Sunday, August 18, 2013

My 2nd Marathon

In nineteen hundred and seventy nine I, as one of the biggest middle school dorks around, decided that I wanted to run a marathon.  My ever-supportive parents didn’t know any better and therefore didn’t try to discourage me, and my middle school cross country coach – who definitely did know better! – tried to stop me, to no avail.  I was determined to be a marathoner. 

To make a long story short, I thought I actually had prepared pretty well, and perhaps I had, but the exuberance of youth put me through the halfway mark at something well-under 90 minutes, and accordingly, I slammed into The Wall quite hard and did the next 13 miles in well over 2 hours.  But I did finish.  Yet as my very concerned mom helped lower me down into a chair at the finish line, I barely-perceptibly groaned “I am never doing another marathon again.” 
"To all to whom these presents shall come"?  Huh?   Note that the signature of the county commissioner at the bottom is that of Earl Blumenauer, a longtime US Representative for Oregon who is the bicyclists biggest champion on Capitol Hill. 
a tired 9th grader
 And despite many years of running, I never did another marathon, until yesterday. 

I ran all through high school, most of college and after college, but always in the 3000 meters to 10 mi range, even though I always did better the longer the race.  When I worked for Nike I went down to Houston to work at the marathon there and ran the first 20 miles on a whim at 6 minute pace and felt fine, but couldn’t finish it because of the work commitment post-race.   A few years ago I did a great outing with Chad Bracklesberg from the Salt Lake Valley up to Brighton on trails and it was….24 miles.  And a few weeks ago we did a great run in the Teton that was…..25 miles.  But neither were that arbitrary (???) and somewhat hallowed 26.2 mile distance that somehow has embedded itself in our psyche as The Marathon.  But on Tuesday I realized that we were going to be in town this weekend and we’d been talking about doing a big run, so I looked at the SLC running geek calendar and saw that the Skyline Marathon was Saturday (all races are on Saturday in Utah) and was on familiar and excellent terrain:  starting in the beautiful Eden Valley near Ogden, climbing up onto the flanks of the impressive Ben Lomond peak, a long descent to the North Ogden Divide, a brutal-but-shorter climb up Lewis Peak, a 7 mile descent down to Pineview Reservoir, and 4 miles of flat/rolling around the reservoir to the finish.  We hadn’t run this route before but do it at least once a year as a mountain bike ride (one of the best rides around that almost no one does) so we knew – at least, on two wheels – what to expect. 

The race organizer had suggested that people come and camp at the finish line at Eden Park to avoid an unpleasant SLC wakeup time to catch the 5:15 bus to the 6am start.  We arrived just as darkness was approaching, expecting to find a small tent city, but…..we were the only ones!  As it turns out, not only is Friday night a bit of a hot time in the tiny village of Eden, but we were right across from the fire station, which in high fire season is a busy place.  But at least Ashley’s body decided to give her a good preparation for the next day’s festivities by subjecting her to a series of foot and calf cramps throughout the night.  So our pre-race sleep wasn’t quite as peaceful as we had hoped for. 

We started in the dark, but knowing that light was not far off, we elected to avoid carrying headlamps for the entire race, and as I bolted off the line for the hole shot into the singletrack to get ahead of the crowd I saw that a couple of other bolters did have headlamps, which was great until I started hyperventilating about 3 minutes in and feeling like I was about to blow the hearty breakfast pastry I had wolfed down 45 minutes prior so I had to back off the pace, let the headlamps go, and then slow a bit further due to the dim light.  Which was fine; it was a long race. 

The first climb is about 2800 feet at a pretty moderate grade, and for once I tried to be really patient and keep my enthusiasm in check and not go out too fast (hopefully I’ve learned something in the last 34 years!).  So I chugged up the climb at a very sustainable pace, sitting in 4th place, with the 3rd guy in periodic glimpsey view, let the two leaders go completely, and enjoyed the brilliant sunrise that was enhanced by the many fires in the area. 

The 6 mi descent from near the Ben Lomond summit to the North Ogden divide is a screamer on a mountain bike, and is almost as fun running.  Again I tried to be conservative but still go fast  - a delicate balance – knowing that the next descent and subsequent flats would take a hard toll.  Things were going well until I crashed; typically I only trip and crash when I’m running with Derek, but this time there was unfortunately no one around to blame except myself, and I found myself sliding on my side remarkably fast down the rocky trail.  A very quick assesment indicated little more than a couple of re-opened scabs bleeding into my too-new, too-white-anyway arm sleeves (for the sun) and off I went. 

I was about a minute behind the 3rd place guy starting the mean climb (1600 feet in 2 miles) and figured that with an effort a hair harder than I had done before I could catch him, and sure enough fairly quickly he came into sight.  Kind of like in rando racing, it’s always a bit odd to be “racing” yet actually be walking, but that’s what we were doing.  He said that someone had told him that 2nd place was 4 minutes up the trail, and the thought occurred to me that perhaps his early enthusiastic pace up the first climb might come back to haunt him a little?  I just kept “racing” (walking) up the climb, and sure enough at the top there was the 2nd place guy.  We rolled out of the aid station more or less together, and I felt like I could go a bit faster, so I asked to go by, thinking that even a little gap could result in getting out of sight due to the thick corridor of scrub oak.  That plan worked fine, until about halfway down the 7 mile descent the pounding started taking its toll on my legs and I had to back off a little.  And a little was all it took, because he came back quickly and passed me a mile above the bottom of the descent, where the dreaded flats began. 

I pulled into the aid station and saw him talking to a buddy instead of re-fueling, and made the snap decision to gulp a couple of dixie cups of water in lieu of my bottles and get out of there before he did.  How bad can the last 4 or 5 miles be when it’s 90 degrees? 

Actually, quite bad. But I also asked myself:  “What did you expect?  It’s The Marathon:  the pinnacle of joey runners’ difficult endeavors around the globe!  It’s supposed to be hard the last few miles; that’s why we joey runners do it!  Did you expect to just blast along at a fine 6 minute pace?”  Actually, yes.  But I pretty much felt like I was going backwards (maybe I should I tried that; I probably would have gone faster).  So I anticipated that guy to come roaring past me – as well as the 4th place guy – at any moment. But I finally shuffled home still holding onto my 2nd place in 3:40 (so I’m still slower than I was when I was 14!), and was given my “finisher’s medal” by a 2 year old that I will cherish for all my years (given that I still have my 1979 Portland certificate, that’s probably  - and unfortunately - not an exaggeration!).  

The winner was a nice kid named Nate Peters, who is a fairly recent transplant to UT and is a good running geek:  about 6 foot, probably140 pounds, averages 80-90 miles per week, and was turning heads at the Speedgoat race a few weeks ago as he knocked it around with the Big Boys until some shoe issues slowed him to a still-very-respectable 13th there.  He shattered the course record on Saturday by 11 minutes, finishing in 3:24, averaging an impressive 7:45/mi pace despite having a couple of relatively spectacular crashes that resulted in scrapes all over his chest and back and a bad cut in his hand.  He’ll be one to watch soon. 

Ash charged up the first climb quite well and was among the top women, but began to get plagued by the aforementioned foot and leg cramps despite copious consumption of electrolytes, salt tablets etc, and struggled the rest of the way, but overall given her relative “training” (not much) was happy she did it, and it was good prep for a 40 mile crossing of Rocky Mt national Park we are hoping to do with some friends next month. 
bad timing on the shot; caught her in the shade.   But I can guarantee that despite being awkward due to cramping, the shuffle was a fast shuffle!
The concept of running a marathon typically involves months and months of physical and mental preparation, but it seems like in this community and era of people doing lots of ultras that The Marathon has taken on a bit of a lesser stature.  But given how sore we are today, it’s still a worthy effort, regardless of what the badass ultra guys say! 

And I hope it’s not another 34 years until my next at-least 26.2 mile outing. 

Am I now worthy of the sticker?  I guess so, until I get cool enough for the one that says "26.2 is just the beginning"! 

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