Friday, November 2, 2012

Monster Half Marathon - September 2, 2012

For the third consecutive year I'm standing in the parking lot of "Gatherings" on the first Sunday of September, waiting to start running up Virgil Mountain at the Finger Lakes Running Club's low-key trail run, the Monster Marathon and Half Marathon. Unlike the marathon start in 2010 and the half marathon start last year, I'm not alone at the starting line.  Two other runners are with me for the age-graded start.  At our age we get to start at 8:37, a 23 minute head start on the official starting time of 9:00 a.m.

A shirtless Jon H. immediately speeds away.  He goes on to finish an age-graded 9th overall.  The second runner, Dick D. and I start off together and companionably chat away.  He is going to run - walk actually - a multi-day stage event in Peru using trekking poles with a bunch of experienced trekkers.  Since much of the experience will be spent in the mountains visiting Machu Picchu and other Inca ruins he's using Monster for training as it involves 2780 feet of climb and descent over the out-and-back course.

The steam engine ruin by the trail
After a brief downhill on a gravel road, the course heads up Virgil Mountain.  I can walk a bit faster than Dick and I push on.  It's not long before younger runners are passing me. On the other hand, I pass the rusting remains of a steam engine next to the path.  Perhaps it was used there when the mountain was logged.  It hasn't moved in years so passing it is not too difficult.

After the mountain levels out Dick catches up to me and we trot on together and chat some more.  He's faster than me downhill and goes on ahead as we descend the other side of Virgil Mountain.

The Forest Monster
The website for the race tells how the race got its name: "A 500 year old Iroquois Indian Legend tells how a 'Forest Monster' chased the Indian brave 'Jost Du-It' out and back twice along the present course. Jost Du-it’s time for the 26.2 miles was 3:26:59, then he collapsed. He quickly vanished, presumably eaten by the 'Forest Monster'. . . .Glance behind each tree!"

Sure enough, as we start up the final climb to the turn-around, the forest monster comes into view. He is wearing a race bib and running shoes and is waving his claws at runners as they pass. But he stays safely toward the side and we run past.

At the turn-around I check my watch.  I'm halfway done in 1:26.  If I can keep it up I can finish under three hours. The good news is that it is net downhill on the way back.  The bad news is that it is the second half of the half.  Last year I went through the same calculations, having reached the halfway point in just under 1:31.  But last year I faded and finished in 3:08.  There's an aid station at the halfway point so the calculations are easy - run 45 minutes to the aid station and 45 minutes from there to the finish.  Easy to compute - but will it be easy to execute? It was not last year.

Monster attack!
Headed down the trail I pass the Forest Monster and stop to take a picture.  A woman is running down behind me and I yell to her to beware of the monster.  But perhaps that just enraged the beast as he launched an attack on her.  After a brief struggle she escaped from him and shortly thereafter passed me. (Editor's note: The monster attacked was staged and occurred under the instigation and direction of your reporter.  No monsters were hurt in the making of this photograph. Nor were any runners.)

Safely past the monster
and headed uphill
After awhile I catch up to Jodi H. the runner "attacked" by the monster.  We chat about why we are out running this and where we are from.  I say that I'm from Bethesda but staying at our vacation house in Watkins Glen and that it would be crazy to come here just to run this race.  She's from Massachusetts and agrees, as she is visiting a friend in Ithaca, about 20 miles to the west.

After a bit I leave Jodi and catch up with Dick on the long uphill to the aid station.  I tell him of my three hour goal and then tell him that I have had a Voice speak to me and the Voice said that Dick would lead me to finish in under three hours.  Then I add, "And the Voice said that this was not a matter for Dick to choose but that it was a direction to him and that it was an obligation that had been placed on him."

I don't know if Dick thought I was kidding or that I was just crazy.  But he responded, "I'll get you there under three hours."

We continue on and reach the aid station in 44:38 since the turnaround, right on target.  With about 2:11 elapsed I have 49 minutes to run the last quarter of the course.

We pass the meteorological equipment on the top of Virgil Mountain and head down.  Dick is taking his mission seriously and almost trips as we come out on the short stretch of power line road atop the mountain.  I stop to try to take some pictures as he goes on.  Not only do I fail but he's pulled away from me on the downhill and I soon lose sight of him.

So now it's on me alone to reach my goal.  I go down the mountain as fast as I can.  Toward the bottom I start to see marathoners who are on their second lap of the course.  I start to ask them how far it is since they left the start-finish and get ambiguous and contradictory replies both in terms of time and distance. I try to figure out the time remaining but can't.  Just a matter of pushing now.

Off the trail and on the gravel road toward Gatherings and the finish.  But it is uphill in this direction and the sun is shining down after the shade of the woods.  It's not a pleasant run like the trail.  Push until I can't go anymore, then walk for 30 seconds, then run again.  I leapfrog with another runner who passes me while I walk.  Finally cross the road and the finish is in sight.  Sandy is standing by the side and I toss my water bottle in her direction as I cross the finish line in 2:56:39, or an age adjusted 2:33:39, good for an age-adjusted 48th place of the 77 finishers.  I see Dick and thank him for accepting what was thrust upon him by the Voice. He acknowledges that he did accept the mission that was placed on him and he succeeded, finishing in 2:53:05,  or an AG 2:20:05, one place ahead of me.

My splits are 46:25 and 40:05 for 1:26:30 outbound and 44:38 and 44:33 for 1:29:09 inbound for a 2:56:39.  Just about perfect for a race on rocky, rooty single track up and down a mountain.  The fastest unadjusted time was 1:46:03, for an runner rank 60.0%, just slightly above my overall rank of 56.3%

Mission accomplished thanks to the Voice and Dick, I go off and enjoy the buffet lunch included in the race fee.
Swag? For $30 race day registration you want swag?

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