The Tecumseh Trail Marathon is well organized, friendly volunteers, aid stations were well stocked, and 2 to 3 miles apart. Great for a trail marathon. I loved being able to run without carrying my own water bottle. Course was extremely well marked. Except for 1 spot. We’ll get to that in a bit.
Packet pickup was very low key. The race perk is a wind jacket. Another world’s largest ‘Small’ that I won’t be able to wear. Bummer.
This trail marathon is a scenic and very challenging point to point course along the Tecumseh trail, through the Yellowwood State Forest. It was definitely much tougher than the Grand Island Trail Marathon. Might be tougher than Ice Age 50 and Glacial 50. The hills were longer, but the footing was much kinder than the rugged portions of the Ice Age trail.
Ever have one of those days where you just don’t feel like running, and you don’t feel tough or strong? Yeah. Stinks when you feel that way the morning of your marathon. I figured that once I got to the start, or after a few miles, that feeling would go away. But, it never really did.
We got to the start in plenty of time to get one of the dozen or so parking spots. Most of the 700 runners arrive by the event’s shuttle buses from the finish. It’s sunny, and cold, about 20 to 25 degrees, but no wind at all. We stayed in the car to keep warm, until just before start. I was wearing tights, 2 shirts, 2 light jackets, gloves AND glittens, hat and neck gaitor. I’ve been having problems staying warm this year. Hands especially. And this is the coldest run for me this season.
At the start, I got into the large group, stayed in the sun, and felt okay temperature wise. Bill planned to get photos at the start, mile 6, mile 13, and the finish. He toyed with the idea of being at 18, but logistically, would be too difficult. It turned out to be a good thing he wasn’t there. We’ll get to that later too.
As we huddled in the sun, I thought about my running group back home. Figured they were just about done running.
We start off, and run a short stretch down a road, and proceed on to a section of course wide enough to handle the field of 700. Right away, my tights start slowly slipping down. Wearing gloves and glittens, I have the dexterity of a lobster in oven mitts. I attempt to pull up my tights, and keep grabbing and missing the waist band. Take off the glittens, grab the waist band, which turned out to NOT be the tights, and gave myself a wedgie. Finally got the tights pulled up. Dropped a glitten while trying to put them back on, stopped, cursed, picked it up, continued. Repeated this process several times in the first few miles. Hoped my shirts and jackets covered anything unmentionable, but wondered if the folks behind me were aware that my undergarments matched my ‘running outfit’.
Then it finally occurred to me: “Drawstring, dummy.” I was able to finally hike the tights up properly, and tie the draw string. Proceeded to drop BOTH glittens, and cursed as necessary. Have I mentioned that I get cranky when I repeatedly drop things while running?
The scenic course takes us up and down LONG hills, with long runnable stretches in between. We also have many creek crossings. A few are the kind you can leap over without much break in stride – only a couple feet wide, and flat on either side. More are the kind you have to very carefully leap over after finding the optimum crossing spot – maybe 3 or 4 feet wide, and about a foot drop on either side, but with ample landing zones on either side. Plenty are too wide to jump (5 to 7 feet wide), but have some rocks that can be carefully navigated, one person at a time. And some are wider with little means of navigating. The creeks are all shallow and clear, so you can usually see how far your foot is going into the water right before you feel it. Wet feet are inevitable.
We arrive at one of the wide crossings with rocks. There’s a bit of a bottle neck as we all watch the mistakes or successes of the runner ahead of us, and adjust our crossing plan accordingly. We get to the other side, and there is a 4 foot vertical creek bank to climb. It’s muddy, and there’s nothing to grab on to. I made a few failed attempts to get up, and then the woman behind me gave me a very helpful boost in the bumper, which successfully allowed me to crest this obstacle. She was cute, but I did think it would have been nicer to have been right ahead of Matt Damon maybe.
Around mile 6 I see Bill taking pictures at one of the crossings. I am feeling okay, staying warm, but definitely holding slower than 10 minute miles. During our long runnable stretches, it felt like I was going much faster, but the long uphill stretches are taking a toll. I am walking much of those.
Drinking at aid stations with my glove and glitten covered lobster claws is a bit of a challenge. I have given up on getting the fingers and thumbs into their assigned docks. I have to pick up the cup with both hands like my arms are 2 big chop sticks, being careful not to knock down the neighboring cups.
When I see Bill taking photos before mile 13, I am ready to be done. I am on pace for about a 4:40. I keep looking at my watch, and just want it to be over. Nothing specific is wrong. I am simply tired, and not feeling up to the challenge today. I am fairly okay with this. I have had a good year. One bad race isn’t going to bother me too much… after it’s done anyway.
Since I no longer have any goal time ambitions, I decided this would be a good time to experiment with different foods. I had a cranky tummy at both 50 milers this year, and need to figure out some other eating plan. Since each aid station is well stocked with a variety of foods, I decided to try something different at each one. Small handful of pretzels. Check. Half banana. Check. Half-frozen fig newton. Check. Up until about mile 13 I had plenty of company.
I could always see a string of people ahead of me. Things really thinned out after that, and sometimes I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me, or only a couple people. And maybe a few people behind me. Never completely alone.
We get to another significant creek crossing. This one is too wide to jump, the rocks are significantly submerged. A few folks with waterproof shoes charge right through. One guy decided to cross by tight-roping a large fallen tree. He got about a third of the way, and dropped out of site. Fortunately, he appeared to be going feet first into the creek. I called out, and he seemed to be okay. As I got to the edge, I could see it was probably a 4 or 5 foot drop for him. I found a spot a few dozen yards up stream and off course that offered a narrower jumpable crossing, and a few folks followed my lead. This did result in more bank climbing, and roughing it through areas that were not as cleared as the actual trail.
We get to about mile 18, and I am glad Bill is not there. If he was, I probably would have quit. I was simply out of gas, still not feeling tough or strong, and just plodding on.
I get braver at the aid stations. Molasses cookie. Check. 7 peanut m & m’s that because of the cold feel like jaw breakers. Check. With the motor skills of a lobster in oven mitts using chopsticks, I have to ask the aid station volunteers to put the items into my covered hands for me. That, and they are rather coated with dried snot at this point, and I don’t want to contaminate all the other food.
After a few dozen water crossings, the creeks started to lose their charm. I never had both feet soaked at the same time, and the wet feet never bothered me, felt cold for more than a minute, or cause discomfort, but it was the interruption that took its toll. It was hard to keep a rhythm going when you had to keep stopping to navigate, jump, climb, and continue. On another day, they would have been more fun.
Most of the course was very narrow. Many many switchbacks. Several places where the edge of the trail lined a 5 foot drop off to a creek, or steep drop off to a valley. One section of switchbacks had some loose footing, where I had a mild wipe out coming down. Fortunately, I fell away from the steep drop-off.
As I mentioned earlier, the course was extremely well marked. They used pink ribbons, about every 100 yards. You could almost always see at least one ribbon ahead on the trail. Then all of a sudden around mile 20, the ribbons vanished. And so did just about everyone else. Fortunately, there was one other guy just ahead of me. Together we searched for pink ribbons. After a couple minutes, we were joined by another woman. We found some pink ribbons, but there was no sign of a couple hundred folks trampling down the terrain. Figured they were someone else’s pink ribbons. Then we were joined by about 5 more runners. We went this way and that way, and stopped, and searched and looked. Eventually, we saw some runners in the distance that were ON the actual course, and joined them. From what I can tell, we had somewhat paralleled the actual course. So, we didn’t have to back-track a whole lot to get back on course.
In the last 6 miles, I remained pretty steady. I wasn’t feeling any worse. The various foods were behaving in my tummy, and I even tried some puffy cheetos. Try eating those with snot covered oven mitts over chopstick-lobster-claws.
The last stretch of the course is on gravel roads approaching the finish area. I could hear people at the finish line, and I was so glad to be almost done. As we finished, our names were called on a loud speaker, and they read whatever tidbit we had typed in when we registered. Mine was something about not getting out of bed unless there is Diet Coke. A finish line volunteer agreed with my sentiment. My finish time was 4:49:40. A PW (personal worst) by 10 seconds, topping my previous PW at Grand Island in 2006.
Post race food included yummy sandwiches, soup, snacks. We sat at picnic table so I could eat. Had to take off the oven mitts. Was joined by my buddy that I was lost with. Chatted a bit. Talked to another guy who was a triathlete, and this was his first marathon. Holy cow. That guy is tough.
All in all, it was an enjoyable experience. I am glad I stuck it out. I learned that wet feet don’t bother me even when temps are in the upper 20s to low 30s, my tummy can tolerate a variety of foods, and drawstrings are there for a reason.
I can cross Indiana off my list. And for those counting, this was marathon number 19 (I don’t count ultras in my marathon tally), state number 8.
And yes, I would do it again.