Thursday, September 8, 2011

Beaver Island Marathon

I don’t exactly remember what time I woke up on race day, it was probably around 6:15.  I think I had set my alarm for later, but given that I fell asleep pretty early, I was rise-and-shine ready at a decent hour.  The start was scheduled for 9:00 a.m. so I had plenty of time to eat a good-sized breakfast and let it digest well before the start: coffee, OJ, oatmeal, and a banana are my typical foods and didn’t change for this day.  The race start was approximately a half mile from my hotel, so not too far, just enough to go out for a morning pre-race warm-up jog.  So after I was dressed and feeling good to get out, I jogged over to the start to see who was already gathered and hanging around the area, the same place where packet pick-up had taken place the day before, inside of an old church.  The area was still very quiet.  It was nearly 8 o’clock but not too many people around.  The half marathon and marathon walkers would begin at 8:00 a.m., but it appeared no one was walking from the looks of things.  It had started raining, and had been gray skies most of the morning, so it appeared that it would be a wet day.  Not so bad, better than hot and humid.  Finally the walkers started at 8 o’clock on the dot, with a somewhat melodramatic kick-off.  A dozen or so people headed out on their journey with virtually no spectators or cheering.

I decided to purchase a souvenir “Run Up North” shirt for myself, and one for my wife.  Seemed fitting, and better than some of the other race shirts they had for sale featuring races I hadn’t run from prior years.  After a few more minutes, I headed back to my room, sending a few more last-minute texts to my family (I didn’t have much cell coverage in my room, and no land-line – it was somewhat sparse in that respect, but made for a quiet night also).  The rain was coming down pretty heavily now.

I made a few more final preparations, decided to leave my dying heart rate monitor in my room (rather than get frustrated by it mid-way through the 26.2 miles), grabbed my bottle of Gatorade and headed back out to the start around 8:35. 

Back at the start, people had finally begun arriving and it was quite crowded inside the church.  I found Collin pretty quickly and we chatted.  The rain was still coming down, so no one was actually near the start even at quarter to.  And there were no port-a-potties around, which was an odd thing for any race, but the 1 men’s and 1 women’s bathroom at the church seemed to sufficiently handle to the runners – testament to the small number of us actually running this thing.

I drank my packet of Gatorade 01 Prime about 15 minutes before the start.  Finally, the last ten minutes before the start arrived and it was time to make my last pit-stop.  Again, no line.  How was that possible…?  Collin and I decided it was time to approach the start at about 5 till 9.  The last few minutes ticked by quickly as we stood and half-stretched in the rain.  There was no playing of the national anthem – another unique feature to this race – but there was a prayer.  I bowed my head, but did not remove my cap as I would have for the anthem (no offense, but it was the first race I remember without the national anthem).  I took a few swigs and set my bottle of Gatorade down (one action I regretted later) next to the starting line.  At 9:00 on the dot we started, but I don’t remember if there was a gun, a bang, a whistle, or just someone quietly saying, go.  I had been picturing this moment all week long, and for part of that time also been wondering if I would even make it to the start.  Sure enough, I had made it there and the 2011 Beaver Island Marathon had begun.

2011 Beaver Island Marathon - Start

It was still raining, but it was tolerable, and not cold.  It also wasn’t hot, it must have been in the low to mid-60’s.  I don’t recall it being too windy either, so all in all, despite starting out wet, it made for really good race conditions.

I didn’t start out too hard like I often tend to do.  I began a nice comfortable but swift pace and I didn’t care if I was running with anyone or not.  Collin shot out of the start like a rocket; I could see him for a while at the very front of the pack quickly distancing himself from the rest of us.  It appeared one other runner was hanging with him.  Not long after, they were gone and I was running with a young-looking guy, Johnny, from Florida in his mid-forties.  He said he was targeting 3:10, as I had mentioned I was realistically trying to shoot for the same time (but would be happier if it was faster, and would settle for 5 minutes slower).  I just really wanted to qualify for Boston, and the faster I finished the better off my chances of actually getting accepted after registering.  We fell into a pace together and settled around the low 7:00’s per mile – my target race pace, and I was happy and confident.  The township of Beaver Island was really a small town, 400 – 500 year-round residents, so we passed through “downtown” rather quickly, and then were running through an open field on a dirt road passing a lighthouse, heading into the woods.  Overall it was a woodsy run on paths and dirt roads.  I was expecting pavement for most of it, and it turned out to be quite a bit of dirt roads.  I really don’t run on dirt roads, but I was not opposed to the idea, but mildly aware of staying sure-footed: watching for potholes, puddles, and loose stones.

My Garmin GPS watch seemed to be doing pretty well, splits seemed somewhat accurate, but in the thicker areas of the woods it appeared to be thrown off a little bit, not nearly as bad as in the Loop back home however.  But I did not entirely trust each of my own mile splits either.  The problem with GPS on any race course is, if you use it, you use it knowing you risk having some funky splits here and there, depending on the terrain you are running through.  Over the course of several miles those discrepancies can add up, making it seem like you are further along in the race than you truly are.  If I didn't trust my watch splits, I would essentially be relying on my head and trusting my legs, and doing some math along the way as I passed mile markers to figure out how well I was doing.  I roughly followed my watch and trusted my legs.  Things seemed great.  Johnny and I were making good pace and had completed an out-and-back of the eastern part of the loop, about 4 miles and were continuing along without surprises.  The water stops were frequent, but the cup sizes seemed like someone was rationing out resources in war time.  I wasn’t too happy about that.

Not long after I had distanced myself from Johnny.  I was a little sad to leave him behind, but I was running this race against myself.  I didn’t see him much after that.  A new guy had come up from behind however, and he passed me, but I decided his pace was not really much different, and before I knew it, we were running together.  Michael was from Michigan, a local, in his fifties.  He was moving along at a great pace, and really seemed to have experience on his side.  I asked him how long he had been running and he replied, “two years.”  I choked and couldn’t believe here I was after all these years only to find I’m no faster than a guy who started running in his fifties.  He may as well have been kicking my butt.  I was impressed.  He was a nice guy and we ran most of the race together.  We grumbled about the small cups of water and Gatorade and kept on moving.  It had finally rained enough to fill all potholes with water, and make a muddy mess of the dirt roads.  The western part of the course was the hilliest but running through it during the first half was not bad.  We completed the out-and-back of the western part of the course and headed back into town at the halfway point: 13.1 miles done.  Our time was around 1:34 and we both felt great.  I wasn’t sure how exactly we would handle the second half at the same pace (7:11 average per mile) but we seemed strong and confident, and I had no reason to doubt myself.  If I had thought about it sooner, however, I would have slowed to pick up my bottle of Gatorade that I assume was still sitting at the start as we passed through it again (at the 13.1 mile marker).  If only.

Again the second pass through the eastern part of the course seemed to pass by without any trouble (or I’ve forgotten).  It was mostly flat, a few spectators, running through town, out past the lighthouse, and back into the woods.  Michael and I chatted, we cheered for his daughter as we passed her who was also running, but a bit behind us.  I made some comment to Michael about making it to mile 17, and if I make it to that point, I knew I would finish strong.  I probably should have knocked on some wood.  I haven’t learned to not jinx myself even yet. 

The second time through the western portion of the course was terrible.  The mud was worse, the hills seemed bigger and more numerous, and the water stops seemed like too little too late.  Was it even the same course?  Michael was doing well.

My splits started slowing noticeably on mile 19 and Michael was in front of me.  Somewhere along the way I noticed Michael had picked up a water bottle from someone.  In my weakened state, it didn't seem fair, but I wasn’t going to complain (the thoughts you have near the end of a marathon don't always make logical sense).  The whole race I was struggling to take in enough liquids at each of the stops, and it was now catching up with me.  At each water stop I would yell out “Gatorade!” (versus water), and hold up two fingers and say, “Two!”  I would end up with one or two tiny cups of Gatorade or water or both, spilling most of it, barely getting a few ounces down my throat.  I stung my eyes with Gatorade, spilled it on my shirt and face, and I rammed one volunteer totally knocking both cups out of our hands, not sure who was at fault on that one.  Because of the two-way running traffic, I arrived at one stop where the volunteers weren't even looking in my direction, while I'm yelling "GATORADE!"  I don't remember if I got any fluids at that stop.  It felt like the first time I was running a marathon, fumbling around with paper cups.  I was glad I didn’t choke on the Gatorade. 

After 20 miles, Michael was ahead of me and I couldn’t keep up.  In my head I kept thinking about my would-be finish time and what I’d have to run the remainder in to break 3:10.  But I realized I was going to be lucky to hit 3:15 as my splits slowed to 7:28, 7:39, 7:52, 8:24, and mile 26: 8:36.  I averaged 7:13 for the first 20 miles and now I was dying! 

Two other guys had approached from behind me.  They passed me.  No!  I tried to stay with them.  I think we were all moving pretty slowly now.  I stayed with them.  Then a woman joined them.  Must have been moral support for one of them.  Then I learned that only one of the guys was actually doing the full marathon.  Then I noticed him slow a bit.  I passed, and kept going, moving along at my agonizingly slow pace.  I didn’t seem them again.

Then I saw Collin.  He was lying on the side of the road with others hovering over him, but he was conscious, and facing the road.  As I passed I figured his hamstring had finally got the best of him, as he had been complaining about it that week.  I didn't realize it was most likely related to hydration.  In my own stupor, but knowing it was a dumb question, I asked, “Collin, are you okay?”  I think he said, “no.”  But I had to keep moving.  I remember this happening around mile 20 or 21, but he later told me it was around mile 25.  I’m not sure I believe him still, but he must have good reason to think it was mile 25.  Having travelled all that way – by car and ferry – and run all those miles, only to bonk at mile 25 – ouch, poor Collin.  That really sucked.

I was nearing the end now, but I could no longer muster the strength to kick it into high gear like I always do the last one or two miles.  My calves were burning, I was out of energy, and I had a massive cramp in my side for the last 2 or 3 miles, and was holding it with my hand, pinching it back into place. 

Finally, the last quarter mile was happening.  Somehow I averaged 7:30 for that but it was too late – I was only hoping to not go over 3:15, and just get this thing done.

Even though I don’t remember it, the photos show me giving a high-five to Michael (who had finished ahead of me) as I turned the last corner into the finish.  That fifty-something 2-year-runner beat me by 5 minutes.  (Job well done, Michael!)  Anyway, I made it, and right at 3:15.  It wouldn’t sink in for some time, but I now possessed a Boston qualifying time.  I could have done better, but probably not without more fluids.  And I could have done a lot worse.  It was a new PR in any case, and by 23 minutes, so I felt no shame.  I tried not to collapse at the end; I wanted to maintain some composure.  Someone placed a big 'ol beaver medal around my neck, and the first thing I did was gulp down a bottle of water and another small cup of Gatorade.  Repeat.  I met up with Collin’s friend, Sean, at the finish and told him I saw him on the side of the road.  Then we learned he was taken to the hospital.  Sean headed to the hospital on foot; we were told it was a half mile away.  That seemed far for me at that point, so I stayed behind and planned to meet up with them later.  After some time stretching and regaining my wits, I grabbed a beer, it was Blue Moon, I think.  I relaxed.  I sat on the curb and watch other runners finish, clapping for them.

Beaver Island Marathon medal

A couple hours later, Collin was resting in his room.  He was treated for dehydration with a couple IV’s and released.  The race organizers began giving out the age group awards after the last finisher finished in 6 and-a-half hours.  This was my first time winning my age group; my official time was closer to 3:14, slightly off from my watch.  It felt like an accomplishment, even though the guy who got second place in my age group was the only other runner in my age group.  This was the smallest marathon I had ever run – 60 people finished the race.  Michael cheered my name when I grabbed my award: a beer glass with a beaver and “2011 Beaver Island Marathon” printed in green on it.  Michael was a good guy to run with and a nice guy at the finish.

Beaver Island Marathon age group award glass

I was finally able to relax and contemplate the events of the last two days.  I felt pretty bad for Collin, but was really happy to have achieved a Boston qualifying time.  However, my time being fast enough to make the cut-off for my age group was slower than 3:10, meaning I would have a much smaller chance of actually being able to register and get accepted into the 2012 Boston Marathon, since faster runners are selected over the slower.  I will likely have to shoot to qualify again for 2013 (and new requirements for 2013 mean qualifying times are cut by 5 minutes for my age group), but we will see what happens in the next couple weeks.  My overall assessment of the race was positive: scenic course, quiet roads, lake views, lighthouses, cool weather, and very warm support of the town, regardless of how small it was.  My big gripe, of course, was with the hydration stations, mainly cup size choice.  But by the time we left the island, we all felt pretty much like family having spent some time with each other and some of the locals at the few places to eat and drink.  Definitely worth the trip.

No comments:

Post a Comment