|MARYLAND-XTERRA Big Elk Marathon
When trying to run as many states as
possible in a small specific window of time,
I don't get to be very choosy about what
marathons I do.
This one looked pretty, was on a good day
for the schedule, and I needed Maryland.
This was the course description on the
Starting by the fairground rec center we'll
run a little bit of a road prologue to thin out
the crowd before we hit the trails. The
course is a mixture of single track, double
track, gravel road/DNR fire roads, bridge
crossing, XC field crossings, and a creek
crossing or two.
Sounds difficult, but not impossible. But,
with sore legs and injuries after 4 other
marathons, the night before this run I get
the following description in the reminder
This course's terrain changes every 300-400m. It is awesome! There are roots, rocks, creek crossings, stream crossings, up-hills, down-hills, switch
backs, pump tracks, grassy field sections, muddy sections, and bridges.
Uh, I don't even know what pump tracks are! This now sounds brutal. Whatever, I'm tough. I can do it...
My big race day concern was what shoes to wear. First of all, let me explain that trail runners are not like the rest of us wussy road runners. They
are hard core. They are hard-core bad-asses. They wear trail running shoes, carry tiny hand-held bottles of water, and never wear matching
running clothes. (At least, that's what this wussy road runner thinks of trail runners.)
I had a pair of trail running shoes that I purchased specifically for this run because I didn't want to look like a goof in road running shoes.
However, after Bay of Fundy, I had been dealing with some heel pain that wouldn't let me wear shoes. Any shoes. After some Internet searching, I
self-diagnosed with Retrocalcaneal bursitis and just wore my crocs all week. I tried on shoes several times during the week, but the pain was too
much, I couldn't wear them. As Saturday's run got nearer, I was resolved to wear my crocs while Richard was offering to cut the back out of my
shoes. Finally Saturday morning, I tried my trail shoes on again, and discovered that I could fold the back down and do okay. I put on some
non-cute running clothes, felt like a trail-running poser, and headed out.
While gathering for the Marathon Maniac photo,
several folks were talking about trail runs, and I
caught on that it was going to be a first for a lot of
people. One gal kept telling us that it was her
hometown trail, and it was easy, and we will do just
Packet pick-up was race morning only, and there
were a lot of runners, so as I predicted, they weren't
done at race time. About 20 minutes late, off we
went. The race director had told us that we would
have "a couple of miles" of road and field before
going down to single track so we could fall into
place. About 1/2 mile later, I was just two runners
from the back when we came upon a huge
bunch-up as folks were entering the single track.
As I waited, Mrs. Last-In-Line shoved her way past
me. She was freaking out about the course, and
the possibility of falling down, and being last. As
me and newly-last guy plodded on behind her, she
blubbered on and on about how worried she was,
and we got farther and farther from the pack. She
had to have known what she was doing, but she
didn't seem to care, she wasn't going to be on that
trail alone. Grrr. Finally, I ran up off the track
through the brush and bramble to pass her, and
newly-last guy was right behind me. Thanks lady.
We caught up to the pack and fell into a good pace. I was running hard and really working. Hopping over roots and rocks, dodging mud puddles.
Fun! About 5 miles later, I felt good and thought I better check my pace. I glanced down at my Garmin... TWO miles?! I've only gone two miles?!
This is going to take forever! I was with a bunch of other people, so it wasn't like I was the only one at this super slow pace. Yikes! The other issue
with a trail run is that you have to watch the trail at all times. If you have someone in front of you, it's not possible to see the trail up ahead, so you
have to stay back a reasonable distance from the runner ahead of you. I stopped several times to re-tuck the back of my shoe down, then just gave
up. My ankle had realized we were in this for the long haul and had quit bugging me. I passed a few more runners, including the hometown runner,
but when I finally got to the real 5 mile mark, I was done. So worn out. Not only did I have 8 more miles of this loop, but while all these half marathon
runners around me were going to get to stop, I was going to have to head out for another loop. Then the rain started. It poured. At first, being in
the woods, we were somewhat protected, but then it rained long and hard enough that it came down through the trees. The dirt trails turned to mud
and now in addition to tripping and leaping, we were slipping and sliding everywhere. Sometime during all this, I realized that crocs would have been
deadly, and I was so glad I had suffered into my trail shoes. At mile 9 I got passed by a marathon runner. Normally I'm about half as fast as the
leaders, so if he is passing me now at mile 9, that means I'm 2/3rds slower today. Uggh! By mile 11, when no other leader had passed me, I decided
my mile 9 guy was just a late starter. That means no leader has lapped me yet, which means I'm really not that slow. The rain had stopped, the
runners had thinned out, and I was almost done with my first lap. It was going extremely slow, I was achy all over, but nothing was in any actual pain,
so things were looking up.
I rounded the corner to finish my first loop and Richard was there. This time, he had my phone working and took several photos. I knew he was
there and tried to smile at him, but I couldn't look up long enough. My eyes were glued on the trail in front of me. See the roots in the background?
This was minor. I would call this section of trail easy.
Remember, trail runners are a different bunch, so as I cruised through the half marathon finish line, expecting cheers, encouragment, clapping,
'Attagirls', encouraging words like, 'half-way there' or 'you got this' there was nothing. I was mostly ignored. Those stoic bad-ass trail runners. I
headed into my second loop, this time with no one in front of me. I usually get my second wind about mile 17 or 18. But I'm usually there at about 3.5
hours. I was 3.5 hours in and suddenly getting my second wind. I was worried that I would lose it before I finished, because here it was starting
awfully early at mile 13, but what could I do? I took advantage of it and was cruising through my second loop. Leaping over roots, hurdling trees,
bouncing from side to side on the deep trails, I was all alone and feeling very bad-ass. I was killing it, and I was pretty sure I should take up Parkour.
In fact, I was wishing there were a big brick wall on the trail so I could run 10 feet up it and do a back flip off of it. At about 1.5 miles, I saw a runner
coming towards me. Uh. What? I asked him if I was going the wrong way and all he said was, "no, you're good." Weird. Then just a few minutes
later, here comes another runner. She said, "aren't you going the wrong way?" This trail was well marked. I would have been 100% sure that I
wasn't going the wrong way, if I hadn't just passed another runner going the other way. I told her I was pretty sure I was going the right way, and
asked her some questions, found out she had veered off the trail, backtracked to find it, then turned the wrong way onto it. She was kinda freaking
out and said, "I'm sticking with you, it was pretty scary being lost by myself." So with her behind me, hoping we were heading the right way, we
pressed on. I was still in my Parkour phase and was hauling ass. (Well, pulling in 14 minute miles anyway...) She was not really keeping up, but like
the other woman who shoved ahead at the start, she had a plan. She kept trying to talk to me. Asking me questions. Well, I can't be rude and not
answer, can I? The distance between us was getting greater and greater, but she was still yelling questions at me to try to keep me with her. Once I
saw the 2 mile sign, and was absolutely sure we were headed the right way, I pulled away from her. Sorry honey, gotta use this second wind while I
still got it.
Then it was just me again. This time, since there weren't any runners up ahead of me, I could see the crazy trail I was running and wished I had my
camera to document the nutso path. I knew there were several folks way behind me, but I couldn't see anyone up ahead of me. I asked at the first
aid station how far the next person was in front of me, "5 minutes, 10 minutes, a long way?" The kids response was "yeah." Thanks. That's helpful.
The second aid station was much more precise. About 15 minutes. Dang it! I asked how he looked, worn out? She was pretty funny. She said, oh
yeah, he ran by here really good, but it was probably just an act. I'm sure he stopped and walked as soon as he was around the corner. The third
aid station said, "it's been a while." Richard was waiting at the 4th aid station. I asked my same question, but this time they told me he was "just out
of sight." Hot dog! Someone to catch. Well, a mile later I was thinking the aid station guy had been full of it. By this time I knew I was hunting an
"older guy in a blue shirt." Pretty soon my rabbit came into view. I snuck up on him at about mile 7 (20) but as soon as he saw that I was behind him,
he took off. I figured I wouldn't see him again. I daydreamed about him writing in his race report how some silly girl tried to catch him, but it just
motivated him to race to the finish with a PR, and dedicating his race to me, the girl in the bright orange trail shoes. About this time I started losing
my 2nd wind. I had suspected it would happen, but I was still bummed when it did. No more runner to chase, achy hips and knees. Muddy sloppy
rootey rocky trail. Dang it. About a mile later, blue shirt came into view again, and saw me and promptly took off again. But, this gave me hope.
He's hurting too. He kept slowly coming into view and cruising away again for the next several miles. By mile 11 (24) I was pretty damn cranky. I
decided Parkour was stupid. Trail runs were stupid. The guy in the blue shirt was stupid. Marathons were stupid. Bugs were stupid. Trees were
Right before mile 25, blue shirt came into view again. We were crossing a field (brutal because the only choices were to run in a horse path - how do
such wide horses walk in such a skinny path - or through tall grass) and when he got to the end of it, he glanced behind him to see my progress. He
waved a big worn-out come-on motion to me. I've been there. I knew exactly what he felt. He was thinking, alright, you're good, we got this, come
on, let's finish this thing. Thanks blue shirt! Then he did the unthinkable, he ran straight. I saw flags to the right, and thought maybe he was
heading to a port-a-potty up ahead, but he kept going. I hollered at him that he missed the turn, but by that time I was at the turn. We were turning
out of the field onto single track trail, so I waited for him, and motioned for him to go on ahead of me. I wanted to catch him, but not by him missing a
turn! He declined. I said, "come on, I know I've been your motivation for the last 4 miles!" He agreed that I had been, and suggested that now
motivate him from in front. Well, I didn't need much convincing. Off I went, and I wasn't going to let him catch me. I was also really intent on not
going over 7 hours. Seven hours!! That is sooo long, and I'd been working so hard and running most of it. How is it taking 7 hours? I was pretty
sure I wasn't way off from my normal spot near the mid-back. I'm sure my 7 hours on this course translates to a 5 and a half hour road race. In fact, I
was sure enough that when I finally finished, I kept asking Richard if I took 3rd in my age group. It was only a small group that did the full marathon,
and I figured I had ran well enough to take 3rd. He was there at the finish. He had taken up the medal-handing-out position when the official
volunteer had gone home, so he got to give me my medal and cut my timing chip off my shoe. But he kept ignoring me about where I placed in my
age group. I guess he thought that with a 7 hour finish, I was kidding.
I waited to cheer for blue shirt when he came in, and then we headed out.
When results were finally posted, I saw that I took FIRST in my age group!
Okay, so I was the ONLY one in my age group (my friend said that's because everyone else in my age group was sensible enough not to do this
run)... but even if the age groups had been expanded to 10 year age groups instead of 5, I would have still taken 3rd... with someone behind me!
I wanted some proof of just how challenging the course was, so I asked on the marathon maniac facebook page if anyone had taken any pictures.
Here is a response I got, "I was going to but was afraid to let go of the trees I was using to get me down the hills." So... it wasn't just me.
I keep trying to decide if this one was more difficult than Pike's Peak. I'm not sure if it's just because Pike's Peak is a distant memory, but I'm thinking
this one may have been harder. Definitely one of the toughest runs I've ever done. But still so much fun. If I had been on fresher legs, I think I
would have enjoyed it more. And I'm still thinking of taking up Parkour...