(Extremely) Long version:
This half was my official goal when I signed up for the distance-training group with the local running store, before I decided to run that 25k back in May. It was my first half marathon since Nittany Valley in December of 2007 (2:34ish) and my first trail half since TA 2007 (3:17ish). Training went really well up through Riverbank and I had completed 3 runs over half marathon distance, including that race. Since then, though, my longest run had been 8 miles. My weekly mileage total has been the same, though, and I added hills, so at least there was that. I had no idea what to expect from the course (and they changed it in the last couple weeks, never posting the new elevation profile) so I didn’t have a time goal. So, officially, my goals were: 1) don’t die, 2) don’t break myself, 3) finish, and 4) finish ever wanting to run again. I’m feeling very fit so those goals seemed reasonable…but I left out one important detail…
We left pretty early on Friday morning and made the drive to Wisconsin. Hit some traffic in Chicago, which was expected, and then crawled for about an hour (for no apparent reason) outside of Janesville, WI. Made it to Baraboo around 4 PM and got all checked in. We decided to camp at the start, so we picked out a spot in the field and set up our tent. After that we drove over to Baraboo and explored a little.
The campsite was just an open field right next to the start, filled with runners, relay teams, a few dogs, and porta-potties. There was also a lake right there so I worried about bugs, but never had a problem with them. Kona found a beaver basically the second we arrived, and as we were walking back to our tent that evening a dude in another tent found a frog in his sleeping bag. We were in our tent before 10, but it took me forever to fall asleep on account of the VERY LOUD frogs and other creatures. It was cool though, a great place to camp and a fun atmosphere with everyone else around.
The night was clear, warm, and dry, so we slept without the rainfly on the tent. That meant the light was shining through the mesh top nice and early. I was awake shortly after 4 and up before 5, which allowed me to take my time getting ready. I walked over to the start and saw two friends head out for the 50k at 5:30, and walked up to meet others for very important coffee after that. Then wandered back down, saw Kona and Doug, and watched the relay start at 7. After that it was time for us to line up. Told my friends to have fun, and we were off!
And then we were stopped. The course turns onto single track pretty much immediately. I figured the hills would spread the field out but I was in a long line of people for the entire first 4.2 mile section. The course description said we’d climb for 2 miles straight – I was worried about that, but it reminded me a lot of the TA before you hit Becky’s Bluff. Some steep, but nothing bad. I had decided that I would walk when the hills really felt tough and run when they didn’t, but for a lot of that first section I didn’t have much choice. The trail was super narrow, and a lot of the time the line in front of me was so long it hardly seemed worth it to try to pass people. I looked at it as insurance I wouldn’t go out too fast. After a good bit of climbing we started down an extremely rocky trail. Eventually I made it to the aid station and happily took a break for some Gatorade. Unfortunately it was yellow Gatorade, which still makes me nauseous after drinking a lot of it during chemo.
First section (Road Kill aid station) 4.2 miles: 1:00:40
After the first aid station we headed back into the woods on the other side of the road. This section was very runnable and I FLEW. Somewhere in there I decided that I was less likely to twist an ankle if my feet weren’t on the ground long, so I took off. Kept walking the hills, and noticed I was recovering from them really quickly. Excellent. Somewhere in here my hamstrings started feeling a little tight and I remembered the Gu I had intended to take at the first aid station. This section was only 1.8 miles and finished at a granite overlook at the summit. Once I got over my terror of climbing up granite steps, a huge drop, and slippery rock, it was an incredible view. I’m not sure I’ve ever been up that high, and I’ve certainly never been that near the edge. Couldn’t stay too long, though, or I was going to get dizzy, so I headed back on my way after having a little water.
Second section (South Bluff aid station) 1.8 miles: 0:24:06
As it turns out, I left a very important goal off my list. Right before the start, the Head Goat told us to watch for the ORANGE FLAGS and NOT follow the person in front of us. Well….he gives that warning for a reason. Between the incredible view and the nice chat I was having with the woman in front of me, I (and the whole group I was with) missed when the orange-flagged-trail turned. A few minutes after leaving the South Bluff aid station I said “Uh..guys..I only see pink flags.” We all stopped dead and tried to figure out where we missed the trail. I had my map (at least I have some intelligence) so we got ourselves straightened out and found the trail again. I was able to run most of this section (but did not run on any of that granite ledge). At one point we had to cross a bridge that had apparently gotten washed a bit downstream. The guy in front of me didn’t step far enough or something and fell right on the corner of that bridge. He was ok, and we all headed on.
Third section (Steinke Basin) 2.9++ miles: 41:36
When I got back to Road Kill aid station I had some more nausea-inducing yellow Gatorade and a Gu and as I turned around to cross the road, I saw Doug and Kona! Such a great surprise to see them. My cumulative time at this point was 2:06 and I had secretly hoped to beat 3h, so I said hi to them briefly, told Doug I was having a blast, and headed off for the last 4.2 mile section (the same trail we’d been on at the start). I ran almost all of this section with the same three women and had a nice time chatting with them, but I think I had a little too much fun with them and didn’t push myself enough. Then, with something like 2 or 3 miles to go, I broke my concentration to see if the guy behind me wanted to pass, and immediately stepped on a grass-covered rock. Twisted my ankle hard, felt it pop 4 or 5 times, swore loudly, and thought I was done. That close to the end. I stood there for a couple minutes waiting for the nausea to pass, and one of the three women, Pam, waited with me. She walked right in front of me for a couple minutes after that, and soon I was able to run again. We ran along pretty gingerly for a while after that, but eventually I felt reasonably decent again. With about 1.5 miles to go we came across an unmanned aid station, I refilled my bottle, and picked up the pace. The rest of the race I ran by myself. Finally, I saw that tractor that had marked the trail head where the race bottlenecked at the beginning. I told the guy next to me that we’d made it, and headed toward the finish. I crossed the line, got my medal, shot glass, water, and a banana, and turned around to wait for Pam to finish. Gave her a hug when she came through and thanked her for hanging with me, and then went off to find Doug and Kona.
Fourth section (Road Kill to Start/Finish) 4.2 miles: 1:01:ish (forgot to stop my watch)
Final chip time: 3:07:18
I have to say, I’m thrilled. I met all of my goals (even though I forgot that important 5th one: don’t get lost) and got really close to my secret time goal. Considering the slight detour and the bottleneck at the beginning, those 7 min don’t concern me. So now, it’s time to switch gears and put in some serious training for a road-half PR assault in October.