Tuesday, September 04, 2007

09/1,2,3/07 The Triple Marathon Weekend

See my smile? That picture was taken five minutes after finishing the third race of the triple. That gives away some of the potential drama in the report below, but I'm ok with this. I'm smiling.

Lake Tahoe hosts a marathon and a variety of other events in early fall. One of these events is the "Tahoe Triple": 3 marathons in 3 consecutive days that take the runner all the way around the lake. Although individual Maniacs have different goals, the Tahoe Triple has always been a cornerstone Maniac event. The Triple is held on a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. For several years, there was another marathon nearby that was held on the Sunday. Completing the Triple followed by the Bizz Johnson Trail Marathon was known as the "Quadzilla"... and only a handful of Maniacs (and non-Maniacs, I assume) have done it.

I want to do it. Two problems. The big one is that the organizers of Bizz moved the event to a different weekend a couple years ago. So there isn't a logistically simple way to do the Quadzilla. Only a few people (superstar Van Phan and Hawai'ianiac Les Omura that I know of) have done it since Bizz moved. And the races they used aren't on the same weekend this year either.

The second problem is a lot more personal. I'm not sure I'm ready to run 4 in 4 days. Before I try that, I might want to complete a triple without spontaneous combustion. Which finally brings me to the point of this report :-).

A local race, the Gateway to the Pacific Marathon, changed its date to the Sunday following the Triple. Given that I'd be coming home anyway after the Triple, here was a logistically doable opportunity to resurrect Quadzilla. That will all be at the end of September. The beginning of September means Labor Day, and there are several marathons which are held on Labor Day Monday. With a little digging, I found a way to try a triple on Labor Day weekend. Trying this would let me know if the Quadzilla is even a possibility AND with four weeks in between, this triple would provide really good training.

If the logisitics worked out. And if I survived.

The three marathons: Saturday's Pocatello Marathon in Idaho, Sunday's New Mexico Marathon in Albuquerque, and Monday's American Discovery Trail Marathon in Colorado Springs. I found flights and cars that would get me to where I needed to be, provided nothing got delayed or canceled. And provided the traffic wasn't so bad that I missed a flight along the way.

Friday before the race, I was supposed to fly from Seattle to Salt Lake City, and then drive 2 1/2 hours to Pocatello. My plane was three hours late which got me to Salt Lake during Friday's rush hour of a holiday weekend. The 2 1/2 hour drive turned into a 4 hour epic adventure. I finally got to Pocatello in time to stand in line at Subway for 30 minutes (yeeks!) and then I went to bed. Five hours later, I was awake and ready to run.

Pocatello Marathon

Idaho is a really interesting state that most people have not visited. These people know about the Famous Potatoes, and this is what they think Idaho looks like. In fact, there ARE a lot of potato fields, but Idaho has lots of more scenic areas. It also has one less scenic area - parts of southern Idaho are gigantic lava fields with absolutely nothing for miles. Pocatello is sort of a cross between mountains and a lava field, which means it has round, stubby mountains with sage brush instead of trees. It is very pretty in a very unique way, but Colorado it is not.

The marathon course is extremely challenging. It is a point-to-point that starts with 14 miles of screaming downhill. About a mile after passing the start of the half marathon, the course levels off and rolls somewhat all the way to the end. The race starts about 45 minutes before sunrise, and this serves as the only "shade" on the course. Once the sun is up, it gets warm. No shade. It is very hard not to hammer down the hill, and pressing down this hill only serves to punish the runner in the later miles after it is hot.

It is easy for me to write about what a runner should not do; it is harder to ACTUALLY not do it. However, knowing that there would be two more marathons afterwards... one with even more downhill... made it a little easier to be convince myself to be conservative on the downhill.

What were my goals for this race? Well, I really had to look at it as part of a bigger thing. What were my goals for the triple? As stated above, I really wanted to get in some good training runs and feel out whether the quadzilla would be conceivable. I focused on "training runs" and decided to be conservative. I wanted to finish the triple with a smile (now go back and read the first paragraph of this report). Aside from that, I knew that the courses were each challenging affairs and that all of them involved altitude. Two of them, including Pocatello, involved quad-crunching downhill. I set most time goals aside. I wanted Pocatello to be below 4:00, New Mexico below 4:15, and Colorado Springs below 4:45. I wanted to minimize any "death march" walking. And I wanted to have fun. So, for Pocatello: sub 4, don't do anything stupid, finish strong.

Usually, a pre-race shuttle gets runners to the starting area very early. We all mill, we all potty, and we all shiver in the cold. Not at Pocatello. We got there with just enough time to potty, throw our bags in the back of a van, and GO.

Time to be conservative on the downhill. My first mile was 5:38. Now, if you've read any of my reports, you know that this is anything but conservative. Unless I'm in a 5k, I don't run sub-7. Ever. I have never, in any event, run sub-6. Yes, that first mile was mismarked :-). However, I was running very fast. Down, down, down we went. My first half split was a very un-conservative 1:43.

It wouldn't last... partially because I was (and AM) in no shape to run a sub-3:30 marathon. But also because there was no way at all that I was going to get super aggressive and put on my game face trying to run a PR. Not on this course. The triple was more important to me than a PR. So, I went into long run mode.

That's when things got interesting.

Around M18, the first half marathoners caught me. Their race had started at the full's halfway point. The very first guy went by me and said something like "looking strong, SR!" What? Ok, first off, I wasn't wearing the pink at Pocatello. Secondly, I didn't recognize him. So someone knew me from behind even though I wasn't in costume? Curious. I would find out after the race that this guy... who did indeed win the half outright... knows me from the coolrunning message board. How cool is that?!?

I need to back up to tell the other story. Starting about M4, there was a spectator guy who kept randomly popping up on the side of the road. He always had a brief word for me. I'm used to this, and I knew what was going on. He was a significant other or a family member of a runner who was somewhere near my pace. He'd stop to cheer that person, then head down the course and repeat. Soon after the half marathoner had greeted me, I saw spectator guy again. His runner must have been gaining on me, because as I passed him, I heard him call out "way to go DIRTBALL!!!"

Dirtball. Interesting. My memory rolodex of race stories flipped back to a race I did in New Jersey in 2005. I had run the majority of that race with a nice lady whose husband spectated the race and called her Dirtball.

I spun around, and there she was. Dirtball. A person from a southern state who I had met two years ago in New Jersey. Running just behind me in Idaho! We exchanged greetings, and then she passed me as I continued my long run/slog. Hee. I love it when something so incredibly random (think "it's a small world") happens. But this is only part of the story.

The run continued. The run got hot. The last miles were pretty brutal. Around we went. And then we were done. I don't recall whether they announced me, but that's alright.

3:50. Not good considering the 1:43 first half, but I made my sub-4 goal and I was perfectly fine and smiling. That's when Dirtball came up to me and told me she also knew me from the coolrunning website. Wow, two meetups in the same random race with people from the same place. I love running.

Then I drove 2 1/2 hours back to Salt Lake, and I got on a plane to Albuquerque. The one thing that I don't like about running lots of races is that sometimes I have to leave before I have a chance to enjoy the places and people as much as I'd like.

New Mexico Marathon
Nonetheless, I went to Albuquerque. Race day would start very early... 3a so that I could catch a 4a shuttle. After I checked into my hotel, I had just enough time to scout out some food before it was time to go to bed. My choice? Some of Old Town Albuquerque's finest Mexican food. If you are a runner, you might wince to see that as my pre-race meal. My body is weird. I can eat "the right" stuff and be sick the next day. On the other hand, my PR was obtained the day after I ate pizza-and-beer for lunch, followed by pizza-and-beer for dinner. I just never know. Some race days will be good potty days, and some will not. And I can't seem to nail how to affect this.

So, of course I woke up at 3a with an incredible stomach ache. Oh my. I think I'll skip the pre-race Mexican food for awhile.

The New Mexico Marathon is a bit similar to Pocatello: a point-to-point course that starts up in the mountains and winds down to the city. Like Pocatello, it also starts very early to minimize the heat. Hence the 4a shuttle. Unlike Pocatello, this race has a pretty challenging 8 mile climb before its 6 miles of screaming downhill. The remaining miles are flatter than Pocatello... but it is the same basic story. The runner needs to beware of the downhill. Go too fast, and the rest of the race will hurt.

At the New Mexico Marathon, the portapotties were few and far between. To the race org's credit, they laid this out explicitly for runners. I knew the score.

So there we were in the pitch black. The race started and immediately after crossing the chip-timed starting line, I knew I needed to visit the potty. Not the bushes, I mean the bad kind of potty. Right then. The next portapotty would be M6. There were empty ones at the start. I couldn't wait. So I jumped over and did what needed to be done.

Three minutes later, I was out the door... and everyone was gone. Dark, I mean DARK, and there was no one left. Oooops. Off I went. I don't like running at night. Finally, way off in the distance, I saw a little blinking light. This was the sweeper van BEHIND (what they thought was) the last runner. I caught the van right before M1. I started zigzagging around the back of the pack. It was no fun in the dark, but I did get lots of encouragement and friendly greetings from people.

Potty stop, bush, M5. By the top of the hill at M8, the sun was coming up. At the crest, I could see all the way across Albuquerque; several hot air balloons were hanging around, silently watching the day unfold. Maybe they were watching me potty. The hot air balloons are supposed to be the signature sight at this race. The scenery was tranquil and made the massive downhill a little easier to deal with. 6 miles of downhill. They weren't quite as treacherous as the Pocatello downhill, but these miles were plenty hard. At M13, still in the downhill section, we passed the starting area of the half and its portapotties, now vacant (I was slow and the half had already started). Potty stop.

At the bottom of the downhill, the race veered off the road onto a bike trail by the river. Normally, I enjoy race sections like this. Not today. It was hot, there was no shade, and the bike traffic was sort of annoying. But really I think I didn't enjoy it because of a big mental mistake. This section didn't have mile markers, and somewhere in here I lost count. At the end of this section, I thought I was at M22. Nope, M21. GAH. Hated that section! It did, however, have a bright side. Being bummed about my inability to count made me forget about my stomach, and my stomach forgot about me. It didn't hurt anymore.

The last five miles of the race were along city streets. Then we all cut under an interstate - I was amazed that they stopped traffic at this intersection for runners. They did. Around several corners, and finally, finally that was that.

Robert Lopez, Seattle Washington. 4:24.

4:24. OUCH. I was wiped, too. I had wanted to beat 4:15, and it simply did not happen. I did spend a ton of time doing potty-related activities during this race, so I tried not to let it bug me. At the end, I talked to a couple maniac friends, ate some of the scant food, and it was time to head out. No time to eat, just enough time to get to the airport. I flew to Denver and then drove 90 minutes through awful traffic to Colorado Springs...

American Discovery Trail Marathon
...and proceeded to eat at Dennys. Yum. Not really. But it was there, and they cheerfully fed me, and I was appreciative.

Of the three races, this one had the easiest logistics by far. The course consists of two out-and-backs: one from the start in a park (America The Beautiful park, to be exact) to about M6, the second from M6 to about M26, and then a little dash around the perimeter of the park. No early shuttle. And no nasty downhill. Although it has "trail" in its title, this race is held on a rail-to-trails bike trail that's wide enough for a truck. The surface isn't paved, but it is mostly easy, soft dirt and gravel. There are some roly polies between about M13 and M19 (basically, near the second turnaround), but the rest is flattish.

My hotel was 10 minutes from the park, and I left for the race about 15 minutes before the gun. I had just enough time to get there and tell some maniacs and 50-staters hi... and then off we went. Ouch. I was slow. The good news was that my stomach as a-ok. The bad news was that the altitude of this course was the highest of all three. At 6500 feet, it wasn't high enough to hurt, but it was high enough to make me breathe hard. And make my tired legs feel completely dead.

Most people do not like out-and-back courses all that much. They are my favorite. I like seeing everyone. I like saying hi to my friends and encouraging others. I like it when people say hi to me. That said, I was pretty grim during the first out-and-back. I could not get comfortable, everything hurt, and it was no fun. It didn't help that I had to make a potty stop at M5. I was worried that the problems from Albuquerque might be coming back. They didn't. My stomach was honestly a-ok.

The people working the aid stations really helped. Everyone was very friendly. By about M10, I was feeling a little better. The sky was blue. The breeze was just right - just enough to be cooling without being annoying "wind". And a great view of Pikes Peak. The half marathoners passed me during this section. Their course was a bit different, and their turnaround was by our M12. Here they came, and then there they went.

As we approached our turnaround, the course got hilly. I saw my faster friends go by the other way; they all provided me great encouragement. The turnaround was at the perimeter fence of the Air Force Academy. Nothing to see but a big fence, so I turned around.

By M17 I was feeling a lot better. By M20, I was actually kind of giddy. It wasn't exactly flow (or "runner's high") and I wasn't running a blazing pace, but everything was more enjoyable, and my splits show that I did speed up some.

Someone ahead of me was tipping off aid stations that there was a dude in pink who was running his third marathon in three days. I know this because every time I came to an aid station, some of the volunteers would mention it and huddle around to help me. I never figured out who told them... I was sure it was a maniac friend (the guy on the left in the picture above), but he told me later that he did not. Go figure.

The last six miles of the third marathon were certainly not my fastest overall, but they were perhaps my most enjoyable miles of the whole weekend. The LAST mile of the weekend... M26 of this race... was one of my fastest non-downhill miles of the weekend. That was great. Earlier this year, I had made it a quirky habit to run the last mile of each race as the fastest mile that day. It was fun to take that almost to the next level.

As I circled the park, my maniac friends met me and one took some pictures. I did it. I finished a triple. I was upright, and I was happy.

My time? 4:28. Ok, ew. Sort of. But not really.

For one, I beat my 4:45 goal AND I was upright and happy. This certainly made up for the time I lost the previous day.

And dig this. I ran a negative split. 2:15/2:13. I grant you, compared to my normal pace, a 2:15 half is not a mega-awesome day. It would be an icky day on its own. But this was the last race of a triple. Go me.

Then I drove 90 minutes back to Denver and flew to Seattle. And then slept for a very long time.

Running three marathons in three days was hard. The logistics were TOO hard. I will definitely try the quadzilla. I may even do the Tahoe triple in future years. But I don't think I'll do *this* particular triple again.

Incidentally, see the guy at the left in the picture at the top? That's maniac Steve Supkoff. He's the guy who took pictures of me at the end of the triple. He's also the guy who had kind, encouraging words for me at various points during the weekend. The reason? He also ran two of these races - Albuquerque and Colorado Springs. He managed a 3:58/4:02. Go Steve!

Next up: It has already happened. I had a trail marathon in Park City - the MidMountain Marathon. Oh my goodness, was it HARD. The next day was the Skagit Flats Marathon north of Seattle. And the name did not lie. It was F-L-A-T.

I'll be back soon with a report on those!

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