Free State Trail Half Marathon – Lawrence, KS
Saturday April 19th I ran the Free State Half for the first time. Keeping pace with every other Trail Nerds event I have been involved with this was a challenging and exciting day. At start time the temperature was about 48 degrees but it was going to warm up quickly. I was not focusing on a specific pace or finish time but I still wanted it to be respectable. Typical to my habits, I arrived early and wandered around a little getting a feel for the day. On my way back to my Jeep I ran into my friend Jeff and we talked until it was time to get our gear and head to the start line. Looking back I am thankful for the distraction while we talked about upcoming races and possibly me pacing part of his 100 miler in November. You can feel the energy from the crowd and the DJ’s music is getting everyone pumped up. Ben gives his final instructions and tells us to go!
I settle into a semi-comfortable pace and commit to myself to maintain and keep moving as long as I can. After a bit we enter the woods for approximately twelve miles that remains. I purposely left my GPS home to not be distracted by constantly looking at it so I do what I usually do. At first people are bunched together but slowly after a couple more miles, there is more space. I try to not lose sight of the group in front while not letting the group behind catch me. This works for about half of the race. After I pass through the RWB aid station I get the dry heaves from eating a bug I then refocus on putting one foot in front of the other and not stopping. It never ceases to amaze me how many people in these kinds of events will check to make sure you are okay as they come to pass you. Trust me I know the protocol on being passed and letting people get around me on the trail. Too much practice I guess.
As we get to the beautiful red trail along the lake which is rocky, I get behind a gentleman who like me is working hard and he offers to move aside. I decline and fall in with his strategy of walk/running the rocky/hilly section. When we are coming close to Lands End and another friendly aid station, I eat my Nutella wrap and drink the rest of my water so I can refill it for the final push to the finish. I not only lose sight of the runner I have been pacing off of but now I am getting cramps in both legs. They are not constant but they are sharp when they come so I cautiously continue and try to catch my pacer. Once I see him ahead I return to my spacing strategy while I work through the cramps and attempt to close the gap. I get passed by some of the forty mile participants which I try not to think about too much. I am not competing against them or anyone else out here. I am running because it is time to test myself and learn how to be a better me. Another humbling moment is when we come up a hill and there is a guy standing there cheering people on with a metal from the half marathon around his neck. I am pretty sure he was the winner today. Very cool that he is down here cheering people on. I have passed the photographer twice and I think I hid the pain from his lenses but only time will tell.
Is that music and people I hear? Wait, now we have turned and it is getting further away. There it is again, and this music yoyo continues for a little while until I see another finisher standing in the woods on the side of the trail cheering for us and he says “good job, only one more hill and about 200 yards!” This time the voices and music gets louder and does not fade. I see the other Photographer from Mile90 Photography at the finish line and run in to the finish again masking my cramping legs for the camera. I receive my finisher’s metal and sticker from Coco and thankfully, I am done! It is still a party atmosphere as I hang out for a little bit and attempt to loosen my legs up a bit. I see a friend of mine named Carl who is doing the 100K as he comes in and goes back out again. Now I begin the long journey back to where I parked. Yes I am hurting and not looking forward to the multitude of times that I will need to depress the clutch at traffic lights as I leave town, but I am one step closer to my Cool Impossible of the 50K this fall.