Monday, October 20, 2014

YMCA Stone Bridge Marathon Recap

Normally I do a travel post and a race post for each state, but all our non-race activities for Illinois involved visiting my grandparents. Since I figured no one would be that interested in hearing about our adventures in installing closet lights and looking for random items at Jewel, I'll only be writing up the marathon. Try to contain your disappointment.

For Stone Bridge, we had the option of staying in either Beloit, WI, or Rockford, IL. Both were about the same distance from where we would catch the shuttle to the start, but Beloit was significantly cheaper, so we drove a little extra Friday night. There was a pub connected to the hotel with some shady characters, but our room was on the opposite side, so it wasn't too scary. (Though, once again, I didn't get asked for ID. As someone regularly mistaken for a high schooler, this completely baffles me!)

The race offered a shuttle from the finish to the start either before or after the race, but after our debacle at MDI, we always opt to have our vehicle at the finish, if possible. We arrived at Leland Park around 5:45 and picked up our packets from the RD herself. The swag bag actually had a few good items, like gum and men's deodorant. (Don't worry, I'm giving that last one away.)

There was some kind of mix-up with the shuttle, so we had a little bit of time to kill in the car. I still don't know what happened, but Google Maps suggested a different park when you search for Leland Park, so I expect our driver went there on accident. He seemed pretty clueless (had the radio on blasting volume with only static, dropped us in the street instead of the parking lot at the start, etc.), so I doubt he double-checked his directions.

The RD hopped on to go over what would happen once we got to the start, and then we followed her personal vehicle to the Belvidere YMCA. While this sounds like a lame place to start, it was actually pretty awesome. We were all able to wait inside, and there were multiple bathrooms available. Having a full indoor bathroom to myself to deal with some tummy trouble pre-race is a luxury I'm not used to at all. (Hey, at Fargo, I had to use some bushes exposed to the street!)

Bag drop ended up being a cardboard box to be transported to the finish by the RD. This might seem unsecure to some, but the race had such a down-home, Midwestern feel that it didn't even faze me. Michael carried the car keys, per the usual, but I wouldn't have felt uncomfortable checking them.

The race started promptly at 7 AM, right after sunrise. We lined up right outside the Y, and they made several announcements for anyone going for a BQ to line up at the front, since it was a gun start. I really appreciated this touch, as it demonstrated the race officials really understood what's important to runners.

Stone Bridge Marathon
Stole this from last year's race, as I forgot to take my own.
The first 10 miles or so on were on country roads through farm fields. It was in the mid-30s when we started, and it was gorgeous! Everything had frosted overnight, and the sun was rising behind some trees, creating a wonderful glow over the corn.

I so artsy!
The only thing I didn't like about the beginning was having a support vehicle follow us. The race is extremely small, and I was near the back. I was certainly running well ahead of the rolling cut-off, and I wanted to focus on running my own race, but it was stressful to have the bus bearing down on me.

After these first miles, we moved onto the bike path portion. I was a little nervous at first, as the trail is much narrower than the one I regularly run on, but there were few enough runners that it was not an issue. They had advertised that the trails would be closed, and although they weren't, I think we only saw a handful of other users. I'm sure it helped it was still very early on a chilly Saturday morning - hardly ideal cycling weather - and I think every runner besides us was off in Chicago.

There was a short out-and-back section (three miles total), and it came at the perfect place for me mentally. Three miles sounds completely doable at that point in the race, and once you pop back out, you're already at mile 14. Isn't marathon math a fun, messed-up game to play?

Aid stations were plentiful along this stretch, and police were directing traffic at all major crossings. I was definitely towards the back, so a lot of them were relaxing in their cars, but I appreciated that they popped out as soon as they saw me and didn't seemed annoyed at how far back I was. They always made sure to give me the right of way, too.

Though we had to deal with these very dangerous crossings on our own. Only in Illinois.
I had popped on a Tolkien Professor podcast I had been hoarding at mile 8, and it was long enough to get me to mile 20. Paired with the perfect weather (I didn't take my jacket off until mile 16!) and the funny podcast, the marathon was a great way to unwind after a stressful week at work and to wrap up my marathon season.

This time I caught Michael around mile 20, and he said his calves were bothering him and he would see me at the finish. At this point, we also transitioned on the actual Stone Bridge Trail. And it was brutal. I had some flashbacks to the dirt road at Monument, to be honest.

Race's namesake, I presume.

There was a comfortable track to run on, but most of the gravel and dirt was gone, so two or three of the final miles were run on hard rock. My low back was already bothering me a bit at this point, so it was quite painful and required me to really dig deep. It was also here that I heard someone screaming up on me. To my surprise, Michael had caught up to me! We spent the last few miles leapfrogging one another.

Before the race, I had been torn on how fast to run. I had gone for a five hour race in Nebraska and been brutally destroyed by the heat and elevation. I knew my legs were tired, especially after racing a 10K hard the weekend before, but I felt surprisingly good and amped up. I decided to go for five hours again and see what happened.

I really made myself focus on each four mile block, and, for the first time in a marathon, everything finally clicked. I didn't end up meeting my goal, but my splits only dropped in the last 10K once when I stopped to stretch and the last mile when I was a little confused on where to go. Considering when I set my PR at my first marathon I felt absolutely destroyed, I'm incredibly pleased with how this race went! I think I finally know how to get my head on straight and how much fuel to take in (about three times higher than what I had been trying!). I'm also finally comfortable with how much I will suffer if I go out too fast, so it's less scary to try - the consequence isn't exactly fun, but I know I can tolerate that level of hurt.

Towards the end of the race, the only thing I wanted was to get off the damn bike path. I also almost took out a biker when he rolled by at mile 24 and commented that it was "a nice day for a jog." I just about rolled him down the hill, except I only had the energy to sort of huff at him. I'm 99% sure he was only trying to be friendly, but the j-word inspires irrational levels of hatred within me.

Show me a jogger that can get to 25 miles, and I will show you a liar.
We were finally directed off the path with about a half mile to go. The race finished down a hill, so we couldn't see the finish line until we were just about on top of it. There was no 13 mile sign and no volunteers after the final turn, so I was a little nervous we were off course, but it was a simple straight shot.

Finish Time: 5:07:32

The finish line was pretty empty (and the volunteer simply handed us our medals, a huge pet peeve of mine!), but the DJ had a great playlist going. The food options were limited, but adequate, considering the cost of the race. The RD took a picture of Michael and I together, so I forgot to get one on my own camera and can't find hers anywhere, so you'll just have to imagine one.

Look at my sweet medal instead!
After some stretching and relaxing, we headed back to the YMCA to use their showers for free. PSA, they are open-style, but one was hidden behind a wall and no one else came in, so I was able to enjoy a relaxing shower anyways. I really appreciated having this option, since we were switching hotels that night. (And I'm sure my nana appreciated us not being gross during dinner.)

We swung by a BWW for lunch to catch part of the MSU game, and we even got it on the big screen. It was a great way to chill after the race.

I know a lot of people will probably question why we picked this race for Illinois (instead of Chicago), but I have no interest in gigantic, expensive races, and this race did a great job showcasing Illinois. While there were a few hiccups, it's obvious the RD and her staff are knowledgeable about running and want everyone to enjoy their race. I highly recommend this as an alternative to Chicago and as a BQ course.

And this just looks disgusting.

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