Amongst the crowd, just after the start at the Delaware Trail Marathon, one of four races during the Triple Crown trail race series. Photo by Joel Shilliday.
In any race of 26.2 miles or longer, my goal is to finish and enjoy as much of the race as I can. Having said that, the marathon is not my best race. Yet. It may never be, but I think I'll keep plugging away at it. And if my marathon endeavors can be mostly on trails, so much the better.
One of us will be updating the Rise Up Runners blog with photos and a more holistic look at the day--Joel was a masterful photographer, waiter, fastpacker, you name it, and ran a smoking 10K on a difficult course; Mike Keene ran the "Triple Crown," which consists of a half-marathon, a 10K, and a 5K, consecutively. He has a great race report on his blog; and you'll hear a bit here about fellow trail marathoner Landy Cook--so this post is dialed in pretty closely on the marathon.
The Delaware Trail Dawgs have a running playground of a course that may be the envy of the Mid-Atlantic states. Hilly (REALLY hilly if you train on Maryland's Eastern Shore), wooded, great singletrack, creek crossings, and open meadows--a diverse terrain for running. The marathon course is two loops of the 13.1 mile half-marathon course.
The trail marathon started at 7:35 a.m., 5 minutes after the half-marathon. We tramped across a field, before turning downhill, then winding through the woods on twisting singletrack. I am a runner who is compelled by gravity--I run falling fast down the downhills and quickly through wooded singletrack, while struggling on the steep uphill climbs.
A 5-minute lag in start times, meant that many marathoners would catch and intermingle with slower half-marathoners pretty quickly. That was the case, and I got stuck behind people throughout the first part of the course. This could well have been a blessing, as it made me hold back and pace myself.
Crossing the White Clay Creek was a high point of the race--a high point we hit 4 times, each more refreshing than the last. The "other" side of the creek had some superb singletrack, which finally emerged to a long, gravel, and dirt climb. Uncharacteristically, I ran the climb, pushing past a number of runners, until we emerged onto a winding, sunny meadow trail. On the first lap, I enjoyed the meadow, since it got us away from climbing.
The meadow marked the far point of the loop, and on the way back to the creek, I found myself feeling great and passing people consistently, particularly on the more technical sections. As I approached the creek to cross back over, I caught up to Landy, who I ran with pretty well from the second to the third crossing, when I was feeling fresh and motivated.
We hit the half-marathon mark at 2:08, without ever pushing the pace, and feeling reasonably well. Landy had been recovering from the flu for the past week, and was questioning racing at all until Friday. As we hit the halfway point, a conversation worth noting:
M: "You know, this would be a great day, finish a half-marathon, enjoy the cookout, and I'd feel great going home, cut the grass, work in the yard, whatever."
L: "Yeah, that would be the common sense approach, wouldn't it? Then again, long distance running and common sense don't generally go together, do they?"
I ran at a consistent pace up until crossing the creek for the third time. At that point, my nutritional sins from the first lap caught up with me. I had only eaten two gels and been drinking water, and taking S-Caps for sodium. I simply wasn't taking in the calories I needed for the second half of the race. I stopped to re-tie my shoes on the far side of the creek, and Landy pushed ahead, "I'm gonna keep moving, and I'll let you catch up to me." That was the last I saw of him until the finish line.
My tank hit bottom empty, and when I stumbled out to the next aid station, I loaded up on boiled, sliced potatoes and M&Ms. I struggled with low-t0-no energy and debilitating leg cramps for the rest of the second lap, strategically running where I could, and power-walking when my legs were too cramped to run, or I came to a steep uphill. Some of my best and fastest stretches or lap 1 were my toughest stretches of lap 2.
That said, I was running a trail race, and was having a blast. I tried to stock up at aid stations and shuffle along in between. With a couple miles left to go, you could hear the crowd at the finish, without being able to gauge how close you were. But pushing up the final hill and turning the corner to the grassy finish, my legs came back and allowed for a reasonable hundred yard dash, past a trifecta of smiling and cheering Rise Up Runner comrades, for a finish time of 5:02 and change. My slowest marathon, but on undoubtedly the toughest marathon course I have run, and certainly the most fun.
The final stretch of field to the finish line, with renewed energy and legs. Thanks to Joel Shilliday for the photo.
I have some work to do on the nutritional end, to get stronger on the second half of a marathon. I'm not so much worried about time as running a complete race. I'll have one or two more marathon chances this year, so stay tuned.
The Delaware Trail Marathon was my first Trail Dawgs race, but certainly won't be my last. A great crowd of people, a fun race, awesome aid station volunteers. And probably the most fun, which isn't touched on in this post, is that this was the first race since the Rise Up Runners group was formed, and four of us made the trip to race. I hope this is the first of many races together. We'll see which one is next.