Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mesquite Half-Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 5; 36th Edition 
931.6 miles raced; 350 yards swam and 9 miles biked in 2010
Race: Mesquite Half-Marathon
Place: Mesquite, NV
Miles from home: 340 miles
Weather: WINDY 

The temperature doesn't really matter.  The cloud cover doesn't really matter.  All you need to know about this Mesquite Half Marathon is that for ~11.8 miles of the 13.1 we had sustained winds of 35 mph with gusts over 50 directly in our face. Oof.

The morning of the race broke fairly nice. I could see from my car that it had rained recently but the ground was dry.  I hoped that this would stay that way the rest of the race and any rain would have simply cooled the course a bit.  The temperature was just about perfect for racing and the slightly overcast skies also would have lent to a perfect weather combination if not for the wind.  However, while waiting for the buses to take us to the start, the wind wasn’t nearly as noticeable.  A breeze here and there but nothing that foretold of the oncoming blast fan we would be running into once we started.

We boarded the bus and began the drive out to the start.  I was on one of the very last buses to the start so I did not have to stand around very long.  The races do not post a specific start time as they say they will start when all runners get out there.  However, you can more or less figure out when the gun will fire (or in this case, the truck horn will honk.)  When one of the RDs said we would start in about 15 minutes there was some grumbling, presumably from the people who had gotten on the very first bus.  However, there could not have been all that much time between them arriving and me as I saw their bus leave when I was in line.  Nevertheless, people will complain about anything if you give them enough time.

I could see no less than 5 guys who looked in prime racing shape.  Any possibly inkling I had of winning the race and claiming the first place prize of $1,000 was gone.  This was slightly disheartening but also a relief.  I could just concentrate on running a fast time all for myself. I saw last year’s female winner and a few other top notch looking females. I could tell the prize money and the Runner’s World magazine article had helped swell the numbers and the competition as well.

As we got ready to go, I had positioned myself a few rows back in deference to what was obviously some stellar competition.  Even then I felt the wind but thought nothing of it.  Boy would I be wrong.  Away we went.

First 5k: .39, 6:27, 12:57

As with all Mammoth Marathon races, the mile markers do not count up but rather count down.  So you get that nasty .1 (or .2) of a mile out of the way at the beginning when you are still fresh.  I know this doesn’t change the distance at all when you are running but it is a fun little mind game.

Immediately a pack of about 5 men separated them from the rest and were blasting away.  Then a group of two other guys and one girl were behind them followed by a group of about 5 women and two men.  I fell in behind this second group.  Immediately the wind hit us.  Hard.  I actually was taken aback at how much it was blowing.  I had half a mind to sit behind this pack of females and let them block the wind for me but I figured that was both lame and fruitless.  They were all about 5’3’’ and 100 lbs.  They weren’t going to block much wind.  So I surged to the front and thought about trying to the pair of guys in front of me.  One woman followed me.  As we approached the first mile I asked her if she knew the course.  She said she did not so I explained it to her. I said if this wind kept up, the lone female in front would be paying the price of running that way.  When we hit the first mile and saw an extremely disappointing 6:27 considering the effort we both groaned a little bit.  I mentioned that sometimes the mile markers are a touch off for these races so just get to the next one and see if they average out.  For another quarter of a mile I struggled against the wind until I made an executive decision. There was no way in heck I was going to come even close to the time I wanted to run today.  With no prize money at stake, no PR ever going to happen, I decided to back off the pace. I wished the girl good luck, fell back and was immediately passed by last year’s female winner and two other guys.

Running along this flat open road in the desert there was no break from the wind at all.  And it never abated.  I assumed it would stop here and there but it never did.  Reports from local news stations say the wind was a sustained 35 mph all day long with the aforementioned 50 mph gusts.  There were times were I was literally blown sideways and into the path of another runner. (Check out this video from one runner who was running the marathon.)  I would straighten my gait and use all the tactics I have learned to stay upright and moving forward.

I knew there was a nice long downhill leading to mile 3 that I was going to do everything I could to take advantage of.  As the two ladies in front of me seemed to be reeling in the lead female, the two other guys in front of me (or at least the ones in sight) continued to stay where they were. both were running separately battling the wind by themselves.

I heard a soft pitter-patter of feet behind me and saw one of the fastest looking women from the front beside me.  She asked if I minded if she ran with me and I told her I would just be happy to stay next to her if I could!  I asked her if she knew the course and when she replied in the negative I explained what the next few miles were like.  I didn’t explain any more as I was having a tough time talking or even breathing into the wind.  I am unsure what the physics surrounding that are but you would think with air being forced into your face, the oxygen would get to your lungs even faster.

10k: 7:18, 7:10, 7:09

After finishing the 3rd mile, I knew the next three were a series of climbs.  I explained to the woman next to me what lie ahead and that she was welcome to use me as windbreak if she needed to.  I just had to stay in front of her which actually was pretty hard work.  Whenever she would pull slightly ahead the stiff wind would knock her right back to me.  She was a lithe runner and I imagine the wind was worse for her than it was for me.
We exchanged a few comments about the wind but mostly were saving our energy for fighting it.  When we switched from one side of the road to the other and she went from my left to my right I could see she had some elaborate tattoo work on her midsection.  I raised an eyebrow and asked her what he name is.  She told me it was Anna and I told her mine and we talked about a few other races we had run.  When she mentioned she had done the Ogden Marathon I asked her which year’s she had done.  Then a wind blast almost knocked us both over.  She ran right into my elbow and apologized.  I told her I had a feeling it was going to happen about 86 million more times and not to worry about it.

The final climb to the top of the hill at mile 5 was done and then a nice steep downhill to 6 began.  Even on this downhill the wind was ridiculous.  As we ran out of the flat nothingness of the desert and into some canyons, I was hoping the walls would provide some relief from the wind.  Instead, all these walls did was tunnel the wind directly into us.  We both simply laughed at some of the gusts as there was nothing else we could so.  Even the downhill did not provide us with much relief and I remarked that I had never worked so hard to run downhill in my life.

To Mile 10: 6:51, 6:57, 6:33, 6:50

Right before we began the climb for the final hill at mile 7, Anna mentioned she had never answered my question about which Ogden Marathons she had ran.  When she listed them I said “I think I wrote about you in one my blogs.” Sure enough, when I set my PR in the marathon in 2009 at Ogden, it was Anna that had won the woman’s race.  The tattoos had given it away!  What a small world.

Finally cresting the last hill, we began a nice steep downhill and ran one of the best feeling miles of the entire course.  We finally passed one of the gentlemen in front of us (Tom) and had the other (Alejandro) in our sights. The wind stooped for just a second and I told Anna (almost inaudibly) that she had the rest of the race.  We approached a left hand turn and then another which put the wind at our back for the first time all day.  Almost immediately she slipped past Alejandro and put a big distance between us both.  I, almost as if my work was done for the day, eased back the throttle and was subsequently passed by Tom who joined Alejandro and began running with him.  The next few miles began a game of catch and pass between the few of us as one would surge and the other would fall back, always with Anna in front of us.  I briefly caught up with Anna around mile 10 and ran with her for a few hundred yards to tell her of the next upcoming turn and then fell back again.

To the Finish: 7:10, 7:16, 6:17

As we passed one aid station, neither of the volunteers working it made any effort to come off the sidewalk to hand us water which made it difficult to reach out and grab it with the street curb in the way.  I saw Anna got nothing and I missed my cup as well.  Alejandro shouted “Here!” and sprinted forward with his cup in his hand.  I thanked him profusely, drank a swig and then put on the afterburners to catch up to Anna.  I could see she again was having some difficulty dealing with the wind so I made the second executive decision of the day and decided I would block it for her again the rest of the way.

The wind must have heard my inner thoughts and picked up in huge gusts again just to make me pay.  I told Anna we just had to make it to mile 12 and then two right hand turns would put us in the last ¾ of a mile with the wind completely at her back. I saw her look at her watch right before mile 12 and said “Can we make sub 1:30?”  I told her it would hurt but we could do it.  Her speed picked up in what was a non-verbal “Let’s go!” and away we went.  Down the final long straightaway we could see the telltale flashing hazard lights of what appeared to be the coach of the lead female.  He had been following her on the road the whole way.  I am not sure exactly why but that kind of irked me a little bit.  Regardless, I pointed and showed how the lead female was no more than 3 or 4 minutes in front of us.  Given the winning time had been 1:19 last year and it was going to be ~6 minutes slower this year because of the wind, I felt pretty darn good about effort.

One finally turn and the finish line was in sight.  We pushed just a smidgen hard and a familiar face I could not place appeared on the sidelines cheering Anna on.  I would find out later it was her coach, Paul Pilkington cheering her on.  You may recall I also wrote about Paul in a post here.  The world keeps getting smaller. We crossed the finish, with me falling back a bit so Anna could have the moment she had worked so hard for.  Anna got a 1:29:40 and I right behind her in 1:29:41.

I ran into a great deal of familiar faces and made tons of new friends at this race and while I was signing my book.  Hearing the awesome stories of others and what they have overcome never gets old to me.  My friend David ran his first marathon in just over a year and a half after dealing with back problems (what a race to pick for your return!)  and new friends Ashlan and Julie crushed out their first race over a 10k distance ever.  Amazing.

I would find Alejandro after the race and tell him what a class act he was.  I had heard this was his first half marathon ever and I assured him they get much, much easier.  Tom’s son Kyle won a thrilling finish in the half as the top four guys all ran 1:11:XX.  Wow.  I see that the women’s leader did indeed win again in a time 5 minutes slower than last year –which goes to show you how bad this wind was.

I love numbers and found it amazing that there were exactly 229 finisher in the half and 229 finishers in the full. As usual, the Mammoth Marathon people put on a good race.  However, there is always room for improvement.  A few more volunteers and a few more aid stations would be nice.  But the traffic control and having the correct people at the correct places to make sure no one went off course was stellar.  No one can blame them for the wind (although some will) and I hear there was a snafu with getting the drop bags back to runners in a timely fashion but those are all little things. 

As I contemplate a move from the state of Utah, this may be the last race I run one put on by the Mammoth Marathons people for some time.  They still have one last race on their docket I have never done and I may have to make a trip back to check it out.  As it stands, I was fortunate enough to win three of their races I attempted and place favorably in the other two.  Here’s hoping they continue to put hard work into their races and I may just be back to run Bear Lake in June!

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