Saturday, October 1, 2011

St George Marathon

St George was going to be sub 3 attempt number 2.  This summer I've been steadily improving and set PRs in most races from 5K to half marathon distance.  Whereas at Boston I always felt sub 3 might be a stretch, going into St George - I was pretty confident I could do it.

Flew into Vegas and drove the 120 miles to the north west to get to St George.  It's just across the Nevada / Arizona / Utah border.  Pulling into St George, the car temperature gauge said 101F.  Holy crap.  What was I thinking running a marathon where you fly to Vegas on 10/1 and drive to it ?!!

Did the expo, and then went out for spicy asian food.  I met up with Left Coast briefly after dinner, then it was back to the hotel to chill.  Bridesmaids on the ipad until I got bored and took sleeping pills.

Not the best night's sleep.  Surprise !  My alarm was set for a quarter past sodding early o'clock (3:15am), but I was awake from 1:30am anyway.  I decided not to do the all liquid ultra fuel breakfast this go around.  I've had issues with my stomach the past few attempts I've used that, not being able to take in carbs during the race, so this time I stuck to what I'd done in training.  Lots of liquids, and then a small bowl of cereal, plus some cliff bloks.

St George is a point to point race.  A bit like Boston.  They bus you out to the start line.  It's a big net downhill - although it's deceiving.  For the people who just look at the profile and say you can put skates on and do it - I suggest you sign up next year.  Over a mile up a volcano in the first half (250 foot gain in that mile alone), and a couple of other nasty hills - it's not the downhill coaster that it may appear to be on paper.  And there's that 'heat' thing.  Average temps for October 1st in St George are 86F, and the course has literally no shade. In a normal year the temps should cool off more at night, so you'd be starting around 50F, and ending around 70F.  So not too bad.  Unfortunately this wasn't a 'normal' year.

I left the hotel at 4:30am.  It felt pretty warm.  The car temperature gauge said 79F.  Hmmm - yes - that would qualify as pretty warm at 30 mins after way too early o'clock.  The buses were only 1.5 miles away, but I didn't want to have to hobble back, so I drove and was able to park literally a hundred yards from the bus pick up, which was also next to the finish area.  On the bus, I chatted with a lady who was in the 10 year club, and thus able to avoid the lottery each year.

Up at the starting area there were bonfires to provide light.  I'd scored a semi-elite bib, so was able to go into a cordoned off area where we had our own set of porto potties.  I put a trash sack on the ground and just lay down.  Music pumped from the PA, as more and more people showed up.  The announcer cheerfully told us the temperature at the start was 65 degrees and it was going to be a beautiful day.  Beautiful if you're sitting behind a microphone mate.  Not beautiful on the business end of 26.2 miles.

The start time drew closer - we got into position, it was still pitch dark.  St George is maybe 20 or so miles east of the Nevada border, so right at the very western edge of the mountain time-zone.  Gun time is at 6:45am - the sun rise isn't until 7:30am.  And there are no lights on the road. You start in the middle of nowhere.

I'd found a spreadsheet on line - similar to Greg Maclin's - that had tailored splits for the St George topography.  I was going for a 2:58.  Suddenly we were off. 

It was dark.  You could vaguely make out the road and runners around you in the gloom, but certainly not see your garmin.  Buttons were pressed and watch lights would glow for a few seconds like glow flies, before dimming.  I'd check every couple of minutes to make sure I was maintaining my pace.

Boston was the first race I'd ever run without music.  I'd set a PR there, so I knew I didn't 'require' it.  Still - something about a motivating songs seemed to make me run faster, particularly on this course where I expected to not be running with anyone.  I switched on my ipod.  Nothing.  Great.  It had worked when I'd checked it before packing - now it was dead.  Thought of throwing it off in anger, but just took it off and stuffed it down the front of my shorts.  Am I glad to see you ?  No - sorry - it's just my ipod in my shorts....

Still - there was something pure about running in the dark, with just the sound of footfalls and easy breathing and stars up above.

First mile.  7:00.

Second mile:  6:55.

Both on target.  At least from what I'd remembered.  I couldn't read my wrist band in the dark, although it was slowly starting to get a little lighter.  Before the race I'd corresponded with CharliePro from the California / Masters forums.  He was running St George and was aiming for a similar time (2:56).  I'd read his race report from the prior year where he'd run 2:58 and was using that as my guide of 'how to do it right'.  He'd run 1:31, 1:27 splits.  I wanted to emulate that.   I knew he'd be running shirtless with his signature baseball cap on backwards.  I'd tried to find him at the start, but it was too chaotic.  And too dark.

In the gloom - just ahead - I saw someone who fitted the profile.  I ran alongside - and sure enough - it was him.  We shook hands and introduced ourselves officially.  No longer an imaginary friend.  I was running with the legendary CharliePro !


I took my first gel.  After my stomach issues with Gu Roctane, I'd switched to Honey Stinger gels in my training.  They'd worked well, and they were a local Colorado company.  I was determined to use the 4 I carried.


these miles all seemed to fly by - running with someone else, chatting, time was flying.  literally.

The first 7 miles are a net downhill.  I was heeding advice from veterans not to go too quick - I felt like I was holding back.  Everything was going to plan.

Then the profile of the course changes.  The next 7 miles are net uphill (the people on those 'roller skates' might struggle here).  They start with the extinct Veyo volcano.  It was now fully light and you could see the thing looming from several miles away.  I'd driven the course the day before so knew it was coming.  250 feet up that mile - imagine heart break hill - just longer and without any crowd support.  No beer bongs at the top.  Fortunately it's relatively early on. 

Even effort, not even pace.  Although Charlie and I seemed to be overtaking people all the way up. 

About this time - the sun came over the horizon.


We crested the hill.  My quads suddenly were feeling a bit heavier.  I mentioned it to Charlie - he said he'd just felt the exactly same thing.  Oh well - not much you can do.   Certainly not the end of the hills though - the course undulated for the next 6 miles.


About this point I saw that I was consistently running 5 seconds or so faster than my goal splits.  The difference between a 2:56 and a 2:58.  I told Charlie I was going to let him go and wished him luck.

I settled back into my grove.  While the sun was rising into the sky, it wasn't too bad.  There were some clouds over to the east that were blocking it a little so we weren't getting full on sunshine.  I'm not sure what the temperature was at this point - I'd guess around 70 degrees.

Tick tick went the miles.  Still hilly  Look at my heel lift in that photo - wow.  I had no idea...


Time for gel number 2.  Good so far.  A couple of minutes afterwards I felt an energy lift.  Wow - who'd have known.  Taking gels might actually help ! 


I reached the half in about 1:30:30.

A little faster than my pace band wanted (45 seconds) - but definitely within range.  Besides - I thought 2:56 might be a real possibility anyway based on my 1:23.xx half from earlier in the summer.

Mile 14 was the last undulating mile for a while, before the downhills would begin.  I'd mentally tried to break the race into 2 parts.  Before 14, after 14.

Mile 14 was @ 6.51.

And then the downhill began. 


The sun was now fully out and rising further into the sky.  From this point on it pretty much beat down on us.  No shade, temperatures rising.  Still - I felt okay.  Just 10 miles to go for that sub 3.  Ignore the sun.


Another gel.  My stomach was feeling a little queasy, but I was determined to keep taking them.  I burped a few times and felt honey coming up.  No.  No time to throw up.

My quads weren't feeling too bad.  I was trying to get up on my mid-foot, lean forward, and run smoothly - but not go too fast.

Mile 19 has a very nasty uphill portion - under a bridge and then continuing up.  All around me people were breathing hard.  My breathing in comparison seemed relatively easy.  I kept reminding myself - if it were easy - everyone would be doing this.  But I wasn't having fun !


Ok - try to speed up again.

Mile 20:  7:07

Mile 21:  6:51.

6:51 - right where I need it.  I remember thinking that while I'd been losing a few seconds / mile over the pace band, I still had about a minute in hand over a sub 3.  All I needed to do was keep churning out 6:51 miles and I was home.

Just 5 miles to go.  And it was downhill.  Easy right ?!

But I was parched.  So very very thirsty.  I'd been trying to do a better job hydrating.  I'd started with a water bottle in my hand, had picked up another around mile 7.  I was drinking water at each aid station - but I was still parched.  Very very thirsty.  They tell you that by the time you're thirsty - it's too late.   The next water stop - I grabbed 3 waters - and then stopped. What ?  I didn't really plan it - it just seemed the right thing to do.  Stop - drink the 3 waters to make sure they went in my mouth and not down my shirt - then start up again.  I lost 10 or so seconds and had a hard time getting the pace going again.



And then my garmin falls off my wrist.  the bloody strap has broken. slam on the brakes.  there's a vehicle following me that I didn't realize was there - I held up my hands to stop him, just as it looked like he was going to run it over.  I picked it up and started up.  Now I was carrying the thing. Another 10 seconds lost.

Like the garmin watch band, I'm starting to unravel.


Here comes another water stop.  Pop the last gel.  Ugh.  I stop.  Appropriate.  Water stop.  Richard stop.  Part of me doesn't want to start again.  Let's just walk.  Lots of people are around me are now walking, in fact people just seem to be stopping mid run. I'm following a guy in an Ironman finisher shirt.  An Ironman.  He runs marathons before breakfast.  He's looking strong and I'm trying to match pace. And then he just stops dead and walks.  Can't walk.  It's hot.  It's dry.  Keep going.  I start up again slowly.  It might be downhill at the moment, but the heat and dehydration are taking their toll.  I feel like I'm going to throw up.  There are some spectators here - I wonder if I can throw up on the fly while I'm running.  I'm sure I can.  Projectile vomiting.  I've done that because of too much tequila - I bet I could do it here.  But I manage to keep in down.


I'm seeing the splits.  I know sub 3 is gone.  I'm trying not to let myself slip into the mindset of Boston where I 'settled' for running slower.  Your goal may be gone, but this is a chance to train in that 'mental hell' that's so difficult to replicate in training.  Learn for next time.  Try to find some positives.  The thought of quitting bubbles  up several times but I push it away.  Besides.  I'd have to sit around for hours before getting to the end, so I may as well run it as fast as I can and get it over with anyway.

ok - you should still get a PR you wuss.  I figured I should be able to get a 3:03 or 3:04.

About this time I see a guy on the side of the road holding out a bottle.  I run over - hoping he's offering it to a runner.  He gives it to me.  I tell him he's a life saver.  No more stopping at water stops - I can nurse this thing the last 3 miles to the finish.



My mile splits are jacked - the garmin falling off reset took a mid mile split.  I decide I want a 3:03.xx.  Something about a time finishing in a '3' sounds better. I try to pick up the pace.  The finish line is bloody long !   I can see the clock far in the distance ticking down.  It's going to be close.  I'm running hard - overtaking everyone.  Where did this come from ?!!   I run the last half mile at 6:50 pace.

And then 3:04 ticks by.  Bugger.  Cross the line - 3:04:09.

And it's over.  Thank God.  Right across the finish line is an area of misters - runners are standing in there getting drenched.  I join them.  We're holding onto the bars literally getting showered.  It's hot.  Hotter than Chicago last year.  I don't know the exact temperature at this point - but I'd guess around 82 degrees.  30 minutes later when I make it back to my car - the temperature is reading 86.  I think of Howdy and Left Coast who are still out on the course and realize they're dealing with the continually rising temperatures.  Not fun.

At the finish I met CharliePro again.  He'd run the 2:56 he was aiming for.  Very impressive - the dude is 53 years old.  I grab as much fluid as I can carry and collapse in a pile on the grass.  For the next 4 hours I'm drinking continually.  It's only then that I realize how much fluid I'd lost.  This smile is very misleading.  I wasn't happy, and I wasn't feeling good !

Time to figure out what happened.

Clearly the heat and deydration took a toll.  I spoke to a lot of people who had similar races - for me - that definitely counter balanced the downhills of the second half.

But some people did have great races.  CharliePro for instance.  I picked his brain.  He told me that 2 years before, he'd switched to using Hudson for his training and had seen great improvements - and that was when he was over 50. 

I live at altitude.  Never once was I breathing heavily, so I think cardio wise - I'm in good shape.  In fact - I don't think I really get a lift from my cardio.  I remember before I ran my first marathon in Chicago in 2009 - I ran a 3:22 full marathon in training on hilly terrain in Denver.  And then a month later ran 3:20 in Chicago.  Not the smartest strategy - but more to the point that cardio is probably not my limiting factor right now.

I believe the causes are probably two fold

- hydation.  I'm always majorly deyhdrated after a race. This was probably excasserbated this go around with the dry heat, but it's something that's a constant theme in all of my marathons.  I really tried to hydrate well for the week before - and the morning before, but it wasn't enough.  I took salt caps too.  I'm going to need to figure something out.

- endurance training.  I think I need to switch this up.  I did a lot of slower miles this cycle.  But that's just helping my cardio, which isn't my problem right now.  I need to build the strength to get me through those late miles.  I bought the Hudson book on Amazon.  I'm going to look to incorporate some of that over the next 9 weeks into my next plan.

I say '9 weeks' because I've decided to give it another go without having to go through a full cycle.  I'm one of several forumites now doing Tucson in December.  You're welcome to come too !!

I do also need to temper this a little with the knowledge that it was a hot day.  If the temps had been in the 30s and 40s, and I'd run a 2:58 - I wouldn't be having as much introspection.  Still - it's through adversity that you actually learn - not when everything goes right.

One day I'm going to get it right.  One day I'm going sub 3.  Today wasn't my day.  Again.

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