Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dam Full Marathon

Laney and I get our picture taken at the packet pickup before the Dam Full Marathon, RB Winter State Park, Pennsylvania, September 15, 2013.

A group photo at the start line. It was convenient to be able to camp at the state park within easy walking distance of the start/finish line. The race was a loop, starting and ending at Halfway Lake, whose dam lent the race its name.

The crowd starts to gather for the 7:00am start time for the marathon. I made sure to make my way towards the back. I didn't want to get caught up in any excitement early on. It looked like quite a gathering when we were all together, but there were only 59 finishers. Hopefully, only 59 people started the race. They did have a cutoff at the midway point, where they would shunt you off to the half marathon if you didn't get to mile six within 130 minutes. That sounded ridiculously slow, but they wanted to make sure that everyone was a runner.

We had camped at the park the night before, having arrived from Columbus, Ohio. The site was gorgeous, and we slept well for tent camping. It got quite cool by Sunday morning, dropping all the way down to 37. Laney even decided to crawl into Joy's sleeping bag with her and spent the night cuddling. Thirty-seven was perfect weather for running, though. I kept my sweatshirt on until the start, and was fine once we started running. I didn't ever feel cool while running. In the photo above, we are still pretty tightly packed for the first climb, about two miles into the race.

I didn't know much about the race before getting there. I had found it on trail runner dot com and decided it looked fun. I did know that there were some good hills, given the 4617 total feet gained on the elevation profile. What I didn't know about or expect were the rocks. I kind of imagined Indiana hills and made them steeper and taller. That was not accurate at all. They were steeper and taller, but they were very rocky. Not many places didn't have rocks, many places didn't have any soil at all. Some parts of the "trail" were just loose boulder fields. In the photo above, you can see us carefully bounding across the rocks. Constant attention was required.

Each kind of rocky path had its own unique challenges. A rocky climb could really slow you as you tried to pick your way up the hill. A rocky flat area slowed you as you tried to find somewhere for your feet to land while you ran through. But a rocky decent sometimes was the worst, as you went faster and faster downhill. I shudder to think what a twisted ankle or a fall onto the rocks would do. In the photo above, we are descending the ridge to the first aid station.

The race so far had been 'normal', a little rocky, but not bad. I met Joy and Laney right after the aid station where the trail crossed the highway. Immediately after crossing the road, it went straight up a hill. In the photo above, I am looking up from near the bottom.

Relatively, the hill wasn't that tall, but it was pretty straight up, with a surface of loose rock. Steep enough to make me puff even though I was walking up. In this photo, I am looking back down towards the bottom of the hill, showing the trail .

The woods were beautiful. The uphills weren't all bad, because they were little forced breaks. They used different leg muscles, let you catch your breath, and gave you a chance to look around. I don't have too many photos of the descents, due to their crazy, chaotic nature.

Here is one descent coming up to the second aid station, the mile six cutoff point. I easily made the cutoff, thankfully. I made it a point to not pass any aid stations without eating and drinking a bit. I complemented the race staff at the station on the challenging race. They assured me that the best was yet to come.

The race didn't have any paved sections, except for maybe at the very beginning, but there were some fire lanes and some gravel roads. The fire lanes were generally smooth and easy on the legs, with only an occasional boulder or rock to dodge. Here I am looking back after the second aid station.

The trail wound its way through the Bald Eagle National Forest westward, passing through scenic Hemlock valleys and climbing hills. Only the Black Gum had turned red for fall, but the forest was beautiful still. Joy managed to find me around mile ten and give me a sandwich and some coconut water. The trails were pretty runnable for the next couple miles. Joy and Laney met me at aid station number three. We made it past a hornet's nest uneventfully, which apparently other runners did not. I got into a good grove, hanging out with about the same five or six runners.

Just as I caught up with this guy, we ran into an off-trail segment. Luckily, it was well flagged. The course made a turn and headed straight up a hill. It started out rocky, and got rockier.

Further up, the rocks turned to boulders. I made up some ground on this stretch by switching back and forth, instead of climbing straight up.

Here is another photo showing the "trail". It was still a little too cool out to see any rattlesnakes. Apparently the park has a good population. I was a little sad, but maybe another day.

One more picture of the challenging hill, this one looking back down at some of the racers climbing up. After the top, the trail was a pretty decent downhill grade until aid station four at mile seventeen. A couple of us were running together and keeping a good pace.

After the aid station, there were some ups and downs, but nothing too crazy. Joy met me at a gravel road crossing, which was encouraging.

I took several self-portraits during the race. I thought this one did a good job capturing the focus and fatigue. My eyes were constantly watching the ground. I felt good and was still running strong, but there was still a level of fatigue.

The climb up to the mile 19 aid station was pretty. I was alone for much of the race from here on. Note, this picture is taken looking up the trail. I stopped to eat a bit at the aid station. I felt good, but wanted to be smart about conserving my energy and optimism.

The sun shone through the Hemlocks, with a little stream cascading down mossy rocks beside the trail.

Joy met me at the second to last aid station, at mile 22.1. It was mostly flat, though still somewhat rocky. I made decent time here, and caught up to my first half marathoner about here. Many of them were hiking and enjoying the beautiful day. It was my plan to run to the last big hill, walk that, and then run the rest.

The last aid station was at the base of the "stairway to heaven". It was nice to feel like you were almost done. The hill climb started on a gravel road, but then veered off and straight up the hill. The trail quickly became a jumble of boulders.

I don’t know why I am drawn to races with a “stairway to heaven” at the end, I guess I like the challenge. The final hill on this run weighed on my mind. The lowest point on the course was at the bottom of the “stairway” and the highest point was at the top, 710 feet later. I usually can walk up hills pretty quickly, so I figured I would make some time walking up and then turn on the speed coming down to the finish line. It was named “stairway” for a good reason. It was less like walking up an incline, and more like taking steps up stairs. Except that loose rocks made up the steps.

There were quite a few halfers on the stairway, but they all very courteously stepped aside as I came up. My quads were Charlie-horsing every step for the first half of the stairway, but they must have loosened up once I kept going. Several young scouts were doing the half, and were having fun playing around on the boulders.

A pile of rocks greeted me at the top. From what I hear, these are Tuscarora sandstone, which are pretty weather resistant due to the quartz sand that comprises them.

I guess I expected a nice smooth trail to be waiting for me at the top. I was a little disconcerted to have to try to descend on the loose boulders. After a while, the trail got better, and I was able to run to the finish line. I felt strong the whole race, and was happy to finish with a time of 5:48:24. The post race meal was excellent, and it felt good to sit and talk with fellow runners. They even had a fire at the shelter, which was a nice way to combat the post race chills. The Mid Penn Trailblazers have other trail races, and I was assured that if I liked this one, I had to try some of their other races, which are supposedly much hillier, rockier, and more technical. Thanks to Andrew for lending me his camera, and to Erin for lending Arty's water belt.

1 comment:

Megan said...

Good job Ben!! That one looks quite challenging but really pretty!