Sunday, November 03, 2013

Inland Trail Half-Marathon

'It's so boring!' That's the number one complaint about the Inland Trail Marathon and Half-Marathon over the past few years. The marathon was out thirteen miles on the Inland Trail, a rails-to-trails bike path, and back. The half was point to point; they bused the runners out to the marathon turnaround point in Kipton, and they just ran back to Murray Ridge School in Elyria. I've run the marathon three times, and I've never experienced said boredom. But then I can't remember being bored on any run at any time. 'I've experienced many different problems during my various runs,' I like to respond, 'but boredom isn't one of them.' In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed each of my races there at/on Inland. It helps that I’ve also run them well.

After listening to all the other runners' complaints about the race, the organizers decided to change the course this year. We ran on country roads and through subdivisions for the first eight miles before finally getting onto the Inland Trail itself. Then we stayed on the trail for the final five miles of the half. The marathoners would continue on for a much longer out and back portion. Having been part of the silent majority who actually did like the old course, I didn't know what I'd make of the new one. But I figured it would still be small (it was), and fast (it was), so I thought I'd give it a shot. I drove in with Jack Reilly and Michelle Wolff.

The early November weather was, as usual, absolutely perfect: upper thirties to low forties, a few decorative clouds and a very light breeze. But speaking of breezes, I was pretty winded during the first half-mile, until I backed off just a bit. My time was 7:22. Boy, would it be great if I could maintain that pace.

'Hello? I'm running a race - what do you want?' I, along with a couple ladies in the vicinity had to laugh at overhearing (we couldn't help it) Shelby Buell's phone conversation early in the race. I tried to kid Shelby about it, but he didn't hear me. By mile five I was averaging about 7:30 per mile. Not bad, if I could only maintain that pace. Where have we heard that before?

A few miles and a couple gels later, I got onto the Inland Trail. The country roads and subdivision hadn't been bad - except some runners didn't like the half-mile of rough gravel road at mile seven - but now that we were finally on the trail for which the race was named, I realized how much I missed the old, 'boring' course. It was beautiful with the remaining fall leaves decorating the sides of the trail, and it was quiet to the point of being serene.

There was an aid station as I turned onto the trail, and I took a quick sip of water. Soon thereafter, my GPS notified me that I'd run eight miles in almost exactly sixty minutes; I was still doing 7:30's. A minute and a half later, at mile 8.16, I spotted the eight mile marker. Until that point, the course markings hadn't been very much different from my GPS. But surely this was a mistake; the next miles would be shorter, and everything would be in sync again.

A couple things happened at mile nine:

1) I spotted the first half-marathoner coming back at me on the trail. The turn-around was at mile ten, so he was about two ahead of me. I decided to begin counting everyone who was in front of me.

2) I spotted an aid station up ahead and took a gel, anticipating that I would be able to wash it down with a cup of water. But the table was not manned. Or even womaned. And although there were some water coolers, there weren't even any cups. The gel wasn't going down so well, but I guess I'd manage. Surely there would be more water ahead; they wouldn't make us run the final five miles of a half-marathon without water, would they?

3) Mile nine was off by the same amount as mile eight.

The turnaround was just after mile ten. *Their* mile ten. I'd counted eighteen runners ahead of me. One of them appeared to be about my age. But surely he'd be in some other age group. There was no more water. Surely they'd have someone manning the one at mile 9/11 by now.

It was still dry. I took another waterless gel. Picking it up a little, I passed Shelby and a few other runners. According to my watch, my final two miles were my fastest: 7:08 and 7:07. I figured there were only fourteen ahead of me as I made my final turn onto Murray Ridge Road. The volunteer said, 'only a half-mile to go!' I wanted to yell back, 'but I've got 12.9 *now*! How can there be a half-mile left?' But I didn't; he was only the messenger.

At mile 13.3, I finished in 1:38 and a half. Just about the seven-thirty pace that I wanted. And it was good to finish strong. Not strong enough, unfortunately, to win the age group; that other guy beat me by four minutes.

But I'm still pleased with my performance. I did what I was capable of. And I really shouldn't complain about all those minor trials and tribulations. Surely they really do go with the territory.

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