This past weekend I drove to the middle of nowhere in Tennessee to run a marathon. Because when it's August, what better thing to do than drive to the south and run a marathon? It's not like Maryland isn't hot and humid enough in August.
Over the winter, when I decided I want to run a marathon in all 50 states by the time I turned 50, I spent a lot of quality time with marathonguide.com coming up with a plan. At the time I'd only run in 10 states. I noticed the Blister in the Sun marathon and thought about it since there aren't a lot of marathon choices in July and August, and I had a lot of states to cover. But then I decided that running a marathon in the south in August, especially one that seems so very proud of how uncomfortable you will be if you run it, would be a stupid idea.
Fast-forward to early June. Since my 50 states decision, I had added Arizona, North Carolina, New Jersey, Vermont and West Virginia to the completed list. I was having an innocent lunch with some coworkers, and one asked if I'd done Tennessee yet. I said no, and she went on to tell me about the marathon her friend Josh puts on in August. I figured out a way to work it into a business trip and signed up. Then I lost my job, so the business trip wasn't happening. I was ready to write this one off, when I realized it was only a 8-9 hour drive. I had a hotel booked with Marriott points, I was already registered, so all it would cost me was gas and time. State #16 was back on!
The race takes place in Cookeville, TN. You run a nice loop through a park, come back through the start/finish area, then run an out and back section on a bike path, divert into a school parking lot, then back through the start/finish area. That whole distance is 5.24 miles. Run it 5 times and you have yourself a marathon.
Saturday morning I loaded up the car and headed to Tennessee. The drive was long but uneventful. About 1/2 hour from Cookeville, I passed a sign that told me I was entering the Central Time Zone. I knew this at one point, but I'd forgotten, so I got to my hotel an hour sooner than I thought I would. I was antsy from sitting in the car all day, and had some time on my hands, so I scoured the internet and found a state park about 15 minutes away. Drove over to Burgess Falls State Park, did a little hiking, saw a few waterfalls, and noticed that it was awfully humid and I was getting all sweaty even though I wasn't really moving that fast. So I went back to the hotel to clean up and then head into downtown Cookeville to pick up my packet and then have dinner with some other Marathon Maniacs.
|Gorgeous. Part of the reason I want to run all 50 states is to|
see cool stuff I wouldn't otherwise see. So I'm glad I had time
to check out this state park.
"You have plenty of time to back out still. The humidity and temperature is just starting to pick up. I think that it supposed to be 95 tomorrow with the typical 95% humidity. No worries, it should be hotter in three weeks. If you want to get acclimated, submerge yourself in boiling water. Oh, and do laps for however long you do a marathon."
"You have a week and a half - ten days to make your final arrangements. I hope you have everything in order. Last wills are sold online just in case you were wondering. I think that they cost around $99. Maybe you should put that money in the coffers of some charlatan rainmaker. Or you can take them to the alter and pray for a cold front for late Saturday night. Either way, you better act fast and plan for the future."
"We have had a few people already find enlightenment and for one reason or another decide that this race is not for them. It is not for you either by the way. You will be quite uncomfortable. For a very long time. Do not worry though, every half lap you will have the opportunity to stop at your own car, hop in, and drive away. You will be able to park near the finish line, but you may also want to park near the route at the softball fields. That puts the bumper of your car against the curb that marks the course. I may keep my car running there and aim the exhaust to the course. I guess rolling down the windows and turning on the heat may help too.
Of course if any of this seems like a bit too much, just let me know and we will offer your spot to someone else. On a side note, I can't believe how many of you have convinced your "friends" to participate. Maybe you think you will enjoy a beer later - cute."
Anyway, I headed out to packet pickup. The Sadist's wife is quite the artist, and hand draws each bib. No generic bib with a number here. She's very creative too. I picked up my bib and the race premium, which was not another t-shirt, but a Brooks running skirt (shorts for the boys).
I headed off to dinner with a bunch of Marathon Maniacs in town for the race. Meeting a bunch of people I don't know for dinner is something so totally out of my comfort zone (I'm shy!), but when I make myself do it, I'm always glad I did. This was no exception, as I got a chance to meet a bunch of TN/IN/KY/IL/GA runners and had a great time.
Sunday morning was race time. Or long training run time. My goal race is Mohawk Hudson in October, and then I'm doing JFK 50 in November, so this (and all marathons other than Mohawk Hudson) are just long runs for JFK. At least that's what I tell myself when I pretend I'm completely sane. We took off at 7 a.m. for 5 loops of this:
If you look closely, you will not that even though half of the course is in a park, there is hardly any shade. In fact, about the only shade is the big hill about a mile in, which after the first time around, I was walking anyway. The rest is all in the sun. In fact, the RD told me the night before that the flat sections were raised up just a little so they were even closer to the sun. It was a hot one.
I made it through the park part, went through the start finish area, and headed out the out and back section. There was an older gentleman not far in front of me that seemed to know everyone on the course, and was always running and talking to someone. We went past the school parking lot. I looked over and saw runners going every which way. I just started laughing. Past the parking lot to the turnaround (a big rock) and the other aid station. I didn't stop there - it was still early and I didn't need anything. The older guy stopped and chatted with the volunteers. I headed back and realized why people seemed to be going in every direction in the parking lot. This is what we had to do, every single time:
Turns out I was running with Dallas Smith, who is a pretty accomplished runner. He ran a 314 mile race, unaided, in just over 8 days. Oh, and just for fun, a week later he ran a 4-mile race and took two minutes off his state record time. That's right, 314 mile race, set a state record, run Blister in the Sun just chatting away, no big deal. And did I mention he is in his seventies? Holy crap!
The day got hotter, the hills got bigger, the loop got longer. Or so it seemed. The day definitely got hotter, and while I don't know how it was physically possible, the other two things felt real at the time too. And I just kept running. I noticed on my Garmin that I ran the first half in 2:05, so a decent pace for me, although I was definitely walking more hills and slowing some. I finally crossed the finish line in 4:13:40. 20th overall (out of 92) and 8th female (out of 44), and state number 16 (out of 50) complete. I would have loved to stick around for awhile, but I had a long drive ahead, most of it along the awful I-81. So I grabbed my finisher award (previous year's awards were frying pans, zippo lighters, and hot sauce on a lanyard like a medal), cleaned up a little and headed home.
I'm reading over this and realizing that this is a really long race report that doesn't actually talk much about the race. Oops. I can't really explain why I liked this race so much, I just did. I'll have to work on that for my next one, the American Discovery Trail Marathon in Colorado Springs on Labor Day, state #17.