October 15, 2010
The alarm goes off at 4:30 am and I realize that in 4 hours I will be running 26.2 miles. Drowsily oozing myself out of bed, I begin to brush my teeth and start putting on my trailrunning gear. Injinji toe socks, not one blister since I started wearing them for runs 4 years ago. Trail shorts, with lots of pockets for gels and snacks. A long sleeve dri-fit shirt, and trail shoes that have been broken in over the past month. We get in the car and begin the drive from our home in Morrisville to Medoc Mountain State Park in Hollister, North Carolina, about 2 hrs away. My wife has agreed to go with me at this ungodly hour and wait for what will end up being just over 4 hours for me to finish a trail marathon.
This will be my 6th marathon to date, all of which have been on trail, and my 2nd time at Medoc. I enjoyed this race so much last year that I convinced two of my clients to run with me. Gene Oddone is an accomplished runner who just recently converted to trailrunning, and this will be his first marathon on dirt. Hayden Bosworth who came to me over a year ago saying he wanted to run a marathon before he turns 40 is preparing to put a check mark beside his goal. We all arrive around 7:30 am, check-in and warm-up before the 8:15am start time. Two other clients, Kristel Dorion and Hunter Bost were there to run the 10 mile race which started 30 minutes after the marathoners. The weather was perfect, just a touch over 50 degrees Fahrenheit. We all new it would warm up as the race went on, but it is always better to start out in cooler temperatures because you know that your body will heat up with exercise anyway. My wife wished me good luck and I walked towards the starting line. Gene and Hayden were already there and we exchanged handshakes and best wishes for a successful run.
All my clients know that I have 3 basic criteria for a successful race. #1. Get to the race on time. #2. Donít get hurt. #3 Donít finish last. If, at the end of a race, you can say yes to all three of those, you have run a successful race. The race director is shouting instructions because his megaphone isnít working. ON Your Mark! Get Set! GO! And weíre off. Everyone starts out in a bunch and we begin to weave ourselves into a single file line as we enter the trail. The race takes place on a trail in the park that winds through the woods and is roughly 9 miles long. The 10 mile racers will only complete 1 loop of this trail. Us marathoners will have the pleasure of seeing everything 3 times, thatís right, 3 loops.
Running a marathon takes more than just muscular and cardiovascular conditioning, It takes mental conditioning (or mental deficiency as my wife would call it) to keep running when your legs and body are screaming for you to stop, when you are so fatigued that you may start hallucinating. Iíve never hallucinated myself that I am aware of, but as time goes on during a marathon, things start to look different. The trail starts to sway, and stationary rocks seem to jump out in front of you. Unlike road running, trailrunning involves uneven surfaces, loose rocks, roots, rocks hiding under leaves, mud, ice sometimes and wild animals. so needless to say trailrunners must always be aware of what is under their feet and what is going on in the woods around them. No one wants to get hurt during a race, but the simple fact is that at least a few people, will take a fall or two today. Hopefully I will not be one of those people, because then I could not call it a true success. Granted, if you can finish in spite of an injury it is quite an accomplishment.
The first lap goes very well, Gene went on ahead, and Hayden was behind me so for now it seems we have all gotten into our pace. The race support crew was fantastic. There were three aid stations along the trail and at each one, the support staff would talk to you by name. They even used our ìtrailî names which we had to come up with when we registered for the race. my name was ìgrinderî, mainly because, well, I like grinders, and by midway into lap 2 I could really go for one. It would have been a little hard to eat a sandwich while running though. I made sure to fill up with Gatorade and water as I needed it at each aid station. by lap 3 I still felt pretty good so I ditched the Camelback (hydration pack) I had been wearing and decided to step it up a notch. Dropping that extra 5 pounds felt like I had just shed 20 pounds. Why didnít I do that earlier? I kept thinking I would catch up with Gene, especially as I started to pass people who were still on their second lap.
People have asked me what I think about during the 3-4 hours it usually takes me to run a marathon. I just say that I think about lots of things. I always like finding a fellow runner who has the same goal time and spend some time chatting. Thatís the great thing about not being an elite runner, or running so fast that you can barely breathe. I met some great folks on the trail and got to spend some time talking to them, before I passed them. Actually, thatís another way I keep myself motivated during a race. I try to find someone ahead of me to pass. There are times during a trail race where you spend time alone on the trail, but I love it when I turn a corner and can see a runner in the distance ahead of me. Like a dog on a track a start chasing after the rabbit.
I can feel tat I am getting closer to the finish. I have been pacing the past two laps and I suspect at my current pace that I have around 20 minutes to go. This point in the race is crucial. I have kept up with my hydration and calories fairly well, but I am starting to feel the onset of muscle cramping. I am making sure to keep the fluids going, but I must be careful not to go for an all out sprint until I can see the finish line or I risk cramping up which would take my speed down to zero and I do not want to walk, or hobble across the finish line. I just passed another runner and then I see it. I can barely make out the tiny red numbers displayed on the big timer. As I emerge from the trail, I lengthen out my strides start sprinting down the roped of finish chute. What a great feeling to step across the timing pad and finally.stop running.
I suddenly realize that I failed to notice what my time was. Who cares, Iím done! One of the race staff gives me my finisherís medal and I immediately place it around my neck. It feels surprisingly heavy. Gene is there to congratulate me and I canít help but notice how well rested he looks. He actually finished 30 minutes ahead of me. My wife comes running over saying that she didnít expect me to finish so soon. I try not to take this personally, I actually made up quite a bit of time on that last lap after ditching the hydration pack. I asked if Hayden had finished ahead of me as well and gene said no. Haydenís self-proclaimed goal was to finish in less than 5 hours and 30 minutes, and before the park closes for the night. After getting some post race replenishment, Gene and I waited for Hayden to come out of the trail, sprinting to the finish. With less than 2 minutes before the 5 hour mark, there he was. He crossed the finish with a strong pace, and hardly looked like he had just run his first full marathon. I told both Hayden and gene how proud I was of all the hard work they put into their training.
This is the payoff. What an accomplishment for all of us. great friends, great race, great day. We are all already looking forward to next year.
Michael Whitehurst M.S., CSCS *D, NSCA CPT *D
Exercise Physiologist/ Master Trainer
Michael has several years of personal training experience and specializes in training endurance athletes of all experience levels. As an Exercise Physiologist, Michael presents the knowledge and experience to guide any individual on an optimal path to reaching their fitness goals. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Empower Personal Training please call (919) 401-8024.