Sunday, October 20, 2013

My First BQ: The St. George Marathon - 2013 Race Report

At last, I can pose for this picture:

After 3 marathons and 3 attempts at qualifying for Boston, I’ve qualified with a 3:33:43, 1:17 under the standard, and a 4:06 PR.
The Training:

Click here for a brief overview of my marathoning history, and my mindset going into this race.

Race Prep:

I was more conscious about getting lots of nutrients in me in the week leading up to the race.  In the two days before the race, I started carbo-loading.  Last cycle (in November, for Philly), I had tried to do it all in one day.  I was uncomfortable, and it was difficult.  I think this worked out a lot better.  I ended up eating lots of carbs on both days, but I didn’t feel as pressured to eat a bunch on the last day.   I probably had about 250/400 on both days… I guess total, 500 exceeds 400… it’s just that it’s spread out over two days.  You really don’t have the whole day on the day before the race to eat, anyway, since you need time to digest, and you need to sleep early.

My meals included bagels with almond butter, oranges, apples, butternut squash soup, and a chicken burrito with rice (Chipotle), plus veggies.  I also had beet juice the night before.

I flew into Vegas 2 days before the race.  I noticed that I was a bit light-headed that night.  I had felt something similar in Philadelphia.   At the time, I suspected that it was some kind of physiological response to all of the carbs.  I was fine the next day, though, so I think it may be airplane-related.  Good to know for next time.

The day before the race, we drove from Vegas to St. George, UT.  We went to the expo, where Dick Beardsley (of Duel in the Sun fame) gave a very inspirational speech.  Key learnings: 1) Closed opportunities / apparent failures sometimes end up being the best thing that ever happened to you (he failed at football, which led him to running).  2) You sometimes wind up with great success in very strange ways (he ran so that he could get a letter jacket in HS, so that he could get a girlfriend).  3) Runners are awesome people (after going head-to-head with Alberto Salazar at Boston and losing by less than 2 seconds, Alberto was getting all of the attention at the finish line while Dick was being shuffled somewhere else.  But the two mens’ eyes met, and Alberto pulled Dick up to the podium, and as the race official raised up Alberto’s hand in victory, Alberto raised up Dick’s hand.)

The next big difference with this race was that I actually slept the night before the race.  Normally, my mind is racing, and I’m filled with excitement and fear about the upcoming challenge.  This time, though, it was more low-key.  I hadn’t been thinking as much about the race in the weeks leading up to it, because of the injury, the reduced training, and the business at work.  Past cycles were also during hectic periods at work, but anyway…. I’ve also found a good way to sleep.  I like to listen to podcasts as I sleep.  The white noise makes it easy for me to doze off, and the content, if I choose to pay attention to it, focuses my mind on something that doesn’t cause any stress.  I tried melatonin once, and I tried magnesium once, and neither seemed to do much for me.

The buses started loading at 4am, and there were incentives (raffles) to get you to go early.  I ended up rushing a bit too much, and although I got my hot shower, fuel, and most of my gear, I left my visor and my shades in the hotel.  Those are two of my essential pieces of gear.  After my dad dropped me off at the buses and left, I panicked a little.  Should I call him?  I didn’t have a phone.  He’d probably get mad.  I convinced myself that if I were to leave behind something, the shades and visor were probably the most non-essential for performance.  I had my breathe-rite.  I had my calf sleeves.  I had my iPod shuffle.  I had my watch.  I did second-guess my shoe choice.  I had been leaning towards wearing my 0-drop Saucony Virattas, instead of the Saucony Kinvaras that I had worn during every other marathon.  On one hand, the longest distance I had gone in the Virattas was 6 miles, but on the other hand, they were light and bright orange.  As I was walking down the steps of the motel down to the car that morning, I considered going back to the room and changing into the stiffer Kinvaras.  I’m currently on my 4th pair, and the third edition actually feels stiffer and less cushioned than how I remember the first edition feeling.  Again, I felt rushed, though, so I went on with the Virattas.  Those felt really flexible, which may not provide enough support for a long distance and could potentially cause injury, if a foot isn’t conditioned enough to handle the forces.  It ended up being perfectly ok, though.

Got to the bus, with kid-sized seats and legroom which made even my 5”1’ frame feel uncomfortable.  Some people were chatting, but I’m the stoic type.  There were a couple of old-timers sitting behind me, and I enjoyed listening to them getting as pumped up and excited as everyone else was.  Running and other adventures keep you young at heart.  It was dark outside, but as we drove, I could make out that we were going uphill early on, which means a downhill course.  Later, there came significant downhills, which would mean uphills.  When you drive these courses, it’s hard to imagine that you’re about to run that distance.  It was chilly outside, but the bus had heaters.  As we approached the starting line, I saw laser lights shining into the air.  This was going to be epic.   We passed the flags of the nations, and we were at the start.

We had a short walk through the windy air, before we were met by volunteers handing out throw-away gloves, mylar blankets, Gatorade, and coffee.  I downed some Gatorade to keep my carb levels up (I didn’t really have breakfast, just beet juice).  I grabbed a cup of coffee to get my caffeine, and to stay warm, as I made my way through rows of fire pits to the very end of the start area.  We huddled around the fire, which did a good job of keeping us decently warm, even as it was maybe 33 degrees and windy outside.  There were rows upon rows of porta potties, but with 1.5 hours til the start, nobody was really using them yet. 

I tried lying down for a bit, with my legs tucked into a trash bag, but that wasn’t very comfortable, so I just sat.  I quickly depleted the cup of coffee, and I wished that I had brought a second, but the fire was good.  Some people chatted.  One girl had run her first BQ 2 weeks prior to this race, so this one would just be for fun.  Gathered around a neighboring firepit was a group of people with yellow jumpsuits labeled with ‘Purgatory Detention Center’.  I thought it was some kind of running club’s fun costume, but apparently, that’s a legitimate group.  I’m not sure if they were running or volunteering.  Either way, that’s awesome.  They were really nice, and after our firewood burned down into a small heap of coals, they brought over some extra wood for us, which they had collected.

As the time for the race start approached, I went to the bathroom twice.  The first time, there were still no lines.  The second time, there were maybe 20-30 minutes until race start, and the lines had gotten maybe 15-people long.  After that, I sat by some of the more crowded fire pits closer to the start.  The population was much denser near the front, so I was fortunate to have settled by the early and distant fire pit initially.  With 10 minutes to go, I started taking off my warm-up gear.  The masses trying to get to the gear bag drop-off were a bit chaotic, but we all got there, and I made my way towards my pace range for the start.  I saw the 3:35 Clif Bar Pacer, but I didn’t really worry about trying to be close to him.  I figured that I was going to just go slow and steady for the first part, and that overall, I may be closer to 3:40 or something anyway.  There was no pressure to start running, even after the gun, because the crowds were small enough (and speedy enough) to where you didn’t have to worry about being stuck behind masses of slower runners. 

Oh, something great about this race is that besides the gear bag drop-off, they actually have trucks that go along the route to pick up discarded clothing.  They don’t simply donate it… they try to get it back to you at the finish, by organizing the clothes by mile marker!  For that reason, I kept on my long sleeve tech shirt for the first two miles, instead of starting off super-cold in a sports bra. 

The Race:

The first few miles are run in the dark.  I was glad, since it would delay the impact of me leaving the visor and shades behind.  It would also keep it cooler.  There were signs along the route, placed by family members of runners.  There were few spectators over most of the course, outside of three major viewing points.  However, as I ran through the gorgeous vistas of the St. George area, I got the feeling that even though there weren’t human spectators, God was spectating.  He had placed majestic mountains, each one uniquely stunning, all along the course.  It’s definitely different from any marathon course I’ve run before. 

I started at a comfortable warm-up pace.  I was still probably going at a decent clip, since my legs were fresh, I was on paved road, it was net downhill, and it was race day.  However, I was keeping it very controlled… just get the miles down.  The first 4 miles or so are rolling hills.  I took gels about every 5 miles, and I also took Gatorade whenever I could get my hands on it… typically, every 2 miles, although I was only able to get water at a couple of them.  I had loaded with 4 anti-fatigue caps 1 hr pre-race, along with 3 extra chocolate-covered expresso beans.  However, I somehow lost the bag of caps.  I did still have my anti-muscle cramp pills, though, so I took about one per hour during the race.  I was going slower than race pace, but at the First Timer’s Seminar the day before, a vet of the race had said that if you don’t negative split in this race, you’ve massively screwed up, so I didn’t worry too much.

At mile 7, Veyo hill came, and I used my usual uphill strategy… small steps, almost walking.  Near the first mini-plateau, we got our first taste of full sun, as we were no longer being guarded by the mountains.  It was bright, but manageable.  As I was climbing up Veyo, I was passed by the 3:45 pace group.  I knew that I had started sometime after the 3:35 pace group, so I probably wasn’t a full 10-min behind pace.  I also heard at the first-timers seminar that people have done 15-min negative splits, before, too.  What I didn’t know was what kind of pacing strategy the 3:45 group was using.  If they were also planning to negative split to account for second-half downhills, not so good… but if they were even-splitting, then that would be ok.  As they passed me, I heard the pace leader introduce Veyo to the group.  He also gave a great piece of advice for uphills, which I used for the rest of the climb… don’t lean forward.  Try to stay upright, and you’ll conserve energy.  Although they did get ahead, they never got too far ahead, as we continued climbing, and as the road flattened out, I was able to make the distance up and eventually pass them.

The uphills continued until about mile 12.  At mile 14, we came to a steep drop… it’s almost too steep, since significant incline means more pounding and braking.  As much as the downhill was nice and certainly helpful to my time, the uphill was almost a welcome break for the downhill muscles.  I was feeling very strong (vs. last year, when mile 14 was when things got touch).  The miles clicked by.  At 16, there was another little hill.  Still felt good.  Mile 18 – still surprisingly fresh, and only 8.2 to go.  Mile 21 another hill, but incredibly, I was still feeling really strong.  The downhill kept coming.  I hear that the wall can come upon you very suddenly, so I wasn’t going to start pushing it too early.  Just keep holding the downhill pace.  
I noticed that during the second half of the race, I was passing people very convincingly, like gobbling up the field of runners as I went.  The downhillls continued, and I hoped that they would persist.  I knew that the last bit would be flatter, so I wanted the downhills to last as long as possible, so that I could ride the good times.  

We finally got into the city (St. George), and there wasn’t much of the race left.  We had some zig-zags across town.  I was still gobbling people up pretty well, although I did notice a guy who I hung with the whole rest of the way.  The pace continued to be strong.  I was amazed that I wasn’t hitting the wall, even after 24-25 miles.  In the last stretch of the last mile, I sprinted, confident that I wouldn’t be hitting the wall in the last stretch, or that at least, the finish was so close that it didn’t matter.

I didn’t check my watch for the last mile or two.  I knew that I had probably made up enough time to quality for Boston.  I had done enough 15-30second mile splits to make up for the early slower miles and the hills.  I wasn’t sure how much cushion time I had, but I didn’t want to waste any energy looking down, if it could mean the difference between qualifying and not, or qualifying and being fast enough to actually be registered or not.  I crossed the line in a sprint, and I saw that I had made it.  Official time: 3:33:43.  It would’ve been nice to be 3:33:33, haha.  Oh well.  So, it’s not stellar, and it may not give me enough to actually register.  It all depends on how many people try to register.  But, at the very least, I’ve qualified.

After the race, I was feeling great, and I did some dynamic stretching, and I downed two full-sugar Yoplaits, for some protein and carbs.  I had had a bunch of sugar by this time, though.  I had 5 gels plus Gatorade, and I could’ve downed additional gels without too much issue, if I wanted to.  I’m glad my stomach can handle all of that.  I took post-race pics, went to the bathroom, and caught up with my family.  They had seen the 3:35 pace group cross the finish line a few minutes ahead of me, so they thought that I hadn’t made it, since I typically go with the pace group.  They were happy to hear that I had made it, despite their pressure-relieving suggestion to just take it easy and run for fun because of my incomplete training cycle.
I picked up my drop bag for some warm clothes.  It's true, the St. George marathon is one of the most organized races, ever.
I then went to the road-side gear drop area, where trucks were still coming in.  It ended up looking like a Goodwill garage sale, with all the clothes everywhere.  The first truck ended up being only from the starting line area.  The second truck had everything through mile 6, and it was stuffed with clothes… it was kind of insane.  I had dropped my tech shirt at mile 2, so it was close to the back.  With patience and luck, I found my shirt, after about 30 minutes of easter egg hunting for a needle in a haystack. 

After the hunt, we went down to the finish line, to cheer people on.  A race isn’t complete until you do this.   It’s fun to watch all kinds of people cross the lines in all kinds of conditions.  Old and young, costumed and in-it-to-win-it, grotesquely limping to cartwheeling, crying and laughing.  The marathon brings out every emotion, and it’s something that any one, from any background, can enjoy.  It hits the core of the human experience as we struggle, overcome, and triumph, alongside friends and family. 


-          I had had tart cherry juice pre-race, for carbs and some pre-loading of anti-soreness remedy.  I also drank a cup a day for the next couple of days.

-          I went on a week-long roadtrip to visit national, state, and tribal parks.  Unfortunately, I was there for the week that the Grand Canyon and other national parks were closed, but we made the best of it.  The state and tribal parks were really nice, so I don’t feel that deprived.  The land is much different there, compared to the east coast.  It’s very varied, too.

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