"Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”

- George S. Patton, U.S. Army General, 1912 Olympian

Monday, March 7, 2011

Red Rock Canyon Marathon Recap

(Note: I have pictures to add to this recap, but can't do so until I return home. Check back after 3/17/2011 for pictures)

With only the sound of feet hitting the ground, the first line in the documentary "Spirit of the Marathon" is Deena Castor saying rather ominously, "sometimes the moments that challenge us the most, define us."

The Red Rock Canyon Marathon probably won't define my life or who I am as a person, but it was my greatest challenge to-date as a runner. And as a runner, the challenges I experienced and overcame on Saturday may very well stay with me as I encounter future obstacles and hardships.

It was a cool but clear morning as i arrived at the Red Rock Casino to catch a bus to the starting line in the desert. I figured the busses to the starting line would fill quickly, so I jumped on the first bus rather than sit in my car and wait for a future ride. This turned out to be mistake as we arrived at the starting line at approximately 4:45am, in the dark and in the cold. I was wearing ample warm clothing, but could have used an extra sweatshirt or jacket. Sitting around shivering for an hour wasn't much fun but what was the alternative, go run around trying to get warm? No thanks.

The temperature rose just enough in the minutes before starting that the shivering subsided. As went off, the sun was just starting to come over the mountains and gave way to a perfect morning on which to run.

Miles 1-8
In a nutshell, the first eight miles consisted of a steady 3% grade climb followed by a 4.5% downgrade to the halfway point.

It took a mile or so for me to get warmed up after sitting in the cold for that long, but I felt good during the initial miles as we climbed up the canyon. I found a nice smooth pace at which to run and stayed between a 8:30 and 9:30/mile pace. At mile markers 5, 6 and 7 I made mental notes that I was below a 9 minute pace and almost to the top of the outward climb, which I felt really good about. I knew the real race would start around mile 13, but for the time being, I liked how I felt and how I was running.

Miles 8-13
After reaching the peak at mile 8.5, it was a sharp downhill for about 5 miles to the Red Rock Canyon Visitors Center, where the turnaround point was. I was content to try to keep an even, albeit slightly faster pace, down the hill but had some people flying past me in what seemed to be a sprint. These people know they have to turn around and run back up this hill, right?

It was about this point that the wave of half marathoners approached (they began at the halfway point an hour after the marathon start). I would never disparage half marathon runners. They're great. They seem to be a more social bunch than marathoners though. This was evident in the countless groups running and/or walking three and four (or more) abreast up the hill while us marathoners were trying to take advantage of the downward slope. The road was marked off with cones, giving runners half of one lane (with no shoulder) - not a whole lot of space. I was forced off the side of the road a handful of times by 1/2ers who simply weren't paying attention, didn't see me coming, or didn't care. There's a simple solution to this problem -- start the half marathon 2 hours after the marathon. It would have given the bulk of the marathoners the chance to get past this congestion.

I hit the halfway point at about 1:55, a time I was pleased with. I was starting to feel a little fatigued, but knew that I would probably be resorting to a run/walk pattern up some of the steepest hills in miles 13-18, so I continued on at my current pace, though not for long.

Miles 14-18
Running back up the hill, the stress of the first half began to take its toll. My pace in mile 14 slowed to 10:17 and then to 10:34 in mile 15. I was still moving consistently, but I was having to walk here and there because of the degree of the incline. My pace continued to drop during miles 16 and 17 and as I approached the top of the hill in mile 18, the steepest portion of the entire course, I had slowed to a 13:14 pace.

Mile 19-22
And then mile 19 happened. I reached the peak of the canyon and walked through the well-placed aid station and psyched myself up to run down to the finish line. I got about 100 yards down the road when all of the sudden my right quad began to cramp just above my knee. A little slow to react, I pulled up quickly, which probably only made things worse. It was only a few seconds later I was trying to rub out the baseball-sized cramp protruding from my leg.

I've never cramped on any run. And on this day, given the sunshine and warm temperatures (once the sun came up), I had made sure to take HEED (as disgusting as I think it is) at every aid station rather than water. But for some reason today was the day my legs decided to cramp. Both of them. From my calves up to my, uhh, inside upper thigh.

It's funny, I don't remember running downhill much during the first eight miles. But during the last eight miles there was definitely some unfinished business in the form of a few difficult climbs. This made for equal opportunity cramping of my muscles - my quads going downhill, my calves going uphill.

Miles 23-26.2
I knew at mile 19 that finishing in 4 hours was out, but 4:30 was still there. At mile 23, 4:30 was still there, but I knew I'd have to push it a little harder than I had been. I had to get going, keep walking to a minimum and hope that I wouldn't need to stop to rub out any more obnoxious cramps.

The final three miles I turned in my three fastest laps of the second half, despite continued cramping. I had also noticed that despite my drinking up to the point just short of discomfort at every aid station, I had stopped sweating around mile 22, a clear sign of dehydration. I'm proud that I was able to push through though, pass a few people who had passed me earlier and run the final .2 at an 8:23 pace to finish in 4:26:27. I've never been one to try to compare running accomplishments to life, I guess I just don't think that deeply, but I do feel like what I experienced and pushed past in the final few miles will serve me well in future races.

It was nice to have some support at the finish line. My wife and kids had made some signs and were stationed about 50 yards from the finish, along with my in-laws, sister-in-law and nephew. It wasn't exactly a spectator-friendly course, but it was nice to have them stop by and cheer at mile 15 and then to have them at the finish as well.

A quick run through of the pros and cons of the race:

Pro: The t-shirt design is unique and kind of cool

Con: The light brown shirt the design is on? Not so cool

Pro: Great organization. Busses left on time, mile markers were spot on, aid stations were located where they were supposed to be (and stocked what they said they would stock), volunteers were energetic and helpful, easy check in.

Con: Post-race spread looked like something from a church picnic: Tupperware containers of fruit salad and pasta salad, some various fruity shortcake-like breads, mini cinnamon rolls, and water/HEED coolers with paper cups. Not a huge deal, it's a lower-budget race and it met all of my immediate needs.

Pro: Course description and elevation maps were accurate. Nobody should have been surprised with what they had gotten into

Con: This is kind of nit picky, but I like either my shirt or my finisher's medal (which had the same unique design as the shirt) to differentiate from that which the half marathoners receive. Again, not to disparage the half runners in any way, but I think we've earned that much.

Like Pocatello, it's probably not a race I'll put on my calendar every year and make it a point to travel to, but if I'm in the area on race day, I'd do it again.

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