This was my first time running Garden Spot and my second marathon in three weeks. I ran Ocean Drive two weeks prior and that marathon kicked off a slew of running activity leading up to Dirty German 50 miler on May 17. So G-Spot was #2 on the list and the races afterwards would start to really progressively get harder. Funny thing happened I went ahead and signed up for another trail marathon leading up to G-Spot, The North Face Bear Mountain up in New York. A rocky nasty trail run at the foot of the Catskills. So that gives me a brutal lead up to my fifty but I digress.
I really did not have a lot of expectations for Garden Spot as far as time goes. I wanted to run well but nice and easy, sort of like a glorified long training run. No pushing the pace or trying to go all out with Breakneck Point Marathon the following week. I was looking at trying to run 30 to 40 seconds slower per mile then I did at Ocean Drive. That should allow me to not really blow up towards the end. So that was my goal I suppose, to not blow up. Easier said then done. I was running the race with my running bud Kourtney. She and I ran the Bird-In-Hand Half Marathon back in the fall around these parts and I struggled mightily in the heat and humidity that day. That half was run on the hottest day of the year and was probably my worst race I have ever done. So my memory of running in New Holland wasn’t a pleasant one. But once again, that’s why I signed up for this one. This is as much mental training as it is physical. Ultra distances of 50 miles and 100 miles require a hardening of the mind as well as the body. This was ultra training.
|KYW News Radio? That's what I kept thinking. LOL|
The sun was shining strong with bright blue skies. The temperature was supposed to get close to 60 degrees. Standing at the start line, we saw a man wearing an Oil Creek 100 shirt. We walked over and started talking to him. His name was Frank and he had done the 50k at OC there and was doing the 15k at Ironmaster’s in a few weeks. We talked for a good five minutes or so and he was so nice. Frank embodied the running community or better yet the ultra community. I consider meeting him a great omen. It was then the horn went off and away we went.
I knew right away that this might not be a great run for me. I felt lethargic and sore from my Tuesday evening 8 mile hard tempo run. My legs did not feel springy or quick they felt rather slow and heavy. Negative thoughts were already creeping in during the early miles. Kourtney and I were doing around 9:40 miles for the first two. Not fast by any means in fact it was almost perfect. I would call it leisurely. About 70% of the runners were there doing the half marathon and we certainly did not want to get caught up in running half marathon pace. Our pace felt right. The first hill was between miles two and three and as we climbed we starting passing people which felt strange. A few people were even walking at this point. I did not break pace here and continued up the hill and my legs were feeling better during the climb then at the start. The course then leveled out for about a mile. Then we climbed again from mile four to mile five. Rinse repeat. We kept pace of around 9:30 to 9:40 even on the hills again passing people. I kept glancing at my pace because passing this many people early on is usually not a good sign for me but to my amazement we were fine. It was here I started really trying to hit the tangents as the field was starting the thin out due to the inclines. It always shocks my how so many other runners don’t really run the course and instead just run the road. Road marathons distances are certified by using the shortest distance a runner can run, and that means inside corner to inside corner. A runner can easily add almost a half mile or more to their final distance over the course of a marathon by not running the tangent lines. Twenty six miles on blacktop is long enough I certainly don’t want to add to that distance by taking the outside lane on a long sweeping curve. After cresting at the top of this hill we then started a descent towards that one signature hill that we would face on the way back. It was here the leaders of the half marathon were on their way back and looking strong. I love cheering on the runners like this. They looked so strong and fast. The first woman was looking great and had a great big smile on her face. I love seeing other runners smile. (I mean really let’s face it, none of us get paid to do this and in the end it’s about having fun.) Kourtney and I then reached the top of that steep hill. I went ahead and bombed it and just let gravity take me down. That’s always a fun thing to do. We then hit the half marathon turnaround, grabbed some drinks, and continued straight on and just like that is was quiet. There was no turnaround for us we had to continue on into that howling headwind and up that lonely road to who knows where.
The wind was really whipping across those wide open fields. It was so strong that as you would lift your foot your leg would actually be pushed to the side by the force of the wind. It was crazy. Kourtney and I fell into a conga line with a few other runners just to help draft off each other. We ran the white fog line the best we could trading off with each other so each runner took their turn in cutting the wind. These miles seemed endless really. They just seemed to go on and on. At one point the road finally turned and we got a reprieve from the wind and it was almost at our back. It was at this point that I noticed we were actually on the same course as the Bird-In-Hand Half. This was also at the point were I was really starting to feel loosened up and actually pretty good. Maybe it was that Mocha Cliff shot I downed a mile or so back I’m not really certain. Either way I started to pick up the pace now that the headwind basically turned into a tailwind. I was starting to pull away from Kourtney not realizing it and actually passed a few other runners.
|Certainly not a nice and flat run.|
I was now running alone. Kourtney had fallen back a bit by a few minutes. I wasn’t exactly setting any land speed records here at this point still averaging almost 10 minute miles but I was running the long inclines that other’s were slowly walking. I wasn’t passed by one single person from this point forward. That almost never happens. I was actually starting to pass more and more people which always gives the passer an energy boost. That too almost never happens. When we got to that steep hill at mile 22 I powerhiked that hill with a purpose and passed three others on that hill who were walking very slowly. Being passed like that especially on a hill can be demoralizing, trust me I know I’ve been there. But walking with a purpose can save your race if done correctly. I could have easily blown another five minutes on that part of the course by walking it like I was on a Sunday stroll in the park. You just can’t do that. My mile splits on that section of the course were in the 11’s! That to me is huge cause it certainly felt like I was walking way more then that. That’s the power of the purposeful hike. I was starting to do the math and staring at my watch thinking this was going to be close..really close! I could PR here. Wait what? That’s nuts, but I could. The math was there and I knew once I got over this steep section it was bombs away for at least a mile heading towards the final miles. I passed two younger girls, a few younger men, then a few others. I bombed that hill all the way down to the aid station pushing 8 minute pace. I was starting to fade but I grabbed water powerhiked thru the aid station and started running again. I was doing a 9 minute pace but I was leaking oil. I then passed a girl and a guy who just seemed to stop due to cramps I suppose. It seemed like I flew past them. Then I passed a few others and it was just me for the final mile. That last half a mile into Garden Spot was a minor incline at best but it felt like Mt. Rainer. It was nice to get some applause entering the community and I really could smell a PR so I emptied the tank what was left anyway and managed to run an 8:30 pace for the last three tenths of a mile. 4:19:26 was my final chip time. Certainly not considered fast for a road marathon and far from a BQ time but it was a distance personal record by 12 seconds over the one I set two weeks prior in Sea Isle City New Jersey. Not a bad training long run either and I was able to keep my heart rate somewhat in control.
Garden Spot is a great race. I love the feel of small-town marathons much more so then the big city corporate marathons. The parking was easy, packet pick up on race day was easy, the course was well marked and easy to follow, and most important the volunteers were so very helpful and enthusiastic at the aid stations and the finish line. Also the entry fee for the race was very reasonable and the swag was great. I love tech hats so that was a nice bonus. As a runner there isn’t much more you could ask for. If you have never been to New Holland to run Garden Spot, you really should give it a go.