Tuesday, July 22, 2008

7/13/08 Missoula Marathon

The Missoula Marathon was a new race last year. I did it; I was pleasantly surprised by both the town of Missoula and the race itself. You never know how a first-time event is going to go, and it was really good. A lot of Maniacs signed up for the race last year... for this year's version, even more signed up from all over the place. Never underestimate the drawing power of a well-managed small race, especially during a month with few choices :-).

I felt quite blah during last year's race and struggled to the finish. My 3:53 wasn't out of line with my other summer times, though, and I wrote in the report "I definitely could have had a 3:45 race". Afterwards, a local TV station interviewed me. This made the day even more interesting. The blahs didn't last.

I guess I'm famous in Missoula. This year, a nice guy from the local ABC station emailed me a few weeks before the race to arrange an interview. Sweet. And so, when I showed up in Missoula to pick up my packet, I also got to spend a few minutes in front of a camera.

I've done a few TV things, and they've all gone the same way. The guy/gal running the camera asks questions and kind of interviews me while recording my responses. Then later, some of what I said gets spliced into video of other things and narration by another person (not the guy/gal I talked to). This sounds like it could be nefarious and end poorly, but in all cases... so far!... the organization has gone out of its way to make me look good. The ABC gig was no exception. He probably talked to me for 15 minutes and asked me all kinds of questions. We talked about the 65 marathons I ran last year. I told him about my favorite race. How to train to run lots of races. Food. How leukemia and breast cancer have affected me. How much I like Missoula (which wasn't a lie - it really IS a neat place). Of all that, I got a 15 second sound bite in the middle of the story. Hee. But they chose a good one.

Anyway... after my 15 minutes of fame, I did a nice recovery run through the downtown area and across a rail-to-trails trail near the university. I had wanted to run up to the giant M...

...but they'd recently had a big fire on that mountain and the trail was closed. After that, some of my Maniac friends picked me up for dinner (great food, nice people, miserable service) and then ice cream at the KOA Kampground. Then back to my hotel and sleep. For a few hours, at least. The Missoula Marathon is a point-to-point course with a 4:30 shuttle to the start. I had to get up at 3:30 to prepare.

Last year's race started at 65 degrees, but quickly spiked to 90 with high humidity. This year was much more tolerable. It was a chilly 48 at the starting area and thanks to the 4:30a shuttle/6a start, we were there for awhile. I had planned well and had tons of layers which I dumped in a bag just before the start. I actually started the race in what would be considered skimpy by Island Boy standards: shorts, singlet, ditchable gloves, and a ditchable long sleeve shirt.

While waiting at the start, I got to meet so many Maniacs. Lots of folks I know in Seattle came over, but there are lots of new Maniacs who I don't know. And July in Missoula attracted them. It was fun talking to everyone, and it made the chilly wait go by quickly.

Time to start. They changed the course this year somewhat, but the basics matched last year's race: a point-to-point course from Frenchtown down backroads into downtown Missoula. The course is flat-to-gently-rolling, except for one big hill between M13 and M15. This is a fun hill, roughly equivalent to the one I call "mama bear" in the middle of Yakima (aka "the second of Yakima's three progressively harder hills"). Amusingly, the only hill in this race happens to be on a road named Big Flat Road. No it isn't, I promise you.

Yeah, still time to start. How about a race goal? I had the same blah feeling that I had at last year's start. Maybe it's the Montana water? Or getting up at 3:30? I don't know. Based on my recent training, the ease of the course, and the weather at the start, it could have been a 3:35 day. However, the blahs made me relax that to "about 3:45". Plus I knew the weather might be a wildcard. It was supposed to stay in the 60s-70s throughout the morning with bright sun and a little wind. But I know about Montana wind. If it got truly windy from the wrong direction, or if the temperatures spiked higher, then the day could get rough. So that additional 10-12 minutes seemed reasonable.

And with that, BOOM, we were off. BOOM. A cannon has signaled the start of the Missoula Marathon both years. A real cannon, not one of those confetti poseurs. BOOM. Woohoo! What? I can't hear.

As predicted, I started off blah. Or is it "blahly"? Whatever it is, it felt yucky. The first half of the course wandered through farm/ranchland. At M4, the course ran through a papermill. Ok, not technically through the main building, but the buildings were on both sides. Last year, this was where I went offroad to visit a portapotty in the middle of nowhere. This year, I looked for the portapotty, but it was gone. This was ok; I didn't need to go :-). I just wanted to spot it for nostalgic reasons. Isn't that weird? As I approach 200 marathons, some of my memories involve portapotties. Right-e-o.

The ABC guy showed up somewhere in here to film me as well as a couple other folks. He'd be on the side of the road with his camera. Then after I had passed, he'd drive ahead, set up, and do it again. A bit later, he drove up next to me and filmed me for a minute or so while he drove. Is this legal? It felt incredibly strange, and it seemed like far longer than a minute. I enjoy speaking in front of people. If you've read enough of these reports, you know I usually don't mind being the center of attention. Heck, I run in pink. But by the end of that minute, I was beginning to feel incredibly self-conscious. Hmm. I can't imagine being an elite at the front of a big race with motorcycles and cameras on me for a couple hours. Luckily, Mr "about 3:45" won't ever have to face that. Heh.

I hit the halfway point at 1:53. To actually beat 3:45, I'd have to run a negative split. For "about 3:45", I was right on the money. Not bad for the blahs. The weather had indeed warmed up... and the ditchable shirt had long since been ditched. But it wasn't too warm, and the wind had not become a factor. Time for the big hill.

Going up the hill, I passed a guy walking up it backwards. I had a strong sense of deja vu... I'd seen him last year too. Seems as though he has weak or damaged quad muscles and he firmly believes that walking up the hill backwards is the only way he can get up it. Okey doke. Given that I passed him at M14ish, this meant he had been running faster than me before the hill. Perhaps he'd catch me again on the other side.

By the two hour mark, all the runners were spread out. I was never completely alone, but it was easy to tell when someone was "sneaking up" from behind. And around M16, I began to notice a slender, blonde woman in black gaining on me slowly. She caught me around M18. She seemed pretty focused, so I decided not to try small talk. We just ran. She had a red shirt balled up in her hand. Aha. A pace group leader. Pace groups are/is one reason (of many) why Missoula is a cool small marathon. For this race, some leaders stick with their groups for the whole race, and others swap out halfway. So here was a woman who had passed off her pacing duties and was now attempting a negative split. Maybe I could stick with Negative Splits Chick.

And maybe not. She passed me around M20 as the course turned into Missoula. It wasn't a complete dusting, but it was clear that she was going to pull away. She had a huge negative split coming her way; I did not. As she went by, I glanced at her face. Huh. I think I know her. My brain started flipping through its face recognition rolodex trying to figure out why... or if... I knew her. Nothing came up, so I figured that I must have seen her at a race somewhere. I see lots of people. I could have asked, but she really did look intense. And "don't I know you?" felt too pickup-y. Off she went.

I still felt blah. The final miles were ticking down, and I was trying to keep my pace. This was where the organizers had changed the course. Last year, we zigzagged through neighborhoods and then a mall parking lot. Then it was a grueling sun-blasted last few miles over a bike trail to the finish. This year, we did a lot more neighborhood zigzagging. This was weird because at many points, I could look over a couple blocks and see runners on different streets. The very pleasant side-effect, though, was that this section offered a ton of shade. No mall and not much bike trail.

I was passing a bunch of people. Some of these were half marathon walkers. Others were marathoners who had gotten too hot. Island Boy felt blah, but at least not "blah and too hot". My pace stayed consistent. And although Negative Splits Chick had pulled away from me, she never got completely out of sight.

Over the river and across the bridge...

Robert Lopez, from Seattle.

Woohoo, I got announced. ABC guy was at the finish and shook my hand. That was nice. I didn't notice him recording, but he must have been... because my finish made the final video. Not once, but twice. Huh.

3:46. Hmm. Well, that's what I call "about 3:45". It's also a very even race - I ran a 1:53/1:53 split. Considering how I felt, I did ok. However, I had managed a couple low 3:40s and a 3:28 back in April and May on much harder courses. Something is off slightly about my training. Still though, I made my goal.

I grabbed a bottle of water and saw Negative Splits Chick walking away. I took the opportunity to congratulate her on pulling what seemed like a huge negative split. She congratulated me on my pink. And we parted. I was in search of food. I found some, including really wacky popsicles. Natural popsicles. How natural?? Well, I had a watermelon popsicle. And it had seeds. My watermelon popsicle had seeds! Perhaps a little too natural :-).

As I was recovering, I ran into sooo many people that I've seen at other races. How cool. I ran into a couple who had seen me in Kona. I talked to Maniac Chester's wife. I met a bunch of new Maniacs. And then I stumbled across Shirley Pratt. She actually lives in Kona part-time. I haven't seen Shirley since 2005, when she was running a bunch of marathons in support of folks in the military. Lots has happened in the past three years!

After eating and chatting, I went to grab my stuff and glanced at the posted results. There she was: Negative Splits Chick had run a 3:45. And, oh my. I saw her name. Rachel Toor. It clicked why my brain had been poking me. I don't KNOW know Rachel, but I certainly know OF Rachel: she's a writer as well as being a well-traveled pace group leader and ultrarunner. She wrote a hilarious column about pacing the Las Vegas Marathon for Marathon and Beyond. She has a recurring column in Running Times. And, the coolest thing for me, she writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Neat!

How I wished that I would have recognized her. I also wished, kind of, that I had spoken to her while we were running together... but she really did seem focused. So I went looking. I found some other pace group folks and, sure enough, they pointed me Rachel's way. I actually called her 'Negative Splits Chick'. Hey Negative Splits Chick, you're famous. Not my most gracious opening, but she didn't call a cop nor punch me. I finally got my opportunity to say a real hello and offer up a thanks for all the groovy writing.

And that was that. This year's Missoula Marathon. I felt just as blah as last year for most of the race, but I had more fun this time around. And randomly seeing all those people I knew after the race was very fun. Running with a celebrity too. And oh yeah, I got on TV.

See the results of the interview and the in-action video here, in the middle of the sportscast.

Next up: yes, it has already happened. El Scorcho! I won't 'splain that. To learn about El Scorcho, check back RealSoonNow.

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