Saturday, July 30, 2011

Grand Island Trail Marathon: July 30, 2011

I am please to be publishing this post because it tells the story my first attempt at a marathon. I knew that completing a full marathon would not be an easy task. I had some great training runs over the last 5 months leading up to the marathon. The long training runs were done on weekends at some of the tougher trails in Michigan and Ohio. In March I ran 15 miles with Luc on the orange loop in the Mohican State Forest which has some really steep ascents and was a great first long training run of the year. The Michigan trails included the Potawatomi Trail at Pinckney State Rec Area, Island Lake Rec Area, and Highland Lake Rec Area. If I was going out of town for the weekend I would find a place to run wherever we were going. To make a long story short, I have devoted a lot of time and energy to running throughout this year. Running is not just a way to stay in shape anymore it is actually very enjoyable and I found myself looking forward to my long trail runs on the weekends. I also have been more active in the ultra running community and met a lot of great people who share similar passion for trail running. I volunteered at Forget the PR 50K in April and also crewed for Luc in his epic attempt at completing the Mohican 100 mile trail run. These events have really pumped me up and given me a lot of motivation to take my running to the next level. Two years ago when I got back into running I never dreamed I would be attempting a full marathon!

I prefer to run on trails since they give a lot of variation in terrain and elevation. Also some of the views of the forest and lakes are a lot better then watching cars driving by. In short, trails provide much more of an adventure which makes it fun and assisted me in determining what type of marathon I wanted to do. I was reading Luc's blog from his Grand Island experience a few years back and it seemed like a good trail course for a first time marathon. So early this year I decided to do the Grand Island Trail Marathon and Jess wanted to do the half marathon so we registered for these runs and requested a couple days off work. Grand Island is in the upper peninsula of Michigan all the way North on the Lake Superior lakeshore, which provides some of the most scenic views in the eastern side of the United States. On the way up there I was amazed at how there was hundreds of miles of uninhabited forest in the upper peninsula. Here is a pic of Jess from a beach on Lake Superior:

Since we had a few days off work we decided to make mini vacation around the run. On our way North we met my Aunt Becky at a Decemberists concert at the Interlochen Arts Center and then crashed at her place in Elk Rapids. The next day we went to Short's Brewing Company, which is some of my favorite beer and it was great that we could try different kinds fresh from the source. They even named all there food items on the menu after Ween songs. We even tried a spruce beer made of spruce tips from the pines in Northern Michigan and it was awesome! Friday morning we crossed the Mackinac Bridge, a 5 mile bridge which connects Michigan's lower and upper peninsulas, and the views were fantastic. Jess missed them since she had her head buried in her hands in fear, as I kept saying a quote from the movie Anchorman "ahh Sandy Yaaaago" That afternoon we arrived at a campground in Munising, MI where we met Pete and Sarah who had come up that way on vacation as well. After we got set up we went into town to register for the race and go to dinner at Dogpatch which has good food but the menu is like reading a mystery novel. Then we went to see a few of the area attractions such as Munising Falls and went to an awesome beach and it was cool to see how crystal clear the water was in Lake Superior. Here is pics from Short's brewing company, holding a flight of beers:

After checking out some of the sites we went back to the campground where we hung out for awhile and then decided to try and get some sleep. The shuttle was picking me up at 4:50 AM. I was concerned that I could not finish in five hours which was the cutoff so I opted for the early start at 6:00 AM which would give me six hours to finish. It was perfect sleeping weather as temps dipped down to the mid refreshing compared to this super hot summer we've had so far. I had everything laid out so all I had to do was get up and put my contacts in and I would be good to go. Only problem was that Jess and I both thought it would be a great idea to drink big jugs of water the day before so we would be plenty hydrated and that caused me to get up for the bathroom at 12:30. I was anxious anyway and figured I would not sleep well. After about 4 hours of sleep my alarm went off. I quickly got ready and kissed Jess goodbye as her shuttle was not until 6:30 Am. I met about 5 or 6 other runners at the front of the campground. They were freaking out because the shuttle drove by so we went out to the road and the shuttle grabbed us on his way back. We made about 6 other stops to grab people and then we got down to the ferry boat. Yes, we had to take a ferry over the island and this is when I realized that it is the moment I have been anticipating for a few months now. I was going to find out if all my training was going to pay off and I did have a couple concerns. Here is Aunt Becky and Jess at Short's:

In mid June I had some severe pain in my right foot and basically had to take about 2 weeks off running. This was a big concern to me since it was prime time for long training runs and I was not running at all. Then I was slowly able to build mileage back up and did a couple long runs the next few weeks. My longest run was two weeks before the marathon. I did the full 17 miles of the Potawatomi trail, which is very technical and tough. I was completely drained after that training run and questioning whether or not I could go another 9 miles after that in the full marathon?? Yikes! Also, my times in these trail runs were not that great and I was worried that I might not be able to finish within the time limit of 6 hours. To come up short after putting in all this training would be a big let down. I also was not sure which footwear to run with but I have been doing all my long runs in Merrell Trail Gloves, which are a barefoot style shoe so I went with them. They have a stiffer sole then my Vibram Five Finger Trek Sports which does not make it hurt so bad when you accidentally step on a jagged rock. I started thinking about my strategy and figured if I could keep 11:00 to 12:00 minute miles the whole way then I would be fine. Another concern was calories and hydration. This particular trail marathon was a green marathon and required you to bring at least a 20 ounce water bottle as they would not use wasteful paper cups. They had pitchers of water and Heed to fill your bottles up. There was no food at the aid stations, only those nasty gel packs. I brought my waist pack that holds two twenty ounce bottles and I also packed two power bars and a couple packs of GU Chomps, which are like energy in candy form. I really wanted to bring a camera but did not want to carry any more weight then I had to. Here is a pic of Pete and Sarah at the falls:

So I got to the island where there was quite a few people gathered already. I was right at the start line to hear the race directors speech. He informed us that they had to re-route part of the course between miles 17 and 22 because there was a search and rescue mission gone awry throughout the night and part of the trail was closed off. I never did find out what exactly that was all about. Anyway I toed the starting line and the gun went off, I think I was in first place for a brief second! I felt great as the run started, the air was cool and refreshing, and my legs felt good. The views of lake superior were already stunning and made the whole experience even better. The adrenaline of the race and the flatness of this part of the course helped me to keep a 9 minute and 45 second per mile pace for the first 4 miles and that was a lot better then I expected. Then we got to the first aid station and I really didn't need anything at that point so I kept pushing on. Then we began the only out and back section of the course on the island's thumb. There was a pretty good climb up the trail here for about a mile then another flat part and I reached the turn around. At the turn around I said in a Forest Gump voice "I think I'll go home now" but no one really laughed, I thought it was funny? Here is a map of the island, the marathon followed the perimeter:

Then we went back down the hill to the aid station where we entered the beach. It was really cool seeing the sun rising in the background and shining off the cliff edges. Running on the sand is difficult but staying on the wet packed sand made it a little easier to handle, but with a view like this..who cares?

After the beach we went back into the forested trail where there was another big uphill section which led us out to the main service road that the rest of the race follows. I still felt pretty good here, but knew I needed some calories so I ate a pack of chomps and miles 9 through 13 seemed to fly by. I remember, if I was just running a half marathon I could of really torn it up! But, my reality was that I was only at the halfway point. I started to feel a little tired around mile 15 and I ate my power bar. I also brought some electrolyte tablets to drop in my water which I made sure I did that at the aid stations. Around mile 17 I started to feel some pain in my left foot. What?! I never have pain in my left right foot has always been my problem child. I thought that maybe since I was wearing my water bottles on my left hip that my foot was bearing to much weight. To make things worse my middle toe on my right foot started killing me too, and this stems back to a year ago when I stepped on a rock and that pain always comes back after long distances. At this point I just told myself to make it to mile 22 aid station and I could crawl the rest of the way if I had to. So I felt a little beat up but my energy level was still good. I think I was was hydrating and keeping down calories perfectly, which I knew would be key. I learned about the repercussions of not staying hydrated in my training runs. Also in my training runs I learned to make sure to pick your feet up on the trails even when you are tired to avoid tripping on a root. I was reminded of this when I seen a guy take a terrible wipe out as I was coming into mile 22 aid station.

I made it to mile 22! I thanked the volunteers and began my journey toward the finish line. Even though my left foot felt like it was broken and my right middle toe was killing me with every step, I knew I only had 4 more miles to go. I could walk the rest of the way and would still make it. I was keeping a great pace, for me personally anyway, up until my pains at mile 17. Then my pace dropped from 11:00 minute miles to almost 12:00 minute miles by the time I got to mile 22 aid station. Any hopes of finishing in five hours were pretty much shot. I was ok with that though because just finishing the marathon was going to be a great accomplishment. The last four miles were on a flat straight single track trail that ran along a cliff edge of the island as seen here:

The views were still awesome at that point because you could see down to the lake and the clear water allowed you to see the bottom. I would walk for awhile and it took everything I had to start running again but I would do that periodically. I kept that same walk a little / run a little routine for the next couple miles. My legs were completely shot by the time I reached mile 25. Every step was torture, but who cares..I WAS ONLY A MILE AWAY!! The excitement that I was going to finish carried me to mile 26 where I ran the last .2 miles with great enthusiasm and even passed someone right before the finish. I even impressed myself with a time of 5 hours and 7 minutes.

My legs were really feeling it, my knees were locking up, my feet were killing, but none of that mattered because I had accomplished my goal. What a great feeling it was to let my legs soak in the ice cold water of lake Superior as I mentally was breathing a big sigh of relief and excitement. I found Jess and she had done a great job finishing her second half marathon. She realized a half marathon on trails was a little tougher then the flat pavement of New Orleans but she met the challenge head on and kicked ass. We got our finisher medals and boarded the ferry to head back to the mainland. We packed up our things at the campground and went with Pete and Sarah to a pizza place in Munising that Luc told me about. We ordered a lot of pizza and let me tell tastes even better after running 26.2 miles. I probably consumed all 4,000 calories that I burned earlier. From there we headed to our neighbor's condo on Lake Michigan where we relaxed for the rest of our vacation. It was truly a vacation I will never forget. Here is a pic from Grand Island as we were waiting for the ferry boat.

It is now a week later and I am about to head out on my first run since the marathon. I was originally looking forward to resting after the marathon but all last week I was itching to get back out there. As for the rest of this year we have a couple half marathons planned. Heading to Run Woodstock again in September to run with a couple friends from out of town and also thinking about doing the Detroit Free Press Half Marathon in October. Next year I have some bigger things planned. I will wait until later to disclose the future adventures. Until next time...Farewell!