Instant Classic Trail Half Marathon 2013

I have a single regret about Saturday morning. All that time I was typing to post here, I was sipping coffee. Three cups in total, and they did come back to haunt me later.

Otherwise, for my purposes, I call the IC 13.1 a rousing success. We got there a bit early, a good thing since the line for the women’s room was out into the park, and the plumbing was giving up as I finished my business. I got to greet Kerry, an attorney I once worked with, meet an old friend of Byram’s, and in general, get my bearings before the race.

As the National Anthem was sung, the skies opened up and a cold hard rain started falling. I couldn’t wait to get underway just to warm up. The marathon took off to cheers and we meandered our way into the area just vacated by those hardy souls (soles?). Unlike last year, we were not lined up in waves according to our anticipated finish times. We were gathered like a massive amoeba behind the start line. I had a couple of minutes to chat with the two people I knew, shake hands with the race director for the Powhatan Christmas Tree 10k, whose orange and green tech shirt I was wearing, and then we were off only about 5 minutes after the marathon got started.

Exactly as I remembered from last year, the earliest miles of the race were pretty unmemorable for me; the only bright spot was that Byram was pulling out of the parking lot onto State Park Road just as we were coming to the road, so he and I got one last parting “moment” before I turned right onto the trail and he veered left off to the park exit. Nothing else about the first 3 miles is all that memorable to me; the rain stopped somewhere in the first couple of miles, but I couldn’t tell you exactly when.

We hit the 3 mile point and the first water stop, and then suddenly, it becomes very memorable as the hills get serious and the road becomes a trail. I turned my right ankle at some point in that area, but mercifully, it didn’t become a problem. I also had my only near-fall as headed straight down a hill to a wooden bridge across the swamp. Bryan said he also nearly went down on that hill too. I would bet a five dollar bill that at least one person went down on that spot; roots, mud, and the steep hill made tripping easier than staying upright.

Unlike last year, I was still feeling really sure of myself as I approached Beaver Lake. I wasn’t feeling tired yet, the hills were what they were last year, but I wasn’t as daunted by them, and I knew exactly where I was and had a realistic perception of how far I still had to go (a long way!).

The best part of my day was that time was passing imperceptibly. I wore no watch and could only guess how much time was passing based on how many songs had played and where I was on the route. I was actually very surprised when I got to the top of a hill and found myself back at the parking area very near to the start of the race. That was where I took my first energy gels and where my 3 cups of coffee came back to haunt me. I needed to…well, no way to say it too delicately, I needed to pee.

I knew the route would take us right past the line of porto-lets near the boat ramp so I made my way there. I lost 60 to 90 seconds in the little gray house and even more time as I got myself back underway. After you cross the bridge over Swift Creek, you head straight up an incline for a while as you move away from the low point at the park. Just that short stop had slowed me down and I lost some momentum heading into the “second half” (which it isn’t; you haven’t quite hit 5 miles at that point, but it feels like half way). It took 5 or so minutes but the energy gel kicked in, the terrain got really hard again and my brain kicked out while my legs went to work.

I remember mile 5 being pretty hard but not much else specifically about it; I do know that after mile 5, things began to level out for most of the rest of the race. The next point that stands out in my mind is the sharp right turn you take right after the 7 mile point and the nice downhill you get for what feels like at least a quarter of a mile. I was in a place mentally; no watch to mock me, not many people around me, no one was passing me (nor was I passing anyone at that point either), and in general, it was a peaceful time in my run.

It was all smiles and fond memories as I passed the “Swift Creek Parking Are” where I had been rescued back in January after getting myself misplaced in the park. At that point, it was somewhere in between 9 and 10 miles in the race and I was still going strong. Tired, but good, you know?

It was a stark contrast for me for that same point last year when I was mentally losing the race, mentally losing my pace, mentally defeating myself, mentally beating myself. It was such a better place to be. The territory was familiar, I had no clue about my pace or time, my music was upbeat and good, and so was life.

Just as I remembered mile 12 from last year, it was some of the craziest terrain of the race. I splashed through the stream that was overtopping the trail by a good bit, passing a couple of other runners between that stream and up the hill, and all I could think at that point was how close I was to the finish and yet how long a half mile seems to take when you are just ready to be done.

I hit the bridge, tired and without enough left in the tank for a end-of-race sprint, but waved to Byram and his friend Mary and then set my sights on the finish and making sure I didn’t wipe out in the very muddy chute.

I could see it was 2:48 on the clock as I went under it and I was over the moon because no matter what, I knew I had been faster than last year; I just wasn’t sure by how much. Last year, my time was 2:47:30. If I was going under the clock at 2:48 (which started when the 26.2 mile runners went out before us) then I had to be faster than last year. Even if not by a whole lot (it turned out to be 5 minutes faster at 2:42).

Collecting my medal, I spotted the two attorneys chatting not too far away, chowing down on some of the post-race food, which held NO interest for me at that point. I waited for Byram and Grace to find me and grabbed Grace up into a sweaty bear hug. It was a good end to a good race.

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