I’ve done this race twice now, and I loved it both times.
Yet another of my beloved Silver Circle Sports Events trail races, it’s held at Pike Lake State Park in Hartford. I chose the half marathon option (5K and 10K races were also held).
As I got off of Hwy 41 onto Hwy 60, I recognized my surroundings and thought of all the times I’d driven on Hwy 60 from West Bend to Hartford in a blue station wagon as a teenager in the 90’s. Destination: the Mineshaft. Fine dining.
Nowadays I’m not much cooler—waking up at 5 a.m.on a Saturday to drive Tater Tot the minivan to run a trail marathon by myself?
Why I never visited Pike Lake State Park growing up, I’m not sure. We drove other places to find beaches or hike that were a lot farther away. Maybe they’ve cleaned it up in recent years. It’s a lovely park with a not disgusting beach. Triathlon hopefuls were practicing their open water swims (shudder!!!) as I drove up, really early, so I could run 4 miles before the race (and thus complete the 17 miles I was supposed to do that day).
I did the same thing 3 years ago (ran the half marathon plus a few miles) when training for the North Face Endurance Challenge, and it worked well. This time the park ranger was ready for the crowds (3 years ago I beat him to work—something about a party the night before). He was excited to chat, wondering what race I was doing and did I know that the course now involves climbing their observation tower? Anyone doing the half marathon was to climb it TWICE, but more on that later. He held up a map to show me where the tower was, and informed me that it was 92 (or 96?) steps.
I parked, walked 10 steps to the registration tent, picked up my packet in about 5 seconds (this is why I love these races), and shuffled outside the park to tackle the 4 miles along the Kettle Moraine Scenic Route. It’s arguably slightly more scenic to drive than run, because there’s no shoulder and I feared for my life, but it went from rolling hills and forests with stinky bogs, to rolling hills and vast views of equally stinky green farmland. I gave a head nod to the guy driving a mini forklift scoopie thing to shovel all the shit out of his barn, and marveled at how different MY day job is.
I really love my home state.
I ran back to the park and had enough time to pee (super short lines) the usual 3 times, and get to the starting line. All races (5K, 10K, and half marathon) started at the same time and ran some of the course together, branched off, met up again, branched off (so it was always hard to tell who was running the same distance). I wonder if they’ll ever consider different colored bibs based on what distance you’re running.
The scenery is varied, hilly, and constantly changing. Except for when you’re doing the 2nd loop of the half marathon, which is the exact same loop you take for the first 6.5 miles. I’m not a huge fan of looped races, especially trail runs, because I prefer to leave the course (especially the giant hills) in my past. Knowing what’s approaching is a special form of mental torture, as is inching up a curse-worthy hill and knowing you have to do it all over again.
New this year, as I mentioned, was a tower climb around miles 2 and 8. At mile 2, the field was tight, and one had to wait in line to march up and down the tower. At mile 8, there was no line and I wished there was, because the controlled pace had been a nice break. Either way, these tower climbs rendered the concept of goal pace or goal time completely useless, which can either be really freeing or really annoying, depending on your thinking. I happen to love the fact that trail running takes mile pace nearly out of the equation. Each race is so different, that there’s no way to plan to run a certain pace, unless you’ve done it before, and regardless, you’ll still probably be way slower than you’d imagine. Picture giving it your all and running only 10 minute miles; you have to put your watch away and run based on effort alone. I was supposed to run a certain road pace for my training run (8 min miles) which would have been impossible on this course, so I had to try and simulate that feeling. For me, that’s a pretty hefty effort, so I ran at about 80%.
Which may be why I got so tired that I lost my footing TWICE. This is new for me; I’ve taken minor spills but not massive wipeouts. I noticed holes in my shoes, so I’m going to blame my falls on that.
The first time was around mile 9, when I came up behind a guy that was struggling. Thinking smugly to myself, “I bet he doesn’t expect a girl to pass him right now,” I made a move to pass, tripped on a rock, and fell in a heap right in front of him, nearly taking him out too.
I was so stunned I didn’t even realize I was on the ground and he was leaning over, asking if I needed help, as he tried hard not to laugh. Classic. Nope. Just dirty, embarrassed, and a little bruised/scraped.
I ran away as quickly as I could, picturing what my fall must have looked like. I’m going with “broken doll” or “pathetic heap.”
“It’s not a trail race until someone falls,” he shouted after me.
A mile or so later, I felt I had recovered from the whimper-y little girl feeling I get every time I fall off my bike or during a trail run.
I saw an aid station ahead, and planned to take both a water and a Nuun, like I’d been doing at every station (thirsty). Just a few steps away from the 10 volunteers, I again caught my toe on a rock and went flying. Literally. Time stood still as I catapulted forward and up, and my body twisted, instinctively shielding myself from serious injury like only the human body can do. I felt myself floating to the ground, so strong was my will to not get hurt. And then I was in a dirty heap, like someone doing downward dog without arms. My right side had taken the brunt of the fall—shoulder, hip, butt. Head nearly in the dirt, but not quite. Thank you, reflexes. Again, time stood still as I looked up in astonishment at the volunteers looking at me in astonishment, everyone frozen. And then life started again, and I got up quickly, dusting a shitload of dirt off. Cripes.
“No one saw that, you know,” one volunteer quipped when it was determined that I was ok.
I limped away, hurting this time. My toe, stubbed. My hip, aching. My hands, so dirty and sweaty and dusty. Judging by the weird bruises that formed later, I’m fell in a dirty gravel/dust/stone heap. Lots of tiny little rock marks around my bruises/scrapes.
I shook if off. In a few minutes, I was fine. Everything still in working order, except my pride.
I finished the race strong, stopping to pick up a stray who was walking. “If you’re not hurt, you’re gonna be really pissed that you gave up with 2 miles left.”
He smiled and started running, mumbling, “yeah, you’re probably right.” I later saw he got a medal. See? Tara was right.
I can’t say enough new age crap about trail running; it’s ALWAYS a challenge that will make you appreciate and be aware of the beauty in the world, your body, and our tiny little place in it all. It’s my church.’Til next race.