Eagle Creek Trail Marathon
The EC Trail Marathon is listed in RW’s Trail Magazine as the #1 urban trail marathon. How lucky am I that I live 15 mins from this wonderful park and do most of my long runs on their roads? I ran the HM here last year (2:40ish finishing time) and really enjoyed it. I knew I wanted to push myself to run the full here so I happily signed up after I finished my 3rd road marathon in April. After all, I have all summer to get back onto the trails and build up strength, right? LOL
Summer came and things changed. Two kids out of school, me working 3 days and one evening a week (last year I was only working one day a week), record breaking temps and a major drought in the Midwest all combined to send me into a major running funk. My miles dropped, averaging just 30 miles a week and a big part of that average was my 70 mile All-Star week. My head wasn’t in the game. I didn’t want to be away from my family for my long runs as I was already missing out on time with them while working. Most of my runs were early mornings, between 4-6 miles. Two weeks before the race, my DH and I ran 15 miles with a 10:00 pace so I felt that I could do the full. There wasn’t a time limit so I put no pressure on myself to hit any specific time goal. I really just wanted to finish and if I could do that under 6 hours, then I would be happy.
Race morning and I was up at 5:45. I was tired, hadn’t slept well. I ate my oatmeal and packed my drop bag. Weather was good for August, humid and 74*, cloudy but heating up to low-90’s. Decided to use my son’s lunch box as my drop bag so it wouldn’t be confused with anyone elses. I drove to the start/finish area and got my packet. I knew Christy from BF would be here and my dad (prof photographer) was going to try and get pics of both of us. I found dad easily and together we found Christy. The race was scheduled to start at 7:30 and after some brief announcements and the national anthem, we were ready to go. The full was in two waves so I started towards the middle of the first wave. Last year, there had been a major bottleneck when the route goes into the single track trail that lasted for the first mile so I wanted to be ahead of any possible bottleneck. I started off strong and happy.
The course is split into ½’s. The first half is single track with a short part on a road, very hilly, roots for steps, holding onto small trees to climb up and get down ravines. Then you cross the reservoir on a two lane causeway (we had a lane to ourselves) and enter the second half of the park, which is more pedestrian friendly with wide, groomed trails, some chunky gravel as well. Then you double back to the start line and repeat for the full marathon.
The first part of the race, miles 1-3.5 were challenging but fun. 10:44, 10:16, 11:52. Plenty of other runners but everyone was moving well so no bottle neck. I carried a handheld so I skipped the first 2 aid stations. There are many, many downed trees/logs to climb or jump over. These slowed me down because I trip easily so I’m careful. I made it to the causeway, roughly 3.5 miles, happy and feeling strong. The causeway is about ¾ of a mile long and flat so I do some passing here as well as was passed by some very fast HMers who started 20 mins after me. Note to anyone who runs with music – don’t have it so loud that the person in front of you can hear all your songs, it’s really annoying. My dad gets this cool picture of me in front of the bear sculpture.
Mile 4-7 11:46, 12:25, 12:14, 10:25 We enter the east side of the park on a single track trail but pass another aid station and the trail opens up to the groomed, wide trail. Dad snaps a few more pics. There are stair wells in this area which I walk down. The leader of the full dashes past me with a wide look in his eyes, that guy was FLYING. About 10 mins later, another runner came past and asked how far ahead the leader was so I told him about 5 or so minutes. We enter a man made dam that circles part of the reservoir which has large, gravel chunks as the surface. I stop here at a picnic table to get a rock out of my shoe and then continue on. I start running with another lady who was wearing a skirt that I admired and we talked for a minute. I drop her and continue on to the aid station at mile 7, the ½ way point of the route. I take my Gu and eat some trail mix here.
Mile 8-11 10:36, 12:21, 11:31, 13:23. I started walking just to catch my breath when the lady who I had talked to came up behind me and yelled “Come on, Skirt, get moving!” so I started running and chatting with her. She’s run several Ultras and really enjoyed running trails. We ran and talked for the next 2 miles or so. She dropped me after I slowly climbed up a set of stairs. I see Christy and her friend coming at me and I give her a “Looking good”. The trail is much busier now as half marathoners were heading one way and I’m doubling back but it’s wide enough that it’s not a problem. I see my dad again and let him know that Christy is a few miles behind me so he can get her picture as well. I get to the aid station and run past it. Hit the causeway and ran the length of it, passing a few people.
Mile 12-13.1 – 13:35, 12:06. I stop at this aid station and the volunteer filled up my water bottle as I drank some Coke and ate a Gu. I refocused, knowing that the ½ point was just a few miles away but they would be the most difficult of the course. It was trickier because it was single trail and there were still ½ marathon and ¼ marathon runners/walkers coming at me. Most of the time, they would move to the side so that helped. I did move aside for the leader who still looked like he wasn’t even working hard. Up and down a few serious ravines and I can hear the announcer. I come out into the field and see my DH and kids cheering for me. I slow up and tell DH to go to the drop table and I’d talk to him there. He met me there and filled up my water bottle while I greeted the kids. I tell him that I’d see him at home and head back out. HM split time was 2:38 (5 mins faster then last year).
Mile 14-16 15:20, 13:03, 16:38. This part was much different. The first mile is not the same as the last mile of the loop so I was completely on my own, no HM or FM around. Mentally, I relaxed but slowed down too much. Yes, it’s a challenging area but looking back, I was conservative to a fault. I knew I was only ½ way so I wanted to take it easy but without other people around, it felt more like a training run instead of a race. Once I saw people again, my head got back into the game. The FM leader passes me on his way to the finish (3:30 finishing time!!) Saw Christy again as she was heading to the ½ way point. I pass a runner who cramped up on the service road but he was being attended too so I keep going. This is when I notice that my quads were starting to cramp as well but the cramping went away when I got back onto the trail. I stopped at the aid station for a bite-sized potato and some Heed. Saw Dad again and he said he had some good pics and was heading home. He did pass me on the causeway and gave me a nice honk and thumbs up. The clouds are gone now and the sun is beating down on me, I’m so thankful to be heading back into the woods and shade.
Mile 17-20 16:22, 14:56, 14:30, 14:46. I’m back on the groomed trails and see all the fast FMers coming back around. We all give each other “Good job” and “Looking goods”. I stop at the aid station for some Coke and trail mix. There is a girl now in front of me that I keep trying to gain on. We’re both walking and running so I wasn’t gaining much on her. We reach the gravel dam and she stops at a picnic table that another runner was at and just sat there. So I pass her and continue on, making a deal with myself to run as far as I can on the flat dam. I see another runner, a guy in gray, walking slowly a few hundred yards in front of me. I pass him just before the aid station but I stop to use the restroom and refuel. The aid station guy fills up my handheld with ice water. I check my watch and my time at 20 miles is 4:30ish.
Mile 21-23 16:58, 16:06, 17:14 I push forward, walking more than running right now. I see more FMers coming towards me and we’re all looking pretty tired. The guy in gray appears again so I make a pack with myself to catch him. The stairs that I took my time going down were now a painful effort to climb up. I’m gaining on the Rabbit but he hears me, turns around, sees me and starts running. That always drives me crazy because I don’t know if he doesn’t want to be passed or doesn’t want to be passed by a girl. I can pass him but we’re coming to an aid station so I let up. The aid station worker fills my bottle with ice and I refuel with another potato and Gu. Grey guy skipped the station. I see Christy for the last time as she enters that station as I exit it. I get excited because I can hit my 6:00 hour mark.
Mile 24-26 14:42, 16:04, 15:43 I hit the cause way and the heat is insane. It’s at least 90 and sunny. The sun is reflecting off the water and I’m not a happy camper. But I see 2 other runners on the road, one of them is my Grey Rabbit who’s walking. I vow to not only pass him but put some distance on him so I don’t have to see him again. I pass the first guy and say hi as we both complain about the sun. Then I pass the Grey Rabbit but don’t say a word. I run and don’t stop until I have to climb the guardrail to enter the park again. I get to this aid station and joke with the girls working about passing the guy. I refuel and catch my breath but head back out as soon as I see the Rabbit enter the station. My watch says 5:30, I can make 6:00 still, can’t I? Ummm, no. The hills suck. My energy is zapped. I just want to finish. I’m completely alone. Wait, there’s some orange. It’s a guy walking, I can pass him! Yeah, a little emotional boost. I pass up the last aid station and yell to them that I just want to finish. I know I’m 1 mile out. There is a sweet teenage volunteer who’s been sitting at the trail split all day and I thank her for being there. She tells me I have one mile left. Wait, a whole mile still?! My Garmin says 25.8 and 5:52. There goes my 6:00 finish idea. I start to get down on myself but happened to glance at my watch again and it said 26.12 and 5:58:00. I decide that I’m going to finish 26.2 in 6 hours so I painfully start “running” and continue until I see my watch turn 26.2 at 5:59:36. Minor victory.
Mile 26-26.81 15:01. The hills are the steepest here, ravines that you have to hold onto trees to get down. My quads are trashed, I’m really regretting not trimming my toenails as I’ll be losing a few now and somehow I have a scratch on my thigh that has bled down my leg. I can hear the announcer and am just willing myself to keep moving forward. I come out to the field for the last 2/10th and see my DH and family. The kids cheer as I cross the finish line, arms raised. I’m done, in so many ways.
I get my hand-made medal and stand under the sprinkler. DH takes off with the kids and I stay to cool down and stretch out. I’m shocked to find 3 blisters as I didn’t notice any hot spots. I bum a beer off a runner wearing a Mich Ultra shirt and hide in her van as a thunderstorm appears out of nowhere. Thunder and lightning but the storm seems to be fast moving so the race director keeps the race going. I worry about Christy, knowing that she’s out there. I finish my beer and decide to head home.
So, there you go. It wasn’t pretty. I wasn’t trained well enough to handle all the up and down hills of the trail. I’ve decided to hold off on doing an Ultra as I don’t have the time or desire right now to train properly for the one in November that I was looking at doing. I did have a really fun time and I’m very proud of what I did though. I would and probably will do this one again next August. Maybe you’ll join me?
Official stats: 6:10:38, 6th out of 10 in AG, 72/122 finishers. Pace for first 13.1 was 12:05 and second half was 14:09.