Saturday, July 5, 2008

Mile Marker Friends

During the 7 days of running at Lake of the Woods trail, I came to understand the nuances of the trail. You knew the warm sun would greet you rising over the prairie on the first early morning loop. And after 300 miles, you start to realize there are lots of inclines (not quite hills) on this course! You memorize the rocks and roots, mile markers, muddy spots, and low hanging limbs. You see the grass getting longer each day. The same deer seem to be up and around at 5:15am each morning. Runners, walkers, and joggers become familiar faces after just 7 days of waiving at them about the same time each day. But more than anything, I looked forward to seeing the next mile marker. Relentless forward progress might be made one step at a time, but mentally you need to "count those miles" to feel like you are achieving something real. I counted a lot of miles. One at a time. Here are my five favorite friends from that 7-day adventure just two weeks ago...

Mile 1. That first mile was always a welcoming one---an easy downhill from the parking lot with lots of shade. Even when you weren't feeling well, it made time go by quickly and you felt kinda speedy. During the heat of the day, that first mile marker was usually still shady and cool. A welcome respite from the heat, sun, & humidity of the late afternoon miles run in the open fields.

Mile 2. This mile marker was located in a shady area known as coyote lane. You knew you had a gradual downhill from here all the way to the main intersection. That was some good, easy running. A couple good hills were waiting between markers 2 and 3, but thoughts of hills were far from my mind when I came to mile marker 2. This was a nice secluded place to empty the bladder too. Good to know you are still hydrated.

Mile 3. Once you hit the third mile marker, you already had 2 hills recently behind you and one more to come right after the right turn. But this marker came toward the end of a long downhill so you felt pretty good reaching it. Unfortunately, it was often in the direct sun. I was glad to have my adventure hat and ice bandanna to keep me cool.

Mile 4. Speaking of my hat (aka "Marshall"), the north section of trail in the open fields and prairie, really required a hat and sunglasses. You were exposed to sun and wind for the entire mile stretch. It got hot out there! The marker itself is on fairly flat terrain, but the "climb" to get there is rather lengthy and the mile to follow is an almost steady incline to the parking lot finish. This was a great place to be in the early morning and evening, but nasty during the direct sun of mid-day.

Mile 5. The sight of this mile marker always brought a smile to my face. Just a few feet later and you were back in the parking lot and your car (aid station). What's not to like about that? I saw this marker over 60 times during the week...and I loved it each time! The marker is slightly off trail and buried in grass, but I always knew exactly where it was...and how far I had to go to reach it.

Those are my five trail friends. They patiently waited for me to arrive and quietly cheered me on as I passed. Say "hi" next time you are running by them. It's way too easy to click your watch on your mile splits and miss these fine characters. Each of them has a half-mile brother, but they aren't as fun...unless you are running 800m repeats. And why would any self-respecting ultramarathoner run 800m repeats?


denalifc said...

This is a great post Chris (pun intended).

Chris Ⓥ said...

Thanks Ian. Hope you and your Badwater runner burn it up in Death Valley (pun intended). Enjoy the desert and THE mountain.