Saturday, September 13, 2008

Little Grand Canyon Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 3; 13th Edition
264.4 miles raced in 2008
Race: Little Grand Canyon Marathon
Place: Huntington, UT
Miles from home: 139 miles
Weather: Sunny and 50s

I had high expectations for this race. It did not disappoint.

I had been in touch with the Little Grand Canyon Marathon race director for months. He wished to have me speak at the race, but wisely realized that in its first year, the race needed to concentrate on other issues before they added a speaker. However, we worked together and decided to have me "speak" in a much more informal way -- by talking to as many runners on the buses to and from the race, at the race awards after the race and everywhere else. But I am getting a little ahead of myself.

Upon hearing about this race months back, some fellow Utah friends told me that they wished they could run it. Apparently where the race took place was a gorgeous part of Utah. If you read my previous blog, I show a few of the pictures of the race course and you can definitely tell they weren't lying. So, a beautiful race, where I can establish a relationship with a budding new marathon, just about 2 hours away from my house? SOLD!

The race had a starting line in Price, UT (which is actually a nice little town and home to Playboy's Playmate of the Month for February 2006. Thought that was quite interesting). Well, that is where the packet pickup was. The actual staring point was in Huntington, UT about 20 miles south of Price. OK, OK, the actual starting line was a few miles out of Huntington, and after meeting with buses which would take runners a few miles from the park in the city center of Huntington to the start, runners then would ride those same buses back to the beginning of the race. Seem a little confusing? Well, to some it might have been but it wasn't all that bad.

Race morning started with almost ideal temperatures, in the high 40s or low 50s. There was a projected clear sky for the whole day so I knew the weather would heat up and even if it didn't, the direct sunlight would be a little draining. While we got on the buses and made it to the start around the time we were supposed to begin, we knew there would be a little delay. Rumor has it some runners were late in picking up their packets and the race was kind enough to wait for them. This didn't sit poorly with anyone. On the ride out to the start (in chartered buses, which were extremely comfortable and so much better than school buses) runners chatted and exchanged stories. I ran into some old friends who introduced me around and soon there was a very informal meet-and-greet in my bus with me dispensing all sorts of advice on how to run, how to recover and how to enjoy a marathon. None of us minded at all that we were a few minutes off schedule.

At the start, I had a feeling I had a pretty good chance at placing in this race. While we waited for the starting siren, one of the RDs mentioned that this race is marked a little differently than other marathons. Its mile markers counted down rather than up. So after 385 yards of running the first sign runners saw was "26 miles to go". To be honest, I thought this was not the best idea in the world at first. One of the best tricks we can do to our minds in a marathon is to not think of how many more miles are left. However, I decided to reserve judgment until later in the race.

This race is part of a three race series run by the same group of running aficionados. There is the Bear Lake Marathon (Attention 50 staters: It begins in Idaho and ends in Utah. You get your choice of which state you want to use!), this race (Little Grand Canyon Marathon) and the brand-new Grand Junction Marathon to be held in May of next year.

When asked by the RD if anyone had run the Bear Lake Marathon a few people raised their hands. Apparently they use the same countdown mile marker system at that race and people thought it was great. The RD said: "You know how hard that last .2 is at the end of the marathon? Well, we get it out of the way first!" I like his thinking!

My buddy Mike Mills found me at the start of the race and showed me the camera he was going to be carrying the whole way. I told him that even its small size was more weight than I would want to add to my load. I introduced him to my friend Jonathan (who I had met at the Des News Marathon and who himself was in the middle of like 4 marathons in 6 weeks or something else equally as challenging) and Bryan (a marathoner who I immediately liked as he was wearing a Penn State sweatshirt). It ends up that Bryan and Mike would run the next 23 miles or so together.

First 15 miles:

When we did begin, I surged to the front of the pack. I wanted to see who would follow and who would be in the leaders. No one followed me at first, or at least no one ran right beside me. After a first mile of 5:50, I wondered who, if anyone, would make this an easy or hard day. I did not wonder for too long for after the rather relaxing first mile. We turned the corner off of the only paved section of the course and I could see one guy not too far behind me. Inexplicably dressed in a sweatshirt and wool knitcap, I figured this guy did not have the foggiest idea how to run a marathon and would soon be left behind. With the first 5 miles of the course containing the only real uphill section, I figured a quick burst of speed here at over 5600 feet would eliminate this guy from contention for anything.

But a 6:58, 7:13, 6:35, and 7:17 had this guy still just about 30 seconds behind me when we finally crested the top of the hill.  Perhaps he was going to make this a hard day!

With aid stations at every odd mile marker, I would use the vocals of the aid station volunteers to tell me where the runner behind me was (rather than turning around to look and let him know he was on his mind). I did this at mile 3, mile 5, mile 7 and mile 9. In between there were a few places where there were cattle guards (little sections of graded road with slots to keep cattle from crossing) where a plank had been placed to assist runners in crossing. When I passed over this board it made quite a racket. Fortunately, it did the same with the runner behind me. Using this noise, I would again gauge where he was without looking behind me.

Around mile 11, the chap behind me (I would later learn his name was Bronson Dameron) had shed his sweatshirt and hat and was still roughly 35 seconds behind me. We then hit a very flat and very straight section of the course. Here, with almost nothing around to pinpoint pace, I would make a surge every telephone pole and then back off for two telephone poles. I hoped the surge would be unnoticed by the runner behind me and before he knew it I would have put a few more seconds between us. However, at the next right angle turn when I glanced to the side, he had gained ground! Well, crap!

After the halfway point passed and we neared mile 15, I could still not shake Bronson. Leading a marathon for the first 15 miles puts many thoughts into your head. Going into the race, I wanted to win it. Flat-out. I did not want to set a PR and I did not care what my time was. I only wanted to win. With Grandparent's Day last weekend, this race's victory was supposed to be an homage to my grandparents (who have all passed and who were integral in my marathon running; more details about this in my book which is scheduled to come out next month. The exact title and time of release will be revealed here when I know for sure.) So when a side stitch appeared in my right side, and this pesky runner was behind me with just 11 miles to go, I wasn't sure what was going to happen.

Miles 15-17:

Each step I took exacerbated the stitch. I rarely get stitches and am unsure where this one came from. Soon Bronson was RIGHT behind me. I decided to hold him off until mile 17 and then make a reassessment of what was happening. Hopefully, I would be able to run behind him to the finish, like he had done to me for the first 15 miles. It appeared I had underestimated his marathon experience.

Miles 17-20:

Right on cue, we hit mile 17, I slowed down and before I knew it Bronson had put a sizeable distance of 5-10 seconds between us. However, I noticed that at the aid station he stopped and walked through the whole area and did not seem to have a fluid strategy for drinking and running. Suspicions I had that he was a newbie runner again cropped into my head. However, as the next mile unfolded, his amateur status did not seem to matter. Bronson added a few more seconds to his lead and I wondered how long it would be until he disappeared from sight.

It is this section of the race that the RD had told me was the most breathtaking. And he was 100% right. Unfortunately, during the race I barely noticed it. I had my eyes locked on Bronson. As we began to descend some hills, I noticed I quickly made up some time. My stitch relieved itself some and I was soon just 10 seconds behind him. At the mile 19 aid station, he once again stopped to drink and I glided through. Almost instantly, I was no more than 3 seconds behind him.

After averaging ~6:45 minute miles for the first 19 miles of this race, our next mile was a pedestrian 7:30. During that mile I had crept up to darn near run in his shadow and was feeling great. My stitch was gone, I felt rejuvenated and I figured this race would be a battle to the end. But with my new energy I was ready for it.

Miles 20-23:

Right after we passed the mile 20 marker (or more accurately, the "6 miles to go" marker), I noticed Bronson look labored. In fact, he looked like I felt 5 miles earlier. I figured I would surge and see if he followed. I was passed him in a flash and soon had no idea if he was behind me or not. As the race weekend included a half-marathon, which started at the halfway mark of the marathon, here was the point where we began to join the half-marathon runners who started an hour after the marathon did. As such, I could not discern whether the footsteps I heard were runners I just passed, or the guy right behind me keeping up.

At mile 21, I almost ran smack dab into some half-marathoners who came to a dead stop at the aid station. In their defense, I do not think they expected me to be behind them (they most assuredly did not hear me; which is reason #476 why I dislike people running with earphones in) but that did not stop me from having to almost pirouette around them. Too preoccupied with not falling and also getting fluid in me, I did not have the ability to swing around and check on Bronson. However, a few more downhills ahead told me I could make him work for everything that was left.

As mile 23 approached, I had a feeling I was in for a dogfight. To fully gain as much as I could from the aid station, I decided to stop and walk through, drinking both the Gatorade and the water. While the temperatures had stayed cool, and there was plenty of shade in the canyons we were running in, I was still rather parched. I grabbed both liquids from the volunteers and quickly looked behind me. With a long straight away behind me (one of the first such sections in miles) I could probably see about 90 seconds of running time. What did I see?

Nothing. My pursuer was gone!


Swallowing both glasses, I got on my giddy-up. It appeared there could be no way I would be caught. Whoever was behind me had to run at least 30 seconds faster than me per mile for the last three simply to catch me. With some downhill ahead, my grandparents smiling above, and my own desire shining through, I was not going to let this happen.

That said, my head was on a swivel every few minutes. I would look back to make sure some maniac wasn't sprinting with everything he had to beat me. But each look back produced nothing but empty space or just-passed half-marathoners. Around mile 25.5, my friend David, who was running the half and was out on a cool-down greeted me with: "Is that Dane?!" Finding out that he had set a new half PR and that the finish was just around the corner gave me new strength. I picked it up, turned the corner, passed over one more cattle grate and had the finish line ahead of me. The only question now was: "Am I going to run ANOTHER 3:05 or am I going to run my first 3:04?"

Crossing first in 3:05:28, I felt the joy of breaking the metaphorical tape. There was no such real tape for me to break at the finish (damn it.) Even though I repeated running a 3:05 (something I hate doing) this could not have been sweeter. In my 81st marathon ever I was able to get my 2nd overall win. A smattering of applause from finished half-marathoners (most who had no idea I was the marathon winner) fell on deaf ears. All I wanted was a bottle of water and a second alone with my thoughts. I did wave a thanks to those around me with what energy I had left but I was definitely in my own mind. Even here now the realization has not fully set in. After feeling the marathon win was a shoe-in for 15 miles, I had the despair of knowing I left it slip away, to only then reclaim it for good with a 5k to go. Today was a good day.

I eventually saw Bronson come in, 4th place overall with a time of 3:14. I learned this was indeed his first marathon and that is one HECK of a time for a newbie. Good work Bronson. Hope you did not mind the sweaty hug. :) After seeing David who gave me congrats again, I was back on the bus heading to Huntington.

Now, with regards to the marathon, I really must sing its praises.

* Like I mentioned about the Run with the Horses Marathon last month, scenery during a race rarely impresses me. However, if I had not been so locked in to the battle I was in, I would have assuredly noticed the sheer magnificence of the last 10 miles of the race. While the first 16 were quite pretty as well, running in what truly looked like a miniature Grand Canyon for miles and miles is a great way to spend a Saturday morning.

* While I never used a one, I lost count of the portapotties on the course. I am pretty sure there was one at every aid-station. If an emergency had called for its use, it was a treat to know they were there.

* The volunteers, while a little green (which until recently used to mean they were newbies, not eco-friendly) and showed a little hesitancy to bother the runners in the race unless you made direct eye contact, were quick to give you whatever you needed if you simply asked.

* For a very-low price, runners received a very nice technical T-shirt, rides in comfy chartered buses and plenty of post-race water, fruit and bread.

* The finisher's medal was very nice, depicting the Little Grand Canyon. Everyone gets one of those. But the overall winner awards were redrock slabs, with a Kokopeli figurine carved into the side (pictures as soon as I can). Absolutely one of the coolest things I have ever won (not to mention the gift packet from the local College of Eastern Utah!)

Overall, it is really hard to get more bang for your buck than at this race. I was really impressed with how this first-year race was run. Kudos to all involved with is preparation and execution.

After the race, at a Hawaiian luau, I again met up with Mike, Bryan, and Jonathan. A flatlander, Mike impressively ran a 3:24 and finished 6th overall. Carrying a camera and take a few stops to take pictures, this would be an impressive time even if it had not been done at elevation. Nice work, Mike!

Bryan, (Let's go State!) finished one minute behind him for tenth overall and Jonathan finished a very respectable 19th overall in 3:43. I also had the pleasure of meeting the women's overall winner, and an acquaintance of Mike's, Miriam Schumann. After chatting with a few other runners, including first time half marathon runner Maria Baker and her husband (who ran an excellent 2:15), I packed up my stuff and got back on the road.

This one is for you, Grandpa and Gramma. I hope you had a nice golfing day in heaven.


Anne C said...

WWCD, baby! So proud of you. Your hay was definitely in the barn yesterday...

Mike carried a camera the whole time? That's dedication. Sounds like the scenery was worth the extra weight!

Very interesting about the playmate! I hope that comes up during trivia night sometime so I can show off.

Yellow Scuba said...

Awesome job, Dane! I am so happy for you, and very proud of you, too. You deserved this one. Congratulations on a fantastic day!!

Anonymous said...

Great report and congrats on the gallant effort and the win! I'm sure the RD's appreciate your involvement, reviews and suggestions. Nice that you do that.

JonathanMarathonMan said...

I just posted my first blog on my new site - I borrowed the title from you and not surprisngly it is or something like that. I did a race report too. I am really not sore today. Some stretching and walking and I should be fien next week at the TOU marathon. Congrats again on a great race. See you soon my friend.

Laura said...

I really wanted to do this one, but my knee injury from Run With the Horses prevented it. It sounds great though - I'll have to put it on next year's schedule!

Ross said...


Congratulations. That is awesome, sounds like a great race. I am a bit behind on my reading. Interesting thing, Jonathan left a comment on my blog this morning. I had no idea who this person was and then I read about him in your blog. It is a small world at times. Neat how we make connections with people this way. I have no idea how he stumbled across my blog.

I am very excited that we finally get to meet this weekend!

See you on Saturday.


Bronson said...

Loved reading your blog! I was informed of it from another runner in the race. It was very exciting to see everything from your point of view. Thank you for your kind comments, especially considering I am totally new to Marathons. I've been training for this one for a while, and it was a great experience! Thanks again,and GREAT race. You deserved every bit of the win.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations! Your fast race-start gave the rest of us something to wonder in awe over as the beautiful sunshine came up over the Little Grand Canyon route. Thanks for being a true sponsor, supporter and hard working runner in this unique hobby-sport, my pleasure meeting you at this wonderful marathon. Good luck in Boulder!