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Saturday, April 18, 2009 -- Danese, WV / Babcock State Park
Babcock Gristmill Grinder Trail Run/Walk (iPO Event Id#: 11749)

[Coverage] [Photos] [Overall Results]

The View from the Back -- by Don Parks

Don and Travis
Travis has got my back
I arrived at Babcock State Park prepared to "race" the half-marathon trail run with my 14-month old son Travis strapped to my back. Checking the results from the previous year I noted that the last finisher completed the trail in three hours and twenty minutes, a pace of slightly more than fifteen minute miles. I figured I could do that even with 25-plus pounds on my back.

While Travis can't really tell us how his day went perched on my back, I can tell you a little of what it's like to be racing in the back of the pack. I imagine it's a point of view that many a racer never experience and many a participant fear. I often hear novice runners express that they just don't want to finish last, but I'm not sure it's really all that bad of a place to be.

I let the race director, Donnie Hudspeth, know that I was going to start out with the intent to "sweep" the course. That is, to intentionally be the last person on the course and ensure that everyone gets through okay.

Travis and I were given plenty of encouragement at the starting line as I spoke with old friends and friendly strangers. Soon enough we were off and "running" on the downhill start.

I made sure that everyone was in front of me and we took up our "sweep" position. This put us behind a couple, who I would later learn had come from Kentucky to participate, who seemed set out to do more of a half-marathon hike than a run.

I followed Lisa and Patrick for at least the first mile. While they didn't seem to mind me on their heels my patience was wearing thin. I still had my mind set on my 15-minute miles and at the rate they were going I wasn't sure they'd ever finish. As they crested an uphill section and Patrick stopped to catch his breath I decided we needed to move ahead.

We reached the first aid station at the gristmill and reported that the only people behind us were the two hikers and one other fellow we passed who had rolled his ankle. He had said he was okay but I let the race folks know that I wasn't sure any of the three behind us would be finishing the full distance.

Off we went with no one in sight and soon we hit the first big climb up to the ridge top. Travis and I were having a fine time as I shuffled at the best pace I could and he bopped around on my back.

Soon enough we caught up with a few ladies who I assumed were part of the contingent of new runners that Donnie had mentioned to me. They were all novices but had trained for this event and went about the task in very good spirits. I was feeling good and started thinking that maybe doing this in under three hours was a possibility.

We went ahead and passed two women as we made our way to the second aid station. Here we met up with some of their friends and I reported that their two companions weren't far behind. Happy enough with that news they were on their way and Travis and I weren't far behind.

Travis and I were having fun and we passed another lady as we made our way toward the swinging bridge that signaled the beginning of the final four miles. The final uphill four miles.

Just before the bridge, after two hours out on the course, Travis "hit the wall." There was no complaining on his part, he just simply went to sleep. With the backpack having no support for his head, and me not wanting to let his head flop around on his limp neck, I had to stop.

We were back on the trail soon enough but now he was cradled in my arms and an empty pack was hanging on my back. There was no running now and I did my best to walk fast while forgetting about trying to finish in under three hours. I rather spent the time admiring the handsome little boy asleep in my arms.

It was about a half an hour before Travis awoke from his nap. I gave him a drink and a few animal crackers and back in the pack he went. We weren't too far from the final aid station back at the gristmill and we arrived there along with Kim who we had passed earlier.

We left a little ahead of her and now I was back to my original plan of trying to finish at a fifteen minute mile pace. As we made our way around the lake and the final sections of trail I gained site of Greg who we had met at the start. Meanwhile, behind us, Kim had caught back up.

Kim commented that she thought Travis and I were an inspiration, I quietly thought that it was they that were the inspiration. I had made a conscious decision to handicap my running by putting my boy on my back. The racers around me were doing their very best just to finish the race and maybe not be last.

As we hit the final section of pavement and the homestretch I caught up with Greg as Kim soon passed on ahead of us. I chatted with him and learned that he had set out on a mission this year to start running and lose some weight along the way. He had already dropped forty pounds with the hopes to lose a lot more. This was his longest run to date and was his training for an upcoming marathon. Now this truly was an inspiration to me and I made certain the he would win the race to the finish against the guy with the baby on his back.

Travis and I stopped just before the finish line and I got him out of his pack. It had been my plan that with a little help he could walk across the finish line with me. My plan, just like most of the ones I had this day, didn't work out as I had imagined. The crowd and cheers at the finish were a little intimidating for him and so for those last few feet I carried him once again.

We officially finished at 3:18:28 for a half-marathon pace of fifteen minutes and eight seconds per mile. It was almost another hour before Lisa and Patrick, the hikers, made their way to the finish, in last place. While I wasn't around to watch any other finishers I can't imagine anyone had bigger smiles than these two. I also can't imagine that the ovation from the crowd could have been any bigger.

Remind me again who it was that won today, I seem to have forgot.