270 miles raced in 2009
Race: Ogden Marathon
Place: Ogden, UT
Miles from home: 40 miles
Weather: 30-70s; dry and sunny
I had hid from no one that the Ogden Marathon was going to be my attempt to set a new personal best in the marathon distance. In fact, it wasn't just breaking my time of 2:51:40 that interested me. Sure, running faster than that would be great. But my main goal, the only one which would truly make me happy, was running below a 2:50.
As runners we assign extraordinary weight to arbitrary number values. If you run a 4:00:00 marathon, it can be devastating - but one second faster in 3:59:59 and pure elation follows. Ticker-tape, cheers of joy, hugs all-around. With me, it has personally been the same way with breaking into the 2:40s in the marathon. There are a multitude of real reasons why breaking into the 2:4X:XX range would be beneficial for me but mainly I just wanted it. And wanted it bad. Take a stroll with me.
At the National Marathon last year, I thought I had it in the bag. I was running great until the last 3 miles when wind, hills and perhaps not enough preparation slowed me to running a 2:51:47 (my first of three 2:51s). That time even takes into account being misdirected (or more accurately, not directed at all) off of the course around the halfway point and adding a good 35 seconds of frantic running to the mix. Having said that, in this race I bested my previous marathon PR set, just a few months prior, by nearly four minutes. So I was not entirely content with my performance in Washington DC that day, but I was happy. I mean, heck, when you have friends out on the course with homemade signs, how can you not be happy?
A few months later I decided to run the Ogden Marathon for the first time. Without going into too much detail, I thought I was going to crush that 2:51 but ended up barely hanging on and setting a new PR but only by 6 seconds. Running another 2:51 (this time 2:51:41) I reiterated to myself the same statement I have said to many: a PR is a PR.
A year full of change finally brought me to Tucson in December to take one more shot in 2008 to crack that elusive 2:50 standard. Even though I had paced the 3:10 group in Seattle just one week prior, I felt I had a good shot. And while this was my 15th marathon of the year, I felt I could do it. I had seen an increase of 37% of my total yearly mileage in 2008 from 2007, but I could just tell I was going to break into the 2:40s. However as the miles crept by I saw my goals slipping away. Only through severe grit, determination and luck was I able to set a new PR again - this time by one darn second. I had become very good at heeding my own advice that a PR is a PR when I ran my third 2:51 (this one in 2:51:40)
This year my first attempt at getting under a 2:40 was at the Salt Lake City Marathon. I had a good time, 2:53, but it wasn't meant to be. The next weekend in Kentucky I ran a race which left me flailing because of the unexpected heat and humidity. At the time, I wondered if running 8 marathons in 7 weeks was wise. Sure, I had done 52 consecutive previously but that was then and this was now. Perhaps I had plateaued.
Running a 2:59 as the Charity Chaser in Pittsburgh and then following that up with a 3:10 pacing effort in Fargo that was, in all relative terms, pretty darn easy, left me feeling good for this weekend coming up.
So what if it was the 6th consecutive week of travel, speaking, racing, running and generally being on the go constantly? So what if this sort of travel and racing made me put on a few pounds as the appetite is still there, even if the miles run each week are low? A look at the upcoming race calendar for the rest of the year made me realize that this weekend in Ogden was going to be one of, if not the only, shot at going under 2:50 for 2008. You see, next weekend I am again pacing the 3:10 group at the Stillwater Marathon.
Then the weekend after that I am running 7 miles to the start line of the Rock And Roll Marathon in San Diego, getting there just as they fire the gun. I will then proceed to run the marathon for a total of 33 miles on my 33rd birthday.
As fun as both of these will be, neither is a PR attempt. The rest of the year, with 100 mile races and 50 mile National Championships, and aquathlons and 62 mile relays run solo (etc), left me with very little available weekends to even attempt this PR, let alone the energy to go for it. So it was this weekend. Or who knows when.
As many runners know, just because you put your eggs in one basket and train really hard, that doesn't mean the race will go the way you wish it to go. Nature and running do not conform to our wants and wishes just because it is convenient for us and we reeeaaaalllly want it (I wrote about this in greater length HERE.) Fortunately, I had a few things going for me here at the Ogden Marathon.
* With Ogden just being 40 miles north of my home in Salt Lake, I did not have to fly on a plane to this race.
* The weather forecast also looked to be in my favor (cool temperatures) even though not perfect (bright sunshine).
* I had the support of my good friend Katie, a marathon runner herself who was coming to Ogden to test out the course and visit me.
* Having run Ogden before, I knew what to expect. Not just from race maps and elevation charts but from personal experience.
Now I just had to perform.
As the featured speaker at the expo, something I absolutely adore, there are drawbacks. Speaking at 4 separate times, on three separate topics, all while signing books and talking to people for 10 hours straight is far from the ideal way to prep for a PR attempt. The talk I gave on last minute race tips had me violating about 7 of them by my own actions. But that was what I was here to do and interacting with runners and those who care to listen is one of the many things which gets me up in the morning.
However, after wrapping up the expo at 8, getting to the hotel, quickly unpacking and then going out to dinner, Katie and I weren't even getting food into us until 9:30 PM. Even as we were fortunate enough to be on the last bus which took runners to the start of the Ogden Marathon, we still had to be up at 4:30 AM to catch that bus. After getting everything done which needed to be done, I finally hit the sack around midnight for my 4.5 hours of rest.
As we bussed to the start of the marathon, our continental breakfast in a box provided by the people of the Ogden Marathon included (amongst other things) a bagel and some orange juice. I told Katie that the last time I had a huge PR breakthrough at the Niagara Falls Marathon in 2006 (where I unexpectedly ran a 2:59 and went under 3 hours, not only for the first time in the tail end of the 52 Marathons I did that year, but for the first time in my life) I had also eaten a bagel and had some OJ. Could it be kismet today?
We neared the start of the race and were quite happy to feel the slight nip in the air even though the closed windows of our bus. Cold is good for marathoners. (Even those who prefer hot weather have to admit that they don't really run better in heat, they just don't run AS poorly as the rest of us!) After the bus parked and we got through the bathroom line there was barely time to wish each other good luck before the race started.
Katie had been nursing a sore leg ever since running Boston a few weeks ago and was really just out to enjoy this marathon. Given the fact that she lives at about 480 feet above sea level, we both knew a race starting at over 5,400 feet above sea level would be challenge. She set a goal of around 3:20 for the race which I thought in and of itself would be difficult given the factors listed above, as well as the slightly deceiving difficulty of the Ogden Marathon itself.
For those in attendance at the race expo, they got to hear me describe in detail what makes the Ogden course tick. There is indeed a fair amount of downhill in this race, but I have said it a million times - downhill gives you nothing; you have to TAKE it.
Having said that, the gun fired and I was ready to take everything I could.
First 10k: 5:56, 6:43, 6:25, 6:25, 5:37, 6:18
Elapsed Time: 38:46
Like I mentioned, I have run this course before and I know it. I also know that for whatever reason, the mile markers are askew in some places. Going through the first mile in 5:56 when my goal pace for the first miles was 6:25 did not throw me one bit. The next mile being somewhat "slow" in 6:43 put me exactly where I wanted to be time-wise. When I hit the next two miles exactly on pace I knew I was doing well.
Mile 5's marker was extraordinarily out of place but regardless I knew I had run a pretty fast mile. You see, there were a few runners right around me, and as much as I like camaraderie, I do not like people right on my ass in a marathon. So I picked up the pace a little bit and dropped a few of them, one who I think was a relayer who did not care for that too much. Oh well.
This effort made me roll through the first 10k a little faster than I was hoping for, but I knew all was A-OK. My energy level was good, I did not feel like I was pressing at all and I know had 25% of the race out of the way. The first easy part was over.
Halfway: 6:19, 6:26, 6:33, 6:25, 6:30, 6:32, 6:38
Elapsed Time: 1:23:30
I knew the first 10k was going to feel good. But when the next few miles felt even better I knew today might be my day. I distinctly recall coming into this flat section between miles 8-12 last year and almost immediately experiencing a slow down. There are few quick little up and downs that can sap your energy. In addition there are one or two long straight stretches where if you look at the mountains ahead, which never seem to get closer, you can wear yourself down mentally. Fortunately, I had a laser focus on the road ahead of me. Nothing could interrupt it. I am a rock. I am an island. Ain't nothin' gonna breaka my stride.
No, that is not the Boston Athletic Association. That was what seemed to be a human making a sheep sound in the field next to me, right before mile 8. Only thing was, it was a real sheep.
The runner next to me, who, at this point had also been in a laser focus state, whipped his head around just as I did. We both laughed out loud for about 5 full seconds. This sheep was looking at us as if we had not only disturbed his morning but ruined his whole weekend. He simple let us know in a short, succinct way that was as short as the letters in his "BAA" were. There was no extended bleating on his part. No warble in his voice to make it sound even slightly like it was a real and natural sound. Instead, we both had to look to see if it actually was not a farmhand playing a trick on us by imitating a sheep.
"BAA." One final time, straight from the sheep's mouth and we knew we had heard correctly. Well, BAA to you too, good sir.
I think this moment of levity broke me out of my serious state and allowed me to actually enjoy the race for the next few miles. Even with the intention of slowing down about 5 seconds per mile through this stretch, I never expected it to be as easy as it was. In fact, when a few of the miles were still faster than expected, I was elated. But I knew the real test lay ahead.
To mile 20: 6:28, 7:12, 6:27, 6:11, 6:21, 6:29, 6:39
Elapsed Time: 2:08:00
I had meticulously planned out the first half-marathon. I then beat into my brain what my pace per mile had to be for each mile from then on. However, I hadn't really done the math to know what my overall time should be after about 16 miles or so. But I am getting ahead of myself. Before mile 16 I have to deal with the biggest challenge of the race: the one and only true uphill to contend with. (Yes, I ended a sentence with a preposition - I also ran 52 Marathons in 52 weekends so it is obvious I do many things that are considered a little "not right".)
My main goal for the hill that started exactly at the mile 14 marker was to run slow and easy, work my arms and relax my legs. If this meant I slowed an entire minute for this mile, then so be it. When I hit mile 15, having conquered the hill, ran at a relaxed pace and still felt great I would have been pleased with anything around a 7:30. The 7:12 for this mile shocked me. I think it shocked me so much I lost my ability to do math. For whatever reason, delusions of grandeur slipped into my noggin. No longer did I care about "just" going sub-2:50. I wanted more. I wanted a 2:47. Maybe less! The world was mine to be had.
When a mile faster than 6:30 at mile 16 popped up on my watch, it further bolstered this faulty math and convoluted logic. As the nice sweeping downhill to mile 17 literally made me do a double take on my watch to see if I had really ran a 6:11. I should have thought back to the previous year at this exact location. However I didn't. I'll get to that in a second.
Old shoes were placed on the side of the road and used as ballast to hold helium filled balloons to the ground. These balloons were meant to decorate the course where runners began to cross the Pineview Reservoir Dam. It was a nice touch.
Somehow, however, I ran too close to one of these shoes, dislodged the balloon from its anchor and had it immediately wrap itself around my wrist. I now had a helium-filled balloon attached to my arm and the hilarity of the situation further prevented me from remembering the race last year. I finally was able to shake it loose and all I could think was how 99 Red Balloons by Nena was a really upbeat song sang by a girl with a cute voice - about the annihilation of the human race do to nuclear warheads. And they told me my German classes would be useless in the real world.
My next mile following the dam has one of those short but steep downhills that I adore. I was flush with pride after my 6:11 mile at 17 and was looking for something right around 6. I was going to be pushing a 2:45 if I kept up this breakneck, take-no-prisoners, Ryan Hall-esque type of running.
6:21, my watch mockingly said to me.
Then it hit me. Mile 17 had been short last year. It was probably short again this year. That meant, Mile 18 was a little longer and I should probably take the average of the two miles. Well, crap. There goes the dreams of immortality. Then I began looking at my watch again and started to recalculate splits. When I had made my first sub 2:50 attempt at the National Marathon, I had gone through the first 20 miles in 2:08. I didn't trust myself to do any more math properly at this point but if I was on this blitzkrieg streak of mile times I thought I had been on, then wouldn't I be well under 2:08 at mile 20?
Mile 19 came and went. I looked at the watch but thought I must have seen it wrong. It did not say 2:02, right? It must have said 2:00:20. That would make sense.
As the throngs of half-marathon walkers began to grow a little more in number I was spending more time and energy picking my way though the crowd and trying to run the tangent as much as possible and less time doing any watch looking. From the outside perspective, people do not see the internal dilemma that rages in a runner's mind. From the inside, knowing you must dodge those walking three abreast (I am guessing those who were at the talk did not hear my pleas to do no such thing) without knowing if they will swerve, throw hands up to greet friends and family on the course, or do something else to throw you off your appointed running course is extremely taxing.
I hit mile 20 with a 6:39 mile. My total time was 2:08:42. I had been running downhill for three miles now and was slowing. I think I said a bad word out loud and for those around me who may have heard this, I do apologize.
Final, last-ditch, grueling, oh-so-cruel 6.2 miles:
6:23, 6:28, 6:14, 6:41, 6:53, 6:58, 1:18
As quickly as my heart sunk at mile 20 it was again raised up at mile 21 when I ran a 6:23. I knew I had to run close to 6:30 for every mile for the remainder of the way to break through to the promised land. Every mile under that pace was a few more seconds in the bank to rely on and one less mile to run.
With the course ending its downward trajectory at mile 22.5 and then beginning a difficult stretch trough a bicycle path for 2.5 miles I really threw myself into this final downhill jaunt. A 6:14 mile made my heart leap for joy. Seeing a few members of my running club cheering loudly for me as I made the turn off of the Canyon road and onto the bike path helped even more.
I know this course. I have said it a few times now. I know that this upcoming section is a pain in my butt. That doesn't make it any easier. Relatively flat, shaded and running next to a babbling brook, it should be a treat. Unfortunately, the fact that the rather thin stretch of pavement is open to the public, is where one really begins to run into a mass amount of half-marathoners and well, you are 23.5 miles into running, means you are in for some slow miles. I really am curious to hear how every runner fared on this section as every runner I talked to was astounded how quickly they slowed (Quickly they slowed? Does that make sense? I think it does.)
Mile 24 clocked me in a 6:41. I was in survival mode. I knew I would not be able to accurately project a finish time until I was much closer. Just run around people not moving, try to grab a glass of water and move forward is what my brain told me.
Mile 25 had me run a 6:53. Not what I wanted at all but not horrible. I looked forward to finally leaving the bike path and entering that last mile down Grant Street in Ogden. Hitting the first stoplight at 20th Street I knew the finish line was just over 5 blocks away. I had about 5 minutes to break 2:50. It takes about a minute to run each block. Wouldn't want to make this easy on myself ,would I?
One block down: 59 seconds. 2 blocks down: 59 more seconds. Same thing for blocks 3 and 4. I hit mile 26 and my watch reads 2:48:22. I have 1:38 seconds to run .2 of a mile. I finally know it is in the bag.
My good friend and MC for the Ogden Marathon., Rudy Novotny begins to shout my name to the crowd. I appreciatively wave to the cheering crowd which is six deep in places and ringing cowbells and screaming for all the runners coming down the chute. I high-five Rudy as I pass him (or at least I think I did. I meant to. I may have been hallucinating.) I then raise my hands up as I cross under the finish line and heed my own advice that I gave to dozens the night before about smiling for the finish line photo and NOT looking at my watch. I took two more steps to make sure the photos were taken and finally clicked my watch.
Hands go to knees, I take a deep breath, and sigh. I hear Rudy behind me.
"I know you are going to hate me for putting you on the spot so soon after setting this new PR and finishing 9th overall! But I have to ask: How ya feelin' bud?"
"Rudy, I couldn't be happier. And I want to thank the people of Ogden for coming out and supporting this wonderful race." A big hug from Rudy and I walk away to collect my medal. It has been 9 marathons since my last PR (in Tucson) which was 9 marathons from the previous PR back here in Ogden. Quite the full circle.
Katie came in just a little while later and ran a stellar 3:20. Right what she predicted. I was stunned she ran so well given the litany of reasons why she should not have. It was far from a PR but she knew it was a challenging course and agreed with everything I said about the race.
If you have the chance, and can get in before it closes, run this race. It is breathtaking (literally, if you don't do some training at altitude, and figuratively because of the landscape) the people in the town really care about the race and you will have a good time (even if you don't RUN a good time.)
The Greater Ogden Athletic Legacy Foundation (GOAL) whose aim is to attract, organize, support and encourage premier athletic events that promote an active lifestyle in Northern Utah did an absolutely fantastic job at putting on this marathon.
I can only hope to be back here year after year setting new and better records. But before I can think about Ogden in 2010, I have to sit back, smile at my new PR...and pack. I have another marathon in 6 days.