Free State Trail Marathon Report

First of all, here are the results.

What a great day for a marathon. The weather couldn't have been better. It was a cool 40 degrees at the start and stayed partly cloudy and about 60 degrees all morning. The course was dry (but rocky as I found out multiple times).

We started with an out and back loop which I didn't like at first but later realized it was a good thing.  The two quick out-and-back loops provided a nice break in the atmosphere and almost made it feel like two different courses. By the time we hit the "real" trail, we were 6 miles into the course.

A few miles down the trail I found a nice rock at the top of a ledge the hard way. I had just asked a friend for the time and I was mentally calculating things in my head and kicked it rather hard.  I did a "superman" off the ledge and landed in a heap.  With both knees bleeding, an elbow and hand cut up, I managed to get to my feet. At that point I wasn't even sure if I'd be able to continue. It was easily the hardest I'd ever fallen on the trail. This was no simple face-plant. I was sailing through the air at one point. I'm a fairly regular trail runner and I can say one things for sure. There is no moment in a trail run that is more terrifying than the point right after you stumble when you know, without a doubt, that you are going to fall.  I stumble 2-3 times per run but rarely fall.  This time, I knew from the moment I kicked that rock, that I was going to be bleeding in a matter of seconds.

After the embarrassment wore off, I pulled myself up and brushed myself off with the help of the gathering crowd.  The embarrassment suffered during the first few miles of a trail run can be overwhelming. If you are alone, you just look around and thank the trail gods that nobody saw. If you are in a group, you just want to distance yourself from the situation as quickly as possible hoping the people will forget who fell.  A friend generously offered me a band-aid but I turned her down with a quick negation of damage and urged us back onto the trail.  

Just a few miles more and we were on the lovely (hrmpf) red trail along the shoreline.  This is the highlight of the Shoreline Shuffle, a 5k trail run coming up here in May. But I must say it should have been avoided on this particular course. There is a parallel trail just up the shoreline that offers the same distance but a much less dangerous trail.  The red route is just a rocky mess.  Sure it is very scenic if you are brave enough to take your eyes off the trail.  If you do take your eyes from the trail be ready for a nasty spill. There are sharp rocks and jagged ledges for a half mile or more.

At the end of the red trail there is a small switchback up to the first "manned" aid station at Lands End. This is also the halfway point of the marathon.  I felt great at this point and was a bit surprised at the time and distance already traveled.  Not only were we half done, but the rest of the race would be done in familiar territory. I have been regularly running this half of the Clinton Lake trails for the past couple years.  The aid station was run by the Trail Nerds who are the main sponsors of the race.  They are a very experienced group of runners who know how to do an aid station.  The race being a combination of ultra/marathon may have contributed to the abundance of supplies, but it was a regular smorgasbord of runner's food and drink, along with various medicinal supplies for the ailing trail runner. We quickly refilled bottles and grabbed a snack before heading out on the way to the Corps of Engineers lot a few miles up the trail.

The next few miles are the "blue" trail.  I was planning on using this portion of the trail as my meat and potatoes portion of the run.  I knew it fairly well and it is a rather flat and easy section of the trail.  I knew I could push myself and not worry too much about stumbling or falling. I took advantage of this but probably pushed too hard.  I guess under different circumstances I wouldn't have done this and wouldn't have been quite so done by the end of the day.  I knew the return portion of the loop would be on the "white" trail and much more challenging. So, I had to make some time.

By the time I was approaching the Corps of Engineers lot I had pushed away from my friend and was alone on the trail. It seemed every time I decided to slow down and coast along I would see someone up ahead and feel the "need" to catch them.  About a mile out from the CoE trail-head we took an unexpected detour out onto the road. The route pushed up the road a small way and then to the grass and over to the CoE lot. It avoided a more crowded section of the trail but cut a couple miles out of the route that I had calculated in my head. 

I also managed to catch and pass my "white rabbit" that I had picked out at the beginning of the race.  This is something I like to do in any race.  I pick an eager, overzealous, ambitious, motivated, excessively enthusiastic runner who bolts out of the gate to an early lead. I track them through the race and hopefully pass them before it's too late and finish ahead of them.  I imagine I'm not the only one who plays this little game but it keeps you motivated and watching ahead of you for signs of your prey.  In this race it was a young kid in fancy running gear who was obviously biting off more than he could chew.  I was slightly surprised that he finished when he did; just a few minutes behind me.

I only filled my bottle at the CoE station. Nothing looked really good on the table and I had just had a Stinger waffle on the trail before arriving. So I breezed through and picked up a few minutes starting with a new group of runners for the return trip. I knew this portion of the trail pretty well. I knew it was fairly technical and that I'd have to slow down and take it easy or I could easily fall. Falling at this portion of the race could easily mean a pulled muscle and possibly not finishing at all.  I knew it would be hard but I had to keep control and not try to go too fast.

When we reached Lands End again I was feeling fine. I had eaten another Stinger waffle just before arriving so again, I pushed through with just a refill. Something I didn't really need given there were just three miles to the finish. Three LONG miles.

I felt fine approaching Lands End but leaving my knees felt like giant knots of swollen tissue and bone.  I really wish I hadn't pushed so hard up to that point. I was hoping to finish feeling like I could keep going. But at this point I was shuffling along so slowly that I could have been power-walking.  This down-hills were killing my knees.  I was surprised that going up-hill felt better.  I was catching people on the up-hill only to give it back while creeping down the other side.  This was also a portion of the trail I had never run on.  I was fully expecting to be done much closer to Lands End. When I saw there were three more miles, I was a little shocked.  This is where the two miles chopped off the Corps of Engineers loop came back to haunt me.

By the time I reached the end of that three miles I was close to limping. My left knee felt like jelly and every down-hill step was painful. I came around a bend to see people clapping and cheering. I was caught off-guard since I had not run this section of trail before.  There was nobody around me in front or behind but I sprinted up the hill the best I could and through the shoot to the finish. I had to circle back around to see the clock time but I finished just under 4:30. It was an anticlimactic end to a very enjoyable run.