Normally I’d start my race reports with the time I woke up, but this time I didn’t sleep, so I’ll just start where I left off!
I got myself together for the race as quickly as possible, with the only big bummer being when I went to grab my iPod – unfortunately, it had turned itself on in my bag while in flight, and was totally out of batteries! There wasn’t time to charge it before I left, so I regretfully left my iPod and accessories (armband, headphones) at the hotel. I realized it was probably for the best anyway, as the forecast had called for rain all morning so this way I wouldn’t be dealing with wet electronics. The only other snafu came when I was looking for my contact lenses, and couldn’t find the makeup bag in which I had packed them. Luckily, after a few minutes I remembered that I had tucked it into my extra purse in order to save room, so all was well there. Running in the rain with glasses on would not have been fun!
The shuttle pickup for the start seemed to be just a few blocks and a half mile away from my hotel, so I had planned to walk. I looked at Google Maps before I left, to be sure I was going in the right direction, and thought I had it figured out… until I started walking and realizing that the street names didn’t correspond to what was on Google Maps. The only people around were some drunks at Denny’s, so I took a chance and asked them, and there were two who were quite helpful. However, there was another guy who just kept asking over and over, “you’re WALKING?” He couldn’t seem to fathom that I didn’t have a car, even though the arena was apparently only about a 10 minute walk. I guess Salt Lake just isn’t a pedestrian city!
Again, I headed in what I thought was the right direction. I was looking for the Energy Solutions Arena, and I finally came upon a building that said “Energy Solutions” on it, but it didn’t seem to be an arena of any kind. Next to it was a hotel, so I tried to go in and ask, but it required key card access to the lobby at certain hours, and there didn’t seem to be anyone inside to see me and let me in, so that was out. However, in the process of trying to get into the hotel, I realized that the “Energy Solutions” sign I had seen was because their office was there… oops! Not what I was looking for. In a panic, I tried calling Boyfriend for help, but he had been drinking the night before and usually his phone won’t wake him up… and this was a usual night. Next, I tried my mom, and she did her best to help, but she struggles a bit with the computer and so wasn’t able to really give me the info I needed. In desperation, I flagged a car down (the woman driving stopped for me, but was very reluctant to lower the window to talk to me, which I thought was odd, because if you’re not going to open your window, why are you stopping in the first place?) and the woman said I was now on the right track – just a few blocks further on the current street. I thanked her, and right as I got on my way, Boyfriend called and further confirmed exactly where I was going. Thank you! I ended up getting to the bus just 5 minutes before the last one was supposed to leave, and quickly boarded, but as it turned out, it waited another 10 minutes for stragglers so I needn’t have worried.
On the bus, I sat next to a girl about my age who had done this marathon last year. She lived in Utah and did a ton of marathons (this was #22 for both of us), but had done them all in the state of Utah. Utah truly does have a lot of marathons! While I enjoyed chatting, as soon as the bus started up, I excused myself and said that I was going to try to nap a bit on the way to the start. However, my new friend didn’t quite seem to get it, and was extremely talkative! Three times during a lull in conversation, I would say, “okay, if you don’t mind, I think I’m going to sleep now,” and then would lie back and close my eyes… and every time, she would wait about a minute and then ask me a question about where I live or the marathons I had done or my job or something. She was really nice, but it took her a while to get the hint that I just wanted to sleep and not talk!
As with last night’s flight, I pretty much just conked out as soon as I finally was able to get some peace, and didn’t wake up again until we arrived at the start. Stepping off the bus, I was shocked – it was COLD! There were a lot of people with heat sheets, and I remembered too late that I used to bring one to every marathon if it was cold at the start – oops! I’ve been so used to the hot summer races lately that it hadn’t even occurred to me that I might need a heat sheet. I put on the sweatshirt that I always keep in my drop bag, but didn’t have any sweatpants to wear because I never bring those to summer marathons either. Later that afternoon, my mom pointed out that the race instructions warned of 40 degree temperatures at the start and in the canyon, but I had missed that – oops!
I managed to survive, and busied myself trying to find the very unofficial packet pickup – having e-mailed the race director in advance about my late arrival, he told me that while you weren’t supposed to do this, he always brought all the extra packets to the start just in case. Eventually I found it, and though I had a bit of trouble getting my chip on at first (one of the plastic ties was broken and wouldn’t lock properly), I ended up swiping one from another person’s unclaimed packet (with a volunteer’s permission) and was all set.
Next up on my pre-race agenda was the portapotty, which was an interesting experience. It was pitch black at the top of the mountain – and I do mean pitch black. The only light was someone’s truck with the headlights on, and one big spotlight that reminded me of those lights people put on their garages to automatically light up when there’s movement at night. Unfortunately, neither of these light sources filtered into the portapotty, so once you shut the door, you couldn’t see a thing. I reached into my pocket for my cell phone for illumination, and was glad I did: the lid on the toilet seat was closed and I would have quite a mess had I tried to use it without fixing it! I left the bathroom without further incident, and headed to the big tent where runners were gathered to chat and stay warm.
There, I ran into Larry Macon, a Marathon Maniac and Guinness World Record holder for most marathon in a lifetime. He cheerfully informed me that today was his 560-something-th marathon, and my jaw dropped. We discussed future racing plans, which is always fun with Larry because if you name a marathon, he’s done it, and probably multiple times to boot. He said Carrollton was boring, but I mentioned that this year it was a two loop course instead of an eight loop, so hopefully it wouldn’t be bad. However, he did point out that Carrollton was really flat, and was a good choice for easing into a double. Larry then proceeded to tell me that he wanted to get me into triples next, and suggested a combo of Pocatello-Albuquerque-Colorado Springs over Labor Day Weekend! Wow. Larry himself is running the San Francisco Marathon tomorrow and one in Iowa on Sunday – more power to him, but I think I may take a pass on triples. At least for now!
Soon enough it was time to line up for the start, and I dutifully headed over. The race director announced that though we had chips, there wasn’t a chip mat at the start and that if we cared about our time (i.e. were going for an award or something), we should stand close to the front of the group. This announcement freaked me out a bit – I worried that everyone would be fighting to get to the front. However, people were surprisingly civilized, with the legitimately fast runners moving to the front while the rest of us slowpokes stayed back. Wonderful! The only thing not-so-wonderful was the bagpiper who was supposed to play to entertain us while we waited for the race start. I suppose he was fine, but I just really hate bagpipes, so I was none too thrilled.
The gun went off and we headed off into the darkness down the mountain. And when I say down, I mean DOWN. I don’t think I’ve ever done a race with this steep of a downhill. The road was pretty winding, so with the back and forth you could see the runners ahead of you, but they were always WAY below you, so it was really clear just how much of a descent it was. I tried to take my time, and tons of people were passing me so I assume I was succeeding, but I hadn’t turned on the backlight on my Garmin and it was just way too dark to see anything.
Within the first two miles, I realized I had had too much Powerade at the start and needed to use the bathroom. However, there was only one portapotty at each aid station, and when I got to the first one, the line was about ten people long. There were tons of guys just standing along the side of the road and aiming for the ravine below, but because of the sharp dropoff, there wasn’t any way for me to discreetly take this option. I kept looking for some sort of flatter area where I might be able to duck into the woods, and in the meantime, I passed another aid station with another ten person line for the portapotty. Should I stop? I opted not to, and regretted it immediately after passing by. Then, I spied a woman coming from a gated lane that went further into the woods. “Aha! You found a spot!” She nodded and grinned at me as she headed back to the course, and I gratefully ducked down the lane to do my thing. Hey, as a marathoner, you need to be tough and do what you gotta do!
I returned to the race and fell in with a group of three guys about my age who seemed fairly social, so I started chatting with them. Turned out they were ultrarunners and had already run 14 miles on some trail in order to get to the start! Hardcore. As I got to talking with them about other races and various other standard runner questions, I was telling them about “the toughest race I’ve ever done… it was SO ridiculously hard!” (Running With the Devil in Boulder City last month). Turns out that one of the guys had been there, done that, and not just the wussy marathon like me either: he did the 50 mile option! Boy did I feel pathetic for claiming that the marathon was so tough. After I got home, I stalked him in the results and found that he finished in about 9 hours – so basically just two hours longer than it took me to run half the distance. WOW. He was really nice and very humble though, pointing out that the 50 mile runners had gotten to start at 6 AM and therefore had 3 hours of cooler and less sunny conditions. Pssh, like that lessens the accomplishment! We chatted for the next few miles, and he was really helpful in describing the course and what to expect, since this was his third year running it and lazy me hadn’t bothered to really take a good look at the course map. Around mile 6, we hit an uphill section that wasn’t bad, but I opted to walk it while he pulled ahead, so we parted ways there.
Around mile 7, it was time for another downhill, this time descending into what I was told was called “Immigration Canyon.” Unlike the first 6 miles, which was the longest and steepest downhill I had ever run, this downhill was long but of a much more normal grade. While I could still see the mountains towering all around me, the homes and scenery right near the road reminded me of the Adirondacks in upstate New York. It was nice to feel like home! The ironic thing is, I was never much of a nature or scenery person when I was growing up. When we would go up to our lake house on summer weekends, I would stick my nose in a book and not want to look up for anything; but somehow in the Rockies, I’m just in total awe of the mountains and the scenery. I’ve noticed that from my experiences in Wyoming and Montana, and Utah strengthened that feeling even more. I could definitely see myself moving out there someday.
I had been worried that I would be bored without my iPod music, but not to worry – there was a guy running near me who was carrying a portable speaker that blasted out his own music. While I should have enjoyed the fact that I had music even without my iPod, I was actually pretty annoyed. The run was so scenic, and it seemed rather presumptuous on his part to assume that everyone running near him would want to listen to his rap music instead of listening to their own music (he was blasting it pretty loud) or enjoying the serenity of the area. Have any of you seen people do this? What are your thoughts? I know spectators will often do this, but I don’t mind it as much when I’m just passing through a moment of music; it just seems much more intrusive to have to run next to him for miles with it. I finally managed to pass him on another big downhill section, and I made an effort to stay ahead of him and not have to listen to his music for the rest of the race.
Around mile 16, we went up a short hill and found ourselves suddenly in the suburbs. There was a country club, a park, and tons of houses all lined up instead of spaced out like they had been in the canyon. The neighborhoods reminded me a lot of part of the Tulsa Route 66 Marathon, and I mused for a while about how it seems like at some point with marathons, I’ve stopped seeing unique things. I mean, the race itself was unique, but different parts of it reminded me of different marathons I’ve run in the past. Miles 1-4 reminded me a lot of Run With the Horses in Wyoming, miles 4-9 reminded me of Running With the Devil in Nevada, 10-16 reminded me of Hatfield McCoy in Kentucky/West Virginia, and now miles 16-20 reminded me of Tulsa. Funny how that works…
Around mile 19, we turned out of the suburban neighborhoods and were on a main city road with traffic whizzing by us to the left. The race organizers had done a good job blocking off a lane for us to run in, and every single corner was well-manned by a policeman who made sure we had the right of way. I was starting to get tired at this point, and started taking some walk breaks (even though I knew I should stop being lazy and just keep going). There was one teeny little incline that made me justify walking up, and as I powerwalked up, another woman said, “ugh, I just can’t wait for this uphill to end!” I hadn’t even realized because it was so subtle, but miles 19-23 were all a very gradual uphill. No wonder my legs felt so sluggish! Well, that and the pounding they had taken on the downhill. It was also around this time that the sun came out to play. Luckily, there were a few trees along the route, and it definitely wasn’t too hot, but even so – sun just seems to suck my energy so it didn’t help.
At mile 20, we took a turn and did another mile or two, and then we saw a short uphill ahead. I approached it already having decided it wasn’t going to get the best of me, and charged up at the same pace I had been running on the flat ground. I switched to walking about 3/4 of the way up though, when I started getting tired – no point in wasting my energy when I can walk at just about the same pace. At the top of the hill, we turned onto a brick road, and it reminded me of a shorter version of the Hayes Street Hill in the Bay to Breakers last year (well, at least what I remember of Bay to Breakers through the drunken haze and concussion). The brick road was fortunately a nice, gently sloping downhill, and I was thrilled to be able to breeze by the walkers around me. My legs felt pretty decent, but the sun was starting to get to me at this point. Also, there were only 4 miles to go, and I still hadn’t seen any evidence of this parade that we were supposed to run through. The online reviews I read made it sound like the parade was a significant portion of the route, but we were nearing the end and I hadn’t seen it. I asked one of the runners around me (it seemed that most of the runners were local and therefore knew the deal), and he said he thought the parade was on the 300 block. We were at 1200, and I used my Garmin to figure out that each block was about 1/10th of a mile, so less than a mile till the parade. Woo hoo! I concentrated on keeping a nice steady pace, but not wearing myself out. After all, gotta look good in front of all those adoring fans, right? ;)
When the 300 block came along, I did indeed see the parade up ahead… but I also saw the runners in front of me turning to the left, away from the parade. What the heck?! I wanted to be in a parade! I dutifully followed them, grumbling to myself as I went, and I realized that we were now running one street over, parallel to the parade. Presumably, we’d cut over and run in the parade at some point, but now I didn’t know when. This mile was made especially frustrating because the sun was now out in full force and there was no shade – yuck! I started getting really tired, and started to give up my pace as a result. There were a few spectators along the course (mostly walking to or from the parade), and I asked one if there was a water stop ahead, because I was SO thirsty. There was one right at mile 24 – hallelujah! Normally I wouldn’t stop for a drink that late in the race, but I gratefully slowed to a walk as I sipped the water, and it didn’t feel as bad to resume running afterward. Furthermore, just a few blocks later, we took a right – parade, here we come!
I had no idea how running in a parade would work, and it was something I had been wondering about since I saw that in the reviews on Marathon Guide. Turns out that they had the regular parade route (down the middle of the street) roped off, and then they had another lane roped off for runners, and then the crowds sat behind that lane. When I went through, there were no floats or anything else coming down the main parade route, which meant that on the one hand, a lot of people weren’t paying attention, but on the other hand, those that were looking weren’t distracted by other stuff and were cheering just for the runners. Yippee! :) Sadly, my excitement was short-lived, as the course only kept us on the parade route for one block before turning left and heading back to the other street again. I was pretty disappointed – because we were off to the side of the main parade route, we weren’t in the way or anything, so it seems to me that they could have had us run with the parade all the way from when we first hit 300th Street. Oh well…
With just one mile to go, I normally pick it up and get really excited for the finish. However, in this race, I kind of didn’t care. I wasn’t in it to set a good time, so how I did in the last mile really didn’t concern me too much. Still, I didn’t want to totally suck and regret how I did in that last mile, so I fought the urge to walk and tried to just keep going. As I rounded the final turn, I picked up my pace a bit and tried halfheartedly to catch a guy a few seconds ahead of me, but he was kicking it too, and doing a much better job than I was, so I couldn’t quite catch him. With no chance of beating anyone, my final sprint to the finish line was a little less intense than usual, but I still did sprint it in, and finished with my arms in the V for victory pose. 4:20! Not bad considering how little sleep I had gotten.
I hit up the food area, where there were bagels, bananas, oranges, and freeze pops. I opted for all of the above, minus the bagel, and felt pretty good about my choices. There were two kiddie pools set up as ice baths, and I briefly contemplated using one (my first time!), but wussed out “because there were no towels and I didn’t want my feet to get all muddy when I stepped out.” I told myself that I could just make one at the hotel with the ice machine and the bathtub.
From there, I walked back to my hotel, allowing my muscles to hopefully loosen from the relaxed walking pace. I could feel that my leg muscles were a bit tight, but I hoped that the walking and some sleep would take care of that so that I could do a good job in Sunday’s race. I meant to take an ice bath, as I had told myself earlier, but the bed looked so much more comfortable than submerging my body in freezing cold water, so I opted for a nice nap instead. Aaaah! I had just a few hours before my 5 PM flight to LA and then my redeye back to NYC, where I’d consider going to Michigan for Sunday’s race. Stay tuned to see if I make it!