Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Double St. George Marathon 2013
I decided that I wanted to attempt to do the St. George Marathon twice in a row - start running at the finish line, go up to the starting line, and then run back down. I wanted to try the double marathon partly because of the challenge of running UP the course (my Garmin says I climbed more than 5,000 feet in those 53 miles) and partly to have this be my last long training run before the Javelina Jundred 100 miler in less than three weeks. (I just got nauseous when I typed "less than three weeks".)
So I started running a few minutes before midnight. It was surreal to be starting my run at the marathon finish line knowing that in a few hours there would be thousands of people standing here. But for right now it was just......me.
Earlier in the day I had stashed a pack at mile 9 and mile 18 with water and some baggies of Tailwind for my fuel. I desperately hoped they would still be there when I arrived in the middle of the night. Thankfully they were!
It was bitter cold outside. I was running into a strong headwind and I could see my breath with each exhale. But I actually didn't feel too cold.......thanks to my thrift store $4 jacket and $4 pants. These clothes got me through 100 miles of cold and snow at the Buffalo Run. Next time you go to Everest let me know and you can borrow my $4 jacket.
I ran alone in the dark hour after hour and was pleasantly surprised how good I was feeling on the hills. I would take cold over heat any day. Then suddenly a car pulled up and someone got out. I hoped they weren't mean because I didn't want to go all Karate Kid on someone. But it was my friend Mendy who was out on the course at 2:30am to cheer me on and hang up signs for runners. I got goosebumps. And not because of the fierce wind.
More hours went by. I really worked to keep my pace steady but not burn myself out since I'd have another 26.2 miles to run once I got to the top. Eventually buses full of runners started to pass. My pace slowed a little because I ran way off on the side of the road where it was more rocky and slanted. I didn't want a bus to get too close and personal. Finally after 27.2 miles I made it to the starting line.
I got there around 45 minutes before the race started. That gave my muscles adequate time to tighten up and go into uncontrollable shivering since it was 32 degrees at the start. I was happy to meet up with Mel and the rest of our friends.
Around a month ago our dear friend Braydon Nielsen died in a tragic cycling accident. Everyone in southern Utah knew and was inspired by Braydon. Our running community was tremendously affected by this. I think one of the things that people admired so much about him was that he didn't fit the profile of a typical marathon runner. He was a big guy and often struggled with beating cutoffs. Our group of friends decided we'd run this to honor him and do the race together......at "Braydon pace". It was bound to be an amazing day.
By the time we got to the Veyo Hill I was just beginning to lose the feeling of being a freezer-burned block of ice cream.
It was after Veyo Hill that Mel and I made a decision which was agonizing for me - to leave her and continue on with the group. Mel and some work friends were pretty undertrained and by mile 8 they were already hurting and didn't know if they would be able to finish. I have never left her in a race before. I knew she'd be with friends and I didn't want to risk having already run 35 miles and then have to drop so I continued on with the rest of her group. I questioned this decision for the next 15 miles.
One of the friends I ran the whole race with was Turd'l. During one of my weakest, most delirious points of the Zion 100 Turd'l was working an aid station in the middle of the night. He told me he made me some gourmet raspberry pancakes for me. It was like they were delivered from heaven. And then a lady told me "You know he's just putting Hammer Gel on your pancake, right?" If I had the strength I would have kicked him in the crotch. He is a beast. He ran the grueling Bear 100 a WEEK ago so I enjoyed running the marathon with him knowing that he was well acquainted with the pain cave.
Miles kept clicking by until we got to the most beautiful part of the entire marathon - Snow Canyon where you get the opportunity to run through a post card.
This race gave me some practice with the mental side of running. I have a degree in psychology and they call the term "catastrophic thinking". You know that feeling when you realize "Oh my gosh, I still have so far to go, my legs hurt, I'm tired, I can't do it." It's so hard to turn that thinking off once it starts. There have been times I haven't been able to turn it off and I have dropped from races. It is so critical to not let those thoughts overtake your brain. Just focus on the mile you're running right now. Views like this are almost enough to distract your brain.
When we reached Snow Canyon it was finally warm enough to ditch my thrift store sweat shirt (are you seeing a theme here?). The most frequent word in Braydon's vocabulary was "Booyah!". Our big gaggle of friends were all sporting these sweet shirts.
I couldn't stop thinking about Mel. Knowing how bad her IT bands were hurting I admit that I didn't think she would be able to finish the race. I kept asking people if they had heard any updates. In the mean time I was running with the finest group of friends you could ever hope for. Supportive, funny, encouraging - I don't know how I got lucky enough to have friends like this. I spent all my miles with Micah, Will, Janie, Helen, Bob, and Turt'l.
When we made it to the bottom of Snow Canyon we waited for a few people to take a quick bathroom break. That sounded like a wonderful excuse to 1) take a break, 2) rest my legs, 3) get photo bombed by Helen, 4) argue with people that even though they look slightly feminine they really are man tights, and 5) audition to be in a Coca Cola ad. (Coke may not be calling me.)
At around 46 miles I was running with Turt'l. I stopped to point at the ground and said "Right there. That was the entrance to the pain cave." He laughed because I think he had pulled up a recliner in the pain cave also. A few miles later I said "Turt'l - remember when I said I had entered the pain cave back there? I'd like to retract that statement. Actually this is really the pain cave." He got a picture of the entrance to the cave.
The reality of the matter is that the pain cave of a 50 miler feels like the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland compared to the pain cave at a 100 miler. I did realize that I forgot sunscreen and currently my face feels like I fell asleep in a tanning bed for a few weeks.
The only cutoff for the race was at mile 23. We had to be there by 1:00pm. Even though our big group of friends had gotten a little spread out, we all planned to wait at mile 23 for everyone and then run the last three miles together. With Braydon's wife and kids. We were all going to finish this thing together.
Waiting at mile 23 was agony. There were four of our friends we were waiting for.....including Mel. I didn't know if she was even still in the race. With each minute that ticked by I got more nervous. Five minutes to cutoff. Four minutes. Three minutes. No sight of Mel and the others. Two minutes. And then we saw some runners on the horizon. Everyone got excited. "Is that them?" They got closer and we could see that our friends and MY WIFE made the cutoff by a minute!!! My eyes got wet at the sight of them coming over the horizon.
Traveling those last three miles as a big group of friends laughing and crying at the same time I kept thinking about how thankful I am for my friends and everything that running has given me. I am so blessed.
And exactly as planned we all crossed the finish line together at Braydon pace followed by lots of hugs, some tears, and a loud enough "Booyah!" that I guarantee Braydon heard in heaven. My friend Bryce Jones snapped this shot of us:
I can't tell you how proud I am of Mel. She said that the only way she was able to keep going was to think about Braydon. She is amazing. And I was so thankful that everything had come together so perfectly to complete the double St. George Marathon.
That 53 mile adventure is an experience I will never forget.
"I've learned that finishing a marathon isn't just an athletic achievement. It's a state of mind; a state of mind that says anything is possible." ~ John Hanc