Race Report Summer 2014: Wa Du Shuda Half Marathon, New Lisbon, WI

7 12 2014

STILL CATCHING UP WITH RACE REPORTS:

Summer 2014 was a cool one with temps well below average in my little corner of the world.  Because I don’t enjoy running in extremes of weather, I do a half marathon or two before July 1 and then pretty much call it quits until fall (except for the occasional evening 5k).    This year the weather was nice and, looking for something to do in mid-July, I signed up at the last minute for a small half-marathon in New Lisbon, Wisconsin, a town in the center of the state.  When you have problems with impulse control and a belief there is no such condition as “too much of a good thing”, you sometimes do things without really thinking.

So I perused my favorite race website runningintheusa.com, checked the weather forecast, picked an event, signed up, arranged a hotel and only then investigated the race a bit further.  Looking over results from previous years I discovered there are usually less than 50 entrants in the half and every single one of them runs a lot faster than me. FACE PALM!

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That’s right Captain Picard, I am one dumb bunny.

Noting that, I dashed off an email to the race director saying I would likely be finishing in 3:15 to 3:20 and offering to withdraw if it posed a problem in keeping the course open.  She responded that it would not be an issue, and stated I was most welcome to join them.  So I stayed in it.

Now as anyone who knows me (or any one of the 10 people who actually read this blog) is aware, finishing dead stinking last in a race is one of my phobias.  I have done it before and it was so exquisitely painful that I have gone to great lengths since then to avoid it.  But here I was pretty much volunteering to be the last runner.  OK, I figured, I’ll make it my job for that day and act like it doesn’t matter.

Race Day arrived, a refreshingly cool and sunny mid July morning, and I lined up with the rest of the runners on east Bridge Street in New Lisbon.  While waiting for the gun to sound, I struck up a conversation with another racer and at some point sheepishly mentioned that I’m very slow and would be coming in last.  She and I shared a laugh about it, the race started and then we took off  —  all 45 of us.10527371_740226889373948_2840779356376855337_n

As the course wound on through greenery and gently rolling hills, I soon got absorbed in the experience and stopped thinking about time, pace, standing or any of that other competitive stuff.  It was just me and the road in harmonious union  —   the whole zen thing I love about running.

There were not a lot of aid stops but there was a table or two, each with a porta-potty nearby, somewhere along the route.  No bands, entertainers or any of the other glitz you pay $85 entrance fees for, but it was a nice race with a very reasonable price.  Closing in on the end, there wasn’t even anyone following closely behind me like they usually do when you’re bringing up the rear.  A police officer in a car showed up every couple of miles or so but he would always give me a smile and a wave which was quite pleasant.  I was really enjoying myself.

10557396_740232466040057_3242062456647479942_nMaybe 12 miles along, the route left the countryside and the end  approached.  Padding down the paved streets of the town, I began to anticipate the usual scene that greets a back-of-the-packer like myself:  winners already home bound bearing trophies, volunteers taking down banners, tables being folded, maybe a couple of bananas waiting in a box along with a few water bottles for me and the other slowpokes.  Honestly, I’m used to it and it doesn’t bother me any more.  It’s like living in a shabby house.  Perhaps others are unimpressed, but we who dwell there call it home.
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Instead, as I turn the corner off the bridge and cross the finish line, there are DOZENS OF PEOPLE flanking the sidelines smiling and applauding.  I’m like “What?  Who? Me?” as they stand there doing the slow clap reserved for The Unlikely Hero Who Manages to Survive Against All Odds.  With beaming faces full of respect, admiration and awe they all stare at me as I gaze back with my frozen smile and wonder how I ended up in the Twilight Zone.

Then two people with cameras jump in front of me and take my picture.  Now I’m certain I must have dropped dead back there on the road someplace and this is Heaven.

Finally the lady I talked to at the start of the race comes running up saying “YOU DID IT!  Even after the accident!”  And I start looking around.  “What accident?” I say, “I didn’t see an accident.”  “No,” she responds, “YOUR accident.  They told me everyone was waiting for the last runner because she was in a car accident and never supposed to walk again but ran the race today.”  And it hits me like a lightning bolt.  Oh no, they think I’m this Miracle Woman!  Holy cow, I’d better get the hell out of here before they find out I’m not.  So I smile back at her and say “I’m sorry, they were mistaken, that’s not me,” and rush to my car like the devil was chasing me so I can haul ass out of town.final finish article

A few days later when I checked online for the results and any information in the local papers about the race I found an article about the real Miracle Woman who must have been somewhere behind me the whole time.  God bless her.  She did have a terrible accident and, against all odds, had survived to run a half-marathon.  Her triumph over adversity and pain was well worth all the glory and my fervent hope both then and now was that every one of those people waited for her after I fled the scene.  I wish I’d remained myself just to tell her how awesome she is.

So the race I planned to come in last ended up with me not being last after all.  And when the time keepers reported my finish (no timing chips), they somehow duplicated the stats of the previous runner which made me look way faster.  It was a day for strange twists of fate.  Go figure.

Photo Credits:  Art Slater and Brittany Slater

NEXT UP:
The Achilles tendon rears its ugly head and alters my fall plans.
An old story retold.





2014 Spring Race Reports (Part 2): The Sandhills Half Marathon a/k/a the BEST race of 2014

3 12 2014

Yes, here it is December and I’m just now writing about a race I did in June.  Hey, at least it’s the same year.  Anyway, the BEST RACE OF 2014 and one I highly recommend to any marathoner (if you wake up early enough on registration day because it always sells out) is the Sandhills Marathon and half in Valentine, Nebraska.

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Being a 50-state racer I’ve made a hobby out of traveling to “destination races” all over the country, and each year I try to pick a unique smaller race as a counterpoint to the huge Rock-n-Roll type affairs that I often do as well.  I don’t remember exactly how I found this one but I’m really glad I did.

The races are held in the summer in a sparsely populated corner of Nebraska where it is said  —  and I believe  —  that cows outnumber human spectators on the sidelines.  It is a small but surprisingly well-appointed race featuring probably less than 200 runners that winds through the sandhills, “a region of mixed-grass prairie on grass-stabilized sand dunes in north central Nebraska covering just over one quarter of the state” (per Wikipedia).  The area is desolate and beautiful, and excellent for running.  I read about in online somewhere in 2013 and immediately became intrigued so I made sure I was awake the moment registration opened (New Year’s Eve possibly?) and I signed up.  The race sold out within 24 hours.  I will always consider myself lucky for having run it.

I flew into Omaha and drove across the state for maybe 5 hours until I reached the small town of Valentine,  where packet pickup was held in a western wear store.

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It was raining that day and the weather was cool but the forecast for race day was for dry skies and wind.photo 1 (4)

I wandered around town for a little while looking for a place to eat because I had missed the pre race pasta dinner and then settled on eating at the restaurant bar of the Motel Raine where I’d booked a room, which turned out to be an excellent choice because they had an awesome brisket sandwich.  I took a pass on the Mountain Oysters which were also on the menu.  🙂

After dinner, going through my packet, I raised my eyebrows more than once at a few of the cautions like “don’t pick up a snake if you find one on the ground.”  The trip was getting more interesting by the minute, I mused.

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Soon enough night fell and eventually the sun rose to find me already on my way down a highway to the corner of Brownlee Road and Highway 97 where runners were to converge for the start of the race.  We pulled off the road into a cow pasture where we parked and boarded buses that took us to the starting point of the race.VictoriaDietzSchoolBus

We milled around near the start for a while jumping up and down and trying to warm ourselves on what was an uncharacteristically chilly morning of maybe 47 degrees or so, until the guy with the shotgun showed up and fired it into the air to signal the beginning of the festivities.

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And then off we went.

Down along the road past hills and grassy pastures the runners galloped, a human herd in stampede, for their own amusement as well as that of their equine and bovine spectators.VictoriaDietzGroupRunning

Slow as I am, eventually the crowd thinned out and I found myself at the back of it with only my own footfalls and the beautiful vista to behold.  I’m not someone who thrives on crowd support or cheering hordes urging me on.  I’m just happy to be free to step along in a place I might not have gone before.  And I love those moments in a race when I’m not worried about where I am in the pack or what my finishing time might be but am merely enjoying a chance to run alone amidst nature’s beauty.  This race had a lot of that!  I think that’s why I loved it so much.  And, despite what the name may imply, it was not overly hilly or sandy or especially difficult in any way.  And I didn’t see any snakes.  It was simply quiet and beautiful as the following pictures demonstrate:

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A solitary runner on a long road……sandhills spectators

As horses without a care in the world ignore us as we pass by…..

While a lone cow on a hill goes about its daily routine.VictoriaDietzCow

That was the beauty and charm of the day.  It made the wind and cold weather seem less of a bother because it was such a treat to be a part of this majestic scene for a morning.

Now I can hear people saying already “ok that’s nice but where are the amenities out here so far from the beaten path?”  Well there were tables, some manned and some not, every several miles and they were stocked with bottles of water, sports drink and snacks.  There was also the most unique and interesting bathroom idea I’ve ever seen:  the travelling porta potty.  A very nice man hitched up 2 portajohns to a truck and drove them the length of the race, stopping here and there for as long as people needed him.  MichaelMuehlingPortaPottyYou could flag him down if you saw him but regardless he would eventually show up at a water stop and stay for a while before he moved on.  You never felt like you were without relief in the form of a beverage or a bathroom.

As you can see from the course map, the full marathon wound along down this blacktop road through some towns in pretty much a linear northwest to southeast direction.  The half- marathoners were bussed to the midway point and had their own startline, so everyone finished around the same time and place.sandhills

By the time we got to the end there was a full swing party and barbecue going with music and beer and a whole lot of merriment.  They were grilling big old hamburgers and offered those along with the usual bananas, bagels and other carby post race fare.  Everyone was friendly and congratulatory, and I felt like it had been almost a visit with friends of friends rather than a day spent with strangers.

As I crossed the finish line they handed me a horseshoe in lieu of a medal (for completing the half; you get a spur for the full) and directed me toward the party.  I ate and drank and celebrated with all the runners then headed for my car to drive back towards Omaha and a flight the next morning back to home.

I really enjoyed the Sandhills Half Marathon even though the day was chilly and the wind bit a little more than I’d like.  I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a small unique race amidst nature’s peaceful scenery and with a lot of nice people.

The swag was nice too:  an orange cotton shirt and the horseshoe I’ve since hung on a ribbon.  Along with a treasure trove of memories to cherish.

photo 1The Sandhills Half Marathon sure did leave me smiling a whole bunch that day and I smile again every time I remember it.  I don’t say that about every race but I will always say it about this one.

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PHOTO CREDITS TO:

Brooke Kaczor, Andy Pollock, Jody Green, Victoria Dietz, Michael Muehling

 

 

Next up:

An unexpected race.
The one I knew I’d finish last.

MORE LATER………..