I woke up to my alarm on Sunday morning not feeling so great. Ugh, was that really all the sleep I was going to get? And it was pitch black outside, yuck! Nevertheless, I knew I had a race to run – so I dutifully climbed out of bed and began getting myself together.
I skipped breakfast, having eaten/drank plenty the night before, and headed out the door a few minutes later than I had wanted. The race organizers said that the bus would leave at 5:45am sharp (for a 7:00am start), and I had exactly 15 minutes to make the approximately 12 minute walk over to the Bozeman Running Store where the bus would pick us up. I marveled at how quiet the streets of downtown were now, compared to the bustling night before, but kept my walking pace brisk to make it to the buses with a few minutes to spare. Whew!
Although I had brought a copy of Runners’ World magazine with me to read on the way to the start, it proved to be too dark on the bus for that – it was still so dark outside! The people around me didn’t seem too chatty (and honestly, I wasn’t that much in the mood to talk either), so I just zoned out in the dark for the 25 minute or so ride. In case you’re keeping track of time, this put us at the start at 6:10am – 50 minutes before the race would actually begin. The start was in the middle of absolutely nowhere – just a stretch of road with an ample amount of portapotties on the side. Given that there was only one round of shuttle buses (i.e., the buses weren’t turning around to go get more runners), I didn’t understand why we needed to be dropped off so early just to sit around and wait! It seemed like they could have had the buses to the start arrive at 6:30 or 6:40 instead.
But there was nothing to do about it except make the best of it – so I started chatting with some people in the portapotty lines around me. After all, what better way to make friends than with a bit of bathroom humor? (And a highly embarrassing non-bathroom-related moment with my underwear that I have decided is too personal to share on the blog – sorry!) The time flew by pretty quickly, and soon enough, it was time to head for the start. (Note that by “head for the start,” I mean “drop my gear bag and walk 100 feet forward of that.) The race organizers had a countdown clock leading up to the start time, and since everyone had been there for almost an hour, there were no delays – so we started on time to the second. Hooray for promptness :)
While we were on the bus, the sun had started to rise, and so the actual start of the race was with gorgeous pale blue/pink skies and fluffy clouds – I just loved it. After less than five minutes of running, I snapped my first picture of the race, and I decided fairly quickly that I wanted to keep taking as many photos as I could while I went. Big Sky Country is so incredibly gorgeous!
We passed a few houses here and there, but mostly what was along the route were fields and fields – with majestic mountains in the background. Meanwhile, the road were currently on had just the slightest of downhills to it – which felt like a really fantastic start to 26.2 miles. I clocked the first few miles right around a 9:00 pace or just under it. That was fine with me! My goal for the race was to do the first half in 2:10 (allowing extra time for the steady uphill from miles 7-12), and then do anywhere from 2:00-2:15 on the second half, depending on how my legs were feeling by then. As the first few miles flew by, it seemed like a reasonable plan.
I stopped at the mile 6 aid station to grab some gels (Huckleberry flavor! How fun that even the gels were Montana-themed), and then when I turned another corner, I found myself running on a short paved trail (rather than the road) with some horses in the field to my right. But unlike past fields where the horses had been galloping somewhere off in the distance, here they were right up next to the fence! I decided to stop and try for a selfie with them, but failed miserably because I can’t take selfies to save my life. Luckily, a kind runner who was approaching offered to take the pic for me! So nice.
I was on my way pretty quickly, and shortly after that, hit the one hour mark of running – with already 6.62 miles covered. Not too shabby – that meant I was more than 25% done! I was definitely on track for that pseudo-plan I had made earlier in the race, and was glad that even if I slowed my pace a full 1.5 minutes per mile on the hill, I’d still be on track to hit the halfway point around 2:10. I was feeling good!
Unfortunately, thinking about the worst may have encouraged it to happen – because in mile 7, I started feeling some ickiness in my torso, and it gradually got worse. It wasn’t the normal kind of sick-to-your-stomach (like when you eat something bad), but rather a feeling deep in my chest/lungs that I recognized from races in Denver. Oh, altitude, miserable altitude, how I hate you in a marathon! My pace started to slow considerably at this point as I tried to focus on breathing and just making it through the next 6 miles of incline. After that, I promised myself, it would get much easier.
As I looked at the gravel road in front of me, it honestly didn’t seem to be uphill at all. Why had I bothered to look at the course map beforehand? It occurred to me that perhaps I was more in my head about the incline than actually feeling its effects (combined with that of the altitude). However, I also just didn’t care about my finishing time that much – if I wasn’t feeling strong enough to go fast, that was fine. There has been a lot of controversy lately about doing races to win/go fast vs doing them just to finish, and I am not ashamed to say that for this race I was in it just to finish. Bozeman was the kickoff to my fall marathon season, and I was fine just focusing on the scenery and trying to enjoy myself. I was getting to run in Big Sky Country in perfect fall conditions while listening to interesting podcasts (on this run, it was mostly the Stuff Mom Never Told You series) and just relaxing! For me, there is nothing more relaxing than running a marathon under conditions like this.
This is not to say that I was all smiles – in fact, there were points in that 6 mile incline that I became somewhat frustrated with myself for how slowly I was going. When you’re not running for time, it can be even tougher to push yourself. I am so guilty of taking longer walk breaks than I actually need! I think it’s a lot harder to start going when you stop than it is to keep going when you’re already running (Newton: “an object in motion remains in motion”), which is also why I usually find the first few miles of a marathon to be a lot harder than the final miles.
When I crossed the halfway point of the race, it was at the top of a hill with gorgeous fields and mountains all around me. Okay, Laura, time to pick up the pace now! But like that theory I threw out there before, my body now seemed to be used to the slower pace – so even though I was over the hill and should have been able to start running around a 9:00/9:30 mile, my legs were now seeming to default to the 10:30/11:00 pace. By the time I got to mile 16, I had given up on my original pace plan, resigning myself to finish whenever I finished. Again, with that whole thing about me not caring about my exact finish time, what was another ten minutes one way or the other? (This is why you should always have goals – it’s way too easy to get lost and slow without them!)
When I arrived at the Mile 15.5 aid station, I gratefully slowed to a stop to take some pics of the cute signs the volunteers had made for us. When you do a small race, you might not get quite the volume of crowd support you do in a race like Boston or New York City, but you get quality!
Of course, the other undercurrent of this whole race was how much I want to move to Denver. (Yes, not the same as Montana, but the mountain views are similar.) Even when we were out in the middle of seemingly nowhere, there would be small groupings of houses tucked way back, and I thought about how neat it would be to live in an isolated place like that and just get to relax all the time. While of course I love my friends, sometimes it can get so overwhelming to squeeze in time to hang out with them plus “me time” to relax and read, watch TV, and do other introverted activities. I had gotten to do that all day Saturday, which was glorious, and it made me want to move out here and do that forever! (Though of course, if I actually moved to Montana, I’d make plenty of friends there and have chores to do and all the same issues I have now.)
Mile 17 brought us into a more populous neighborhood, which looked a lot like one of the housing developments near me while growing up (Woodscape, for those familiar with the Albany area). But it was a quick jaunt through and then we were back on the open road. Not being pressed for time, I stopped for a few minutes to use the PortaPotty and take a gel – so this time, I felt even more refreshed when I hit the road again!
Unfortunately, it was here that my headphones broke. While I love my Earhoox and how I can put them on any kind of cheap headphones (so I don’t mind if they ever get lost/destroyed while traveling/running) to turn them into comfortable headphones with good sound, the downside is that cheap headphones are of course more likely to break, Earhoox or not. Here, the protective coating on the wires apparently wore away, and the wires split from bending too much (like when I shove the headphones into my pocket or gear bag). Bummer! The podcasts had been really interesting for me to listen to, and now I was going to have to run with just my own crazy thoughts.
However, this was such a small race that there was almost no one around me – and since it was also in the middle of nowhere, that meant there was no one to care if I played music from my phone’s speaker instead of through headphones. I played it quietly, and turned it down to nothing when I did happen to pass/get passed by another runner, but the beat really kept me going! And right when I was listening to one of my favorite running songs, Rascal Flatts’ Secret Smile (lyrics: “You make the sun shine down/You take the darkest clouds and turn them into rainbows”), the sun came out from the clouds to make it an even more beautiful day than it already was.
With just 6.2 miles to go, I tried to keep my focus on moving forward – but the scenery was just too distracting. I kept taking as many pics as I could, trying in vain to capture the beauty of the day. There was just something about being in the middle of all that splendor that I couldn’t quite get into one camera frame! I even tried to take my first InstaVideo to capture it, but I mostly just sounded stupid :) Better to stick with what I know how to do – run!
I hit a few small hills in miles 21 and 22, but they didn’t seem so bad when I thought about just how close I was to the end and how far I had already gone. Running to the beat of Fun’s awesome Some Nights album at this point, I discovered that so many songs had lyrics that were so perfect for running. “I put one foot, in front of the other, one foot!” “And I feel so all alone…” “When you’re lost and alone, and you’re sinking like a stone: carry on!” “Yes, I know it hurts at first, but it gets better.” “I got nothing left inside of my chest but it’s all alright!” Meanwhile, mile 23 took me into a pretty neighborhood that reminded me I was almost back to town. Yippee!
Here, I put on one of my all-time favorite running songs: “Some Nights,” by Fun. I know I’ve written about this many times before, but it always takes me back to the Rehoboth Marathon where I got to run with Steph and Ericka and I blasted this song for us for a super fast mile 24! Thinking about my friends always makes me feel grateful to be out there – and I would be remiss in posting this race report without mentioning how much fun I was having Instagramming the photos I took along the way. So many of my friends were writing to me to cheer me on, and it was so great to know that even though I was running alone, I wasn’t truly running alone. (If you don’t have a big Twitter/Instagram/etc following to do the same yourself, check out Erica Sara Designs’ new cheer squad – just sign up with your race and you’ll get tons of people cheering you on! Erica Sara herself was tweeting me at mile 20 with congratulations for making it that far :)
As I came to mile 24, I caught up to some back-of-the-pack half marathoners… and I was so excited! I always do better myself when I have other people to cheer for, and since these half marathoners were walking, it was a great opportunity for me to cheer them on and say congratulations as I passed at a run (yes, a run – that’s what the power of positive thinking can do for your pace). We were all so close to the end!
Just after taking this photo, my phone died – the product of too many pictures, Instagrams, tweets, and otherwise using my phone in areas of poor reception. But I was at mile 25 and only had just a teeny tiny bit left – it didn’t matter! I had my favorite running songs in my head as I covered that last mile, and looking at my watch, I noticed that I was covering it a heck of a lot faster than I had covered almost any of the previous 24. I felt fantastic as I approached Bozeman’s Main Street – and briefly wondered why I hadn’t been running at this pace sooner. It felt awesome!
The final 0.2 stretch down Main Street seemed to last forever – but at the same time, the landmarks and stores on Main Street seemed oh-so-familiar after my nighttime jaunts up and down the night before. And then I saw something – or someone – that looked really familiar – it was my friend Lauren cheering me on! I was so thrilled that she and her boyfriend had come out to see me at the finish line (Lauren had actually been volunteering at the race earlier) – it was so nice to see some familiar faces :)
In all, I’m not really proud of how I ran at Bozeman. I think I definitely had it in me to go faster, even with the altitude, and there were definitely points in the race that I wish I had pushed myself harder. But I had made the decision to take it easy and to take lots of pictures – and I’m thrilled with the shots I got. Montana is such a stunningly beautiful place, and I’m so glad that I got to be out there and really take in its full beauty. In this case, I’d put a very high emphasis on the “destination” and a very low emphasis on the “race” – but that just means I’ll have to go back and try doing it the opposite way sometime. I can’t say I’m too sorry about that!
Distance: 26.2 miles
Overall place: 106/155
Gender place: 50/74
Personal marathon rank: 77th fastest out of 94 run