Saturday, August 23, 2008

Run with the Horses Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 3; 12th Edition
238.2 miles raced in 2008
Race: Run With the Horses Marathon
Place: Green River, WY
Miles from home: 165 miles
Weather: Sunny and 50s

This race was dedicated to my friend Paul, who rather unexpectedly, passed away on Thursday morning. A true gentleman, athlete and professional, Paul will be missed by more people than I could even begin to list.

The RWTH Marathon was a race I had wanted to do way back in 2006 as one of my 52 marathons. However, it fell on the same weekend as the Park City Marathon and given that both required a flight into Salt lake city and PCM was only 30 minutes away as opposed to ~3 hours for RWTH, I opted for the former. I wasn't disappointed either. However, I have been itching to do this race and with my schedule accommodating it this year, I was happy to do so.

This was a watershed marathon for me. It would be my first in Wyoming bringing my state total to 30 Marathons. It would also be my 80th lifetime marathon. Both were big milestones but I also had my eyes on another prize: winning.

I am a big-time researcher, so when I saw the race was won last year with a time of 3:20:33, I figured I need to see if was the runners or the course which accounted for the slower-than-normal race time. I used my trusty elevation profile on to see that, first of all, this was a challenging course. Not only did the race start at just under 7,000 feet, it rose to over 7,500 feet and stayed there throughout most of the race. Sure, there was a significant downhill to end the course but by mile 21, could I take advantage of it?

Further research showed that the winner of the race last year (one Jack McDermott) has a PR of 2:52:50. That PR is relatively close to my PR of 2:51. However, I did some looking and found that Jack hasn't lowered his PR much is the past few years and runs some very consistent low-2:50 marathons. As such, I figured he probably has just about peaked in his marathon times (which is, of course, pure speculation on my part). I also saw that he hails from Tallahassee, Florida so it was a safe assumption that the 7,000+ feet of elevation didn't sit well with Jack and Tallahassee's whopping average of 55 feet above the sea did not prep him much for this race (again, pure speculation, but when you don't sleep much you can do this sort of thing).

I figured that given the fact that I am more trained in elevation, living in SLC's 4500 feet, and already have a faster PR (and am still losing big chunks of time), that it would be a safe bet that I could run a 3:10 at the RWTH Marathon. Doing so would probably give me a victory. Of course, it would leave me with very little leeway in keeping my Boston Qualifying streak alive as well. Going into the race, I had ran a 3:10 or under in ten straight marathons. I wasn't sure if that would hold up here but it was one of those many goals we set for ourselves in a race when we don't have the luxury of dreaming of the Olympics.

So, I decided that I would give it a shot. And with Paul's passing, my desire to win the race was even greater. Even when I saw that a 2:36 PR marathoner had signed up for the race, I still held hope for victory. I very much wanted to dedicate a win to Paul's passing.

After driving to Green River (a nice little town, by the way) Friday night, I set up shop at the Super 8 hotel. I checked out the town a bit and thought it was really cool how the town was built right next to a sheer cliff face.

Prior to hitting the hay and trying to get a good night's sleep in the smoking room I was booked into, I picked up my packet and ran into some old friends from the marathoning circuit. When you go to small races, chances are you will run into the same lot again and again, as they too feed their marathon-hunger.

Upon waking the next morning at the wonderful hour of 4:30 AM, I ate an apple and grabbed a few other foodstuffs to take with me out to the start of the race (where we would bussed). However, the apple did not sit with me well and my stomach seemed to want nothing more. Given the gastro problems I had in the Des News Marathon a month prior, I decided not to push it by filling my stomach up with more than it wanted. Listen to your body I say. And my body said that it need to use the bathroom.

With only two porta-potties at the start of the race (for ~150 runners) this is my biggest complaint about the RWTH marathon. My second complaint is that it appeared that every single person in front of me was performing a 16-step routine in the bathroom. The average time was two minutes and forty-five seconds per person. (yep, I was timing them) What the heck were they doing?

As the clock wound down to the 6:30 AM start, I was assured they would hold it for a few minutes, as it was clear there were many still in line. However, with three separate races starting on the same clock, there would be no waiting. And with no chip-timing at such a small race, when the runners started and I was still one person away from the bathroom, I was SOL. However, what I needed to do, NEEDED to be done. So, I finally got into the toilet and did the fastest "business" you could possibly imagine. By the time I got out, I figured I was already a good 1.5 to 2 minutes behind. NOT a good way to start a race you want to win when there is a much faster guy than you in it.

First few miles:

I quickly began passing runners and by 2 miles in, was in 3rd place. I could see the runner who had the 2:36 PR in a yellow shirt ahead of me, with a red-shirted runner between us. They appeared to be about a minute or so ahead of me and from the very beginning to the very end, I could not shake the thought of: "Damn it. I would be right there if not for the porta-potty".

However, even as we climbed up and up for the first 6 miles or so, my split times were really pleasing to me. Miles of 6:30, 7:12, 7:56, 7:18, 7:03, and 7:15 were rather shocking given I was being very conservative and running uphill the whole time. I closed the gap between me and the other runner (who had run a 2:50 earlier in the year, I found out in post-race research) and felt primed for a late race surge.

To the Half:

With what I thought was the hardest part over, I began to try and pick up the pace a little bit. I could not let the two guys in front of me, pull away. However, what the elevation profile does not show in great detail is the numerous rolling hills in the middle section of the course. Running on packed dirt, at 7,500 feet of elevation is hard enough but every little molehill seemed like a mountain. I do not doubt that those who live and train at high-elevation work hard to be good runners. but when I hear of Kenyans training at 9,000 feet, I can only imagine it must feel like a joy to run at sea-level. And for those thinking that SLC's elevation prepared me for this, well, the difference between this course and SLC is the same distance between SLC and the vast majority of the east Coast. So it helped, but man not enough!

Moreover, while the weather was nearly perfect (50 degrees is my guess and the sun stayed behind the clouds for a vast majority of the race), I could tell I needed liquid. the problem was, my stomach was not a fan of anything I put in it, even plain water. So I had to conservatively drink when I could and make sure to hydrate the best way possible. And if I could not trust my instincts on whether I needed water, I only needed to look at my singlet which was ringed in salt.

That said, a 7:17, 7:04, 7:07, 7:11, 7:12, 7:14 and 7:27 span of miles put me at the halfway point at 1:34:35. Right on target. I could see the Pilot Butte in the distance and I knew, as one of the volunteers said as I passed him "You have less to do now then you have already done!" Simple but poignant.

Tough miles:

For the next 6 miles, I worked very hard at summiting the hills and was again pleasantly surprised with a 7:32, 7:30, 7:24, 7:29, 7:08, and 7:32. However, mile 20 hit me with a 9:25 and even when you know the markings must be off, this is a big blow to the psyche. In addition, I had run virtually alone the whole race. The two gentlemen in front of me had pulled far enough ahead that the constant hills and twist and turns frequently hid them from my view. With no a soul in sight behind me, and very little to focus on in front of me, my thoughts went to many "downer" topics. Some personal stuff crept into my mind, then the thought of not winning the race for Paul sunk in. The quite serenity of the high desert of Wyoming was playing tricks with me.

In addition, my legs were not tired, and I had plenty of energy in my muscles, but I could not get the oxygen to them to move them. I felt like a race car stuck in a low gear. It was quite frustrating.


Mile 21 went up and around a bend. At one point I could see the town of Green River in the distance to my left with a dirt road leading down to it.

To the right was another dirt road which faced north and looked like it ran unimpeded until it hit Montana.

As the two runners in front of me were nowhere to be found, I had little to go on in determine which path to take. I saw some red paint on the ground leading to the left. I figured this must be the way since it led to the visage of Green River. So I took it.

I figured wrong. After a good quarter of a mile, the path became very straight and I could see no other runner in front of me. Crap. I took the wrong path. Back up the hill I went, thoroughly demoralized. I took the other fork and about 5 minutes later saw the mile 22 marker on my right.

Finally, the downhill section began. A 7:12, 6:40, 6:51, and 7:00 mile followed. I was shocked how much energy I had in my legs. I could see that I was well under 3:10 so there would be no problem getting the Boston qualifying time I was hoping for even with my detour on the fork. Then it hit me that I had to factor in the time lost at the beginning. And by the time I realized this, it was too late for me to make up the time.

A final and desperate 1.2 mile sprint left me with a split time of 7:52 (which figured to be about a 6:20 mile pace) but it was not enough. As we finished on the unusually cruel passenger bridge which required runners to go up one last hill, I saw the park ahead which denoted the finish line.

I sprinted down the street to a smattering of applause and a "Nice run! All the way" from the second place finisher. Crossing the line (and almost taking out a volunteer who wasn't even aware a runner was coming in!), my watch had me a 3:10:07. But the only clock that mattered on this day clocked me at 3:12:04. Needless to say, I was none to pleased.

No first place, no BQ, and a feeling that I left far too much on the course. Even just a few hours later, after my drive back home to SLC I felt like I, I feel like I could go run a 39:00 10k. I am not sore, have no blisters and am just a little tired. Such islife. I at least comfortably won 3rd place, even if I probably lost 7 plus minutes all told on my porta-potty and detour.

Would I recommend the RWTH marathon? Sure would. I often say scenery means very little to me in a race as I see about 15 feet in front of me at all times. And I will admit it got a little lonely running up on the high plains without a single spectator (in fact, the famed wild horses made no appearance whatsoever for the marathoners; reportedly the half-marathoners saw a whole herd of them.)

But many times I caught myself looking around at the serene beauty. Even in the last downhill sprint, with a canyon wall on both sides of me when I was running at breakneck speed, I looked around and thought: "Wow. This is really pretty". However, don't come expecting a personal best. That simply will not happen (unless it was your first marathon as it was for a few people I met and of whom I am still in awe). There are also no crowds to speak of. If you need extrinsic motivation to finish a marathon, you will need to go elsewhere.

Yet, there is a certain niceness about this race that is hard to quantify. While I was a little bummed to not receive a 3rd place overall award (they only gave overall and age groups which left me with a 2nd place in my age group award to the number 2 finisher) my spirits were lifted when my age group award was a silver painted horseshoe! Now, that is cool!

To her credit, the RD tracked me down after the race and asked me about my opinions of the course. She listened intently and genuinely felt sorry about the missed turn and the bathroom incident. We spoke at length about various topics and she mentioned it was nice to finally meet in person (as we had exchanged numerous emails in the past). Obviously in bigger marathons, RDs don't have the time to do this. However, you often wonder in some of the races if they would even if they could. You have a feeling this RD would.

So, if you need a Wyoming Marathon for your state list, or just want to check out some beautiful arenas while kicking your butt on elevation, I would highly suggest you check out this race. In some of the quieter moments out there, with not a soul around and my lungs tightening from the thin air, I personally believe it was made easier by Paul looking over my shoulder. He'd be the first one to kick me in the ass for being all sentimental and probably call me a Sheila (he was Australian through and through) but he will have to deal with it.

I hope there is some good rugby in heaven, Paul.


Katie said...

Great job on a very tough day. :)

Texas Transplant said...

I'm assuming you didn't stop to take those pictures - that second one of the plain and then the hills in the background is beautiful! I love Wyoming - I might have to set this one aside for my half-marathon there. Nice job Dane!

Dane said...

Thanks KT! You assume correctly, Texas!

and from some friend in Australia:

"As we sit here in Australia, hours before the start of the funeral, we realize just how much of an impact Paul made on the lives of everyone lucky enough to come into contact with him. His zest and love of life shined through in all of his quirky expressions, sense of humor and fierce loyalty to his family and friends. We already miss him, but know that he's looking down on us from above (and reading your blog from the giant internet cafe in the sky) and saying "I mean honestly, third place? Is that all I mean to you?!" (followed by a huge smile and a "good on ya". Thanks for writing this, Dane (NOT "SP"), and for running in Paul's "honour". We wish you could be here with us! - Annie and Jackson "

Unknown said...

Hi Dane,

I met you a month ago at a meetin mingler in SLC. I have not read your blogs before but wow, this is intense. To me it seems like you were cheated out of first or second place by the bathrooms (or lack thereof). I think you should be very proud, and not so hard on yourself.

I am so sorry about the loss of your friend. I know how hard it is to lose someone close to you. May your memories of him bring you comfort. Hope to see you around.


Anonymous said...

Ditto your views on the Run with the Horses race! Great to see you there. Congrats on a great run, despite the issues at the start! I too had a late start! Sorry to hear about the loss of your friend Paul. I too lost a close friend this year to cancer. She was only 45. Each day is a gift!
Hope to see you at another race soon.

Anonymous said...

Way to make the most of what you got. Beautiful scenery indeed.

Condolences on the loss of your friend. My thoughts are with you.

Will have you a final draft ASAP.

1L said...

Nice race as usual, Dane. I am so sorry to hear about your friend.

So I am totally screwed training at 1100-1200 ft for running St. George - I guess. Oh, well.

Take care and see you in a month.

Dane said...


Thank you for your kind words.


Was great seeing you.


i look forward to it.


Luckily for you, most of St. Geo is downhill. you are running at high elevation for long.

Yellow Scuba said...

I'm proud of you, as always, Dane; great job on the race. I am so sorry about Paul, and wish that I'd had the pleasure of knowing such a fine person. If his sense of humor was as Anne and Jackson described, I'm certain he was a joy to know. Peace to all that loved him. You have a new angel, without a doubt.

Anonymous said...

Dane - good to see you still piling in those marathons and this looks like it was a cracker. Well done matey.

Anonymous said...

Dane -

The RD's husband sent me a link to this post - I ran the RWTH half last year, and I have a GOLD horseshoe (and I got that with a personal worst :)

Portapotties - sorry to hear about that. But you are aware, aren't you, that you were in the middle of a million square miles of sagebrush? If ya gotta go, ya gotta go...

I didn't have any troubles with staying on the path.

I used to run in SLC, when I lived in PC - my office was down at One Utah. I miss that; I thought that moving back down closer to sea level would help regain some of my old leg speed.

I was wrong :)

Doc Ott said...


I was that second place runner wearing the red shirt in front of you. :) I too, signed up for this marathon thinking there was a chance I could win it, knowing my training, previous years times, etc. I, however, did not see the winner had a PR of under 2:40. I feel much better knowing that now.

Great blog entry. I will link it from mine!

Take care, and I hope to see you again!

~Mark 'Doc' Ott

Laura said...

I found your blog through Doc Ott's, but I met Cowboy Jeff at the Seafair Marathon and he mentioned you and your 52 marathons. He didn't tell me until after the race that you were doing RWTH, or I would have looked for you!

Great job with the race and the report! I liked your calculations to see if you had a chance to win... I was doing the same thing to see if I could place in the women's race or win my age group. Sadly, an injury kept me from doing either, but I agree that it was an amazing course, and even though I don't really want to repeat marathons (so many to do, so little time!), this is one I'd consider going back for - it was great!

Ax said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog, Dane. I am very impressed with your accomplishments. This is a marathon I'd love to do someday. I first heard about it a couple years ago when living in Utah, but now, after moving to PHX, and reading your report, I'm a little more intimidated. Still, it's something I am planning to do one of these years.