A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 4; 7th Edition
165.2 miles raced in 2009
Race: Salt Lake City Marathon
Place: Salt Lake City, UT
Miles from home: 1 mile
Weather: 40-50s; cloudy for first half; bright sunshine second half
A great deal has been made about the Salt Lake City Marathon, or more accurately its owner Chris Devine and some of the problems he has had with meeting all of his obligations on race day and beyond. I had this brought to my attention numerous times when people saw I was doing the SLC Marathon. Having never met Mr. Devine I cannot comment on him or any of the allegations. I can, however, comment on the SLC Marathon people I met and the race I ran. And I am about to.
It is the rare race where I get to sleep in my own bed prior to running. Of my now 92 marathons, only 16 have allowed me the comfort of home prior to the race. In fact, the entire week before this race I felt as if I had missed my plane to go somewhere. A general antsiness prevailed every day as I actually did not have to cram everything into luggage to take with me to some far-flung place. In fact, I think it was a little hard to get into the racing mindset as everything was so comfortable. and I was definitely going to try and race the Salt Lake City Marathon.
Even though I was only one week removed from the Illinois Marathon, a look at my upcoming schedule showed me I had precious few opportunities to actually try and set a new personal best in the marathon. A completely personal goal, the fact that I have not broken 2:50 in a marathon eats at me. I am aware that racing as much as I do lowers the possibility for me to break that barrier but nevertheless I put pressure on myself to do so. With two pacing efforts and a Charity Chaser at Pittsburgh sandwiched in between, this was the only race in the next month that was strictly for me.
I spent the two days before the race at the race expo meeting and greeting runners and signing copies of my book. This is hardly working in a coal-mine but it can most assuredly take a great deal out of a person, sitting or standing. I get so excited and enthusiastic talking to people that I will go home after an event and feel like I had gone for a nice hard 10-mile run. But I wouldn't trade it for anything. To meet fans, create new friends and hopefully inspire others is what I am all about these days. So after two 9-hours days at the expo, I did my absolute best to go to bed early and get ready for that sub-2:50.
I know others have trouble admitting their goals out loud (I have often said I can predict the exact beginning time of any runner who I have ever asked what their goal is because the answer always starts with the qualifying: "Wellll.....") but I enjoy living my goals in the public view. That is why I told everyone what I was doing with Fiddy2 well in advance and never one shirked my responsibility or changed my goal midstream. So all my friends and family knew I was going for the 2:50, even though very little pointed towards it actually happening!
I owe my friend Erin a big heartfelt thanks here. Race logistics allowed runners to park at the finish and then take a trolley to the start of the race a few miles away. However, the last thing I wanted to do was be up at 4:30 and have to be squeezed in like a sardine into these trolleys. That said, I think it was great of the race to provide this transportation for the runners as it helped many people figure out their prerace ritual. Nevertheless, I wanted more sleep so I asked Erin if she could give me a ride to the start which she happily obliged even though that meant she had to be up at 6 AM on a Saturday! Thanks so much Erin!
Dropping me off about 3/4 of a mile from the actual start, as road closures demanded that, I got my little warm-up in by briskly walking to the starting line. I was fortune enough to make a few new running friends on the way and had a few others recognize me as I stood and waited for the minutes to tick by. Even the 15 minutes of waiting time once I got to the start was too long for me. My ideal race would start outside of my door and I would wake up abut 30 minutes beforehand and saunter out with about 90 seconds before the gun.
As runners were greeted with live pre-race gospel music, a palatable energy permeated the field. Soon the Star-Spangled Banner was sung, the wheelchair racers were under way, and we readied for the start. Looking at the previous year's times and I figured if I ran my predicted time I would be somewhere in the top 25. I looked around me as we crowded to the start and tried to figure out which of these runners would be those 25. I then remembered that the halfers started with us. As much as I enjoy the additional runners to keep things lively, this means there are also additional runners to run around as they crush toward the front. I have never figured out why someone would want to be up at the front only to be passed by so many so fast but I guess it is the prestige of being in pre-race photos or something akin to that. I settled into about the third row of runners and tried to position myself behind two fast marathoners who wouldn't be in the way when the gun fired.
Fire it did and away we went.
First 6 miles: (6:01, 6:37, 6:31, 6:32, 6:40, 6:53)
I long ago concluded that no matter what I try to do, my first mile will inevitably be fast. Always has been and always will be. Even when I try to sit back, the rush of people still gets to me and I inevitably go out a little too fast. As the clock of the first mile appeared, I could see I had once again done so and even pulling back, almost went 5:xx. To my defense, there was a sizable downhill in the first mile which helped me out. The second mile contained a sizable uphill and assisted in getting me back on course. My desired mile pace was a 6:30 (6:29 to be exact) and after the first fast mile the next few fell right into place.
Sidling next to me was a young runner named Bronson. You may recall Bronson as the young runner who pushed me pretty hard in his first marathon at the Little Grand Canyon Marathon last September. He and another runner were chatting and I heard the other fella say he held a 3:39 PR. We were on a 2:47 pace. I advised him to take it down a notch. (To show you how impressed I continue to be by runners, this chap ended up running a 2:58 - over a 40 minute PR?!)
A nice little downhill section had me holding even right where I wanted as we entered Sugarhouse Park. I have done almost as many miles around this loop as I have around my beloved Liberty Park. It is always a bonus to race in familiar areas, something I rarely do.
Half-Marathon: (6:38, 6:31, 6:38, 6:11, 6:18, 6:28, 6:42) 1:25:30
As we exited Sugarhouse Park, we joined a glut of half-marathoners who were about a mile behind us (as they did not do the Sugarhouse loop). Even dodging the masses I was able to stay about on my target pace but I could tell today was going to be very tight when it came to hitting my goals. While I was not pressing too hard, the miles felt faster than they were. I ran with the woman in 3rd place for about half of a mile and told her what to expect (when she mentioned she did not know the course). Much to my chagrin I had to leave her and her very fit and toned body behind.
A mile or two later and the half marathoner went one direction and the crowd got very thing very quick. Over the next 10 miles or so, this one gentleman in a gray shirt and I would play a game of who can pass whom. On any sort of hill (up or down) I would go past him and on any straight stretch of flat he would pass me. Looking at my time I knew I would be right about on target at the half-way point with some downhill miles to come to help me cut that deficit.
Mile 20: (6:16, 6:25, 6:28, 6:34, 6:31, 6:36, 6:40) 2:10:20
At mile 16 I had almost erased the 30 second deficit. The weather was 100% cooperating with a cool 50 degrees and perfect cloud cover. I could see the 2nd place female about a quarter of a mile in front of me and she and a man seemed to be working together in unison. I concentrated on just keeping my pace and hoping for a last mile surge if I needed it.
Right around 16, after not seeing the gray shirted chap for miles, both he and a tall lanky guy in a white shirt passed me. The gray shirt guy soon fell back as we hit an aid station and he stopped to drink as we went through. I noticed he did this at every aid station and I would inevitably make up 10 seconds on him while he did. But tall lanky guy kept motoring on.
As I continued to press to keep on a 6:30 pace I would agonizingly add a few seconds here and a few seconds there on each mile. All I wanted was a 6:27 and I would get a 6:33. And then the sun came out. I don't even recall the clouds breaking slightly and then slowly dissipating. I remember it going from nice and dark to pure blue sky in about 30 seconds. Fortunately it was still cool out and we were able to run in a little shade.
As I reeled in the 2nd place female, both gray shirt and tall lanky guy pulled away from me and passed both her and her male companion. I hit the next notable marker at mile 20 still only 30 seconds off my goal. Right about hear I hear a familiar voice and super-fast SLC Track Club member Neal Gassman came up behind me on a bike. A native of Illinois he said he liked my Illini orange I was wearing (pictures to come). I told him it was Chicago Bear burnt ornage and he said either one was good.
To the finish: (6:50, 6:43, 6:54, 6:59, 7:30, 6:57)
And then the 6:50 mile happened. Just soul-crushing. I had passed the female and her partner and was staying behind gray shirt guy as tall lanky pulled away. I felt I was running at a nice even 6:30 and the 6:50 hurt my psyche really bad. As we approached Liberty Park and would pass right by my house at mile 22.5 I was hoping to be within striking range and use the familiar surroundings to propel me on. But two slow miles again hit me where it hurts: right in the brain. I was now a minute over pace and was running out of real estate to make it up.
As we exited Liberty Park, I had the distinct pleasure of seeing my friend Carla who is also a member of the SLC Track Club running in the opposite direction. She quickly fell in step with me and provided some words of encouragement. Then the 2nd place female appeared out of nowhere and hung right on my heels. Try as I might I could not hold her off and at mile 24, my near 7:00 minute sealed not only no sub 2:50 but probably no PR as well. The final nail in the coffin was turning onto state street and seeing the long final climb we had in front of us. This image below is taken from the top of State Street and we were at the bottom about 1.35 miles away. I knew I was done.
It was only a total elevation gain of 100 feet over this mile but at this point in the race it was like a mountain. I ran a 7:30 in spite of my efforts to at least run around 7 flat and now it was just an issue of finishing strong and realizing I could take another crack again at my PR in about a month.
I finished with a slight downhill and a sub 7 mile which helped my ego as I rolled into the Gateway Mall and finish line. With a 2:53:51, my 4th fastest marathon ever, I was glad to be done. The announcer told all in attendance of my 52 Marathon feat and many cheered and whooped. One person too enthusiastically high-fived me and almost sent me sprawling.
Erin could not, unfortunately, pick me up due to some flat tire on her car which meant I had a three mile walk back home. I made a few phone calls and tried to make my way back along the course but in reverse this time. I gave as much encouragement to other runners as I could and tried to hold back some emotion. You see, this was my grandmother's birthday and if you have read any of my other posts about my grandparents (who have both passed) my marathons are tied to them strongly. It would have been a happy coincidence if I could have set a new PR for her on her day. It is hard to believe that it has been nearly a quarter of my life since she passed away on the eve of my very first marathon ever. My memories of her are as vivid now as they were then.
As I walked home, I had time to think about the overall race. It was a deceptively challenging course. Running at a high but not impossible altitude, the hills took a great deal out of you. Even the flat sections could wear on you a bit and that last bump at the end was as killer.
However, the course was well-supported and many in the community set out their own aid stations, boom boxes and cheer areas. There was a clock at every mile which I think is just a great touch. While a lot of the miles were done on highways, these roads were completely closed and runners were running unimpeded on 6-laners. Being a marathoner allows you to experience surreal moments like running down the wrong way of a one way street with no traffic in sight and while some may have found this monotonous, I thought it was great.
While the race has dipped in numbers with regards to its total marathoners, I think it does a lot of things right. The people involved with the race here in Salt Lake were affable and pleasant and really seemed to care about putting on a top notch race. Hopefully those at the top can get everything settled business-wise and the only headlines will be another successfully-run marathon in Salt Lake.
They started doing so right after the race by handing out the prize money to every participant who had handed in the appropriate paperwork right there on the spot. So if you hear different, know that the SLC Marathon was on the ball this year.
6th Lifetime UT Marathon
Avg time: 3:02:12
Avg time minus Park City (run during Fiddy2): 2:57:48
# of lifetime Sub-3s: 12
# of sub-3s in UT: 4
Pictures from the race will be added when I get them.
Next up: Kentucky Derby Marathon in one week!