This is a big one. 40,000 runners BIG. I registered early and started a training plan but I didn’t get travel solidified quite so fast. In fact, I pretty much waited until the last minute. Flights were not bad and I got a hotel in town, about a 30 minute drive from the race. If you really want to have a hotel close to the finish line, be prepared to pay over $300 a night and book it early. I got a nice hotel and a rental car for ¼ the cost of a hotel near the finish line. Driving in the morning of the race was fine because I took the advice of a local and left early. The parking does fill up and it cost me $20 to park but having a car with a heater in it post-race was essential. The information desk at the expo tried to tell me I should take the train in but I’m glad I didn’t listen.
The race management in Chicago is unbelievable. As a director of several small events over the years, I am really impressed by the large events that go so well. There are clear signs and lots of helpful people to guide you to the correct corral and get you to the starting line on time. I didn’t even have to wait in a line at the porta-potty!
The huge crowd charged out from the start and I managed to keep my cool and not go out too hard. Mile two was a touch fast but then I settled into goal pace and really got in a nice groove. I wore two long sleeved shirts, a skull cap and gloves for the first half and ditched layers as I went. At the half marathon mark, I was twelve seconds faster than my goal pace and had unloaded the shirts, hat and gloves. By mile 15 I found myself cruising with a guy from Michigan as we maintained pace but started passing lots of other runners. The weather was nice and frequent yells of “Go Gators!” and “FLORIDA!” from people in the crowd who noticed my Florida singlet kept me moving.
About the last five miles, the distance had worn me down some. I never had the marathon nightmare of hitting the wall but the pace slowed slightly. I powered through the last few miles on the energy from the crowd, prayers, and will power. 2:42:21 at the line and I was toast. My only complaint about the race is that the Gatorade was too far from the finish line. That seems like an odd complaint but it felt like it took another mile to get to the Gatorade! I shuffled back to my rental car, taking a sitting stop on a bench part way there. Ibuprofen and chocolate chip cookies in the car dulled my pain. It had been a good race.
check out the other Lloyd Clarke Racing Team results too…Meredith’s PR time and Stephanie’s Marathon debut time. They both ran FANTASTIC!!!
Marathons are not enough. Now we need ULTRA Marathons. It isn’t enough to have sports. TV viewers now demand EXTREME Sports. And for the first time, the Tour de Pain isn’t adequate. First Place Sports had to take it up to the EXTREME with the Tour de Pain Extreme. Three starting lines in 24 hours; 10K, 5K and Half Marathon. 22.4 miles of racing. I fully acknowledge that from a training perspective for a goal oriented runner, this is not an event to do. You don’t want to PR in any of the races. Either you’ll blow your shot at the last race or save too much and leave precious time on the table in the early races. That’s exactly the intrigue. How hard should you run in the first two races? If you sit back, how much time can you really make up in the half marathon? The intrigue sucked me in and that’s how I ended up driving to Jacksonville at 4:30 AM on Saturday morning. I had a long drive to think about my plan. Even my committee of trusted advisors came to a split decision. Two said, run hard (but not too hard) the first two, maybe just :05 – :10 slower per mile than 100% effort. Then count on guts, strength and marathon training to pull through the half marathon. Then there were the conservative minds telling me to take it really easy for the first two races and blast the half marathon. One wanted to split the difference and said to go easy on the 10K, then “Who cares about a 5K? Just hammer it! And finish up with a blood and guts effort in the half marathon.” My decision was to run mostly by effort and just try to stay with the other runners. “You gotta be in it to win it!” was a slogan popular with my college coach. So I’d run as easy as I could, while still staying in the hunt. No hanging back like the conservative advisors recommended, unless the other runners dictated that. Starting Line #1 A half mile into the 10K, the lines were pretty clear. Sammy Palmer, who beat me at the Tom Walker Half Marathon and Trail of Payne 10K, shot out to a lead. The chase pack was Orinthal Striggles, Paul McRae, a few other runners and me. Orinthal and Paul took control of the group and I slid in behind them. By the 5K point, I was the only one in the group with Paul and Orinthal. Paul worked the late hills to put a small gap on us and Orinthal sat on my shoulder. With the finish line in sight, Paul surged to a sprint and Orinthal blasted a 200 meter kick like he was in an 800M race. I cruised in to 36:15 with a smile. 4th place.
I crossed the line, and gave a high five to the guys in front of me, then ran straight to my truck and chugged down some chocolate milk with a hardboiled egg. Recovery food was going to be important. I jogged a mile and then ate some more. No beer after this one, although it was available. I loaded into my truck and drove to Hanna Park on the beach, checked into my camp site and went straight to the beach. Wading into the 70 degree water was a little uncomfortable but the cool healing of the ocean was needed to set the legs back to full strength and settle the mind to focus on the next race. Starting Line #2 Heavy Rain left Jacksonville humid and warm. More storms were on the way and Doug Alred advised the runners, “If it starts to lightning a lot, we advise you to seek shelter and stop running. We will however keep the finish line open…” There were new faces on the line for the 5K so they were not part of the series but they served the purpose that inexperienced, young runners serve at every 5K in America: They took the pace out fast. A line formed single file behind the strongest rabbit down the street in front of The Landing: Orinthal, Paul, Sam, and me. After the mile mark, Orinthal made a strong move and Sam went with him. I hung back with Paul and a fading rabbit. By the end, Orinthal was a minute ahead of me, the rabbit blew by me in the last 100M and Paul again finished strong, looking comfortable just :06 in front of me. 17:44, 5th place (4th of the runners doing the series)
Gatorade, bananas, a hardboiled egg and a beer seemed like good recovery food. I scarfed it down, not really eating or drinking, just consuming. A short cool down to holler at some fellow Gainesvillian runners and I was ready to get back to my cozy tent at Hanna Park. Steak sandwich, more eggs, apples, a pear and lots of water for dinner. Starting Line #3 Everyone in the front pack had reviewed the standings going into the last race. We all knew where we were and what it would take to catch or be caught. I knew I had a guy named Gerry :55 behind me but I wasn’t worried about him. Paul had :18 on me and Orinthal had 1:06 on me. I thought I could catch Paul, although he looked strong. 1. Sammy Palmer 52:15 2. Orinthal Striggles 52:53 3. Paul McRae 53:41 4. Dan Clark 53:59 5. Gerry Glynn 54:53 Orinthal and Paul took control of the pace and pulled away to a 10 and then 20m lead. In the pack Sam and I discussed the fact that Paul and Orinthal were reactive in their racing so we didn’t want to catch them and send the pace even faster. Sit back and wait. We discussed the standings as we ran and a voice piped in from behind us. Gerry asked when I entered the Master’s Division. I said, “January! It’s good to race with the Masters and not worry about the young guys like Sam!” “Ha! Good for YOU.” Gerry joked. Then he added, “I’ll turn 50 soon, so I’ll be in a new age group too.” By Mile 4, Paul had dropped back to our pack and Orinthal chugged on. “Do ya think he’s coming back to us the second half?” asked Sam. “Sam,” I said, “I’ve seen what you can do the second half of a half marathon. You can get him.” Back in November, Sam torched the second half of the Tom Walker Half Marathon in Gainesville to beat me by a large margin. My bet was still on Sammy blasting off and catching him. Gerry surprised us by being the one to push the pace. He surged a little and was up by 10m and then quickly by 15. Exiting the Evergreen Cemetery, I decided I couldn’t let him gap me. I knew he just had to beat me by a minute to beat me in the series, so I wanted to keep close. I picked up the pace and surprisingly, I wasn’t reeling him in very fast. I got within 5m at the 7 mile mark and looked at my split: 5:42. Ouch. Enough of that. I set my legs back on cruise control for a more reasonable pace. Gerry’s move and my subsequent chase stretched out the pack. Sam soon passed me but the rest of the pack, including Paul, fell back. The rest of the run became a test of mental toughness and trying to maintain pace. I held onto just over 6:00 miles until the last 2 miles where we encountered the only real hills on the course. Just after the overpass hill at mile 11, I caught and passed Sam. On the Riverwalk ramp, less than a mile from the finish, the run felt much more like a marathon than a half. Gerry had found some wings and soared into a 1:18:02. He clearly had the race of the day! Orinthal cruised in at 1:17:37 for the win. I was 3rd in the Half Marathon in 1:21:05 and glad to be done with it! Final Standings- full results click here 1. Orinthal Striggles 2:10:29 2. Gerry Glynn 2:12:53 3. Sammy Palmer 2:14:33 4. Dan Clark 2:15:02 5. Kim Pawelek 2:17:03 6. Paul McRae 2:17:07
Final Thoughts The races tested body and mind. The runners I talked to after the event were already considering what their new strategy for next year should be. My strategy? This year was pretty good. My total time for the 10K + 5K was about equal to my 15K time at River Run. Looking at the % scores used for age grading my 3 races were 80%, 78% and 79%. Consistent effort level and I was tapped out at the end of the Half Marathon. The only question is: Could I make up more time in the half marathon if I had gone easier for the first two races? Maybe…. Gerry certainly ran his best race last and made up a lot of time (85%, 82%, 88%). Kim, the women’s winner did the same. She was well behind me in the first two races but closing fast on me in the half marathon. But the mental aspect of being “in the race” headed into the last event has value too, right? The overall winner went 78%, 80%, 80%. The intrigue remains so I guess I’ll have to go back next year.
“Your PR awaits” beckons the website for the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon. “The path to Boston starts in Schenectady,” it declares, referring to the start of the race in Schenectady, NY and encouraging those looking for a Boston Qualifying time. The product lives up to its billing with a well organized event, a net downhill course and typically cool temperatures. That’s why I took Coach Joe Burgasser’s advice and traveled to Albany New York for the race.
I arrived Friday night and had Saturday to rest, visit the expo and check out the finish area of the race. I jogged to the riverfront with Sean Gallagher, another runner coached by Joe Burgasser on Saturday morning. We were pleased to see the finish line was only about half a mile from our hotel. We both were feeling confident despite the weather reports calling for unseasonably warm weather. The forecast predicted high 50s for the start and low to mid 70s by the time we would finish. As Floridians we joked that the locals were not going to be happy- they weren’t. I said I’d run a 2:44 if I did it right and possibly faster if everything went really well. Sean was ready to go out hard and looking for a sub 2:30.
A friendly greeting awaited me at the starting line. I glanced down front row of runners and saw a Florida Track Club singlet. It was Gainesville native, Kellam Bartley. He was on a down cycle of training and was running just for fun. As it turned out, he still ran a pretty fast time for not training much! It was about 57 degrees at the gun and 400 meters into it I was in 9th place watching the lead pack pull away. They were out fast and well behind them was the right spot for me. Unfortunately, nobody else thought it was a good pace so I was by myself. The first few miles had some of the biggest downhill portions and everything felt great. Arriving at the Mohawk River, there was a steep downhill and the view of the river in the morning sun was beautiful. My splits varied some but based on the amount of downhill each mile it was actually pretty even effort. I finally saw another runner at 14 miles. I could see his legs were dead and I just went by quickly. We were running on a paved trail now with nice shade that felt like running in San Felasco, just with pavement rather than dirt.
I really focused during mile 14 to 21, rolling my imaginary mix of music from our Praise Service at Church to Thousand Foot Krutch, Skillet and Toby Mac. I passed another runner at about 18, pulling into 7th place; just rolling, picking up the pace a bit and having fun. By 22 I was working hard, I missed the mile marker at 23 and realized when I saw 24, I had slowed down a bit. OK. Time to get the party started. I blew past a tall Russian guy who looked fast on the starting line but now looked like a race walker because his heel float was so low. At mile 25 the skyline of downtown Albany can be seen and I was weaving around half marathon walkers who were cheering me on. Downtown looked so far away. I bumped into a walker during the last mile, not because she was in the way but because I couldn’t run where I told my legs to go. Just after the 26 mark, I heard a voice from the crowd, “Go! You can be under 2:44!” I went, but I was 2:44:02 at the finish. It was now about 75 degrees, sunny, and I wanted nothing more than to sit down. I sat next to the Medical Tent and drank chocolate milk and water before heading back to the hotel, another marathon away. Really it was just a half mile but it seemed far at the time.
Sean had followed his plan to go out hard, hitting 1:15:32 at the half marathon mark. However at 16 miles, he got a cramp in his calf and stopped to stretch it out. Even with that lost time and running with a sore calf, he ended up with a time of 2:36:27 in 3rd place. A somewhat disappointing time but an accomplishment considering the adversity he faced during the run. Kellam told me on the starting line he’d probably run 2:55 and he delivered, running a 2:55:43 for 19th place. Overall, it was a good day for the Floridians.
Full Results: http://areep.com/events/mhrm/2011/marathon.txt
Race site: http://mohawkhudsonmarathon.com/
Two weeks after a major marathon effort is the perfect time to set out for a Half Marathon PR, right? The miles are in the legs, the body is lean and ready for a peak performance and your motivation is high! Bring on the Half! Truthfully, I don’t know many coaches that would recommend this approach but since I was traveling to Indianapolis anyway for a conference and there just happened to be a race the day before the conference started…..Why not?
This is how I found myself on the starting line at the Indianapolis Half Marathon just two weeks after running the Chicago Marathon. The week after the marathon, rest and recovery was the main goal and the following week was almost back to normal mileage and had one medium hard track day. On the line for the Half Marathon, I felt good. While waiting for the start, I overheard two runners discussing pace. “Let’s go out at 5:40 pace and see what happens.” said the tall guy in the white hat. I decided to let them go at the start so I wouldn’t go out too fast. At the gun, there was the usual pack of lunatic speedsters. I ran 5:57 for mile one and was in about 15th place. White hat guy was nowhere to be seen. By mile two I had moved into sixth and a guy with an IronMan tattoo surged past me up a hill. He had already passed me twice before and then I caught up to him as he slowed going downhill. By mile five, I was cruising at 5:50 pace and was told by a volunteer I was 4th place. I couldn’t see anyone in front of me and I lost count of who I passed so it was good to know where I was in the field. The course was beautiful with the colorful leaves and (as every race director describes it) gently rolling hills. So far, it was feeling like a strong tempo run and I was enjoying the day.
Then the switch got flipped to chase mode at about mile seven. On a long straight stretch with a downhill I could see the flashing lights of the lead motorcycle. There was a runner right behind him and just a short distance back were the two 5:40 guys from the starting line. I ran a 5:28 mile. (give me a break- it was downhill!) It took two miles to reel in 2nd and 3rd place and when I went by, they were clearly slowing down. I could still see first place but he wasn’t slowing down.
Mile eleven had some hard hills and while I lost a little time, the legs still felt strong driving up the slope. Everything was holding together surprisingly well. There were several turns the last mile and lots of spectators had gathered because there were 5K runners finishing at the same time as the Half Marathoners. 1:16:24 at the finish. That’s a minute faster than I ran at the Tom Walker Half in Gainesville last year!
The race was well managed, fairly small with 1800 Half Marathon runners and 650 Marathoners. The post-race food included a full meal of grilled burgers so I left with a full stomach and a new Master’s PR . If you can find an excuse to travel to Indianapolis next October, I recommend this race. It might not be a true “Destination Race” but Indianapolis is a fun city and the race certainly was well done.
Official Results: http://onlineraceresults.com/event/view_event.php?event_id=9337 http://www.indianapolismarathon.com/results.html
Runners are simply the coolest people on earth and when thousands of runners gather at the Happiest Place on Earth, it is a magical experience. Connecting with many old running friends and new ones made this event special. As a Gator, I couldn’t be happier for the Hensley family and how well they all ran. My four kids got to meet several of the best runners in the state, a couple of running legends in Bill Rogers and Frank Shorter and they even got their picture taken with this year’s winner, Adriano Bastos. Oh, and they also got to meet some Disney Princesses, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and more. Before the starting line fireworks, the Disney experience was already in full gear.
My race started well and I settled into a comfortable pace. Cruising through the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, I hit the half marathon in 1:21:05 and was feeling fine. The next few miles I eased back the pace just a little, making sure I’d have something left for the last part of the race. Still running strong through ESPN Wide World of Sports, I soaked in the cheers in the baseball stadium as they called my name out over the PA system. I wish I could say I had fond memories of the last two parks but entering Hollywood Studios, I got the first twinges of cramps. From there, it became the survival run, fighting with my left hamstrings, right quadriceps and eventually the arches of both feet. Ow. That is the Beauty and Beast of marathoning.
The marathon is sometimes an unpredictable dance partner; graceful and flowing and then clumsy, stepping all over your toes. I danced with Beauty for 22 miles and then changed dance partners to Beast the last four.
The potential difficulty and testing the edge of our running speed and endurance is what makes marathoners so cool. We are willing to risk it and keep going. When runners talk about the “experience” of running a marathon they refer to a challenge and achievement that you can only really relate to if you’ve done it. The Disney “experience” is the same. You have to run through the parks and experience the magic of Disney. There is an exceptional friendly, encouraging atmosphere that permeates the race staff, volunteers, resort staff, and everyone at Disney. The combination of these experiences is the reason why the Disney Marathon weekend has grown into such a huge event. I’m not Happy (Maybe I’m Grumpy or Dopey?) with my time of 2:56 but I will be back to experience the Disney Marathon magic again- next time in a faster time!
Picture this: Shrimp swimming in butter, red pepper and Bar-B-Que sauce. Corn with mixed veggies and dusted with some Cajun seasoning. Abita Amber beer to wash it all down. The best part is you earned it! That’s a great feeling that is only found in New Orleans for the Crescent City Classic 10K.
Arriving late afternoon on Friday, my wife and I were fortunate to find a parking spot right next to the host hotel. We hurried in to check into our room and then find race number pick-up. With bags in the room and race number in hand, I asked Andrew Lilly, the CCC Elite Athlete coordinator where we should go for dinner. We had recommendations but we were unsure of how close those options were to the hotel. We discussed the restaurant locations while looking over the map of the point to point race going from the Superdome to City Park. Discussing the race, dinner and his arrangements for getting runners and agents back and forth from the finish line in City Park and talking about if I should drive or walk to dinner, Andrew had an idea. He looked at my wife and asked if she could drive a van from the starting area to the finish line carrying the bags of the elite runners. Wanting an easy ride to the finish line, Angela quickly agreed.
The starting area had a large section blocked off with police motorcycles, Shriner’s buggies that would lead the race, a truck for members of the press and other official vehicles including the van Angela would be driving. Dozens of the best runners in the world jogged, ran strides and stretched all around us as Angela got directions for where to go with the van. A field loaded with Kenyan runners prepared for the race and with about 5 minutes to go they all hurriedly pulled off their long sweat pants, and jackets, stuffed them in the van and nervously bounced around the starting line. The temperature was about 60 degrees and I didn’t feel the need for long pants or a jacket but for these runners, warmth was a key ingredient. An announcer interrupted the music playing on the loudspeakers to explain there would be a 10 – 15 minute delay until the start. Some of the busses carrying runners from where they parked at the finish line to the start had mechanical problems. So we would wait a few minutes to allow those runners to arrive. The Kenyans swarmed the van retrieving their sweat suits. They all got fully dressed again and continued their pre-race rituals. During the warm-up I noticed a familiar face. Vladimir Tontchinski, an elite Masters runner from Belarus was at the race. He spent some time training in Gainesville last year and I ran a cool down with him after he smoked me in a 5K in High Springs. Greeting him with a smile, I said I remembered him from Gainesville, Florida. “Ahh! Yes! Tortoise Race!” he responded. We wished each other good luck and continued stretching.
Finally the runners were gathered on the line, the National Anthem had been played and it was race time. I stood just behind two rows of mostly Kenyan and Eastern European runners who looked ready to fly. Fly, they did! Shooting down Poydras Street, I focused on my own running and not bumping into other runners. When runners were spread out enough to look up, the flashing lights on the lead vehicle were far ahead and turning left. Wow. Those guys were moving. They went through the mile mark in 4:15, over a minute ahead of me! I got my mile split on Decatur Street, felt good and was pleased with the time. I noted the restaurant I ate at the night before and smiled, remembering the smell of the food. Easy running at this point.
Turning left on Esplanade Avenue, I surged to move ahead of a runner who was breathing way too hard for this early in the race. I focused on the pack in front of me which included two women and four men. I wanted to reel them in so I’d have people to run with as the miles got harder. Esplanade is a beautiful street if you look up at the historic houses and other buildings. Unfortunately, my eyes were glued to the pavement because the footing was so terrible; I had to focus on not doing a face plant. It was like running on a cross country course made of asphalt! Despite footing frustrations, miles 2,3 and 4 went pretty smoothly. Passing a few runners and staying focused, the race was going well. Not long after the four mile mark, the discomfort of a hard race really began. I struggled to stay focused and had to use mental tricks of short term goals. Thinking, “Make it to that next turn on pace!” and then shifting the goal 200 Meters further down the road. The sight of the five mile marker seemed to never arrive. The last mile never hurts as much because it will be over soon! Surging into the final mile, I vowed to catch the runner just ahead of me. Finally, in front of the Art Museum at about 5 ¾ miles, I caught him and zeroed in on the next runner ahead. Reeling him in slowly wasn’t going to work since the race was almost over. The last straightaway headed to the finish line, I poured it on, closing in fast. However, the line came too soon and he escaped my final surge by two seconds. My first thought crossing the line was “Should have kicked a bit sooner!” It had been a solid race and I was fortunate to have runners around me the whole way that pulled me on to a strong effort. Official time- 34:15.
The post-race festivities included beer, red beans and rice, music and commemorative posters for the top 500 runners. Angela had arrived in plenty of time at the finish area and actually got to drive the race course there ahead of the runners, with all the streets blocked. We enjoyed the food and company of the elite runners and agents. I had the chance to discuss training with Ian Forsyth who was 3rd place Masters in 31:02. He ran at Michigan the same time I ran at Florida and we laughed about Florida runners racing Cross Country at the Michigan Invitational in snow flurries. Kevin Castille, the Masters Champion in 29:39 (just 2 seconds shy of an American Masters Record) was kind enough to talk training, racing and pose for a picture with me.
Now, back to the shrimp swimming in butter and Bar-B-Que….
After returning to the hotel, showering and feeling somewhat refreshed, Angela and I walked around New Orleans in search of food and fun. Those are easy commodities to find in the French Quarter! Royal Street had some top notch performers just sitting out in the street on folding chairs. A woman with a golden voice and the fastest fingers I’ve seen on a clarinet was collecting some well-deserved tips. A quartet of men in matching lime green suits sang to the gathering crowd and cracked jokes about how to determine the correct amount to tip. Near Jackson Square a 14 year old boy played trumpet and got plenty of applause. A wedding party paraded down the street with the bride and groom leading the way, waving umbrellas and dancing to the music from the jazz band following them. We discovered fantastic shrimp creole and the redfish special at Coop’s Place. Strolling along, watching the sites we noticed a man in silver clothes with his face and skin painted silver. He looked like a statue frozen on the sidewalk. Suddenly as a group of three teenaged girls walked by he came to life and jumped at them. The girls screamed, everyone on the street laughed at the scene and the tin man held out his hat for tips. These are just a few of the unique experiences we had that afternoon. New Orleans is an entertaining and tasty city.
If you go I recommend:
Get a hotel close to the Superdome and walk to the Starting Line in the morning. The Superdome is walking distance to the French Quarter, dozens of restaurants, and other entertainment.
Run hard and go for a fast time. It is a flat course and a good opportunity to PR.
Frenchman’s Market Restaurant- Bar-B-Que Shrimp
Coop’s Place on Decatur St- Shrimp Creole
Walk Royal Street and enjoy the musicians, magicians and other entertainers.
Walk around Jackson Square to see lots of great local art.
Visit the Pepper Palace. They sell a huge variety of hot sauces including one you have to sign a waiver for if you want to sample it. Yes, it is really that hot.
Stop by the Glassworks. You can go into their art studio and watch them make blown glass art.
It is one of the best race T-shirts that I’ve seen. Runners in colorful attire floating effortlessly down a mountain road lined with pine trees. In the background is a majestic snow-covered peak framed against a blue sky filled with billowing white clouds. The T-shirt and the scenery were certainly the best features of Colorado’s Steamboat Springs Marathon. Unfortunately, the marathon started at 8128 feet, and there isn’t much air up there (at least for those of us who have been living and training at sea level).
Prior to the race, Dan Clark and I had been attending the annual meeting of the Road Runners Club of America in Colorado Springs. The meeting was scheduled in such a way that the attendees could run the classic Garden of the Gods 10-mile race the Sunday following the meeting. This sounded fine to me until I noticed that only a 4-hour drive would take us to the site of the Steamboat Springs Marathon. Neither Dan nor I had run a marathon in Colorado, nor one at altitude. Here was an opportunity and a challenge. Dan upped his mileage from 70 to 80 and finally to 90 miles per week. I increased the intensity of my training, resulting in a strained knee and a longer than usual pre-race taper.
Our drive to Steamboat Springs gave us an indication of what might lie ahead. We drove up and down winding mountainous roads in the rain and dark, arriving at our compact motel room at 10 PM. In an hour we had made our pre-race preparations and were ready for a few hours sleep. My sleep was interrupted at 2AM by the sound of Dan carbo-loading, munching bagels. My alarm went off at 4AM, giving time for pre-race loosening up, stretching and carbo-loading. I jogged along the Steamboat Springs downtown tourist area and startled a fox crossing the street. By 6AM we were aboard a school bus taking us to the start. The bus traced the marathon course in reverse, which included several stretches where the bus downshifted to its lowest gear and struggled upward. This was the 8th of June, but about a mile from the start we noticed patches of snow at the side of the road. Yet at the race assembly area it felt like the low 50’s. The mood was relaxed. We picked up our race numbers and packets from the Course Director who casually distributed them and dispensed vaseline from the back of his hatchback. Dan and I photographed each other with a lake and snow-capped mountain in the background.
The field of 475 runners watched the single wheelchair racer depart. Then we were off, and it was the last I was to see of Dan for the next 4 hours. The first few miles were relatively flat. I went out at what (at sea level) would have been a conservative 8:20 pace, but in the rarified air I was already beginning to struggle. Then came a slight uphill that caused me to slow to 9:15 pace. There was a stretch of unexpected trail running where the road was under repair, and due to the previous night’s rain we had to watch our footing. Then came a steep downhill. I remembered Jeff Galloway’s advice not to brake going downhill but to shorten your stride and keep your center of gravity over your feet. Trying to do this I sped down the hill at 7:20 pace, passing many runners, all of whom got to see me again rather soon. The downhill continued past pine forests and over a bridge crossing a stream swollen with rain runoff and snowmelt. The sky became overcast and threatening, but the rain held off. The miles went by and the effect of the downhills on my quads began their toll. 8:30 miles became 9:00+ by half-marathon, and 10:00+ by mile 21. Then it disintegrated to the survival shuffle with walking breaks thrown in. Four or five of us urged each other on to the next mile marker or the next telephone pole. It was a humbling experience — following five 3:30 marathons in the previous seven months — to be struggling to maintain an 11-minute pace. Dan met me at the finish line, all showered, dressed and rested. He had finished 7th overall in a respectable 2:52, but still tens of minutes slower than what he would have run for a flat course at sea level.
Yes, there are lessons to be learned from this experience. For us mid-pack runners, it is always better to start out very slowly and conservatively, and to factor in race conditions (temperature, altitude) in deciding what is an appropriate pace. You can always make it up at the end. No matter how slowly I try to start out, it always ends up having been too fast. Having a little bit left at the end makes the race far more enjoyable than having to fight for sheer survival. And training for the specific conditions of the race is always wise. Finding the appropriate training hills would have been useful, and getting out to Colorado two weeks ahead of time to acclimate would have been nice, in the best of all possible worlds. For me this was a 3 GU-packet race that cost 4 toenails. But the body regenerates and the mind forgets. I’m already planning the Fall marathon schedule.