Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Northern Central Trail Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 6; 42nd Edition 
643.8  miles raced, 7480 meters swam and 202.3 miles biked in 2011
Race: Northern Central Trail Marathon
Place: Sparks, MD
Miles from home:  2089 miles
Weather: 30-40s; overcast

After being nervous for my marathon in Tulsa last weekend because it was my first after dealing with a wonky Achilles the month prior, I was surprised how serene and calm I was for this marathon less than a week later. Even a mid-week sickness (I get about one a year that knocks me on my arse) didn’t really make me more nervous. It made me wonder if I would be able to complete the race without hacking up a lung, but I wasn’t nervous.  I had some prescription medicine to nip a ridiculously sore throat in the bud (why exactly does a throat get sore from swallowing anyway? Off to the internet I go!) and as time rolled around for the beginning of the race, I felt at least plausibly ready to run 26.2 miles.

First 6 miles: 6:52, 7:19, 7:23, 6:29, 7:03, 6:53

I remembered from running this race as one of the 52 marathons I completed in 2006 that the first few mile markers were off.  I remember being told this by the race organization on the webpage and wondering why if they knew they were wrong why they did not fix them.  Now, it really doesn’t matter where the mile markers are per se as long as the full distance is fine but still it raised a curious point.  To be completely honest, with my sickness the week prior, traveling and everything else, I didn’t look up a single thing about this race. Barely know it started later than most at 9 AM until the night before.  I knew it more or less followed the exact same course I had ran previously and if it didn’t – well I wasn’t going to be first so I would just follow the leaders.

Speaking of which, this race always has a rather tough field with the runners from the area and beyond always coming to run the course.  For example, in my race last weekend with over ~1500 runners, there were 18 runners under 3:00.  In this race last year, with exactly 400 finishers, there were 16 runners under 3:00.  Top heavy indeed!

Within the first 100 meters or so after the race started, I could tell that today would be a combination of watching fast guys fly by and me trying not to cough up yucky stuff on my fellow runners. I was happy to be simply running but knew it would be simply wise to run 3:10ish pace and call it a win for the day.

By the time the fourth mile marker passed, some of the inconsistencies in placement of said markers appeared to be out of the way and I fell into a nice little groove.  I ran with a few different runners for the first 6 miles including another fellow swimmer who got into running because he wanted to balance out his triathlon skills. We were all just taking in what was a fantastic day for marathoning- overcast with hints of sunshine, cool temperatures and no wind. Hard to ask for much better.

To the Half: 6:57, 7:05, 7:12, 7:11, 7:17, 7:18, 7:20

What I recalled from running this race five years ago would not necessarily help me today.  When I ran it in 2006, it was the 47th Marathon of the year.  I was far more tired than I was on this day.  Then again, I was not sick on that day five years ago.  So, maybe they were very close to the amount of energy that would need to be expended.  About this time, is where I thought how fun it would be to try and equal my time from five years ago.  Having said that, as I always enjoy getting a Boston Qualifying time, perhaps running a 3:09:54 as I had in 2006 would be cutting it far too close.  So, I decided on simply running the best I could and see where the cards might fall.

As I hit the 9th mile I passed a few runners, some who were running the relay and soon entered into a realm I was quite familiar with – having no one around me. I would not expect to see any of the leaders for at least three more miles and no other runners seemed to wish to either catch me or pass me. So I tried to simply enjoy the scenery. 

As this course slopes ever-so-upward from the time it enters the tail a little before the 2 mile mark until you finally turn down, I tried to think about how the return trip would be faster. The price I was paying now would supposedly give me dividends on the way home. I doubted it would but like to delude myself.

While there were zero spectators who were there simply to spectate, there were handfuls of people on the trail. Some were the loved ones of runners, some were other exercisers out on the trail, and most were the volunteers who were quite cheerful and friendly.  As I grabbed a water cup, slugged it down and tossed I into a garbage bag, someone shouted “Two points!”  I said “no way.  That is 30 seconds off my overall time”.  On a forum about this page, some far-too-concerned and righteous person complained about how some of the trash from the race remained on the course (only to be picked up later when the person designated to do the sweep to capture any strays.) well, I can tell you that the volunteers scurried over hill and dale to grab every cup and wrapper.  If there were any that were left on the course, it was because of runners not doing their own part to keep the trails clean.  The race people did a stellar job and should be commended.

Around mile 12 I finally saw the lead runners.  Of course they were a few miles ahead of me by now. No more than 30 seconds separated the first 4 runners and they were all cruising.  My calculations had them all around the 2:40 mark or less.  I saw my running friend Karsten Brown, who I talked about in this blog posting a while back.  No suspense here: he has since increased his lead in our head-to-head category! In fact, he would move up and take third place overall in the race on a day where he too apparently was feeling under the weather.

To mile 20: 6:52, 7:14, 7:10, 7:06, 7:18, 7:06, 7:27

I was very happy to make the turn-around and head back to the finish.  I like loop course and out and backs.  Many dislike them but knowing what is in store allows me to focus on nothing but left right left and not what may or may not appear in front of me.  For the next 4 or 5 miles at least, I would be seeing the faces of other runners behind me instead of the semi-dullness of the forest. During this time, I probably expended way too much energy as I tried to say “Good Luck” or “Looking great” to every single runner.  As the path is very narrow, you were more or less touching shoulders with the other runners.  If I had been running harder or closer to my threshold, perhaps I would not have had the energy to do so.  But here, as I was not, I did, so I did. How about that for being profound? I figured that too often the runners at the front of the pack do not extend hellos to those in the pack.  Then again, whenever I saw headphones I wasn’t as inclined to use my energy to shout over them so I would usually just nod or make eye contact. Either way, letting them know others were thinking of them was my way of being one with the community on that day.

Around the 17th mile I passed my friend Anders.  I mentioned him previously in my Mesa Falls recap and seeing him is always a pleasure.  A truly nice guy who I am so happy has been able to continue on an amazing streak of running and cycling. 

I also passed a woman named Jeannette who I had helped unofficially as a pacer to one of her fastest marathons ever back at the Ocean City Marathon back in 2006.  She didn’t think I would remember her but was shocked to know I remembered what she was wearing and that she also had to hurry up and finish the race because her daughter was playing in a soccer game.  There is a lot of bandwidth up there (*taps head*) freed because I don’t waste too much time worrying about what people think about me.  Then again, I use a great deal of it on how to play legal pranks and figuring out the space-time continuum, so I guess it evens out.

To the Finish: 7:22, 7:45, 7:25, 7:19, 7:02, 8:03, 1:41

Running along, passing runners who obviously started too fast, I was feeling good.  But at every mile marker my time was slowing.  My old “finish in the same time as five years ago” routine was looking like it might happen regardless of my desire. I was passed by one runner right around mile 16 but kept him in my sights about 100 yards back for mile after mile. We were now in total desolation again as we had passed all the other marathoners heading the other directions. The woods were calm.  The weather was simply wonderful.  It might as well have been a training run with a handful of friends.

Up ahead I saw a few people steering us to the other side of the trail.  I couldn’t figure out why exactly as we had run through some puddles and other areas of potential slippery footing earlier. As I approached and obliged, I looked and saw that there was a deer sitting on the ground tucked up against a dirt wall! I had no idea why it was there or what had happened to it but it had obviously been there long enough for volunteers to see it and make the runners aware.  I can only hope that it was just shaken and was able to get back onto its day.  Then again, as I had heard no less than three loud blasts of rifles as we started the race in the not-so-far away distance, perhaps this fella was not long for the world. Circle of life.

Around the 23rd mile I had lost the ability to do math.  I will spare you the calculations I was doing but on one hand I thought I would finish around 3:04 and the other 3:09. I finally was able to figure out the conundrum and realized that with the big honking hill we had to climb to end the race, it was going to be hard to get that 3:09. By big honking hill, I mean one of the crueler marathon finishes I have ever done.

With about a half of a mile on the pavement after we left the trail I tried to turn on the jets.  They sputtered but the failings of the other two runners I passed made me feel like Rocket man.  Plus, being a runner who does best on concrete, getting off even the ultra-easy-to-run-on trail meant I could try and give all I had.

Climbing the last hills made me quite ornery.  I had spent the vast majority of the day in an evenly tried state.  I never really felt great at the beginning but it never dipped that far below that throughout the race. But here, I was ready to be done.  I began thinking about how I was going to go hours without a shower as I was staying after the race to do a meet and greet and had already checked out of my hotel.  My next hotel was 60 miles away and lord knows how long of traffic on this Saturday after Thanksgiving.  Small potatoes of grumbling to be exact but at mile 25.75 they get in your head.

I finally crested the hill and should have made a push for the one runner in front of me. As I crossed in 3:09:17, I found out that he was third place in my age group.  No Choo-choo award for me. Guess that is OK.  I have enough knick knacks.

I finished 25th overall in another well-contested race.  A plethora of friends and new acquaintances set an astonishing amount of personal bests. The overall camaraderie at the race was very festive. Perhaps it is the holiday season or the “small” race atmosphere which contributed to this feeling. Regardless, I was happy to be a part of it.

I spent the rest of the weekend visiting other friends and doing other thigns in the greater DMV (a term I never once heard in my four years of living in the area but heard four times in an hour this weekend) area.  Many had dreams regarding racing and others about starting new business. Some were just about coping with the loss of loved ones.  Being able to fully relate to all three it was a pleasure to just listen to them.  I later went for a run over osme of my old haunts, which are really the reason why I am a runner today.  If DC was not so runner-friendly I cannnot imagine I would be in the position I am now, having run 52 consectuive weekly marathons, conquered 202 miles in 50 hours and with plans to do even more real soon. Without a doubt I had a great deal to be thankful for and tried to be just that.

Here's hoping you had a wonderful thanksgiving as well.

1 comment:

Brian said...

Hi Dane, I enjoyed the recap as always. I'm thinking of running this one next year as a cheaper and more local alternative to the Philly Marathon, which ends up being a really expensive (but fun!) long weekend. and it sounds like it was a nice, lower-key race.

I did a lot of my training runs on the York Heritage Rail Trail, which is the PA trail that connects to the NCR Trail. I liked running on the trail, but I don't think PA portion is as hilly.