Sunday, December 2, 2012

Race Report: Tecumseh Trail Marathon

I have been looking forward to this race for a while.  There are a couple of reasons for that.  First, this was the first marathon I ran (in December 2011).  Running it again this year offered the perfect opportunity to see how much I've improved.  Second, this is a challenging race and a great physical and mental test.  I believe this is the hardest marathon in Indiana (and likely in the mid west) due to the challenging terrain.  By challenging terrain, I mean big, steep hills! There are several climbs of 150-200 feet with sections steep enough that some power hiking is required.

Me, my friend Aaron, and 571 other runners waiting to start the race!
The point to point course is a beautiful run along the Tecumseh Trail, starting at the Morgan Monroe State Forest office and ending near Yellowwood Lake in the Yellowwood State Forest.  While the point to point format does present some logistical issues, it's a neat set up.  Psychologically, it's fun to start 26 miles from your car and run back!  The course winds through state forests and consists mostly of hilly single track with a couple of short sections on gravel roads.  According to the race website, the course has about 3500 feet of elevation gain and 3800 feet of elevation loss.  During the race, my GPS recorded 2928 feet of elevation gain and 3177 feet of elevation loss.  The amount of elevation gain combined with steep grade of the largest hills makes this course a challenge.
Leading up to race day, I was sick with a sore throat and a cough.  I scratched my other planned runs for the week in favor of rest.  By Friday night, I was still sick.  I had trouble getting to sleep (which is typical for me the night before a race) and woke up at 4:15 am (an hour early) coughing.  I decided I might as well get up.  I took a hot bath, ate some oatmeal, and headed out.  From my house, it's about a two hour drive to the race's finish line. From there, it's about a 45 minute bus ride to the start.  I arrived just before 7:30am and checked in.  The race shirts for this year were nice, long-sleeved, gray tech t-shirts with the race logo printed in yellows, oranges, and reds.  When I arrived, there were already quite a few runners milling about, and I chatted with a few friends before heading back to my car to get ready.

I went through my normal pre-race routine:  apply body glide to inner thighs, tape nipples, put on watch and heart rate strap, roll out  legs with "the stick", debate on last minute clothing decisions, stretch lightly, drink water.  As I was getting ready, the temperate was in the mid-40's and the forecast was for high's in the low-60's.  I decided on just shorts and a t-shirt for the race, bringing along a thin head band to keep my ears warm.

The race was scheduled to start at 10:00am.  By 8:00am I was ready and headed over to hang out with some friends, stretch, and wait for the bus.  The first three buses arrived and filled before we got over there.  Shortly after these three buses left, the race director announced that some of the other buses had broken down and that the start would likely be delayed.  We all stood around in the cool morning, trying to stay warm, and hoping the sun would come out.  We finally boarded a bus about 9:30am and arrived at the starting line around 10:30 am. During the bus ride, I was already hungry so I ate the 2 Trader Joe's fruit leathers I had in the pocket of my water bottle.  I had planned to eat them during the race, but the delay was forcing everyone to adapt their pre-race eating plans.

After we arrived at the starting line, we all stood around waiting for the race to start and realizing that it was now quite warm.  While we were on the bus, the sky had cleared and the sun had come out.  Sometime around 11:00 am, the race director talked into a microphone for few minutes, and then we were off!  A total of 573 runners, all moving across a grassy field and quickly onto a not-wide-enough gravel road.  The first two and a half miles of the course is fairly wide as it follows an old gravel forest road.  After that, the winding single track begins.  There is a huge temptation to go out fast and try to get the single track in good position.  Many runners start out at a pace that's much faster than they can maintain.  I did my best to keep the pace easy in the first miles, keeping an eye on my pace and my heart rate.   When we hit the single track, there was some traffic that held me up slightly.  I bypassed some of it by skipping the first water stop and just grabbing a cup of Gatorade at the second one.  

The first half of the race went smoothly.  I ran mostly by myself, keeping up a steady effort, passing some other runners, and enjoying the weather and beautiful trail.  I caught up with my friend Aaron around mile 10 or so and ran with him for a few minutes.  The single track went by quickly, and before long I came out onto the gravel road around mile 11.5.  I knew what this meant:  a couple miles on the road including the biggest hill of the race around mile 13. I picked up the pace a little and ticked off a couple fast (for me) miles: mile 12 at 9:40 and mile 13 at 9:35.  I hit the hill feeling good.  I ran the less steep portions and power hiked the rest.  At the top, I felt good and started running just before I crested the hill.  After 13 miles, my time was just 2:16:58, and I felt good.  My plan from the start was to run a controlled pace to mile 20 and then give it whatever was left. 

Around mile 15, my friend Todd caught me.  I thought he was out in front, but I passed him without knowing it around mile 13 while he was making a pit stop.  Todd was setting a good pace, and I fell in behind him.  We talked some, but mostly enjoyed the run.  It really was a beautiful day.  I had gotten hot at some point, and taken my shirt off.  It felt great and free feeling to run shirtless through the forest at the beginning of December!  At some point, Todd dropped back behind me and I set the pace for a while.  I felt good and was anxious to get to mile 20 and see what I could do.  Leading up to mile 20 is the last big climb of the race.  It's a steep one that you really have to hike.  Power hiking up that hill with Todd behind me, I felt great.  I was hit with a huge endorphin rush and let out a whoop.  We crested the hill, and I felt good.  We hit mile 20 at 3:41:18. Miles 14 through 20 include some of the biggest hills in race.  I covered these 7 miles in 1:24:20, just a little over 12 minute pace.  It was a solid effort, and the best I could muster.

Somewhere after that, Todd dropped off.  I'm not sure exactly when he dropped back - I thought he was still behind me but I looked back and he was gone!  Around mile 22, I started feeling a little light headed as all-too familiar feeling of a bonk began to raise it's head.  I popped a few M+M's and kept moving.  I'm not sure why, but I didn't even think to take the Roctane GU I had stashed in the pocket of my water bottle.  In mile 23, Todd caught back up to me and said "Fall in - we're going to the finish!"  After that, I picked up the pace and did my best to keep up with him!  That final stretch is relatively flat with some low rolling hills along Yellowwood Lake.  It's a beautiful form of torture.  You can see the lake.  You know that at the end of the lake you'll hit the road and turn left. You know that it's not much further.  However, it seems to take hours to get past that lake.  In reality, the lake is less than 2 miles long.  Finally, we hit the end of the lake and broke out onto the road.  "Let's Do it!", I hollered.  Me, Todd, and another runner took off up the road.  It's a hard grind up that road.  Mostly, it's uphill.  Legs burning, we managed a 10:53 mile.  When we made the turn for the finish, Todd said, "I'm going to beat these two guys".  He was talking about the two guys in front of us.  Disoriented, I took this as a challenge!  Todd and I took off.  We passed the two runners in front of us and finished the race together!

Here's a quick run down of my performance:
First 13 miles:  2:16:58
Last ~13 miles:  2:38:20
Final Time:  4:55:18
Place: 208th out of 573

All together, this was nearly 42 minutes faster than my 2011 run at Tecumseh!  I am pleased with the effort. 
Elevation Profile of Tecumseh Trail Marathon

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