|Appreciate the photo from Jason M.|
A few hours ago, I finished my first official trail marathon – The New South Marathon on the trails at the Whitewater Center in Charlotte, NC.
Before the race, I had checked out the results from the previous two years of this race. Most of the times were around 4 hours. In my long, long run before this race, I did the course in roughly 4:40 so I thought if I had a good day, I could place may be in the 10.
Of course, each year they tweak the course and the runners may and likely will change. But I still thought a top 10 was a possiblity.
Fast forward to this morning, we received our final race instructions and were off running a few minutes after 8 AM. The parade lap around the channel spread us out just enough before we hit the trails.
I settled into 4 place but soon I moved in to 3rd by the 2nd mile. The two guys ahead of me were setting a hot pace. One of them I thought I recognized before the race, and later confirmed it to be Nathan. Several years ago, Nathan and I did numerous runs together. The last one that I remember – he bested me at the Boston Marathon by a 1 minute. He caught me in the closing miles, and I had nothing left to respond. But enough about my running history, let's back to this race recap.
They were tearing up the Academy Loop. I caught a glimpse of them as we coursed under the power lines but they were soon lost from sight.
I'd occasionally get another glimpse of one them as we did the switch back trails of the Thread Trail.
There was a pace that I thought I could maintain on the trails for 26+ trail miles, and I was already on the high end of it. So I pretty much had come to terms with my situation. If they continue at this pace, I wasn't going to ever catch them. Otherwise, they would start to slow down and come back to me.
On the North Main Trail as we ran along the ridge line, I caught a momentary glimpse of Nathan in the distance. Like a blood on the scent, while my head was saying slow down, my heart was urging me forward and faster. By the flat water area, I was closing in on Nathan. I was starting to size him up as I wondering where I should make my pass on him. Then, as if he sensed me coming, he stopped stepped to the side of the trail to let me pass. I was both surprised at the unexpected course of events, but I kindly accepted it.
By the time that I entered the South Main trail, I had opened a gap on him, and I begin to wonder how far the leader was in front of me. This didn't take as long to figure out as I thought. Going by the entrance to the Carpet Trail, I saw him. By the time, we entered the Goat Trail, I was a few steps behind him.
The Goat Trail is rough, tough, and winding so I settled on following him through it. We stayed this way until just before the Toilet Bowl Trail. If I had been running on the roads likely I would have continued to follow him. But on the trails, people run differently. They speed up. They slow down. Following them means, I have to be on high alerts to all of these changes of pace. Good or bad, if I am going to run like this I want to be on the front. I want to be the one setting the pace and let others react to me.
At this point, I moved to the front. Slowly, I was opening a gap on him. By the the time, we passed through the ½ way point, I had may be 100 to 150 meters on him. I pushed hard on the 2nd parade lap, and through the next couple of miles.
Now, when I race, I am reminded of something another runner once told me. When I race, I always wear my Charlotte Running Company Lime Green singlet. This runner told that it wasn't very “Ninji” like. Meaning, the lime green in the singlet is easy to spot, and it made a good target when chasing me.
Now, I keep this in mind, and in this instance, I wanted to some distance between us. I pushed hard through the Academy Loop. May be it was too hard because by the time that I hit the Thread Trail again, my legs sending “I am tired” signals to my brain.
Making things a bit more difficult, I was also catching the ½ marathon runners. While most responded to my hails to give me a side to pass. I found more than few that were lost in their headphones until I touched them on the shoulder. Most nearly jumped out their skin, but what else was I to do. We are on a single track trail, and their brains and their ears were apparently miles away.
My second trip up Goat Hill Trails wasn't met with nearly as much enthusiasm by my legs as my first trip up the hill. Not helping, I continued to navigate the ½ marathoners.
Thinking about this now, I am likely being to hard on them here, but when you are tired, the least little thing can seem like a mountain. Ignoring my hails was this mountain.
I passed by the Toilet Bowl Trail, and did a quick check over my shoulder. If I was going to be caught, they were cutting it close now.
By the Lake Loop Trail, I popped out to run across the parking lot to the side trail which runs parallel to the Whitewater Center.
Here I made my first mistake of the race. May be I was starting to plan my victory stride to the finish line or may be I just let me mind wonder for a bit. Whatever it was, my foot clipped a root, and I went down hard. My water bottles went flying down the trail. Normally, when I fall, I stop for a second or two to make sure nothing is broken. This time, I popped right up, grabbed my water bottles, and continued down the trial. Not 20 meters later, I went down hard for a second time with my water bottles again going flying down the trial. Again, I popped right up, shook my head to clear the tiredness from brain this time, picked up my water bottles, and continued down the trail. However, this time, I was a bit more cautious. I worked my way to the path around the channel and ran a nice steady pace to the finish.
Taking the win and finishing in 3 hours 50 minutes, and 28 seconds, I could not have been more happy with my effort today. In no way did I expect to win or to run under 4 hours for this trail marathon.
As wrap, up this post, let me share two things.
First, bit shout out to Nathan on his 3:58 marathon, and 2nd place finish. After the hot pace that he set early on to still close with a great time shows how awesomeness of his current fitness level is. We chatted for a few minutes after the race and talked about the possibility grabbing a few runs together in future.
Second, training for marathons is hard work. No “ands”, “ifs”, or “buts” about it. And, no matter where you finish, seeing the results of your training show up on race day is incredibly satisfying. For me, it is.
I will leave you with this parting thought.
The next time you are in the middle of training run and it hurts. Just think about it as – the hurt that you are feeling now will make your marathon all the more easier. Isn't this why you are training in the first place.
The Cool Down Runner