Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lake City 50K - 9/12/09

My yahoo map directions led me to a dead end street either in Winona Lake, IN (where I should have been) or Warsaw, IN (the closest town to where I should have been). It was still dark, and I was too tired to figure out how to get to the Lake City 50K. I did not leave my office until 6:00 p.m. on Friday, and I drove through the night, pulling into a couple of rest areas to take short naps totaling 2 hours at the most. At times like these, I always contemplate buying a GPS to do the thinking for me.

I looked at my directions and then glanced around the small town to find a main street. I had given myself an hour of cushion, but that time was fading fast. I saw a red light up ahead and started in that direction. As I drove through the red light, I finally found a street sign that said Park Avenue. That sounded familiar. I looked at my directions. The senior center was the start/finish location for the race and was located on Park Avenue. I did a quick u-turn and headed down that street. On the right in a fairly large parking lot, I saw a female with a familiar runner's cap walking from the lot down the street. I was now in the right place, but as I looked around, I did not see anything that resembled a senior center.

As I was getting myself together, two guys pulled into the parking space next to me. They had their races numbers, and I decided to ask them where they had gotten them. They told me to go about a quarter of a mile up the road. I thanked them and started a fairly fast paced walk to the building. It was cold, and I had forgotten to bring a jacket.

I checked in with a volunteer, who I later found out was the race director's wife, Tracy. She handed me a t-shirt, a nice duffel bag, and a bib number for the marathon. I told her that I was signed up for the 50K. She looked at her list and said that another female had checked in with the opposite problem. She had signed up for the marathon and had been assigned a 50K race number. We needed to exchange bib numbers, but I had to find Angela (TX). I had run several races with her in the past, but it had been a while since I'd seen her. I hoped that I would recognize her.

As I thanked Tracy, I saw my running buddy, Frank (MN). We had not run together since my ill-fated attempt at the Lake Wobegon Marathon. We talked for a minute or two while eating raisin-cinnamon bagels (my favorite) provided for the runners. Jen (IN) also joined us. She was a fellow Marathon Maniac that I met at the HUFF 50K several years ago and that I had not seen in a while.

We had a few minutes before the race briefing, so I made a trip to the ladies room and then walked back to the car to drop off my goodies and to look for Angela. It was still dark, and I still couldn't find her. The two guys parked next to my car were still there doing some stretching. They asked if I knew about the course. I didn't. They proceeded to pull out the map and explain about the different loops (A, B, C, D1, D2, and E) and the cones. I didn't comprehend a thing. How many loops? How many cones? Where were these cones? WTF?

It was time for the briefing, so we headed back to the senior center. I went inside to again look for Angela, and there she was, talking with my infamous running buddy, Larry (TX). Tracy quickly changed our names on the tear-off portion of the bibs, and we proceeded outside for the start. The race director, Mike, was speaking the same language as the two runners in the parking lot. I was already confused, and I hadn't stepped a foot over the start line. He asked if there were any 50Kers here that were not present at the dinner the night before. As far as I could tell, I was the only one to raise my hand. He talked, gestured, and pointed, mentioning cones, loops with letters, and turn-arounds designating the last 5 miles for the 50K. The only thing I understood was that the marathoners and 50Kers ran the same course three times. I would worry about the last 5 miles when I got to that point in the race.

And we were off. Larry, Angela, Jen, Frank, and I started together. We were laughing, talking, and enjoying the cool morning as the sun began to rise. We ran by quaint little shops on one side and the boat dock on the other. We then ran along Lake Winona for a short period. Jen pointed out a little castle among the lake side homes, before we ran across a small bridge, circling back to the park and senior center. We had just completed Loop A.

The course was well marked with arrows painted on the road. Mile marker signs were prominent. Except for little risers here and there, the course was relatively flat and runnable. The aid stations were frequent and adequately stocked with water, Gatorade, power bars, and bananas. In fact, the aid stations were so frequent that I had to skip a few. I had 5 porta potty stops throughout the day, which is a little much for me in a 50K race. The young volunteers that manned the aid stations were enthusiastic and encouraging all day.

Loop B lead us into the first of many neighborhoods. The houses along the lake were small and older but well maintained. Jen, Larry, and Angela pulled away, and Frank and I dropped back. We would see them many times throughout the day on the out-n-back sections and the portions of the loops that crossed each other or ran together.

I allowed Frank to set the pace, and I tried to keep up. He and Larry were going to the Erie Marathon at Presque Isle on Sunday to complete a double for the weekend. It was a 5 hour drive from Winona Lake, so they were not playing around today.

After Loop B, we ran along a bike path for a little over a mile. Throughout the day, we would see locals biking, running, and walking with kids and pets. This path was well shaded and would be a wonderful reprieve later in the day when the temperature began to creep up into the 70s.

At the end of the bike path was another aid station, and then we ran Loops C, D1, D2, and E. I lumped them all together because, even though signs were posted with which loop we were on and painted arrows on the road pointed us in the direction we should travel, as the day went along, I couldn't tell what the course was doing. There were lots of twists and turns. All of the loops were run through nice subdivisions that looked fairly new. People were out doing yard work and otherwise enjoying the day. Several dogs were out, but none of them came out onto the course.

After the loops, we headed back onto the bike path, followed by the short stretch to the start area. The course was about 8.75 miles. I finished each of the 3 laps in 2 hours. I don't think I have ever been so evenly paced. I was just too happy about the perfect pacing. Granted, that's a much too slow six-hour marathon. Ugh!

With one lap down, the marathoners had 2 more to go. Frank was getting into his groove and decided to pull away. I enjoyed his company, but I knew it was inevitable. I was now alone, but not lonely. If I wasn't being passed by the faster runners, I was seeing them on the loops that crossed each other and on the out-n-back portion of the bike path. The volunteers at the aid stations were also constant companions.

Right after I finished Loop B on my 3rd lap, Mike was bringing more water to an aid station, and he asked if I understood what to do to finish the 50K. Not really, I told him. He was about to explain when volunteers came up to him about a potential problem. As the race director, he was being pulled in all sorts of directions, and I knew this. Besides, it was my responsibility to know the course, and I had not allowed time to do this. After a few minutes that seemed like forever for me, it was obvious that he was too busy to hand-hold me through the course, so I continued on. Jen was too far ahead of me to tag along with her. Marathoners were finishing up and the 50Kers were getting in their last 5 miles. I would just have to figure it out myself.

Prior to passing through the start area at the end of my third lap and on my way to Loop A, Mike came running towards me and again asked if I knew what to do. I still had not figured it out, but I had paid special attention to mile marker signs 27, 28, 29, and 30, so I had an idea of what loops I needed to repeat. Another volunteer caught his attention, and he was off again before he could explain to me what to do. Poor Mike. He had so much to do, and he was still concerned about me being able to follow the course.

As I started Loop A, I saw Frank and Larry finish their marathons. Angela had also finished her marathon a little while before them. Jen was still out on the course, wrapping up her 50K. I crossed the finish line for the third time, and now it was time to start the last 5 miles to finish the 50K. I knew I had to at least do Loop B so I ran and walked the loop which was about a mile. The volunteers at the aid stations on this portion were now gone, but the tables were still fully stocked. I then saw mile marker 27, which was right on time.

Tracy was helping out at the aid stations at the end of the bike path, and when I came through on my third lap, she had told me that I would come back to her and turn around at the cone. This eliminated doing Loops C, D1, D2, and E for a 4th time. I asked if I was the last one, and she said that there were 3 others behind me. I had not seen anyone else for a while, so I was glad to know that I wasn't the only one out on the course.

Because of the conversation with Tracy, I knew I had to do an out-n-back on the bike path. But as soon as I hit the bike path, there was mile marker 28. I was missing a mile, and I wasn't sure where I should pick up that mile.

I ran the out-n-back any way. When I came to Tracy and told her what I had done and that I was missing a mile, she and another volunteer said that I had followed the course correctly and that I couldn't have missed a mile. I was loopy from the loops, but I knew better. I thanked them and headed back along the bike path.

On the bike path, I saw the 3 female runners that were behind me. I asked them about Loops A and B and if they had run either one of them twice to pick up the additional mile. Did they notice that when they entered the bike path from Loop B that mile marker 27 and mile marker 28 were within 2-3 minutes of each other? I was probably not making any sense, because I never got the answer that I needed.

Mile 29 was right where it should have been, and when I passed back through the start area, mile marker 30 was where it should have been. I was desperate now. If I followed Loop A back to the finish I would still be a mile short. As much as I was ready to be done, I wanted to run the official course and get an official time. I had to find out how to pick up the additional mile. At this point, there were only 2 choices - Loop A or Loop B. My guess was that I should have run Loop B twice instead of once. I turned into the finish area coming from the wrong direction and surprised the volunteer sitting at the timing table. We pulled out the map and discussed what I had done. "I'm missing a mile." I was hysterical at this point, and it was my own darn fault for not paying more attention and focusing during the race briefing 7 hours ago.

Another volunteer came over and he and the volunteer at the timing table discussed the situation. We all agreed that I should run Loop B one more time before running Loop A back to the finish. I went back out and ran Loop B. I was so frustrated with myself. Jen had finished, and she came out onto the course. I told her what happened, and she focused on my finishing and not the mix-up I had made. Of course, she was right. I redirected my energy and efforts towards finishing.

With Loop B completed, I was now headed back to Loop A to finish. I passed another cone for the 4th time and a light went on in my fuzzy brain. If I had paid more attention to the two runners in the parking lot and to Mike during the briefing, I would have realized that I should have run the short distance from Loop B to the cone at the start and then run Loop B again before heading to the bike path. I essentially did that, but in the wrong sequence during the lap. I even tacked on a few feet running from the start line to the finish line and back to course when I pulled off to talk to the volunteer at the timing table about what to do.

I finally crossed the finish line in the 7:30-7:45 range. Jen handed me my finisher's medal, and the volunteer recorded my time. There were hamburgers and fried chicken in the senior center, I was told, but I headed for the lettuce, tomato, cheese, and buns to fix a veggie sandwich before I hit the road for home. There was even a piece of watermelon left.

As I came out of the senior center, the three females that were behind me had just finished. The last one hugged me, even though we didn't know each other. She was tired and happy to be done. I saw the look in her eyes. I know the feeling, and I was happy for her.