Friday, August 31, 2007

08/25/07 Park City Marathon

This picture was taken by my friend Tracy who I know from a couple different running message boards.

Park City, Utah is located just outside Salt Lake City. Whereas Salt Lake City is down in a broad valley (or plain) with the big lake, Park City is up in the mountains. It is the home of several ski resorts, and it is where many of the 2002 Winter Olympics events were held. In fact, as you exit off the Interstate, you get a grand view of the ski jumps. They are still marked up with their Olympic signage. This is very cool.

The Park City Marathon is a loop course that offers a nice tour of the surrounding countryside. It is mostly a rural marathon that's about 2/3rds road and 1/3rd gravel bike trail. Oh, and about 100 yards of single track, which was enough to send me tripping and flying. Along the way, runners are treated to spectacular mountain views and brief visits to the Deer Valley and Park City ski resorts. Of course, it's August and 50-70 degrees, so there's no skiing going on... but that adds an even niftier dimension to a ski resort view. The course isn't quite as demanding as Estes Park or Crater Lake, but it possesses similar qualities: it is up pretty high (6500-7300 feet) and it is HILLY. The elevation chart makes it look like it has one very long, very big hill. This part is true. The big hill starts at M7 and doesn't crest until M16.5. And, like the big hill in Crater Lake, it gets steeper and steeper as you progress up it. However, the elevation chart makes it seem like you get a big downhill from the crest to the finish line. I suppose it may smooth out like this if you only measure the elevation at infrequent points, but for the runner, these miles are very roly poly... with a couple of steep (though brief) ups.

I was supposed to run Park City last year. While I was at the airport waiting to leave, I got the phone call. Cancer. Come home now. So I did. And life was very different afterwards. Because of that, I was going to run a different race this weekend... coming to Park City would seem very strange. However, the logistics of my other choice just weren't working out, and a piece of my brain kept telling me that I needed to come here. So I finally signed up.

I had a difficult time coming up with goals for this race. For one, my training through July and August has simply not been as good as it should have been. For two, I have a triple... my first triple... scheduled for the following weekend. I knew that if I went for an aggressive time at Park City that I might put myself in a position to really hate that triple. I also knew that the course would be challenging, but I didn't know how much. So I decided to enjoy the scenery and treat it as a training run. I figured my time would be somewhere between 4:00 and 4:15.

Race morning started very early. The start was at 6:30a, about 20 minutes before sunrise. I had a room that was walking distance from the start, which turned out to be a very good thing. Even though told me that the temperature in Park City was 50, I'm quite sure as I headed out the door that it was really under 45. I had on a long sleeve shirt, but I didn't have gloves. And I do NOT like being cold.

I arrived at the starting line with just enough time to say hello to someone I know from the coolrunning site: she was running Park City as a training run for another race in three weeks. Then, Star Spangled Banner and off we went. Immediately... I mean within 60 seconds... I was breathing way way too hard. Uh oh. Altitude seems to affect me differently in every race. This was 6300 feet, and I was way worse off than the start of Estes Park at 7500. Hmmm. By about 10 minutes into the race, I was wheezing and my hands were popsicles.

My first two miles were right at 9:00 pace. And this was too fast. It was clear that 4:00 was definitely going to be out of reach given that I didn't want to kill myself before the triple. I didn't feel too badly about this; mostly all I thought about was how cold I was. Luckily, this wouldn't last much longer.

We zigzagged around streets and trails of the town. At M6, we made a right-hand turn onto a rails-to-trails bike trail. These are nice for running, but I always view them with a bit of trepidation. Trains can't go up or down steep hills, so rails-to-trails don't have any. Instead, trains utilize really looooooong grades to get up and down. This means that a rails-to-trails in the mountains will have long 2% ups and downs that may go on for 5, 10, 15, or more miles. This was the beginning of this course's big hill. We'd be going up for almost 10 miles. 3 would be rails-to-trails, and the rest would be quite a bit steeper.

Somewhere around M12, a spectator with a camera called out my name. This happens a lot - my name is right there on my shirt :-). But this was another friend from the message boards, Tracy. She snapped a picture of me as I went by.

I hit the halfway point at 2:00. In June, I was hitting this point somewhere between 1:43 and 1:47. Not today and certainly not on this course. The hill was getting steeper. At M14, I caught up to my running friend. We walked together for a second, and a guy blew by us headed the other way. Though we didn't know this at the time, this was a runner who had missed a critical turn. I don't know how far he went in the wrong direction, but I suspect he had a very long day.

M14-M17.5 was a little balloon-on-a-stick out-and-back through the base of the Deer Valley resort. This would be the highest point on the course, and my lungs certainly knew it. It was also the steepest part of the big hill. My pace was a luscious 13:00... and that was running. At the top (M16), people cheered us with "it's downhill from here!"

Like I wrote above, technically this might be true at some level. But really? They were fibbing a fib that would be repeated several times during the next 10 miles. However, it was downhill for a little while, and I was able to feel like I was running again. At M17.5, we made the turn that the other guy missed. We were running through the middle of what seemed like a shoppping center (and may have been). Then we turned a corner and there was the base of a ski lift. I looked up... we were at the bottom of the Park City resort.

Right after that, we hit a hill so steep that I had to walk it. So did everyone else. It was thankfully brief, but at the top people told us "it's downhill from here!" Nope.

At M20, there was Tracy taking more pictures. She was standing with my other friend's husband and boy. I tried to seem upbeat and cheerful, but I'm pretty sure I was simply beat and cheerless. I don't recall.

More hills.

"It's downhill from here!" Shut up.

The last 10k of the course was on bike trail that wandered through a nature preserve. By this point, it was quite warm and the trail was peaceful, beautiful, and serene. Except for the big white barn around M21. The race had decided to put a band here. They played old punk rock stuff (at least that's what they played when I was in earshot). Pretty good band, really, but a complete mismatch for this part of the course :-). I sang a little Blister In the Sun with them as I ran by, and that was that.

The last few miles rolled on. The last two miles were flat. The last mile ran by an apartment complex. Sorry for the lack of colorful descriptions; that's all I really remember.

I saw the finish. I saw the chip wires (there was no mat)... but it didn't seem like the actual finish. Sure enough, they were just scanning so that they could announce who was ABOUT TO finish. I kept running. I ran into the people who wanted my chip. Ooops, I must have missed the actual finish. It was probably the big red inflatable thing I ran under.

I got my shirt and my medal... after the medal lady finished her conversation with her friend. The fact that I was doubled over and unable to catch my breath didn't seem to have an impact on her conversation. That's alright. I got my food and found my friends.

4:15:40. Well, I was thinking I'd be between 4:00 and 4:15, so I didn't quite make it. But close enough. Aside from not catching my breath for another 20 minutes, I felt alright. I did not kill myself for the triple.

Too bad I'd wind up getting stuffy and earachy on the plane ride home anyway. And it lasted for a few days.

At this point, Park City is going on my list of top 5 hardest road marathons. However, I want to run it again before I'm sure about that.

Next up: my hardest weekend to date. The Pocatello (Idaho) Marathon on Saturday, the New Mexico Marathon on Sunday, and the American Discovery Trail (Colorado) Marathon on Monday. A triple, my first. All races up high. And tons of downhill in the first two.

Hold me, I'm scared.

Monday, August 20, 2007

08/12/07 Haulin Aspen Trail Marathon

Haulin Aspen is a marathon held on trails in and near Bend, Oregon's Shevlin Park. This was the third year of this race, and I've done two of them. I must say, for a fairly new race, it is supremely well managed. It also attracts the area's best trail runners.

The course is quite challenging (and thankfully well marked). After spending the first three miles on the park's flat trails, runners start heading up the side of a hill. Some of this is singletrack, but most of this is wide, washboarded dirt/gravel road. It is a long, hard grind. Up and up, steeper as the miles go by, until cresting at M14. That's 11 miles up a hill that gets increasingly more difficult.

Towards the top, runners are greeted with particularly stunning views and a flattish breather section between M14 and M14.5. There, the race changes - singletrack, somewhat technical, and downhill. Very downhill. "Look out below" downhill. A few little rollers are thrown in to keep everyone honest, and lots of rocks and roots can lead to a very bad day for the unfocused runner. And low branches. It's like a roller coaster on an obstacle course.

Around M22, the course flattens out. At M24, the trail gets a little easier, though still single track. And then, boom, there's the finish and it's done.

The downhill section is some of the scariest but also some of the most fun running I get the privilege of doing each year. This is especially true after the miles of uphill. However, after all that uphill and the previous day's "hardest road marathon in the country" (Crater Lake), this downhill really does require supreme focus.

Last year, I had a tough day on this course... a 4:46 after a hard day at Crater Lake the day before. I didn't know what to think about the time, but my legs told me for days afterwards that I had had a tough day. It was also the last race that I would run for several months. The cancer fairy came to visit five days later.

This year, I decided to do the same double. Although I've had a less-than optimal month of training heading into the weekend, I felt fresh... and as my last report showed, I did well at Crater Lake - 21 minutes faster than last year. As I got up on race morning for Haulin Aspen, I wasn't sure if that would carry forward. I felt pretty stiff and my stomach was iffy. There are NO potties on the Haulin Aspen course. So huh.

Two things were working in my favor. For one, the weather was fabulous. It was chilly at the start, but probably 5-10 degrees warmer than last year. By M5 of the race, I was down to the pink singlet. For two, I had run the course before. As with Crater Lake, this information helped me develop a plan. My goals, as with Crater Lake, were 1) (primarily) have fun and finish happy and 2) (secondarily) finish faster than last year. I also had an unstated goal of "don't get hurt"... which, depending on how my legs loosened up, might have taken priority over the others.

My plan was simple - don't attack the hill. Last year, I attacked the up, had a fun time on the first part of the down, but completely fizzled in the last miles. So, I decided to run up the hill conservatively and then if my legs would allow, blow through the downhill. And hopefully... HOPEFULLY... keep a great pace in the last miles.

So how did I do? My potential stomach issues certainly helped me stay conservative going up the hill :-). I had to walk some of the steeper sections, but so did lots of other people. I took the time to soak in the views from the top. I missed these last year.

After refilling my bottle at the top's M14.5 aid station, it was time for the fun. And it was. Down and around, over and ducking under, jumping rocks, ooops-tripping, and onward. I didn't see a lot of other people through here, but at the aid stations I encountered a few. A couple bloody knees and skinned hands. Yikes.

Somewhere in here, I had the first of my two "painful reality checks". And the first one really involved a "check" in the hockey sense. I was flying down a hill when my toes caught a limb on the ground. I tripped forward, but before I could go spread eagle, a tree broke my fall. Or said differently - I went full force into a tree trunk with my shoulder. Ouch.

Onward. Down I went. Last year, the half marathon merged in during this section. The half marathoners were running faster than I was, and last year this was where I ran out of steam. It was very discouraging being passed and passed and passed. This year was different. For one, I wasn't out of steam. I also wonder if they changed the time of the half's start. I was not passed by any faster people at all. In fact, I was passing half marathoners. Hmmm.

On I went, into the flat section. I saw the M24.1 aid station about 100 yards in front of me and I fell again. This time, I did a face plant. Luckily, I found the softest part of the whole course on which to plant my face. It even sounded like WE Coyote when he hits the bottom of the canyon - a sort of "thump/thud/slap/poof". And a dust cloud blew up.

I got mud in my water bottle. Yuck.

Like many trail races, there are no mile markers at Haulin Aspen. The aid stations are the only places where I knew kind of where I was. And even there, the volunteers sometimes had it wrong. I wanted to run the last bit as fast as I could, but I didn't really know how far that would be. I tried anyway. I did run fast, especially compared to last year.

Running. More running. Where was the finish. I kept going. I kept not seeing it.

Finally. There it was, and I was done.

Robert Lopez, Seattle Washington.


No great shakes compared to my regular marathon times, but this is not a regular marathon. 14 minutes better than last year! Combined with the previous day, 35 minutes better for the double. That was pretty good.

On the downside, I fell twice. HARD. The upside was that despite the falls, I felt way WAY better than last year afterwards.

What a fun run. Next year, I probably won't do both Crater Lake and Haulin Aspen. If I get to do one, it'll probably be Haulin Aspen. I surely would like to try the screaming downhill without 40+ previous miles of hard running on the legs. Besides, the logistics of Haulin Aspen are much easier.

Next up? Well, I was supposed to do a new low-key local race this weekend (the Rattlesnake Lake Marathon). Supposed to. The night before the race, I did something way wacky to the top of my left foot. I don't know what. We'll see how running goes this week.

I'm supposed to run the Park City Marathon on Saturday. Last year, I was sitting at the airport waiting to fly to this race and I had to turn around and come home. That's when I learned what being cancer buddy is all about.

It isn't fun.

Last year, I had run 30 marathons at this point.
This year, the number is 34.

Not a big difference, but I'm still in uncharted territory. Lots of emotions are coming up from last year as well. Gulp.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

08/11/07 Crater Lake Marathon

Last year, the Crater Lake Marathon and Haulin' Aspen were my last two races before the cancer fairy came to visit. That made this weekend kind of strange and bittersweet.

Crater Lake is in southwestern Oregon. It is the remains of a volcano known as Mt Mazama, though no one was around to call it that when it was an actual mountain. It blew up... and just about all that remains is a crater. Filled with water. Crater Lake. Now a National Park. It is the bluest fresh water I've ever seen, and it is absolutely pristine. You don't swim in Crater Lake, and no one uses it for boating. It is also really deep - almost two thousand feet in the center. Wow.

The Crater Lake Marathon is a low-key race that circles most of Crater Lake. The point-to-point course follows the Rim Road part of the way around the lake before veering off to a campground. I believe that this is the hardest paved-road marathon in the US. Well, mostly paved. The last four miles are not... and this section is specifically why I think it is harder than Estes Park.

Why is Crater Lake hard? First off, it is up pretty high... the course is between 5000 and 8000 feet. Secondly, it has two major MAJOR climbs, along with lots of not-as-major roly polies in the first half. Some of the hills I'm calling "not-as-major" are over a mile long. That tells you something about the hard ones. Finally, this course is a logistical pain. Crater Lake isn't close to anything, so unless you want to camp, you have a bit of a drive on race morning. As a point-to-point course, it therefore requires a shuttle... in fact, this race requires a shuttle at both ends. Catch the shuttle to the start at 6a. After completing the race, wait for another shuttle and the 45 minute ride back to the parking lots. This is a loooong day.

I like hard races, though. Plus the scenery of Crater Lake is really quite amazing. It is totally worth the logistics.

For me, this started with a 3:45a alarm. After getting ready, driving for a little over an hour to the park, and waiting for the bus to arrive, I got to the start at 6:30a. I spent an hour talking to friends, then it was "throw off all your warmups" (it was cold), "pitch them on the bus", and "get ready!"


The course starts out with an immediate hill. Everyone was huffing and puffing trying to get used to running at altitude. Luckily, the weather was great. It wasn't quite as cold as last year, and it was not windy. The skies were bright blue. We rolled along. Last year, I made the typical mistake of starting out too fast and working too hard to get up the hills. This year, I wanted to go conservatively up the hills and spin down the big downhill as fast as possible. My goals for the race were simple: beat my time from last year (4:38) and not hurt as badly as last year.

At M8.5 we hit the first BIG HILL. This hill goes on for six miles. Six miles, straight up. And these are not rails-to-trails miles with a gentle slope. This hill leads to the highest paved point in the park - Cloudcap. I stuck to my conservative plan, not like I had much of a choice. I didn't walk... but I certainly didn't sprint. Towards the top of the hill, the course takes a little out-and-back detour to the Cloudcap parking area.

I made it to Cloudcap and M14.5 , and what goes up must then come down. This is the fun part of Crater Lake, albeit painful. M14.5-M22 - mostly downhill, some of it screaming downhill. Down I went. I remember walking some of this last year. It's a bad day when I have to walk downhill. Not this year. Many of my miles on that climb were of the 12:00 and 13:00 pace variety. Headed down, I was able to do 7:45s. It hurt after awhile, but I kept it up.

At M22, we turned into the Lost Creek Campground. This is the finish area for the race, and runners get a good view (and the sounds) of the finish. But a marathon is not 22 miles long.

So what now?

Time to go to work. Although the hill up to Cloudcap is longer, it is earlier in the race. It is also before runners have shredded their legs sprinting down a 7.5 mile hill. The last 4 miles of this race are an out-and-back along a switchback-y dirt road. 2 miles up a fairly steep hill, and 2.2+ miles back down to the finish. I tried to run up this hill, but I could only do it for a few minutes at a time without having to walk and recover. I saw some of the faster people headed back down the hill as I went up... but I didn't see as many people as I was expecting. Then it was time to run back down, and the downhill really hurt. M26 went by. I ran. I ran some more. The reason why I wrote "2.2+" above is because I really think there's more than .2 after M26 on this course. But I ran it, and I finished.

Wooo. Hard day. 4:17 - 21 minutes faster than last year, and good enough for 26th overall. This is a small race, but 26th was still a top third finish - so, go me.

I love the challenge of hard races like this, and the sights can't be beat. Cranking out a 4:17 was extra cool. And I did indeed feel great afterwards, once I had consumed 3 full-sugar pepsis, at least.

This is good, because I had another marathon the next day. Haulin' Aspen, which is a trail marathon with 12ish fairly technical miles. I did this last year too. Check back in RealSoonNow and I'll tell you how I did this year!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

08/04/07 Frank Maier Marathon in Juneau

Alaska is an interesting place for all kinds of reasons. For one, it has a really strange shape. Yes, it is the biggest state in the US... but it also has a long stretch of islands that curl out from underneath. And it has a bit of a tail that winds down the coast towards Washington state. Juneau, the state's capital, is in this tail. While places like Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Nome are really far from the continental US, Juneau is actually a fairly quick trip from Seattle - about the same time in the plane as it takes to get to San Francisco.

Juneau itself is nestled in between various mountains and next to the water. Which water, officially, I'm not sure. But essentially it is connected to the Pacific Ocean as part of the "inside passage". There are a couple glaciers nearby too. In the summertime, the weather is very Vancouver and Seattle-like. And that makes August a nice time to hold a marathon.

The Frank Maier Marathon is a fairly small out-and-back race held on nearby Douglas Island. There's a bigger half marathon that utilizes the first and last miles of the marathon course, but even with those folks out on the road, race day is a small affair. The course is roly poly with a challenging hill in the last mile before the turnaround.

I did this race last year in just awful terrible fog/rain/wind conditions. So much for August being the best month for a marathon in these parts... it may be usually, but it isn't a guarantee. Now, the weather was not the worst I experienced in races last year (see: Tampa, Napa, Seattle), but it was plenty bad. I was underdressed, and it was the only race where I flirted with hypothermia at the end. Yuck. I had been told that the course offered wonderful sights, but I didn't see anything. I rolled into the finish with a 3:54 and then sat next to a fire shaking for awhile.

Once upon a time, I had looked to this year's edition of the race as a potential "go fast" opportunity for late summer. And the conditions this year on race morning were pretty good: overcast, 55 degrees, and no wind. Humidity was the only thing that wasn't perfect. However, my training over the last month has been so-so. I've had to cut my miles back from 70-80 mpw down to 50-60. Also, I had tentatively booked another marathon for the next day. So I decided to turn the first half into a slightly-faster-than marathon pace run by hooking on to a faster friend, Amy. I ran with her for 15 miles at Swan Lake, and I thought I'd run out to the turnaround of this race with her and then pull back to socialize with other runners and aid station folks.

We gathered at the start line and the nice digital clock that was counting down. It seemed like there were only about 30 folks, and perhaps another 20 that had started an hour prior. When the clock hit zero, we were off.

Same out-and-back as last year (and, I assume, every year). But a totally different feel. For one, I was running with my experienced friend... and she has the ability to speed up as she goes. Every mile was just a little faster than the previous one. Just as importantly, this year I could see the sights. And hear the birds. Lots of birds. I counted 10 different bald eagles and several nests. Lots of hooting and chirping from nearby trees - we never did see what all that was about.

The lead guy in this race was way in front of everyone. He'd finish with a 2:33. I haven't seen the official results, but I don't think anyone else except a chair guy broke 3:10. We were running within sight of the lead gal, and as the miles passed, we got closer and closer.

At M9, we crossed the creatively named Fish Creek.

I had been told that once we were close to the turnaround, we'd get a good view of the glacier. I looked and looked, and didn't see it. Up the big hill, and we hit the M13 turnaround at 1:45. Bye, Amy. I started backing off. And there it was: the glacier. I hadn't spotted it because it had been behind me, tucked between two mountains. When we turned around, it was in front of us. It was very impressive. I had only seen glaciers in pictures; in person this was much more massive than I envisioned. It was as if a dam had broken and water was roaring into a valley... but then frozen in time. It loomed over the bay.

Amy started pulling away. I talked to folks at aid stations as I went through them. I'm always impressed by little races put on by local running clubs. Their aid stations are generally plentiful and exactly where I want them. I've been to many large races where either there aren't enough stations, or they are so crowded that they become a hindrance. Not here.

At M19.45, I hit the turnaround for the half. The half started two hours after the full, and because I ran the first half a little faster, the back section of the combined course was crowded with half runners who were running faster than I was. These people blew by me. I gave encouragement when I could (though some people don't like this :-) ), and some folks commented on the pink shirt. "Breast cancer DOES suck" and "I like your shirt" were two common things I heard.

At M24, the aid station workers in the pink feather boas all thanked me for running for a cause that was (is) important to them. Like last week at Volcano, I was thankful for their assistance and cold water... but they'd have none of that.

M25. Earlier this year, I had been making a habit of burning through the last mile... it was fun trying to make it my fastest mile of a particular race. "Earlier this year" feels like a long time ago. Of all the things that weekly mileage, or lack thereof, does for me, one of the biggest things is how it affects my juice in the last bit of a race. Lower miles? Less residual juice. I had none. I did not turn on the turbo... I just ran it on in.

Which is why, in the picture at the top, you can see that gal motoring around me. SHE had the juice and she really REALLY wanted to beat me. As you can see, she was successful. That's alright.

While running with Amy, our pace went from 8:30 miles to 7:50 miles (M11 and M12). She held this and finished in 3:31. I believe she won the women's race outright.

I had purposefully slowed down and came home with a 3:48. Had I not been considering a race the next day, I'm sure I could have done 3:45. But not 3:31 with Amy :-).

It turned out that 3:48 was good enough for 3rd overall Masters. Small races are funny like that.

That race the next day? I didn't do it. I had comatose sleep.

Which might be my last good sleep for awhile. Jennifer's hospital and doctors have decided to cease all dealings with her insurance company. And she needs a new set of biopsies and follow-up care. I have consciously chosen NOT to write about cancer treatment and being cancer buddy in this set of stories so far... but it is a big part of my life and it does affect me.

Next up: Crater Lake, which I consider to be the hardest road marathon around. Not overall... Volcano and Leadville are harder, but trail races are just different. The next day, I'm supposed to do Haulin' Aspen, which IS mostly a trail race and quite technical in the second half.

I need to do both races. This will help me get ready for my first triple weekend in early September. And that is all leading up to the dreaded Quadzilla at the end of September: 4 marathons in 4 days.

Wish me luck. I'm gonna need it.

Jennifer could use some too.

Monday, August 06, 2007

07/28/07 Kilauea Volcano Trail Marathon

If you don't know, Kilauea is one of the two active volcanoes on the Big Island of Hawai'i. The other one, Mauna Loa, last erupted in 1984. Kilauea has been erupting consistently since 1983. In fact, about a month before the race, the eruption on Kilauea changed to a new location. It got muuuuch more active for a few weeks and many trails and roads were closed. I was nervous about whether the race would happen. Luckily, it did... and they even let us run through a small area that was still officially closed to visitors.

This race has been ranked as the toughest measured marathon in the world by some "authorities" (like, Runners' World). I don't think it is, but it would certainly rank in my top five. The course is a loop that starts and ends at the Kilauea Military Camp. The race utilizes hiking trails and about 7 miles of road all within Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. The course itself changes dramatically throughout, and is best considered a stage race:

Stage One (8 miles). After a one mile uphill warm-up along Crater Rim Drive, runners jump onto the connector trail that eventually leads to the Ka'u Desert Trail. All told, this is 7 miles of screaming downhill over lava and sand. Extremely technical with rocks and ridges and the occasional "uh oh" jump over a Really Deep Crack. The course was marked with little yellow survey flags, and all the trails are marked by rock piles (called "cairns"). Unfortunately, the color of lava and the lay of the land makes the rock piles hard to see sometimes... SOOO... while the runner is trying to look down for tripping hazards, the occasional peek around is needed to sight the next nav marker. Combined with the downhill, which urges people to run faster, run faster, this is a really dangerous part of the course. Look up to sight, and SPLAT, down you go. I've seen people break bones in this section. And lots of blood.

Stage Two (5.5 miles). At the bottom of the hill, just before Mauna Iki, runners make a big left turn onto the Mauna Iki Trail. The footing on this section is like the previous section... only deeper sand, tougher rocks, and wider cracks :-). Incidentally, pahoehoe is considered to be the smoother type of lava (the other, a'a, is the rocky stuff). But "smoother" is not smooth... the surface of pahoehoe has little ridges which make great ankle-collapsers. On the one hand, this section is not downhill - it's very roly poly. This forces runners to slow down. On the other hand, there are some steep ups along the way. Right in the middle, at M10, there's a fun switchback that includes a little scrambling over/around boulders.

Stage Three (6 miles). After climbing up and out of the technical portion, runners are faced with some road miles. This is a nice change and would be easy peasy... except that the first 4 miles are uphill. 4 miles, uphill, no break. The last 2 miles roll along Chain of Craters Road and into the Mauna Ulu parking lot. This lot is actually closed because of the recent volcanic activity... but we got to run through it.

Stage Four (4 miles). This section is a wide trail... officially, really it is the escape road up the side of Kilauea if/when Chain of Craters Road unexpectedly gets munched. The first mile is rough and rocky, but the last 3 enter the rain forest - beautiful trees, grass, shade, and soft surface. Ah, easy, right? No. Notice that I said the escape road goes UP. Oh, yes it does. And up runners go. This 4 mile up is quite a bit steeper than the 4 up miles in the previous section. This is also M19.5-23.5 of the race. After everything else that runners have endured, this section feels like the hardest part to me. These miles take FOREVER.

Stage Five (3.7 miles). After popping out of the escape road near the famous Thurston Lava Tube, runners take the Crater Rim Trail around Kilauea Iki and the main Kilauea Crater... and back to the military camp. And... DONE! These miles are rolling and somewhat technical. No lava, but lots of roots and mud if it has been raining. Also, several sets of stairs along the way. For runners who are still coherent, this is by far the most visually interesting section. For the rest of us, it's a fairly intense little trail run. Luckily, the incoherent person does not really notice the sections of the trail next to the crater w/o a guardrail... that's a several hundred foot drop straight down.

So that's the course. The weather? Expect EVERYTHING. It starts out cool at the volcano... 6a will be 50-55. It heats up out on the desert section. It gets windy. Then, as runners get back to the RAIN FOREST, it can rain. Snow and ice are about the only things a runner won't experience.

It is a hard race. Last year, I went through stage one too fast and twisted my ankle at the end of this stage. It made for a long painful day and I limped in at 5:11. This year, I thought I'd be smarter about the race... but I still shot through stage one too fast :-). I did not, however, twist my ankle or hurt anything. Some folks did.

Many of my Hawai'ianiac friends caught me before the M10 scramble in stage two. Johnny and Wyatt (if you read my Kona report, Wyatt's the dude who unfortunately missed the turn) both passed me smiling. Right at the end of this stage, Les caught me. He was bloody and had fallen earlier, but he was upright and seemed pretty chipper. Less than one hundred yards before the end of this stage, while we were talking about his fall, I caught my foot in a hole and.... and... I caught myself. Phew. No fall. Up and out.

Stage three's uphill let me know that I had gone out too fast. It was hot and my legs were mush. The volunteers in the Mauna Ulu parking lot seemed to know in advance about my pink shirt and me... I got lots of thanks for being "breast cancer guy". I tried to thank them. Ice cold water at M19 of this race is the best water on the planet. But they would have none of that.

On I went. Sure enough, stage four's uphill ate me up. Even though it wasn't technical, 12:00 miles were all I could do. Most everyone else seemed to have the same difficulty; there was lots of leapfrogging back and forth, but we kind of moved as an informal pack up the side of the volcano.

Then it was time for stage five. Woohoo, the last stage and the most wonderful views. All was well until we came to an unmarked fork in the trail. People were just standing there. I was sure that "left" was the proper direction. I went off, and immediately had a confidence crisis... I was headed down, and I knew that we weren't supposed to go down into the crater. So I went back to the intersection. Nobody knew which way to go. Some people went right. One guy went left... so I went with him and a few folks followed me. About three minutes into it, this felt correct to me; I've run these trails dozens of times. The confidence crisis from before was caused by being at M24 of one of the hardest marathons on earth. My brain wasn't quite there. This was the right way. A woman with me wasn't so sure, and she started freaking out because we hadn't hit a section of trail she thought we should be on. I had a quick talk with her: "this is
the right way, trust me, that section you are thinking of is in about half a mile". She ran with me, and we rounded a corner... and there was an aid station. We had chosen properly. We told the aid station folks about the poorly marked turn. Later I'd find out that someone went back and covered up the wrong choice.

We passed the Volcano House, where the picture at the top of this story was taken. About a mile and a half more trail... and we were done. The gal who had freaked out was a hasher from Honolulu and tons of her hasher friends were at the end to hoot her in. I was right behind her, so they also hooted for the dude in pink.

Boom. 4:54. On this course, that wasn't a bad time... and 17 minutes better than last year. That put me in the top third overall, top third men, and right at the cutoff for top third in my age group. So... not great, but not bad.

And I was coherent enough to walk the 1.2 miles back to the Volcano House and crash in my room.

It's a really interesting race. It is very pretty. I swing back and forth during this run between "love it" and "haaaaate it". Afterwards, I say that I won't do it again. And then a few months later, I reconsider and plan for next year. At least, this is how it has gone in the past. I don't think I'll do the full again... maybe next year, I'll do the 10 miler.

Then again, ask me the same question in a few months. HA.

Next up: it has already happened. The Frank Maier Marathon in Juneau, Alaska. Kind of the exact opposite of this race. I'll write that story soon. It'll be shorter, but it will involve unexpected hardware!