It starts 16 weeks ago (from March 8th, 2008), when I entered into a training plan. It includes long runs over Thanksgiving in Todd, NC on Railroad Grade Road in 24F weather, on the American Tobacco Trail in Apex in shorts and a t-shirt in December, a ton of runs with my friend Dusty all over the place, including my first run over 14 miles (and up to 20), in Umstead State Park for a 20-miler in the rain-that-should-have-been-snow-but-didn't-know-better, on good nutrition days and bad ones, on good pain days and bad ones, when I was happy, sad, just plain ticked off at the world, you name it. We solved problems on the trail.
The 16 weeks leading up to the race seemed to drag at first. Then the weeks started rolling off. Weekly mileage started climbing. Injury continued to stay away. The work started getting harder. The runs got longer, more intense, more technical, more like "marathon training".
I began to tell folks that I was planning to run a marathon. "Where?" They'd ask. "In Umstead State Park." "Oh. Isn't that kinda hilly?" "Yes, it can be" I answered. "Have you ever done one?" they'd ask? "Nope. So I have no idea what I'm in for. Just the way I want it."
I prepped as best I could. I formulated a nutrition plan. I determined that I was going to run as long as I could, as I have knee issues starting back up to a run from a walk. I told my wife I had three goals.
2)in under 4 hours
3)in under 3 hours
Well, it rained quite a bit leading up to the race. The forecast called for showers on race day. Know also that I've never run on Company Mill or Sycamore Trails in the rain, so I had no idea how much energy and concentration it would take to keep from falling flat on my face in those tar pits. I was laughing at the starting line when the rain came, but it was one of those laugh so you don't cry situations.
The horn sounded. The Four Horsemen (my three friends and I) started together, sloshing through the puddles, soaking wet within 2 minutes. Dusty and I found a few gaps and started moving up through the field. He and I hung together, trying to establish a good pace and finding out where we wanted to be as we rounded airport overlook and headed to the turnaround. That's my favorite stretch of bike/bridle trail, and I let it loose a little (maybe a tad too much). At the first turnaround, Dusty was just a hundred feet behind me. He was looking good. Alex and Rama were close behind that, and looking strong as well. But I was feeling good, and heck, go fast when you feel good, right? Did I mention this was my first marathon? Anybody see the lug nuts loosening up on the bus?
We get to the turnoff to Company Mill. I'm feeling good. I'm warmed up, I'm in a nice little pack of folks that are moving a little slower than I think I want to go. I actually ask them if I can pass on the single track. In wide spots, of course, but I'm sure I offended a few folks, and I tried to be courteous. I hooked up with another guy, Jason, who finished 13th overall last year, who was running a pretty strong pace through there. We stayed together all the way up until we got off Sycamore onto Graylyn, where I pointed him by and let him go. Took a little water at the Graylyn Gate aid station, and set off towards Reedy Creek. I saw Dusty out of the single track and heading towards Graylyn Gate, gave him a slap as we passed; he was looking great.
With Jason about 400m ahead of me, and no one really behind for 400-600m, I settled down and relaxed on the long Graylyn downhill, preparing for the first set of climbs.
Felt pretty strong pulling up to Reedy Creek, took a cup of water, then set off down towards the Corkscrew. I remember passing the entrance to Cedar Ridge, and thinking that I was not looking forward to seeing it again.
I began to get excited. I would be seeing my wife and boys at the Trenton Gate, but I needed to take a nature break first. Climbed up and past Reedy Creek Lake, checked traffic, then darted off into the woods for a 25-second relief. Back on track, I made it up to the aid station, took a water, high-fived my boys and wife, and set off towards Turkey Creek.
At this point, I had caught Jason back. We ran down Turkey Creek together. He did not have water on him, only Gatorade. He really needed some water, and did not take any at the mile 10 station. I let him have some of mine, told him how Dusty teases me about being the "Waterboy", and we got a chuckle. He cranked up the pace a little, and I told him that was too fast for me, and to have a great race. Along about this time, some of the race organizers pedaled by in the opposite direction, and said to Jason and me, "30, 31…" I was in 31st place in the race. I had another lift coming up. My parents were going to be at Crabtree Creek bridge, having driven up from where they were RVing at Jordan Lake. I was SO HAPPY to see them there!! I wanted to give them a good show. I needed to keep momentum, as this was near the halfway point, so I pressed on without stopping for hugs and high-fives, but told them I would see them again soon, hopefully.
About mile 13, I began to struggle. My calves began getting tighter and tighter. Never mind the 3 pretty steep climbs before getting to the ridge on Turkey Creek, for the downhill to the creosote bridge. I made it through them all, passing and being passed by the same girl that would end up finishing ahead of me. Pretty much no change in position for a while here. About mile 14, the leaders began to come back the other way. Amazing. They were a full 2 miles ahead of me at that point.
The climb out of Turkey Creek was pretty uneventful. I was glad to be back on Graylyn, but I knew that I was slowing down. I remember seeing Dusty along in here, but can't remember if it was on Turkey or Graylyn. He still looked good. I made what could've been a fatal error and took a cup of Gatorade. By the time I got back to mile 16, that Gatorade wasn't sitting right. Thought I might yarf, but didn't. I saw Alex and Rama again as they were at about mile 14 heading up North Turkey Creek, I was heading back down it. They looked great.
Got through 17, back through the prom queen aid station, where I stopped for a handful of Gummy Bears (ate 5 or 6 and saved one for my son who I would see at about mile 18).
At this point, Mr. Ron Horton of Fort Mill, SC meets me going the other way, stops in the path, says "Bill Bass! Let me take your picture!" And he does. What a lift. This was Ron's 76th marathon.
Right around the corner was my whole family again. I handed Web the Gummy bear I had for him, got a high-five from him, and kept on trucking.
I crossed Crabtree and Turkey Creeks, and came upon this hill. I had never noticed how deceivingly steep and long the hill is on South Turkey Creek, just after the bridges. This climb out to Reedy Creek was like a death march for me. I began needing a walk on the hills. And I took them. And began being passed. I was okay with that. One of the guys from Minnesota passed me. He was doing a second marathon the next day in Maryland, so I was all for encouraging him. That's nuts! He asked me how many more climbs. I lied and said 3 or 4.
Finally, got to the long downhill (supposedly) back to Corkscrew. I could not muster any speed on that section. My calves were done. Now my quads were starting to pipe up. At the bridge over the creek, an angel came upon my left shoulder.
I don't know her name, but I've seen her around. She jogged up next to me, asked me how I was doing, if I needed anything, how I felt. Did I look that bad? Must have. I said I was doing pretty well, was cramping up, but I was going to make it. When I needed to walk, she stopped and walked with me. When I ran/jogged, so did she. How awesome. When we got to Cedar Ridge, she said I was good to go, and she was going to the finish.
So against my better judgment, I turned right and headed down Cedar Ridge. I forgot that there is some climbing involved at first on that, but then you get to go downhill a lot. I was really, REALLY dreading that climb. As I was climbing out, I think I met Alex and Rama, and then came upon Dusty at the Reedy/Cedar Ridge T. At this point, I knew that Cemetery stood in my way of finishing.
I plodded off towards the Graylyn intersection, trying to hold on to my calves, keep them from totally giving up.
I walked a bit leading up to Cemetery, but decided I was going to run as much as I could. I made it about halfway up, walked for about 25 feet, then took off again, and I believe I ran the rest of the way in from there.
I turned back down (UP?) towards Camp Lapihio, and had completely forgotten the terrain from hours earlier. I forgot it was an uphill, THEN a downhill to the finish.
My inspiration to go harder was seeing that big 26 on the right, followed by the big FINISH banner at the end
I thought I'd be the one to get all weepy at the finish, but my calf muscles were protesting so much, I went into damage control so I'd be able to walk later. It was very touch and go as to whether I'd be able to stay upright. Got my pint glass, filled it with water, then got some Gatorade, some orange wedges, a bagel bite, Oreo, and I began to come around a bit. Stood by the fire warming the calf muscles.
I had no idea where I was in the finishing order. It didn't matter. I was done. Total registered: 200. Total starters: 153. Total finishing under the 6 hour cutoff: 150. My finishing time: 3:55:22. My finishing position: 40/153.
I anxiously awaited my running buddies. Rama and Alex made it in. Dusty was not far behind at all. We laughed, we groaned, we ate burritos, chips, and salsa. We rested a bit, reflected a bit, then packed up. Dusty and I weren't done yet. We sprinted over to Brier Creek (in my car) to satisfy a craving: ICE CREAM! Hello, Coldstone Creamery!
I arrived home to balloons from a friend, a big finish line banner my son and wife had made (since they couldn't GET to the finish for the mud), and a huge cookie with "26.2" drizzled on it in chocolate. That cookie was gone by Sunday night…
Bill Edward Bass