A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 7; 18th Edition
372.5 miles run; 1.75 mile swam; 59 miles biked in 2012 races
Race: Mesquite Tri-State Marathon
Place: Mesquite, NV
Miles from home: 1101 miles
Weather: 50-60s; mostly cloudy; intermittent wind and sprinkles
Running the Mesquite Marathon was more or less a last minute decision. To say I haven't exactly been feeling good about my running since my bike crash in May would be an understatement. Taking on a marathon, especially one which has bitten me in the butt on two other occasions (26.2 in 2009 and 13.1 in 2010), wasn't exactly high on my list of to-dos. But sometimes you make decisions and not too long ago I said let's give the Mesquite Marathon another shot.
I had run this basic exact course before. Slight changes had made the final few miles different but left the overall big downhill and rolling hills nearly the same. However, time heals all wounds and makes runners forget all uphills.
My great friend Shannon joined me to run the course even though she was in the midst of moving hell (Oh yes, A-Team Movers out of Dallas, you are going to get your own blog. I am sure it will be as scathing as Eff You, Jet Blue) and was not in any way ready to run a fast marathon. So in other words, we were both in the same boat.
Having said that, with no job obligations, no expo speeches, no book signings and nothing to do but just enjoy a race was a feeling that is really hard to describe. It was both unsettling and wildly invigorating. Nevertheless, I still found it relatively easy to go to bed. Needing to get up at 4:15 a.m. in order to get ready to catch the 5:30 a.m. shuttle to the start didn't hurt either.
The shuttle to the start did not leave promptly at 5:30 a.m. as was stated which was fine by me. Sitting in the warmth of the bus was much more desirable than sitting on the side of a road for 45 minutes. We finally got going around 5:50 a.m. and the bus meandered through the Mesquite for a bit before hitting the course we would soon be running on. Through Arizona for 17 miles and then onto Utah where the race would begin, I missed most of the bus ride as I was sleeping soundly.
When we got to the start, we still had another 30 minutes before the race began so I figured I would sit on the bus for a bit, use the bathroom and then saunter out sometime about 20 seconds before the race. This was when we were told that we not only had to get off the bus but could not use the comfortable bathroom on it because the bus would be used for something later that day and the driver did not want to have to clean it before then. Really?
So 133 of us get out of the two buses and cue up for three bathrooms. With 30 minutes to spare each person can't take more than a little over a minute to use the bathroom if we want to not be standing in the bathroom line when the race starts. Let's just say some people took their sweet damn time.
In the bathroom line a runner introduced himself to me and we began chatting. James was his name and he was prepared. Both Shannon and I were a bit chilly standing in the windy nothingness of this pocket of Utah wearing very little to protect ourselves against the elements. It wasn't that cold out, but we weren't expecting to be standing it it this long. James gave us both one of those mylar blankets and became Coolest Guy Ever for at least the next half an hour. He told me he would be shooting for a sub-3 and I gave him the low down of the course. Technically, it should be an easier course than when I ran it in 2009 because of about 2 more miles of downhill to start. Plus, the weather looked like it would be cooler and cloudier for the vast majority of the next three hours. In exchange for the mylar blanket, I tried to give James as much advice about the course as I could. I wish I was in better shape to run with him but well, I was not.
As the seconds ticked down to the start of the race, I assumed that with just about ten people or so left in line, the race organizers might just hold the start for a minute or two so we could all use the bathroom. I was wrong. The race started and I was still standing in line. Unfortunately, it was not the quick restroom break guys can do in the wild, so standing I remained. Finally, I was able to get in, used it as quickly as possible and headed toward the starting line. My quick potty skills allowed me to cross over the timing mat (it was chip timed which is why I wasn't completely angry) just 69 seconds late.
First 6 miles: 6:09, 6:37, 6:27, 6:24, 6:24, 6:33
Starting with nearly 99% of the runners in front of me reminded me of the times I have done my Charity Chasing. Not having to weave through 10,000 people is very nice. I also noticed that the course was going to be very fast for this first 10K and I really had to be careful about going out too fast and burning up. I was conservative in both my pacing and my desire to pass runners in front of me and was still running as fast as I had all year long.
To the Half: 6:53, 6:38, 7:39, 6:35, 6:32, 8:13, 6:26
Earlier, around mile 4 a man went screaming by me in hyper drive. I could hear his heavy footfalls and was shocked to see him wearing Vibram Five Fingers. Usually the type to wear these run with a much lighter step. Over the next few miles he pulled away from me like I was standing still. I made a mental note to find out what his finishing time would be and more about his running in general.
Somewhere around the 8.5 mile mark the wonderful downhill portion ends and a still-downhill but much more gradual begins. By now I had passed a vast majority of the runners I would pass during the day but had no idea what place I was in overall.
From about the 2nd mile on, if you knew what you were looking for, you could see the town of Littlefield, AZ (pop. 308) in the distance which marked the halfway part of the course. It was both neat and deflating a bit to be able to see so far in the distance. I could also see a bathroom, bright orange and sticking out like a sore thumb, for quite some time as well. With just three or four runners in sight I figured any who might be using it would be out by the time I got there. Again, I was wrong. The guy right in front of me veered to the left right before the bathroom and hopped in. Undeterred I simply continued with my own trajectory and lined up behind the bathroom. I had to go.
I expected the mile to be a little slower because of the 20 second detour but was shocked when I saw a 7:39. I figured the next mile would be marked short to make up for the discrepancy but it definitely was not. A note here about mile markers. I have mentioned this many times and I do care to repeat it: mile markers do not have to be certified, exact or anything like that. They are really a nice luxury for runners to have and we should be grateful when they are there.
However, you do hope they are placed in the right spot. Two miles later when I inexplicably ran a 8:13, I knew that it was going to be one of those "these are approximation" mile markings for the rest of the way.
The last nice downhill of the first half had me picking up the pace and somehow still not running all that fast of a mile, especially given I assumed it would be truncated to make up for the last long mile previously. I can only guess they incorporated the ".1" of the half into the 13th mile.
I also didn't have to figure out what time the man in the Vibrams would be in front of me either as I passed him rubbing his feet at this aid station. I never did see him again.
Onto Mile 20: 8:12, 7:44, 7:42, 7:21, 7:03, 7:16, 7:45
I knew even being conservative in the first half that I would not be able to replicate my pace in the second half. There were three doozy hills to deal with from miles 17-20 and I had to get another one of them out of the way right here at mile 14. I took my sweet old time getting up it, trying to transition myself back into flat and normal running after such a gracious first half of down. I was more than pleased with my time for the 14th mile but less so for the 15th. For a few miles now I could see three figures in front of me getting closer and closer and realized that these were the top three women - or so I assumed. As the course flattened out a touch for about 2.5 miles I was definitely gaining on all of them even though my times weren't showing I was exactly flying. I assumed they weren't slowing too much and decided to more or less ignore the mile markers from this point on.
I passed one of the women, disarmingly slight in her build so much that hope she is a healthy eater. How she could propel herself forward at this pace with not much mass at all was beyond me. Believe me, I am making no disparaging comments about her and just wish her good health.
The biggest downhill of the second half came back to me in shockingly vivid detail. I recalled the length and slope of this downhill from the previous years and how hard I pushed the hill. Just like the previous years, I pushed myself hard here again only to once again end up with a time that seemed to be far short of the effort. I had gained significantly on the two women in front of me who were running side by side. The road was not closed to traffic and I watched as the one woman ran unabashedly close to the center of the road forcing drivers to the middle or into the other lane. I'm not sure why she felt she was invincible but in areas like this, I always give way to the large truck with "Hemi" written on it.
Over the next two hills leading to mile 20, I gained even more on one of the women who began to fall back. The other, eventual winner and truck-chicken champion simply turned on the jets and left us both behind. I couldn't believe how effortlessly she continued up the remaining hills and then slid down the other side. I found out later it was a runner I know very well, Amber Green, who had recently won St. George in a time of 2:43:00. She ran a 3:07 here. If that doesn't tell you a bit about the difficulty of the course, nothing much more will.
Heading home: 8:01, 7:26, 8:32, 7:44, 8:05, 7:55, 1:31
I thought I still had enough in the tank to run a 3:05 or so but a slew of teetering on, or way over, 8-minute miles told me that was not the case. Then, suddenly, I realized going sub 3:10 wasn't going to be the cakewalk I assumed it was. I had passed the only other woman who was not Amber (when she did a triple check over her shoulder, apologized profusely and then ducked behind a bush to reliever herself- hey sister- we are all runners here! No one cares!) and was running completely by myself. I was getting more tired by the minute and realized that if I did not get this BQ I was going to be a very unhappy camper. I pushed forward with all I had and could see the marquee for the casino where the finish line was up ahead. Unfortunately, I knew there were twists and turns in the road so a straight line-of-sight meant nothing. Also, I was not exactly sure where the finish was.
I could see the time slipping away and all I could do was battle back against this unnerving pain in my chest. I do know anatomy so I knew with it being on the right side I wasn't going to have a heart attack but it didn't mean it hurt any less. I know that on a good day, with my cylinders clicking, I run about a 1:25 for the last .2 of a marathon. I hit mile 26 and it said I had 1:32 left. I began running with all I had hoping that the marker was right this time. Dodging a pair of half-marathoners running hand in hand I hopped up over a plywood bridge from the road over a curb, through an opening in the chain link fence and started to head toward the big white dome where we picked up our packets. In previous years we had finished in the street in front of this and I knew without looking at my watch that if we had to run that far I would not break 3:10. When I did see that the finish was just inside of the dome, I glanced quickly at my watch. The clock over the finish line meant nothing to me given my late start and I could see I had 6 seconds left. I pumped my arms, dodged another runner who was coming to a stop and sprinted across the mat. My time:
Well, that was close.
This was a nice victory for me. A tough year indeed has (possibly) my last marathon of the year being in a solid getting-back-into-shape time on a far tougher course than people imagine. James did not get the time he was hoping for and he too acquiesced to this course's difficulty. Shannon, who ran conservatively for the second half, simply not having the miles in to try for a fast race, not only ran smart but set a new unofficial PR in the 5K, 10K and half marathon! Her speed work has been paying off and her 1:48ish half showed what is possible when you get off the horrific rocky trail ultras for a bit and run on something where you can have turn-over!
The race could use a little tweaking here and there but was a nice race. One place where a mistake was glaring was that the aid stations used plastic cups. I always assume this purchase must be made by a non-runner as no runner would ever purposefully get plastic cups. They are next to impossible to squeeze for the ole pinch trick and are unwieldy otherwise. Nice medals and cowbells for age group award winners were a good touch. I was surprised to finish 10th overall, just one spot behind James. James had a tough day and when he realized he wasn't getting his sub-3 eased off the throttle. Without a doubt this course is not easy. You are exposed to whatever elements are out there and if you are not going with running virtually by yourself, this is not the race for you. However, there is some serious beauty out here. Around mile 17 or so, as I was beginning to get a little tired, and some raindrops licked my face and windy picked up here and there (I began having flashbacks to that 2010 race!) I looked to my left toward the mountains just over yonder and was able to watch rain falling sheets way off in the distance. It was truly a sight to behold.
Part of the draw of this race to me was its proximity to
things I had never before seen or did. More specifically I had never
gambled in Vegas and had never seen the Hoover Dam. So over the next two
days I did just that, on top of doing some pawn shop purchasing, some
skyscraper-roller coaster riding and some serious people watching.
One nice weekend.