Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pre-race: Getting to Beaver Island

Two weeks before Beaver Island Marathon: my CARA running group and I were talking about Boston.  Each of us hoping to someday qualify and run the Boston Marathon, the topic has come up a few times on our early Saturday morning runs.  Currently we are each training for the Chicago Marathon, on October 9, 2011.  However because you have to run a qualifying race before registering for Boston, and Boston registration begins on September 12, 2011 and closes on September 23, 2011 (if space is still available during the 2nd week of registration), that means the race we were all training for would not be applicable for the 2012 running of the Boston Marathon, but rather for 2013.  A couple of the guys had not realized this or looked into registration this far, yet.  I felt like the bearer of bad news for them, since they were initially assuming they would qualify for Boston at Chicago, and be running Boston the following spring.  I did shed a speck of light on the situation by telling them about a couple marathons coming up on 9/3 and 9/4 (two weeks away).  Ordinarily planning for, registering, and finding a hotel for a marathon race can generally take some serious consideration and planning weeks if not months ahead of the race.  Often if it requires overnight stay and travel, it can be quite challenging to book a room in the host city if you wait too long.  I’ve struggled with this up to 8 months in advance, if not further out, as some small towns simply have a limited supply of hotels to meet the need.  But it can often be done on short notice too, as people cancel and things sometimes just open up.  Anyhow, given we had already run 19 & 20-milers so far, it was not out of this world to consider doing a marathon at this point in our training.  And it would also line up with a planned 20-mile run weekend anyway.  Not bad.  Anyway, personally, I had already deliberated this a few weeks before and subsequently dropped the idea after realizing none of the races were closer than a 6-hour drive.  Too much planning for me at the last minute.

One week before Beaver Island Marathon: I was back with my CARA group doing our 12 mile run (step-back week), and sure enough, one of the guys had registered for the Beaver Island Marathon in northern Michigan, occurring on 9/4.  I joked about joining him but by the end of the run had put it out of my mind again.  He said, if you change your mind, let me know.  My friend had just signed up a couple days before, and found a room, and investigated travel to the island (requiring a ferry, no less).  Hmmm...  What if?  I got hooked on the idea not long after that run and began exploring my own possibilities and talking it over with the wife.  By the next day I had pretty much made up my mind to do the race, assuming I could find a room to stay.  Now this was crazy.  At least for me.  I rarely do last minute 6-hour drives and 2-hour ferries to get to some island I've never heard of in the middle of the lake.  And then run a marathon.  But what the heck.  If I did it and qualified for Boston, it would be worth it.  Of course I hadn't tapered for the last week but I could take it easy the coming week.  And having done only 12 the day before, I didn't feel too bad.

Race weekend: it began around 3 a.m. on Friday, 9/2, the day before the race.  I woke up in the middle of the night like I normally do.  I had my alarm set for 3:45 a.m., so that I could take the dogs for a walk before catching a cab at 4:35 a.m. up to my friend’s (Collin) house, where I’d ride with him up to the race.  Of course having woke 45 minutes before my alarm put my mind into motion and sure enough I was not going back to sleep.  So after 15 minutes of lying there, I decided just to get up and get going.  I ate a little breakfast and had a small amount of coffee (don’t need too much of that before a 6 hour drive – especially when you don’t know the driving/stopping habits of your friend yet, since you've only run with him a handful of times).  I took the dogs out shortly after that, and finalized my packing.  Surprisingly, the cab called 10 minutes early and told me they were already downstairs waiting for me.  I asked for another 5 minutes so I could scramble with getting together my pre-race spaghetti meal into a cold-pack.  Last thing I needed at 4:30 in the morning was to forget something because I was being pressured by some cab outside.  Guess it’s better they were early than late.

An early and uneventful, but speedy ride up to Collin’s place led to a second instance of final packing and last minute coffee drinking.  We would be picking up a third person, one of Collin’s friends, who just wanted to get out of town for a few days.  We left Collin’s shortly, picked up his friend, and by 5:30 we were on the road, out of town.

We didn't quite know what to expect from the drive.  We knew Google Maps told us it was just over 6 hours to Charlevoix, MI, where we would catch a 2-hour ferry to Beaver Island.  However, a few different people had told us that it could be 7 hours or more.  Traffic would be a big variable, and it was also Labor Day weekend.  Given that we would be on small roads for a good portion of the drive, you never really know what you might get stuck behind or for how long.  We did pretty well however, stopping maybe twice the whole trip (glad I had brought some snacks).  Although near the end of the drive it was getting a bit tense, as the time ticked away, and we found ourselves in the middle of some kind of bicycle tour.  I was a little ticked about that since it was a bike tour in the middle of the day on a weekday.  If it was Saturday or Sunday I could understand.  In any case, we made it to Charlevoix by the time we had hoped.  The ferry leaves at 2:30 p.m., but the Beaver Island Boat Company told us to expect a full boat, and the earlier we got there the better, suggesting 1 to 1 and ½ hours before departure.  We didn't want to drive 6+ hours only to end up missing the boat.  Literally.

After waiting in line, in the wind and rain, for an hour or so, we finally got to board the ferry.  We got tossed around on Lake Michigan for an hour more, and then it started to smooth out for the second hour.  Around 4:30 p.m. local time we had made it to Beaver Island.  12 hours had passed since I got out of bed.  I made my way to my hotel, checked in, made it back to packet pick-up, made a 6:30 dinner reservation for the 3 of us, and stopped off for a nice, cold, relaxing beer.  That was probably the most relaxed we had felt all day…  It would be an early night for each of us.  Generally I have a hard time sleeping before a marathon, but this night I would sleep very soundly…

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