Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Pacific Crest Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 14th Edition 
1 mile skied, 1250 meters swam, 48 miles biked and 192.1 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Pacific Crest Marathon
Place: Sunriver, OR
Miles from home: 173 miles
Weather: 70-80s; bright sunshine

Thought I would check to see if I still wilted in the heat whilst running in a marathon.


Until this weekend I had run one marathon in my life in Oregon - this same race seven years ago during my 52 marathons in one year quest. Doing a book signing of both my books at the expo for the race, more than a few people were curious what I wrote about the race from 2006.

It turns out that what I wrote about the race in 2006 remains the same 7 years later.  Excellent organization, tremendous aid stations and a beautiful course. That’s what happened in 2006 and that was what happened again this year.

The Pacific Crest Weekend Sports Festival is just that: a festival.  Three days of racing allows all different types of events for all different skill sets.  Unfortunately, on this weekend, due to what had to be close to record high temperatures, unless your skill set was being impervious to warm temperatures, you were going to be tested.

Without fail, when I work an expo, of any kind, there are more than a few people that I meet who leave me with a good feeling in my stomach. One random story I can tell you is how a young gentleman met me when I was at this event 4 years ago.  I wasn’t even racing. I was there doing a book signing of my first book. Well, long story short, he told me partly upon hearing what I had done and how we can do amazing things with the right attitude he decided to get his life in order.  Granted the message didn’t strike him immediately. It took most of this time from the last time we spoke for that point to be driven home but now he was eschewing drugs and alcohol and taking up running seriously. That is the sort of wonderful I get to experience every weekend.  It almost made me forget that I was wilting in the temperatures that were rapidly approaching 90 degrees. Almost.

Truth be told, I was nervous. I hadn’t done a marathon race in 7 months.  I don’t like running in the heat.  I was concerned what a year of living at sea level had done to my four years of temporarily residing at 4,000+ feet. Most importantly, I have come to the realization that the MRSA infection I had in my foot in April had messed up my foot pretty bad and although I like to think I can heal instantly from anything, that is not the case. The side effects of that infection are probably going to be with me for a while. Not an excuse, just a fact. A fact that made me nervous. The only way I know how to get rid of nerves about a race is to start the race. A starting pistol has always been the slayer of nerves.

First 7 miles:

My intention was to take the race and break it into portions. The first seven miles or so ran through many of the backyards of the vacations homes in Sunriver. Undulating through small rises on a bike path, twisting and turning through evergreen trees and dry shrubs, the course was, for the most part shaded through this portion. My intention was to hold a 3:10 marathon pace through here and then move on after that depending on how my body felt. My bestie Shannon was with me and this was her first of four marathons in two weeks.  Ridiculous! We stood near the front trying to hunker into some of the shade to stay as cold as possible as long as possible.

A small hiccup happened right after the gun fired to start the race as the lead group of about 8 or so of us were not exactly sure of where to go. A stutterstep later, we were out of the parking lot, onto the road and soon onto the paths. Three runners separated themselves quickly and it appeared they would be battling for the podium. Two other runners distanced themselves from me quickly and were each equidistant from each other as well. I was next in 6th place with another runner just a few steps behind. After the first few miles, I made a turn to look back and saw a pack of about 5 or so runners not too far behind me including the first place woman. Around this time the runner who had been right behind me caught up to my side and we chatted for a bit. Tim was his name and he was from nearby Redmond. He had run the race on numerous occasions, including last year when, in polar opposite of now, the race was run in freezing conditions. We ran for about a mile together until we came to one of the plentiful aid stations and he fell a few steps behind. I wouldn’t see Tim again for the rest of the race.

At the 5th mile I realized I had inexplicably stopped my Timex Run Trainer 2.0 watch, instead of hitting the lap button, at mile 4. This was only my 143rd lifetime marathon. I have only worn this watch for every race I have run in the past year. Why should I know how to work it? (I blame the elevation.) From here on out, every time I looked at my time, I would get excited for a second until I remembered I had to add seven minutes.

Up ahead, the 5th place runner came into focus. He had been out of sight and seemed to be pulling away just a few miles previously. Here, however, I could see I was gaining ground on him.  Over the next mile or so I would finally reel him in and pass him. Fifth place overall didn’t sound too bad for a hot day, I thought. Let’s see how the rest of the race plays out.

To the Halfway Point:

After cruising up what would be the biggest hill of the loop, I knew the next 5 plus miles would be not only virtually flat but also completely exposed to the elements.  Running on the outskirts of the Sunriver airport and along the banks of the Deschutes River, we would be afforded very little respite from a sun which was already making its presence felt. Not a single cloud appeared in the sky and I harkened back to the days, pre-runner, when I would call these “perfect days.”  You know, before I realized that bright sunshine, warm temperatures and no shade absolutely would destroy my running hopes and dreams. I hadn’t caught the name of the runner I passed as he was wearing headphones. I will never be a fan of those on competitors. Nevertheless, I could tell he was falling off the pace as the time between the cheers from the aid stations workers from when I passed to when he passed grew longer and longer. See?  You don’t have to look behind you to find out where your competitors are. Sneaky, sneaky.

On one winding portion of the route I could see that 4th place was probably a good 3-4 minutes of running in front of me. I began wondering if I could catch him and if it was worth it. Around mile 11 the surge of energy I had felt from taking over 5th place ebbed a touch and I didn’t know how much longer I could keep this pace. I had never been pressing but was nonetheless feeling my effort. I knew this was absolutely nothing more than a glorified training run and unless I all of a sudden found myself in a position to win the whole race, extra effort would be hard to squeeze out of myself.

Right before mile 12 I heard the cheers from aid station runners say “Nice work, you guys!”  Guys? Plural? I turned my head as we went around an acute angle and sure enough a runner was right on my tail. I hadn’t seen him at any other point during the race and was curious if he was actually in my race. With half of a mile he had passed me and was definitely wearing the same bib as I. There goes 5th place.

To mile 20:

The great thing about the Pacific Crest Marathon is that at the halfway point you pass right near the finish where all the spectators are. This can also be rather disheartening. A slight change in the way the race course was run did not have us actually passing directly under the finish line chute but rather off to the side. I actually looked forward to that portion as the chute is lined with oodles of people to cheer you on. Nevertheless, the crowds buoyed my spirits – for a bit. As the runner who passed me continued to put distance in between us, my energy slacked a bit. The temperatures were far from soaring (around 80 at this time) but I was definitely beginning to feel the effort. When I hit the 15th mile I told myself that I just had to do 5 more miles of the winding bike paths and then the big hill leading to mile 20. After that it was flat, and while exposed, I could gut through.

At this juncture, I was beginning to catch up to some of the half marathoners who had started thirty minutes behind us. It was wonderful that so many people were out challenging themselves as a plethora of organizations supporting various charities were well-represented. It would have been so much more wonderful if they had realized they couldn’t take up the whole path. Granted they always seemed surprised as I skirted by but I know I wasn’t the first marathoner to pass them. Do not mistake this small complaint as a sweeping generalization.  Many stuck to the right, applauded loudly when I passed, and expressed all varying times of awe-filled statements. As much as my energy was decreasing, I returned their cheers and did my best to pat more than a few people on the back as I passed.

Up the last big hill and back down. Time to bring it home.

To the Finish:

I knew I was finally beginning to succumb to the race right around the 18th mile. That was where I gave up continuing to run at a 3:10 pace and decided to slow down, drink plentifully, and simply finish strong. One of the many things that the Pacific Crest Marathon does right that I have talked about numerous times and have even mentioning in my Making the Perfect Marathon chapter in my new book, is to make sure the aid stations are plentiful at the end of the race. If you need an aid station every mile through the first 6 miles, you might want to rethink whether you are ready to run a marathon.

As the sun beat down from above, the trees abated and the day warmed, not only were the aid stations more than every mile, they had cold drinks and ice. Ice! I cannot even begin to mention how many times I would have killed for ice in the late stages of a warm marathon. To have it in cup after cup, this late in the race, was absolutely fantastic. I would stop and walk through the aid stations, and slowly enjoy the fine wine that is ice water in a marathon.

On the same curve around the airport where I had seen the runner in front of me on the first loop, I saw him again, this time much closer. I realized that he was 5th place and top 5 sounded so much better than top 6. I began to push forward a bit and soon had him about 200 yards in front of me. However, the effort to get there was much more than I should have spent this late in the race. I felt it in my lungs, in my tired legs, and in some other places that shall go unnamed. I backed off and realized I would have to simply settle for 6th place

Around the 23rd mile I passed a group of slower runners in the half and heard the cheers. A few seconds later I heard more cheers. I quickly craned my neck and saw that the runner with the headphones I had passed 16 miles ago was on my tail. Damn it. I didn’t want to have to work for this 6th place finish. But I was sure going to make him work for it!

While I had stopped at the past three aid stations and walked through slowly, generously sipping from the glasses given to me, easily adding a minute of soccer-style stoppage time to my pace, I knew I could not do that for the remaining 3 miles if I wanted to stay in this position. So each aid station I not only refused to stop but I would speed up after grabbing the cups from the volunteers.  The last portion of this course has enough twists and turns in it that it is easy to check one’s position relative to other runners without really looking back.  With one final mile to go, even as I had to wind my way through scores of half-marathoners on both sides of the path (I used them as decoys and pictured myself a halfback trying to weave through tacklers to win the SuperBowl) I knew it would take a herculean effort from the runner behind me to overtake me.

Running a sub-7 last mile made me feel pretty good about my overall effort as I crossed the finishline in 3:20:17 good enough for 6th place overall. I sure would have liked to have been under 3:20 but I also would have liked a lot of things. The best part about this run for me was that it rekindled a rather burning embers only desire to run the marathon. I am not saying it will blow wildly into a wildfire again but it made me hungry for more. Even better was when I saw my bestie Shannon put on an absolutely gutty display to break through a time barrier later on in the race. I was on hand to give her the medal she so richly earned and was ecstatic for both of us to have finished upright. While waiting for her I had the chance to cheer on other runners and reconnect with plenty of other competitors I had met at various races across the country.

The race only had 27 people finish under 4 hours. Over half the field took longer than 5 hours. That, dear readers, is a tough day. But it was a tough day made much better by not only the beauty that surrounded us naturally but all the professional ways in which the veritable cornucopia of events was handled. After I had showered and returned to the event to continue to sign books I listened to the athletes. We always hear the complaints the loudest but those were few and far between.  Rather, most of the participants raved about how well the race was run, how beautiful the course was and how happy they were to be done.

I agree with all of the above.

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