Everybody told me that the Whistlestop Marathon is a great race (including my buddy Dave who ran a PR there in 2007). The course is flat and fast, and the scenery is beautiful. Add to that that this is a major event for the town of Ashland and you have the recipe for a very good time.
My wife, Mary Ann and I traveled to Ashland on Friday and stayed at a nice B&B between Washburn and Bayfield. (Note to self: the B&B was nice, but we’ll stay in or very close to Ashland next time.)
The weekend weather report was for highs in the 60s to mid-70s, depending on which forecast you read.
The race starts 25 miles west of Ashland, 1 mile north of US-2 on a road leading to several resorts. You are out in the woods, and lining up for the race in the front yards of some very classic lodges and campgrounds.
The race began at precisely 9:00am as advertised. The runners were a bit crowded at first, but dispersed somewhat over the first miles. By mile 10 the race was becoming a relatively lonely event.
My goals were multi-tiered (that way you aren’t disappointed if you at least achieve a couple of them). First, to qualify for Boston (BQ) which is 3:45 for my age group.
Second, to better my “modern PR” of 3:42 from Grandma’s 2006 (my second marathon)
Third, to break 3:30 (this is getting pretty ambitious)
Fourth, to better my lifetime PR of 3:27 from TwinCities 93 (my first marathon)
The miles clicked off and I felt pretty comfortable running in the 7:45 to 7:55 per mile range. I worried, however, that I’d run out of gas at that pace. Even so, the pace felt good, and I kept at it pretty consistently. At mile 9 I noted (approx. 1/3 of the race) my time was 1:09 – on pace for a 3:27 if I could keep it up. At mile 18 the watch said 2:18, still on track, but I wondered even more so when the gas would run out. Finally it did around mile 22. 8:32 for mile 22, and slower yet after that. Fortunately the wind picked up from the northeast, off Lake Superior, and the temperature seemed to cool down. I noted it was 56 degrees in Ashland after the race. I ran/walked for awhile, and realized that the energy part of the race was over. Now I had to find a way to get to drag myself to and over the finish line fast enough to salvage some respectable time. I think the coolness helped somewhat. To my relief, the clock read 3:35:18 at the finish!
To my further relief Mary Ann was there at the finish line with some cash and the beer tent was only steps away. There is nothing that can compare with a cold beer at the finish line!
I now can echo the praises of the Whistlestop. If you want to run a fast race, this one has the right stuff!
I'll second Tom's nod toward this race, if you don't mind running alone for a while. This one is scenic, fast and very basic, with a nice festival at the end. Just watch your footing and that PR can be your's!