December 8, 2009

Tecumseh Marathon, 2009 (#25)

When: December, 2009                                                                     
Who: Me and Lesa
Recall: Coldest marathon yet.                                               
Overall: Another great time in the Indiana woods
Rating: 5/5 carbs

What is Mickey Rourke doing in Indiana and why is he “running” downhill so slowly? Of all the people I spend the most time running with during the 2009 Tecumseh marathon, it would have to be a guy who reminds me of a sober Mickey Rourke running like a maimed duck. We start leap frogging each other on the first incline after mile 16. I pass the duck footed Mickey on the downhills. He passes me on the uphills. But, just before mile 18, Big Red Man slows everyone down leaving both Mickey and me stuck behind Red just like the 23 cars lined up behind some Idaho driver pulling a camper up Logan Canyon at 32 miles an hour with no desire to pull over and let other pass. Who know Big Red Man was from Idaho? Being 8 or 9 people behind him and lacking the horsepower to pull out and pass him I convinced myself I’m preserving energy and silently cursed Big Red Man until the trail breaks out of the woods and onto the road just before mile 18 aid station. Such are the issues when running a trail marathon.

Before running into Mickey and Big Red Man, who I name for his bright red XXXL fleece top he was wearing, the day went as planned. By waiting to drive over Saturday morning, Lesa and I were able to be around for Erin’s birthday on Friday. The race doesn't start until 10:00 a.m. EST on Saturday so we leave the house at 4:30 CST and get to Yellowwood camp ground around 8:30 in time for me to pick up my race packet in the campground rock pavilion. The skies are clear and the temperatures must be in the 20s. Burr. I layer on clothing and then catch a bus to the start while Lesa drives back to Bloomington for breakfast and a day of Christmas shopping.

The thing I dread most about Tecumseh is the nearly one hour yellow school bus ride to the start. First, yellow school buses are not comfortable and, second, these buses are driven by school bus drivers who are incapable of reading a map. It’s a good thing there are always a few locals on the bus who know the way. Granted the start is at a remote ranger station and their are many back roads in the Hoosier State but come on! Your a professional driver. Pretend the ranger station is a school and just get us there. Later in the day I hear that one of the other buses hit a deer on the way to the start. Yikes. A common goal for any marathon is to finish but that goal should begin at the starting line and not include the bus ride to the start.

I share the left hand seat of row 14 with a Purdue college student majoring in pharmacology. She has a little bag with gloves, energy bars, and other odds and ends inside. I ask her if she had any EPO or other drugs to help with endurance. No luck. Just Skittles.

What the bus driver doesn’t know about reading maps she makes up for in heat generation. The internal temperature of the bus gradually climbs to a very annoying level of heat perfect for roasting water fowl or chestnuts but not humans about to embark in a 26.2 mile dance with dehydration. I pray a bottle of Powerade offsets the sweat lose encountered on the bus. Between the sunny skies and sitting for an hour in a yellow broiler on wheels I forgot just how cold it really is until I stepped outside! Ouch, that hurts.

As usual the race doesn’t start on time so I have time to get reacquainted with the cold. I decide to start about half way back from the front. Last year I made the mistake of starting too far back and ended up meeting too many runners-who-go-downhill-slowly. This years' strategy works well. There is much less delays on the trail and I seem to be making good time. The two or three times I am slowed down it is because some girl (sorry but it’s true) is tip-toeing downhill with her hands raised above her head or standing still at a stream crossing trying to decided how not to get her shoes dirty. Later I did her one lady tell her female friend, “Now at the stream, just go! Don’t wait.” Good advice.

As I approached the mile 7 aid station I see a white, 2 foot by 2 foot sign with red lettering that reads “run, run.” A few feet later a similar sign says, “Rudolph.” There are more signs to follow along with Christmas music blasting from the aid station. It’s a unique experience to be running along a trail deep in the woods and then suddenly be hit with Christmas signs and music. They even lined one of the foot bridges in green garland! I love it. I notice the race director and thank him for the holiday cheer.

One of my favorite sections of the trail is between miles 7 and 12. It’s mostly downhill and at one point goes through a small pine tree forest! It’s also nice because you aren’t too tired to talk to other runners and you can still enjoy the scenery. In past years I would be running mostly by myself at this point but this year I'm the caboose of a small group of runners. Against my dad's advice, I trip for the first time but get both hand out in front of me to stop my fall just before my face meets the trail.

The short stretch of gravel road after mile 12 is not fun to run on and it's not really in the woods but for some reason the photographer chooses to take pictures here. Of all the beautiful miles of single track trail and he decides to photograph runners on a road. Yuck. Speaking of yuck, the road continues to the top of Indian hill. I know it’s Indiana but I swear this hill is longer and steeper than the 6th North hill going up to USU from the Twin Pine Ranch. Not only does running up it not make any sense, for me and ever other runner around me, it’s not even an option at this point.

Once on top, the brisk western wind motivates me to get running. Before too long I’m back on the trail heading downward, out of the wind and toward another stream. So far, my wet feet have had managed to warm back up after ever stream crossing. So far. The sign at the mile 16 aid stations says the food is free! Excellent. Half of a banana, some Gatorade, a few pretzels and I was ready for the next incline but not before crossing another stream. Rather than wait in line to cross on a fallen trees' trunk I run through the stream. This time my feet never quite warm up until I'm back inside the rock Pavilion.

Beyond the stream is where I first encounter Mickey and Big Red Man. This is another beautiful section of the course where the trail follows a creek through a small valley. The peaceful silence is broken by Big Red Man's loud mouth friend who cruises into the mile 18 aid station shouting something loud and obnoxious about hot chocolate. I had arrived minutes before and his arrival gives me the incentive to take my hot chocolate to go. Of course, "to go" means "walking" so I can drink the warm, chocolate elixir.

For the first time I am running mostly solo and feeling pretty good until I get to the next hill. I down shift to walking mode and get a dizzy feeling in my head. Weird. At the top I begin running and the dizziness is gone. Still weird. From then on whenever I stopped to walk uphill, I get dizzy but it goes away when I begin running. Dehydration? Maybe. Sinus infection. Likely. At least it's spurs me on to run whenever possible. Unfortunately, despite my new found source of motivation, I just don't have the energy to run uphill. It doesn’t help any that I hate this section from mile 18 to 20. I know the math is wrong but its got to be at least 5 miles long and I despise every one of the hidden miles. And what’s more, my forearms start to cramp up. Forearms? Yes, I have cramps in my forearms. Go figure. I have no idea why but the excitement of the sharp descent at mile 21 helps me forget the dizziness, the deception, and my tired arms. Now I can focus on the finish which is just on the other side of Lake Yellowwood.

Mile 23 is at the one end of the lake, say 6:00, and the finish is at 11:00. So I tell my self that I only have to run counter-clockwise from 6 to 11 and I’ll be done. I know it’s strange but that’s how I think after 23 miles. At this point the trail is not as hilly but there’s more mud. A few yards outside the aid station I find myself in another pine forest and...right behind the running duck, Mickey. With his feet pointed outward he is able to run downhill slower than I can walk downhill. Literally. No kidding. You'd swear it was an optical illusion but he really can run that slowly. Let the leap frogging return. I pass him on the downhills and he passes me on the up hills. Distracted by though of running up Mickey's back, I tripped for the second time near mile 23 but, again, both hands go down preventing a face plant in a large puddle of mud. Sadly both hands go down in a mud puddle leaving my gloves so muddy and wet that and my hands refuse to go back inside. I stick my gloves in my shirt back pockets (very handy) and continued on with my hands tucked up inside my sleeves. It's a good thing that I only had to run two miles without gloves since it’s mid-afternoon and getting colder. Eventually, I catch Mickey just before the trail ends at mile 25. Mickey takes advantage of the last aid station but I figured, “Let’s get this thing over with”. The trail is replace by a gravel road that is noticeably harder than the trail and my legs feel it right away but are willing to continue along as long as they are forced to go faster than shuffle mode. It works except for the one last aggravating hill. After the hill I shuffle onward eventually turning left into the Yellowwood campground. As I run the final stretch towards the finish line I see the race director again whom I congratulate on hosting a well organized and fun race. He replies, “Thanks" and adds, "You ran a good race today.” I’m not sure what he meant by that since I finished 405th out of 593 runners but it made me feel good.

Who know Bloomington, IN had traffic jams but Lesa got caught in one and missed me finishing but arrived before I finished my soup and sandwich. Finishing any marathon brings a sense of accomplishment and relief but there’s nothing quite like following a 26.2 mile run in the cold with some hot homemade soup and a delicious sandwich while sitting in a rock pavilion warmed by a roaring fire. It's weird, I know, but it's funny how enjoyable simple things can become after running a marathon.