Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Stomp the Grapes

This past weekend I sojourned to Ohio for a half marathon along with three friends, all of whom were running their first race of this distance. I knew little about the area, save that the event originated at a winery and the course wound through a towpath.

We arrived in Massillon Friday night and headed out to find the all important pre-race food. We settled on an American-style place (though I suppose if it's in America, technically that is the style). I enjoyed my usual pasta and bread sticks that appeared to have spent some time in a deep fryer. The sauerkraut balls caught my eye, but I figured the night before a race is not the best time to experiment with exotic foods, especially deep fried balls of sauerkraut.

After we were sufficiently fueled for the mornings festivities we headed back to the house and relaxed. I made sure my number was pinned and my D tag affixed before retiring.

Saturday we all awoke and dressed for the morning's chill. After a quick drive over to the race start we picked up our shirts (and I dare say that that extra small was more like a large) and bounced around to keep warm until things got underway.

I like small races where there's no bobbing and weaving to reach a comfortable pace. The course started out in the vineyard and passed by several fields with animals. A group of horses started running alongside our group, almost as if they wanted to join in the fun. A less enthusiastic group of cows sat in a group and just watched us go by. I began running with Emily, but managed to separate from her after the first mile -- after the initial shot of adrenaline my body began the task of warming up in earnest. After a few miles my arch started to hurt and I worried that I would be in for a long race -- but it dissipated by the time I got to the tow path.

The course wound through the town of Navarre and into the tow path, adjacent to the Erie Canal. Running the mid part of the race was serene, at times I felt like I was the only one running, blanketed on both sides by trees holding on to half their golden leaves. My energy re surged as took in the cool air and the beauty around me.

The last part of the race re-traced the road back to the vineyard. With the aid of trusty Gu I rallied and vowed to run strong. I stripped off my long sleeve shirt for the last mile or so as I was working hard with what energy I had left. A field of sheep greeted me as I rounded the corner at the home stretch with a cacophony of tiny bells reminiscent of wind chimes. As I approached the clock I saw the time approaching 1:50 and gave it the last bit of what I had to come in just under at 1:49:54, my best half marathon time to date.

A bit dazed, I headed off to stretch and eat and wait for my fellow runners. Emily came in then Nat, both with excellent times. Cooling down fast, we put on our warm clothes and helped ourselves to some warming wine, which tasted even more delicious after two hours of running. We positioned ourselves at the finished and cheered, waiting for Rose, who bounded towards the finish singing Justin Timberlake. Re-united we shared our road stories and waited for the awards, and to my delight I place third in my age group. After all that excitement (and a few more glasses of wine), we piled in the car, headed towards a warm shower then home.

I can't wait for next year, this was one of the most enjoyable races I've ever run. Getting out of the city on a crisp fall day and running through the beauty, what could be better?

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