2014 Rails to Trails Marathon

One of these days Eric T. Olson is going to get me killed. Our latest adventure was the Rails to Trails marathon in Norwalk (near Sparta). Mentally I've kind of switched over to rollerskiing, but I figured I could probably fake it through one more marathon this year. I was pretty sick at the Gandy Marathon, so I was hoping I could have a bit more fun at Rails to Trails. However, I haven't been running a lot lately. I never like to be irresponsible about these events, but after 6 marathons this summer, I figured I could tough out number 7.  Besides, the Packers were on a bye, so what else was I going to do on a Sunday morning?  Might as well run a marathon.

Initially our plan was to head down on Saturday night, but Eric and I both got busy and we eventually decided to make the drive Sunday morning.  Fortunately Saturday night was the switch-over to daylight savings, so we had an extra hour of sleep (if it hadn't been for that, I don't know if Eric would have had an hour of sleep at all).

My telephone started blaring at 4 AM, and soon I found myself piling in to Eric's Suburban, hoping the mercury would rise with the sun.  We reached Norwalk with no problem, grabbed our bibs, then leaned back our chairs to catch a few minutes of needed sleep before the race start. We set our alarms for 7:55 figuring that would allow ample time to arrive for the 8:00 gun.

The second alarm that morning came all too early, and bleary eyed, we reluctantly peeled off our warm ups to trot over to the start to stand shivering and await the start.  The gun went off, and we headed out down the Elroy-Sparta limestone trail which is similar to the Gandy Dancer trail.

The course is two out and backs, but the first turnaround comes after about a mile and a half. I elected to wear a Smartwool long sleeve shirt, Smartwool short sleeve shirt, singlet, hat and gloves. I got a little warm, but it was a good combo for the most part, although I probably could have done without the short sleeve shirt.  We had a strong tailwind after the first turnaround and I pulled off my hat and gloves and stuffed them in my shorts. I'm glad I didn't discard them, because I would need them on the way back when I became fatigued and couldn't go fast enough to keep warm.

We hit the turnaround and came back through the starting area to reunite with Eric's girlfriend who snapped a couple shots before we headed up the trail. Three miles further along, we came to the tall wooden doors of one of the trail's three tunnels (the only one we'd be going through in the marathon).

Folks, this tunnel is cool.  It's three quarters of a mile long and pitch black inside. Water drips from the ceiling and down the walls. It would have been difficult to navigate except that race organizers put lights every hundred yards or so. Even so it was decidedly dark. Eric had me read the sign at the tunnel, even though I was already bonked from running so not much sunk in. The tunnel was built in the 1800s at a cost of a quarter of a million dollars (what that translates to in today's money is hard to fathom). It was built over a three year period, mostly by blasting. You get a real sense of age running through that thing, and it's highly recommended.

Eric and I kept going at a nice clip, hitting the halfway point at around 2:03 or 2:04.  I always like to maintain that pace for 16 miles or so and then start slowing down to 11 or 12 minute miles, however upon hitting mile 14, my clutch started to slip and I couldn't get any power.  The mind was willing, but the more effort I put in, the slower I seemed to go.  Eric was feeling good, so I sent him on his way and settled in for a long day of suffering. By now we were back in the headwind so that was awesome too.

I started run walking and hammering fluids and orange slices at all the aid stations.  After a couple miles I felt better.  The patch between mile 14 and mile 20 was really tough, but once you hit mile 20 you start to feel like you can finish.  I crossed through the tunnel again, and found that the trail was mainly downhill the rest of the way, so I was able to run all the way in.

I was a little perplexed by how I felt out there and I'm not sure exactly why I didn't feel better. I think that running the Gandy Marathon sick took more out of me than I might have realized.  Also, it probably would have been better to do at least one long training run between the Gandy and this one (I only did short runs). Still, I couldn't decide if I couldn't get it going because I was fatigued or under trained. Eric had a great run and was all smiles at the finish. I was glad I didn't bother him by making him wait so long.

I was just glad to finish, and it's nice to meet a new marathon. I crashed at about 7:30 last night, and I was encouraged to wake up this morning with very little soreness. If you're not going to be fast, at least being able to recover quick is good!  All in all, the Rails to Trails marathon was a well-run, lovely event, and we had perfect weather.  One more marathon in the books! That makes 62 lifetime marathons for Eric, and 17 or so for me (I don't have an exact count). A great day with good friends! That's going to be the last marathon for 2014.  Will I do 7 in 2015?  Right now I'd say I highly doubt it, but we'll see what happens when the summer comes again.

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