March 15, 2014
This race was originally scheduled to take place on February 8th but because the Midwest experienced Round #783 of the Polar Vortex (that might be a slight exaggeration) it was postponed until the following weekend because of too much ice on the course that couldn’t be dealt with.
I signed up way back on December 9th and it was only $25. It would be about a 4 hour drive from my house so I booked a room at the Hampton Inn there in Marion, IL and I was able to convince my brother to do this with me.
Although we were within a 10-15 minute drive to the start area and the race didn’t start until 9:00AM, we decided to leave the hotel at 8:00AM since we still had to do packet pickup. I set my alarm for 6:00AM. In typical fashion, didn’t really sleep well the night before. Some of that was due to the noisy neighbors we had. UGH! We left the hotel on time and I actually took a halfway decent selfie prior to leaving.
The packet pickup building was where we thought it might be from our drive around yesterday and there was plenty of parking but it was already crowded. The line to get our bibs moved quickly and we went back to the car to get things ready and to stay warm.
Unfortunately I forgot to take a snapshot of the weather page but the temperature was 17 degrees but luckily the sun was out and there was minimal wind. The line for the porta-potties was way too long so for the first time ever before the start of a race, I went and peed in the woods. So glad I did; I really had to go.
The start of the race was just behind the packet pickup building and it was definitely no-frills. But I did see a guy dressed as an eagle so of course I had to have my picture taken with him.
And then took traditional prerace photo with my brother as well.
I looked at the map the night before and thought I knew which way we would be running but I was completely wrong. This elevation chart looks daunting but the scale shows only at gain of 41 feet.
As much as I can remember the race started on time (9:00AM Central) or at least pretty close to that. My brother and I wished each other good luck and then he took off. While the very beginning of the race started on asphalt we had to cut through a farm (corn?) field before then running on Wildlife Drive which I consider the main beginning of the race. The trail/road through the cornfield was uneven, rutted, partially ice covered and a bit of a challenge but we were only on there for maybe one-tenth of a mile (if that).
Once on Wildlife Drive, were running west so with the sun behind which made the temperature felt great. There was a water stop at mile 1.5 after which we turned left and ran south for a bit. We turned left again (heading west) and had another water stop at mile 2.5. This time I was asked if I wanted water or Gatorade. I guess I missed that option at the first stop. But it didn’t matter; the Gatorade both times was fine. Another turn at this water stop and we were again running south. We ran across Crab Orchard Lake - much of which was frozen.
Just prior to crossing the lake, was the only time I saw a bathroom on the course. It was one for the park - so better than a port-pottie – and I assume it was open since I saw to girls run up there and they didn’t immediately come back. This course was mostly closed or at least didn’t have much traffic but when we were crossing the lake a truck came from the south and as it approached I could see that the passenger was a very large dog. That made me smile. Not long after we finished crossing the lake, we came to the next water stop. This would be the last one for the next 4 miles. We then turned right and proceeded to run through the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Preserve. I would guess that they don’t allow aid stations in the park. Perhaps they worry about random cups littering the park….but that’s just a guess. Since this area was through the park, the course changed from pavement to gravel road. However, with all the tree coverage the sun hadn't had a chance to work its melting magic and nearly all of the paths were still ice covered. We had to run mostly on the “shoulder” which at times was also treacherous because it was uneven with many branches and other obstacles.
There were some clear patches from time to time but another hazard that we encountered were these “gumballs” from trees. I think they were from Sycamore trees. I was worried that I would either snap an ankle on 1) ice or 2) fallen branches or 3) those darn gumballs!
Another interesting thing was that the gravel was basically the same shade as the ice was so you often didn’t know what you were approaching until you got to it.
There was another very long stretch of ice just as we passed the 6 mile marker. And the one time I almost bite the dust was when I tried to go stand in the middle of this to take a picture.
We were back on pavement after mile 7 and also what I thought was the most “challenging” part of the uphill. I might have also thought it was more difficult because it was later in the race and we had just spent 3+ miles running mostly off-road. We also got another good view of the outskirts of the park. I saw a guy ice fishing off a pier. He had caught a fish but released it. Wish I’d been able to get a picture of that.
At the end of this stretch is where we also started repeating the aid stations. Although I must admit at the time, I didn’t remember that the first one was a repeat. I also took my only GU prior to this one which was approximately mile 8.
I never felt really cold during this race. I took my gloves off around mile 3 and never put them back on. As the sun rose further in the sky, it actually was too warm on my back and yet when we approached the 10 mile marker and open fields were on both sides of us, it got a little chilly with the cross wind. Then – as luck would have it – that cornfield access road from the beginning of the race was no longer frozen at the end of the race and was now mostly a sloppy muddy mess. So I tried to find the best path IN THE FIELD to run on since that area wasn’t as trampled on and still a little frozen. Heck, I was even able to pass someone in this stretch.
So another winter half marathon is in the books and I have to say that I was mostly pleased with my finishing time considering the course was not clear.
I finally found my brother and we went inside the building to get some post race snack. For a smaller race, they had quite a bit to choose from; donut bites, other pastries, fresh fruit, pretzels and crackers. Also hot chocolate, coffee and of course water. But the best thing was homemade chicken and noodle soup. It was so good.
After consuming some chow and looking over the most recent posted results, we headed back to the hotel to shower. Luckily I had asked for and was granted a later checkout time. We were cutting it close even with that. After checking out, we drove around and took a few more picture and then headed back to Indiana. Needless to say our drive time home was going to be less since we didn’t have any adverse weather in our way.
Only one stop on the way home at this rest area in Salem, IL. Not sure who made the snowman (maybe the people that work there?) but I found it amusing. I’d like to think the snowman had spilled coffee on himself but I’m pretty sure he’d had some encounters with several dogs!
After dropping my brother off at his house, I still had a little over an hour to drive to mine. I think I finally walked in the door around 7:45PM.
Doubt that I would ever do this race again unless I needed it to reach a “number” goal. The medal isn’t that impressive but you do get a great hoodie instead of a tech shirt. Again all of which was just $25, not counting gas and hotel.