toe and, on my way to the ground, I laughed, thinking of the famous quote by Howard Cosell "Down goes Fraizer!"  No damage from this tumble...I spotted a soft LZ and rolled with it.  

The bag drop at the half-way point of the 25 mile loop worked well, with the  usual menagerie of bags and containers for both marathoners and 50 milers.

From Running-General
The organizers transported our bags with care and I easily found my recycled newspaper bag holding a humble banana, baggie of trail mix and dry towel ...a nice treat nearly 3 hours into the race.  

The weather last Saturday became the main race-day issue from this point on.  While the start temps in the mid-60s were manageable, the day really heated up quickly.  By the mid point, the temp was near 80 and when I finished, it was pushing 90, hard.  There was nothing to do but slow down, stay hydrated and keep moving.  Which I tried to do.  I carried my 3/1 run/walk ratio through the entire race and that worked fine.  

The fly in the ointment for this race came at the last of the 8 aid stations, 2+ miles from the end.  My water bottles were empty, I was looking forward to the refill and dumping some water on my head.  Alas, when I got there, the apologetic volunteers had to explain they had no water.  None.  They were dry.  Wowzers.  What to do??  I looked at the nice fruit on the table and loaded up on cantaloupe and blueberries, knowing I'd get some fluid from those.  But it was hot and I really needed to soak my head and they had no means for that to happen.  

So, as we do in any race, we keep going.  Relentless Forward Progress.  

It was tough to the end, no bones about it.  We had one more big hill.  I had my second fall of the day, this time less humorous than the first.  Both calves cramped up when I hit the deck and I scraped my right knee nicely.  But, as so often is the case, the quicker I got running, the better everything felt.  

Wonderfully, though, the most wonderful treat of the day happened just a bit later.  My Garmin told me I had just passed mile 25, so I was mentally laying out the effort for the last 1.2 miles.  I then saw a guy walking back up the trail looking for his girlfriend and I asked him just how far it was to the finish.  "Just around the corner" he said.  Yeah, right, I've heard that before.  Seriously, dude, how far is it?  "Really," he said, pausing to calibrate his distance, "it can't be more than a quarter mile.  Just past that curve and you are at the parking lot."  He was right.  In a few seconds, I could see through the trees I was indeed almost done...not a mile to go as I had thought but only a couple hundred meters.  Awesome.  

Only then did I flip my watch from the timer mode to the stopwatch mode.  In my mind, I really thought this would be a six hour marathon.  But, no, the watch said 5:40 and I was amazed.  I ran hard to the finish line, feeling pretty good and marathon #30 was in the books.  

It was so hot, I didn't hang around long.  I found some fluids, some to ingest, more to dump on my head and felt better as I cooled off.  I quickly hitched a ride rather than walk the mile back to my camp site where I had left my car and posed for one more photo before rolling up the tent and heading south.

From Running-General
Yes, the medal really was that big.  It weighed a full pound and was easily 7" in diameter.  An exercise in size over style, but, hey, that's what they gave us.  (If you'd like to see all the photos I took, click here and use the arrows to see the full set)

Post-race I had several thoughts.  The weather clearly had impact.  When I saw the final results and noticed I finished 4th of 9 in my age group, I knew the day had been slow...I never finish in the top half of my AG.  

I also realized I had made three crucial errors which got in the way of a strong performance on a hot day, to wit:
  • Shirt. Ego.  I like being part of Marathon Maniacs.  So I wanted to wear my shirt.  But the MM shirt is a heavier tech shirt than others I have, plus it has sleeves.  I would have been way better off with one of the very light fabric, white, sleeveless shirts I own.  But ego took over.  Gotta deal with that.  
  • Keeping Cool.  In two hot races now this summer, I have waited too long to start dousing my head with cold water.  I only started in this race at mile 17 or so.  I should have started earlier.  
  • Fluids. While I drank a lot of fluids with electrolytes early in the race, I found I didn't listen to my thirst all that well from roughly miles 12 to 16.  That had impact later on. 
One of the things I really appreciate about marathoning is that I never, ever, stop learning things.  It is good to stay humble...we truly never do know it all.  

The fall race schedule is now set up and will be fun.  Next marathon for me is Wineglass on Sept 30 in Corning, New York.  The finish line is two blocks from my youngest sister's house.  If I don't make her mad between now and then, I suspect she'll even let me sleep inside on a real bed, rather than setting up my tent in her front yard.  Then a first for me...another marathon one week later, this time a small event called the Chicago Marathon with 45,000 of my closest friends.  Two flat road marathons in one will that go?  Then, I'll run the Chicamunga Battlefield Marathon in Tennessee with long-time pals Darrell and Wes on November 10.  I have two trail marathon/ultra options here in Indiana in December, will go to California to run Carlsbad Marathon on January 20, then likely an indoor marathon on February 23 in northern Indiana.  Yeah, I like to plan.  

And I like to run.