In a typical year there are very few days that would not qualify as good days to run in the forest. Snow, rain, hot, cold do not automatically disqualify a day from being a good day to run in the forest. Seriously, who wouldn’t rather be out running through the forest than sitting at a desk regardless of the weather? While I might not describe this past Saturday as a perfect day; it was an absolutely beautiful day to run in the forest. This was fortunate since Saturday was the 7th running of the Tecumseh Trail Marathon. It was my 4th Tecumseh. For the first two I was neither a trail runner nor a marathoner. I missed last year’s race only because I was in Sacramento that weekend running the CIM instead.
Tecumseh is a challenging race. Dean Karnazes, who ran the course as part of his 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days challenge described it as “Hardcore”. There are plenty of hills, rocks, roots, and creek crossings. The water in the creeks seemed to be a little higher than normal this year. Many of the crossings had stepping stones to allow for dry passage. But not all had such luxury. At one crossing I walked across on a half rotted log about 6 feet above the water. I used that same log three years ago. I doubt it will still be there next year. At other crossings I just resigned myself to my fate, a cold wet foot.
The sun was shining brightly at the start and there was little or no wind so it actually felt warm despite a temperature in the low 20’s. It is still hunting season so the race instructions say to wear bright colors. I was wearing my Brooks Nightlife top which according to Ed was blinding in that sunshine. One thing that makes Tecumseh so challenging is getting the pace right. In a typical road marathon I can knock off mile after mile at a consistent pace and know from the start it is a pace I can sustain to the end. Not Tecumseh. I often make the mistake of starting out too fast. This is a huge challenge for me at Tecumseh, because a sustainable pace at the start will feel ridiculously slow. I started out at what felt like a pretty easy pace. Only after it is way too late did I discover it probably wasn’t easy enough. I reached the aid station at 9.7 miles about 6 minutes faster than I ever have. I’m not sure exactly where the half way point is, but I hit the top of Indian Hill Road in 2:07. I still felt pretty good at that point, but that hill definitely sucked some of the life out of me. By around mile 15 I could feel I wouldn’t be able to sustain my pace to the finish. Still I kept pushing myself. At the aid station around mile 18 there was still a glimmer of hope for a sub 4:30 finish. When I reached the aid station around mile 21, I knew there was no way I would beat 4:30. I didn’t give up completely. My legs were trashed and cramping, my tank was empty. I ran as much as I could from that point which wasn’t much. I was making frequent stops to allow others to pass me. The last few miles on the west side of Yellowwood Lake are some of the toughest miles of the race. There aren’t any big hills, but lots of little ups and downs, lots of roots, lots of little creeks. I jumped over one creek and my calf cramped up so bad I’m not sure how I managed to land on my feet. Also, there are several spots where you can see that darned dam, so you know just how far you have to go. Of course the base of the dam isn’t even the end; there is still a little over a mile to go from that last aid station. It is gravel road all the way except for the last hundred yards through the campground. I was determined to run all the way to what is always labeled the “last hill”, literally painted right there on the road, but I didn’t quite make it. I had to take a walk break before the hill, which by the way is NOT the last hill. I guess it depends on your definition of hill. At this point in the race anything going up no matter how slight is a hill and there are a couple rolling hills after the “last hill”. Once I reached the top of the “last hill” I think I ran all the way to the finish, maybe a half mile? It was all adrenaline at this point pushing me. In the last 50 yards or so I heard someone yell out “good job Jeffro”. Not sure who it was, almost no one actually calls me Jeffro, but it’s always nice when someone is there to cheer you on to the finish. 4:53:53. Not my best, not my worst, but as always a great day to run in the forest.