The 2008 Grand Island Marathon was an amazing race and experience. This race concluded a week long camping vacation with my girls at the Wandering Wheels Campground in Munising, Michigan (more on that later). However, this particular post is strictly going to focus on my race day experience. :) I'll update this post with pictures, maps, pace charts, and more once I get back to my main computer and get everything synced up, but for now, you will just have to see my official time card and anticipate the rest. :)
I'm so happy I signed up and ran this race. I saw the most beautiful sights that I've ever seen in my life. Not only that, but I set a goal of a 5 hour marathon time and beat it with hard work and dedication. I learned a lot from this race and have set even better goals now. I'll blog about my new goals very soon, but for now just know that the 2008 Grand Island Marathon was a HUGE success for me. Here are the details of the race in 5 mile increments if you are interested... :)
I woke at 4am before the sun had even thought about rising and got my stuff ready by the light of my kerosene lantern. I packed two water bottles and a pocket full of GU gels. I headed for the front of the camp site so that the bus could take me and another runner to the ferry docking station so that we could get over to the island.
After a few stops along the way (to pick up more runners at various hotels), we arrived at the ferry docking area around 5:30am. I met a few cool people along the way and got everything I needed to start this race when I overheard some of the announcers state that the "early runners" could toe to the line. COOL! I didn't know they were going to do an early start for this race. I figured that since I classified as a "slow" runner, it would be a good idea for me to get a head start so that I wasn't out on the course too late. We got a briefing on how the course was marked, got set, and headed off for the 26.2 adventure around the island. It was me and 16 other runners.
Miles 1 - 5
The first five miles were very pretty and fairly flat. At mile 4 there was a pretty steep hill, but was nothing compared to some of the hills I've run at Mohican State Park or even Marie Hickey Trail that I train on regularly. During these first few miles, we were all running together and keeping small talk between us. I was wearing my Trail Marathon t-shirt from my first marathon and it sparked some conversations. The people that I was running with were pretty surprised to learn that my first marathon was only 3 months ago and that it was the Michigan Trail (I learned that this course was called the "Michigan Trail" for short) and a lot of people in this race were pretty familiar with it. Apparently, that race is known for being pretty tough... even for the regular trail marathoners. I too thought it was tough, but only because it was my first marathon. It was comforting to know that it was supposed to be tough though. :) The runners that ran with me on this stretch assured me that this race was much easier. So far, it was was proving true as the course was very flat during these conversations.
Miles 6 - 10
These miles were also pretty flat with a really nice downhill slope at mile 6. I was still feeling very strong and remembered to keep my fuel intake steady during these early miles. I learned the hard way a few weeks ago with Rob that if I don't remember to fuel up early, I'll bonk later. At mile 7 there was a beautiful stretch along the beach that took my breath away. The sun was still rising and I got to see the sunrise on a deserted beach with open waters and rock cliffs in the distance. This is how I picture heaven. I took a bunch of pictures and plan to post them on my online photo album when I get them developed and scanned (I used a disposable camera). By this time I had moved ahead of the other early starters and was in 3rd place. :) It felt cool to be in 3rd place at a marathon for the first 2 hours, even if I was starting early. After coming off of the beach, we ran down a little wooden bridge through some pines and then onto a dirt road. The road lead us to a small dirt path that went up a hill for a few yards (cake walk). At the top of that hill, it opend up to another dirt road and this was the road that I would be on for the remainder of the race really.
Miles 11 - 15
By this time a few runners were passing me from the "regular start" and I was no longer in 3rd place anymore. :) The first place runner was FAST!! He went flying by me and his legs were kicking like he was running a 5k or something. I was pretty impressed to say the least and felt like I was crawling at my 10 minute pace. The course winded through some mud slicks and I was sure to keep up with my hydration and fuel consumption (ie. GU gels). At mile 11, I took 2 salt capsules to prevent cramping later on (something else I learned hard way a few weeks ago on that same 20 mile training run with my buddy, Rob). :) I knew that this part of the race was flat and that the next 5 miles was a bit more hilly. I had planned to run this part of the race at a faster pace so that I could power walk up some of the hills during the next 5 mile stretch.
Miles 16 - 20
I took a few more salt capsules to prevent cramping, as I could feel my hamstrings starting to tighten a little. I was keeping a strong pace and didn't feel any signs of slowing down; I was doing my mental checks regularly; remembering to keep myself hydrated, fueled, and paced. This part of the race was supposed to have two small hills and I had planned to power walk them if I had too. My last 5 mile stretch was at a faster pace to allow me to slow down if I needed to. The hills weren't that bad so I was able to pace through this section pretty good. I took the opportunity to stop at a few spots along the way to snap some pictures. This section of the course was absolutely BEAUTIFUL! I was running along the north section of the island it was nothing but rock cliffs and water as far as I could see. I ran out of film at mile 18... whoops. :) I'm anxious to upload these pictures so that I can "visually" share what I'm talking about.
At about mile 18 or so, I was not watching where I was going and accidently tripped over a rock and banged the hell out of my left foot. My toe jammed up real bad and I thought it may cause me to miss my sub 5 hour time. I gritted my teeth and tried to block it out as much as possible. Regardless, it hurt like hell (and still does actually). Once the course rounded the top part of the island, it went downhill for a bit and we ended up back on the beach. If you've never tried running in the sand (with heavy legs), just know that it is not fun and you feel like you go nowhere and it takes a lot of effort. The first time we ran on the beach, it was morning and I was able to run where the wave come up and roll back (aka: solid sand). However, this time the part of the course we had to run on was in the "thick" of the sand and each step was cushioned and my shoes consumed quite a bit of sand that stayed with me for the rest of the race.
Miles 21 - 26.2
Surprisingly the elevation chart that I was going off of was... wrong, or something. There was only one bad hill and that was after coming off of the beach; which was a hill that went strait up, but only for about 40 - 50 yards or so. I power walked up it and trotted along at my pace once I got to the top. There was a section at about mile 22 that was downhill for (what seemed to be) almost a half mile. I was booking down this hill and was keeping up with many of the runners that were trying to pass me. I felt strong and kept my eyes on the trail since there were some rocks, ruts, and roots along the course. By this point, I was sick of drinking water, and I couldn't think of consuming anymore GU gels; they tasted so nasty at this point. The pain in my left foot was still there, but not as bad. I felt some of the blisters forming on my feet, but blocked them out as well. My stomach muscles were really feeling the burn by this point.
By mile 23 I had passed the other 2 runners that started with me at 6am that morning (remember? I was in 3rd place). This meant that I was leading the "early starters" pack!! What!? I would have never guessed that. Some of the runners that toed the line with me looked like avid marathoners and I couldn't believe that I was actually going to cross the finish line before all of them. I realize that this sounds very competitive to say out loud, but this is a "race" after all. :)
At mile 25, I knew that I was going to beat my goal! Talk about an adrenaline rush and moment of clarity. I was on pace to beat my 5 hour goal by more than 5 minutes if I had it in me. I picked up the pace a bit once the adrenaline kicked in; I had about 14 minutes (or more) to finish my second (trail) marathon in under 5 hours. The final stretch of the course was extremely flat and it ran along the west side of the island, along a dirt road that seemed to go on and on forever. I would round a slight corner only to see another corner far up in the distance. When I got around that corner, I would see another corner way up in the distance. Once I would get up to that corner, there would be ANOTHER corner way up in the distance. It was daunting to say the least and really destroyed my morale. I found myself taking small little walking breaks here and there just because I was pretty well spent by this point. I knew I was still going to beat my time, it was only a matter of how bad I was going to beat it. :)
As I approached the finish line, I could hear the cheers from some of the spectators, and I knew that I had made it. The road opened back up to the ferry docks and I could see all the race people there cheering for us runners. I picked up the pace as best as I could to ensure that I had a strong finish. I wanted to leave everything else I had on the course. I ran through the finish line and noted the time on my Garmin read 4 hours 57 minutes!!
Since I had the early start, I had crossed the finish line an hour before I told Jennifer to be here, so they hadn't made it over to the island yet. By the time they showed up, I was in the freezing cold water of Lake Superior soaking my legs. I got some good pictures and will update this post once I get back home.