With each passing stride you descend deeper into a world that is effort and motion. Simple, relaxed function. A slowly-building euphoria. You are alone. Your mind is drifting.
Relax. Conserve effort. Shorten your stride over a low hill. Cut the corners. Watch out for potholes on Bull Creek Road. What was the time for that mile? A little fast. Was that mile marked in the right place?
It is the first Sunday in May. Race day at the Avenue of the Giants Marathon.
Old injuries begin to ache and then fade as the miles pass. How do the aches occur in their chronological injury sequence? Weird. The sun is warming. Drink at the aid stations. Love those volunteers.
Breath deep, extend your stomach, maybe that side ache will go away. After the turnaround it is downhill, slightly. Watch the pace. Did those rolling hills get bigger?
There’s the bridge and the half way point. Somebody yells something. You make the turn and head out on the second half on the Avenue of the Giants. You still feel good, but it is still a decision to face heading out for another 13.1 chunk of miles. Do you feel good enough? Drink at the aid stations. Try to maintain pace. Why does this flat terrain feel more difficult? Oh yeah, the previous downhill part. That overpass takes too much effort.
Miles 15, 16, 17 pass although they seem tedious. The pace is slipping a little. Fatigue is creeping in and settling on you like carrying a sandbag. There’s the park headquarters. The turnaround must be close. People are streaming by in the other direction. You see friends. How much time between us?
Where’s that turnaround? Around this next bend, no, damn. Wait, there it is. Finally heading home. What have you got left? The fabled 20 mile mark passes. HALF WAY! The last six miles are as tough as the first 20.
It must be OK to walk while you drink at the Burlington aid station. Where did that euphoria go? Some people really maintain that feeling the whole way? I thought I trained hard. Was that a cramp? Relax.
What was the time for that mile? Too slow. Was that mile marked in the right place? Wait, I helped mark them. I guess it is my fault. But marking the course is a fun way to spend an early spring day with the Timeks.
Miles 21, 22, 23 take too long. Cramps are setting in. The long Weott hill in the sun. Where did my friends go that were so close at the turnaround?
Mile 25 on a long gradual incline seems to move further away every year. That blankety-blank overpass. Finally mile 26 in the shade. The bridge. The bridge too far. But there it is. A few kind spectators yell encouragement and lie about how you are running. It still helps. It is better than hearing what they really think. There’s Charlie Lawrence directing the runners into the chute. Trademark straw hat.
Those wonderful golden voices of the Wendys announcing the finishers. The mat. Done. Now what do I do to keep from cramping? Lime juice bars. Jim Ely is no longer there. We miss you Jim.
I wish I could see George Crandell and his trademark fist pump. Another victory against limitations imposed by others. George is no longer there. He ran every Avenue of the Giants Marathon held during his lifetime.
I finished only 10 marathons, none of them good. But, the memories of the training and the races are treasures. Running friends make the endeavor rich. It beats sitting on the couch watching someone else exercise (earning millions of dollars to perform) on TV!
This posting is an assemblage of marathon impressions at Avenue of the Giants. Some of the names will only be meaningful to local runners.
The 40th Avenue of the Giants Marathon, Half Marathon, and 10K races will be held May 1, 2011 in Humboldt County, California. The races are held by the Six Rivers Running Club. You can find me at the T-Shirt table and store.
A souvenir map for these races is available at the Maps link above.