Monday, June 17, 2013

Bernheim Trail Marathon

Really, really glad to be done.
The Bernheim Trail Marathon put on by Kyana Running's Jim Ball and Shannon Burke saw a record crowd for its third edition.  The lore of Bernheim's Millennium trail (and the fact that this year's event is a part of the Trail Runner Trophy Series) brought runners from as far as Alabama, Texas, Missouri and West Virginia.  I consider Bernheim to be my local marathon as the arboretum lies only about 20 miles from my house (far less if you're willing to poach the fire roads in their research forest and just run there).  Having bettered the course record last year, I was greeted with comments such as "Well, I hear your the guy to follow out here." and the like.  Knowing that my running had been minimal at best since Flying Pig, I just tried to graciously shrug them off and concentrate on a race plan that would get me through, hopefully in a respectable finish.

Catching up with ultra strongman and fellow coach, Mike Ford pre-race.
The start was pretty typical in that a few halfers blasted off the front, but what was atypical was the way the full marathon crew keyed  off of me for the first few miles.  That is until I eased up on one of the early singletrack climbs.  In short order my competition was racing up the trail too eager to hold back on the early trail sections.  What I've learned about this course is that the first singletrack segment of the Millennium offers a chance to put on a little time but not without a price.  My plan was to take it easy all the way through this segment, survive the 1/2 mile riverbed of slick rocks, and to get on the gas when the course opened up in it's first long flat valley.  So, I stuck to it.

Unsure of how many full marathoners were up ahead, I simply concentrated on putting out a strong effort through what I knew was a long flat area preceding the next creek to ridge ascent.  In that section, I pulled back two runners and knew that there were more ahead.  This was evidenced by the wet footprints coming out of Wilson Creek on Harrison Fork Road.  After fording Wilson Creek's knee-deep trail crossing (the cover pic on my blog is from this spot last year), the trail kicks up on a gnarly unimproved old fire road.  But, once you've topped that out, it's another long flat section, this time atop a wide ridge.  It was there I set my sights on another runner.  As I approached, I realized it was Brandon Scott, a super-strong trail runner out of Columbia KY (where I lived for seven years as a cyclist and a coach at Lindsey Wilson College).  When I shouldered up to him, I asked how many more were up the trail.  He answered "it's just me and you."

I just kept the pressure on and put in a long sustained effort to the next aid station.  The volunteers there were congratulatory and said that they had just arrived.  I was certainly glad that they had made it to their post as I had emptied my two hand-held bottles and was already feeling the effects of the deceivingly warm morning.  It had rained the night before and that morning, and the low lying leaves kept me drenched probably masking just how much I was sweating out.

Cramping has been an occasional issue for me in the past, the worst ever being the first Bernheim Trail Marathon two years ago where I hung on for second despite hours of foot to hip complete lock up.  Since then, I like to think that I've pretty well dialed my nutrition and hydration needs.  However I was still disheartened when my left hamstring got that first twinge of involuntary contraction.  I was way too far out to be having one of those, but I just tried to maintain relatively good form and to not favor it too much.

Within the next hour, it went from occasional to full-blown lock up.  Trying to arrest a slide in a creek bed, I got the worst of it - bottom of foot, calf, hamstring and quad were just seized.  One of those where you have to put your hand behind your knee and force your leg to bend just to get out of that position.  Now the race plan had shifted to keeping moving as much as possible and trying not to get caught.  The last hour was spent running no more than a couple of minutes at a time without having to stop and stretch each calf and each hamstring.  All the while, I would look back down the trail behind me fully expecting to see my pursuers ready to devour me.

I was most scared of the female favorite - Traci Falbo.  For any of you that aren't familiar with her, google her name.  I could write an entire blog entry on Traci and not even scratch the surface of her running prowess.   She recently returned from representing Team USA at the 24 hour World Championships where she placed 4th (39th overall including the men!), and the team won.  We chatted in line for the porta potties and she was telling me that she had eclipsed the 100 mile mark at 15 hours - that's crazy fast.  Lucky for me this was just a training run for her summer campaign which includes the Grand Slam of ultra running - four of the hardest and most prestigious races on the planet.  I'm a pretty huge fan, and I was just really glad not to see that skirt coming down the trail (she always rocks a skirt - I'm not being sexist).  She went on to beat the women's course record by 21 minutes on her training run.

End of story, I drug myself through the last section of the Millennium, stopping at what seemed like every other tree, and was really glad to see Forest Hill Drive and to make the turn for home.  I hung on to win in 3:50.  Not close to what I was hoping for time wise, but considering the way that my legs revolted in that last third, I'll take it.

Huge kudos to Jim and Shannon for putting on outstanding event.  Check out Kyana Running at for info on their trail running series.  Great people and great races.

Me, Jim and Karen trying to sort out Jim's megaphone mid-award presentation (looks like Jim is going to hit me with that Louisville Slugger bat while his wife spanks him).