Thursday, September 1, 2011

Mesa Falls Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 6; 30th Edition 
425 miles raced, 7480 meters swam and 202.3 miles biked in 2011
Race: Mesa Falls Marathon
Place: Ashton, ID   
Miles from home:  267 miles
Weather: 60-70 degrees; bright sunshine

I had a weekend open in my schedule about a month ago and I thought I may just rest. You know, sit back and do nothing. Then I laughed at that thought, got over it and moved on.

When I saw a marathon I had heard a great deal about was being run on the weekend when I would be home I knew I could not resist.  After living in UT for over three years now I found it quite odd I had yet to run a marathon in nearby Idaho.  As the Mesa Falls Marathon in Ashton, ID fit the bill and had received very positive reviews, I jumped on the chance to cross this state off my list.

One of the sponsoring companies of the race was the Teton Running Company in nearby Idaho Falls.  I had stopped there for a book signing two months ago on my whirlwind tour following my Boise 70.3 (video HERE).  They asked me to come back any time I was in the area. So with short notice I threw together a quick seminar entitled "5 Things I have Learned in my first 131 Marathons" and presented it to their store on the Thursday night prior to the race. Afterward I went on small jaunt with a few runners who stayed after to do so and enjoyed a nice warm run with some nice warm people. During the run a few of the people talked about how they liked the serenity of Idaho Falls over the hustle and bustle of Salt Lake City.  I almost laughed alone with the joke until I realized they were not joke.  I guess once you have lived in Washington, DC, very few things seem to be hustle and bustle worthy. And when you can cross city streets like you are Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky on a Sunday morning because everyone is in church, it seems quite quiet.  But I digress.

The next morning had me going to two different radio stations in Idaho Falls.  We fielded a few questions from some callers and talk about not only the marathon but how to lead a healthy lifestyle  while eating lean beef.  This was definitely not a hard sell in a state that is all about meat and potatoes but it was nice nonetheless to have a discussion with intelligent people on the matter.  The interviews themselves were a blast which goes to show how much more smoothly one of those can go when the people interviewing you actually do a little bit of homework and care about the topic.  Kudos to these people for doing an excellent job.

With a few hours to kill after the interviews I was heading back to my hotel when I saw a camel.  Wait.  What?  I pulled the car over and sure enough, Idaho Falls had a quaint little zoo. I love zoos so I knew what I would be doing for the next few hours and catching the forty winks I originally thought I would be nabbing was not it. Off to Tautphaus Park Zoo I went sporting a gift shirt from my friend Joe Guilyard who just last week ran the Drake Well Marathon. I think the camels liked it.

After getting my fill of yaks, Amur Tigers (what you who are not so storied in zoology may call the Siberian tiger- I learned that like 9 seconds before I wrote this), and giraffe skulls (don't ask) it was time to head just a little further north to the town of Ashton, ID.  With nearly 1200 runners registered for the four races put on for the Mesa Falls Marathon weekend, the town would nearly double in size.  As the featured speaker at the pasta and meatballs dinner, I would have the pleasure of interacting with a great deal of them.

 The dinner itself was excellent with meatballs provided by the Idaho Beef Council and pasta, salad and dessert lovingly ladled out by volunteers from the race. The time and care that goes into these races from those who get little to no accolades for doing so is amazing. They are the ones who make the running world work.  In fact, when I heard secondhand that someone criticized one of the workers at Drake Well last weekend for not having the food prepared fast enough (you know, the All-You-Can-Eat pasta,salad, drink and dessert for $6) I can only say I am glad I only heard it second-hand.  It would have been difficult for me to run the next day with my foot halfway up someone's ass. My point - thank volunteers at races like these or they simply cannot be run and you then have to pay hundreds of dollars to run big races in big cities and that is IF you get in through their lottery. *Stepping Off Soapbox*

I saw friends I expected to see, met new friends and crossed passed with many others such as Anders Forselius, aka "The Biking Viking".  I met Anders in San Francisco a month ago and he is currently running 12 marathons while cycling 7,000 miles across the country.  It is people like Anders that I meet every week which help me forget about the long travel schedule, the exhausting hours spent at expos and the occasional dipwad out there.

Race Morning:

I was fortunate enough to get a hotel room within walking distance of the buses that would take us runners to the start. I will say I was more than pleasantly surprised to see those buses were not school buses but rather chartered comfy ones. Super kudos goes out to Mesa Falls Marathon organizers for this awesome touch. Given I had to be up at 4:30 AM to get on the bus, having a fantastically comfortable ride to the start made everything so much better. How much better? Well, I fell fast asleep in my seat and did not wake up until the bus came to a lurching stop in the Targhee National Forest.

Getting off the bus we felt a small tinge of cold in the air which given the fact that it promised to be in the 90s later, was extremely welcomed. As the 6:30 AM start time approached there were still a few people left in the portapotties. The RD simply waited. One of the guys next to me asked if I had every had a race actually wait for everyone to get out of the loo before starting. I told him I had actually been in a smaller race with no chip timing that fired the gun when I was still in the LINE for the bathroom. I thought this was nice.  When the RD asked if everyone was out of the bathrooms, I quickly ran over to the four bathrooms, knocking on each and finding them empty took five steps back to the starting line. I gave the RD a thumbs up and a few seconds later we were underway.

First 10k: 6:32, 6:56, 6:59, 6:46, 7:06, 7:05

My "A" goal for this race was to potentially run a sub-3 hour marathon.  I knew however that given my running schedule for the year and the fact this race started over 6,000 feet meant that going 2:XX:XX would actually be a A+ goal.  I needed to simply run the best I could and hopefully get a feel for where I was at this juncture in my training which was my "B" Goal.  The "C" goal was to simply get a Boston Qualifying time which should be no problem. I had done it 64 times previously, after all.

The first few miles were run on a hard-packed dirt road open to the wilderness.  And by that I mean, free-range cattle.  Mooing all around us, often hidden by the gorgeous trees surrounding the trail, we could hear cattle roaming around in the distance.  On no less than three occasions, a few of them scampered across the road in front of me.  At one point, one scooted out between me and another runner and stopped dead in the road.  He most assuredly did not look like he had any intention to move and simply stared at me.  As I got closer and stomped my feet, he simply stood staring at me.  With about 15 yards to go before bovine collision, he finally spooked and scuttled across the road.  Thank goodness for that as I would have lost that battle. Then again, in my first triathlon ever, I had a much closer cow encounter and went on to win the race. Perhaps this was an omen.

By now, I was sitting solidly in 6th place less than a mile into the race and after the first few miles ran not only by myself but not even in sight of anyone else. Well, I could see a few runners but given how far one could actually "see" out in this countryside, that meant little. My miles felt good and I was right about on pace for a sub-3 hour marathon.  I knew however, what you feel like at mile 6 means absolutely nothing and rarely gives you an indicator of how you will feel at mile 20.

To the half: 7:17, 7:11, 7:05, 7:10,7:04,7:10, 6:42

Right after the 6th mile, I grabbed a glass of water and pulled over to the bushes to say hello to nature. When I restarted I found another runner right on my heels. We ran together and chatted for about 2 miles.  Darl was this runner's name and he said he was just trying to get under 3:15. I told him he was about on a 3:01 pace right now. No worries, he said. I always die at the end. I thought about saying that if he ran a little within his means at the beginning he might not die as much at the end but figured it was none of my business.  Around the 9th mile, he pulled away from me and I wished him the best of luck.

At this point we then jumped off of the dirt road and onto the highway.  Even though I was feeling fairly good, the switch to the roads made me feel even better. I always have felt much more comfortable when my feet are hitting concert or asphalt.  I began to reel Darl in a little bit and thought perhaps he was going to slower than he thought.

The roads were not closed to traffic but then again there wasn't any traffic to deal with either.  I was never really sure if we were supposed to run on the right or left and as aid stations would switch from one side or the other. I figured it was more or less a free for all and switched sides however I pleased.

At one point I passed a woman wearing a shirt which said "Mother of 8 and One on Board"  Holy moley! I patted her on the shoulder (she had an early start and was cruising along) and told her she was definitely an inspiration. Then I made a turn off of the road following the arrows and promptly made a wrong turn.  Fudge. I only lost about 30 seconds before I realized I had somehow missed an arrow and was back on course. Through a parking lot and then around a very tight semi-circle which I think was specifically made so the photographer could get a good shot.  It was almost like the shuttle run in gym class in its abruptness. But when I looked back at the scenery I can see why - it was gorgeous behind us! Hope my picture turned out well.

Back onto the road again and my little detour had cost me some yardage on Darl. No worries.We began what was the biggest downhill section of the course here and I was ready to motor. As we neared the halfway point, where the half-marathon would begin, I saw my friend and fellow SLC Track Club member, Brandon Kirby, doing a warm-up, I veered to the other side of the road and gladly accepted his high-five.  Soon thereafter I passed all the halfers waiting in line to use their port-potties and they gave me a resounding cheer. "Go Beef Guy!" Nice to be the spokesrunner for Team Beef.

I passed through the halfway point, noticed I was no longer on sub-3 hour pace and immediately eased up.

To mile 20: 7:23,6:48, 7:12, 8:18, 7:50, 8:46, 8:21

Why did I slow up so easily? Well, I knew that for three miles the course would raise 300 feet or more back up to 5600 feet above sea level and there was no way I was going to be able to maintain the pace needed to go sub-3.  I figured a nice 3:05 would suffice and settled into a pace slightly faster than that.

For the next 4 miles or so we ran along an ATV trail with absolutely stunning view of the Warm River in the gorge below. Way up ahead I could see Darl but knew I would not be catching him this day absent a collapse on his part. He looked super strong.

Instead, I was mainly focusing on how warm it was getting, how much I was sweating even in this high desert climate, and how much effort it was to maintain a good pace, even though I was running downhill.  I knew I was running downhill because the river which was once far below me was soon right by my side.  Around mile 16 and change, we popped off of this trail and out onto the highway once again. Up ahead lay the hills.

I was now stopping at every aid station and double-fisting my beverages.  My lower abdomen felt none too good. I was curious why I had not needed to go to the bathroom save that little stop at mile 6 given how much I was drinking. Post-race it became evident I was extremely dehydrated but during the race I felt fine thirst-wise. Low humidity can be extremely deceptive.

As I began to climb the big hills, I took my sweet old time. The 3:05 was not going to happen but I had plenty of time to easily scoot under a 3:10 and salvage the day. I still had not felt a soul behind me in countless miles and beside the small blip of Darl up ahead, saw no one else on the roads.

We had an aid station virtually every other mile and in a few places a friendly resident had sat up a water hose asking us if we wanted to get drenched. If I could have guaranteed the water was ice cold I would have definitely said yes but nothing is worse on a hot day than warm water on or in the body.  When I finally got up the biggest hill I was around mile 19.5 and getting more and more excited about finishing this race. Finally at mile 20, I could see the town of Ashton in the distance and pointed my shoes towards its center.

Heading home:

Speaking of shoes, I was breaking the cardinal running law by trying two new things on race morning. The first new thing was not to "new" per se as I was wearing new K-Swiss Kwicky Blade Light shoes. Even though I had not worn this model of K-Swiss previously, I wear K-Swiss all the time so I was not at all worried about these new shoes.  I have been wearing K-Swiss for over a year now and have never had a problem. They have fit me wonderfully for all distances and especially for triathlons. So nice to be working with them and cannot wait to see where we can go together.

The other more new item were Greeper Laces. I had recently been sent a pair by Peter Greedy, the owner of Greepers to try out.  I think he had read how in more than a few races recently my shoelaces had come untied and wanted to help out. Unfortunately, I had not had a chance to try them out prior to the actual race. Fortunately, until I actually started sucking win on the hills and was forced to grab my knees, looking directly to the Greepers, I had not once thought about them. Like so many things (offensive lineman, Congress) it is when you don't think about them that they are doing their job the best. Good stuff, Greepers!

Even with the hills bringing my time to a crawl at points I new I could easily maintain 7:30 miles and get a sub 3:10. The last 6 miles did not seem as downhill as the elevation profile seemed to portray them but I felt 7:30s would be completely doable. Here however, runners were fully exposed to the bright sunshine as we ran out in the open with no trees to provide solace. While there were virtually no spectators out, those who were were extremely friendly. Again there were neighborhood people with hoses and the occasional random guy simply sitting there watching you. No words. No cheers. Just eyes. I tried to spruce it up a bit: "Hey, have you see 6 other skinny guys wearing numbers like this go through here?"


But up ahead I could see I was gaining on a runner. And by up ahead I man a solid half mile or so.  I told you that you can see forever out here. I was now doing my patented "I am exhausted but can run with my eyes half closed to conserve energy by not seeing how far I have to go" run which allowed me to only open my eyes every once in a while.  Every time I did, the runner in front of me was closer.  Around mile 23.5 I made a left-hand turn and was in the final stretch. The runner ahead of me crested a hill and disappeared out of sight. A few minutes later I crested the same hill and saw...nothing.  Where did he go?

As I continued running on the lefthand side of the road I saw not a soul in front of me. I ran and ran and then finally had a sinking feeling. I turned around and looked behind me and sure enough I spotted what appeared to be a sign of similar size and shape to all the other directional signs for the course but on the other side of the street.  In my eyeshalfclosed mode I had ran right past it.

I turned around and ran back to where I was supposed to turn and saw that the detour had cost me two minutes in each direction. There was absolutely no way I could go under 3:10 now. Pooh. And sure enough, up ahead I saw the runner I had been tracking down.  He was reduced to a mere shuffle at this point having come from an aid station where he had evidently tried to drink his way back to life.

In mere minutes I was next to him and with my own time goal gone spent a few seconds trying to cheer him up and get his spirits moving for the final mile or so. I could not, however stay with him for too long because I honestly did not know if I was going to be able to get going again if I continued at this slower pace.

So leave him I did and then made one final right hand turn before the long last stretch of the Mesa Falls Marathon. A great crowd had gathered at the finishline park and a huge banner awaited runners.

As I finished up my race, the announcer made note of some of my accomplishments and there was some much appreciated cheering.  I did not even mention my wrong turn as I figured no one else would do the same dumb mistake.  I finished my 132nd marathon in a time of 3:15:28 which was good enough for 6th place overall.

Granted, every marathon finished is a victory but some are sweeter than others. This one was not too sweet.  In fact, I was so ready to shower and begin the drive home that I forgot to even get my Huckleberry milkshake, compliments of the race.

I know I will be back to Idaho to compete in another marathon sometime soon.  Yet even though my time was not what I wanted, the time I had in Ashton was fantastic. I can now add an addendum to the speech I gave at the running store about what I have learned.  It was something I knew already but it bears repeating.

This country is so vast and wonderful that the more I see of it, the more I know how much I have not seen.  Those who feel they have found the one place to hang their hat at night make me extremely jealous.  Either they have found complete happiness in where they are or they have just decided to ignore the country we live in.  As I travel and run and explore, each new part of this country shows me new and wonderful things.  I am quite sure I have neither enough time nor money to see all that I want to of our wonderful land but I am darn sure going to try and do the best I can to remedy that problem.

Hope you do the same.

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