All The Comforts of Home – Final Training on the Kennebec Rail Trail

We all have that restaurant. It’s OUR place. Where everyone knows your name. They know how you take your coffee.  They know if you come in on a Wednesday, you’re there for the special.  They know what condiment you take with your eggs (Frank’s Red Hot, if you were wondering.) You take family there, new friends to impress, and long lost friends who come home to roost.  It is your de facto home office away from home office.  For me, it’s the Hi Hat Pancake House in Farmingdale, Maine. A view that overlooks the river and the Kennebec Rail Trail. The waitresses are knowlegeable. friendly, and efficient. The food is consistent and if it’s not, they fix it, immediately. I can always count on a great experience and a smile.

As runners we all have that trail, that road, that path.  It’s OUR place. We own it.  Bought and paid for, every mile, with our sweat, blisters, and tears. We know every crack in the pavement, the percent of every incline, every tenth of a mile. We know where to park, how to stash a water bottle, and when the sun will rise and set.  The trail knows us too. It knows our secrets, where we are weakest, the things we say to ourselves to make us stronger. For me, that is the Kennebec Rail Trail spanning from Augusta, Maine to Gardiner, Maine. I have run with so many friends on this trail.  I have run with both my father and my sister on this trail. I have learned to be alone with myself on this path.

Originally, I had planned to run the route of the MidCoast Marathon for the second of three weekly training marathons and the actual Philadelphia Marathon as a finsher for the month. Work got in the way of a weekend getaway to Philly and after getting lost multiple times in Montreal, I wanted the comfort of a well worn path. Instead of a new marathon to plan out, I ran safety loops week two. There is a place to park in Farmingdale, not far from the Hi Hat, where it is 1.5 miles to the Gardiner entrance and 2 miles to the hill that overlooks downtown Hallowell. At no point am I more than a mile away from safety if something goes wrong.  My car rests in the center with all the supplies I need – warmer gear, water, first aid kit. Just keep running loops until I reached 26.2 miles.

Even with my home court advantage I still messed up the electronics the first week back in Maine.  I didn’t lock the Garmin charger on my watch so instead of being fully charged, I ran out of juice a mile into the run.  Then I took a phone call at the end of my first loop, ending my Nike + tracking after 7 miles. It kept playing music but stopped counting miles. I unplug at least once a week, but aside from helping to know where I’ve been, I need the tracking to prove to myself that I can do this – that I have done this. When I finished I felt strong and I finished in a comfortable time of 6:12.

The next week, I expanded the loop and took away my safety net.  As the map shows, this week I was fully prepared, at least on a technical level. On a physical level, I was beginning to show the strain of multiple weeks of long distance.  I started off the run feeling like I was running fast, but I never really got past a training pace.  At the start of the second half I still felt strong, but my watch was telling me I was running in slow motion.  By the final 10k, even my running was at a walking pace and my walking was an Olympic style crawl on dry land.  The thing that kept me strong was that I was able to keep moving.  The reason I could keep moving – comfort. At every step I knew where I was and exactly how far I had to go.  Each squirrel, every birch tree, all the blades of grass were old friends, cheering me on.  Hooray for the Home Court Advantage.

A month from now I will be running constantly changing paths. I will never know exactly what is around the next blind corner.  Each week I will be a stranger in a strange land.  Having just coasted to victory on the back of every run I’ve ever taken on the rail trail, I only hope that when I weaken, memories of this running haven will refresh the coffee cup of my stamina.  Like my favorite breakfast place, I hope the trails I run will consistently satisfy, no mater what the route du jour is that day.  I can only hope that the runners I will meet, greet me with the hospitality and care I have received from each of my favorite waitresses. It will not be long until I find out.