|Christine and Mary|
Unexpected gifts are often the best gifts of all.
Door County's Fall 50 was certainly an unexpected gift for me yesterday. And like a kid the day after Christmas, the first thing that I thought of this morning was my favorite gift from the day before.
And then I took my first steps out of bed.
It was a gift that came with a bit of a kick.
Two weeks ago I did the Glacial 50K in the Northern Kettle Moraine. Perfect weather, beautiful fall colors and a surprisingly good race on legs that have not been getting a lot of mileage in recent months. That was a good gift too, but more of a stocking stuffer. A nice little something to put a smile on my face for a day or two.
The day after Glacial I thought, "Well, if one race went well, might as well do another." I went online to sign up for the Lakefront Discovery run, a 15K race just a few miles from home along Milwaukee's lakefront.
But no room at the inn. The race was full.
I went to my favorite race calendar – www.runningintheusa.com -- and started hunting. I found a few things -- a marathon in Middleton, a few 5Ks -- but nothing that really caught my attention... until I saw a listing for the Fall 50.
I remembered hearing about the event, a 50-mile race from Gills Rock at the tip of Door County to the last bit of land on the southern end of the peninsula in Sturgeon Bay. But when I went to the site the first thing that I saw was "FULL."
Then I looked a little closer and realized that it was the team event that was full. There were still openings in the solo category. Being an only-child I don't always play well with others so going solo was more to my liking. I pulled out the credit card and signed up.
I meant to do the Discovery Run, which is a race along Lake Michigan of a distance divisible by five. In Door County yesterday I did pretty much the same thing: ran primarily on the shore of Lake Michigan (technically, Green Bay) but in a race of 50 miles instead of 15 kilometers. Still divisible by five.
A little after 5 a.m. on Saturday morning the Li'l Mister and I made the quiet drive to Gills Rock. I don't know who the heck Gill was but he must have been quite a blowhard. His namesake had winds that could rival Dorothy's Kansas. However, except for the wind, the weather wasn't too bad. Upper 40s for the start, a couple of raindrops but no downpour. Later in the day the sun even poked out to check up on the runners. But never for long. Must have been the sun's day off.
Before the start I said hello to a few of my LPTR friends including Aaron Schneider and Christine Crawford. Aaron grew up in Sturgeon Bay so the Door County 50 was his home field.
Christine and I started off together, gabbing away until a I heard a porta-potty call my name. Usually 50 mile runs are on trails without the luxury of such civilized things as private little johns with toilet paper.
I was living large in Door County!
The Fall 50 course is primarily on quiet roads decorated in many spots with peak fall colors. The race advertises itself as the "Most Scenic Run in the Midwest" and they aren't bragging. Along the lakeshore, wind-driven waves splashed across the rocks. On the roads, beautiful canopies of yellows and oranges surrounded us. When the winds from the lake found their way inland the leaves swirled around us like a golden snowstorm.
I wasn't the only Gorski getting a workout in yesterday. After a summer of illness that led to the amputation of a good part of his foot, the Li'l Mister was crewing me for the first time in months and it was no easy task. With hundreds of teams added to the solo division, there were a lot of vehicles wandering around the Door Peninsula. Well managed with different routes for cars and runners the race course was rarely congested but the aid stations often had field-based parking lots that could rival those of a county fair.
But Dave was determined to return to his crewing duties. Bundled up in his winter gear and armed with a cane for balance, he made his way to most of the aid stations and stood for hours on end only to have me quickly pass through saying "feeling good, see you down the road!"
I'm sure that after a few stops he was ready to toss that race bag he had been hauling around right into Lake Michigan. You know the bag, the one filled with all of those "just in case" supplies that the runner rarely ever uses.
I was feeling good. Surprisingly good. After about 30 miles I saw some familiar gaits ahead of me. Runners can often identify each other from afar by running style. I came up first on Thao Hoang, a member of our "Turned Away From the Grand Canyon Because of Government Shut-Down" group. Talking with him I learned that he was eventually able to do from the North Rim what several us could not -- run from one end of he canyon to the other… and back. He said it was fantastic. My guess was that he still had some Grand Canyon dust in his legs.
Up ahead was Christine. Before the race we talked about expectations. I said that I was looking at finishing the race in 9 to 9.5 hours. When we saw each other that was still my plan.
"But you are on a pace to finish under 8:30," she said.
"Oh no, I'll fall apart. Don't worry; we are still in double digit mileage before the finish line. The wheels are going to fall off any minute."
I had never run 50 miles under 8:30. I can't even remember the last time I ran under 9 hours. A road course is going to be faster than trails, but still, 8:30 hadn't been in my reach for years. I'm a "senior master" now, surely my PRs are behind me.
At the halfway point I was at 4:11. Double that and you have 8:22. "That gives me a nice cushion to slow down and come in under nine hours" I kept thinking to myself. But even with a few more pit stops and a newly placed hill that brought me down to a slow walk for about a half mile I was still maintaining a steady pace.
The last aid station was less than five miles from the finish. I told the Li'l Mister that my legs were getting tired. My hip flexors didn't feel like flexing a lot any more.
"What did you expect? You've run over 45 miles. You are supposed to be tired. See you at the finish!"
And off he went.
I saw the 46 mile marker sign and realized that I was still on a pace to come in under 8:30. Actually, I was on a pace to do an even race: second half in the same time as the first.
But I still thought that the wheels would fall off. "At least now if I have to, I can walk it in and probably still finish under 9 hours," I kept saying to myself.
I thought this up until I made the turn into Sunset Park and the last half mile of the race. By then I could have stopped, taken a short nap and still made my time goal of 9 hours. And at the start of the race it really wasn't a goal, it was just a hope.
Coming through the finishing chute I looked at the race clock because I no longer believed my wristwatch.
8:21 (and a lot of change, but still, it wasn't yet 8:22).
I ran the second half faster than the first.
I ran a personal best by… I really don't know. It's been so long since I have run anything under 9 hours that I haven't a clue. But I do know that I've never clocked a 50-miler under 8:30.
What a wonderfully unexpected gift.
I saw Aaron, who finished about 15-20 minutes ahead of me. I thanked Ashley for cheering me on as I trudged up the longest hill of the course. Got some warm clothes on and saw Christine come in. Cheers and hugs. Finish photos.
And then the shivers. That gosh darn wind still hadn't let up and I was turning into a popsicle, as was Dave. The party tent looked like a lot of fun but I desperately wanted a hot shower. It would be the bow on top of my most wonderfully unexpected most wonderful gift of a race.
This morning my legs are whimpering. My back is a little stiff. My shoulder has a kink from carrying a waterbottle all day. There is a blister on my foot that could use a pop.
And I couldn't be happier.