Sunday, June 03, 2007

A 26.2 Mile Saturday

To my amazement, because I did not know I was in this kind of shape, on only three hours of sleep, I ran a 3:46 for 26.2 miles yesterday. It wasn't exactly a marathon and I didn't exactly do it barefoot (more on that later). It was The Towpath Train'ing Run, a non-competitive event that follows the 34-mile length of the Delaware-Raritan Towpath from Trenton to New Brunswick, NJ. The event is supported and is intended to be done at regulated paces to keep runners together. Runners can run the "freight train" at 9:30 per mile, the "local train" at 8:30 per mile, or pick up the "express train" at 7:30 per mile. Runners may start at any of the "refueling stations", which are the towpath's road crossings, many of which are served by buses supplied by the event.

I was one of five runners who started at 6 AM in Trenton on the 8:30/mile local train. Two runners, Peihan and Bill, started an hour earlier on the 9:30/mile freight train. As the day progressed, runners joined the train at the stations, and the group got larger throughout the day. The event is arranged so that all three trains eventually converge for the final quarter mile, honoring the person(s) that run the entire distance by having them finish first. Three of the women that started in Trenton ran the entire 34 miles - Peihan from the freight train and Jen & Lauren from our local. Lauren & Peihan took some extra time and unfortunately missed the convergence at the end. This is the first year of the event that no men completed 34 miles.

After the event there was a big bar-b-cue picnic and beer-drinking celebration for all the runners and their families. The event director told some interesting, funny or personal stories about each runner that completes 20 miles or more as he awarded them their commemorative picture frames. The total mileage from all the runners combined from this day is computed into a 75 cent per mile donation to the Cancer Institute of New Jersey. It was a beautiful day and an amazing event.

I have done this event since its inception, and I believe there are a few important factors that make this a event a great experience. Nobody comes away exhausted or disappointed with their time. Even though some people run the longest run in their lives at this event, everyone seems energized at the picnic after the event. Perhaps this is because of the cooperative spirit of the event, the excellent support, the two minute breaks at the refueling stations, the flatness and forgiveness of the towpath, or just the good karma generated by the spirit of the event. For my running club, The Raritan Valley Road Runners, it is a key event that more people take part in as participants or volunteers than any other event throughout the year.

So about my own 26.2 for the day: I did it in two parts. I started in Trenton at 6 AM. Just before starting, the event director, Ray Petit, said to me, "We need to get going, you better get your shoes on..." I picked up my foot and showed that I had duct tape on the bottom of my socks. He was flabbergasted that I was about to run the towpath in socks and duct tape, and took a photo commemorating the event. I had to wear socks & duct tape because there is just too much gravel in too many spots for me to keep the pace with this group totally barefoot. I didn't know how far I was going to go in the socks, and had one of our support vehicles carry a pair of XC shoes for when I might need them. As our run to the first refueling station progressed, I was disappointed that my socks got wet and were slipping forward trying to remove themselves from my feet. This became annoying. Being cheap, I had used some older socks that were perhaps a bit stretched out. I should have opted for some newer ones, they may have gone farther than that first 8.4 miles. Next year...

After switching to my Reebok Circa Waffle XC shoes, I completed the rest of the first 20.7 miles of the run. I then helped at the next two refueling stations and got some recovery time. I re-boarded the train with 5.5 miles to the finish. I was able to start and finish with Jen Davis, one of the women that ran the entire distance. We arrived at the end at 11:01 AM, just one minute off the 8:30/mile schedule!

I should run more marathons at 8:30, because today I feel no soreness! I mowed my lawn barefoot this morning, and this afternoon I ran around my daughter's soccer game field barefoot during half-time for about 3/4 of a mile.

At the beginning of the Towpath Train'ing Run in Trenton. L to R: Leslie, me, Bob, Lauren & Jen

No comments: