Another Memorial Day weekend, another Wickham Park Marathon.
This was my third year. To train, following WP of 2005, I ran on
Thanksgiving and once in December. It was an experiment to see if
long distance cycling would be an adequate substitute for
running. My goal was to finish 26.2 miles in under ten hours,
beating my WP PR by 10 minutes or more.
Many of the same people return year after year. We claim it is "fun"
and we are "having a good time." It's always nice to see familiar
runners from years past.
My first three laps were uneventful. A gorgeous pair of Pileated
Woodpeckers taunted me from ten feet away-posing on a tree, pecking
for insects- saying, "Aren't you sorry you didn't bring your
camera?" I mostly "ran." (I had a revelation at WP this year- I may
be an endurance athlete, but I am not a runner. I don't think that
Lap four was the highlight. You know, when you read the FAQ, where it says:
Q. What is the biggest wildlife threat?
A. The gopher turtles might embarass you by passing you.
Well, I thought that was just hype, but coming down off the second
hill by the soccer fields, I came upon a Gopher Tortoise heading down
the same single track as I was. He began to run. I tried to catch
him, but since I was only able to manage a slow painful trot, he had
no trouble keeping ahead of me. He wouldn't get off the
trail. Every so often, he'd plop down and rest, but as soon as I'd
catch up, he'd rise and begin to run again. I pleaded with him,
"Please, Mr. Tortoise, just let me pass you!" Stronger runners might
have jumped over him, but that was out of the question for
me. Perhaps if I had encountered him on laps one or two that may
have been possible, but not now, with my knees screaming in
protest. Eventually, I told him how I was planning on running many
more miles, and unless he was prepared to do so also, he'd better let
me go by, and he did.
Laps five and six consisted of a painful death march, better off
forgotten. The cool thing about WP is the lollipop-shaped course-
you get to see runners on the out and back, plus those who just plain
pass you. I had about five coolers set up by my truck. I knew
better than to think I could actually eat solid foods as tried in
years past, and survived, nicely, on one Succeed! every 30 minutes,
an eGel frozen gel each lap, watermelon and Coke in my cooler, and a
few Pringles. Plus a big bottle of water and a small bottle of
Endurance Gatorade. I tried a pack of Jelly Belly Sport Beans, which
are my maintenance food on long rides, but they didn't go well with
running- too sweet and too chewy.
On the final lap, seven, I just wanted to go fast. Which was hard,
because my running pace seemed to be slower than my walking pace. I
kept repeating to myself "Walk with purpose." I read that
somewhere. At about a mile, I met a feral child, running
barefoot. He'd been trying to keep up with Matt, but couldn't
decipher the flour arrows. I taught him how to follow the
course. He said he was just walking with me because he didn't think
I could run. :-) He was quite interested in the whole idea of a
run, for no reason, where you didn't pay to enter, where you didn't
win a prize. I told him that the guy he couldn't catch, Matt, was a
frequent barefoot runner. He eventually went off to try, armed with
his new course-reading knowledge, to catch Matt, and I never saw him again.
I really wanted to finish in less than ten hours. It seemed
possible. I tried to run, but it was pathetic. I calculated how
many minutes I had left before the ten hour mark, 36, and began to
sing "36 bottle of beer on the wall." When I reached zero, I'd
calculate how many minutes I had now, and sing again "24 bottles of
beer on the wall." Then "17." Then "11." I was sad that I didn't
have anything more creative in me. I'd brought the iPod, but I've
never run with one, just cycled, and I just felt like I didn't "need"
it. Running is completely absorbing- I don't need external
distraction like I do with cycling.
Finally, FINALLY the last little bit. The last bridge crossing. .75
miles to go. The last twisty woods with horrible log obstacles. The
last Hell's Kitchen (abandoned stove top). The last Grapes of
Wrath. The last mini-Sahara Street. The last final dip, then
popping out into the open, by the road, the finish line in sight! I
felt a sudden burst of energy, the pain miraculously vanished from my
legs, and I ran as fast as I could, the fastest of the whole day, to
the finish! Some kindly people cheered. I appreciated it. Race
Director Matt ran ahead of me to get my official time. 9:48, a
satisfying 21 minutes faster than last year, and 45 minutes faster
than my 2004 time! As I told Greg on the way home, at this rate of
improvement, in only three more years I will break nine hours!
What a great day.