When I passed Kyle I kept on at the pace, just to make sure he was going to drop off for good, which as I mentioned he did. I’m not gonna lie, despite my ever-tiring legs and concern for what was to come during this second half of the race, overall my mood picked up considerably. No matter what finishing time I ended up with now, I was pretty excited that I had a really good chance of entering the final stretch around Yellowwood lake alone and then finishing in first place. I rode that wave of positivity for the following stretch of miles that pulled me back into the twisting turning singletrack of Tecumseh. Again, all alone I pushed on down the trail and although I had a few minor ankle rolls along the way, nothing was shutting down my pace. Still, I hadn’t forgotten about the competitor behind me and I kept this in mind while I tried to keep moving strong, hoping it would always be just fast enough to make it out of the woods first.
Then the hills kept coming, which I expected. Each one began breaking down my spirit and pace as I struggled to climb each winding path, worrying about just how slow I was going up them and how much 2nd place might be making on me if they were running stronger than I. Then suddenly I noticed that the turns and hills looked rather familiar and soon enough I realized I was now on the portion of the course that I had been training on for the past month, which I knew would only benefit me as I could flow through the turns easier, knowing which way the trail darted after crashing across streams and creek beds. I found myself on a longer stretch of flattened trail at the bottom of the hills and I pushed as hard as I felt was safe enough to go considering I still had a good number of miles to cover, with some pretty rough hills up ahead too.
I came through the flat ground and started towards a group of volunteers manning an aid station when I heard one of them call out, “Good job Kyle!” Then with a tone that attempted to cover their mistake, “Looking good..Scott?” Apparently word had not spread that Kyle went down and dropped out. I went through the station without grabbing any fluid, but pulled out the 3rd Gu packet from my glove and did my best to choke it down. I passed another volunteer who questioned to me, “You passed Kyle?” “Yeah,” I breathed out, “I don’t know what happened to him.” “Me either!” they yelled back. I ran further down the packed dirt road and heard that familiar second cheering coming from behind as the next runner came out of the woods. Just then I darted back into the woods, ran through the deepest stream on the course, filling up my shoes with icy water, and jumping out the other side to begin a long windy climb upward. Halfway up I had a good view of the road 2nd place would be coming down, but no one was there yet and I was sure he was comfortably far enough back to continue on without too much concern.
I struggled up that hill and started pushing through a rolling portion of the course that continued to rise steadily, but always kept my pace slow enough to build frustration deep within. I wanted to run faster, but my legs were getting sapped more and more with each hill. Every hill got slower and slower and I found myself grabbing onto trees to push myself up, using every advantage to save any strength I might need as I continued to eat up trail. I looked up and noticed the tree line top out and heard a truck roar by on a road just up ahead. Each portion of the course was more and more familiar and I savored the relief I felt when I popped out onto the pavement that would bring me to one of the last stretches of the course, marked by a couple of the more challenging hills. I took a quick peek back into the woods, but still saw nothing.
I took a turn on the paved road and began descending a steep downhill that would turn back upwards and enter a packed dirt road that brought me to mile 18.5. Of course, just as I took that turn onto the dirt road I heard a spectator yelling for 2nd place, who had obviously made up considerable ground during that last stretch. He was coming and coming hard. Now I was concerned….and seemingly helpless to do anything about it.
I moved up the road and came to the aid station that stood at the last entrance to the trail, of which I passed without grabbing any fluids.
So let me explain something here. I had 3 Gu’s in my gloves and 4 pinned to the inside of my shorts, none of which I pulled out to ingest. Then there were aid stations every 2 -3 miles, which offered cups of gatorade and water in non-pinchable styrofoam cups. Maybe the cups deterred me, or spilling the first few onto my face and hands, or the inability to grab them with my thick gloves, but ultimately I ingested about a total of 1/2 a cup of gatorade the whole race. Aside from that I had choked down 3 Gu packets…..and that was it. THIS, was a huge mistake. I don’t know why I was so lax on not taking fluids, especially considering how paranoid I was about it for my Chicago marathon. For some reason, I just hoped I could run through it, or maybe I thought the cold somehow diminished the need for fluids, but whatever made me decide not to take fluids during the race….it was just plain stupid.
I continued pushing along the familiar trails, anticipating when the hills were coming and started tackling them one by one, trying every mental trick to get up each one. Through all the fatigue and exhaustion I was experiencing I got by simply by making sure that, no matter what, I didn’t walk any portion of the course. Sure, some of the hills had me moving at a pace that was slower than a walk, but with each step I was pushing myself upwards as much as I could muster. I was still grabbing trees to pull me around turns and pushing off of, but at the very least I was making it to the top of the hills and doing my best to recover and let gravity pull me down the declines. Something about the attempt was working because I still couldn’t hear 2nd place at my back, even though with each climb I got more and more concerned that he was coming.
Then soon enough I found myself climbing what I knew was the very last severe climb of the race. There was both a sense of relief and dread filling me as I worked my way up the climb, fighting the urge to put my hands on my legs or just walk enough to rest my weary lungs. Finally, I made it to the top and struggled to find a quicker gear that would bring me down the trail, but not risk bringing me to the ground. My stride was so compromised at this point that I feared tripping over the smallest obstacle and either knocking the wind out of me or something a worse.
The trail then turned sharply down a quick set of stairs and popped me out onto a fire road marked by two pick up trucks and the final aid station, of which I again stupidly ran by without helping myself to any of the nourishment. I caught the volunteers off guard and they did their best to yell some encouragement as I moved up the fire road, but then I heard them yelling again, sooner after I passed, which meant 2nd place was now right on my heels and about to overtake me. So be it, my race was done.
I knew at this point that I was going to be passed and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I wasn’t going to be able to fight for the lead and I wasn’t going to be able to even hang on. He was the the stronger runner today and I was completely spent, just playing mind games to get me through the final 4 miles. We ran along the last fire road and I was surprised how long it took 2nd place to catch up to me, making me wonder if he wasn’t hurting as much as I was, but then right before we were to turn back into a declining stretch of single track he came up behind me. I was caught. “You’re awesome, go get sub 3.” I managed to gasp out as he jumped in front of me just before the trail. “Way to go man.” he said as he started the descent that would pull him away from me.
We started the winding descent and although I was completely spent I found myself actually staying close enough to be in attacking position if something untapped within me arose to the surface. We popped out at a road crossing at the bottom of the descent and a group of spectators yelled out to us as we passed by, a mere few seconds apart. We now began the run around the lake that would bring us to the finish line, just 3 miles of rolling trail marked by stretches of exposed roots, muddy banks, stream crossings and ankle breaking rocks. Unfortunately, that untapped reservoir of energy was completely dried up and my competitor began his run away from me with each step. I was completely defeated.
Each step was torture as my paced slowed again and again, and this was just the beginning. As I moved around the lake time seemed to stop and every time I looked up it seemed like I hadn’t gotten anywhere at all….the lake just kept stretching and stretching and stretching outward. I was dreading how much further I still had to run. I just wanted to be done. Considering how slow I was going I had even resigned myself to getting passed by a couple more runners, who I was sure were coming up from behind.
Then it got worse.
I noticed a sharp sensation in my stomach and a deep one as well. I wondered if I was going to throw up or completely collapse. I just know I felt terrible. Then it seemed my left eye had filled with fluid and frozen. I tried to blink it away, but nothing happened, so I rubbed it with my glove and found myself wincing with a pain that hit me deep in my eye socket for a good 5 seconds. I was only lucky the trail didn’t turn or I surely would have went down. Then I rolled my ankle again. It was like every function of my body was completely breaking down. I actually found enough strength to laugh at my predicament and maybe that was enough to keep me going, but I found the will to keep stride and slowly move my way through the woods, just hoping no bigger obstacle or rough portion of the trail would take me down, because at this point I wasn’t sure I would have the will to get back up.
Then, like magic, I saw the lake end, which meant the trail was about to spit out onto a dirt road that would mark just over a mile to the finish. I looked at my watch and realized I would not break the 3 hour mark, but all I wanted now was simply to finish…without walking at least. I was relieved to only have a smooth road to contend with and one last relatively small hill to climb. I started working my way up the hill and as I peaked out I felt a strong constriction in my quad muscles, but not enough to keep me from picking up the pace for the last portion of the course.
A couple spectators cheered me on. “Good job Scott, looking good.” I muttered out to them, “That was absolute hell.”
The course turned off the dirt road onto a grass covered stretch that wound through a campground. A very small 5 foot incline brought me into the grass and I joked to a couple spectators, “Damn. Another hill.” They laughed and assured me it was all downhill from there.
I found the will to pick up the pace for the last stretch and ran down the final chute for the finish, unable to work up any sort of sprint and finally crossed the line to a group of cheering spectators. I wobbled to the fence and held myself upright so my number could be pulled from my shirt. I was relieved to see Michelle standing at the finish, certainly for the comfort, but maybe more to have someone hold me up.
I managed to walk myself over to a set of stairs and although I know it wasn’t a good idea, I sat down. A feeling overcame me that would then consume me for the rest of the day, extending into the night even. I found myself completely depleted and began shivering uncontrollably for a good 30 minutes. My back hurt, my ankles hurt, I was incredibly nauseous. I couldn’t imagine eating anything, but I forced myself to take in some bananas and cookies. I started downing cups of water and then realized just how thirsty I was. This continued on for quite some time and things really only felt worse from there on out. It was only when I got a good amount of dinner in me that my world started to return to normal. Even now though, 2 days later, I still have bouts of nausea related to eating. This is what I get for denying fueling during a race.
1. Never, ever, no matter what, underestimate the need for fueling during a marathon. The basis for running a great marathon lies in proper training, such as speed work, hill work, long runs, etc., but ultimately this means nothing on race day if you don’t actually run the race properly. In order to have a good marathon, you have to race it as well as you train for it. This means fueling. You can only run for so long banking on the amount of training you’ve put in, but at some point you are going to have to supplement what you’ve expelled during the race. Duh right? I don’t know what I was thinking, but as I think back more and more on the race, I’m starting to kick myself more and more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of what I did….I mean, it was still a full marathon I finished….but I can’t help but wonder if the only reason I was passed was because I bonked. If I had taken the time to slow down and take in fluids, I may very well had enough to press on as things got rough. But I didn’t. Lesson learned.
2. I can still run the marathon distance, even with a lack of consistent training, and minor injury. It’s not recommended, but at least I can still do it. I feel accomplished.
3. It was good to be humbled. It was good to do things wrong….because now I know directly the importance of running the race properly. Now I know EXACTLY how it feels to crash. I know how terrible and demoralizing it is. I know what it’s like to have victory in hand and blow it on poor preparation. I know what it’s like to have a foot in my mouth. I now know that I don’t ever want to feel that again and exactly what I must do to avoid it. Coming off Chicago I was concerned at how well the race went, because I didn’t know how to top it, if I could repeat a race that went so smoothly, but now that I’ve crashed and burned, I know what it feels like to run a good race and a bad race. And I know what race I want to run in the future. It’s good to understand the spectrum of the running experience.
And now…….rest. Resting until my legs are without hesitation healed and ready to go again. And by the time that comes, it should be the beginning of the next cycle of training for a spring marathon. Just in time. See you then!
Tecumseh Trail Marathon
2nd (out of 700)