My usual tradition this time of the year is to get assaulted and abused by the Flying Monkeys at the annual Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon. A great race. Looking over my resume' of marathons I was appalled to realize that the only marathon I had won in Kansas was a 3 hour and 17 minute race on September 11th called the Patriot's Run. This came shockingly after an 18 hour drive from Erie Pennsylvania after competing in the Erie Marathon. I won't tell you the name of the fast food pasta joint that I stopped in to get some food in my gullet on Monday, but the gastrointestinal pyrotechnics that I displayed every lap of the 9/11 Marathon still haunt my vision when I close my eyes. Steve Boone, treasurer of the 50 States Marathon Club was at the start and told me to "suck it up and quit bitching." I finished and then slept for 5 straight days.
The Gobbler Grind has been known to have finishing times over the past several years equal to what I had been running of late so I opted to pass on the Monkey and tackle the land of OZ in an attempt to run and hopefully win a marathon in Kansas in under 3 hours. A brutally cold morning with temps in the upper 20's and wind peaking at 20 mph had me wearing more clothing than I had ever worn in a marathon. I actually put on a shirt and wore long pants. Gloves adorned the hands and a long sleeve shirt would go on under my jersey. I even wore my cold weather underwear to keep my man-giblets warm or at least from freezing off completely. This race started as a group of folks hoping to jog a few miles to burn off some calories they had consumed on Thanksgiving Day. Hence the name Gobbler Grind. I had not enjoyed any turkey and I was not enjoying the cold air. 5K runners showed up at the start in tank-tops and shorts with blue goose-bumped skin. Most of the other runners had draped parka's and balaclavas for their race attire. I would have been happy if they had "myrtle beached" the race. I was cold and had given up my swank room at the Double Tree. My mind was on breakfast. A real breakfast like the one you get at Denny's for five-bucks. A few shouts from the announcer and we were off. I had a big time experience with the wall last weekend at the Malibu Marathon and rather than blow out from the start I decided to stick with a group of 1/2 marathon runners who had chatted about running six minute pace. An added bonus was that I could use them to block the wind of the early miles. The marathon runners shared the starting line with the 5K and the half-a-thon runners which was good and bad. Good to have the wind blocked and bad as there was no discernment in bib number of color so as to distinguished the competition. I took a chance by sticking to my race plan of running in the low 6's as I watched 20 or so guys disappear. I hoped that they were 5K or half-a-thoners or I would just face reality that I was going to finish with a good time and not know who was ahead of me in the marathon. Due to construction on the old course, Rusty Collins, the race director, re-routed the marathon course and it would cause a lot of runners to squeeze into a very narrow path for a several long sections of the course. I encountered a spot on the course where volunteers were saying "half-marathon runners turn around here." No direction given for those of us running the marathon. I had studied the course map and felt I was to go on around a corner and continue on the marathon course. Fortunately, after a brief discussion with several volunteers, a race official identified himself and stated that the construction had altered the course and that I was to turn around with the half-a-thoners. Back into the onslaught of running traffic I flew still not knowing if I was in the lead. I always get a sinking felling in my stomach when their is course confusion coupled with a lack of knowing who I am actually racing. Finally mile 13 and the moment of truth. Would the lead cyclist be waiting on me to clear the path as the half-a-thoners finished or would I be told that I was going to have to start reeling in runners if I wanted the win. By shear luck the lead cyclist was ready to go when I arrived at the 13 mile checkpoint in 1 hour 19 minutes. Another out and back lollipop loop near the start allowed a quick check of my watch. I was just over 6 minutes ahead of second place and knew that I would need every minute on the second half of the race to allow for the impeding head-on traffic collisions with those finishing their half marathon. As I cleared through the half-marathon runners, stopping and slowing to allow space for passing, the path opened up to a pristine black-top road. This smooth trafficless road led to a winding path that would carry me to the 21 mile mark. A quick grab of Gatorade and my last Clif Shot sent me on my way hurdling back toward the finish line. Oddly enough, I passed someone who appeared to be in second place. He appeared out of nowhere and had somehow gone passed the guys who I saw in 2nd and 3rd place who were 6 and 8 minutes behind me at mile 15. In six miles this guy had gained at least 8 minutes on me. I was running near 5:50 pace which, if we do simple math, he had to have run close to 5 minute pace and legally pass second and third. I was thumped out of my heavy math with a collision on the course with more half-marathon walkers wrapping up their race. For the record, tossing a sub 2:40 marathon runner into a pack of 3 hour half-marathon walkers on a 3 foot wide path is asking for trouble. I was pummeled as a catapulted through the droves of walkers. Top that off with an oblivious aid station worker near mile 25 and running becomes a true contact sport. Running one of my first negative splits in nearly a year I was told by the race director that I "technically set a course record of 2 hours 39 minutes and 23 seconds." I don't know that this "construction course" will ever be used again. I will do the Gobbler Grind again perhaps but if the course is the same, I will pack my helmet and shoulder pads. RUN MORE!
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