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.

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