A Marathon is 26.2 miles, but many non runners call any running race a marathon. I once was told by a colleague at work that he ran a marathon over the weekend. I would have been impressed, but for the fact that I knew the race he ran: It was a 1 mile fun run. I kept calling it a marathon though, only to give myself a chuckle.
There are two types of marathons, road marathons which are the oldest type and trail marathons, which came around with the onset of the Xterra rage. When talking about a marathon there is always a debate as to which is harder road or trail. Road marathons are usually run at a much faster pace on smooth roads, whereas trail marathons are run at a much slower pace due to rocks, ruts, roots and mud. For me a road marathon is mentally harder, although physically easier and a trail marathon is mentally much easier, but physically much harder. For example, I have run 6 road marathons, the fastest being 3:18, the slowest being 5:15. Now let’s compare those times to my first trail marathon: The Berryman.
My friend Patrick had a plan to do all races that were Berryman this year, which means, Berryman Marathon, Duathlon, Epic, and Adventure race. He put out the challenge for all his friends to have an opportunity to join in, and Chuck and I jumped right on it and said, “We are in”. We signed up for the Marathon, even though I have stated multiple times that I would never run a marathon again unless it was at the end of an Ironman. I felt that a trail marathon didn’t count in that statement, so I entered. Weeks into training Patrick got hurt and couldn’t run many miles at all, and he had signed up for the 50 mile, not just the marathon. So it was Chuck and I training for this marathon, and it was going to be Chuck’s first marathon of any type. Chuck being, the kind of obsessed guy he is was doing his training just as he planned, I of course was altering my training for just about every reason, so I wasn’t getting in the long training miles needed. My longest run up until race day had only been 4 hours. This is what caused me to make a rookie mistake, the one that I know better then to ever do, but I did it anyway due to being anxious about my light training effort. What was this mistake you ask? I ran two laps of Pere Marquette, which is 16 miles of treacherous hills, and just 6 days before the race. Oh and don’t think I did it alone, Chuck was right there by my side. The problem is Chuck, being in much better shape than me, didn’t seem to suffer the affects that I did. I could barely walk for 3 days after and by race day my quads were still sore, lesson learned that won’t happen again.
Two days before the race I am talking to Patrick and he says that he had not heard back from the race promoter about selling his spot and that he was a bit angry about not getting a response to his email. I suggested that since he was running again, maybe he could change to the marathon and just run what he could, if his leg started bothering him, he could drop at one of the aid stations, and since me and Chuck were planning on running it together at a moderate pace, he could just hang with us. This would be an easy task for Patrick because he had done many of these ultra-trail events, including the Berryman 50 miler. The day before the race, Patrick sent me a note and said he was in for the marathon, and wanted to ride with me, which was perfect so then I didn’t have to drive alone. The problem was the race started at 6:30 am and is about a 2.5 hour drive from home, so we had to go the night before. This doesn’t sound so bad, but, I had to attend my son’s senior band banquet on Friday night and would not be able to leave until 9:30 pm at the earliest. Patrick didn’t seem to mind. Chuck got there early and secured us a camping spot, pitched his tent and went to sleep. After passing the turn to the campground and driving a few extra miles, we arrived at midnight and of course we woke Chuck up. Patrick quickly pitched his tent in the dark, while I made a nice bed in the back of my van. I was parked on a slant so I had to turn my body to a position so that my head was on the uphill side, I finally got comfortable and went to sleep. I locked the van in case Freddie Kruger was out in the woods somewhere. Here is the thing about my van, if you lock it with the keyless entry and then try to open the door from the inside the alarm will go off, so I had to remember when I got up twice to pee in the woods not to try an open the door without unlocking it first, but every time I used the keyless entry to unlock it, it beeps really loud. I’m surprised I wasn’t killed by an angry mob, for doing that at 1 am and 4 am. After my 4 am trip to the woods, I was about to go back to sleep when the thunderstorm hit, it poured, rain with high winds, thunder and lightning, the van was shaking from it. I just laid there and listened wondering what the race organizers would do if it continued through the start of the race. A little after 5 am there was a knock at my window, it was still storming out and Patrick had run to race headquarters and picked up the race packets. I grabbed the handle to open the door and forgot to unlock it, so the van alarm started beeping really loud. I quickly got it turned off, and was sure the angry mob would be there at anytime, lucky for me they never showed up.
So all three of us quickly got ready to run, filling our packs with food, our drop bag with provisions to be waiting for us at mile 16 and our water bottles to carry along the way. We lined up at the start and the rain slowed to a sprinkle, the gun went off and we all took off on a great adventure.
The 50 mile and marathon went off at the same time, we had to run an out-and-back on the gravel road for 1.2 miles and the 50 milers did a shorter version of the out-and-back. We saw the fast guys in the 50 coming back up the road before we got to the turn around, and wow they were moving. We made the turn around and headed back to the trail head at the start, surprisingly we weren’t last, we were actually about middle of the pack, that didn’t last too long though. My quad was still sore and I was worrying about making the distance, while mentally kicking myself for that last long run. The trail was very muddy, with rivers of water running through it. Patrick was running right through the middle of it all, while Chuck and I were trying to skirt the edge and not get our shoes completely soaked. That didn’t last long, the rain got harder for a while and it was too much work to get around the mud and water, there was just no way to avoid it, so I just started running right through it. The problem was you couldn’t tell how deep a hole you were stepping into until you were in it, so there were a few times I almost fell. When you start to fall you use every muscle to keep yourself upright, usually pulling something in the effort. I think over the course of the race, I pulled everything at least once. The creeks were even deeper, but it felt so good to go through them because it washed off some of the heavy mud and I felt lighter on my feet for awhile.
We hit the first aid station and all they had was chips, water and sports drink. I was really hoping for some good food. So I ate a pack of sport beans from my pack, we filled up our water bottles and moved on.
We were still on a nice pace on our way to the second stop when Chuck fell, he quickly got up and we kept moving. It wasn’t a great fall, not really even worth scoring, I mean there wasn’t any blood, trail rash or broken bones, it was hardly even worth mentioning, except for the fact that he didn’t trip over anything, he just fell on the only section of flat, clear trail we had in the entire race. Of course Patrick and I both laughed at him. So we hit the second stop and it was better stocked with food, but I chose to eat a trail mix bar from my pack instead. We made it to the 3rd stop and both Patrick and Chuck seemed no worse for the wear, we were at just over 12 miles now. I however was starting to falter a bit.
It was a 4 mile stretch to the next stop at Brazil creek, but I really wanted to get there because the stop had a bathroom, I wouldn’t have to stop in the woods, and since there was poison ivy everywhere, I really didn’t want to drop my shorts in the woods. I asked the guy at stop 3 if the bathroom was still at Brazil creek and he said, why yes, and we have massages and pedicures for you there too. A girl standing near me said, well they better give you a discount for mine because I only have 6 toenails left. I didn’t know how many I had left, but was sure I would be losing some.
At Brazil creek the water was really high, thigh deep for me, only knee deep for the guys. When I got in it, I wanted to just sit down, the cold water felt so good on my tired legs. So after crossing the creek, we see the spa, the guy told us about, it was a nice Johnny on the Spot. But it was clean and did have toilet paper, it didn’t smell so good, but that could have been because Chuck got to it before I did and left the stench for me. He is nice to me like that. I’m not complaining though, it didn’t have any poison ivy in it.
This was the stop with our drop bags, I put a short sleeve shirt and shorts in my bag along with some peanut butter crackers and a trail mix bar. It was still raining off and on, plus the water on the trails and creeks was so deep, I thought there was no use putting on dry clothes, so I grabbed my food and stuffed it in my pack, we all ate something and filled up our water bottles again. Chuck was eating cold boiled potatoes dipped in salt and raving about how great they were, I tried one and didn’t want another. Patrick figured all that salt was going to cause a heart attack. I had to agree.
So after 16 miles we were off through another creek, up a short section of road and back into the woods. The last creek left me with shoes full of river rock, but I didn’t want to stop and remove them, for fear that I would not start again. The next stop was at 20 miles and as we were about half way there when Patrick turns around while running to talk to us and falls off the edge of the trail into the ravine, lucky for him he got a good hold of some ground and didn’t fall too far before he caught himself. We had a really good laugh about that fall. At the 20 mile stop, I had to try and dump some rock out of my shoe, so Chuck did the same, as we were frantically putting our shoes on Patrick is telling us HURRY, there are some girls going to pass us. So I took off with my shoes only halfway on as Chuck is grabbing my arm telling Patrick, “lets just drag her”. The girls passed us, but we passed them back in time.
At about mile 21, a young boy comes flying by us, like a flash of light and we all say the same thing, did he have a number on, trying to figure out if he was really in the race, and he did have one on, as chuck turns around to make a comment about him, he trips and falls, then we start laughing again. Just then a guy comes up behind me and I ask if he wants to go around, he says yes, I have to catch that 10 year old. Now we all knew we had just been passed by some 10 year old. Patrick says “was that Jungle Boy”. I really think it was, that was exactly what he looked like.
I was starting to fall apart now, so we walked for a couple minutes, the problem was after walking my legs wouldn’t start running again. I was moving so slow, I could have walked faster. I finally got them moving and we hit the next water stop. The volunteers at all the water stops were so great and the two ladies at this stop were really friendly, filled up our bottles and gave us some flat soda to drink and some salty chips. They also told us that we had 2.2 miles left to go.
We wanted to break 6 hours and were really close, I thought that since I was in the worst shape I didn’t want to drag the guys down, so I told them to go on and break six hours, but they said no, no one was going to be left behind, plus they thought we could still do it. I went out in front this time, thinking I might be able to pick it up if I knew they were behind me wanting to break six hours. I don’t know how I did it, but I rallied and picked up the pace. Patrick was the only one that wore his Garmin, so we were getting updates on distance from him all day. As we ran every time we would hit a mile mark his Garmin would chime, so after hearing two chimes I knew we were getting close the finish. I figured we were about ¾ of a mile to the end, I ask Patrick for a mileage update and he says 24.1 miles. I almost turned around and choked him. I said your Garmin is off, it has to be losing distance on the switch backs because the ladies told us 2.2 miles from the last stop. So Patrick says, well if the Garmin doesn’t say 26.2 when we finish we are going to have to run a cool down around the parking lot until it does. Then I drop the bomb and say “if you do that you are not riding home with me, you will have to walk” and both the guys start cracking up. It was kind of funny, but I meant it. We continue to run, looking for any signs of light meaning we are getting close to the campsite, I hear Patrick stumble hard behind me but he doesn’t go down. We see a post and Patrick says oh that’s a good sign we have to be close, this was just the incentive I needed, so I picked up the pace even more, but still no end in sight, finally we hear a car and can see the campsite through the trees, we come out on the road cross it and run through a short trail to the finish. We finish in 5:59:30. We broke 6 hours. I was so happy, the fact that I could hardly move didn’t even bother me.
Post notes: Chuck tells me the last time Patrick stumbled he almost took me out, he said he has no idea how he stayed up. Patrick tells me when he saw the post, he just said it was a good sign to put me at ease, he had no idea. He even turned to Chuck when he said it and mouthed, “not really”. The thing is all the dirty little tricks those guys used, got me moving when I thought I couldn’t go anymore, so I have to thank them for that, without them I would have never finished in under 6 hours. A bonus, I really did have a great time. Now I can say I have run a trail marathon, what an accomplishment for all three of us. Just one tip, if the guy at Brazil creek tells you a shortcut to Potosi that goes down Hwy W, don’t take it, it’s a long cut, not a short cut. And a Big Congratulations to Chuck for not only finishing his first trail marathon, but his first marathon ever.