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Wickham Park 2006

Nanci LeVake

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 matters, though.)

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.