Saturday, February 28, 2015

February Scorecard

I ran four races in February.  Two were relatively flat road races where I could gun for a fast time.  The other two were trail races where the difficulty of the terrain made it challenging just to finish.  That diversity makes it difficult judge how I did by any objective criteria.  In some ways, I feel better about the slow races than I do about the fast ones.

I started the month on a good note.  On February 1st, I ran the Surf City Marathon in 3:25:54.  That helped restore my confidence after a disappointing time a week earlier in the Rock N Roll New Orleans Marathon.

On the 6th, I traveled to Texas to do the Rocky 50, a 50 mile trail run.  This was a chance to go out of my comfort zone, which was one of my goals for 2015.  I demonstrated my ineptitude on trails by tripping on roots dozens of times and falling six times.  All six times I avoided injury.  The important thing is that I always got up and started running again.  I finished in 9:44:36.  While that’s not particularly fast for 50 miles, this one was all about getting some experience on trails.

On February 15th, I went out of my comfort zone again running the Rogue/Yeti Heartbreaker Marathon.  This was another trail race.  I went into it not knowing exactly what to expect.  Parts were similar to the Rocky 50.  Parts were more runnable.  Parts were more technical.  In this race, I fell five times.  I didn’t have any injuries, but one time I got turned around and started running the wrong way.  I eventually finished in 4:27.  That’s much slower than my road race times, but on this course it was a respectable time.  The important things were that I finished, and I got more experience on trails.

My last race of the month was the Shelby Forest Loop Marathon on the 22nd.  The setting was another heavily wooded state park, but the terrain was a return to my comfort zone.  It was a short, relatively flat road loop that we ran 13 times.  My goal was to break 3:30, but I just wasn’t feeling it.  After battling mental demons for most of the race, I finished in 3:26:51.  I was happy with my time but concerned about how hard I had to work for it.

I’m happy with the two trail races.  I wasn’t fast, but I challenged myself to confront one of my weaknesses.  In the long run, these races will make me a better runner.

The best way I can describe my feelings about the two road races is to say I’m relieved.  They were both fast courses, so expect to break 3:30.  I did that, but it’s getting more difficult.  Breaking 3:30 is no longer something I can take for granted, even on a fast course.

If I have a regret about my February races, it’s that I lost an opportunity.  I love writing race reports, but I wish I had carried a camera during the trail races, so I could take pictures along the route.  I don’t generally carry a camera during road races, because I don’t want to lose any time.  That wasn’t really a concern in these two races.  I wasn’t going to be fast anyway.  At the Rocky 50, I had a camera in my drop bag.  I didn’t bring it with me on the first loop, because we were starting in the dark.  After falling three times on the first loop, I was afraid to carry a camera on the remaining two loops, because I was afraid of breaking it.

At the Rogue/Yeti Heartbreaker Marathon, I accidentally left my camera at the hotel.  D’oh!  That race was an adventure.  The terrain kept changing, and there were a few obstacles I didn’t expect.  I wish I had photos, so I could share what the course looked like. 

My training showed some improvement in February.  Last December, my training runs diminished both in quantity and quality.  In January, I started rebuilding my mileage, but most of my runs were much slower than my usual training pace.  I rarely trained at my marathon race pace.  When I did, it felt way too fast.  I also wasn’t up to doing hills.

This month, the quality started returning to my workouts.  I was running at race pace at least half of the time, but still not as much as I used to.  I also started doing some hill work.  I started with gentle grades.  By the end of the month, I was doing long steep hills at once a week.

As for mileage, after running only 205 miles in January, I improved to 254 in February.  That’s down from last fall, but it’s the most miles I’ve ever run in February.  From here, I’d like to build my mileage gradually. My goal is to increase my mileage by about a mile a week, while continuing to improve the quality of my workouts.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Shelby Forest Loop Marathon

On February 22, I ran the Shelby Forest Loop Marathon in Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park in Tennessee.  This is another case where I had never heard of the race before, but I was searching far and wide for a race I could do without spending an arm and a leg on travel expenses.  The park is near Memphis.  Not only was I able to get a good airfare to Memphis, but it was a non-stop flight.

The race website described the course as a road loop, but I wasn’t assuming it would be easy.  I’ve done some “road” courses that were rugged and hilly, and I’ve done some “trail” courses that were paved and flat.  I mentally prepared myself for something difficult.  After entering the race and booking the trip, I became preoccupied with other races.  Over time, I forgot that the website said “road loop.” I remembered that the race was inside a state park, and it has “forest” in the name.  I started to assume it was a trail race.  I think I even told a few friends I was doing another trail race this weekend.

A few days before the race, I took another look at the website and saw more detail about the course.  Not only was it paved, but it was a fairly flat loop.  It was also USATF certified.  That meant I could qualify for Boston here.  I had to get into a completely different mindset.  For the first time in three weeks, I was running a course that was conducive to running a fast time.  I set a goal of breaking 3:30, the Boston-qualifying time for my age group.

There aren’t as many non-stop flights from Minneapolis to Memphis as there used to be.  The earliest arrival I could get was 5:30 PM.  Packet pickup wasn’t until the morning of the race, but I still like to arrive earlier than that.

I didn’t want to drive too far to get to a hotel.  The hotels closest to the race were actually the downtown hotels.  I would have loved to stay downtown and go to a restaurant on Beale Street, but the downtown hotels were too expensive.  On top of a higher room rate, I would need to pay $22 a day for parking.

I opted instead to stay at the Hilton Memphis, which is on the opposite side of town.  It’s right on the I-240 loop, so I could get there from the airport in 15 minutes.  I normally think of Hiltons as expensive, but this location was surprisingly affordable.  I also didn’t have to pay for parking.

I got to the hotel around 6:15.  After checking in, my next priority was dinner.  Going to one of the downtown restaurants would have meant driving a long distance, finding parking, walking a few blocks and then trying to find a place where I could get seated without a reservation.  It had been raining off and on, so I opted to eat at the hotel restaurant instead.  They had a sandwich called The King, with peanut butter, bananas, and Nutella.  I don’t know if Elvis ever had sandwiches with Nutella, but it worked for me.

Packet pickup started at 7:15, with the race starting at 8:00.  The drive time was about 45 minutes, so I got up early and left the hotel around 6:30.

The rain tapered off during the night, but the temperature dropped into the low 30s.  It was going to be another cold start.  I fly to southern states for winter races, but apparently I’m not flying far enough south.  I need to find more races on tropical islands.

According to the hourly forecast, it was going to be in the upper 30s for the whole race.  That didn’t sound too bad until I noticed that we were also going to have 15 MPH winds, making it feel like 20.  I once again had to bundle up.  I wore tights, a long sleeved polypro shirt with a T-shirt over it, and two pairs of gloves.

The “loop” we were running was more of an out-and-back, with short loops at each end.  Each circuit was just over two miles, with aid stations at either end.  We ran this 13 times.  Because it was a multiple loop course, I didn’t expect mile markers.  I wore a watch with GPS, so I could check my pace.

This was a small race, with about two dozen participants.  About a third of them were Marathon Maniacs, and we posed for a group photo about five minutes before the start.

When we started running, two guys went out fast.  The faster runner was a 15 year old boy who was aiming to breaking the Tennessee state record.  The other runner wasn’t quite as fast, but he still left the rest of us in the dust.  I set my own pace, with a goal of averaging just under eight minutes per mile.  At first, there was a group of runners right behind me.  After about a mile, we thinned out.  After that, I was running by myself.

The road we were running on is no longer used by vehicular traffic.  Most of it looked like this.

There were a few sections where patches of moss were growing on the road.  There were also sections where the road was still damp from overnight rain.  I could tell that the traction was poor in a few spots, so I watched my footing.

I ran the first mile in 7:48.  That was in the outbound direction.  Coming back, I maintained about the same effort, but my time for the second mile was a disappointing 8:03.

Over time, I noticed that my times going out were consistently faster than my times coming back.  The road was relatively flat, but it wasn’t perfectly flat.  I suspect there was a slight downhill trend going out and a slight uphill trend coming back.  I also noticed the wind more when we were coming back.  We were partially sheltered by the trees, but it was probably a tailwind going out and a headwind coming back.

Going out, my mile times were consistently under eight minutes.  The fastest was 7:38, and the slowest was around 7:52.  Coming back, I was sometimes under eight minutes, but more often, I was in the 8:00 to 8:10 range.  One time, I was 8:15.  Overall, I seemed to be running fast enough, but I seldom looked at my overall time.

Even with all the layers I was wearing, I often felt cold.  My hands were especially cold.  I didn’t see the need to drink every mile, so I always skipping the aid station at the far end of the course.  At the aid station in the start/finish area, I usually had a small cup of Gatorade.

Before the halfway mark, I was already feeling like the pace might be unsustainable.  I felt like I was working much too hard to stay on pace.  In the first half of a race, the pace should feel somewhat comfortable.

According to my Garmin, I reached the halfway mark in 3:43:11.  I had been slowly accumulating a little bit of a cushion.  Sometimes crossing the halfway mark can give you a confidence boost.  Knowing the remaining distance is less than what you’ve already done makes it seem more manageable.  I didn’t feel that way today.  I still had half a marathon to go, and I already felt like I was fighting to stay on pace.

It’s not just that the pace felt too tiring.  I also was lacking motivation.  I thought there was maybe a 50-50 chance I could sustain the pace, but I would have to fight like mad.  I didn’t feel like fighting.  I wanted to slack off in the second half and just finish the race.

I knew if I slacked off, even for just a mile or two, I would have trouble picking up the pace again.  I also couldn’t afford to give too much time back.  I had a small cushion, but it would disappear quickly if I started running casually.

I had to take it one mile at a time.  On the inbound half of the loop, I told myself I had to fight hard to keep from losing too much time.  If I ran something like 8:07, I then told myself I had to work hard to make it up on the outbound leg of the next lap.  If I was 7:45 going out, I’d feel relieved that I was still on pace.  That’s how it went.  One mile at a time.

I have a real fixation with breaking 3:30.  I was overjoyed when I broke 3:30 in Marathon Bahamas.  I was crushed when I couldn’t do it at Rock N Roll New Orleans.  I was relieved when I was able to do it at Surf City.

If pushing hard in the second half would make the difference between the low 3:20s and the high 3:20s, I would have settled for high 3:20s.  If it would have made the difference between low 3:30s and high 3:30s, I would have settled for high 3:30s. I might have even settled for 3:40s or 3:50s.  I look at 3:30 differently.  It’s the dividing line between my good races and my disappointing races.

I started to get the sense that I was physically capable of breaking 3:30, but I was having a psychological lapse.  I didn’t bring my “A” game today.  I wanted to phone it in, but I knew I’d hate myself if I did.

I kept gaining time on my outbound miles and losing time on my inbound miles.  Overall, I seemed to be gaining time.  Physically, it got more difficult as I got further into the race.  Psychologically, it got easier as there were fewer remaining miles.  At 21 miles, I checked my overall time.  I now had a cushion of almost three minutes.  With only 5.2 miles to go, that was significant.  I could actually afford to slack off a little, but I was careful not to let up.

As I was starting my 11th lap, the leader was finishing.  He finished in 2:45.  He got the record he was shooting for.  As I started my 12th lap, the next runner was finishing.  I was still in third place, but the lead woman was only four or five minutes behind me.  If I slacked off now, I could probably still break 3:30, but I might lose my hold on third place.  That gave me a little extra motivation.

Going into the last lap, I knew I had it, but I didn’t let up.  In my last two laps, I broke eight minutes in each direction.  I fought hard all the way and finished in 3:26:51.  I’m happy with that time.  I’m especially happy that I was able to overcome all the negative thoughts in my head.  I fought hard on a day when I wanted to give up.

Because it’s a small race, there weren’t any awards other than the finisher medals.  That’s fine.  To me, the result was more important than an award.

We also received gloves and bottle openers when we picked up our race numbers.  A few of the other runners were wearing their gloves during the race.

After finishing, I stayed to have some post-race snacks and see the lead woman finish.  She set a new course record.  Then I got too cold, so I had to drive back to Hilton.

By the time I got cleaned up and dressed, it was already mid-afternoon.  I didn’t eat any breakfast, and my only lunch was the post-race snacks.  I was too hungry to wait for dinner.  I had a coupon for a free appetizer at the hotel restaurant or lounge.  It turned out one of the appetizers was grilled flatbread pizza.  That worked for me.

I don’t know if I’ll be driving downtown for dinner.  I may have wrecked my appetite with the pizza.

I’m pleased that I fought so hard to break 3:30 today.  I’m not pleased that I needed to fight so hard.  Increasingly, I’m finding that 3:30 is something I have to work for.  A few years ago, my best races were under 3:10 and my solid races were under 3:15.  Even on a bad day, I would beat 3:30.  Now breaking 3:15 seems like an impossible dream.

I worry that age is finally catching up to me.  In my late 40s, I was able to keep from slowing down.  I actually ran strongest when I was 49.  Since then, I continually find myself wishing I could run the same times that I ran the year before.  Each year is slower than the previous year.  At first, I blamed injuries that disrupted my training.  Now I’m beginning to wonder.  Maybe this aging thing is real.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Treadmill Workout: Cowie's Hill and Field's Hill

I believe in specificity of training.  I try to include workouts that prepare me for the specific challenges I’m going to face in a race.  For example, if I’m preparing for a race that’s likely to be hot, I’ll do some of my runs at the hottest time of the day.

I do most races on the strength of my current fitness.  When you race every weekend, you can’t train for each one.  Instead, I focus on a few races that I know will challenge me.  I call these my “A” races.  One of my “A” races for this year is the Comrades Marathon.

Comrades is an 87 kilometer ultramarathon in South Africa.  It’s a point-to-point race that changes direction each year.  This year is called an “up” year, because its run in the direction that has an uphill trend.  Here’s the elevation profile for the “up” course.

Comrades has rolling hills throughout the course, but most of them aren't that big.  The hills that are big enough to get your attention have names.

I’m most concerned about the first 37 kilometers.  Besides including three of the named hills, it also has a net gain of about 700 meters.  That’s an average grade of about two percent.

Today I did a treadmill workout that should help prepare me for this part of the course.  Because my workout was only 10 miles, I ran it at a faster pace than I’ll run on race day.

I generally start slow and give myself about a mile to get up to pace.  I do that on a level grade.  By the end of the first mile, I was running at 7.5 mph.  That’s an 8:00 pace.  I like to do workouts at this pace or slightly faster, because that’s my marathon pace.

Once I was up to pace, I started gradually increasing the incline while maintaining the same pace.  Over the next few miles, I increased the grade in ½ percent increments until it was two percent.  This simulates the miles between the big hills.  It’s not very steep, but it’s still slightly uphill.

The first named hill is Cowie’s Hill.  It’s 2.1 milometers (1.3 miles) long with an average grade of 4.8 percent.  I simulated Cowie’s Hill on the treadmill.  I couldn’t remember this off the top of my head, so I took a guess.  I ran the next 1.25 miles at a 5.5 percent grade.  I backed the speed down to 7.0 mph (8:34 pace).  That’s still much faster than I’ll during the race.

After about half a mile, it started getting tough.  In the race, I’ll go at an easier pace, and I may take a few short walking breaks.  In my workouts, I’ll take it faster, much like doing speed work on a track.  The next three quarters of a mile seemed to take forever.  When I reached the “top,” I set the include down to zero, but set the speed back up to 7.5 mph.

In the race, there will be a short downgrade, but then the course starts climbing again.  Instead, I gave myself about a half mile of level grade, but then gradually nudged it back up.  By the time I reached Field’s Hill, I was already on a two percent grade.  I was still going 7.5 mph, so my legs were getting fatigued.

Field’s Hill is 3.2 kilometers (2.0 miles), with an average grade of 5.8 percent.  It’s actually the steep part of a much longer hill.  Again, I couldn’t remember the numbers exactly, but I took my best guess.  I ran the next two miles at a 5.0 percent grade, with the speed set to 7.0 mph.

At first it was a relief to decrease the speed.  Then the grade began to wear on me.  After half a mile, I was already asking myself how much of the hill I had left.  After that, the remaining 1.5 miles seemed to pass quicker.  It was tiring, but I got used to it.  With a quarter mile to go, I tried to imagine that I could see the top of the hill.  In reality, there no top.  The road levels off briefly and then starts uphill again.  I'll worry about that section another day.

After my simulated Field’s hill, I only had a half mile left to finish my 10 mile workout.  I set the grade back to zero, but once again increased my speed to 7.5 mph.  Besides training for Comrades, I’m continually training for road marathons.  I like to run at my marathon race pace or faster as much as I can.

One workout isn’t going to prepare me for Comrades, but it's a start.  My hope is that if I continue to sprinkle workouts like this into my training, I’ll be able to handle the real hills on race day.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Rogue/Yeti Heartbreaker Marathon

On February 15th, I ran the Rogue/Yeti Heartbreaker Marathon in Lithia Springs, GA.  This was a trail race in Sweetwater Creek State Park, which was co-sponsored by the Rogue Runners and the Yeti Trail Runners.  I think the name Heartbreaker was related to the race being held on the weekend of Valentine’s Day.  There was also a Sweetheart Half Marathon on Saturday.

I got busy with other things toward the end of 2014, so I waited longer than usual before planning my race schedule for February and March.  When I started looking for races I could do this weekend, I kept finding that the airfares were too expensive.  Then I discovered this race.  Lithia Springs is in the greater Atlanta area, and I was able to get a reasonable airfare on a flight to Atlanta.

I stayed at the Hampton Inn in Lithia Springs.  By chance, I’ve stayed in Lithia Springs before.  Two years ago, I stayed there when I ran the Silver Comet Marathon in nearby Mableton.  I already knew where some of the hotels and restaurants were, and I knew how to get there from the airport.

I had dinner at Cracker Barrel.  While I was in line to pay my bill, the guy behind me asked me if I was doing the Yeti Marathon.  That surprised me since it’s a small race, I’m from out of town, and we had never met.  He must have noticed my Marathon Maniacs jacket.  He’s also a Marathon Maniac.  Then I found out he’s from Huntsville, AL, and we both did the Rocket City Marathon in December.  It’s a small world.

Earlier in the week, as I was making my packing list, I checked the weather forecast and saw that it was going to get down to 22 degrees on the morning of the race.  I’m glad I checked, because that’s unusually cold for Atlanta.  With 15 MPH winds, it was going to feel like 5 degrees at the start of the race.  I didn’t know how much the forecast might change, so I packed a variety of warm clothes.

I didn’t get much sleep Friday night, so I got to bed as early as I could on Saturday.  The race started at 8:00, but packet pickup started at 7:00.  I wanted to get there on the early side, because I didn’t know if the parking lot would fill.  Saturday night was another rough night.  It took me hours to get to sleep.  Then I slept in dribs and drabs, seldom sleeping for more than 10 minutes at a time.

When I got up, it was 31 degrees.  That’s warmer than I expected, but the temperature was still dropping.  I made a few last minute adjustments to my race clothes, but I still dressed in layers.  I had two layers on my legs and three on my upper body.  My outermost layer was a lightweight disposable jacket that I could tie around my waist if I got too warm.  To keep my hands warm enough, I wore two pairs of gloves.

When I got to the park, it was 27 degrees, but it felt much colder when I got out of the car.  The wind seemed to go right through me.  We had use of the park’s group shelter.  It was a large building with tables and chairs, a kitchen, bathrooms and a fireplace.  It was nice to be able to wait indoors for the race to start.

In addition to a T-shirt, we all got hats.  I thought that was pretty good for a small race.  While I was waiting, I bumped into Graham, the Marathon Maniac that I met at Cracker Barrel.  He also did the Sweetwater Half Marathon on Saturday.

The course was out-and-back with a fully stocked aid station at the turnaround and a smaller self-service aid station that we would pass twice.  The smaller aid station doesn’t have cups, so I needed to bring a bottle.  I didn’t know how well I could carry a hand-held bottle wearing two pairs of gloves, so I opted to use a belt.

I didn’t know if water or sports drinks would freeze, so I filled my bottle with hot cocoa before leaving the hotel.  By the time the race started, it was no longer hot, but it was still warm.  I didn’t need to drink a lot on such a cold day, so I planned to ration my 22 oz. of hot cocoa over the first half of the race, and then refill with sports drink at the halfway mark.

I regret that I don’t have any pictures of the trails.  I considered carrying a camera, but it would have been difficult to use it wearing two pairs of gloves.  I was also afraid that I might break it if I fell.  I’ll do my best to describe the course.

The race started on a road that was down a hill from the group shelter.  After a little over half a mile, we got onto the trails.  The first mile had a downhill trend.  I got off to a fast start, running that mile in 8:20.

Before long, we were on a trail that followed the shore of Sweetwater Creek.  Then we turned onto another trail that took us through the middle of the park.  The early miles reminded me of the trails I ran on last weekend at the Rocky 50.  There were frequent undulations but no steep hills.  I had to watch for roots, but I was able to step over them.

Now that we were on trails, my pace gradually slowed.  There weren’t any mile markers, so I wore a Garmin watch.  Aside from checking my pace, that let me know how far I had run.  Every two miles, I drank a few squirts of hot cocoa.  It felt good to drink something warm.

After about four miles, the trail descended toward the river.  A few of the roots formed steps, and I had to slow down so I wouldn’t trip.  Near the river, there was a rocky patch.  We had to step up and over a few boulders.  That section forced me to slow to a walk.  Next there was a boardwalk that included steps.  At first it was just a few steps.  After a short landing, there was a whole flight of steps leading down to the water’s edge.

That section slowed me down.  I was no longer close to the runners ahead of me.  As I reached a more runnable section of the trail, I tried to catch up.  The trail was well-marked, but it was easier to see my way if I could follow the runners ahead of me.

More runnable is a relative term. There were still a few roots.  As I tried to keep sight of the runners up ahead, I took my eyes off the trail.  I tripped on a root and fell.  I didn’t get hurt, but it took the wind out of my sails.  When I got up, I wasn’t running as fast.  I lost sight of the runners ahead of me.

Now I had to pay close attention to the trail markers.  Within the park, we were on a blazed trail, but we would soon be crossing private land, where the path was less obvious.  The trail was marked with pink flagging that had black polka dots.  Where the trail was straight, the markers were sparse.  At the pre-race briefing, we were advised that if we see two of those markers close together if means, “shit’s about to happen.”  For example, we might be making a sharp turn onto another trail.

Most of the time, it was obvious where the trail was, but I didn’t want to risk getting lost.  I didn’t have a map or my phone, and it was cold.

At one point, the trail looked like it was going to reach a dead end at a river.  There was no way to get across, and the trail didn’t seem to turn to follow the river.  Then I looked back and saw a trail marker I had missed.  The trail turned and ran parallel to the river.

At another point, there was a fork in the trail.  I could see pink flagging leading to the left, but there was also pink flagging straight ahead.  Another runner who caught up to me observed that only the flagging to our left had the black polka dots.

A few times I got close enough to a group of runners ahead of me to see them in the distance.  Usually that meant they reached some obstacle that briefly slowed them down.

One such obstacle was a stream crossing.  I could see the other runners as they reached the other side.  When I got to the same spot, I saw why it slowed them down.  There was no bridge, log or obvious way across.  The stream had a narrow spot, but it was still too wide to step across.  I tried to step across to a rock, but my legs weren’t quite long enough.  I had to put one foot in the water.  I held onto a branch, so I wouldn’t fall in.  I pulled myself up the bank and picked up the trail on the other side.

As we approached the self-service aid station, there was a section where we ran through a clearing where there were gas lines.  There was a series of steep hills.  Some of them were too steep to run.  The aid station was at a corner where we turned right.  I still had enough hot cocoa to make it to the halfway mark, so I didn’t need to stop and refill.  The aid station was still helpful, because it caused me to notice the turn.

The next time I saw the group of runners ahead of me, I was running alongside a small ravine.  I saw runners on the opposite side running parallel to me.  Did I miss a turn?  No.  I saw the next trail marker ahead of me.  The trail went around the ravine and did a few switchbacks.

A short time later, I tripped and fell again.  This part of the trails was covered with leaves, so you couldn’t see every rock or root.  I tumbled as I fell and was quickly on my feet again.  I couldn’t tell which direction I was facing.  I looked around until I spotted some trail markers.  Then I continued running.

One of my shoes felt loose, so I stopped to retie it.  I had to take off both pairs of gloves.  As long as I was stopping, I tightened both shoes.  I was warming up, so I put one pair of gloves in my fanny pack.  I pulled on the other pair of gloves as I resumed running.

I didn’t get far before I saw a runner coming from the opposite direction.  I was only seven miles into the race, so it was too soon for it to be one of the leaders coming back.  As he got closer, he confirmed that I was going the wrong way.  I didn’t realize it because we were deep in the woods and I lost my sense of direction when I fell.  The trail looked different in this direction, so I didn’t recognize anything.

I’m not sure how far I ran in the wrong direction, but it was probably no more than a quarter mile.  After that, I didn’t bother checking my pace.  This run wasn’t going to be fast.

For miles, I had been mostly running by myself.  Now I was slowing down and a few other runners passed me.  The trail wasn’t well-defined here.  You had to follow the trail markers to know which way to go.

We eventually came out of the woods and ran alongside a highway.  I could see one of the runners who passed me.  He occasionally looked back.  We went a fair distance before seeing any trail markers, so he probably wanted to know if he was the only one running that way.  Eventually, I saw a trail marker and knew we were going the right way.

After about a mile, we left the highway and turned onto an unpaved road which eventually took us through a heron habitat.  At first, we were running across grass. Then we reached a long section with deep ruts.  Evidently it had been muddy recently, and the mud had since dried.  The surface was uneven.  I had to lift my feet high with each step.  I found this section tiring.

Alongside the trail, there were branches with sharp twigs.  Some of them caught my sleeves.  At one point my left sleeve ripped.  I was glad I was wearing something cheap for my outer layer, so I didn’t tear the shirt underneath.  When my Garmin read 12 miles, I finished the last of my hot cocoa.

We ran one last section through the woods before reaching the turnaround.  As I was rounding a sharp corner, my feet slipped in some leaves, and I fell for a third time.  I was at the base of a steep hill, and the runners ahead of me were walking the hill.  As I got up, I started walking too.

We left the woods and I could see the aid station.  I was curious to know how far I had actually gone, since I ran some “bonus mileage” when I was briefly going the wrong way.  When I looked at my Garmin, the numbers didn’t make sense.  On my most recent fall, I must have accidently changed the display.  I was also wearing a simpler running watch that just displayed my time.  That was a backup in case my Garmin didn’t have enough battery life.

I recognized my friend Jan, who was volunteering at the aid station.  While Jan filled my bottle with Powerade, I ate some solid food.  They also had tequila at this aid station.  Before the race, I had joked that I should put some tequila in my bottle, so it wouldn’t freeze.  It wasn’t actually THAT cold, but I did have a shot of tequila before heading back.  They were keeping track of how many runners had tequila.  I was the third, so far.

I ran the first half in 2:11.  It surprised me that I was still on pace for 4:22, which is an average pace of 10 minutes per mile.  Without know how far I had run, I had no way of knowing my pace.  I decided to take a drink every 20 minutes as a way of approximating two miles.

After a brief foray through the woods, I was once again on the bumpy dirt and grass road through the heron rookery.  I once again found this section tiring, but it was familiar.  In general, it was nice having a good idea what to expect as I gradually made my way back to the start.

I didn’t get through that section without having a few more encounters with small branches.  This time, I ripped the sleeve on my right arm.

When we returned to the section along the highway, I tried to get my Garmin to display the distance again.  I cycled through various displays, but none of them looked right.  Shortly after returning to the woods, I heard my watch beep.  It was reading my split for the 16th mile.  Somehow, I put it in a mode that displayed the distance, but the time display still didn’t make sense.  I went back to drinking every two miles.

I would have two more falls before eventually making it back to the state park. One time, I tripped on a small rock that was covered with leaves.

Recognizing some of the terrain helped me to manage my effort.  It also helped that there were more runners near me on the return trip.  I didn’t need to worry about getting lost in the woods by myself.

There was a long steep climb to get to the self-service aid station.  I was working up a sweat, so I took off the disposable jacket and tied it around my waist.  I didn’t know if I had enough Powerade for the last six and a half miles, so I topped off my bottle with some water.

After another mile, I reached the stream crossing again.  I saw a different way to get across.  This time, my other foot got wet.  I now had two wet shoes and two ripped sleeves.  At least I was symmetrical.

Before long, we returned to the state park, where the trails were well-defined.  I eagerly awaited the section with the steps and boulders.  I didn’t actually like that section, but I knew it was the last major obstacle.  After that, the last four miles would be runnable.

When I got to those last four miles, I did my best to push the pace.  I was tired, but the trail became more and more runnable.  Eventually, I reached the section of paved road that we had started on.  Unfortunately, it was mostly uphill coming back.  It had been a long time since I last checked my time.  I was pretty sure I wouldn’t break 4:22, but I was curious to know if I could still break 4:30.  I looked at my watch.  It read 3:14:01.  I looked again.  It still read 3:14:01.  I must have stopped it on one of my falls.

I finished as best as I could.  When I reached the point where we started, I discovered that the finish was right outside the group shelter.  I still had to run a short trail up a steep hill.  I had to ask what my time was.  They were recording times manually. They had a large digital clock at the timekeeper’s table that only displayed hours and minutes.  I finished in 4:27.  The finisher medals were made of wood, with twine in place of a ribbon.

It took a while to catch my breath after running up that hill.  I had a seat inside the shelter.  When I caught my breath, I got some post-race food.  They had pizza, craft beer, hot soup and cupcakes.  I think I enjoyed the soup more than the pizza.

I stayed at the shelter for about two hours, eating and talking with other runners.  I saw my friends Halbert and Heather, who brought a cake for Loren Starr.  Loren is also a Marathon Maniac.  He reached the Titanium level at this race.  It was his 52nd marathon in 52 weeks.  When he finished, we had a group photo with a few of the other Marathon Maniacs who were at this race.

I chose this race because the travel costs were more affordable than the other races this weekend.  It turned out to be a good opportunity to go out of my comfort zone and run on trails for the second straight week.  I still suck at trail running, but there’s only one way to get better.  This was good practice.  It was also fun.

Last weekend, I scraped the outside of my knee on one of my falls.  It didn’t hurt, but there was a small scab.  After getting back to the hotel, I noticed the scab was missing.  It got torn off during this race.  Sure enough, there was a bloody spot on the inside of my tights.  It’s good that I had two layers on my legs or I might have had some new scrapes.

I have another trail marathon next weekend.  I need to get better at picking up my feet.