Native Wisconsinites would probably be appalled to learn that before this weekend, I had never stayed overnight in Door County. I had visited it for a day a couple times. I am a native Michigander. Sorry Cheeseheads.
Friday afternoon we drove up to packet pick up at the Ladder House in Sturgeon Bay. Wanting a familiar setting for dinner, we opted for the Applebee's. Again, Wisconsinites are gasping.
After dinner, we headed to our hotel in Ephraim, the Waterbury Inn, recommended by my running friend Dennis. The Waterbury Inn is a very charming place. Our accomodations included a suite with a kitchenette, a sitting area with a couch and chairs, a dining room table, and a separate bedroom. Even our teenage son approved.
The Fall 50 course starts at Gills Rock, at the north end of Door County, heads south along the bay side of the peninsula, and ends at Sunset Park in Sturgeon Bay. The Fall 50 includes a solo event, and relay teams up to 5 members. There are 9 exchange points approximately 5 miles apart, which double as aid stations. Bag drops are available for the solo runners.
The forecast predicts rain early, ending some time between 7am and 10am, and strong west winds. I pack dry shirts and gloves to have available at aid stations 2, 4, 6, and 8. Once the rain stops, I will want to put on a dry shirt, but I just don't know where that will be. It will depend on where I am when the rain stops.
Morning comes, and its not raining. Sweet. It is, however, cold and windy. At about 6:55am, I get out of the warm car to go to the start. We get herded into the start corral, get some pre-race announcements. National anthem. Misty-eyes for national anthem. Every time. Every race. I will always tear up for the national anthem. Just something I do.
We are told a bunch of things, 3 of which I remember: 1. When in doubt, either stay on the road you are on, or turn right. 2. If you see Lake Michigan, you have done something horribly wrong. 3. Keep going south until someone hands you a beer.
There is something in the human brain that prevents a person from comprehending how far 50 miles is on foot. If your brain really understood it, you wouldn't do it. It's a bit like the difference between a billion dollars and a trillion dollars. Even though one is one thousand times more than the other, it doesn't seem that way. 50 miles is nearly 2 full marathons, but for some reason, it doesn't feel like it... at the start anyway.
The course is billed as 'the most scenic distance run in the midwest'. The first mile was absolutely stunning. The fall leaves filled the air and blanketed the road. Too bad husband Bill made a wrong turn and didn't get a picture of the group of runners going up the hill.
During the first few miles, folks spread out, but I can still see about 3 to 5 runners ahead of me most of the time. Around mile 3, I catch up to a couple guys. We chat a bit. One guy is from Iowa City. The other lives in Michigan, but works in Indiana. Or was it the other way around. Michigan dude traveled here with is wife, 2 year old daugher, and mother-in-law. His wife was at the first aid station to give him his water carrier. He stopped to get it, and I never saw him again.
Iowa dude and I leaped frogged each other for the next few miles. Chatting a bit occassionally. Saw Bill at aid station 2 at the top of a very big hill. I caught up with a guy named Dan, from Crivitz, who was an engineer for G.E. His wife was at aid station 3 to give him aid, and I never saw him again. Passed 2 other guys at aid station 3.
Caught up with another guy while in Peninsula State Park. Ran with him for a couple miles. Chatted about his travels, and recent races. He's done 150 ultras. Or was it 1500? And a few marathons too. After a while he asked my name. 'Mary. And yours?' He said 'Roy'. Hmmm, I thought. 'Pirrung?' I said. He said yes. I responded 'Uh, you're famous.' I do think he already knew that.
Shortly after that, I pulled ahead, and I never saw him until the finish. In fact, that was the last I would see of any registered runner. I could see no one in front of me, and I didn't look back. This was at about mile 19.
Except for seeing Bill and a few folks at the aid stations, I ran completely alone until aid station #6, where my dear dear friend Dennis was waiting to pace me, and keep me company for the last 17.7 miles. It was so nice to have my running partner there to share the last stretches of a difficult run. Dennis was chatty, as always, which is exactly what I needed. My tired brain could not process all of what he said, but I was certainly glad he was there.
I felt strong until mile 38 or so, then started to deteriorate. I got whiny, and a little bitchy. Not at Dennis, but at some a-hole in an oncoming car that barely gave us any room on the road. I muttered some sarcastic obscenity as the car passed.
Dennis the saint, not only tolerated my whininess, but also helped with small things, that made a huge difference. He insisted I eat part of a bagel, he opened my Gu for me, and got out Tylenol for me. You wouldn't think that would be a big deal, but after 40 miles, these tasks are very difficult, and don't think I would have done any of them if he wasn't there. And I really really really needed all three.
Around mile 45 or 46, I started to perk up. Probably the combination of some bagel, Gu, and knowing that the finish line was getting close. I started to feel strong again. The sun also finally came out. As I got near the finish, Dennis ducked out and took a detour, so that he wouldn't cross the finish line.
The finish was very oddly anti-climactic. Bill and Danny were there, and a couple volunteers, and that was it. No sign of the 4 people that finished ahead of me or any of their crew. There was music playing, and a tent full of empty tables waiting for finishers. I got my finisher medal, and waited a couple minutes for Dennis to join us. I went in the tent to get some solid food that my tummy would tolerate, came out with a cookie and a bread stick. Ahhhhhh solid food.
We wandered a bit aimlessly around the barren finish area, saw Roy Pirrung finish, and then headed to the car. It just felt really really weird. If the music hadn't been playing, I think we would have just heard the sound of crickets.
We headed back to the Waterbury Inn to get cleaned up, and then the 4 of us went to the Northern Grill for pizza, another recommendation from Dennis.
Sunday morning, we went to Julie's for breakfast. Another Dennis recommendation. Enjoyed caramel pecan french toast. I thought I was in heaven.
It was a long, tiring, enjoyable day. The course was stunningly beautiful. 50 miles on pavement, on foot, still doesn't seem real.