Monday, April 3, 2023

Mt. Charleston Marathon (and Life) Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 17; 2nd Edition
26.2 miles raced in 2023 races
Race: Mt. Charleston Marathon
Place: Mt. Charleston, NV
Miles from home: 1687
Weather: 18 Degrees at start and steadily warmer

I have DNFd (did not finish, for those who may not know) races before. 

In 2018 I pulled out of the USAT Off-Road National Championship in the middle of the mountain bike portion that the overall winner called one of the hardest he had ever done (I wish I could find the article where he was quoted.) I was just a few months out from having surgery on a broken thumb (after getting attacked by two men one night in Austin) and after like my fourth crash not even halfway through the first of two loops of the bike I said enough was enough.

Later that year, after doing a half-marathon on the scorching sand of Galveston Texas (my slowest half-marathon by a LONG SHOT), I was scheduled to do a 10 mile road race the next day. A little over halfway through that race, my insides already boiling in the heat, I called it quits and walked back to the finish.

In 2017, I had, for all intents and purposes, stopped half way through the half-marathon leg of a three race morning (5k, 10k, half-marathon) before finally getting back up after about 20 minutes and dunking my entire body in ice water and finishing the race.  So not a DNF but real damn close.

Back in 2010, two laps through the three laps of the Rocky Racoon 50 miler, and still sick from the flu, I called it a day. A week later I ran and set the course record of another 50 mile race in Florida. So I have that going for me.

But I have never had a DNF in a marathon. It has been a point of pride to me. Other race distances I might show up to undertrained or give into to the elements but a marathon was where I drew the line. Even when they blackflagged the Green Bay Marathon in 2012, calling the whole race off when I was at mile 20, I still finished it, even though I walked most of the last 5k. When I separated my shoulder a few days before what was going to be my 100th marathon, I (probably quite stupidly) ran with my arm in a sling and finished that. It was also Pikes Peak Marathon.

As such, I assuredly did not think that the Mt. Charleston Revel Marathon, my first in almost 3.5 years was going to be the race that ended my marathon streak at 164. But it did. 

Before I get to that, as I see all of my recaps to be almost  public services, given I hope to share hints and tidbits about the race to help others (I can only tell you how fast and/or slow I ran in a race before that gets real old real fast), let me do some of that here.


The Revel race series is known for providing runners with races with almost insane amounts of downhill. Some people feel these give an unfair advantage to those looking to set new PRs or get a Boston Qualifier. My thought is that after a certain distance, a great deal of downhill takes away more than it gives. (This is what they call "foreshadowing".)  Regardless, while the marathon boast nearly 5,000 of downhill I do want to point out a few little things which if one is running, they might not know.

First, in the first 13 miles, there are four uphill sections. Right off the bat, after a little horseshoe start, there is a rather cruel hill of about 40 feet.  Doesn’t sound like much but at nearly 8,000 above sea level, RIGHT at the start, this one hurts. Right before the fourth mile there is another quick rising 40-foot hill which similarly is not the most fun thing in the world, especially if you don’t know about it. On one little backtrack about a mile later, there is another quick rise. Then again between miles 9 and ten there is an uphill. Finally, around mile 12.5 there is one last rather large hill to contend with.

None of these are necessarily that hard, and if you scrutinize the elevation chart with a magnifying glass, you will see them, but they are there nonetheless. But if you weren’t expecting them, and they show up, the mental block which could take hold might be worse than the actual leg fatigue. Just letting you know so you know. As for the second half, unfortunately can’t really speak to it because, as pointed out earlier, I didn’t finish this race. 


I thought this would get a little bit better to swallow as a day or so went by but it hasn’t. This was the first marathon I have run since my mother died in October. I had trained fairly well. I don’t have a sub-3 in Nevada where this takes place. I had all but written my glorious return to running marathons in my mind, showing how I was dedicating this to my mom and how we can overcome so much when we put out minds to it. Then a month ago I had a less than stellar warm-up half-marathon, the winter in Minneapolis made running outside a bit of a chore, and I showed up to this race with great trepidation.

But I like butterflies. I like feeling like I have something on the line. I have not, and will not ever, understand why people race races without a desire to run as fast as they can. I have talked about it ad nauseum. Running is joyous. Racing is joyous because you want to run as fast as you can. So I get nervous before every single race because I want to give all I have. And I hope all I have is enough to give me a time on the clock commensurate with what I think I had that day. Sometimes it works. Many times I think I can do better than I did. Sometimes I am disappointed. Some very few times, I don’t finish. But never with a marathon.

Until Saturday. My legs were aching from the downhill barely four miles in. I had been dealing with a left quad issue this year which is a little new to me. But usually it was after a race or hard run, never during. Also, if I do anything well in running it is run downhill. I stink to high heaven at running uphill but when it comes to gliding down the other side, there are few I race who do better. So, when I approached the 9th mile and had just run a solid 6:14, I figured the pre-race jitters were over, the first four miles of finding my legs were behind me, and it was time to start writing that glorious recap.  Then within two miles, I was done. 

It is a testament to my ability to often push past pain and recover in the last portion of the race that I didn’t stop at the 11th mile. But as the next two miles went by, I went from doing the math which told me I could slow down a minute per mile and still run a sub-3 to realizing I might only get a Boston Qualifying time to wondering how many more times my legs were going to feel like they were giving out on me until I couldn’t use them anymore.  

I passed the 13th mile where I expected there to be some sort of race official or something but only saw the volunteers and bathrooms. I pushed further to go across the timing mat at the halfway point just so I knew all the people tracking me at home would see a split. I knew this would give me more time to make my next decision and they wouldn’t have to worry about what had happened if I didn’t hit it.

But then I stopped. I pulled over to the side and some helpful fellow runners tried to cheer me on.  Some less than helpful others told me to “Goggins it” in reference to the ultradrunner David Goggins who is know to push through extreme pain and discomfort and has more than few acolytes who embrace that attitude. 

I don’t. No race is worth my health. I don’t pay my mortgage with my race results. No terrorist is going to kill my family lest I finish a race. “Just” finishing has never appealed to me. I remember when some runners lambasted Ryan Hall for pulling out of the London Marathon at the tenth mile because he wasn’t representing his country the way he should. “I would walk the last 16 miles if I had to” was the basic gist of these people who didn’t seem to grasp how ridiculous that would be for an Olympic athlete in the marathon. Sure Derek Redmond hobbled home the final 150 meters of a 400 meter in Barcelona during the Olympics after pulling his hamstring but that’s completely different (and also just a dumb thing he did, his father’s helping him along the way notwithstanding). But to keep running when your legs aren’t working is just stupid. Yet here I was still contemplating it.

As I went through the mental gymnastics of figuring out how I could possibly keep running downhill when each step was sending shockwaves through my quads, I wondered if maybe I could just go a few more miles and THEN quit. But what sense would that make? Suddenly a pickup truck pulled up beside me and asking me if I needed help. I asked if he was with the race and he said he was. He asked me if I wanted to get in.

I stood there. A full five seconds passed. Count it out. That’s a long time to not answer someone. Finally, I did.


I gingerly undid the door to the bed of his truck and pulled myself in. I had quit the race.

I know this is the right thing for me to do. I do not think that this is the end of my running career. I am aware that well-meaning friends will tell me that they’ve never done one fraction of what I have done and I shouldn’t be disappointed. I get that this is hardly the biggest problem in my week, let alone in the world. But to me, on Saturday, with my first marathon in nearly half a decade, wanting to run to honor my mother, this sucked. A whole flipping bunch.

Maybe my best running days are behind me. With 164 marathons and 115 marathons and some fairly decent times for a 180lb guy without a great deal of natural talent, and a body that actively works against him (see: Gilbert’s syndrome) this wouldn’t be a surprising thing. I turn 47 in May. Older people tell me I am not old, but I sure as hell am not young. I’d like to think this isn’t the case. I’d like to believe that I can still maybe eke out a few more personal bests before I have to look for more tangible “bests” (e.g., my best marathon as a master runner). Regardless, even if those days are behind me, I am still going to do my best to rage against the dying of the light. I will keep trying to go faster. I will push myself as far as I can, while still keeping in mind that I won’t push myself so far that I actually injure myself.  I am not a stupid man. I am quite practical.

 But right now I am sad and pissed. It will pass. I know that. I will get back up and try again. But if it is ok with everyone, I am just going to upset for a little bit.

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