I headed into Friday’s Wishbone Run in Gig Harbor, Wash., knowing it wasn’t going to be an easy race for me. Granted, none of my 86 previous lifetime marathons and ultramarathons have ever been easy. But I figured this one would be unusually difficult. Sure enough, I ran my slowest-ever marathon, a 4:14.
Just in case you’ve never been here before, I’m a father of three and a marathon runner. My middle child, 7-year-old Jack, is severely autistic. I wanted to do something to try to make a difference in his honor, so I’m attempting to run 61 marathons in 2010 to raise money and awareness for a charity I’m a part of called Train 4 Autism. Friday’s race was No. 56 of the 61 — still on track!
The Wishbone Run is a small trail run with about 100 participants. It’s billed as a 27.4-mile trail race, four loops of a figure-8 style course. It was fairly cold, mid-30s to low 40s, and the footing was very difficult. Virtually the entire course was covered in snow, ice, mud and rocks. The course was a very pleasant run, though. Every step was in a plush forest.
We got going and spread out fairly quickly and I had all the space I needed within a 1/2 mile or so. Trail running is very different than road running. You have to work pretty hard to keep your balance because of the uneven footing. As a result, you’re using a lot of the muscles in your legs you don’t normally use and you felt pain differently and quickly.
Adding to the challenge was the mud and ice. The trail was slippery, plus at least a dozen times I ran across what I thought were going to be mud patches only to crash through ice into ankle-deep puddles of freezing water. I never lost my balance, but about seven or eight times I came pretty close to rolling my right ankle.
Within the first five or so miles, I knew my goal for the race would be to get through the course as quickly as possible while avoiding injury. I didn’t really have a time goal because you can’t compare a finishing time on a course like this to a road course. They’re completely different. You can strive to run your hardest and be competitive in the overall standings, though. I’m normally anywhere from top 2 to 5 percent in a road marathon if I run well, so in a trail race, I’d be content with top 10 percent.
I hit the first loop in about an hour, but the second loop was a different story. Since the course was a figure 8, there was an aid table in the middle. We hit it twice per lap. So, there were basically three segments per lap. After the second segment of the second lap, I got turned around and accidentally ran that second segment again. The segment accounted for about half of the lap, so running it twice put me at about 16 miles halfway through.
It was also a bummer, because that was the most challenging portion. There was a hill that gained about 150 feet over roughly 1/4 mile, so to run that twice in about three miles was frustrating, especially because the second time I ran in I realized I’d taken the wrong turn.
I knew on the third lap I could run just the first and third segment, and in doing so, I would have covered every step of the course exactly three times. I explained that to the guys counting laps and they were cool with that. So, I did that and was back on track with one lap to go.
I finished out the race, enjoying the scenery but struggling through a lot of pain. My legs were sore, my right knee flared up again, I was blistering and my back was hurting really bad. There were a few points where my lower back started to go and I was afraid I was going to fall over. I made it through, but there were a few hills that were at the perfect angle to really cause some problems.
I love to run, and I love challenges, but I was pretty glad when this one was over. It was a tough, tough day. I went 4:14:40, my slowest marathon ever. I’m not sure how long the course really was. It was billed at 27.4 miles and that’s what everybody seemed to have on their Garmins, but I only got 26.45. I know with 100 percent certainty I didn’t short the course a single step, so I’m thinking that maybe all the trees affected the reading?
I don’t know my overall finish position, but I think it was somewhere around fifth or so. To me, that was an indicator that it was not an easy run. I really banged myself up in this one. I have the worst blister I’ve ever had on my right big toe, my right knee hurts on the outside worse than it has all year and I scraped myself up a little bit from the branches. This one really did a number on me.
So there you have it, marathon No. 56 of Operation Jack is in the books. Only five to go! Next up, Memphis and Las Vegas next weekend!
Forgot to get a picture at the finish line, so I had to get one in the mirror at the hotel.
Proof of the mud we ran through.