Monday, October 4, 2010

St. George Marathon

Here it comes. The first post that I actually have been excited to write in months. This is a long one, so scroll to the second to last paragraph if you just want to know my time. Here goes…

I don’t know how clear it came across in the last post, but I had been feeling pretty down on marathon running for a little while now. The training for this one felt much harder than the previous two. I never had any really great runs that felt like I was really making some progress. I didn’t get in any of the speed training that I was hoping for, and I didn’t have the kind of consistency that would allow for a better race than my previous two. Or so I thought.

We arrived Friday evening in St. George. After putting some of our stuff away we visited the Expo to pick up my packet and take a gander at the different booths that were setup to attract the runners. The Expo itself wasn’t that impressive, about the same size as Long Beach. I wish anyone else could have seen Chicago and how big it was and how many different things were setup. I just loved that one. What was really nice, however, was how organized the packet pickup was. We could have been in and out of there in about 2 minutes if we wanted to, and that’s pretty impressive given that 7400 were running this race all showing up on that one day. The race shirt is a pretty nice long-sleeve shirt, which I’m pretty pleased with. That’s two weeks in a row with decent shirts at races. I would pay an extra few bucks to have more than just a screen-printed white cotton tee.

That night I got a good sized meal at The Pizza Factory, which nobody really seemed to appreciate, but at least I got my carbs in, and then it was off to bed at a somewhat decent hour (10:30). I knew I wouldn’t be sleeping much anyway that night, so I wasn’t too concerned about it. I got up at 4am to head over to the buses by 4:30 (thanks, Amy). And this is where the fun began…

I met up with Tyler, a friend from home, and who has since become my most enthusiastic disciple. We rode the buses up to the beginning of the course. It was crazy seeing how much of a descent there was throughout the entire course, but something that would be really welcomed later. This was my first time running a marathon where the start and finish weren’t in about the same spot, instead going from up north of St. George down into the downtown area of the city. The course descends almost 2600 feet, and that has to be one of the main reasons that so many people use it as their race attempt at qualifying for Boston. I’m sure it helped contribute to my finish time.

I knew going into the race that I knew of several other people running it, but it turned out there were a few more. The one that I was most excited about was my first young men’s leader, Greg King. I’m pretty sure it had been more than 10 years since I had seen him. I saw Charlotte up in the starting area. I saw Matt Paul in the finisher’s area. I saw another kid from a class that I teach. While running I passed up a girl in my ward who was retreating to a port-o-potty. It was so nice to run into everyone, but especially Tyler. I think that he and I will be running many more marathons in the future. We rode up on the buses together and talked the whole way about our training, how we were feeling, how we slept the night before, what time we were hoping to reach, and what marathons we’re looking at in the future. I can’t help but get all excited when I get around him. It’s infectious.

We arrived up there at about 5:20 or so. We stood around and warmed up around the fires they had up there for the runners. When it finally got to about time to start getting ready to go, we placed ourselves just slightly behind the pace group for 3:30. We started out in the dark, and it wasn’t long before the sun started creeping up over the mountains on our left. I have to say, it’s just so exciting starting out in those races with everyone brimming with anticipation. People are always so unbelievably friendly and supportive of one another. It’s a similar dynamic to how when a group of strangers is going through something together, something they may or may not enjoy, and they start interacting and building bonds because of the simple fact that we’re all going through the exact same thing. We’re all feeling a little jittery; we hope that can run the race well and that we don’t have any injuries; we all hope that we can get to the end still smiling. It’s really cool. Before the race started I started chatting with this older gentleman who was running in his 20th or so marathon, with more than ten of those being at St. George. He was running because his friend was running his 200th, and although he hadn’t run a marathon in almost ten years, he felt like he should be there for his buddy. He told me that if I could make it through the first 13 miles with some energy that it would be possible to have a negative split on the second half. That point in particular was something I was really hopeful for because my first two experiences running these I have had some significant drop-offs in time at the end, slowing more than a minute per mile in my pacing the last few miles. I really wanted to avoid that this time around.

So the race began, and Tyler and I stayed together the first few miles. Unfortunately for him, he had just gotten a cold that week so breathing was hard for him right from the start. He had to slow up a little bit, and whereas before the race I thought we would be running together, I now found myself alone. I continued on my pace, soon catching up with the 3:30 group. I had no idea at that point if I could keep up with them for the duration of the race, but I thought I would just stay with them as long as I could and hope for the best. By mile 5 or 6 I felt good enough to break off on my own, but I also knew that I was having some stomach problems. I wanted to create enough space between myself and them so that when I did feel like I would have to evacuate, I could finish in time that I could catch back up with them. At mile 9 I couldn’t wait anymore, so I went, finished my business, and came out about one or two minutes later, finding myself just behind the group.

I was so immensely grateful for that because the pace leader was a marathon vet, having run in a few dozen other marathons, having won a few himself. Tommy, from New York, was a talker, and he told stories from the time that I started running with them until when I finally left them. I couldn’t believe the amount of stories that he had, and it served as such a wonderful distraction. He would tell one story and by the time he was done, he would point out which mile marker we had passed and that he had managed to keep us distracted for that entire eight minute interval. One tip that he shared with someone that I think proved instrumental for me was not relying on Gatorade so much because that additional sugar leads to cramping. In my first two marathons, and with just about all of my long runs, I always have some pretty severe cramping that is pretty debilitating, so from about mile 12 and on, I only drank water. I didn’t have any of the same kind of cramping problems that I normally have.

At mile 20 or 21, he told our group that if anyone was still feeling pretty good, now was the time to take off, so I went for it. I picked up my pace, getting myself far enough removed that I could no longer here Tommy’s constant stream of consciousness. The crazy thing was, I was feeling great. Although I hadn’t really put in the miles or done any training to improve my pace, I was keeping up a faster pace than I had run all summer. The fastest I had gone on any long run was 8:11, and that was over only 16 miles. At mile 22 in this race, I had a real shot at coming in ahead of 3:30, which is an 8:00 minute/mile pace.

At 21, I thought I’d see Amy. I didn’t, but at 23 there she was, hooting and hollering and making me feel so good about myself. People really don’t know how much that means unless they have actually been through this experience. When I was at mile 20, and I thought i was at 19, some older black guy ran up by me and said, “you’re looking really good, keep it up, only 6 more miles to go.” That blew my mind, not only because I had a mile less than i was thinking I had, but just because he was so encouraging when he himself was doing the same thing I was. There’s always one or two of those kinds of things in these marathons that gives me exactly what I need.

Mile 23 also happens to be when you can start to really see the city of St. George and you’re still descending and you can look up and see about where the finish line was. At mile 24 I felt like I was starting to slow down, and sure enough, that was about when I started to hear Tommy gaining on me. His loud, east coast speech propelled me forward those last few miles.

There’s nothing like making what you know is the last turn of the race. This one happened to be on 2nd or 3rd North, heading east, with the finish line sitting on 4th east. Although the race is a closed course for the most part, there are plenty of people who are lining up the most difficult and most important part of the race – those last few miles.

I couldn’t keep a good, strong, steady pace until the end, but I was feeling good enough that I could put forth pretty significant bursts that got me close enough to see the official marathon clock ticking at 3:29 about a hundred yards or so away.

Apparently, my race supporters were all there to witness it, but I didn’t even notice them, although I reacted as though I did. I was just so happy to beat the clock to 3:30 that I didn’t really think about much else. I was wobbly at the finish line, but I didn’t need to sit down right away.

I really, really loved the post-race treats. In my other experiences, they are always serving beer after the race, and Tommy even mentioned that there is never a better time for a beer than after finishing a marathon. Previous to Saturday, I always thought that was such a dumb idea, but when the Coke truck was serving water and soda, I coolly asked for the Coke over the H2O. My favorite, favorite thing, though, was the chocolate and vanilla fudgesicle. I couldn’t believe how good that thing was.

I ended up finishing the race in 3:28:05. That’s a full nine minutes faster than my previous best. Without any real rigorous training, (well, I guess besides the whole marathon training part) I have been able to shave off 15 minutes from my marathon time. Now I’m 18 minutes from a Boston qualifying time, and now I’m all kinds of inspired to see if I can do it. I don’t know when that will be, but the motivation that I lacked before Saturday is suddenly back in full force. Also, I did end up having a negative split. I covered the first 13 in 1:46 and the last half in 1:42. That’s the thing that’s most surprising to me about all of this because finishing off a marathon is the one thing I haven’t been able to do before.

As always, emotions always get so close to the surface in these extreme physical circumstances, and the feeling that always rises to the top for me is gratitude. I am always so immensely grateful for my friends who come out to support, and for every person who volunteers their time to help a few thousand morons beat themselves into the ground trying to cover a pretty lengthy amount of distance. So thank you to Dave, Caitlin, and Mason. Thank you to that black man who told me I was looking good. Thanks to the girl who rubbed Icy/Hot on my calf at mile 22. Thanks to the organizers for putting port-o-pottys at every aid station. Thanks to Tommy who’s jibber-jabberin’ kept me going for about two and half hours of the race, and that was loud enough to keep me going through the very end. Thanks to all of the water-hander-outters. Thanks to Tyler and Greg and Charlotte and Matt and Paul and Melissa just for being there. Thanks, Elisha, for suggesting chia seeds. I really do think those made a difference in helping me maintain that push through the end. And most of all, thanks to my sweet, sweet girlfriend, Amy, for letting me say good night early on the nights I had to go to bed early and leave me alone to do my training. It looks like there is going to be some more of this.



Laura said...

wow chris! that is awesome! under 8 min mile, holy cow. congrats. wish i could have been there! and even though i only did a measly 10K this weekend, I totally get how amazing the vibe is at a race. i loved it, and now I look forward to doing another one.

Mary said...

Chris, that was really interesting and fun to read. You did so great! Congratulations!

Dave said...

You rocked it out. Mason was so proud to have been present at all 3 of your 'thons.

Great time!

Karen said...

Bravo! I'm so impressed! Hope you heard me cheering for you all the way from here!

Seriously, amazing.