So, I finished my first half marathon on Saturday. And “finished” is really the key word in that sentence. Because I was not — and never will be — competing for any overall or age group awards. Not like former IR sports editor and road race ace Jesse Zentz, who covered the course in 1:18:42 to place third with an average of a six-minute mile. Mine is not a defeatist attitude, mind you. It’s just reality.
The run was the Snow Joke Half Marathon at Seeley Lake, and it has got to be one of the coldest road races in the nation. (Though, I will stipulate that any Alaskan races would probably dominate that list.) Despite six months of training, the run didn’t really go as planned or hoped. But, again, I finished.
Despite the snow and temperatures in the low 20s, my race started well. Taking my place in the back of the pack, just in front of those running with their four-legged partners, I left the starting line knowing it would be hours before I saw it again.
Most of those running the Snow Joke are serious, long-distance runners. You’d have to be to run that distance in those conditions. Of course, for me, it was simply a goal. One that was unfathomable just three years ago. So watching the line of runners fade down Highway 83, I plodded along.
I managed to keep my slow, steady pace through the first aid station near Mile 5 and to the turn onto the country road that winds across the back side of the lake.
Up until this point, the biggest struggle was the snow and slush slowly seeping through the toes of my shoes. But once on that snow-covered road, it became a bit tougher to find decent footing. The packed snow, having already been trampled by hundreds of sets of feet — and dozens of paws — slid across a bottom layer of ice, making it feel a bit like running in sand. And, of course, that half of the course begins with a nice, slow-climbing hill.
Having been sick in the weeks prior to the race, that meant not being able to train. So before Saturday, it had been three weeks since I’d run last. That finally caught up with me sometime after Mile 6. Cold air, elevation, lingering cough … it all conspired against me on that back country road, forcing me to move into the run three, walk one method. Frustrating but, again, there were no awards on the line here anyway.
Sometime after Mile 8, nearly alone in the snow, I found a second physical and mental wind. With the realization that the finish was getting ever closer, that my legs still had some life in them … I began to reel in those few runners in front of me.
First one, then a second, and a third inching closer. And then? My leg said, “No.”
I’d hydrated, I’d stretched, I’d warmed up … the check list was checked. But, whatever the reason, the twinge in my calf was there, and it wasn’t going away. So that second wind? Turned into more of a slight breeze. Only able to jog for short periods before the calf balled up and forced a walk, the final 3 1/2 miles were terribly slow.
Picking me up at Mile 10 or so were my wife and daughter, who braved the cold and snow to cheer me on at the final aid station. My little girl was grinning, ear to ear, with her homemade sign: “Run fast, Dad, before the food goes bad.” I still don’t know quite what it means, but it rhymes, and it made me smile — inside, at least. My face was pretty cold. (Tough, since I was in for a long march to the finish, I did stop for a quick photo and tried to force my numb cheeks into a smile. Almost got there.)
Then it was a push to finish.
Slowly, slowly, the miles ticked off behind and the line was in sight. By then, I’d started picking up a bit of a cramp in my other leg, down around my Achilles. Too cold, too much walking to then ask those muscles to try for a sprint to the finish.
But, eventually, I crossed that line. I missed my pre-race time goal by nearly 17 minutes, and Jesse may well have been halfway home by then. Officially, I wasn’t last, but I think there were some injury times there. So, if I keep with the honesty, I was mostly last.
But, over that long road, I was fighting mind and body, a head and chest cold, sub-freezing weather, cold and wet feet ... and 13 point freaking 1 miles. I’d never run quite that far, and never imagined I’d be able to even come close.
So, yeah, I finished pretty much last. But I finished. And, on this day, that was a win for me.
Snow Joke Half Marathon
at Seeley Lake
Top 3 and local finishers
Girls 0-15 — 1. Annie Hill, Kalispell, 1:47:45; 2. Joby Rosenleaf, Butte, 2:01:08; 3. Esme Bonilla, Eureka, 2:03:13
Boys 0-15 — 1. Joseph Tuhy, Missoula, 1:40:12; 2. Keegan Siebenaler, Kalispell, 1:48:56; 3. Marshall Beatty, Missoula, 1:52:45
Women — 1. Emily Kipp, Missoula, 1:34:16; 2. Lisa Minnehan, Anaconda, 1:35:25; 3. Gilia Patterson, Missoula, 1:36:35; 10. Alex Bold, Helena, 1:45:07; 23. Ben Jensen, Helena, 1:52:33; 28. Kari Tirrell, Helena, 1:55:01; 29. Julia Maddock, Helena, 1:55:48; 43. Kyla Maki, Helena, 1:58:42; 46. Leah Henningsen, Helena, 1:59:40; 54. Courtney Jenkins, Helena, 2:03:37; 65. Pepper Prouty, Helena, 2:07:05; 66. Suzie Mauro, Clancy, 2:07:29; 67. Bethany Kappes, Helena, 2:07:58; 74. Kellie Howard, Helena, 2:09:49; 87. Kaycee Brustkern, Clancy, 2:12:25; 89. Amy Howard, Helena, 2:13:01; 95. Laura Parvey-Connors, Clancy, 2:14:52; 113, Jennesa Borodkin, Helena, 2:19:14; 114. Melissa Barcroft, Helena, 2:19:30; 118. Claire Miller, Helena, 2:20:12; 126. Judy Merickel, Clancy, 2:21:39; 132. Camille McGoven, Boulder, 2:25:51; 133. Jessica Wyatt, Helena, 2:26:03; 134. Sarah Landstrom, Helena, 2:26:13; 136. Kari Cunningham, Clancy, 2:26:34; 138. Bridgett Waples, Helena, 2:26:42; 139. Maddie Kreslins, Helena, 2:27:45; 144. Theresa Torres, Helena, 2:33:56; 148. Alexandria Shinaut, Helena, 2:37:40; 159. Amy Jenks, Helena, 2:43:46; 160. Anna O’Donnell, Helena, 2:47:45; 164. Adrienna Hines, Helena, 2:50:23; 169. Jodi Zolynski, Helena, 2:59:18; 170. Candice Griffith, Helena, 2:59:18
Men — 1. Jim Walmsley, Black Eagle, 1:13:13; 2. Jimmy Grant, Missoula, 1:18:00; 3. Jesse Zentz, Helena, 1:18:42; 5. Michael Kaiser, Helena, 1:22:08; 28. Steven Reather, Helena, 1:40:34; 30. Eric Blake, Helena, 1:41:31; 32. Samuel Mota-Martinez, Helena, 1:41:59; 34. Hayden Janssen, Helena, 1:42:11; 38. Jacob Groh, Helena, 1:43:31; 46. Jon Irey, Helena, 1:46:40; 53. Tyler Northrup, Helena, 1:49:20; 61. Jeff berg, Helena, 1:53:43; 71. Kurt Parker, Helena, 1:57:02; 78. Tyler Jacobsen, Helena, 2:00:46; 84. Seth Dayton, Helena, 2:05:34; 91. John Eaton, Helena, 2:12:19; 98. Shoshannah Seed, Helena, 2:16:43; 102. Adrian Cohea, Helena, 2:19:29; 103. Cody Custis, Helena, 2:19:30; 108. Adam Malecek, Boulder, 2:25:33; 112. Inderbir Bains, Helena, 2:32:51; 115. Willie Parriman, Helena, 2:45:51; 116. Troy Shockley, Helena, 3:16:56
Women 40-plus — 1. Annette Ryerson, Helena, 1:50:32; 2. Cathy Sohlberg, Missoula, 1:50:55; 3. Shirley Zylstra, Missoula, 1:51:50; 23. Heather McRee, Helena, 2:11:07; 24. Lonnie Lewis, Helena, 2:12:32; 30. Karin Janssen, Helena, 2:16:19; 34. Alice Stanley, Helena, 2:18:21; 35. Melanie Dayton, Helena, 2:18:28; 38. Kristie Pierce, Helena, 2:19:26; 39. Lorrie Halcro, Helena, 2:19:29; 42. Deb Morrell, Helena, 2:22:57; 52. Paula Blessinger, Helena, 2:29:34; 54. Susan Lasich, Townsend, 2:30:55; 66. Yvonne Field, Helena, 2:58:54
Men 40-plus — 1. Kyle Strode, Helena, 1:25:02; 2. Scott Marron, Missoula, 1:30:34; 3. Micah Hill, Kalispell, 1:30:44; 5. Tom Kreissler, Helena, 1:32:14; 13. TJ Hull, Helena, 1:42:44; 16. Greg Dewitt, Clancy, 1:44:30; 25. Scott O’Connell, Montana City, 1:54:15; 36. Martin Miller, Helena, 2:00:58; 41. Gerald Daumiller, Helena, 2:03:31; 47. Thomas McArdle, Helena, 2:11:07; 48. Randy Riley, Helena, 2:11:15; 53. Rich Desimone, Helena, 2:15:10; 54. Kurt Lewis, Helena, 2:15:19; 57. John Dayton, Helena, 2:18:28; 66. Terry Gauthier, Helena, 2:29:36; 67. William Wood, Helena, 2:32:47; 72. Larry Turney, Helena, 2:46:52; 77. Don Ottoson, Helena, 3:02:07