Sunday, September 20, 2015

Wabash Trace Nature Trail Marathon

Last weekend was my 19th marathon and my 14th state. I ran the Wabash Trace Nature Trail Marathon in Shenandoah, Iowa. It didn't seem like it would work well for Joy and Gloria to join me, so I went solo. It was about a nine hour drive, but it went well. I made it there on Friday right in time to pick up my packet and hit the spaghetti dinner. I ate with some other runners and then headed for the local park to sleep. I found a nice spot for the hammock. There were some mosquitoes, but I had a headnet. I slept pretty well, although I woke up to the coyotes yipping and howling once, and then to the sprinklers kicking on very early in the morning. (They didn't spray me, thankfully.)

There was a shuttle from the finish line in Shenandoah to the start line in Malvern. It was a cool morning, maybe just below 50 degrees. I stayed warm enough on the bus, and then we waited at East Mills High School in Malvern until shortly before the 8am start.

I felt pretty good at the start. The route wound through the little town of Malvern for 1.5 miles before hitting the trail. I tried to make sure I wasn't starting too fast. I didn't want to be too much under a nine minute per mile pace for the first half.

Even though it was a trail marathon, it wasn't a trail like any of the other trail marathons I had done before. It was a rail-to-trail, with mostly smooth, crushed stone surface. There were no big hills on the trace and no technical footing except for avoiding walnuts. I had planned on it being more like a road race than trail race.

One of my mistakes in hindsight was leaving my running hat back at the car. I had counted on it being shaded, but I had not counted on the angle of the sun. The Wabash Trace headed southeast, which put the rising sun right into my eyes. Trees grew along the trail, but not in a wide swath. Sun and sweat in the eyes was a constant issue for the first half.

My second, and maybe bigger mistake was not bringing any of my own fuel. I read that there would be gels and food at the aid stations. That was true, but it didn't mean what I assumed. Occasional aid stations had those gummy chews or mike and ikes. Most had only water or gatorade. The volunteers at the aid stations were very friendly, but not much experienced with runners. Seeing nothing else, I took a gummy chew. The package wasn't open. The volunteer suggested that I take the whole package. "No, I only need one." The chews are fine, but they always end up sticking to my teeth and over-saturating my mouth with sweetness.

The best aid station by far was one that was grilling bacon. I was dying for something salty and something with protein. That hit the spot, but there are downsides to holding a handful of hot, greasy bacon while running. That was after mile twenty. If there had been potato chips or something early in the second half, I would have appreciated it.

One of the several rivers that the Wabash Trace crossed.

It is interesting to contemplate the difference between doing your best and trying for a time goal. Unless your goal is somehow perfectly tailored to what your best that day is, the two are almost certainly going to be different. Going for an ambitious goal and failing often means doing worse than your best. Given the course, I decided to try for a goal of four hours. A nine minute per mile pace for a marathon beats four hours. That number has perpetually eluded me, but throughout my training, it has seemed tantalizingly close. I rarely run training runs of any length slower than a nine minute mile.

Here is an example of a energy-sapping sunny stretch. I kept to my target pace for the first half, but I knew by half that it wasn't going to happen. Each mile got a little slower. Nothing went wrong, nothing serious hurt. My energy level just wasn't there. There was some minor cramping, but nothing serious. I ran and walked for the second half.

I was mostly alone for the last miles. I would leapfrog with several other runners; we would chat and encourage each other. The route left the Wabash Trace in Shenandoah just before mile 24. This is were things got difficult for me. It was sunny, warm, and the town had rolling hills. At this point, I was running only down hills.

The volunteers told me that there were three hills in town, and then it was all down hill. It helped to focus on that. I still had the ability to 'run' the last half mile or so. The finish line was on the main street of town, with a nice cheering section. I crossed the finish line in 4:42 which is a 10:40 min/mile pace. I think I could have been slightly faster overall if I had taken it easy earlier, but I'll take it. I was disappointed they didn't have anything other than bananas and peanut butter bagels at the finish to eat. I took a shower at a local facility, and jumped in the car for a nine hour drive. It felt good to sit there and relax, while eating a salty bag of chips.

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