Reason, Season,…Race Day?
Building a road trip around a marathon training plan takes a bit of effort. We focused first on our long training runs, booking hotels in places that have good running routes (like urban trails or bike paths) and adjusting driving targets based on our daily training schedule. We also contemplated signing up for a race or two to take advantage of closed roads and on-course support. Last Saturday we were scheduled for a 13-mile drop-back week, so before we left home, we looked for a half-marathon in an interesting place and built the first week of our trip around it.
The place we selected was Charlevoix, a vacation town on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Saturday was the 7th running of the Charlevoix Marathon, a multi-race event which included four distances: 5K, 10K, half marathon, and marathon.
We arrived in Charlevoix Friday afternoon and found a parking space at the edge of downtown. We walked along a waterfront park to the packet pick-up area by the bridge. Pick-up was well-organized, and the race swag was generous: a race tee, running cap, and several product freebies. At 4 PM, they held an “Athlete’s Meeting” to go over details and answer race-day questions. It was helpful to get a lay of the land before running a new course.
After the meeting, we headed to a pasta dinner fundraiser at a local church. The food was simple, warm, and filling, and the donation-based meal allowed us to contribute to the local community while we were in town. We took dessert to the streets and noshed on cookies while we made our way through the neighborhoods of Charlevoix to the beach area and lighthouse. It was a lovely introduction to town and a relaxing way to spend the afternoon.
We then made our way to our hotel, 20 minutes north of town, realizing along the way that part of the race route paralleled the road. It was a paved bike path, mostly flat, with a mile-long wooden bridge. I was encouraged to see that most of the course would take place on the bike path with its even terrain.
And I needed the encouragement, because even as we drove to the hotel that night before the race, bib number in hand, I wasn’t sure I’d be running. I’ve been nursing a case of tendinitis in my left knee, and hills are off limits for a while. When we signed up for the Charlevoix race in late May, I had dreams of PR’ing it with a sub-2:00 time on a cool, flat course. Those dreams came crashing down when the knee injury sidelined me from running. I hadn’t run more than 3 consecutive miles in the two weeks leading into race day, and I wouldn’t make the final decision to run until the morning of the race.
Saturday morning we woke up early and made instant oatmeal in our hotel room using hot water from the coffee maker. We were checked out and on the road by 6 AM and parked near the start line by 6:30. I was feeling good…rested and strong…but I was worried about tweaking my knee and having to pull myself off the course during the race.
The marathon runners took off at 7 AM, and we half-marathoners lined up for a 7:30 AM start. Before I knew it, we were off! I took it slow slow slow for the first half mile, testing my leg and shifting my brain into endurance mode. The quickest way to ruin a race plan is go out of the gate too quickly. With every passing runner, I reminded myself I was not competing with any of them, that I was running my race, and further, that the race was not a race but actually a training run. A training run with the sole goal of finishing it without pain.
The first mile carried us away from the lake through tree-lined neighborhoods. By the 1 mile mark, I’d fallen into silent step with a young woman to my right. She took her headphones off and asked if I was running an 11:00 pace (minutes per mile). I looked at my watch and replied with a smile, “It looks that way.” And with that simple exchange began a 2.5-hour friendship with S. We spoke off and on for the first few miles, with her periodically putting her headphones back in and me focusing on maintaining pain-free form.
But with each step, we shared more of our stories and more of the experience, and by the time we reached the turnaround at mile 6.5, we were chatting and laughing and quietly helping each other get to the finish line: me helping S complete her first-ever half and longest run to date, and S helping me keep my mind off my knee and keep a steady pace through a race that one week earlier I wasn’t sure I would be able to run.
During the last half mile, I serenaded S with my terribly off-key version of “The Gambler,” sadly showing my age (nearly twice hers!) but pushing us both toward the finish line. We crossed in a respectable 2:21 and change and celebrated with a high five.
All things considered—the weather, the course, my knee, and the company—my slowest half was arguably my best. On a random course on the Michigan shore, I reclaimed my training plan and perhaps found a comfortable marathon pace.
I also found a friend in S. Friendship has many definitions, and I think the old adage of people entering your life for a “reason, season, or lifetime” needs an additional category: race day. Even if Saturday’s half is the only run S and I ever share, I am profoundly grateful for her companionship and willingness to share 13.1 miles with me. Thank you again, S, for a fantastic experience. Happy running! -J