When a run is equal parts freedom and nature, with a dash of bagpipes and my own cheering section built in, with perfect weather added on top, how could it be anything but favorite?
This past Saturday was the 2013 Door County Half Marathon, which is run entirely within Peninsula State Park. I love this park, which is on the shore of Green Bay and Lake Michigan. The trails and views and cliffs and shores are breathtaking. Everyone who enjoys running races though big cities can have their crowds and traffic and buildings and dirty air. I will take the woods every time.
After setting a PR in Oshkosh two weeks ago, I decided I’d run this race for fun. No time goal. No pressure. I wanted to feel good and have some gas left in the tank at the end, to enjoy Door County while we were there.
I woke up to sunshine and crisp spring air. The race didn’t start until 10, so I had plenty of time to get ready. I had coffee, ate bacon and eggs, drank water, got dressed, joked around with the family. I took off to catch the shuttle about an hour and a half before the race. I felt great. Relaxed. Energized.
I had a good hour at the park to prep. Seeing the woods and the beaches had me pumped. I was a little cold, but knew I’d warm up eventually. I stretched, listened to some punk rock, and chatted with other racers. What I’d heard about this race: the hills were tough, but it was so beautiful it didn’t matter. I’m thinking: Peninsula got nothin’ on San Francisco.
When it was time to line up, I found the 2:15 pace group. Then I heard the sweet, sweet sound of bagpipes. Yes. Bagpipes. I knew at that moment this was going to be epic.
The horn went off and we walked to the start. I hit the mat and eased into it. We started slow, which was perfect. The first three miles were heading south along the shore. I’m certain I was grinning ear-to-ear the entire time.
The entire course was so beautiful. Evergreens mixed with naked birches. The breaks in the trees where I could see over the bay. The woods, where depressions were still flooded, with green grass peeking up. It was spectacular. I love love love running in the woods.
Random moment: a group of three men ran past us. One of them was wearing a pair of women’s flat sandals instead of shoes. Not VFFs or Merrells. Women’s sandals. Huh.
Around mile 4, my watch started beeping. Low battery. What the hell? I was certain I’d charged it the day before. No, it was dead. It made the decision to not watch my time and pace, and let myself run comfortably, that much easier.
We started heading into the big incline. I was getting warm. I stopped to peel off my arm warmers. I easily caught back up to the pace group. We came up to the next water station and they slowed down to get water and walk. I kept going. I never looked back.
That mile-long incline was…challenging, but not tough. It was just enough to keep me guessing, and pushing. I never hurt. It was one foot in front of the other, and lean into it. Hitting the top was a great feeling.
I knew there was a cheering section at mile 6, and I could hear cowbell and yelling. I turned the corner and realized it was a downhill, which was great. Even better, I heard my sisters-in-law. I knew the family was coming to the park to cheer me on but I didn’t expect to see them that early. Everyone was there, screaming and clapping. Best motivation ever.
The next 4 or 5 miles were rolling hills and curving roads, sun-dappled stands of birch, roadways with trees arching over. With the sun on my face and wind rushing past me, I thought: this is why I run. I never feel more alive than when I am running, or when I am in the woods, and putting the two together makes me feel invincible. Add in my punk rock playlist, and I was on top of the world.
Having the bagpiper around mile 7: even more awesome.
Mile 10 started the descent. I giggled as I went faster and faster. I had to pull back a little – I wanted to have a little gas in the tank for the last 2 flat miles. And I did. I hit the mile 11 marker and surged. I felt so…strong. Alive. Hungry. I was starving, actually. It was past lunch time.
I love getting close to the chute. I love hearing the music and cheering and cowbell. I looked for the family, and there they were on my right, cheering away. My sister-in-law got the most fantastic picture of me running ever. I look so happy and strong.
I practically danced my way across the finish line, arms pumping. And this time, I got my medal.
I completely missed what the time was on the clock. I just knew that the 2:15 group hadn’t passed me. My official time ended up being 2:11:53. Hot damn.
I got water and Gatorade and the best M&M cookie of all time, and headed back to the shuttles. Lunch was a glorious picnic of brats and potato salad and beer, soaking in the sun.
And then, dinner.
The family is already talking about going back next year. My sister-in-law and her soon-to-be-husband want to do the half, and my mother-in-law and other sister-in-law want to run the 5K. This makes my heart happy.
For now, I’m ready to take it easy for a couple of weeks before…marathon training begins.