In looking for a fall challenge, I decided to try this small trail marathon since at least one member of my running group was also planning to participate. I wanted to do well, but it was not going to be an "A" race - my main purpose for entering was to keep myself moving and get my run mileage back up after the Rev3 Cedar Point Half Rev so I would be prepared for my build-up to The Boston Marathon.
Leading up to race weekend, my training success was varied. Right before Cedar Point, I had my first ever bout with what I suspect is plantar fasciitis. When doing my race-specific training build-up for the Bobcat, it wasn't keeping me off my feet completely, but I was taking rest days a lot more often than I typically do and I was being extra careful. I had some of my hardest training days ever, but by 3 or so weeks before the race, I was starting to feel pretty good (not particularly FAST, mind you, but I was running comfortably) I spent a lot of my long runs at Oak Openings on the "boy scout trail" and was doing weekday runs at least once a week up and down the hills of the local war of 1812 fort, Fort Meigs.
The family made a getaway out of the weekend and we loaded up the car and headed the 3.5hr drive down to Burr Oak State Park where we had a cabin along with friends, one of which was also running the race.
The cabin was really nice, having been recently remodeled and the lodge and park are beautiful. Race weekend is unfortunately about a week late for peak color, but it was still amazing to be out in the woods. We had a nice dinner of homemade chicken paprikas with nice salad and french bread. With an extra hour in bed due to the daylight savings time change, Chris and I got up early Sunday morning, had our breakfasts (egg and cheese burritos for me, oatmeal and yogurt for him) and were out the door into the morning chill in plenty of time for the 7a start.
Chris and I waiting for direction at the start
The first 3.5-4 miles were about .5 up the park road and then a short 3ish mile lollipop loop on single-track hiking trails. This first miles were, as you would expect, pretty spirited for the competitors - but right away after hitting the single track we got a dose of what would be the norm for the day: damp, leaf-covered trails which required that I (an admittedly poor descender) take it nice and easy to avoid catastrophe due to roots or rocks hiding beneath the ground cover. I didn't go out too aggressively on the 1/2 mile road section, so when we hit the single track it was a long, snaking single file line of runners.
After the lollipop loop we hit the road again for a couple hundred yards before bombing downhill for the main course of the day - a loop around the Burr Oak Reservoir. Once hitting the road, I used the space to try and slot a little better by pace. I skipped aid station 1 as my UltraSpire Impulse was fully stocked with EFS liquid shot, gels, water and NUUN.
Miles 4-13 were very similar course-wise to the initial loop. Single track with moderate grades and switchbacks. Between mile 4 and 6 somewhere, strong trail-running buddy Jeff pulled up with a twisted ankle and had to fall back and walk it off. I was secretly hoping to use him as my pacer so I was sad for him and disappointed to not have his vast trail experience to tag along with. I was happy to see him across a finger of the lake and shouted encouragement from the woods that I was glad to see him running again.
I was moving up through the field at this point and was running well. The legs felt good, my HR was being kept in check for the most part, squarely in zone 3, and best of all, the day was fun and and the course was beautiful.
At aid station 3 around mile 10 I saw the first runner ahead of me since around mile 7. I asked a volunteer "how many ahead" and he speculated about 8. I didn't get anxious and spent the whole time between aid station 3 and 4 moving closer. I would gain on the flats and hold steady on the ups and downs, but he was far enough ahead that I only saw him on switchbacks or in long clearings. I finally caught him and moved into what I think was either 7th or 8th place at aid station 4 (where once again I continued without stopping, I hadn't stopped at any yet, but was getting my calories and hydration in right on schedule.)
Aid station 4 was accompanied by almost a mile of road running. This allowed me to "run" for a little, but it was short lived. At the end of the road section we entered the trail again only to find out the trail was really an old road/paved trail that went straight up. It was mostly broken up and washed out so it was tough going to make sure I didn't twist an ankle. After that hill, the next 4-5 miles ended up on a mixed-use bridle and hiking trail. The thing about the bridle trail is that while it was wider and had less roots, it also was completely free from switch-backs. The grades through this section were really tough, and required hiking rather than running from me. This also was the beginning of the end for my "racing" for the day.
By the time I had reached the mile 18 aid station, the foot that hadn't bothered me throughout my taper had become so bad that I was having trouble putting power into my left foot when climbing. I took stock of how I felt and found that I had unconsciously started to plant my foot sideways when climbing to take pressure off of the arch/achilles/ankle. I took some time at the aid station and ate and drank real food and refilled my bottles. Let me just say that to me, nothing had ever tasted better than the cups of ginger ale I had on the course. Amazing.
I ran from the aid station and hoped that the short break and the food would revive me, but climbing was still difficult. My foot continued to hurt more and although the section from the mile 18 aid station to the mile 21 aid station had easier grades than the previous one they were starting to feel steeper due to the pain in my foot. I was reduced to walking hills that I would have been able to run a few miles earlier.
The last section between the mile 21 aid station and the finish was about 1/2 new trail and 1/2 part of the first lollipop loop. By the time I reached this section, the foot was giving me problems on the flats as well, putting me in pain whenever it didn't land squarely on smooth ground. I approached another runner and as we chatted I with all honesty told him that at some point in the previous mile or so, running ceased to be fun anymore. I was waging an internal debate with myself between racing because I was "supposed to be" and having fun, because the race wasn't fun anymore.
For most of that last 5 miles, I let the "fun" win. I wanted SO badly to run. Other racers were passing me and there was nothing I could do about it, but I just couldn't put myself through the misery of trying to run and having it hurt. I had to have walked 40% or more of that last 5 miles. As I approached the top of a hill, I was ready to start making deals with myself - "when you get to that spot of sunlight, start running and try and run for a couple of minutes" Then, that spot of sunlight was 100 yards from the road - 1/2 a mile downhill on the road to the finish. I had given up many places in that section, but I ran the rest of the way to the finish and was glad to have gotten there.
For a guy from the flat lands of NW Ohio, this course was a challenge. Would a more conservative pace in the first 1/2 have resulted in a better race? I don't know. I don't think it would have resulted in a better finish time. It might have resulted in a bit more fun in the second half, but in the past the PF issues have been more about time on my feet and less about what effort level I used during that time, so I fear if I had run slower I might have become hampered at an earlier point in the mileage...I'll never know. The next day I went out with the family and walked the initial lollipop loop and didn't have any problems, so I am hopeful the recovery is still in progress and I will have it licked completely in the near future. I will take 1 week off of running for sure, then test it and go from there. Boston training starts in early December so the goal is to get to start it healthy.
When I go back to Burr Oak to re-attack the Bobcat, I think I might have to embrace the "suck" and do at least one if not more 15+ mile runs around the hills of Fort Meigs. The longest outing I had there was 10 miles and that probably wasn't enough climbing to prepare me. I also might try to make the time to get to a hilly weekend training spot or two to get more hilly trail miles in my legs.
I am looking forward to going back if for no other reason than to enjoy the park with the family more.