Monday, October 15, 2012

Whistlestop Recap

The course
The blazing orange and yellow fall colors of the Ashland area were barely visible through the windows of the school bus as I rode to the start line of "The Whistlestop Marathon" in Ashland, Wisconsin. I was sitting next to a class act and fellow member of the Minnesota Running Wild (MNRW), Don Sullivan. We chatted about the race, about our families, and about Lewis and Clark as we rode from Ashland to the "Tri-Timbers Resort."

After what seemed like hours, we climbed out of the bus and into the brisk, damp Lake Superior air. Runners mingled around the bag drop outside, and lines loosely formed near the two rows of port-a-potties. On the way to the lodge I met Sheila, a runner I'd paced at the 2011 Brainerd marathon. She said I was a great pacer, which made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  A little later, I met another runner, Kyle, who I knew I'd seen before, and he showed me and Dan LaPlante, another MNRW member, a back door to the lodge, where runners had packed themselves to stay warm.

Inside the lodge I borrowed a dollar from Dan to get a cup of "Hawaiian" coffee--that's what the friendly bartender at the lodge called it. I assumed she meant a Kona blend, since the pure Kona blend costs around $60 a pound. I hadn't had caffeine for over a month, so between the caffeinated gel Don gave me and the cup of coffee, I knew I would be wired. After some time relaxing, focusing, and a little chatting with Dan, I headed to the start.

When the gun went off, I settled into a comfortable pace alongside Don--he said he was shooting for a 2:45, so I thought I'd stay right with him and hope for the best. The course was scenic, but the rain had left the trail soft, and it was challenging to find a firm place to run. We often had to sacrifice running tangents in favor of firm footing.

A couple miles in, Don and I began running next to a tall woman in a red singlet. Eventually we introduced ourselves, and I found out she was from St. Louis Park and running her second marathon. She was also aiming for the 2:45ish range. It was awesome having three of us running together--for much of the race Don and Jenelle were the only runners I could see.

Don, Jenelle, Nate
Laura had graciously come along on this trip as wife support. The first time I saw her she was cheering and taking photographs. "Do you want to throw your things?" she asked. The dampness and cool weather made me shake my head, "no." It was too cold to get rid of my hat and gloves.

The miles ticked by as we ran through the fall foliage of yellow birch and various northern hardwoods. We chatted here and there about running--Jenelle had also run in college, though much better than me, I'm sure. It was only her second marathon, and she'd had a kid in between. Don offered a little advice on the course (slippery bridges, elevation profile, and surface), while I gave my water stop tip (dump some liquid out if it's too full, then pinch for an easier pour).

I don't really remember a ton of details after that. I know I saw Laura again around mile 7. Jenelle and I picked it up a little, while Don kept the same pace. Around mile 16, Jenelle had to stop at an aid station when her shoe came untied. Luckily a volunteer was able to tie it for her--the weather made for cold hands. I couldn't open my gels with my fingers either--my teeth had to take care of that. At the same aid station, I choked on my water and Don caught back up to me for a bit.

After pulling away from Don, I could hear steps clicking behind me on the soft crushed limestone. For about a quarter-of-a-mile I thought it was Don, but it turned out to be Jenelle. She was feeling good and looking strong. "You think you're going to pick it up at mile 20?" she asked.

"No," I said. "But if you do, do you mind if I try to stay with you and draft?" I asked. "And same goes for you if I pick it up."

"No problem," she said.

She picked it up at 20, and I after trying to stay with her for a mile, she was gone. From that point on I mostly remember pain. I got a weird tunnel vision, where when I closed my eyes it looked like I was playing "The Last Starfigher." Why did I close my eyes during a marathon with an uneven surface? According to the exercise physiologists, my brain was not getting enough glycogen to properly function. If, however, you ask my family, that happens to my brain often.

 As bad as it hurt, I tried to stay on pace. I knew a 2:45 was out of reach, but I was hoping to at least break 2:50. I tried pumping my arms harder to make my legs follow suit. I tried to embrace the pain, to breath into my hamstrings as lightning bolts of pain shot through them.

Somewhere around mile 23 or 24 I went past Gerad Mead--a runner I normally wouldn't see until after the race. He was grabbing his hamstring and walking. I gave him a low five and kept moving. Then, I passed Kyle. "C'mon Kyle," I said.


"The top of my foot is killing me," he said. "Good luck."

I crossed a road where a volunteer shouted, "Looking good!"

"Liar," I replied. I was trying to be funny, but I probably sounded angry, so if that volunteer's out there, I apologize.

With about 1.5 miles left, we hit the pavement. A switch flipped in my hamstrings, and the pain was gone. I picked up the pace as we rounded the corner towards downtown Ashland. With less than a mile left, Kyle caught back up to me and passed me.

As we moved through a series of turns, I tried to position myself on his outside shoulder. Our pace increased. We came around the last turn, a volunteer called out, "the finish is just past the train depot."

Kyle & Nate
We were sprinting. I came alongside him. I could hear spectators getting louder as we approached the finish. The announcer was saying something, but I couldn't hear what. We went across the line at the same time. Kyle later said he went across ahead of me, but I don't know how he could tell--our gun times were identical: 2:50:28.2. I'm not sure of the nuances of USATF rules, but since my chip time was over two seconds faster than his, the final results have me in front of him--6th overall, 5th male, and 2nd in my age group.

Thanks to everyone who made this race possible. All my running friends, including members of MNRW who've helped push me in training. Junal for letting us stay in her "cabin" near Ashland. My family for being proud of me. My high school track coach, Coach Rathke. My mother for birthing me. And the students, parents, and staff at Quest Academy, for giving my training an extra little kick once school started.

And most of all, thanks to Laura. She put up with my sweaty, stinky self all summer, helped me pack all my crap for the race, lets me eat like a starving grizzly, and is incredibly supportive and kind.

Happy Running!


Anonymous said...

Loved reading this recap. I can totally hear you saying, "liar," and it coming off as you sounding upset. "My mother for birthing me". . . .too funny.

Wow! That's impressive performance for Jenelle--and the fact it was her second marathon.

Congrats on a nice PR. I wish you were running Boston, but maybe we will meet up again at a marathon next summer?!?!

Stephanie Jones said...

I love reading your recaps and reports. Now that I'm running more and planning to work up to more races, your tips will also come in handy. :)