The light mist picked up and the grey fog settled in tight. Car temperature read 42 degrees. I'm always cold when wearing shorts in 42 degrees. This brought about the all to common, back-and-forth regarding clothing choice. Hat or no hat? Arm warmers or light jacket? Smart wool socks or thin socks? I settled on arm warmers, hat, thin gloves, thin socks, and olive oil for the legs. What, you haven't heard of the legend of olive oil Joe?
The race started in the middle of a gravel lot off of I-80 in an area called Mile Run, Pa. There is nothing in Mile Run, Pa but a gravel lot and trees and apparently a trail half marathon. Which meant the gravel lot now had some portapotties, orange cones, and a Scheetz truck.
My strategy was to start hot and try not to fade late in the race. I knew it would be almost impossible to pass people once we hit the slippery, rock laden single track. We zipped up a gravel road and I dodged through a few elbows and feet before sliding (some poor soul had already hit the deck in front of me no more than two steps onto the wet rocks) down the embankment and onto the trail. The first 3 miles or so was uphill, technical, and slippery enough to test the ankles. I pushed hard passing one or two on the way up. An older gent in the Brooks Pure Grit floated by me like he was out for a sunday stroll. I eventually settled in with two other runners and we slogged up some hills and slipped back down them. At some point I gapped them slightly but realized I was reefed.....and we werent' even halfway.
I looked back and saw an unfamiliar runner emerging up the hill out of the mist. He too was running with ease but was empathetic enough to assure me he would fade on the next hill (I saw him at the finish looking ready head out for more).
Realizing that my legs needed a break if I was to finish in one piece I settled in and started chatting with Jeff who was wearing the Inov8 X-Talons (I realize now that I am a running shoe geek). He appeared to be able to accelerate at any point but was in no rush to do so. We discussed shoes and up-coming races. It was nice to have some conversation to pass the time and take the mind from the task at hand.
Suddenly, without warning, the descent to the third aid station went from a super fast, smooth, pine trail to impossibly steep. Had I been would have easily skittered into a tree. Jeff hollered and I dug my heels in and shuffled down without incident wondering how some of the poor souls who don't run many trails would fair.
The last 2 mile stretch was downhill, a repeat of the climb at the beginning of the race. With the wetness and mud it looked like a pack of wild hogs had been trampling around looking for mushrooms. I started thinking about bacon. mmm, bacon. Once I came to my senses I realized where I was and that the race was almost over. I was focucsed on short, quick steps as the trail was slick with wet rocks and gooey mud. In my mind I was envisioning the small foot bridge that we clambered across about 1/4 mile into the race. I knew after that there was some incline and then the gravel road to the finish.
As I approached the foot bridge, the foot bridge that I had been thinking about for 2 miles, the foot bridge that was to take me to a nice, smooth gravel road I was surprised to see bright orange tape blocking the pat across the bridge. My mind went blank. All of my visualization went out the window as what I thought would be a finishing climb on the gravel road was not to be. My mind couldn't reconcile that I was not supposed to run across the bridge. What kind of sick joke is this? was all all could think. I ran past the bridge but couldn't see any orange markers. My brain was so focused on the bridge being my path towards the finish that I couldn't make heads or tails of where to go. As I was cursing my inability to locate the trail I looked up and saw orange tape fluttering off the trees high above my head and heading straight uphill. This was not a trail, but a jumble of wet rocks and leaves. Those sick, sadistic, race directors! After setting my brain straight I lumbered up and gently padded down and through the madness.
The finish involved sprinting down a large drainage tunnel that must have gone under I-80 and then running back up the gravel road, looking over my shoulder certain someone was sneaking up on me.
I find the finish anti-climactic in many ways. Today's was particularly so. The grey mist was still falling. A few runners were milling about. The Scheetz truck was getting ready to hand out hot and cold drinks. The large gravel parking lot looked the same as when I left. The clock read 1:56 and change. Good enough for 13th place.
I would be remiss without commenting on the post-race food. Perhaps it was the weather or the fact that this is a fairly new race or maybe I was spoiled after the pizza, bbq chicken, and corn bread at the Dam Half Marathon last fall. The fare included Scheetz coffee/hot chocolate, and smoothies. Alson on hand were turkey/ham and cheese sandwhiches and some sticky sweet donuts. Not exactly quality recovery food.
I pounded a smoothie and immediately got a brain freeze. My wet body went cold so I changed and decided to slam a hot chocolate. After two of those I felt better and then figured what the heck and plowed into some donuts and sandwhiches.
A sandwhich in need of a facelift