Thursday, July 19, 2007

07/15/07 Missoula Marathon

The Missoula Marathon was an inaugural event that many of us had been looking forward to (and signed up for) for a long time. It's difficult to describe why, exactly. It wasn't the outward allure of going to Missoula, Montana. Perhaps it was because it is one of only a handful of mid-July races. And with slim pickings comes bigger desire - especially since it was a new choice that we haven't had before.

They did a great job and I learned that Missoula is a very interesting and picturesque little town. Along with Swan Lake, this race provides an instructive example of why I do this. It certainly isn't because I'm trying to bring home trophies and prize money. It's all about discovery: meeting people and learning about cool places that I otherwise probably would never have visited. And Missoula certainly fits that description.

The race was a point-to-point starting in tiny Frenchtown, and utilizing backroads back to Missoula. This meant a 5a shuttle and a bit of a wait at the start. However, the nice thing about mid-July is that this wait was not bone-chilling cold. Then again, the flip side is that mid-July can get warm... and it had been 105 the previous afternoon. Island Boy like hot, but I've learned this summer that "like" is different from "performs better in". Past about 75, and heat saps me like it does anybody else.

Missoula sits in a valley surrounded by mountains. The race course skirted the edge of the valley. According to the elevation chart, the race would be 26 miles of gentle uphill, except for a steep up from M13-15, followed by a steep down to M16. The bump in the middle was certainly noticeable, but the gentle uphill was either really gentle or nonexistent. Most of the race seemed flat. A nice run in the country.

My goals for the race were simple, especially since I was under the impression that the course would be uphill the whole way: run evenly, finish somewhere around 3:45, and check out the sights. Just like Seafair last weekend, I was standing in the portapotty line way too close to the start of the race. An official came over and told us that we had nine minutes. No problem. Less than 30 seconds later, a different official came over and told us we had six minutes. Huh. I bailed from the line and snuck behind a building. After surprising two women crouched behind a dumpster... ooops... I waited until they left and then tried to go. Nothing happened. Time passed. I ran to the starting line.

The cannon fired (a BOOM that was felt as well as heard) and off we went. Right away, I knew this would NOT be one of those blessed days where everything felt good. I didn't feel badly, but I did feel 'blah'. There was a single portapotty at each aid station, but the first one was occupied when I went by. Somewhere around M5, we passed a pulp mill. In the distance, across a weed-filled ditch and a big field, in a parking lot, I spied a lonely potty. Off I went. And... nothing happened. Time passed. I rejoined the race. One of my Maniac friends, Linda, saw my offroad adventure and laughed at me.

The start through M9.5 was a straight-ish section of country road. Then we turned onto the Kona Ranch Road. The Kona Ranch? In Montana? I liked the name. I still didn't feel right, so when I spotted the green 'unoccupied' dot on the portapotty door at M11, I stopped again.

This was a funhouse portapotty. It had been placed on a slope... and a combination of my heartbeat and my breathing caused the portapotty to vibrate, slowly at first, and then more violently after about a minute. It was a lot like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge shaking itself apart in those old films, and I thought I was going to fall over. Yikes. Still though, I tried to potty. And... nothing happened. Time passed. I exited, and there she was. Linda. Waiting to use the facility. Before she could laugh at me, I warned her about the shaky portapotty action. Off I went.

Still sluggish, and now it was getting hot. As I approached the bump section, the 3:49 pace team caught me. The hill was actually the most enjoyable part of the race course. Oddly enough, the road on this hill was called Big Flat Road. Huh.

By M18, the 3:49 folks started pulling away from me. It seemed they were running a little fast for 3:49, but no matter what, 3:45 wasn't going to happen on this day. I just felt icky. Ok, so 3:51 (my time at Seafair the prior week) became my new goal.

Around M20, I started catching some folks I had seen at the beginning of the race. The guy from Chicago I had met at the airport. One of the two costumed women. Linda passed me in here. I tried to keep up with her for a little while. We passed lots of early starters and most of the back-of-the-pack half marathoners who had started at the halfway mark of the full. It seemed that the heat was getting to lots of people.

At M22.8, we passed over some railroad tracks and into a funky section through the mall's parking lot. This was one of the few points where there were spectators. Plus the Rocky theme. It helped. Linda pulled away from me in this section, although my mile splits show that I too was speeding up some.

A few of the last miles were along a bicycle trail with lots of street crossings. Most of these had good traffic control. Finally, we approached downtown Missoula and then the big finish.

3:53. Hmm. Factoring out the false potty stops and the offroad adventure... and factoring out the whole 'blah' feeling, and I guess I had an okay race. I definitely could have had a 3:45 race. But we don't factor those things out. My splits were pretty ok for me: 1:55/1:58.

The good news is that I beat 4 in Montana for the first time. I also felt really good. AND they interviewed me for the evening news - my very first time on television.

I'm a little bummed that I'm not running as well as I was last month, but my running logs may be pointing to the issue. In May and early June, I was doing lots of 800s (basically half mile intervals). I stopped doing them about the time I started flaming out while trying for a 3:30. I think I need to revisit my Pfitzinger-inspired schedule.

Overall, though, things are going pretty well. I've completed 30 marathons so far this year, and I feel good.

Next up: no marathon this weekend! Whatever will I do with myself? I'm running a local 10k - the Swedish Summerun, which I consider to be our hardest 10k. If anything interesting happens, I'll write about it. If not, I might write about something else.

My next scheduled marathon is the Volcano Marathon on 7/28. This is an extremely challenging race that punished me last year. It is run on the slopes of Kilauea, and unfortunately, Kilauea has been angry during the past month. Many of the trails utilized by this race have been closed since mid-June. Not sure what's going to happen.

Fingers crossed.

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