Ghosts of the Tour De La Porte

Eric Wozniak

For the last eight years of my life, the month of August has symbolized new beginnings.

While most people begin their new year in January, August is when I set out to accomplish my resolutions and goals.

In the teaching profession, I look to correct the mistakes from the prior year and implement new and effective practices for the new school year. For the running season, I look at the Tour De La Porte as a benchmark race. The three-day running and biking event allows me to compare my progress from years past, or as is sometimes the case, shows me some pitfalls. I get to race my ghost and see where I stack up compared to the prior years.

The open roads of La Porte began pumping runner's blood through my heart 13 years ago. Of those 13 years, I have participated in the Tour eight times. For the first six years, I ran the 10K. The route is a grueling one. It begins on the bridge at the entrance to Stone Lake Beach, and ends at Cummings Lodge.

The first leg of the race is quite scenic, offering amazing views of both Stone and Pine Lake. Throughout the first mile, you are challenged with some long uphill running, which then allows for shaded, flat surfaces.

One of the fondest memories of this leg involved being outpaced by a fellow runner who was off to a fast start. However, “Humble Hill,” which is a long and bending slope near the intersection of 525 and Orr Lake Road, taught this runner an early lesson in respect which came in the form of him spilling his guts near mile two. I passed him, leapt over the puddle, and didn't see him again.

Next, the route takes you down Orr Lake Road. At the beginning of that leg, you are greeted with a refreshing and long downhill excursion. Experience taught me to free fall down this hill and try to cut a few seconds off the run with the assistance of gravity. The giant aromatic pine trees accent the road like larger-than-life soldiers at attention. Once you make a 90-degree curve at the bottom of that hill, the difficulty of the race takes hold.

It is during this leg of the race where leg strength is imperative. There are several hills which can decimate the runner. The only reprieve offered are short stints of flat running, which gives way to more hills. The view is still spectacular, with a seldom-touched Orr Lake to your right, and its bright, vibrant lily pads covering sparkling waters that shine from the morning sun.

Once that leg is accomplished, Small Road becomes the next obstacle. The stretch is covered with “invisible hills,” or terrain that seems flat if you are in a car. However, when your legs are the engine, you can feel the long pulls of the inclines that are otherwise ignored by motorists. This stretch is usually hot as shade is rare. Runners begin to separate themselves, and the pack thins.

You have two options, both of which I’ve played, on this long stretch of road. You can fall into a nice rhythm and accept the pace you’ve allowed yourself to regulate to, or you can find that one person or pack up ahead that you believe you can pass. Depending on the level of confidence and conditioning you have, the choice is both daunting and motivating. After this stretch, time starts to run out.

The turn into Soldiers Park brings temptation to my eyes' peripheral vision to see the distance between me and the runner behind me. But I have always rejected this temptation because whomever is there, and wherever they are, can not give me the push it takes to finish the run. That push comes from within.

Instead, what motivates me is the end of the race. I have learned to enjoy Soldiers Park as the final bit of shade you get to run in before the sun’s inferno blasts your face as your turn near Cravens Pond. Once you make the turn, you are presented with a perfect blend of fatigue, adrenaline and the most picturesque landscape of the run.

Adjusting weary eyes northwest across Stone Lake, you can see what appears to be a painting. A shimmering and iconic lake with rolling trees as the backdrop. If you allow yourself, your eyes can survey that beautiful scenery and you can see the jumping bridge, Stone Lake Beach, and that wonderful finish line.

Year after year, the finish line is just the beginning for many runners who commit to that endeavor. Yes, crossing the line under the bright orange inflatable portal plays a remarkable role for inspiration and feelings of achievement. Laying down, exhausted, in the grass in front of Cummings Lodge is one feeling that I look forward to. But again, this is just the beginning.

On the weekend of August 24, runners will be lined up in an unorganized fashion to see their place, time, and pace for the run, which hangs from 8x12 copier paper at the side of the lodge. They will look at the time and analyze its meaning. We get a chance to see where we stack up amongst others, and more importantly, ourselves. We get to look at ourselves through quantitative and qualitative lenses. We get to see if we caught our previous ghosts, or if we have some catching up to do.

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