There is this great, dumb little club on the internet called “The Idiot’s Running Club.” They pull in unsuspecting runners and do things like encourage them to accomplish epic shit, crack funny jokes, fight cancer, and other general awesomeness. It all started with a couple guys but has quickly grown to over 6,000 members all over the country (world?). You can see them at races all over the world. You’ll recognize them by their shirts and their customary greeting of, “Hey, Idiot!” I’m proud to say, I’m an a member of The Idiots Running Club. I don’t have a shirt yet, but I was happy when I found out I had been chosen to receive a marathon entry from the group to the Frisco Railroad Run.
The Frisco has 5 different distances. 8k, half marathon, full marathon, 50k, and 50 mile. I opted for the half at first, but the full ended up coinciding with my training plan quite nicely, so I upgraded before the race. The plan was to not actually race hard. Just go out and have a good, consistent long run. A long run where you get a medal at the end. I had had some really good long runs leading up to this, so I had a feeling that if I stuck to the plan I would have a good run. I had to keep reminding myself: I wasn’t racing. This was a training run. I had just come off of a 10×10. The previous week’s long run had been 22. I had seen some massive performance improvement over the spring. My average heart rate during training had dropped 5-10 beats per minute. I was feeling good.
I had been watching the weather forecast all week leading up to the race. Earlier in the week it had been forecast for a 90% chance of storms and rain that day. Then 80%, and then 70%. Finally when Saturday actually rolled around it was 20% chance, partly cloudy, and warm in the forecast. There was no rain, but mercifully the cloud cover stayed most of the day. As a predawn runner, the mid to upper ’70s temps were enough to deal with on their own.
The race started out without much fanfare. The 50k and 50 milers had already been out for an hour. 7:00 A.M. sharp and we mere marathoners were off. It wasn’t a crowded race, but I was running a pretty average pace, so there was no lack of company the first few miles. I spent a while shadowing a man wearing nylon track pants. After about a mile of the tinny swish-swish I let him get a little way away from me until I could pass him when he stopped at an aid station.
There really wasn’t much to comment on for first part of the race. I spent the first couple miles warming up, feeling my legs out, slowly increasing pace to get where I wanted to settle in. I chased other runners. Sometimes I fell in and chatted with them. I got passed on occasion, but the way many of those runners were breathing I knew I’d see them again and I did.
The half marathon started 30 minutes after the full. Just before I passed the turnaround for the half, up came the front runners for that distance, like a couple of thoroughbred horses, long and sleek and cruising at speeds I can I can only imagine in my head.
The aid station at mile 10, and about mile 16 on the way back, was by far the coolest aid station I have ever seen. My suspicion was that these guys were ultramarathon aid station veterans. They had signs for 100 yards out the trail advertising their station, like one of those Native American gift shops in the middle of the desert that I remember from childhood road trips. It could have only been made better if one of the signs had read, “Chief Sitting Eagle Welcomes You!” “Beef jerkey!” “Avocados” “Boiled Salted Potatoes” the signs read in bold letters. Not long after the signs started popping up I could hear lively music coming down the trail. “Jello Shots!” “Beer!” The signs kept coming. The volunteers were just as enthusiastic. I felt like a real trail runner as I dove in fists first. It was glorious. Those avocados and potatoes really hit the spot. My heart rate dropped 5 beats for the next 2 miles both times I passed that aid station. It’s amazing what the right fuel will do for you. I neglected the beer and jello shots. I didn’t think they would do anything for my running efficiency.
The Frisco was my third go at the marathon distance. I approached it from a stronger point in my training. It wasn’t the goal, but a step toward a goal, which was huge mentally and physically toward how I approached it. Mile 20 was the turning point for my first two marathons. One thing different this time was my diet. I’ve been on a low carb, ketogenic, diet for 4 months now. It’s completely opposite to how most runners approach diet, but it has served me well in controlling stomach issues, energy, and weight management. But I was barely sure how I would fuel through a run, and completely in the dark about how I would do past the 20 mile mark. I had an idea, and I hoped it would go better, but you never know until you try. I studied up. I listened to every Zach Bitters interview I could get my hands on (Zach is a low carb athlete who holds the American 100 mile track record). I packed my coconut oil fudge and dried fruit, and made heavy use of the whole food items at the 10 mile aid station going both ways. I had a gel at one point that I thought would mess me up, but the feeling passed. Mile 20 came and went just like every other mile. I was feeling great. There was no wall.
I had no significant change in energy until the last two miles, when I decided to pick the speed up a bit when I saw I could make the 4:15 mark. At that point my muscles started to fatigue. My feet became heavier and my heart rate elevated. The heat and humidity were a huge factor at that point, as was the trail. The course was tough mentally. It was out and back and very, very straight. It seemed flat, but in reality the way out was a gentle decline making the way back a gentle, 13 mile incline. There was really very little change in scenery. Most of the time I was running through a tree tunnel. Sometimes the trees would break and it would be wide open with cow pastures on either side. Somehow that was when the sun would come out as well. There just wasn’t much to occupy the mind in the scenery. I don’t run with headphones, and no one is interested in chatting during the last half of a marathon, so it was just me, my thoughts, and the crunching of the gravel.
Just before the last 2 miles was the last aid station, which was manned by my own local running group. It was awesome to see people I knew and loved and have them cheering my on into the last stretch. Keeping pace after that was a challenge. I would push a little to pick it up, and then find myself going to hard, but if I slowed at all I would let off too much. Eventually I found my rhythm again, but it still felt like finish would never come. I imagined I could hear the cheers at the finish for a full mile before reaching it. I think it was wishful thinking. I finished strong with 4:15:35. My hope had been that I could beat my previous best marathon time without overdoing it. I came in 4 minutes faster than that time. It was a smooth, consistent run without any major hiccups. I couldn’t have been happier.
One thing that really struck me as I ran was how every runner was on their own journey. There were first time marathoners and veterans. This was my 2nd marathon since my knee surgery. In less than 18 months I had gone from hardly being able to walk to running 26.2 and enjoying every step. That is my journey, the things I’ve overcome to get on this trail going through farmland in the midwest. I talked to one couple who had driven up from Kentucky for her first marathon. They ran together, and clearly enjoyed the shared effort. There was a man running without his shirt and his skin told the story of many pounds lost. There was the boy whose youthful exuberance annoyed all the veterans at the end as he leapt in the air and caused a ruckus. Someday those things will annoy him too, give him his moment. Everyone has a story and a road they had to come down to the point where their journey converges with our own. Maybe they had a hard road, maybe they didn’t. And that’s ok. Symbolically, and not so symbolically, running is about the journey.