Technically this was my second Tecumseh Marathon this year, with last year’s race being rescheduled to January. January’s race had snow, ice, mud, and was turned into a looped mess of extreme conditions. I loved it and the cold temps made it even more enjoyable. Finished that race third overall in a time of 3:26. When it was announced the next race was scheduled for an October date, I was ready to sign up and get a crack at the real Tecumseh Trail Marathon course. Plus the warmer temps would be such a benefit. After convincing several friends to signup, training had begun. Was able to get in a pretty good base, lots of great long runs on the trails, and felt like I was in pretty good shape. Expectations were high for a great race.
Marie and I headed down to Bloomington Friday afternoon. Besides getting stuck in traffic a couple times, we got down there pretty quick because we didn’t make any stops. We checked into our hotel, which was a fantastic room. There was a couch in it. Then we drove over to packet-pickup and then off to dinner at Olive Garden with great friends. Everyone was excited and all in a great mood. After dinner we headed back to the hotel where all of us were staying except for Devin. Devin was staying at the host hotel and would meet us at the start of the race in the morning. We made our plans of when would leave and all went to our rooms for the night. Spent the next hour getting everything ready to go for the morning.
After hitting the snooze three times in the morning I finally decided to wake up. Marie was getting to sleep in because she was doing the fun run, which meant she didn’t have to be there until 11:00 or so and she would be riding with Marylin and Kellie. The rest of us were meeting in the lobby at 7:00 for breakfast. After getting ready, I arrived in the lobby at about 7:15. Had a bagel, a mini doughnut, and a cup of coffee. We all loaded up into the suv and headed to the finish line where we would catch the shuttle bus to the start. With the race a point to point course, it’s much nicer to have your vehicle at the finish. On the way to the bus, we all took in the great scenery. With the peak of Autumn happening, it was incredibly beautiful with lots of orange, yellow, and browns. We pulled into the park. It was nothing like it was in January. No snow, ice, or running rivers going across the roads. The finish area was covered in massive crunchy leaves instead of the thick mud we had before. I took in the views across the lake while the rest were ordering their medals. I sat on a picnic bench and thought about how much fun the race was going to be. After using the restrooms, we loaded onto the bus for the long ride to the start.
We finally arrived with about twenty minutes to the start. That gave plenty of time to use the restroom again. But not enough time to get in the half-mile warmup I was hoping for. I did two strides and that was it. Saw some friendly faces at the start. Talked a little about the race and couldn’t wait to get on the trails. Then another bus showed up and I knew the wait would be a little bit longer. The anticipation was killing me. I was getting a little too nervous and the more I thought about us getting started, the less I thought about my race plan.
The time finally came. With the start of the race we were all off and running. The beginning of the race was on a gravel road, so the pace was kind of fast. But I stayed with the front pack, thinking it would slow down once we hit the trails. When we hit what I thought was the beginning of the trails, was actually a fire road with huge rocks and gravel. The pace did not slow down. I felt ok going with the group. Devin and I were talking while two of the other guys were talking, with another runner along for the ride. The five of us were packed pretty good. I kept looking at my watch and seeing that we were still running around 6:20’s. The goal before the race was to go out around 6:50’s to 7:00 minute pace. Let the pack go if they were going faster and hope to pull them back later in the race. I was a little scared to let them go, so I stayed with them. We reached the first big climb of the race. Devin went around the two runners and pushed the pace up the hill. I went with him and we formed a little gap over the other runners. When we reached the top, the pace slowed effort wise. Not too far down the road, we hit another hill and Devin picked the pace up again. At first I went with, but then decided it was too fast. I let the other three runners go ahead of me. Slowly they pulled away and finally to a point that I didn’t see them. I was still running faster than I wanted, but didn’t want them to pull away too much.
The front group kept a gap on me for about 2 miles. I was taking the hills easy, but going too fast on the downhills and the flatter technical sections. We were running on trails that were very similar to the single track deer trails at the dunes, with a bit of Imagination Glen type of technical to it. Lots of climbing and lots of steep downhills. The woods cleared up a little and I could see the group just a little ahead. I was surprised that I was pulling them in. I had been going the same pace as when they pulled away, so that meant they were slowing. That got me a excited that maybe it was my day to win. Maybe I was running a smart race. I felt pretty good. The pace was faster than I planned. I finally caught back up and tagged along the back. The five of us weaved around the trails and climbed up and down the hills. On the hills they would gap me a tiny bit and I would pull them back in on the downhill and the more technical sections. One of the runners slowly fell back and out of sight. I was getting more excited the way things were playing out. After we crossed one creek and headed up the hill, Devin made a wrong turn. We all yelled up to him and he returned back to the trail. This put one of the other guys in the lead with me in second, then Devin, and then one of the other guys. The new guy in front picked up the pace. I was fine with it on the flat technical stuff and the downhills. But it seemed too fast on the uphills. I stepped off the trail and let Devin and the other guy pass me while we were on a big climb. I felt fine, I just didn’t want to push it. We flew over the top of the climb, down a steep hill, and then started another climb. The three of them started to gap me. I let them go and their lead kept increasing.
Again the lead group was out of sight. I was fine with that, knowing we would be getting to more technical stuff and I could easily reel them back in. I was looking at the ground heading up one of the hills checking for roots. I made a right turn and came upon a little shelter building. On the front side of it, there was a trail going left and right. But I didn’t see any pink ribbons that we were supposed to be following. I knew right away I made a wrong turn. Didn’t know how bad I messed up though. I waited a minute to collect myself. I was extremely frustrated. Then the runner who was in fifth place ran right up to the shelter too. At first we thought that maybe we didn’t make a wrong turn since both of us were there. We waited another minute to see if the runner in sixth would come up from behind. The fifth place guy ran a little bit back down the trail and noticed a ribbon. He yelled up to me and we both headed back on course. Now people would think that the trail was then poorly marked. It wasn’t the case. It was pretty obvious which way to turn. We both had been looking down at the roots and just missed them. He lead for a little bit and then stepped aside to let me lead. I was now kind of in a panic mode and thought the guys in the lead were getting too far ahead. I dropped the pace and flew through the trails. We had gotten lost around seven miles into the race. So there was plenty of racing left to do. I didn’t keep my cool and let too much of my competitiveness take over.
I spent the next four miles going way too fast. I was enjoying the trail, the scenery, and having fun. Now if the race was only a half-marathon, that would be fine. But I was doing a marathon. At one of the aid stations, I stopped to get something to drink, while the runner in fifth passed me and picked up the pace. I let him go. Around twelve miles I was starting to feel tired. I knew I was coming up to the biggest climb of the race. I had never ran it, but I heard the stories and had seen videos of it. The course came out of the woods onto a road. I picked it up a little on the road. The Sun was out and it was getting hot quickly. All of a sudden I felt extremely tired. My legs were feeling weak and the fast early pace had caught up to me. As the feeling hit me, I saw the big hill right in front of me. I looked up and saw the fourth place runner nearing the top. I slowed my pace once I hit the hill. not more than thirty meters up the hill, I started walking. I was done. Legs were hurting too much to run up. I’m known as a good hill runner, but I destroyed my legs by not following my race plan. Thought to myself how stupid it was for me to run way above my head. Why would I run under 6:30 pace. None of them could hold that pace. We were all running above our heads. I was supposed to run smart and pass them all near the end. I ruined my race.
While walking up the hill, I was passed by four runners. It was going to be a struggle the rest of the way and I was going to hurt a lot. Once I reached the top, I went into a slow run. This would continue for about four miles. Around mile seventeen, Sam had caught up to me while I was walking down a road. He urged me to run with him. I told him about getting lost and being stupid about my pace. He said we should work together, but I was still hurting too much to go with him. On the next very short climb, I started walking again and Sam left me behind. Not too long after, a spectator handed me a gel. I asked him who was leading. He told me, then said who was in second. I asked him how the young guy (Devin) was doing. He said he looked extremely tired and was struggling.
Back onto the trail, the lead woman pulled up along the side of me. After I had took a whole bunch of gels and ate a few shot blocks, I was feeling a lot better. I decided to tag along with her. We were rolling at a good clip and it felt great to be running well again. We reached the hill that everyone had talked about at the eighteen mile mark. It was a big hill. The whole way up was switchbacks. But even with the switchbacks it was steep and kept going on and on. We did a little walking with a little running when we could. Was really nice when we reached the top and headed on the downhill I was feeling fantastic. When we reached the next hill, she stepped aside and let me go ahead of her. I slowly pulled away. After a little while a spectator told me I was in fifteenth place. I had thought more runners had passed me than that. My burst of energy was giving out though. I started the walk/run method again. I would walk the hills and run the rest. The top female runner and a few others passed me up. I was eating the shot blocks and taking gels again, hoping to get some energy.
After the halfway, I had been asking for pop at every aid station I came upon. But they all looked at me like I was crazy for wanting soda. I would joke back at them saying I wanted pop and not soda. Pop has saved me from many bonks at trail races. This was the first time I had been in a trail race that was a marathon or longer that didn’t have any. Even the January Tecumseh race had pop. My stomach was feeling well and I knew pop would help. But none was to be had the whole race. At about the twenty-one mile mark, I started feeling good again. I decided to use the energy I had and push the pace. I started passing runners again. I went by the top female runner and then caught up the guy who had left me when he was in fourth. He was struggling just as bad as I was. I finally made my way into tenth place after hearing the camera guy tell me.
My thought now was that maybe if I really pushed, I could catch Sam and a few more. Once I hit the road again, I dropped the pace to what my gps said was 6:50. I saw Sam on the trail that was coming back the way I was going out on the road. He made a joke and told me to take the shortcut over to the trail. Now I was really excited that I could probably catch him because he had about a two minute lead with four miles to go. When I made the turn at the end of the road back onto the trail, I stopped and got three drinks. I drank two cups of water and a cup of Gatorade. I started running and felt great. Went past a couple runners and was rolling pretty good. Then all of a sudden I was hit with some major fatigue. It took me all the way to a walk. Looked at my watch and saw that I had just over three miles to go. Runners started passing me again. The same runners I had just passed. Looked back and saw the top female runner again. As she went by, she said the best possible quote at that time. “Don’t give up on yourself”. Wow. That really hit me with some emotion. At first I kept walking, thinking of the quote over and over. I had been in this type of hurt before and have pushed through. One more runner went by before I started running again. I had just under three miles to go. I kicked it in and starting running down the trails. I looked at my watch and saw 7:30 pace. It was crazy that I had been walking and now going this fast. I was loving this part of the trail. Very technical and just the trail I was made to run. I starting passing the runners again. This kept up for another mile. I had passed five runners now and knew I was in tenth place. But I still wanting to pull in a few more. Up ahead I could see the top female again. But my legs were starting to tire. I saw her walking a little up a hill. When I reached the hill, I started walking. This would go on for the rest of the race. On the steeper little hills, I would walk. Then pick it back up to a slow run. On the downhills I would let it all loose. I was looking back because one of the guys was catching up. I didn’t want him to pass me because he looked like he was in my age group. I finally hit the road. It meant about a mile and half left until the finish. I picked up the pace to about 7:45. I felt fine running that on the flat. When I got to the final big climb, I saw two runners halfway up walking. I started the hill in a slow run. Not too far up, I was into a walk. I looked back and saw the other runner starting the climb. He was running, but a I had a good gap and thought I could just run when he got close. I kept looking back until I saw him finally start walking. The hill was brutally long and the heat was killing me. On the turn at the top of the hill, I looked back and saw there wasn’t much of a gap. I started running again. Looking ahead I saw the other two runners were out of reach. My goal now was just to hold him off from behind. The road was a lot longer than I thought. A couple times I went into a walk. Then up ahead I saw and heard Marie, Marylin, and Kellie cheering from a picnic table. Right before I hit the corner, I lost my breath. I’m guessing it was my allergies. I walked for about five seconds and then started running down the grass hill to the finish. I looked back a few times until I knew he wouldn’t catch me.
I finished in 10th place overall, 3rd place age group, with a time of 3:52. Only 52 minutes off my goal time. I enjoyed the course and was happy I finished. But I was upset with my stupid start to the race. I didn’t do anything according to plan. When I heard the winning time was 3:10, I really got mad at myself. If I had done what I wanted to do, I could have competed for the win. But I got too excited and raced stupidly. Not an hour later I was fine with the race. There is always another one on the calendar. I learned some lessons from this one and had a lot of fun. I also learned that I need to add more faster running into training, more hills (means more Greeks runs), and going farther and faster on the long runs. It was a great experience training for this race with such great friends. We had some epic runs that I’ll never forget. Great breakfast times after long runs. It really was one of the those races where the journey was so much more memorable than the destination. Hopefully recovery from the race goes quick and get back into some great training for The Huff 50k and many more races for the rest of my life. I’ve had some amazing support from a lot of friends. Even with some people counting me out and hoping I didn’t run well, the support blocked those people out. On to many more journeys and maybe I’ll go back next year for a better overall result.