Monday, September 17, 2007

My Destination

And I
I've taken so long, I know
Never had so far to go
It's not where you can be, it's what you can see
That takes you there
Your destination
Boston, "My Destination" from the Third Stage album

(So are you enjoying all the cheesy lyrical references in the last few posts? I know I am!)

Now you know where my head was at the night before the race. Surprisingly, I slept pretty well. Perhaps there was some solace in the fact that a little bit of weight was lifted off my shoulders regarding my job situation? Things will hopefully be looking brighter, and now I could just focus on running.

So, let us (finally!) talk about running!

On the morning of the race, the temperature was...GOOD GRIEF, 35 degrees and frost, with a strong southwest wind? Brrrrr! I was hoping it would be cool, but perhaps not that cool! This was creating a bit of a wardrobe conundrum for me, because it was supposed to warm up as the day went on, but I did not want to overdress, either. I ended up wearing shorts, a long-sleeved technical shirt with a light top over that, my running gloves, and a cap.

The race start was at 9 AM on the track at the Walker-Hackensack-Akeley High School. Milling around before the start, I would have to say I didn’t feel terribly nervous. Sure, there were some butterflies, but I didn’t feel any sort of panic, like “Oh my gosh, I have to go 26.2 miles today!” I just kept telling myself to treat it like a long training run!

Also, an added bonus was that my parents were making a day trip to come over an watch the race, They wanted to see me finish my first marathon. But because they were coming from so far away, they would not be there for the start. However, that would certainly give me a reason to make it to the finish!

After the US and Canadian National anthems (we are getting close to the border up here after all!), the starter’s pistol was fired. After a lap around the track, we hit the streets for our adventure.

Starting from the school, we went downhill, wound our way through downtown Walker, and eventually headed south down State Highway 34, which was mostly uphill and into the wind. (In literary circles, they call this “foreshadowing,” by the way!)

Eventually at around the 5 mile mark, we turned off onto a dirt road. I popped a gel at the aid station and downed some Gatorade (my plan was to take a gel at every 5 miles or so). Here is where the course started getting very scenic. The road twisted and turned, also going up and down, and was surrounded by beautiful forests. And, on at least three occasions that I remember, I saw runners emerging from those forests like a hibernating bear. (Obviously, unplanned bathroom breaks!)

The real fun started when we crossed the Shingobee River and hit the North Country Trail shortly after the 7 mile mark. This was a well-maintained hiking trail, wide enough for two runners to run side by side, that was consistently going up and down. Nothing too technical, but there were some rocks and roots to look out for. It was here between the 8 and 10 mile marks that I felt I had some of my best running of the day. Perhaps it was because I had to slow down to navigate the terrain, but I felt absolutely great on these trails.

At the 9 mile mark, I had a young lady pass me and we struck up a conversation. “Oh, it is so beautiful out here!”, she said. She was right. Cool, crisp air, leaves starting to change colors...what was not to like? We talked a little while longer before wishing each other a good day, and she was off.

This girl was pretty speedy and she was absolutely bombing the downhills. I tried to keep up with her for awhile before I nearly had an encounter with dirt. A rock snagged my toe and I almost ate it in a big way! Hey, better dial it back there, champ. You are never going to catch her! She disappeared quickly as we progressed down the wooded trails.

Approximately 12 miles in, we hooked up with the Paul Bunyan Trail, a paved bike path that would take us west. With the exception of a flat section between miles 12 and 13, hills were the theme of the day. In fact, there was a little sign on the trail warning inline skaters, bikers, and “people of limited ability” of the steep uphills and downhills. The words “people of limited ability” couldn’t possibly refer to first-time marathoners, could they? :) At least here, the wind was hitting us in a crossways fashion, so we were not running directly into it!

On the paved stretch, I felt like I was moving along pretty slowly. Lots of uphill running here, and I was really beginning to appreciate the softness of the grass and dirt trails I had just left behind. So I chugged along as best I could for the next 5 miles.

Nearing mile 17, we turned on to a road, which brought the runners back to the North Country Trail again. (Yay! Back to the dirt!). It was at this point I decided to start walking the hills I encountered. I was really gaining nothing by trying to run because I could walk them just as fast!

I thought miles 17 through 20 were the prettiest sections of the course. It was also quite possibly the most hilly! Here we ran through dark pine groves, and crossed a bridge overlooking a scenic swamp. Spectacular wilderness! And I had caught a second wind, running this segment quite well. Perhaps I had those uphill walking breaks to thank?

From miles 21 and on, we had moved off of the network of trails on to a dirt road and were headed north back towards Walker. The wind was finally at my back! Unfortunately, my energy was starting to fade. I kept shuffling along as best I could, continuing to walk the hills. My breathing was good. I didn’t feel exhausted. It was just that my legs were feeling heavy.

Heck, even my sense of humor was completely intact. At the aid stations, I was joking with the volunteers (who were absolutely incredible all the way around, bless their hearts). One station had a wide array of snacks, including oranges, bananas, cookies, and even lemon drops. I complimented them on this veritable “buffet” of goodies. One lady told me some runners enjoyed it so much that they spent about 5 minutes hanging out there! Another station volunteer told me I looked like a bumble bee in my yellow and black outfit, which made me laugh out loud! Yes, the humor was in check, but the legs were fading.

The 25 mile mark was a sight for sore eyes (and legs!). There was an aid station being manned by a group of high school kids. It was right by a lake, and they were getting pummeled by the wind from the southwest. I told them they were troopers for hanging out here all day, and they responded by enthusiastically cheering me on.

Shortly thereafter, I ran into the young lady who passed me at mile 9 on the trails. She was walking back towards the 25 mile mark, perhaps to meet another runner. I decided to razz her a little bit and said, “Oh, I suppose you finished about an hour ago?”

She laughed out loud, saying, “Ha! No way!” Offering me some additional encouragement, she replied with, “Keep it up, you are almost there!”

Approaching the finish

The final mile was the most sinister. The high school sits on top of a hill, so of course you have to run back up the hill, AND into the wind! Ugh. Thoughts of a Sean Connery line from the movie, “The Untouchables,” crossed my mind. (“Enough of this running sh&t!”), but I decided it was the home stretch, so I was going to run. I plodded my way up the hill, rounded the corner, and the track was in sight!


I entered the gates, and I immediately saw Mom and Dad. And to my surprise, our good friends, Marc and Brenda, were there with them. Holy cow, I had an honest to goodness cheering section! As I ran by, I apologized for making them wait so long. :) And I finally made my way across the finish line, crossing it it 4 hours, 41 minutes, and 52 seconds.


A hug from Mom

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