Well this was the pinnacle of my distance running, a full fledged Trail Marathon. I’ve been planning on running this race for months now and my training for it was laughable. I did move right in the middle of prime training time and had to figure out new places to train. I honestly never managed a run longer than thirteen miles in preparation for this race and that was the Saturday prior to the race when I ran one loop of the course to get familiar with it. I hadn’t run there since the half marathon last February. Up until the week of the race I was still considering only running the 13.1 but after seeing that last years results the average time was like 4:35 I figured I wouldn’t embarrass myself too badly. I also have some very supportive friends one of whom told me “if you can run 13.1 you can do 26.2 miles.” I took this to heart, even though looking back, if you can lift 300 pounds you probably can’t lift 600. Anyway this positive comment and the high average course time made me feel like I could do it. I’ve also always said I can run all day long if the pace is slow enough and here was a chance to put that statement to the test.
The day started great. I had child care for my son Conan. It was just me and Princess so the morning went much smoother than normal. I was up at 5:30, earlier if you count Princess waking up at 4 to read for a while. I’ve been taking the Controlled Labs ReDuction the past month trying to get a little leaner for the race and weighed 213lbs when I got up. I am very much a creature of routine and I try and stick to my morning routine on race days in particular. So I continued my routine and grabbed a shot of ReDuction, followed by a whey protein milk shake, a bowl of oatmeal and a quart of water. Pre-race nutrition was my usual pre-workout supplement stack and a couple packs of Sports Beans. So before the race began I had already drank half a quart of milk and two quarts of water. Also as for my routine I made sure to complete my weight training throughout the week and had a good long arm day on Friday in particular.
And they're off! Check out all the people starting their watches.
Wow, where to begin, last year there were only 45 participants and this year there were about 80. The race started in waves with the full marathon runners starting at 8:00 and the half runners, over 400 of them, starting at 8:30. The wave start was awesome and really helped alleviate the initial congestion the first couple of miles. Last year I remember walking every time we hit a hill or turn in the first couple of miles. I arrived about 7:00 and it was already getting crowded. There were at least half a dozen people helping with parking so it went smoothly. I’m glad we got there when we did. By the time the race started people were already parking a quarter mile or more away. Race packet pickup was little disappointing because you were just handed your race bib, a t-shirt and a gel. No goodie bag like normal. It’s not like I usually do anything with the assorted stickers,brochures, and random flavored gu gels, but I still enjoy going through the bag. I was also kind of sad the shirt was bright orange. I was hoping it would be red like last year but to no avail. There was a cool Motorola tent showing off their new ACTV fitness tracker watch. They actually gave away 6 units to race winners which sure makes you wanna run faster.
Before I got on the trail still telling myself it won't be too bad.
It was a brisk 39 degrees this morning which was OK because I had actually felt pretty good on a recent run at that temperature. I hate being too hot or too cold while I’m running if you’re uncomfortable it’s one more thing on your mind. Call me OCD but I hate when you’re in the middle of a good run and then realize you’re way overdressed, a shoe is tied to tightly or too loose, a watch band suddenly seems too loose or tight etc., etc.. So for this race I was rocking a Brooks T-shirt, Brooks arm warmers, Mountain Hardwear wind vest, running hat and UA gloves. Too much info for some, too little for others. The cool thing about my setup is it’s adaptable. I can raise and lower my vest zipper as it warmed up. I also tend to shove my hat and gloves inside the vest for storage. And the arm warmers are nice and versatile because I can shove them up or down or just tie them around my water belt. When you’re running a couple of hours or more and the temperature is rising versatility is awesome. Also sometimes I found myself with my vest zipped down and the hat off. Other times like when I was up on a ridge line or running alongside the lake and the breeze was being chilled by the water I was zipped up and sporting my hat. I know some of you guys just throw on a t-shirt and freeze and roast alternately but not me. In the Marine Corps we have a saying,” Pack light freeze at night.” That game is for the young guys trying to look tough I’d prefer my comfort to looking like a hard dog who shivers while they run.
Race start was promptly at 8:00 and I’m always surprised by the number of runners who join in the race after the start. The course starts off with a down and back loop on the asphalt before you turn off onto the trail about 0.75 miles into the race. We were all parked in the first asphalt stretch and some people just waited for the pack to go by and joined in when they got there. It seems funny that someone would invest the time to train for a race of this distance and show up late and not even run the course the way it was intended. I’m big on teaching people not to cut corners, what can I say? If someone is taking these shortcuts before the race starts what about when the going gets tough?
The course is single and double track running around the edge of the lake at Ft Yargo. It’s 1,000 feet of elevation gain per lap so it isn’t for the faint of heart either. As always if you can get off course you’re either a cheater or blind because dirty spokes does a great job making it very clear where to run. In previous Xterra series races the trails had more roots and loose rocks and really worked your calves and ankles but I only managed one stubbed toe and a minor ankle sprain throughout the entire course. The trails being primarily used for mountain biking means they try and get the most miles of trail out of a given area. That said there were plenty of switch backs that led you up a hill only to come back down and run right back by your starting point. I have to say the short cuts through the switch backs were harder to ignore the second loop around. Every mile was posted and boy do you appreciate it. There were 2 water stations in the middle of the course and another at the end before you start your second go around.
10 miles in just taking it easy
My plan for this race was mostly ‘just survive, finish it and don’t burn myself out too early’. I’m not the most disciplined runner so normally when the race starts I take off and run with the faster runners until I can’t keep up anymore and then fall back to a moderate pace that I can maintain. This race was different though. I went out of my way to start in the back of the pack and focused on maintaining a slow pace that kept my heart rate down. It’s a much different experience running an endurance race and trying to save yourself so you can actually finish. Normally the distance is short enough that I can push myself throughout the race with no worries about finishing. When the first half marathon runners started passing me it was hard not speeding up to match their faster pace. Granted I would have just burned myself out but my competitive nature makes it hard not to rev my motor when the guy next to me does. Guys you know what I’m talking about it’s instinctive. Whenever I hit a big hill I did something against my grain and walked if my heart rate was getting high.
So the first lap was great. I kept a steady ground eating pace albeit slower than normal and just ran my own race and ignored everyone around me. The course was really pretty but when you’re running it’s harder to appreciate the scenery. I started in the back of the pack so other than a few people who sprinted the first mile or so and then started walking I didn’t do too much passing. I tried to break the race down into equal parts for purposes of nutrition and hydration. I set my Garmin for a lap alarm every 2.75 miles and would eat a Clif Gel and drink one of my 8 oz amphipod bottle each time it went off. Of course my Garmin Forerunner 610 isn’t exactly that accurate in the woods so it didn’t go exactly as planned. I still hadn’t hit 2.75 miles on my watch when I spotted the 3 mile sign so I went ahead and ate. Also if I was close to snack time and I found myself on a monster hill I went ahead and ate then rather than waste the time I was walking only to walk some to eat a short time later. I guess I’m not coordinated enough to eat and run at the same time. I’ve tried in the past and I always have a hard time not tripping over rocks and roots while I’m trying to open gels. Luckily I can run while I drink and replace my bottles.
Around mile six I started getting passed by the half marathon runners and I’d say that ignoring them and continuing my race was the hardest part of the first lap. I really wanted to pick it up and run the faster pace but I reigned in my testosterone and kept going. I ignored all the water stations on the first lap. I’m normally breathing so hard I can only drink out of my bottles. And more often than not when I grab a cup of water I take a big sip and end up choking on it. Hence I skipped the water stations and had my own fueling plan.
Coming in from my first lap
Before I knew it I was looking at the turn off for the half runners to head to the finish and there stood Princess with an assortment of gels, cookies, bananas, and a Gatorade to fuel me up for my second lap. It only took me 2:33 minutes to complete the first half of the race. I was actually pleased since last years half marathon time was 2:17 and I was pushing then. This lap I was basically just jogging and taking it easy. Overall I finished my first lap feeling pretty good about things. I only managed to eat a banana and a pack of sports beans and drink a couple sips of Gatorade for nutrition. I really wish I could have made myself eat more but eating in the middle of running is apparently a learned art. My first lap felt really good. I didn’t kill myself running up hills and getting my heart rate soaring like I do on shorter races so I wasn’t really that uncomfortable. As I’ve tried lowering my running exertion level I’ve noticed my body doesn’t hate me as bad as when I’m sprinting and pushing myself to my max. This may sound like common sense but I tend to push myself way beyond comfort more often than not when I’m running. I’ve always felt like if you aren’t consistently training outside your comfort zone you aren’t going to improve.
Starting my second lap and considering whether or not to eat the photographer.
It warmed up enough to take off my styling running sleeves, vest and hat. I even pulled my shirt off too but felt a breeze and realized high 40′s isn’t the time to run shirtless. I also ditched my HR strap as the thing has become totally unreliable lately. So after walking with Princess while she handed me fresh bottles and gels I took off for round two. The second lap is where you build character and truly earn the right to say you completed an Xterra Marathon. The steep banks that you were able to sprint up the first lap suddenly leave you looking to grab a tree or root to pull yourself up. There were a couple 6-8 foot embankments that would be a blast on a mountain bike but trying to run up them wasn’t as easy as riding down them would be.
The second half of the race was a mental and physical battle like I haven’t endured since the days the Marine Corps owned me. The first mile wasn’t terrible but I could immediately tell I was already feeling spent before I even made it to mile 14. What was really weird was I came upon a hiker or so I thought. It was actually a race participant with 2 hiking poles and a hydration pack. I didn’t see him at the starting line and he miraculously made it through the halfway point before me power walking. I smell an integrity violator here but who knows what his story was. I was probably rude because I actually asked him if he was out for a hike? He was walking after all, but replied he was running in the race. Obviously the second half of the race was when people were running out of steam. I passed a half dozen people who were walking the course in the first 4 miles of the second loop. I was really surprised to be passing anyone to be honest. Every time I spotted a mile marker I calculated how many miles were remaining. So at the four mile marker I found myself saying 17 down 9 to go. And then I tried self talk logic that nine miles is nothing I run nine miles all the time. It wasn’t as motivating as I thought it would be.
I swear the miles took years each and I was continuously scanning for the next mile marker. I found myself walking on smaller and smaller inclines. About 18 miles in I started noticing strange pains that I’ve never felt before. My left quadriceps started tightening up like a guitar string and I began waiting to hear a snap. Eventually the pain got so bad I had to walk a minute and stretch some to let it recover. It helped some but before I knew it I was running a while then when the muscle cramp was overwhelming I had to rest it again. Next thing you know my right hamstring starts cramping as well. Before I knew it, I had numerous cramps and pain in my muscles. It made me think of doing an exercise til failure and then trying to continue even though the muscle is dead and totally spent.
I prayed fervently, cursed my shoes, and began to have trouble thinking clearly. Of course it took me a while to realize this. First I found my feet aching worse than they have in my entire life. I began to consider throwing my shoes into the lake, as they clearly weren’t helping me any. At about mile 21 I could actually look across the lake and see the finish line. I then did some quick math and realized the lake couldn’t be more than 800 yards across at that point and with the water level low I probably wouldn’t be swimming the whole distance. If I swam would they just think I was really sweaty or realize I swam the lake? I haven’t swam in months though and my cardio capacity was way down at that point in the race so it seemed like a bad idea. And then when I was having trouble adding up the 9 mile marker to the 13 miles I’d already run it occurred to me that I wasn’t thinking straight at all. I was switching over into survival mode delirium. I’m proud to say I didn’t take any short cuts though I could have shaved several miles off the course easily and I’ll admit as tired as I was it was tempting. But what’s the point really? I mean you race for yourself not for some magical race time that you wouldn’t have really earned anyway. I’m one of those stubborn guys who would be mad for the rest of his life if he skipped so much as a yard of the course to make it easier.
So eventually I found myself staring at mile marker ten and thought “Ha I’m just an easy 5K jog from the finish line.” 5K is easy right you can run it in your sleep. Well I was in so much pain that this had to be the hardest part of the whole race. It’s as if each mile more pain was added even my Trapezius (middle of your upper back) muscles started cramping up. And the pinnacle of pain was when a couple of toes on my right foot started aching, I think due to stubbing them a few miles earlier. When my toes started hurting I began to walk with a limp and didn’t think I’d be able to run another step. For a minute I really thought I would be walking the final three miles. Eventually I either became accustomed to the new level of pain and found myself running again. I found myself at an unmanned water station about mile 10.5 and thought yeah buddy Gatorade sounds good right now. Of course I only found water in the three coolers. Just after the water station I was startled to meet a jogger running against the course flow. Right after the jogger a biker flew by me. And then nothing but hills, more hills, and more pain.
Finishing at a run it's a miracle
The final three miles was difficult for another reason mile 10-11 drug on forever because I never saw the mile marker and then when I glanced at my watch I speculated It had to have been at least a mile since the 10. The mile markers had been so reliable I just knew I was still trapped somewhere between 10 and 11 and just moving way slower than I thought. As it turned out the biker who passed me had been collecting mile markers. Then I began to recognize the course and thought I had to be in the final couple miles and stepped up my pace so I wouldn’t finish with a huge reserve. You know the guy walks a 5K and then sets a world record sprinting the final 100 yards? I didn’t wanna be that guy So I started tapping into my reserves that I had no idea were even there until I smelled the barn. I found myself running as fast or faster than when I started the race. I was surprised to find my legs working so well and my pain just faded away. I passed a couple of people walking and accused them of stealing the mile marker signs since I hadn’t see anything after the 10. I swear though I was running strong at this point if I had stumbled onto an 11 mile marker or even the 12 I think it would have been massively disheartening. It seemed like complete insanity at the time and I’d bet money if I’d spotted the missing mile markers I would have slowed back down. In my race finish photo I’m actually running fast enough to have both feet off the ground at the same time. I still don’t believe it. At the time I was wondering if I would collapse after the race or if I was about to have a heart attack.
So I finished in a ridiculously long 5:40 which shocked the heck out of me. It shocked me because time was dragging so badly in my head that I thought I was closer to seven hours. I was last for my age group which was 9th place but like 61 of 80 runners. it’s hard to say how many runners there were and do you count the ones who quit? According to my pit crew aka Princess some of the Marathon runners decided they were actually only half Marathon runners who started early when they reached the half way point. Speaking of Princess, she had a great time people watching at the half way point. She saw one guy take a 15 minute plus break in which he laid down and had a picnic lunch. She wasn’t too happy to spot the friendly guy who was only wearing running tights and no undergarments for support. And not to mention the guy who made everyone in his vicinity blush by how graphic his anti-chafing cream application was. Apparently the little girls handing out water turned around and faced the opposite direction.
Overall I was pleased by how well my body held up. So many people have told me “you’re too big to run that far” and I was expecting to lose consciousness or hear a loud pop and suddenly have a permanent limp. My joints felt great the whole time and I had no ankle or knee pain. The only pain was muscle cramps and sore feet. I really don’t think I ate nearly enough but eating while running is learned art I only managed about 200 calories an hour. Had I gotten more calories I might have alleviated some of the cramps that plagued me the second half. People could argue forever exactly how many calories they burn running but a couple of quick calorie calculators have me burning 4600 calories during the race. I’m pretty sure the 1000 calories I took in was well short of what I needed. As is, just going three hours without food leaves me with a headache. At this point I don’t think I’ll be running another Marathon anytime soon. I think I could shave a lot of time off with some better training and if I ate enough during the race. Honestly I don’t want to risk dropping weight just to run a Marathon faster, a little fat is one thing but to sacrifice size for speed right now seems silly to me.
Please forgive my grammar. My Editor Princess hasn’t had a chance to go through this yet and I hate to keep folks waiting forever while I get a degree in English.
I survived and I'm somehow still on my feet for a photo