Sunday, November 12, 2006

11/11/06 Richmond Marathon

Return to Running, Return to Richmond

Way back in July, I posted a (too) long summary of various marathons I'd done in the first half of the year. My goal had been to do 55-60 marathons this year, speeding up as I went. Everything was going according to plan until August 18th, when the Cancer Fairy paid a visit to my family. I stopped racing, I stopped training, I gained about 5 pounds while helping... and it was totally the right thing to do. I started running again sometime around the middle of October. Ugh.

I had placed Richmond on my schedule (with prepaid flights and prepaid hotel) a long time ago. Things are going reasonably well at home, as good as they can I suppose, so I decided to come.

I flew into Dulles and then drove to Richmond. Interesting drive, crazy traffic. My favorite part was passing through Spotsylvania (home of vampire dogs! Who vanht to hump your leg!). Went to the expo, looked for people I knew, found none, and ate some fine hotel food. Mmmm. Marriott food.

Now, I last ran the Richmond Marathon in 2002. That was a way different time in my life. I was just getting into the whole multiple marathoning thing and I was still learning what it meant to live/train post-cancer (the Cancer Fairy likes my house, you see). I ran a robust 4:56 that year and I remember a serious death march in the last miles. But I got a free hat.

The Richmond course is an interesting figure-8 design. It's pretty roly poly, but unlike most roly poly courses I know, it has a lot of flat sections mixed in. For example, there are two pancake flat bridge sections, each about a mile long. It also has a nasty hill at M17. Not steep, but loooong and unshaded. A few more roly polies in the last miles and then a mondo screaming ass kicker downhill in the last half mile.

About 4500 people do this race. There are pace teams. There are aid stations every two miles until M20 and then every mile. There are junk food stations. There's entertainment. And today... it was a hot day for most people... there was ice, lots of washcloths, and misting tents.

Did I say it was a hot day? It was. But, oh joy, for Island Boy. Running in the 70s is what I like most. So let's talk about my day.

As mentioned above, I'm still trying to come back from a forced running layoff. Mind you, I've never been fast. If you want to read fast people's stuff, go read Amy Yanni's report or Fiddy2 Dane's report. Before the layoff, I was running 3:40ish. After? My times had been on the wrong side of 4:15. Egad. It's all relative, of course. But I lost 25+ minutes while playing chemo boy ("Use your bucket, dear!").

Today was a workout day for me. I wanted to put in 16 fast but consistent miles... and then I knew the last 10 would be more about talking to people and soaking in Richmond. And believe me, this is not a good racing strategy. It goes by the name "going out too fast" as a racing strategy. Do not follow srlopez's example if you are racing. Do not follow srlopez's example if you are new to marathoning and want to finish upright and happy.

I decided to stick with something around 8:30s for the first 16 miles. There's some science-y stuff regarding why 8:30, but I'll leave it out because this is already too long.

I learned right off that the layoff took away my sense of pace. I decided to stay a little bit in front of the 3:45 pace group. That helped. A lot. So did having some great spectators and having "Stevie Ray" printed on my bib above the big MARATHON MANIACS (which, oddly, many people misread... and cheer for "Marathon Man", or today one guy called me "Marilyn". Really.)

I saw one Maniac, just after we started. I think his name was Jim... sorry if I got this wrong, though! It was crowded. I didn't see another Maniac during the race, but the calendar tells me that they were there.

Here were my splits through 16:

8:32, 8:22, 8:19, 8:18, 8:27, 8:26, 8:07, 8:14
8:17, 8:25, 8:40, 8:33, 8:38, 8:42, 8:25, 9:21

Hmm. Not so consistent. The course rolls, so I didn't expect metronome precision, but I have a long way to go with my training. And I guess it was more of a 15 mile workout. Ooops.

The 3:45 team passed me on the long bridge around M16 as I went into jog mode. Interestingly, jog mode started about the time we lost all our shade and the temperatures were climbing. Nice planning, ace. I noticed people going into Death March mode really early. I passed lots of walkers, lots of people doing the "hands on hips" thing. And by the early 20s, people were literally dropping. I stopped twice to check on folks. One guy was apparently named "dammitdammit". At least that's what he said when I asked him his name.

Somewhere in here, we passed a spectator who was blasting Amazing Grace on his boombox. Key tip for any spectator reading this: please don't play funeral music for the marathoners. Mahalo plenty.

I hit M20 at about 2:55. Now, I had no particular time target for this race, but I usually know that if I get to M20 before 3 hours, then I'm going to break 4. Usually. And this, my friends, is a lesson about going out too fast. That 8:30 plan, which really had a few too many 8:20s in it, got me. Because I was taking it easy and having fun, there was no threat of hitting that danged ol' wall... but there was also no way that I could get my legs moving fast again if I had wanted to do that. And keep reading, because it would turn out that I really would want to do that.

M23 at 3:28. Still could have beaten 4. Wasn't gonna happen. But interestingly, I wasn't being passed by anyone.

4:00 pacer passed me at M24. He seemed to be running alone. Uh oh. At least he still looked fresh. Exciting. But not so inviting to me.

There was some large group of people in lime green shirts running this race. Like TNT, they had coaches. At M25, a coach jumped in to help pull this one poor guy to the finish. He started being "encouraging" in that particular loud tone that is neither encouraging nor friendly to other people around him. You know this tone... you hear it on Amazing Race. "YOU ARE GONNA DO THIS! YOU ROCK! YOU ARE GONNA DO THIS" over and over again. And again.

Folks, this right here is the one time during the event that I questionned my early go-fast plan. Because I really really, no REALLY wanted to pull away from TheIncredibleMotivator.

M26 at exactly 4:00. The spectators were lining the course, whooping it up, but making the running path really skinny.

At M26.001, TheIncredibleMotivator was joined by a second coach who proceeded to pull in side-by-side with the others, forming a wall... while they all slowed down. Having none of that, I found a little bitty kick. Hey, hey hey! Get outta my way!

Finished at 4:01:27.

In retrospect, I feel kinda lousy for sprinting past this guy who was really hurting at the end. It was selfish, but I could standsnomore of the coach. Blah blah blah. I have really mixed emotions about that... but I don't think I slowed him down and I didn't get in his way, whilst they DID get in my way.

Looked for my Maniac friends after the race. Talked to Hippo for awhile. Ate some pizza. Drank some tea. The band was playing some Monkees.

And then I drove 4 hours to Harrisburg. I was supposed to run the Harrisburg Marathon on Sunday, but when I woke up on Sunday morning, it was obvious to me that I'm not in double shape yet. I have a long way to go. Besides, the weather was quite nasty.

I am sooo happy to be running.

07/01/06 Leadville Trail Marathon

Way Up High in Leadville

This is not a typical report. I may come back and write a real one, but my brain is fried from this race (Saturday). So here are my random notes.

This is a trail marathon. I've done a few "trail" marathons before, but they were rail-to-trail deals that were wide with nice, soft running surfaces and gentle slopes. I've also done some technical trail races before, but they weren't anything near 26.2. This was the full-length motion picture on a horrific mix of single track (a couple scary miles) and old mining road... all rocky and very technical.

The race starts in the town of Leadville at 10,000 feet. The claim to fame is that you summit Mosquito Pass, 13,185 feet, at the halfway point. What they don't tell you is that you basically climb most of another mountain (locals call it "baldy") and circle it... then descend... then do the climb to Mosquito. When it comes down to it, you've climbed/descended a bunch... and then you do 2,000+ feet between M10 and M13.1. 2,000+ feet over three miles of switchback. Oh, then you do baldy again on the way back. See, it's an out-and-back. Lots of this was/is above treeline.

Some parts of the trek up to Mosquito were so steep for me that I had to go about 100 yards...stop and put my head between my legs to catch my breath.... go another 100 yards, etc. This is the only time in the last 76 marathons that I've seriously considered bailing. I didn't mostly because there wasn't really anywhere else to go. A lot of us had trouble with this section, but I have to admit that a lot of people did NOT. Yeah, I'm from sea-level, and many of these were colorado folks - but not all. I was amazed by the number of people that blazed up and down. Really amazed.

And one dog. A medium sized dog of undetermined breed trotted behind his owner for the whole race. I passed them as they were finishing the climb while I was on my way down. No leash... just toodling behind his owner buddy. Cool.

Now I know about altitude sickness and what it does to me. I had a wooshing sound in my ears - kinda like wind. I had a severe headache. I could not focus my eyes, which made the technical trails and nearby 1000 foot dropoffs somewhat more evil. I was cranky. Oh man, was I cranky. I am quite sure that I was near my MHR for a long damn time.

I hit the summit... 13.1 miles... at 3:40 on the race clock. One minute later, the winner finished the whole thing. Note that 3:45 is my normal full marathon time. I'd only done half.

Oh, and the winner passed me when I was probably around M10ish. He would have been at M16ish. He had on exactly 3 items of clothing: shorts and two shoes (no socks), and no hydration gadgets. This was a chilly race too. Me? I had on 12 items including my handheld bottle.

About 15 minutes back down the mountain... which was MUUUUCH scarier than going up... the thunder started in the distance.

"Please God, don't let the thunder come through while I am above the treeline." It didn't. I saw my first close lightning strike as I was a few miles from the finish. But, bruddah, I was nervous for most of the second half. Probably helped me run faster.

The wildflowers were wonderful. Didn't notice them on the way up. Saw lots on the way down.

I hit the aid station at mile 16 at 4:30. No mosquitoes at the top of the pass, but lots here.

Passed through a few snowfields, only one was difficult, but we had to do it twice.

I had been told that this race had a lot of single track trail in. Nope. Maybe a couple miles (so four total). But these miles circled baldy. Single track, about a foot wide... with a really steep dropoff on one side. And once, an open mineshaft. This is where I learned that another attribute of altitude sickness is vertigo. Oh man.

The race goes by a bunch of old mines. I wish that I had enjoyed the sights more. Wasn't sure what I was looking at... some looked like sets from old west movies. But I was too focused on not dying to really check it all out.

My right foot started hurting me terribly at about the 5 hour mark. I could tell that I had a bad blister on the heel. What was I going to do about it? So I ran.

I hit the aid station at mile 22.4 at 6:06. 54 minutes and 3.8 miles to beat 7 hours. Sounds easy, but these last miles were steep downhill and my right foot was really messed up. This is where I saw the first lightning strike, I think.

I passed about 4 people in this last section. I noticed that only one person had passed me in the last ten miles.

I finished at 6:53. I beat 7 hours. My splits were a funky 3:40/3:13.

I collapsed at the finish line. I had tripped and stumbled more times than I could count during the race (and have the black toes to prove it), but I never spread-eagled. I never fell until the end.

Later, I took my right shoe off, and found that all of my skin was (is) missing from my right heel. The entire thing had blistered and then peeled back. Why? Bad form on the steep downhills... lots of braking. I had to brake, though, so as not to die. But other people did lots better.

I lived. I drank some soda.

07/29/06 Volcano Trail Marathon

The Ankle Eating Volcano Trail Marathon

I'm in the process of moving, so I haven't had time to write much. Or run much. But as I often do, I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Kilauea Wilderness Runs were held on Saturday, 7/29. They have a 5 miler, a 10 miler, and a full marathon. I picked the marathon. Now... I have run 75% of the trails used by the marathon, but I have never run the race itself. I thought I knew what to expect, but that other 25% was far harder than I imagined.

Kilauea, if you don't know, is the most active of the Big Island's volcanoes. They built a national park around it (and part of Mauna Loa) way back when... and the volcano frequently erupts - destroying parts of the park and adding new features to it. It has been erupting pretty much constantly since the early 80s.

The race itself goes around various cool sections of the park, but nowhere near the active stuff. Which is good, given that volcanic fumes can kill you dead. And this race is hard enough.

My goal was to run 4:30. That's actually a damn good time for this course... rated one of the 5 hardest marathons in the world. I'll tell you right here that I didn't make it. But it was an interesting race, for sure.

In a nutshell, the first 13 miles are run across lava and sand. This is perhaps the most technical trail I have ever run in my life. Lots of scrambling. Lots of what I now call "snotcleaner" trail... the kind where you jump up/down and land so abruptly that it cleans out your sinuses.

I saw the first guy do a faceplant around M3. He got back up. I saw the second guy wipeout a few miles later. He didn't get back up at first. He tried to protect himself w/ his hands and broke all his fingers in his left hand. It was nasty. I stayed with him for a few minutes until he regained his wits, and then pointed him back to the last aid station (it was closer).

It's worth pointing out that for the first 8 miles, I was in serious haul ass mode. I was in the pack right behind the leaders... a position that I never ever occupy... and I was running on the edge of being out of control. This was a huge rush, but it was also a mistake. I didn't faceplant, but I did turn my ankle, and how, at M8. M8 was also where I found out why I was so close to the leaders. It wasn't because I've become superfast. They were running slower than normal to save themselves for M8-13, the most brutal part of the course. And that's right where I hurt myself. Ankle deep sand. Rocks. Boulders. Climbs. Whoops.

I kept going, albeit at a much slower pace. Apparently I looked bad too, because several people who passed me (and lots did) asked me if I was ok. Then the race changed dramatically at M13. We exited the lava and started a long climb up a paved road. 300 ft (from 3100 to 3400) over 4 miles. Certainly not steep, but long. Then a gradual downhill from M17 to M19. Hurting.

And here's where I caught costumed lady. See, at the beginning, we all saw this rather buff woman wearing a white costume with gold headgear. She carried a sword. I knew she wasn't Wonder Woman, and she didn't really look like Isis. People said she was Pele (the Hawai'ian goddess, not the Brazilian soccer guy), but that didn't make sense. Pele no have sword. And she was FAST. She was up with the leaders and left me behind. I caught her at M19, though, because she was walking.

As I passed her, she spanked me on the ass with her sword. Can't say that's ever happened to me before.

At M19, we pulled off the paved road and onto a mowed grass road. Yes, a grass road. Very soft. And the climb started anew. 700 feet over an unending 4 miles. So more than twice as steep as the previous climb. I will admit that I walked quite a bit of this. I might have walked some even if my ankle was ok, but it wasn't, and I did. Walk. Hurting.

At M23, we suddenly popped out at a very touristy part of the park... the Thurston Lava Tube. It was packed with tourists, and some actually knew that there was a race happening. The only spectators except for the end. Are you ok? Yes. I'm fine. I just want a nap.

Then we were back on the single track for the remainder of the race. Rolling. Now instead of lava rocks and snotcleaner trail, we had to worry about roots. We're in a rain forest. This is the prettiest part... and the only piece where we're protected from the sun. And the wind.

Yeah, I didn't mention that. The race was hot, humid, and windy with no shade up until the later miles. The volcano can actually be quite chilly... but it wasn't on race day.

Around M24, costumed lady caught me again. She was absolutely flying. I was not.

And there it was... the finish line. At least I thought it was the finish line. Lots of people hollering. When I got there, I realized that they were hollering "only 200 yards to the finish line! Go around the corner!"

And... ok, this time for sure... there it was... the finish line. Really.


OUCH. I arrived in the middle of the awards ceremony - which they stopped briefly to announce my finish . Much of the food was gone. I wasn't anywhere near last (57th out of 122), and frankly, I'm soooo happy that I finished at all. Last would have been a-ok. But that's 40 minutes off my goal and boo for that (and a 4:30 would have gotten me 23rd).

I talked to costumed lady afterwards. Turns out she was She-Ra, and that she's a fairly accomplished local runner from another island. She only intended to run half of the race as a training run, which is why I caught her walking in the middle.

This race is not as hard as Leadville. It is quite a bit harder than Bataan. It is more scenic than both of them. Not sure if I'll do it again. On one hand, I'd really like to make that goal time. On the other hand, I saw a guy break his hand (ok, fingers) and I really torqued my ankle. Hmmm. Maybe the 10 miler next time.

But She-Ra spanked me with her sword.

Incidentally, because of my hurt ankle, I took a week off of running. I raced in Juneau at the end of that week (on 8/5)... really stiff from no running. My ankle held up ok, though that race had just horrid awful weather. Blah. 3:54, which is fine given the rain/wind and the lack of running - but I really wanted to beat 3:40 at Juneau. Fooey.

And then I had to deal with rats... and so I didn't run much the next week.

07/22-23/06 DFL: My first ultra... and a double

My first DFL (well, almost). And then a two-year PW.

Weird things can happen when a race has 50 or fewer people.

Earlier this year, I ran a half marathon that had about 30 people in it. I came in 5th... and, actually, had I not run a full the day before, I'm pretty sure I would have come in about 3rd.

And then there are days like today. 20 people. And I was at the caboose end. Actually, no. I was the guy you see in the movies trying to chase down the caboose end because he missed (or got kicked off) the train. Go watch Silver Streak. I'll wait.

Since I had traveled all the way from Kona back to Seattle for a Sunday race, I decided to do another race on Saturday. It was a low-key affair put on to raise funds for a local cross-country team... called the "Lake Youngs Fund Run", it was a series of 9.6 mile loops around... wait for it... Lake Youngs. I did 3 loops, or 28.8 miles. I'm calling it my first ultra because it was longer than 26.2 - but obviously it was a baby ultra.

People could do anywhere from 1-4 loops and many opted out after 2... which made my DFL more of a surprise (I thought others were behind me, but they were back home eating ice cream because they bailed).

Ah, the lake. Although the trail goes around the perimeter, you only get a peekaboo view for about 10 yards. You do not see the lake for the rest of journey. At all. You do get to see deer. And at about M17, a doe and her fawn were on the trail staring me down. I even thought she was charging me, but really she was just looking for the closest way off the trail - which happened to be between me and her. But for a second, my brain fog caused me to go on ohmygoshwhatdoIdonow alert. Good times.

Brain fog. See, yesterday and today happen to be the two hottest days of the year here in Seattle. And while 85 degrees with high humidity may not be hot compared to where YOU live, it's damn hot for a race - even for island boy. And while you get to see some deer and no lake, you also get to experience some interesting hills. Certainly not the hilliest race I've done this year (Leadville in the insane category, Seafair in the sane category), but plenty challenging.

We had one aid station at the end of each loop. Knowing this ahead of time, I geared up. Darth Runner would have been proud of my fuel belt (2 bottles, but the bigger bottles... w/ water), gel flask, electrolyte tablets, and hand-held bottle w/ perpetuem. I think I would have done better with a camelbak full of beer.

After the race, I counted... I drank 100oz during this race, and didn't pee once. I drank 160oz including what I've had after the race. Still no output to go with that input.

My time? It doesn't really matter... I want to be a 4:30 50k-er, and based on my normal marathon time I think I probably am... but I ran this 28.8 at a "crisp" 5:10. Yikes!

And I'm pretty sure that I came in last. Which, oddly enough, is currently sitting in my mind as AWESOME . I didn't run fast *and*, like I said up at the top, weird things happen in a race with less than 50 people. This one had 20. Fast people.

Don't worry, reader, you don't need to provide me any sympathy. It was AWESOME.

As far as I know, there were only two of us who are also running a marathon tomorrow . I had to hold back.

But the other person? She ran four loops (38.4 miles). Then again, she's currently ranked by Trail Runner Magazine as the #1 female trail runner in the nation, per their race points system. Her name is Van Phan, she goes by the nickname of "Pigtails", and she kicks ass.

(*** Ok, in total fairness, this is really my second DFL. But my first one came in a race where I stopped to help a very sick young woman. This one I did for myself!)

And then the next day...

I ran a 2 1/2 year PW road marathon today. It was actually a pretty easy course, though boring. Out-and-back done twice.

It was also 75 and humid at the start, and over 90 for the last two hours I was out there. At the finish line, the temperature was 96. Island Boy likes warm, but this was rough even for me.

I ran a 4:30. FWIW, I am currently a 3:40ish marathoner on a normal weekend (normal to me: 65 degrees, one race per weekend).

4:30, but I wasn't last. There were lots of folks still out there.

To put that in perspective, this was my slowest time since an ugly 4:37 at Marine Corps in 2004. That day was hot too.


1. It was only, probably, 75 and humid at Marine Corps.
2. I hadn't run 29 miles the day before.
3. I had only run 9 marathons in 2004 prior to MCM in October.

Today was my 26th of the year (by July). And my "regular" times are 30-40 minutes faster than they were in 2004.

2006 - First half review

04/01/06 Moab Marathon

Moab Marathon

Moab (like Ahab, not Mobe) is the center of the mountain biking universe. Located in SW Utah, it's surrounded by canyons and vistas very similar to where WE Coyote chased the roadrunner. Tons of other outdoorsy stuff to do in Moab. A great place to get dirty. Not a place where you might think they'd have a road marathon. But I ran one there on April Fool's Day. No foolin. Well, really it was 24 miles of road race, 1 mile of easy trail, and 1.2 miles of crazy hard trail. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First things first. It was a point-to-point course... and I picked it specifically as an experiment in downhill running. It was also a Saturday marathon, which I like - though it meant Friday travel. The website and the emails from the race director had been difficult to decrypt, really strange, so I didn't know what to expect when I showed up. Packet pickup on Friday was no problem... except for the "packet" being pretty much free of any useful information. Hmmm. Showed up for the bus to the start at 5am. The bus was there, and the driver knew where she was going: "we're headed up that hill, and we need to stop before we go off the cliff". On the bus, I came across fellow Maniacs Keith Panzer and Peggy Nelson-Panzer – an unexpected pleasure.

When we got to the top, it was impossible to tell where the start line was supposed to be... there were no race personnel... and we were in the middle of nowhere. Huh. Well, it was April Fool's Day. The race was supposed to start at 7a. At 6:53, the race director got there... gave us a few pieces of information... and pointed at the starting "line" - aka, a crack in the pavement. He honked his horn and off we went. That’s the last I saw of Keith and Peggy J. At this point, the fishy organization improved greatly. All miles were marked brightly, and seemingly accurately. Aid stations, while not overly plentiful, were fine. It turned into a nice race with jaw-dropping scenery. The weather was perfect, except for some nasty wind late in the race.

The first 8 miles were rolling, though mostly uphill (hey wait! This is supposed to be a downhill course!). Another Maniac flew by me about M2 - I assume he was in the bathroom when we started. Based on the results, I believe that this was Bill Mandler. So… sorry for not talking to you Bill! I had noticed the road signs that said OPEN RANGE but I didn't think too much about it until the cow crossed the road in front of me at M6. Moo. And Yipe!

At M8, we crested the hill at about 6,100 feet. I was puffing a bit, but it was nice to know that it wouldn't be worse than this. See, it was all downhill from here - literally and figuratively. M8-M22 was one long screaming downhill. There was even a place around M17 where the road signs cautioned trucks about the 8% downhill grade. Zoom.

Most "downhill" courses are deceptive... they'll actually have some ups along the way. Lost Dutchman and Napa look like downhill courses from their elevation charts, but they both have some major ups along the way. Not so at Moab once we got past M8. Keep arms and legs inside car; seatbelts must be fastened.

I learned a lot in this section. I *know* how to run down a hill. I know to lean into it, I know not to brake, and I know to stay in control. But what I did NOT know, which I now DO know is that a 14 mile hill causes bad brain mojo. See... in a flat, rolling, or uphill stretch, one has to think a little bit about running. Otherwise, one stops. Physics. Going downhill, one's mind can wander. And wander far. The problem is that one can start running fairly slowly and not really even notice it if one's mind is gone. This is what kept happening to me. It started with the scenery. I tried to run hard, but my splits kept coming up awful. Crap. Try again.

After one stretch, a little piece of my brain woke up and said "huh, what's going on here?" and proceeded to analyze what the rest of my brain was working on. It dawned on me that in my head, I was singing "do you want to ride with me and do you want to ride with me..." over and over. Looped. In my head. It's possible that I had been doing this for 5 minutes. Or an hour. I really couldn't tell. Don’t recognize it? Why, that's a little lyric towards the end of Coolio's Fantastic Voyage. Where I got it, why I was singing it, and why I picked that piece of the song will remain a heavy mystery. Believe me, Coolio isn't on my heavy rotation. Snap out of it!

But it was too late for my pace.

We came screaming off the hill right after M22... the final part of the race was an out down one side of the highway to M24, and then through a drainpipe under the highway, and back on a trail. The out part was terrible... we picked up a stiff headwind. It was "only" two miles, but I had a really hard time with it.

Went through the drainpipe. Side note. Why do some people feel compelled to yell in confined areas like tunnels (and drainpipes)? Yes, it is amplified. Woo. But at M24 of a hard race, it is also annoying. So don't.

A drainpipe. Just like the intro to Looney Tunes. It would have been cool if my brain started playing that song. Nope. But my brain also didn't play Coolio anymore, so I had that going for me.

M24 started the back part on the trail. Rolling hills, wide trail. Some rocks. No big deal... the wind was at my back so I could try to get some semblance of pace back and run hard, right? Wasn't happening. Cooked.

And then it got hard.

At M25, the wide trail became a narrow single track that zig zagged down/up through stream beds. That's fun at M1. At M25 of a hard race? No. I tripped and caught myself. I tripped a second time and caught myself.

Then, at about M25.5, I was coming out of a stream bed. I saw the rock. My brain... or at least the little part that had earlier poked me out of my Coolio-based stupor... said "it would be enormously silly to trip over that big rock". I think my legs must have misunderstood this message because my right foot steered directly for the rock - and was successful.

Splat. I was down. All the way. Luckily, the only rock was the one that my foot whacked... the rest of me landed in a nice thick layer of red dirt. It really did sound like WE Coyote hitting the canyon floor after being dropped from a great height though.

I got up, thanked God (though I don't think others would have interpreted my actual wording as thanks), and finished. I trailed dust-smoke just like Pigpen.

I had originally thought that I could pull 3:40-3:45 on this course. Nope. 3:56. Perhaps I was still tired from Bataan... hardest race I’ve ever done... the prior week. Perhaps the altitude got me a little bit. The wind at the end was definitely a factor, as was the splat. But mostly, I think I just did a poor job of pacing the long downhill. That was far harder than I thought it would be. Now I know.

Final note. Third marathon in a row that didn't give a medal. At Virginia Creeper, we got a nice paperweight. At Bataan, we got a very meaningful dogtag. At Moab, we got a weird piece of wood. BUT it was personalized with my name. That's cool.

If you don't need people cheering for you, if you can handle some altitude, if your knees and quads can handle 14 miles of uninterrupted downhill without exploding, and if you can keep your stress level low about some organizational laid-back-ishness, then you might really like this race.

Do you want to ride with me and do you want to ride with me?

03/26/06 The Bataan Death March


I told people that I was going to do The Bataan Death March. Some gave me a knowing look. Some said "wow, what a cool name." Ok, first things first. The Bataan Death March was a real thing, a very terrible thing, in World War II. If you don't know about it, go read this. I'll wait until you are done.

Every March, the event is commemorated with a Memorial Death March Marathon at the White Sands Missle Range in New Mexico. It's mostly active duty military personnel marching in full uniforms, boots, and 35 pound packs. However, they allow civilians to run it... now, this isn't a hardcore technical trail marathon - but it is wicked hard. Alas, knowing about the actual event from WWII, and knowing that most folks are doing the "race" in full gear (though as a walk), I absolutely cannot complain about the difficulty. By comparison, I had it easy in my shorts and my nice shoes. That said, I think it's still the most difficult race that I've done in recent memory.

Side note. We were advised to be there between 4 and 4:30am because of traffic and parking. Then we waited until 6 for the opening ceremony. At 6:30, we marched past Bataan POW survivors... very very moving. And then we were off. But it meant that I had to get up at 2:30, factoring in, uh, forcing my body to do God's work, and the drive. See the food gap between 2:30 and a 6:30 race start? Yeah, that's gonna factor in later.

Oh wait. Let's not start quite yet. Side side note. Given that the majority of the marchers are active duty folks and some ROTC folks, the age of the people around me was skewed much younger than I'm used to at a marathon. Cool! And... before we started... for, like two hours before we started, a whole lot of people were smoking. I haven't seen this many people smoke before a race except in Europe. Not Cool!

Oh yeah, there was a race. It is held within the missle range proper... we started at the base on paved roads... at about M2, we turned down a tank trail. These are wide and can be nice for running. Or not. Aside from a few miles in the middle on nice paved roads, the whole thing was on these tank trails. The first 6 miles were mostly level or slightly downhill. We hit the first hill, and more importantly to me, the headwind from hellaround M6. The first hill was big, but it was merely a bump. The second hill was a solid up between M9 and M13.8. And I don't mean a gentle, grandmother-likes-it incline. This was a HILL. A 3-STAR GENERAL ASSKICKER HILL. And the headwind. 20mph solid, with strong gusts of probably 1,000mph. Because of the proximity of the hills we were running around and the overall breeze, the headwind stayed with us for most of the day - no matter what direction we were running. Or walking. I managed to get to the top of the big hill at M13.8 by running. But my pace went from 8:20s before the hill to 9:30, to 10+. It's possible that I would have walked it faster. And then we hit a section between M14 and M20 that was net downhill, but had lots of sharp ups. I wish I could say that I blew through this. I did not. This is where I realized that between the altitude (4,000-5,500 feet... M13.8 was at the top), the wind, the heat, my approaching dehydration (yo, it's the desert), and my crappy eating the day prior and race morning, between alll that... it was likely that I was headed for a nasty crash into the wall. I didn't want to death march the Death March. But it was clear that 3:50 was out of reach. And so was 4:00. Yech.

Coming down the last section of hill between M18 and M20 was very inspiring. I saw troops. Thousands of troops. They were all going the other way up the hill. I was headed for M20 and they were headed for M9. And almost all of them hooted me, wished me luck, or called me 'sir'. I tried to return the favor when I could... I was breathing hard... but it was an experience I will remember forever.

Which is great, because M20 enters what the course organizers like to call 'the sand pit'. It isn't a pit. It's still tank trail. But for about two miles, the footing is horrid... not packed down... probably 10 inch deep sand that fills up your shoes and grabs you with every step. And in here, readers, in here is where my day went really poorly. But I will not complain. Whereas I had made it back to about 9:00s going down the hill (and should have done better, but I was cooked), I walked the pit. The whole pit. And it was hard work, because most of the sand pit was uphill. Exiting the pit, we continued uphill through M23ish, and then had a nice downhill to M24. I tried to get some kind of reasonable pace back. Couldn't.

Then at M24, the oddest thing happened. The course flattened out... woohoo... yet I absolutely could not run faster than a shuffle. I don't think it was The Wall... the glycogen-depletion monster. I know about that wall. This was different. Instead it was another kind of wall. The last two miles of the race follow(ed) a rock wall around the exterior of the base. It was sooooo monotonous. Psychologically, that was that. Finally, I rounded the end of the wall and saw the finish. And I finished.

I won't tell you my splits or my time. They sucked.

But at the end of the "race", I shook a survivor's hand, one more time. The guy was ancient. Could barely hear. But I feel like I owe my life to this guy and others like him. Very moving. Lots of things moved me today.

The support during this race was/is OUTSTANDING. Fluids every two miles, like clockwork. Army folks and volunteers at each aid station hooting. It was great. And portpotties for days. A necessity when 4,000 people are gonna be marching for 8 or 9 hours.

And chip timing. Are you listening Napa Valley? This race had chip timing. And. You got to keep your chip afterwards! The race cost 45 dollars, but you got to keep your chip. Shirt was so-so. No medal... but... we got a commemerative dog tag. Given the point of the event, this was way way WAY better than YetAnother medal.

Possibly the coolest/niftiest/neatest event I've ever done.

Definitely the hardest.

I can tell you more if you want to know more. I think I want to take a nap now.