Friday, September 7, 2012

Pocatello Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 7; 10th Edition 
234.9 miles run; 1 mile swam; 30 miles biked in 2012 races
Race: Pocatello Marathon
Place: Pocatello, ID
Miles from home:  miles
Weather: 50s-70s; humid; sunny

Well, 6 years later, I got my wish.

Back when I was running 52 Marathons in 52 weekends in 2006, I saw the elevation profile for the Pocatello Marathon and knew someday I would run the race. The downhill portion really suits my strengths and at the time I had never once been to Idaho.  I just never assumed when I did run it, that the race would be the first marathon I had run in over three months with only three 12-mile runs to serve as “long-distance training” in between.  But that is what life does to you.  It makes you deal with the unexpected. The only question which remains is how will you handle it?

Back in 2006, when I told my Myspace friends (yeah, seriously) about the Pocatello Marathon, I also didn’t expect I would be headlining its first ever pasta and lean beef dinner. However, that was the case this year as part of Idaho’s Team Beef.  I was fortunate enough to speak to one of the best crowds I have ever had at a pre-race dinner. Engaging, bright-faced, attentive and good-looking, and the crowd wasn’t bad either.

As I told my tales, hoping to inspire some, calm the nerves of others and make them all laugh, I was treated to many wonderful experiences.  Not the least was having one of my best friends on the planet in attendance, attempting her first road marathon in 14 years. Shannon, who crewed me on my 350 miler, was herself coming back from an injury. Both of us were treating the Pocatello Marathon as a barometer of where our fitness was at this point in the recovery process of our injuries. 

The dinner was packed and there was a plethora of people in the crowd who I was happy to have heard tell their tale earlier in the day.  One in particular, John Schmitt, who survived a horrific car crash, subsequent torturous surgeries and the prognosis of never walking again, was here to complete his 30+- marathon in the past 12 years. Truly amazing. I met one woman who, like me, lived in Portland and I found out I literally ran three blocks from her house just a few days prior. Another large group of 30-plus members from Colorado had made the trek to Idaho to Run the Gap.  Heck, I think I even saw a Denver Broncos cheerleader at one point.  She looked like she wanted my autograph but scurried away with her food all shy-like.

After the dinner, I surprised myself for the second weekend in a row by being in bed before 10:00 p.m. With a 6:15 a.m. start, and a bus out to the beginning, I knew I would have to be up around 4:30 in the morning. I kept telling myself the lack of sleep would be fine as this was not a race.  This marathon was a chance for me to see if I could run over twice the distance I had in three months and hopefully not do any further damage to anything that was already healing.  Somehow, that was comforting enough to get me to sleep.

Race Day

I always, even after 140 marathons, have butterflies on race morning.  I believe that part of the difference between “doing” a marathon and “racing” a marathon is (as friend who has run over 100 himself said) pushing the envelope. Sauntering across the finish line, oodles of energy left in the tank with 100 photos in your camera means you had a fun time.  But you probably didn’t race. While I wouldn’t exactly be racing this day, I also knew I wasn’t going to have the extra energy to play games. The goal was to push through the first ten miles around a 7:10 pace and then back it off from that point on. Anything faster than that, for longer than that, would be foolhardy and pointless.

As we gathered near the start, music playing in the pitch blackness, with a blue moon shining down from above and the sound of goats “baaa-ing” in a nearby barnhouse, it was chilly but not cold.  In addition, it was ridiculously humid for Idaho in the mountains at that time of day.  I had slept so soundly the night prior that I had apparently missed the deluge of a rainstorm that had swept through, wetting everything and raising the humidity level drastically. That being said, the weather was pretty ideal otherwise.

As the runners lined up for the start, I was saying hello to people I had meet the previous night or even months before.  Others, while I had never met in reality, were friends via social networking sites.  People forget that in the morning, when they are wearing sunglasses or cap which is partially obstructing their face and we have never met, chances are slim I will immediately remember who they are. Throw in the fact that a majority of races begin at  my ever hated time of the day (anything before 10:00 a.m.) and I sometimes feel bad for not being able to pull a name out of a hat. But if I talk to someone long enough, the light bulb usually flickers enough for recollection.  Moral of the story? Noon or later, people.


As I said above, this was going to be me feeling out my body (but not in a perverted way) for ten miles and then seeing what else I had in the tank.  With just a hint of lightness permeating through the early-morning sky, the wheelchair racers were on their way.  There is essentially 1,400 feet of downhill in the first 13 miles of the race so I can only imagine that it is like a sustained frightfest for these wheelers, especially as this is not a straight line course we are talking about. Many twists and turns lay ahead and I am happy to hear not a single thing happened to any racer.

My first few miles felt fast but that is only because they were faster than anything I have run in the past few months. However, they were anything close to “fast” at least in regard to what I am used to. Most of my miles put me right around a 3:05 pace, as evidenced by my running with the 3:05 pacer, Charlie, for more than a few miles. I met Charlie a few years ago and his drop in marathon times has been stellar.  If memory serves me, he recently had something akin to a 15 minute PR that put him at 2:45. However, as we approached the 7 mile mark, where a surprise small uphill reminded me I am not ready to maintain this pace for long, I bid Charlie adieu. He looked back to say adios and said “Wonder why the 3:10 pacer is right there?” Charlie would go on to run a 3:04:52.  Now, THAT is some stellar pacing.

The next few miles I spent running with two local boys, at least one of which was running his first marathon.  I asked what time they were shooting for and they said somewhere in the 3:20 range. Oof.  I told them they were probably going to be either massively surprised with their effort or the second half was going to hurt a bunch given the pace they went out at.  They both agreed that second half was going to be a sufferfest.  Why people put themselves through this way-too-fast first half horrifically-painful second half in spite of mountains of evidence against EVER being able to “bank time” is beyond me. However, I would not be around to watch them finish.  At mile 12, the first uphill of the course, I stepped into a portapotty for a small break. 

Coming out I wrung the sweat out of my shirt and so much had accumulated it even surprised me. Here, Erin Henderson (someone you just have to read about) passed me for the first of what would be a series of cat and mouse that we would play for the next 5 miles. As we approached the halfway point, I began to really wish I had chosen to do the 13.1 distance instead.  My legs had survived the downhill intact and the test was over. I knocked out the first half in 1:36:02 and  was pleased with my effort for the day.

Unfortunately, I had 13 more miles to go.

Second Half

I neglected to mention the absolute beauty of the first half of this marathon.  I do not say that to slight the second half, which holds its own charm but rather to really point out the stunning visages which dot the beginning of this race. It truly is something to behold. To be honest, as I went inward to focus on maintaining proper form when my body began to tire, my eyes missed a great deal of the second half’s actual course.

Fortunately, the sun did not break through the cloud cover for a good two hours into our race and when it finally did it only stayed intermittently.  Near the end, after about three hours of running, the clouds did eventually burn totally off and the temperature rose.  However, for a race so exposed to the elements, I can say we truly were fortunate.

When one takes the second portion of a race as an elongated training run, and takes the foot off of the racing pedal, they can focus on many other factors which make or break a race experience. As I moved along at a clip which was not exactly what I was hoping for but far more than I could have expected to be doing, I did just that. The only real “con” I can think of with this race was that the electrolyte drink had been poorly mixed.  It was a bit too diluted which rendered it more or less just colored water. But this really was the biggest complaint I can think of. The liquids, all flavors of them, were very cold. The volunteers were extremely friendly and helpful. The aid stations were fairly plentiful. The locals on the roads, which as far as I can tell were not officially closed, were very understanding and non-aggressive.

At the pre-race dinner, the RD had spoken after I did about what he had expectation-wise for this race when it began.  To say it has exceeded those expectations, with over 1,500 runners signed up for the event, is an understatement. Working with the Idaho Beef Council, it was a pleasure to see dozens of other Team Beef runners out on the course.  The RD said groups like this, or the one 30-strong from Denver, used to be about how many total runners he thought would actually make the trip to run in Pocatello.  Now, dozens of states, hundreds of runners and all sorts of talent are represented in this eastern Idaho city.

As the miles got a little tough for me nearing the last big hill at mile 21 I thought about this growth. To be thanked for helping to grow his race, as well as the overflowing accolades at the dinner the night before was very flattering but I know that my part was small. It is the hard work of dedicated people wishing to make an event in their hometown a success that truly deserved the praise. For example, this race, as recently as 2008, was holding steady with less than 200 marathoners.  However, the past few years have shown amazing growth. Soon, the problem of “too many runners” may be the biggest problem that the Pocatello Marathon weekend has.

Straightening out for the last 5K, with the sun starting to get a little warm on my shoulders, I was a little perturbed to be running at the pace I was. With six miles to go I had seen the 10K start in the distance and I knew if I had even been running  anywhere close to my racing speed, I would have been through the thicket of most of the runners I was not trying to carefully avoid not bumping into. Even as I faded near the end, I was happy that very few runners were passing me. I had either built a nice lead on many of the marathoners or they were fading just as equally. I had to keep reminding myself that this was not a race.  This was a 26.2 mile catered run with a medal at the end to show me how far or how little I had come post-injury.

Making the final turn in the pristine Ross Park Aquatic Complex, abutted by the Pocatello Zoo, I was very happy to have about three more minutes of running to go. Finishing in a time of 3:27:54, which was good enough for 55th place overall in one of my twenty slowest marathons ever was in no way disappointing.  Rather, I was elated. This was a great time for what I had been able to put into this race. It showed me that muscle memory from the previous 140 marathons had allowed me to make it through relatively unscathed.  While, I do not wish to spend many more races in the current shape that I am in, it was a great starting off point.

To say I enjoyed the overall weekend’s experience would be selling the experience short.  I met some wonderful people and heard some incredible tales. I got back on the running horse and besides some very sore quads, I am no worse for the wear. Many friends, old and new, seem to have had an excellent running experience in this fantastic place.

Shannon was able to come from the lowlands of Austin to over a mile up in the air and post an excellent time.  For having maybe three months of training since her Achilles injury, her effort was stellar. My buddy Sam Felsenfeld (check out his website) didn’t get the PR he was hoping for but he did notch marathon number 102.  Erin set a new PR in spite of dealing with some GI issues and her friend Jennifer, who also sang the National Anthem (beautifully, mind you) completed her first ever marathon,

While, there might be half a million people who finish a marathon in America this year,when I recall weekend’s like this I think that number is about tenfold too short of where it should be. As I said to the assembled masses at the dinner the night before the race, there is just something nicer about runners.

Most of them, anyway.

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