Monday, November 20, 2023

Race Report: 2023 Route 66 Marathon

On November 19, I ran the Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa, OK.  This was the fourth time I’ve run this race.  It’s a popular race among members of the 50 States Marathon Club and Marathon Maniacs.

There aren’t any direct flights from Minneapolis to Tulsa, so I had to change planes in Atlanta.  To make sure I would arrive with plenty of time, I took the first flight to Atlanta.  It’s not the first time I’ve been on a 5:25 AM flight.  Whenever I do that, I regret having to get up early enough to get to the airport on time.  On the bright side, I arrived in Tulsa just after noon,

Having done this race before, I was already familiar with the logistics.  I stayed at the downtown Doubletree, which is connected by skyway to the Cox Business Convention Center, where the expo was held.  Doubletree has an airport shuttle, so I didn’t need a car.

After checking in at Doubletree, I walked over to the convention center to pick up my race packet.  My first stop was the 50 States Marathon Club, where I got my wrist band for the VIP tent in the finish area.  It’s called Maniac Corner, and it’s only available to members of Marathon Maniacs and the 50 States Marathon Club.

Next, I got my race bib.  I had to request a change to my corral assignment.  Corrals are based on your estimated finish time.  I registered for this race so long ago, that I had no idea what shape I would be in now.  At the time, I needed a good race to break four hours.  Now, I’m consistently running times in the 3:40s.  Changing my corral assignment was easy.

I reached two big milestones at this race.  I was finishing my fourth circuit of marathons or ultras in all 50 states, and this was also my 500th lifetime marathon or ultra.  As recently as two weeks ago, I was planning to go at an easy pace and treat this race like a victory lap.  Then I looked at the elevation profile for the course.

This race used to have a hilly course, but they changed the course since the last time I ran it.  It still has some hills, but it’s not as difficult as the course I remembered.  In particular, it’s no any hillier than Baltimore or Mankato, and I was able to break 3:50 in both of those races.  I saw no reason why I couldn’t do it again on this course.

After packet pickup, I had time to do a workout in the hotel’s fitness center.  Then I explored the downtown area.  I started by walking over to the Cyrus Avery Bridge, which is the on the historic Route 66.

Next to the bridge, I saw this bronze statue.  It honors Cyrus Avery, who is considered to be the father of Route 66.  I’ve run right past this statue before, but somehow I never noticed it.

Next, I walked over to the East Village district, which is on the opposite side of downtown.  The East Village is home to several breweries.  I also found a good brick oven pizzeria there.

The race didn’t start until 8:00 AM, so I didn’t have to get up outrageously early.  I set an alarm, but I was awake before it went off.

The temperature was in the 50s.  That would’ve been ideal, but it was raining.  I left the hotel wearing a plastic rain poncho, but I didn’t know if I would need it for the whole race.  I wanted warm something to wear after the race, in case I discarded the rain poncho, so I rolled up my Tyvek jacket and stuffed it into my fanny pack.  It was a tight fit, but that worked.

The starting line was only half a mile from my hotel.  They close the start corrals five minutes before the race, so I left the hotel 20 minutes before the race, to make sure I would have plenty of time to get into my corral and find the 3:50 pace group.

When I got there, I couldn’t find the 3:50 group.  I saw a 3:55 group near the back of the corral, and I saw several other pace groups closer to the front.  I saw a 1:55 pace group for the half marathon, so I lined up next to them.  They were starting at the same pace, and we would run about 12 miles before the two races separated from each other.

I mainly needed help with pacing in the first five miles.  Miles one through five had some hills, and it would be much easier to run at the right pace if I could just stay with a group and let the pace leaders set the correct pace.

The first mile started out downhill.  On my own, I probably would’ve started too fast.  At first, I stayed behind the pace leaders.  At some point, I had to move around a slower runner, and I accidentally got in front of the pace group.  I forced myself to go at a pace that felt easy, so I wouldn’t get too far ahead of them.  I assumed they would eventually catch up to me on an uphill section.

The first time I reached an aid station, I slowed down to grab a cup of Gatorade and drink, and the pace group went by me.  It just happened that we were starting to go up  a hill.  Now that I was behind the group, I found it difficult to catch up to them going up a hill.

The same thing happened again at the next aid station.  After getting ahead of the group on a downhill section, they passed me at an aid station.  Again, we were just starting to go up a hill, and I had to work hard to keep from falling further behind.

The rain poncho caused me to get hot every time we went up a hill.  It was still raining, but I had to get rid of it.  I waited until the road leveled off.  Then I took it off and handed it to a spectator, so I wouldn’t have to just dump on the sidewalk.

By the time we had run four miles, the rain seemed like it was stopping.  It was still mostly cloudy, but I started to notice small patches of blue sky between the clouds.

The next aid station came right near the end of the fifth mile.  This time, I managed to grab a cup and drink it without slowing down.  For once, I went through an aid station without getting passed by the pace group.  That was just before starting a long downhill section.

I had studied the elevation profile before the race, so I knew mile six would be mostly downhill.  I tried to stay relaxed and not work too hard, because I didn’t want to get too far ahead of the group.  Up until now, some miles were a little too fast and others were a little too slow, but on average, we were staying pretty close to out target pace of 8:46 per mile.

About halfway through the seventh mile, we started a 10-mile stretch that was flat.  I was running a little bit ahead of the group, but I was more confident that I could stay on a consistent pace now that it was flat.  I’m much better about holding my pace when I can stick with a consistent rhythm.  I can’t do that going up and down hills.

I started to feel like I was overdressed.  Normally, with temperatures in the 50s, I would wear shorts.  Because of the rain, I opted for tights.  I was starting to wonder if I would regret that decision.  I was about to take off my gloves when it started raining again.  I kept the gloves on.  I wasn’t cold, but I was no longer in any danger of getting too hot.

For the next couple of miles, we ran on a road alongside the Arkansas River.  This section was nice and flat.  I started to see runners going the other direction on a bike path that was closer to the river.

At times, I wondered if I was running away from the pace group.  They were behind me, so I never saw them again.  Then I would hear spectators cheering them, and I would realize they were right behind me.

Between 10 and 11 miles, we turned onto the Cyrus Avery Bridge.  Now we were running on Route 66.  It was here start I started talking to another runner.  His name was Charles, and he used to live in Minneapolis.  We ran together for the next several miles.

After crossing the bridge, we did a short loop and then came back to the bridge from the other side.  This was the point where the marathon and half marathon routes diverged.

Because we were talking, neither of us noticed the sign indicating that marathon runners were supposed to keep to the left of a line of traffic cones.  Charles and I were running in the lane for the half marathon.  If wasn’t a big deal at first, but soon we came to a point where the half marathon would continue across the bridge, but the marathon turned left and went onto a pedestrian bridge instead.

There was a volunteer at this point who saw our race bibs and yelled to us to get over to the other lane and turn left.  It’s a good thing he saw us.  We would’ve continued across the bridge, which would’ve put us on the half marathon course.

The pedestrian bridge was parallel to the road bridge, but it was covered.  I had never run across this bridge before.  After crossing the bridge, we went underneath the road bridge and turned onto the same bike path where I had seen runners going this way before.

By now, Charles and I were talking to another runner who was doing his first marathon.  He was happy to discover that we were on pace for 3:50.  He was hoping to break four hours, but he wasn’t wearing a watch.  Before talking to us, he didn’t know what his pace was.

Soon I learned that Charles also had a goal of breaking four hours.  I wondered how much longer I could run with these two runners.  I might have to choose between staying with them and continuing to pace myself to break 3:50.

At the 12-mile mark, I saw that we had slowed to 8:58.  That was good, because the previous mile had been 8:30, which was too fast.  I decided to wait and see what our pace was in the next mile before making a decision about continuing to run with Charles or going ahead on my own.

Charles and I kept running together and carrying on a conversation.  After a while, I realized that the guy running his first marathon was no longer keeping up with us.  It wasn’t until we finished our next mile that I saw we were speeding up again.  The pace felt somewhat tiring, but I didn’t realize how fast it was until I saw that we ran mile 13 in 8:18.  That was faster than any previous mile.

At the halfway mark, I saw that we were more than a minute and a half ahead of schedule to be on pace for 3:50.  I could afford to relax a little in the next mile.  For now, I could keep running with Charles.

I knew it wasn’t a good idea to keep running at that pace, and I worried the pace would break Charles if he kept up with me.  As we started out next mile, we decided to back off a little.  That didn’t last long.  As we continued talking, we quickly went back to running at a pace that felt tiring.  The next mile was even faster.  It was 8:13.

We managed to back off a bit in the mile 15.  It was still a little fast, but not so fast that it felt tiring.

We were nearing the end of a long flat section of the course, but I knew a long uphill section was coming.  In the middle of the 17th mile, we would start a section that would be mostly uphill for about four miles.  It wouldn’t be steep, but it would be a long grind.  In anticipation of that section, we eased up a bit to conserve energy.

By now, the rain had stopped again.  I didn’t mind the rain.  It was just sprinkling lightly.  It wasn’t enough to make me feel cold or soaking wet.  Without the rain, I most likely would’ve been getting hot.

About halfway through mile 17, we started up a long gradual hill.  I knew we would have an uphill trend for the next four miles, so I ran with an effort that didn’t feel tiring.  We started this section with a cushion of at least two minutes, so we could afford to give back about 30 seconds per mile over the next four miles.

At first, Charles started to fall behind me.  I made a point of slowing down enough that he could keep up on the hills.  Over the next few miles, we averaged about nine minutes per mile.  We could afford that.

This is a race where spectators will set up beer stops, as well as stronger stuff.  I had seen beer stops, mimosa stops, and Jell-O shots.  I also saw spectators giving out donuts.  If I was just going at an easy pace, I would have indulged in a few of these.  Because I had a time goal that would take a good effort, I wasn’t willing to even consider an adult beverage until I was past this long uphill section.  Even then, I would have to be confident that I would have no trouble maintaining my pace.

Midway through the 19th mile, which we were going up a hill, I noticed another beer stop.  Nope.  Too soon, and certainly not on a hill.

I was thinking the uphill section ended at 20 miles.  I was off a bit.  Charles and I were about halfway through the 20th mile when we started up a long hill.  We told ourselves this was the last hill.  We were wrong.  We crested that hill and saw another one.

This next hill came in two parts.  About halfway up the hill, we would go downhill briefly to go under a bridge.  Then we would continue up the hill.  The 20 mile sign was under the bridge.

There was an aid station just before the 20 mile sign.  Charles took a little longer at that aid station, and I was afraid he would fall behind me as I started the last part of the hill.

At the 20 mile sign, I saw that we were still about 50 seconds ahead of schedule.  I continued up the hill at the same pace and hoped Charles could stay with me.

At the top of the hill, we turned a corner.  As I made the turn, I looked back for Charles.  He wasn’t too far behind me.  Looking ahead, I saw that we still had to go slightly uphill for about half a block.  I went slowly enough that Charles was able to catch up.  Then we started a long gradual downhill section.

On our right, I saw spectators offering whiskey shots.  I couldn’t do that so soon after the hill.  I needed time to recover and get us back to our previous pace.  Maybe in a mile or two, but not now.

The next mile was mostly downhill, but as we got closer to 21, we had to go uphill again.  I knew the last six miles had a downhill trend, but it wasn’t all downhill.  The 21 mile sign was right at the top of this hill.  When we got there, we were still on pace, but our cushion was only 24 seconds.

Charles fell behind me at another aid station.  We had the luxury of going a little slower over the previous four miles, but we couldn’t keep doing that.  We had to get back on our previous pace.  My legs were getting heavy, and I knew I would have to work harder now.  I put in the necessary effort and hoped that Charles could keep up.  I knew there was a good chance he would fall behind.  I enjoyed running with him, but I was determined to break 3:50.  Charles had been shooting for anything under four hours.  I couldn’t expect him to run at my pace for the whole race.

In the next mile, I sped up more than I needed to.  That mile was mostly downhill, and I sped up to 8:22.  That was about 24 seconds too fast.  I knew at that point that I wouldn’t see Charles again until the finish.

The aid stations had water and Gatorade.  Some also had gels or other food.  The next time I reached an aid station, there was a volunteer in the middle of the street with Gatorade and another volunteer was next to the table on my right.  I’m right-handed, so I prefer to take a cup with my right hand.  I went by the guy in the middle of the street and then saw that the woman by the table was filling cups with pieces of bananas and oranges.  There were cups on the table, but there were all filled with water.  Having missed my chance to get a cup of Gatorade, I just kept running.  I quickly realized that was probably a mistake.  I worked up a real sweat on that long uphill section.  I should’ve had something to drink, even if it was water.  I prefer Gatorade, so I can get some sugar, but this late in the race, that didn’t matter so much.

Mile 23 wasn’t as fast as mile 22, but it was still faster than my goal pace.  I had dropped Charles, but I was staying on a pace that would easily get me to the finish in less than 3:50.

Most of the aid stations had small cups, and they were usually only half full.  That makes it easier to grab a cup and drink without spilling.  Right at 23 miles, I reached an aid station with larger cups.  I grabbed a cup of Gatorade that was almost full.  Drinking that made up for missing the previous aid station, but I had to slow to a walk for several seconds.  A runner who had been near me for the last two miles was now almost half a block ahead of me.  I was determined to catch up to him.

The runner I was chasing was hard to catch.  I was slowly gaining ground, but he was maintaining a fast pace.  He was passing most of the other runners.  As I chased him, I also passed most of the other runners.  I finally caught him at the end of the 24th mile.  That mile was my fastest in several miles.

At this point, I knew I could just follow this runner for the rest of the race, and he would bring me in under 3:50.  Then it occurred to me that he looked like he could easily be in my age group.  Were we competing for an age group award?  I had to pass him.  Going into the last two miles, I picked up my effort even more.

I was getting close to the downtown area.  I was at least halfway through the 25th mile when I looked ahead of me and saw a bridge.  I could see that coming up to the bridge meant going up a small hill.  Then I thought the bridge looked familiar.  I started to recognize all the businesses I was passing as I approached the bridge.  I knew exactly where I was.  I had walked over this same bridge on Saturday.  I was running through the East Village.

After crossing the bridge, I turned right, and I immediately felt rain.  It felt different this time.  It was coming down in bigger drops, and I immediately felt cold.

I only ran one block in this direction before turning left.  After turning, I ran right past the pizzeria where I had dinner the night before.  As the crow flies, I was getting close to where I would finish, but there were still lots of turns.  My actual route to the finish was still well over a mile.

At the 25 mile sign, I saw that I was at least a minute ahead of schedule.  I ran mile 25 in 8:14.  That was my second fastest mile so far.

In the last mile, there’s a detour you can take to a place in downtown Tulsa called the Center of the Universe.  The Center of the Universe is a circle with interesting acoustics.  When you stand in the center and talk, you can hear your voice echo, but people standing a short distance away can barely hear you.  The detour to the Center of the Universe and back adds three tenths of a mile to the race distance.

Runners who do this detour get a souvenir coin.  In past years, you had to sign up in advance, but this year you could decide when you got there.

If I was just taking it easy, I would’ve taken the detour.  If I was on pace to break 3:50 by a wide margin, I might have taken the detour.  If I couldn’t break 3:50, but I was still on pace to break four hours by a wide margin, I would’ve taken the detour.

I was on pace to break 3:50, but I didn’t think I could afford to go three tenths of a mile out of my way.  I skipped the detour and kept running straight.

When I finally made the next turn, I saw that I was about to do downhill to go under a railroad bridge.  On the other side of the bridge, I would have to go uphill again.  Suddenly, this all looked familiar.  Other parts of the course were different, but the last few turns before the finish were the same.

I fought my way up the hill and made the next turn.  I saw a large digital clock about a block ahead of me.  It was the 25.9 mile mark.

They put that there for the benefit of people who took the Center of the Universe detour.  For them, this was the 26.2 mark.  It’s a marathon split with a timing mat.  Your time there, however, is just for your own information.  Your official time is measured at the finish line, which is still three tenths of a mile away.

As I reached this clock, I looked at my watch and realized I would break 3:50 by at least three minutes.  I actually did have time to take the detour, but I didn’t know that at the time.  That’s assuming, of course, that I didn’t slow down on the detour.  To get to the Center of the Universe, you have to go up and over a hill.  Then you turn around and go over the same hill from the other side.  That probably would’ve slowed me down.

There were still two more turns.  After the first of those turns, I went up the last little hill.  Halfway up that hill, I reached the 26 mile mark.  I ran that mile in 8:09.  That was my fastest mile of the race.

After the last turn, I could see the finish line, but there were patches of mud all over the street.  With the rain, it was getting slick.  I watched my footing carefully as I charged toward the finish line.  I got there in 3:46:48.

Shortly after crossing the line, I stopped to put on my gloves.  I also took the Tyvek jacket out of my fanny pack and put that on.  Then I started watching for Charles.  He came in about three minutes behind me.  He also broke 3:50, but just barely.

This race always has cool finisher medals.  They had special versions for people who also completed a challenge by also running other races.  Mine is their regular marathon medal.

Besides my medal, I also received a much-needed space blanket.  Then I kept moving through the finish area.

As I reached the food tent, I saw people walking away with slices of pizza.  I walked past all the other food without looking.  I just wanted a slice of pizza.

I continued to make my way through the finish area to get to Maniac Corner.  Along the way, I stopped at the beer tent.  I had coupons on my race bib for two free beers, but I could only carry one, and I didn’t want to stand there in the rain long enough to drink one.  I hurried to get to Maniac Corner, where I could sit down under a tent.

Inside the tent, they had two kinds of burritos.  One had chicken, the other had BBQ pork.  The BBQ pork burrito really hit the spot.

I wanted to stay in the tent and talk to other runners, but there was a limit to how long I could stay.  I had to walk more than a mile to get back to my hotel, and I needed to get started before I got too cold.

The walk back to the hotel was cold.  The rain eventually stopped, but the wind picked up.  It was blowing so hard that my space blanket was rattling in the wind.  Along the way, I saw another runner who looked even colder.  I asked him if he was OK.  He was really cold, but his hotel was close.  I stayed with him until I could see that his hotel only a block away.  When I knew he would get there safely, I continued to my own hotel.

When I got there, I couldn’t get my room card out of my fanny pack.  If was in a small zip-lock bag in a compartment that was hard to reach.  My hands were almost numb.  I managed to take off my fanny pack and asked someone at the front desk of the hotel if he could get my room card out for me.  Once I had it in my hand, I was able to go to my room.

I had to run warm water over my hands for a couple minutes before I could use them.  They were still white, and they felt tingly, but now I could continue getting out of my wet clothes.  I took a long hot bath.  Then, finally, my hands had color again.

Some friends from Houston were also in Tulsa for this race.  After changing into dry clothes, I met them for lunch and beers.  We spent the afternoon together trading stories about the race.  When I got back to the hotel, I didn’t feel like going back out again.  I eventually had dinner at the hotel.

I’ve gone all out for Boston-qualifying times in six of my last seven races.  I have a few weeks before my next race.  I plan to take it easy in that one.  Really.

Race statistics:
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  3:46:48  
Average Pace:  8:40 
First Half:  1:53:14
Second Half:  1:53:34
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  500
Boston Qualifiers:  159
Oklahoma Marathons:  4
Circuits of Marathons/Ultras in all 50 States:  4

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Race Report: 2023 Marshall University Marathon

On November 5, I ran the Marshall University Marathon in Huntington, WV.  This is the third time I’ve done this race.  I ran it in 2007, and I race-walked it in 2017.

All races in West Virginia have one thing in common.  It’s tough to get to them.  There isn’t a marathon in Charleston, and that’s the only city with a major airport.  To get to any of the races in West Virginia, I have to fly to a city with an airport and then drive the rest of the way.

The closest airport is in Charleston, but there aren’t any direct flights from Minneapolis to Charleston.  Two flights plus a long drive makes for a long travel day.  I could get a direct flight to either Columbus or Cincinnati, but then it’s a longer drive.

After considering flight times and the length of the drive, I chose to fly to Columbus.  That’s the same thing I did the other two times I traveled to Huntington for this race.

I took the earliest flight of the day, and I arrived in Columbus around 10:30 AM.  It was too early for lunch, so I started driving to Huntington.  The drive took two and a half hours.  I considered stopping for lunch somewhere along the way, but I decided to get to Huntington as quickly as I could.

I stayed at the Doubletree in downtown Huntington.  By the time I got there, I was getting hungry, but it was kind of late to be eating lunch.  I was planning on an early dinner, so I didn’t want to have a late lunch.  At Doubletree, they always give you a cookie when you check in.  I decided that was enough to tide me over until dinner.

After checking in, I went to New Baptist Church to pick up my race packet.  The race shirt was a hooded long-sleeve shirt.

After packet pickup, I organized my clothes for the race, and then I relaxed at the hotel long enough to charge my phone.  Then I explored the downtown area on foot.

For dinner, I went to Backyard Pizza & Raw Bar, which serves seafood and brick oven pizza.  I couldn’t resist combining the two by having a pizza with scallops and bacon.

The night before the race was also the night we sets the clocks back.  In theory, that should’ve given me a chance to get an extra hour of sleep.  In practice, it never works out that way.  When I’m staying in a hotel, I usually use the alarm clock in my room.  I didn’t know if the clock would automatically adjust for the time change or if I would need to change it manually.  Without knowing, I couldn’t trust it to wake me up at the correct time.  Instead, I had to use the alarm on my phone.

My phone’s alarm will only stay on for a limited time.  I’ve learned the hard way that if I happen to be sleeping deeply when the alarm goes off, I can sleep through it.  Without being able to trust either alarm, I found myself looking at the clock during the night (and not knowing if it was off by an hour).  If I took the extra few seconds to wake up my phone and look at its time display, I would know what time it is, but then I couldn’t get back to sleep.

I got to bed early and slept for about half the night.  After that, I couldn’t get back to sleep.  When it was time to get up, I started getting ready just like I would for any other race.  I was tired, but I knew from experience that it’s possible to have a good race after not sleeping well.

On race morning, the temperature was in the upper 40s.  I expected it to warm into the upper 50s by the time I finished.  That’s much more comfortable than the cold weather I had for my last race.

I was originally planning to drive to the start, but I would’ve needed to get there before they started blocking off the streets.  The start was only about a mile from my hotel, so I decided to walk instead.  I didn’t need to leave as early, so I could use the bathroom in my room rather than waiting in long lines in the start area.

This race has a fairly flat course, and I’ve always had good times here.  When I ran it in 2007, I finished in 3:07:59.  That still ranks as my 8th fastest marathon.  When I race-walked it in 2017, it was the first time I broke five hours walking.

My goal this year wasn’t that ambitious.  I just wanted to get another Boston qualifier.  A year ago, I wasn’t in good enough shape to break four hours, much less 3:50.  My goal then was incremental improvement.  I worked on getting a minute or two faster in each race until I was fast enough to qualify for Boston.

I qualified a few times on downhill courses last summer, but it wasn’t until October that I finally did it on a flat course.  Now my goal is to be consistent.  I’d like to run qualifying times more often than not.

This was my fifth consecutive weekend with a marathon.  In the first three, I ran times in the 3:40s.  Last weekend, I held back a little to make sure I would have enough gas in the tank for an all-out effort this weekend.

The course is a double loop.  We started in front of Joan C. Edwards Stadium.  That’s where the Marshall University football team plays its home games.

I knew they had pace groups, so I was hoping started running with the 3:50 group.  I like starting races with pace groups, because it takes the guesswork out of how fast to start.  I trust the pace leaders to set the right pace, and I’m now confident I can sustain that pace, even if it feels like it’s a little tiring.

When I lined up for the race, I saw a 3:30 group and a 4:00 group, but nothing in between.  They didn’t have a 3:50 group, so I was on my own to set the right pace in the early miles.  That shook my confidence more than the lack of sleep did.

In the first mile, I tried to remember how I felt in the first mile of some of my other recent races, where I was starting with a pace group.  I did my best to run at a pace that felt the same way.

Ahead of me, I could see two runners who were wearing 50sub4 shirts.  I wanted to catch up to them to say hello, but I already felt like I might be starting too fast.  After half a mile, I decided to ease up a little and drift back in comparison with the runners around me.

The first mile or two took us around a neighborhood east of the university.  After running east for several blocks, we turned and ran for four short blocks on a street paved with bricks.  The bricks were weathered, so they seemed more like cobblestones.  That was a little uncomfortable, but this section was slightly downhill, which made it easy to keep up my pace.  I just had to watch my footing.

I ran my first mile in 8:28.  My target pace was 8:45, so I started too fast.  As I began the second mile, I eased up again and let more runners go by me.  That lasted for a minute or two, but then I once again found myself running at the pace of the people around me.  I guess that’s appropriate, since “running with the herd” is a theme of this race.

My second mile was 8:34.  That wasn’t as fast as my first mile, but it was still too fast.  I repeated the process of easing up and letting some runners go by.  The next mile was 8:37.  It would take a few more miles for me to reach my target pace.

After running around the university, we ran through the downtown area.  Then, in the fourth mile, we briefly ran alongside the Ohio River before leaving the river to run through the west side of town.

In mile four, I slowed to 8:40.  I was getting closer to my target pace, and in the next mile I didn’t worry as much about drifting back through the pack.  I continued to run with the herd, with the result that I sped up a little in that mile.

Most of this course is flat.  The miles that were parallel to the river were especially flat.  Occasionally, we ran perpendicular to the river.  Those sections were mostly flat, but sometimes there would be a noticeable slope for about a block.

Mile six had two sections like that.  As I turned a corner and saw the first small hill of the race, I made a point of conserving energy and letting other runners go by.  I did the same thing on another small hill near the end of that mile.  My lack of effort paid off.  For the first time, I was within a second of my target pace.

As I finished that mile, I saw a large hill ahead of me.  If I wasn’t already familiar with this course, I would’ve thought we were about to run up into the hills.  Instead, we turned to run along the north edge of Kiwanis Park.  On my right, inside the park, there was a tall ridge.  The road we were on, however, was flat as we ran parallel to the ridge.

Along this road, I went back to running with the herd.  I sped up slightly, to 8:39 in each of the next two miles.

Just past the seven mile mark, we ran past the Memorial Arch.  There’s a flag hanging within the arch, and it was bathed in the warm glow of the morning sun shining over the ridge.  I was tempted to take a picture, but I had established a good rhythm, and I didn’t want to stop.

Just before eight miles, we left the road and started running along a walkway that was firmly packed dirt.  We went under a bridge and ran alongside Fourpole Creek.  Eventually, we crossed a small bridge.  The walkway on the other side of the creek was concrete.  I know some people hate concrete, but I found it to be a faster surface than the dirt walkway.

When I finished mile nine, I saw that I slowed to 9:00.  That was by far my slowest mile of the race.  It was 21 seconds slower than my previous two miles.  I was surprised, because I didn’t feel like I slowed down in that mile.  Maybe the dirt slowed me down.  Maybe I got a little too relaxed in that mile.  I didn’t know why I slowed down, but I made a concerted effort to pick up my pace in the next mile.  There was a guy in a yellow sweatshirt that had consistently been right in front of me.  Now he was half a block ahead of me.  I made a point of catching up.

In the next mile, we started making our way back toward the downtown area.  Near the end of that mile, I saw a railroad bridge.  We went down a ramp to go under the bridge, and then we had to go up a ramp on the other side.  I remembered these ramps from the last time I did this race.  It wasn’t a big deal now, but we would do this again later in the race.

In mile 10, I got my pace back to where it was before, but I had to work hard to do it.  In mile 11, I thought I was running with the same effort, but I inadvertently sped up to 8:28.  That’s as fast as I started the race.

The next part of the loop was retracing our route back to the university.  On the other side of the street, I saw the lead runner going out on his second lap.  The next runner was nowhere in sight.  I saw him eventually, but he must have been trailing by a mile already.

As we came back on the section by the river, I saw the third place runner.  As I was finishing that section, I saw a group of 8-10 runners who were together.  It was the 3:00 pace group.  There were only a few other runners ahead of them.

Mile 12 wasn’t as fast as mile 11, but it was still faster than most of my earlier miles.   I kicked it into a high gear starting with mile 10, and I wasn’t backing off yet.

In the last mile of the first half, the marathon and half marathon routes diverged.  Runners doing the half marathon went straight down 3rd Avenue toward the stadium, where they would finish.  Those of us doing the marathon turned right, ran about half a block, and then turned left onto a sidewalk that took us straight through the Marshall University campus.

We eventually emerged on 5th Street, which took us behind the stadium.  Mile 13 was 8:24, which was my fastest so far.

At the halfway point, I was easily on pace to break 3:50, and I was almost on pace for 3:46.  I could afford to slow down in the second half, but I didn’t want to do that.  I often have a secondary goal of running negative splits.  I was pushing harder in miles 10-13, and I didn’t think I could sustain that effort for 13 more miles.  Still, I had to try.  I wasn’t just going to “phone it in” in the second half of the race.

With the half marathon runners gone, there weren’t as many runners around me.  I could no longer run with the herd.  There was only one runner right in front of me.  The other runners I could see were at least a block away.  I chose to follow this runner.  As it turns out, she was running much stronger than anyone else around.  It took an effort to keep up with her.

We were running around the neighborhood east of the university, but this time we were running it in the opposite direction.  When we turned onto the street paved with bricks, we were running it in the uphill direction.  I struggled to maintain my pace here, and another runner passed me.  It was the first time I had noticed someone passing me since the end of the ninth mile.

After turning onto 3rd Street, we had smooth pavement, and I was able to pick up my pace again.  I passed the guy who had recently passed me.  Then I caught up to the woman who was setting a fast pace.  I ran mile 14 in 8:26.  I had just run my two fastest miles of the race, and I wasn’t slowing down.

Most of the runners ahead of us were starting to slow down.  The woman I was following kept passing all the other runners.  I kept pace with her, so I was passing them too.

I kept pace with her for two more miles.  I ran those miles in 8:28 and 8:26.  With 10 miles to go, running negative splits was sounding much more likely.

As we left the section by the river, I reached a narrow section of the sidewalk.  There was two-way traffic on this section, so I made a concerted effort to get around a slower runner, to avoid getting boxed in.  That’s when I inadvertently got ahead of the woman I had been following.  In the next mile, I sped away from her.

Now I had to set the pace on my own.  I couldn’t follow any of the runners ahead of me.  They all seemed to be slowing down.  I didn’t trust any of them to hold a consistent pace.  I had to keep putting in the same effort on my own.  I slowed down in that mile, but only by a few seconds.  It was still faster than 8:30.

In the next mile, I picked up my pace again.  Then I reached mile 19, which was essentially a repeat of mile 6.  This mile had two brief uphill sections.  The first time I ran them, I made a point of conserving energy.  This time, I didn’t.  I ran 20 seconds faster.

With 7.2 miles to go, the remaining distance seemed manageable.  I had been pushing hard for 10 miles now, but it seemed plausible that I could keep it up.  What I really needed was someone to set the pace for me.

As I turned to start running past Kiwanis Park again, I saw what looked like a pace group way off in the distance.  There were at least three runners together.  Two of them had green shirts that looked like the shirts pace leaders wore.  Another was wearing a black shirt, but was carrying a sign.  I was too far away to read it.

If it was a pace group, it must be a 3:45 group.  I never saw a 3:45 group before the race, but the start area was crowded.  My own pace had to be pretty close to that.  Regardless of their target pace, they were the first runners I had seen in a few miles who weren’t slowing down.

I worked even harder now.  Just keeping up with these runners would’ve taken effort, but I was trying to close a large gap.  They were about a quarter mile ahead of me.  Even with my best effort, it would take time to catch them.

In mile 20, I sped up to 8:16.  I could tell I was gaining ground on the group I was chasing, but they were still pretty far ahead of me.  I still couldn’t read the sign or the writing on the T-shirts.

In mile 21, I went even faster.  I ran that one in 8:14, but I couldn’t tell if I was any closer to the group.  I still didn’t know for sure that they were a pace group.  I kept chasing and hoped that I could keep up this effort for five more miles.

As I started mile 22, I realized it was essentially the same as mile nine.  That was the mile where I slowed down before.  I still didn’t know if that mile was tougher than the others or if I just had a lapse in concentration.

As I started that mile, I had just moved onto the dirt path.  This mile had some turns and some undulations.  It was easy to believe that this mile just wasn’t as easy as all the others.  This time there wouldn’t be any lapses in concentration.  I was focused on catching the three runners I was chasing.

I was finally close enough to read the writing on the back of the green T-shirts: “MUM Pace Team.”  I still wasn’t close enough to read the sign.

By the end of that mile, I finally made out what the sign said.  It was 3:45.

I ran mile 22 in 8:27.  That wasn’t as fast as the previous few miles, but it wasn’t as slow as I ran the same mile the first time around.

In the next mile, I caught up to the pace group, and I started talking to them.  One of them asked me if this was my first marathon.  I said I’ve run “several.”  Then I told them exactly how many.

We ran together for a while, but then they noticed that they were getting ahead of schedule.  One of them told me to go ahead.  I was reluctant at first.  I had finally found someone to run with.  Then it occurred to me that their target pace was 8:33, and my last 10 miles had all been faster than that.  I would have to slow down to stay with them.

I was coming to the railroad bridge.  Just ahead of me, I saw one of the 50sub4 runners I had seen in the first mile.  After running down the ramp on one side, I focused on catching up to her coming up the ramp on the other side.

As we started talking, I learned that her goal was 3:55.  We were ahead of the 3:45 group, so she was obviously crushing that goal.  I also learned that she’s working on BQs in all 50 states.  We ran together as far as the next aid station.  Then she needed to take a walking break, so I went ahead on my own.

In that mile, I sped up to 8:15.  I had just over three miles to go.  After two more turns, I would be back on 3rd Avenue, heading into downtown.

After turning onto 3rd Avenue, I saw a runner still going out on her second lap.  I was almost to 24, so she had roughly 11 miles to go.  I wondered if she was on pace to beat the time limit.  Then I saw another runner behind her … and another … and another.  There were actually several more.

I kept pressing hard.  In mile 24, I sped up to 8:12.  That was my fastest mile so far.  Mile 25 was more difficult.  There were several turns, and an uphill section that I didn’t notice the first time.  I tried to take it fast, but I slowed to 8:23 in that mile.

I was expecting the last mile to be the same as the last mile of the half marathon course, but it wasn’t.  Where the half marathon goes straight down 3rd Avenue, the marathon route turns to go through the university again.  As I turned onto the sidewalk that takes us through the heart of campus, a volunteer offered to hand me something.  I initially thought she was offering me water, and I didn’t want to stop for any.  It was only as I was running by that I realized she was holding a flower.

There’s a fountain that’s a memorial to the 37 players and coaches who died in a plane crash 53 years ago.  I think she was offering me a flower to leave at the fountain as I ran by.

I was pouring it on at this point.  Our route through the university took us past several small flower gardens.  Going around each one was like a small roundabout.  After the last one, I could hear the finish line announcer inside the stadium.

I came out to the street that’s right next to the parking lot for the stadium.  After turning left on that street and running for about half a block, I turned right onto 3rd Avenue.  Then I ran past the front of the stadium to enter at the northeast corner.

When I finished mile 26, I saw that I ran that mile in 8:00.  It’s been a long time since I’ve run a mile that fast that wasn’t either downhill or part of a 5K race.

All through that mile, I wondered if I was going to have anything left for the finish inside the stadium.  I wanted to finish strong, because it’s a dramatic finish.

I ran down a short ramp to reach the corner of the football field, where a volunteer handed me a football.  Running with a football is optional.  The first time I ran this race, I skipped that part, but this year I wanted the full experience.

I ran down the sideline carrying the football for about 80 yards.  Then I turned to run to the middle of the field before turning again.  The last 80 yards is running to the goal line, which is also the finish line.  Here’s a view looking back from the end zone.

I finished in 3:42:11.  That’s my fastest marathon this year.  It was even faster than the Mt. Nebo Marathon, which was mostly downhill.  I ran negative splits by more than four minutes.  If you told me at the halfway mark that I was going to run the second half four minutes faster, I never would’ve believed it.

The finisher medal has designs on both sides.  The front depicts the head of a buffalo, which is the Marshall University mascot.  The back talks about the Memorial Fountain.

Just outside the stadium, they had post-race food, which included hamburgers, hot dogs, chili, chips, and a few other things.  I had a chili dog and then started walking back to the hotel.

After washing up and changing into dry clothes, I went back to Backyard Pizza & Raw Bar.  On Sundays, they’re only open for brunch, and their brunch menu includes a pizza I with bacon, scrambled eggs, cheese, and a crust drizzled with maple syrup.

I have another tradition besides post-race pizza.  When I get a BQ, I celebrate with BQ.  I already had pizza for lunch, so for dinner, I went to the Marshall Hall of Fame CafĂ©, and I had a BBQ ribs & salmon combo.

My goal before this race was simply getting another BQ.  Instead, I did that incremental improvement thing.  Next week, I’m finally resting.  In my next two races, I’ll be taking it easy.  My last race of the year is on a downhill course.  That will be my next all-out effort.

The race is over, but I still have to travel home.  Tomorrow, I’ll be getting up early for the drive back to Columbus.  I need to return my rental car by 10:30 AM, and it’s a long drive.

Race statistics:
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  3:42:11
Average Pace:  8:28 per mile
First Half:  1:53:12
Second Half:  1:48:59
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  499
West Virginia Marathons:  4
Boston Qualifiers:  158

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Race Report: 2023 Mill Town Marathon

On October 29, I ran the Mill Town Marathon in Dundas, MN.  This is a small marathon that’s only been held once before.  The race was first held in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic.  At the time, larger races were all being cancelled, so a group of runners created their own route, got the course certified, and organized their own race.  They had to keep it small, so it was limited to 25 runners in the marathon and 25 runners in the half marathon.

I first heard about the race while I was doing the Running Ragged 20 in 20 Series.  On one of the last days of the series, another runner form Minnesota asked me if I was doing Dundas.  I didn’t know at first what he was talking about.  I try to do every Minnesota marathon at least once, so I normally would’ve been interested.  Unfortunately, I had accumulated enough aches and pain while running 20 marathons in 20 days, that I needed to take a break.

I couldn’t remember the name of the race, and I never heard of it again until this year.  After the Twin Cities Marathon was cancelled, the same runners who organized this race in 2020 decided to hold it again.  It’s still a relatively small race, but this year they were able to accommodate 100 total runners between the marathon and the half marathon.

As luck would have it, the race fell on one of the few weekends that I didn’t already have a race scheduled.  I had three reasons for wanting to do this race.  First, I do every Minnesota marathon, and this was one I had never done.  Second, I was hoping to run my 500th marathon or ultra at the Route 66 Marathon in November.  To make that possible, I squeezed three additional races into a schedule that was already busy.  When the Twin Cities Marathon was cancelled, I was no longer on schedule to reach that milestone in November.  This race allowed me to get back on schedule.  Finally, I’m hoping to do my 100th Minnesota marathon or ultra sometime next year.  When the Twin Cities Marathon was cancelled, I lost a Minnesota race.  This race made up for it.

Lately, I’ve been pushing myself pretty hard in my races.  To recover from races quickly enough to race on consecutive weekends, I typically have to hold back a little.  In all of my recent races, I’ve pushed right to my limit.  For this race, I decided to stay closer to my comfort zone.

When I signed up for this race, I had no idea how cold it would be.  Overnight, the temperature dropped into the mid-20s.  We were expecting a small amount of snow overnight, but thankfully the snow stayed farther south.  We had dry roads for the drive to Dundas and a dry course for the race.

I’ve done training runs in colder conditions, but this was one of the coldest marathons I’ve done.  Figuring out what to wear is tricky when you’re going to be running in cold temperatures for four hours.  If you’re even slightly underdressed, you’ll get progressively colder during the race.  If you’re even slightly overdressed, you’ll start to get hot and sweaty.

I typically wear tights in cold conditions, but today I wore a pair of tight-fitting sweatpants that are easily twice as warm.  On top, I wore three layers.  My outer layer was a Tyvek jacket that I kept unzipped, so it wouldn’t cover the race bib pinned to the shirt underneath.  I also wore two layers on my hands, a winter hat, and ski goggles.

Deb and I drove to Dundas together, arriving about an hour before the race started.  Deb volunteered to fill in wherever they needed help.  She started out by helping with runner check-in.  Later, she helped with post-race food and door prizes.  In between, she tended the bonfire in the start/finish area.

After picking up my race bib, I waited in the car until it was time to make a port-o-potty stop.  I got there just before it got busy.  Then I did my best to keep warm near the bonfire during pre-race announcements.

The course was a 6.55 mile loop that we ran four times.  We started at Memorial Park in Dundas, ran along the east bank of the Cannon River, crossed the river in Northfield, and then come back on the west side of the river before crossing the river again in Dundas.

When the race started, I was surprised how cold my legs were.  I had to go slow at first, because my legs just wouldn’t respond.  After the first turn, I forced myself into a rapid stride to try to warm up my legs.

We were on city streets for about four blocks.  Then we turned onto a paved trail for the next three miles.

My goggles kept the top half of my face warm, but they limited my peripheral vision.  I was running alongside the river for almost a mile before I noticed how close it was.

We didn’t have any snow, but there were lots of fallen leaves.  Most of the trail was visible, but there were a few spots where the leaves had settled, and we had to crunch through about two inches of dry leaves.

For the first two miles, I was averaging about 8:50 per mile.  That’s faster than I intended to start, but that was just to get my legs warmed up.  Starting with the third mile, I was warming up enough that I could ease up a bit.  I was still running faster than I do in most of my training runs, but it was significantly slower than the pace of my last few marathons.  I wanted to run fast enough to stay warm, but not so fast that the effort would leave me drained.

I started to drift back from the pack of runners I had been following earlier.  Now, other runners were gradually passing me.

There were four aid stations per lap, including the one in the start/finish area.  The first time I reached an aid station, I decided to skip it.  My goggles covered the top of my face, but my mouth and cheeks were cold.  I couldn’t imagine trying to drink.  I wasn’t sweating yet, so I could afford to wait.

As we reached the northern end of the loop, we crossed the river on a pedestrian bridge that had a smooth concrete surface.  Then we got back onto city streets and ran past a Kwik Trip convenience store.  Outside the store, there was another aid station.

I knew I had to drink at some of the aid stations, so this time I stopped to grab a cup of Gatorade.  I was expecting it to be ice cold, but it was room temperature.  That was a pleasant surprise.  Other runners enjoyed that too.  Nobody wanted to drink anything too cold at this point in the race.

I settled into a pattern of drinking at every other aid station.  I needed to take in some fluids, but I didn’t need as much as I would in warmer conditions.  Drinking twice per lap seemed about right.

Coming back on the west side of the river, we were initially on a sidewalk, as we ran through the southern edge of Northfield.  Ahead of me, I could see a factory for Post cereal.  I look at the smokestacks at the top of the building to see which way the wind was blowing.  It was blowing toward me.  It wasn’t a strong wind, but I knew I wasn’t likely to warm up on this side of the river.

When the sidewalk ended, we moved to the shoulder of a highway.  This highway was busy, but we had a nice wide shoulder.

Next, we turned onto a road that wasn’t as busy, but it also didn’t have much of a shoulder.  Here, there were traffic cones near the edge of the road.  Some of the cones were only a foot from the edge of the pavement, so we had to run right on the white line.  It was awkward at times.

We eventually turned off the road and onto a paved trail that ran parallel to the road.  We were still going into the wind, but we had more room to run without having to worry about traffic.

I didn’t notice what my pace was in miles four and five, but by the fifth mile I had settled into a pace between 9:30 and 9:45.  I would stay in that range for most of the race.

My favorite part of the course was where we turned to cross some railroad tracks and then ran through some woods.  On this section, we were sheltered from the wind.

Before getting back to Memorial Park, we had to run a few blocks on city streets in Dundas.  We had to cross one somewhat busy street, but there were course marshals to help us get across safely.

Across the river from Memorial Park, there’s another small park called Mill Park.  We ran through Mill Park and then crossed another pedestrian bridge over the Cannon River to get back into Memorial Park.

The surface of this bridge was wood, but some of the wood planks had a glittery appearance.  There was frost on the bridge, and the morning sun was at a low enough angle that it reflected off the ice crystals.

As I finished my first lap, Deb was right there.  I drank a cup of Gatorade, told Deb I was doing OK, and started my second lap.

I knew by now that I would have the wind at my back in the first half of each lap, but I would have to run into it in the second half.  For the next three miles, I felt fairly comfortable, with one exception.  I felt like I was going to need a bathroom stop.

There’s a building with bathrooms in Memorial Park, but the water was shut off for the season, so pipes wouldn’t freeze.  There were port-o-potties in the park, but they were a distance away from the course.  The Kwik Trip next to the second aid station has bathrooms, but going into the building would also be out of the way.

I was almost to the north end of the loop when I noticed a port-o-potty in a small park next to the course.  I was considering stopping there when the runner in front of me left the trail to head to the port-o-potty.  There was only one, and I wasn’t inclined to wait, so I held on for another lap.

After passing the aid station by Kwik Trip, I started to notice an aroma like someone was baking cookies.  I didn’t think much of it at the time.  I just kept running.

By now, we were getting spread out enough on the course that I couldn’t always see the next runner in front of me.  Instead of just following the crowd, I had to pay attention to where the turns were.  That turned out to be pretty easy.  There weren’t many turns, and they were well-marked with red chalk arrows.  I was looking for the arrows during my first lap, even though I didn’t need to.  This time around, I already knew the turns, but I still looked for the arrows.

At halfway, I was on pace to finish in 4:10.  I didn’t have a time goal in mind, but that seemed reasonable.

Some of the runners were doing a half marathon, so they were done after the second lap.  I wondered if the field would thin out as I started my third lap.  It thinned out a little, but not that much.  More often than not, I could still see at least one runner ahead of me.

I was planning to stop when I got back to the port-o-potty that was right next to the course.  In anticipation, I started to speed up when I was still almost two miles away.  During those two miles, I passed two runners.

When I emerged from the port-o-potty, I saw a runner coming.  I initially assumed this was simply one of the runners behind me, and he caught up while I was in the port-o-potty.  Then I saw there was a volunteer leading him on a bicycle.  This was the lead runner.  I was still in my third lap, but he was in his final lap.

I had expected to slow down after my bathroom stop, because it took me out of my rhythm.  Ordinarily, after stopping for a minute or two, I settle into a slower pace.  Instead, following a faster runner caused to me go a little faster than before.

After crossing the pedestrian bridge in Northfield, I gradually settled back into my previous pace.  I stopped to drink at the aid station near the Kwik Trip.  Then I noticed the cookie aroma again.  It was stronger now, and it seemed more like brownies.

I always noticed this aroma when I was downwind from the Post cereal factory.  They must have been making a chocolate flavored cereal.  I made a mental note that I would need to have a brownie after the race.  In the meantime, I still had to run about 10 miles.

The two runners I passed earlier in this lap were now ahead of me again.  They passed me while I was in the port-o-potty.  By the end of this lap, I passed them both again.  Then, as I was running through Mill Park, a runner passed me.

As she went by, she said something to encourage me.  She was going fast, and I wondered if she was finishing the half marathon.  Then I realized that anyone doing the half marathon would’ve been done by now.  By the time I got to the bridge, I heard them announcing her finish.  It was the lead woman in the marathon, and she was already finishing her last lap.  She set a new course record.

When I crossed the bridge, I could still see frost, but it no longer had a glittery appearance.  The sun was higher in the sky now.

As I finished my third lap, I noticed my time.  My time for the third lap was about the same as my time for the second lap, even though I had a bathroom stop.

Deb saw me finish that lap and asked me if I was OK.  I told her I was, but I realized I was starting to get warm.  I knew I would feel much warmer in the first half of my last lap.  Instead of having a headwind, I would have a tailwind.  If I kept my jacket on, I would have to slow way down to keep from getting too hot.

I decided to take off my jacket and tie it around my wait as I started my last lap.  Normally, I can do that without slowing down.  With gloves and shell mittens on my hands, it wasn’t as easy.  It was tough to get one sleeve off.  The other sleeve came off easier, but I accidentally turned it inside out.  To fix my sleeve and tie my jacket around my waist, I had to briefly slow to a walk.  Then I noticed that my watch band was coming loose.  That was also tough to fix with mittens.  I had to slow down again to fix my watch.

There was one intersection on this side of the river where they had course marshals.  When I got there, I already had my jacket tied around my waist, but I was still trying to tuck one of the sleeves to make sure it wouldn’t be flopping around loose.

One of the volunteers asked me if I wanted to drop my jacket there.  Before the race, we were told we could drop off clothes after any lap, and they would keep them at the finish line for us.  I have no doubt this volunteer would’ve brought my jacket back to the finish line, but I opted to keep it with me.

Once I had my jacket squared away, I picked up my pace.  For now, I was warm enough, but I had the wind at my back.  Later, I would have a headwind again.  I had to commit to running a fast enough pace to stay warm without the jacket.

I started to see more runners ahead of me.  I was catching up to people.  The first person I passed in that lap wasn’t going very fast.  Then it occurred to me that this was still her third lap.  I was starting to catch up to people who were at the back of the race.

I passed several people on that lap, including a couple of local runners I know.  Some were still on their third lap, but others were harder to catch, so I knew they were runners who were on the same lap as me.

A couple miles into the lap, I reached an aid station that I had previously gone by without stopping.  On this lap, I slowed down long enough to take a drink.  It was several degrees warmer than it was at the start of the race, so I started drinking at all the aid stations.

When I reached the second half of the loop, I noticed the brownie smell again.  I also noticed the wind.  I wondered if I could run negative splits if I pushed hard for the last few miles.  My second and third laps were each a few minutes slower than my first lap.  To run negative splits, this lap would have to be faster than my first lap.

I wasn’t paying attention to my recent mile times, so I didn’t know how fast I started this lap.  I only knew that the first mile was slow because I was struggling to get my jacket and watch squared away.

I picked up my effort as much as I could, but the wind was stronger now.  For the next two miles, I was looking forward to the place where I would enter the woods and get out of the wind.

The last time I looked at my watch, I was already past 23 miles.  I thought I must be getting close to 24, so I looked at my watch again.  It was already reading 24.11.  Somehow, I never noticed when my watch recorded a split for 24.

I kept running.  When I thought I was getting close to 25 miles, I looked at my watch again.  I was already at 25.07.  I missed another split.  Grr.

I had no idea if I was on pace for negative splits, but I committed to that as a goal.  I was trying to take the rest of this lap as fast as I could.

I finally reached the section of trail that was sheltered from the wind.  My recollection was that it was about a mile long, but I realized now that it couldn’t be more than a half mile.  I enjoyed it while I could.

After that, I just had a few blocks on city streets, then through Mill Park and across the bridge for the last time.

I crossed the bridge and ran to the balloons surrounding the finish line.  I got there in 4:08:39.  I ran negative splits by roughly a minute.

This was a small race that was organized quickly, so I expected it to be low frills.  I wasn’t expecting a finisher medal, but they had them.

They also had many of the other things you would expect from a larger race, including chip timing, and post-race snacks.  The results were available online before we drove home.  They had enough volunteers for aid stations and traffic control.  Also, the bonfire in the start/finish area was nice.

I hope this race becomes an annual event.  It’s a nice little race.  Talking to Deb after the race, I learned that many of the other runners felt the same way.

Race statistics:
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  4:08:39
Average Pace:  9:29 per mile
First Half:  2:04:49
Second Half:  2:03:50
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  498
Minnesota Marathons/Ultras:  95