Monday, September 19, 2011

Monster Half Marathon, September 4, 2011

"I'm never coming back for this," were my last words as I left the Monster Marathon in 2010. The race takes place outside Virgil, NY and consists of a double out-and-back on single track trails up and down Virgil Mountain. The half marathon course has 2780 feet of climb and a corresponding amount of descent.

The view of the starting line from my car.
But it is now a year later and I'm explaining to the race officials that my previous statement is only a half lie.  "I'm not running the marathon," I say, "but I'll run the half."

The weather is warm and humid, unlike the pleasant cool temperatures of a year ago. Subsequently, the  race results will describe the weather as, "Partly cloudy, 80s, very humid."  I put a small container with Succeed! tablets in one pocket, put a couple of gels in another and my phone (to take pictures in a third).  Driver's license (for ID) and car keys go in another.  I've lost a few pounds this year and my shorts feel a bit loose.  I try to untie the drawstring to tighten them up, but there is a knot in them and I can't get it undone.  I've run with the shorts before and figure it won't be much of a problem.

One feature of the race is that it is age- and sex-graded, so I get to start 21 minutes before the official starting time of 9 a.m.  At 8:39 I'm off - alone.  Of the 84 starters, I'm the ninth to begin and the second male, with only 67-year old Joe R. starting before me.

Looking for white blazes in the piney woods.
The course starts with about a three quarter mile stretch down a gravel road before turning onto the Finger Lakes Trail.  Even though the race directions are simple - "follow the white blazes" - and I've been on the course last year, I come to the same spot where I got off course last year and still have to stop to search for the path. But I find it without actually going astray and begin the long climb up the mountain.  It isn't long before runners start to pass me. I'm used to it so I step aside to let them go and wish them good running.

But my shorts are becoming a problem.  The combination of things I'm carrying, the lost pounds and the sweat are allowing gravity to have a downward effect on my shorts. I'm quite clearly exhibiting "plumbers crack" to the runners coming up behind me.

I try a variety of things to address the problem.  First I tuck my shirt into the shorts.  But running simply pulls it out as the shorts sag southward.  I try rearranging the phone and gels, thinking that different pockets might change their influence on the sag.  Finally I stop and remove a safety pin from my bib and put a tuck in the shorts.  That fails.

Humidity and sweat lead to blurry pics.
The heat and humidity is oppressive, even in the shaded woods, but that gives me an idea of how to solve two problems at once.  I remove my shirt and tuck it in the back of my shorts.  Unfortunately, the sweat-soaked shirt, even after I ring it out, is too heavy and instead of taking up slack in the waistband, pulls the shorts down further.  I roll up the shirt and drape it around my neck where it remains for the rest of the race.  Then, I tuck my water bottle in the back of the shorts with the same drooping results.  Finally, tucking the bottle in the front of the shorts has positive results, but the bottle does tend to work its way down to regions not intended to share space with water bottles.  With all options exhausted I revert to simply tugging the shorts up when then get too low.  And as the day goes on, I worry less and less about it as it becomes clear that they are not going to drop to my ankles - and there are fewer and fewer runners around to see the low riding shorts.

Last year I ran the first half of the Monster Marathon in 3:05.  My aim today is to finish under three hours.  The plan is simple - 45 minutes between each aid station.  There is a bit of challenge there in the second part, as I should be a bit tired particularly given the heat and humidity, but I figure that since it is net downhill, that will cancel out any weariness.  I get to the first aid station in 46 minutes, a very acceptable result given the climbing in that section of the course.  Despite almost getting off course - a runner calls me back as I miss a turn - I reach the turn-around in 43 minutes, with an elapsed time of 1:30:38, almost exactly on schedule. But even as I keep expecting the midway aid station to be just around the next turn or at the top of the next short climb, it isn't there.  It takes 48 minutes to reach the aid station, more than four minutes slower than I had just run the section in the opposite direction.  I'm disappointed, but retain a glimmer of hope that the trail down Virgil Mountain will enable me to make up the time.

No sooner have I left the aid station than an animal howls from my right.  I swivel in that direction and see, in the crook of a tree, the black and white dappled fronds of the Virgil Monster.  I yell at the six foot tall creature, "Are you the Monster?"

The Monster responds in perfect English, "I am the Monster."

Ignoring the fact that the Monster is wearing athletic shoes, I say, "Wait a minute. Monsters can't speak English."

I'm answered with loud monster-like noises as I run on.

My hopes to make up time on the down slopes of Virgil Mountain are dashed by the steepness and technical nature of the trail.  I put discretion and avoiding injury ahead of competitiveness, and even when a runner catches up and passes me, I let him go.

Monster Half Marathon swag.
On the gravel road headed to the finish I spot a crooked stick.  But as I approach the stick wiggles and a small snake, maybe a foot long, slithers off into the grass by the side of the road..

I reach the finish in 3:08:05, for an age-adjusted time of 2:47:05, good enough for 46th of 80.  In the spirit of the low key nature of the race, and the modest $30 entry fee for day-of-race registration, I am awarded the finishers thin cord necklace of a red plastic leaf with 13.1 inscribed on the reverse.

After changing out of my sweat-soaked clothes I enjoy the iced tea, lemonade, a variety of wraps, salads and chips provided for the runners' enjoyment before heading back to our house in Watkins Glen.

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