It all looked so familiar, running the Kennebec River Rail Trail on Sunday morning. The wooden fence lining its edge. The stretch along Water Street in downtown Hallowell. The big ole hat sign at Hi-Hat Pancake House in Farmingdale. The Kennebec River on my left. The end of the trail at Hannaford in Gardiner.

I’ve seen every inch of the Kennebec River Rail Trail. I’ve been running for a little over a year and do most of my running on the rail trail.

Sunday, I ran every inch of that trail. Twice.

I started running a year ago as a way to lose weight. It’s become something of a lifestyle. I start most days with a run. I read about running. I spend way too much money on running shoes and clothes. I search out 5Ks and 10Ks.

And the work has paid off. I’ve dropped almost 50 pounds and over 13 minutes off my 5K time. I’m healthier, happier and faster.

With that improved health (it’s still a work in progress), I decided I was ready to really test myself. I’m not quite ready to, or even sure I want to, try a full marathon, but the Kennebec River Rail Trail Half Marathon seemed like the perfect chance to test my limits. It’s on my home turf, it’s pretty flat, and heck, I’d have a chance to bail and run home twice (the course passes about 200 yards from my apartment).

If I wanted to test myself, this was the perfect race, so at the end of February, I signed up. At the beginning of April, I started following marathon coach Hal Hidgon’s Novice 2 half marathon plan.

Training wasn’t always easy, but it was never anything I couldn’t handle. I had a few minor injuries but nothing that prevented me from running and nothing that lingered.

The best part was every long run was a milestone, so it felt like I was accomplishing something every week. The first time I ran seven miles, it felt like a victory. The first time I ran eight miles, nine miles, the same. Breaking double digits … wow.

Then, two weeks before the race, I did a little over 11 miles. That was probably the first time during training where I questioned if I could actually do this. Once I passed 10 miles, I really started to drag. I was tired. My legs were sore. It was hard work.

I was sore for a couple days after that run, too. This wasn’t good.

I regained some of that confidence in the final two weeks of training. I rested and recovered and by the time I toed the starting line Sunday, I felt as healthy as I had at any point during my training (thank you taper).

Then the race started and I tried to maintain that confidence. My friend Mark Snow, an experienced marathoner, ran with me and read me my splits, mostly to assure I didn’t go out too fast.

I didn’t go out too fast and felt pretty good as we passed the first water stop where the trail enters Water Street in Hallowell. About three miles in, we faced the only real hill of the race, where we re-entered the trail in Hallowell heading toward Farmingdale. I still felt good, but it was then I realized how hot it was. The forecast called for it to be in the 60s Sunday morning. It was a heck of a lot hotter than 60 degrees. Three miles in, my shirt was already waterlogged with sweat.

Despite the heat, I was able to keep a consistent pace. I finished the first six miles in just over an hour, about a 10-minute per mile pace. Great.

I got a surge of energy when eventual race-winner Seth Hasty and the rest of the leaders passed us on their way to the finish after making the turnaround in Gardiner. I sped up a little as we approached the turnaround, where my family was waiting to cheer me on.

Everything was going well.

Then, about seven miles in, I started to slow down. The heat was tough to deal with and my legs just didn’t want to go as fast. Running through the wooded, more secluded section of the trail heading from Farmingdale to Hallowell, my pace slowed considerably. Those 10-minute miles become 10:40 miles. I was sucking wind a little bit, my left quad and left knee started to ache and I felt a dull headache starting.

At that point, I focused on staying hydrated and putting one foot in front of the other.

When we reached the 10-mile mark, as we prepared to leave the trail for Water Street in Hallowell, I told myself I only had a 5K left. I run that distance no problem two or three times a week. No sweat.

I wasn’t convinced.

Making my way down Water Street, I was struggling. My head was down, my feet barely left the ground. I was straining to see the next mile marker. Mark called it “The Survivor Shuffle.”

When we entered the trail again, I knew I could finish. I couldn’t wait to finish. As we passed every stone quarter mile marker, I counted down. Only a mile and a half left. Only a mile left. Half a mile.

Finally, with a quarter of a mile left, I wanted to push it to the end. I didn’t really have anything left to push, but I tried. I picked up the pace in the last 100 yards, felt my calves cramp and figured it was a bad idea. Too late.

The clock read 2:19:14 (my official time was 2 hours, 19 minutes, 16 seconds) as I crossed the finish line. I pumped my fist and slowed down to a walk. Oh, it felt good to walk. After accepting congratulations and getting a snack, I took a seat. I was exhausted. I was sore. I was thrilled.

Running 13.1 miles was the test I was looking for. I passed, but I know I can do better if I train smarter, log a few more miles, improve my diet and lose a few more pounds.

Struggling through this half marathon didn’t make me wonder why I would ever do this, it encouraged me to try to do it again, and better.

And no, I never once considered bailing for home.

Scott Martin — 621-5618

[email protected]


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