Groundhog Day Marathon Firsts

My second marathon in eight days was a winner and filled with good times and a few firsts in my running career.

After last weekend’s night marathon in Indianapolis where Julie won the women’s race and I finished second in the guy’s race, we spent the next few days with my parents in Findlay before heading up to Grand Rapids, MI Friday afternoon for my second marathon in eight days (Julie was resting up this weekend).  Admittedly, the novelty of snow, cold, and blustery Midwest winter had been wearing off this past week and we had a tough time motivating ourselves to get out and get our normal running in.  And the drive to Michigan wasn’t any more motivating.

As we made our way to Grand Rapids the snow levels continued rising and snow began coming down while we were out on the road.  No big deal I figured, having grown up in Ohio and having had plenty of snowy winters, but the snow just kept coming.  We checked into our hotel, went to packet pick up for the race, and grabbed dinner, and it snowed the entire time.  It snowed when we went to bed and it was snowing when we woke up.  There was a lot of snow!

Pre-race shuttle to the starting line, with the snow coming down hard around us.

I wore the same get up as the previous week with running pants and a wind jacket with arm and calf sleeves underneath along with my hat and gloves.  The race course consisted of 6 laps of 4.4 miles on an unplowed bike path.  It was mainly flat with a couple little hills, and overall a scenic course.  I had a pair of crampon-like things for my shoes that my mom had given me but after jogging around a little in them and scoping out the competition near the starting line, I decided to ditch them and run in my road trainers.

All the runners lined up to start the half and full marathons.

The first lap was the toughest because we were essentially plowing the course.  I stayed behind a few guys for the first lap, following them through the quickly developing ruts in the path.  The snow was still coming down at this point, getting in my eyes and mouth as I tried to keep my focus on the slippery path ahead of me.

A very snow course with ruts to run in on the bike path.

Immediately on the second lap I noticed the benefit of all those that had trampled down the snow on their first lap too.  There were two paths carved into the snow on the bike path with what seemed like a foot of snow in between them.  I stayed behind a couple of nice guys, Alex Best (a 2:37 guy (actually, I found out there was another 2:37 guy and a 2:39 guy in the race as well, so good competition)) who was running the full, and Brett Austin who was running the half.  We got into a nice rhythm.  We had two guys in front of us and we slowly reeled them in knowing that at least one of them was a half marathoner, and not being sure about the other guy.

Trying to keep a good pace in the snow.

While the course got a little easier on the second lap, the next challenge, that of lapping runners, presented itself.  With two lanes to run in and all the dodging and weaving between runners and trudging through the foot high median of snow between lanes to pass, I began feeling my stabilizer muscles tiring much sooner than usual.  My hip flexors felt it first and then my hamstrings.  Generally, people were courteous and moved over for the front group but some simply didn’t budge and we were forced to run through really thick snow or squeeze between them to get through.

Crossing the finish line with plenty of snow and ice still on the ground.

The other issue I realized by the end of the second lap was that I failed to put on my chip correctly.  It was hooked onto my bib and I hadn’t noticed.  I pinned the whole thing onto my jacket and started the race.  Near the end of the second lap, I noticed Alex’s chip on his shoe, looked down at mine on my bib, and hoped it was actually working.  Near the turn around, my chip fell off my bib and was gone.  I told the guys at the turn around I was in the race and had lost my chip.  I kept running hoping it would all work out.

A little bit of ice on my face at the finish.

I started eating on the third lap, taking a Gu and drinking some Gatorade.  I got a little boost from it and separated from Alex and Brett.  I got pretty motivated as my footing was getting better and I could see the guys in front of me.  I reeled in the first and found out he was in the half.  I knew the other guy in the lead was in the half too.  Some competitive streak got going in me and I decided to try to catch the leading half guy.  I got him shortly after the three mile mark on the third loop and made an effort to maintain my lead to be the first person through the half way mark out of both races.  I also noticed I had gotten down to sub-three hour pace with a half somewhere in the 1:29’s.

Standing with the second and third place marathon guys after the finish.

From then on it was simply maintaining my pace and keeping my rhythm.  I ate one gel every lap and took Gatorade at the first aid station each lap.  I kept right on around 30 minutes per loop and saw my lead grow as the race went on.  My hamstrings were getting tired but not cramping, and I felt strong throughout the run.  Other runners were very supportive and I cruised in with a 2:58.33 first place finish.

Standing with my trophy and the race director and women’s marathon winner.

Last week’s course was covered in snow, but this week, everything was under heavy snow, something I’ve never experienced.  It was fluffy and deep and made for an entirely new challenge.  I feel really good about my fitness right now.  I’m not normally a strong runner when I’m not in my flat, rhythmic mode but the last two weeks are promising that maybe I’m getting better.  I hope so because we have a 50k next weekend in Virginia.  We’re running one of David Horton’s races and while he knows us as long-distance hikers, I’d like to do well in ultra marathon running as well.

Overall, the race was really well run. The people were friendly, and there was excitement in the air because of the craziness of the entire snowy event.  The Groundhog theme was fun and fitting and the first place award, a groundhog carved by a local chainsaw artist was pretty cool.  I wish the race directors luck in keeping the race going and think they did a good job; another race I recommend to others looking for a fun, adventurous event, though not one to try when looking for fast times.

I’ve included a link to a nice article from the local Grand Rapids newspaper as well.  Click here.

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