Cape cod Trail Race – My first full marathon

It’s 12:30 p.m. Time to pack up the laptop. I just finished my poster presentation at the SPL25 symposium, spending the last 2 hours talking about Intraoperative Imaging in Neurosurgery. I was blessed to be doing what I love. I walk out and head past the Harvard Medical School building to enter my workstation at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Dam! I forgot to get a pair of jeans. I guess I’ll have to head to the pre race dinner in formals. I rushed to the bus station to catch my ride to Falmouth in Cape Cod.

I was nervous as hell. This was going to be my first 26 mile distance and my first trail race. No really, My first. I’d never run trails in training and the longest I’d run was 17 miles. To top that off the last couple of weeks I’d squeezed in a solitary 10 mile run. This was going to be painful.

I arrived a little past 6 to the dinner site. There were a ton of vegan options available. Oven baked potatoes (perfectly seasoned!) , pasta. We even got to hear from the legendary Geoff Smith, two time winner of the Boston Marathon ( marathon PB of 2:09:08 and PB for a mile at 3:55!). Not a bad evening. I sat next to a delightful old couple. Mind you, they seemed fitter then me. They were bikers, working on converting an old rail road into a bike path.  Dam I wish I’m that active when I’m at that age.

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“Man imposes his own limitations, don’t set any” –Anthony Bailey. Geoff Smith(left), two time winner of Boston marathon.

Bib collected. Check. Lets head back to the hotel. After settling in, it was time for another checklist. Hydration bottle. Check . Gels and Lara bars. Check. Clothes and shoes. Check. ‘Eat and Run’ on the audible app. Check. I normally hate to wear headphones during my runs. I like the peace and quiet. Just me and my thoughts. Running was a time to meditate. But I knew, I’d need some extra help tomorrow. As one of the chapter titles reads, ‘Pain only hurts’! Bring it on.

Morning of the race. Jitters! “I’m not ready for this” I thought to myself. Why am I doing this. ‘Sometimes you just do things’ as Scott Jurek’s father always said to him. Pre-race stretching and off I went. No time for doubts.

I wanted to get there early, to cheer on the runners in the other distance categories, who would be starting earlier then the full marathon group. I know how much running a race can mean to someone and hopefully a few cheers lets them know how awesome they are for doing this.

5,4,3,2,1. We’re off. The course starts in an open field. A 1.4 mile loop and we’re back to the start point. Now we take a different course and start the 10 k loops. We’re heading towards the trees. It’s rather windy, which was a greater incentive to head for the covers. Hop over an unused rail track and into the ‘Jungle’. The first climb came. I’d read Emilie Forsberg once comment it’s better to walk the slopes than run it. The time you save running a hill is not much as you slow down. The energy you save walking is immense.

Now the trail narrowed to a one man path. Jumping over roots, boulders, running sudden downhills. Moving left, moving right. It felt exhilarating. There was primal pleasure in running a trail. A sense of freedom from the menial tasks of civilized life(As exciting as it is being in a Neurosurgical OR, it felt menial today). This was my first true trail run. I’d tried to mimic the feeling; running on the unpavemented parts near the Charles and around Fenway in Boston. This was nothing like that.   I was trying to avoid falling, my mind focused on calculating every step I took. Then, SMACK! I tripped. I got up almost as soon as fell. No time to stop. It wasn’t that bad. Should I check the wound? Maybe later. I knew I had to make up ground early on, as I would inevitably slow down towards the latter part of the race. Passing the aid stations and the medical camp. No need to stop right now. Back to the start. Loop 2. It helped knowing the course now. I knew what to expect. A couple of runners passed me by. I passed a few. It was nice seeing people now and then. A few words exchanged encouraging each other to keep moving forward. Then you’re back in solitude. Loop 3, let’s go.

“I’m one of those people that you have to keep your eye on or i’ll wander off into the woods and forget to come back” ― Jack White. At the starting point of the race(left) and somewhere in the woods at mile 22 ish, I think(Right)

A big shout out to the organizers and volunteers. They were always greeting you with a smile and words of encouragement. The aid stations were well stocked and the pre race dinner and breakfast had a ton of vegan options to. They really made it a fantastic experience

I quickly grabbed a few slices of oranges at an aid station, and in a hurry I missed a trail marker. A km later I realized I was off the trail, when I noticed some horses in a stable. That’s new. Turn back. ughhh!!! The trail was actually very well marked, but somehow I missed it.  (does the extra km make me an ultrarunner now!)

Loop 4 was slow, it involved a lot of walking and running. I finally see the finish, I start running fast.  Gotta finish strong. DONE!

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“At mile 20, I thought I was dead. At mile 22, I wished I was dead. At mile 24, I knew I was dead. At mile 26.2, I realized I had become too tough to kill.” – Unknown. Me after completing the race. Did not think i’d be smiling or standing even!

In summary it’s a fairly flat course. There are a couple of steep incline’s but all of them pretty short. A good chunk of the course is on single trails, so having trail etiquette is important. Ask to pass runners, and let runners pass. It’s just polite.

Did I have this life changing experience running a full marathon? Maybe not. I’m glad at the progress I’ve made in a year and a half since I decided to go for a 10 km walk running for a whole minute somewhere in between. Trail running has got me excited though. I’m itching to give it a go again. I’m gonna try to head to the Middlesex Fells reservation this weekend, which is close to Medford. My journey back to the motel was accompanied by the same uber driver, who had dropped me to the race site. A war veteran he was a delightful man, who gave me a bottle of Gatorade and entertained me with some nice stories. I was promised a nice history lesson about America the next time I was in Falmouth. I’ll definitely be back. I hope to do the 50 K next year.

All in all, a super weekend. What were you upto?

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