Note: This guest post is written by my husband, Josh. He regularly blogs about beer and restaurant events at the Craftsman Table & Tap Beer Blog.
It was 7:00 in the morning, Saturday October 12th. Michelle and I were heading north, after a quick stop at Starbucks for much-needed black coffee and egg-and-cheese sandwiches, towards Amherst, WI, for the Lettie’s River Run, a 5-mile race that would culminate in the Great Amherst Beer Festival at the Central Waters Brewery. Behind the wheel, my enthusiasm was stoked by the promise of rare beer, and by caffeine. We’d both registered for the race—the $27 registration fee included not only the ubiquitous long-sleeve T-shirt, but a bottle of Central Waters’ La Riviere Coule, a Belgian golden ale aged on French red wine barrels for 14 months, bottled and distributed exclusively for this event—but Michelle tore her meniscus the previous week in a freak kickboxing accident (the title of her forthcoming memoir), and was unable to compete. She still got her beer and shirt, though, which I think softened the blow a little bit.
I’m generally a pretty chill person, but big beer events—festivals, special releases—turn me into kind of a nervous wreck. Mainly it’s because I know that the craft beer community, while its ranks have been forthcoming and generous to me, have a tendency to be a pretty rabid lot; I waited in line for five hours this past year for tickets to the Great Taste of the Midwest, but devoted Surly acolytes have been known to wait upwards of 24 hours for entrance into Darkness Day. Though their beers are extraordinary, Central Waters hasn’t quite developed that sort of cult following, but it can’t be far off. Fortunately, we arrived in plenty of time to find a good parking spot, use the shockingly clean facilities, and head inside to register. We even got some of the first pre-sale tickets for Black Gold, a special beer released in conjunction with the day’s festivities.
This was only my fourth competitive race, and the longest; at five miles, it wasn’t the farthest I’d ever run (I sometimes crack seven miles during training), but the pace was a concern. Simply put, I’m not good at holding back. That served me well in the last 5K I ran, as I finished first in my age group and second overall, but I felt like death by the end. Fortunately, Michelle is far more pragmatic than I am, and kept reminding me that I don’t have to pass everyone, or anyone. The former, I heeded. The latter, not so much.
About fifteen minutes before the start, it began to rain, a drizzle at first, but soon escalating into an early autumn shower. It certainly helped wake me up, but I didn’t sign on for a mud run; this was not how I wanted to break in the compression tights season! It settled back into a light drizzle, however, by about 9:58 (two minutes to go-time), and the runners all began to mill around in a semi-coordinated fashion up near the line.
The competitor demographics at these races are endlessly fascinating to me for several reasons, not least of which because of the way in which they/we seem to unconsciously arrange themselves: semi-pros and hardcores up front, followed by competitive amateurs, then the just-to-stay-in-shapers. I’m a decent runner, but I know my limitations, to a point; I got in the middle.
The gun sounded, and we were off. True to form, I started off quick, near the head of the pack but, heeding Michelle’s advice, slowed down to a brisk clip after a few hundred yards. The route took us into the town of Amherst, the brewery at our backs. It was a beautiful, clearly mapped course, with enthusiastic, helpful volunteers, one of whom yelled encouragement at me as I entered the final half-mile, and even slapped me on the rear with his flag as I rounded a corner in a residential neighborhood.
My early measured pace began to pay dividends around the third mile, as I passed about half a dozen racers who had themselves passed me a few minutes before. After that, I began to target individual competitors ahead of me, slightly but gradually increasing my pace until I caught and exceeded them. I’ve heard this technique referred to as “reeling in,” and it was immensely satisfying.
After the butt-slapping corner, there were only two more racers in front of me who were conceivably catchable. I inched past one, a late 30s gentleman who had blown by me around the first mile, and entered the 400-yard final stretch. There was one racer, a young woman in her late twenties, in between me and the finish line. My legs, though not about to give out or anything, were burning, aching, and just on the verge of numbing. Still, my inner six-year-old spoke to me: “You are NOT going to let a girl beat you!” So I powered through and eventually passed her about fifty yards before the finish, and just as my feet began to lose all feeling, giving me a strange sensation not unlike floating.
I slowed down out of the chute, keeping up a steady walk, hands behind my head and slowly reclaiming my bearings. The brewery was in front of me, with aid stations to the left and the festivities already beginning. I headed over and grabbed a bottle of water and couple of chocolate chip cookies—sorry, I just can’t do bananas—for a quick replenish. Baked goods certainly do wonders, and I snagged an extra cookie for Michelle. She seemed to limp a little more sprightly thereafter.
All things considered, this was an encouraging race. I’m trying to gradually increase distance—the endgame being the 2014 Madison Marathon—while getting a feel for a competitive, comfortable pace, and this was a good start. I was certainly a bit fatigued by the end, but didn’t have to wait long to get my wind back, and a few good minutes of stretching worked out all the kinks. After downing the bottle of water, I walked with Michelle over to the brewery entrance, where their taproom had opened to accommodate the thirsty runners (our race numbers included a tear-away tab for a free tap beer). For a more thorough recap of beer-related proceedings, you can head over to the Craftsman Table & Tap website and read her guest post on my blog, but I have to say that Central Waters’ Exodus—an oak-aged sour ale brewed with Door County cherries and weighing in at barely 5% ABV—hit the spot.
I now return you to your regularly scheduled Michelle.