“This course was NOT supposed to be this hilly!”
As the first race of the season, I was sufficiently nervous for what was to come. Ending 2015 on a rather disappointing Tussey, I was more anxious than excited to see how my racing for 2016 would begin. Don’t get me wrong: I was definitely ready to race after all the months of cold winter training, but there were some nerves present, especially when I saw that the Naked Bavarian marathon would include Iain Ridgeway, winner of Ironmasters 2014 and Heather Hoechst, the girl who passed me in the last mile at Tussey. Both are very good racers with a good record, so it made me think that a decently slow race was going to turn into a sprint – I was halfway right.
With the race being in Leesport, PA (right outside of Reading), 2.5 hours away, I decided to drive down the night before so that I could sleep a couple extra hours on the morning of the race and run a bit of the course the afternoon before. While doing a little 30 minute jog on Saturday (race was on Sunday), I thought the course was decently fast and flat, and from the race reports that I had read, I assumed this was an appropriate assumption. But you know what they say about assuming… don’t do it. Or something like that. Outside of being flat (more on this later), the Blue Marsh Recreation Area was beautiful, with lots of rolling hills, not dissimilar from Wisconsin and Kettle.
After the run and normal pre-race dinner of calzones (Mama’s Pizza in Reading – a must have), I went to bed, decently more nervous than I should have been for the first race of the season. Even still, I slept pretty well with no dreams about running, so I would call that a win. After waking up at six, having my normal breakfast of chicken with corn and a gatorade, we were off to the race.
Check-in and bathroom time went well, and after sitting in the warm car until about 10 minutes before the race started (the starting temps were hovering around 30 degrees), Allie and I went to the start line, only to be greeted by some typical pre-race… German polka music and dancing – with people actually singing along. It was definitely a sight to behold, but honestly, a good way to relax before the race, so it was a welcome sight. I stripped off my warm pants, my sweatshirt, jacket and warm gloves until I was only standing there in a singlet with compression shorts and light gloves with less than five minutes for the race to start.
I inched my way up to the start line, decently surprised that the race started nearly exactly at 8:30, the time that it was supposed to (major props to that). With the countdown reaching zero, about 5 or 10 other runners inched their way up to the front of the line as well, so that when the gun went off, it was almost a dead sprint out of the gate – not exactly the way I like to begin races, but seeing as this was the shortest race I had run since Philly in 2014, I shrugged my shoulders and went with the lead pack, doing a casual 6:30 first mile.
As the beginning of the race was decently flat and partially on pavement, I thought this 6:30 pace would be something that would eventually slow down to a more comfortable pace. I was only halfway right. Iain, Tyler (West Point 2011 grad), and I quickly separated ourselves from the field after the first quarter mile or so on pavement, so that it was the three of us running single file by time we reached the single track, with Iain leading, followed by Tyler, then me. It still felt like we were clicking off a pretty good pace, with Iain making the occasional surge to put distance in between Tyler and I. Eventually, during a sustained flat part, Iain took one of his surges pretty hard and put enough distance between Tyler and I that we lost contact with him.
At that point, we had come through the second aid station at about mile 6.5. Tyler and I were running together (although I felt like I was just about to drop him), and we could still see Iain running about 200m ahead of us. I stopped quickly for two 3/4 cups of gatorade (again, I still can’t get over my inability to completely finish cups of liquid during races) and some gummy bears before rejoining Tyler on the road. We started the 6 mile add-on loop for the marathon, which, apparently, consisted on a good amount of hills. It was over one of these downhills (surprise, surprise) that Tyler eventually lost contact with me. This was one of the only times in races that I felt stronger than the person I was running with through the downhills; this would turn out to help me pretty well for the rest of the race.
I was able to glimpse Tyler occasionally through trees, seeing that he was about 30 seconds or a minute (??? I really don’t know) behind me, but more importantly, he wasn’t gaining on me. I felt myself losing touch more and more with Iain, and I reasoned to myself that I really couldn’t push myself any harder (I was right), and that either he was going to blow up, or I was going to get second. I wanted to avoid possibly pushing too hard, catching him, and then having him make a move that left me in the dust. Fortunately, he was a little too far out for me to make any sort of move to catch him. I came into the mile 12 aid station seeing him on the other side of the road, probably a quarter mile ahead of me (at the pace we were going, this equates to about 2 minutes).
After the mile 12 aid station, we rejoined the 20 and 40 milers, which meant some nice company on the trail. Fortunately, the runners were spread out enough that passing them was not all that difficult, and most of them were more than willing to give up the trail. These next 4 miles (from 12 to 16), were probably the toughest of the race. There were a good amount of non-inconsequential climbs that had begun to feel tougher with already having half of the race done. I resorted to power hiking some of them, hoping that Tyler was doing the same and that I wasn’t losing that much time to Iain in front of me. During the sections that I could see far behind me, I would try to turn and see if I could spot Tyler; I never could, which told me that even if I was slowing down, he was also slowing down.
I came into the mile 16 aid station (no pictures here since Allie got lost driving to it and got there about a minute before I did) feeling pretty good. Allie told me that I was about 2 minutes behind Iain, which meant that I didn’t drop all that much time from mile 12, although I was still dropping a bit. At this point, I had a good idea that I wasn’t gonna catch him, so I was more concerned about keeping in front of Tyler. The next 4 miles were extremely flat with no walking hills. I ran the entire way, at probably a pretty good clip, without passing too many 20 or 40 milers, and more importantly, without seeing Tyler come up behind me; at this point, I was probably looking behind me every 2 minutes or so. I know – this isn’t the best habit to have, but it’s not the worst one to have either.
I came in to the mile 20 aid station to Allie telling me that I was about 4 minutes back. While this was not insurmountable, it still was a substantial deficit that I had to overcome. Throwing this in the back of mind, I was determined to finish as quick as I could, more so that I could hold off Tyler and less so that I could come back and “Geoff Roes” Iain (for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, watch Unbreakable). At this point, we were going along the same trails that the first 6 miles were on. Coming out, I didn’t remember these trails being all the hilly, but coming back, that was 100% a different story. There were probably 3 or 4 hills though this sections that I had to do at least a two second catch-my-breath hike. I felt like I was still making pretty good time, although since no one told me how far away Iain was, I felt like he was substantially out of reach.
Coming in to the mile 23 aid station, I quickly grabbed some gummy bears and kept on my way, knowing that I was almost done. There were more little hills that required a little hiking, but knowing that I was almost done (with probably second place locked up) made them a little easier. There were more 20 milers, also knowing that they were almost done, so there was an fun air of determination and support coming through these last couple miles, which is something that I’ve missed at other races that are loops or more spread out. As I came up the last big hill with 5 to 10 other people, I was determined to beat all of them to finish line, so as I reached the top of the hill and got onto the cement, I gave one last big push, churning my legs as fast as I could over the cement, knowing that I was almost done.
I got onto the grass, being able to see the finish line, and knowing that I was going to break 3:30, which meant I would have won the previous. As I sprinted towards the finish and crossed the line, the clock read 3:29:– (official time was 3:29:00), comfortably in second. I was quickly given my finisher’s bag and “trophy” (a weather predictor-house-thermometer-thing) and shuffled out of the finishers shoot. Iain then came up to me, and we chatted for a little bit. He ended up running 3:19:22, so he beat me by just under 10 minutes, which means he put about a minute a mile on me for the last 6 miles. He said that he felt pretty good for the whole race without too many issues. Tyler came through at 3:33:21, saying that he cramped up a bit towards the end with some of those hills.
All in all, it was a solid first race of the year. I don’t think I could have run the 20 seconds a mile faster that it would have taken to win, but I still ran well, so I’m happy with second. I didn’t really have any stomach or pacing issues, so I think I races a decently smart race, and was able to hold off a charging third place pretty well. Heather Hoechst ended up running more than 17 minutes slower than me, so I think that this race is a promising indicator for Tussey in the fall. TL;DR – good start to the season, and I got some good pictures with Allie to go along with it.