Perspective. All I could think about while running this distance was how our perspective dominates our view of everything. The idea was forced into my head by the many hot air balloons that continually floated by during the first half of this marathon route, The Duke City Marathon. Most of this race is run along the sluggish Rio Grande and the scenic park that meanders along with it. With the Sandias mountains to the east and open high desert to the west, I’m sure that it is a beautiful view from way up in the clouds. From my perspective, I felt like I could reach out and grab ahold of the balloons. Yet every time I went to take a picture the balloons shrunk in the camera frame. I’m sure a professional photographer would get all technical with us and explain how the aperture’s size in the lens affects the shot. To simplify things though, it comes down to where you’re standing and the quality of vision you have. Where I was standing or in this case running is a very different place after 2 months than when I began this journey. Things have been going very well and I have greater expectations of myself and the races that I am doing. Because I am the one in the arena, slugging it out week after week, I need to realize that at times I may be too close to see the big picture. I may not realize the limitations of my equipment, like the size of my aperture (yes, sometimes size does matter). Specifically, in this city and the next few cities on my itinerary, there is a new dimension to my running that I need to take into account – altitude.
It gets harder and harder to run my unofficial Marathon routes. After 2 weeks of officially racing in Arkansas and Texas it was much more difficult to haul myself out of bed and run a lonely Marathon distance all by myself. No water stations, no timing mats, no big official Finish Line with medals and water and sustenance and support. Just me and the elements and the altitude. I purposely had scheduled three runs (2 at the race altitude and one at almost double the altitude). I felt that all of them went well. Unfortunately, what I didn’t take into the account was that altitude and its effects start to take hold over a longer period. All of my trainings in the week were approximately an hour. As it turns out that was hardly enough time for me to recognize what a struggle I was going to have on my hands. I was very proud of my mountain climbing at 8500 feet. Posted pictures, rolled in the snow, whooped and hollered from the mountaintop and all over Facebook. That hour run alone may have filled me with a sense of false bravado that would be my undoing during this run.
As a city course, the Duke City Marathon comes pretty close to being the perfect environment for me to run. Starting off at the downtown Civic Plaza you run a couple blocks and are immediately immersed in classic Route 66 views of downtown Albuquerque. A mile or so along, you get the pleasure of the short but scenic upscale Huning Castle neighborhood (which some of you might recognize from the TV show Breaking Bad). After that you cross the street and start running the Paseo del Bosque Trail. Shaded by cottonwood trees, weaving to and fro along the Rio Grand, this is one of the nicest city parks in which to run. You run along this flat, scenic byway for almost 2/3 of the course, 16 miles (8 miles out, 8 miles back). At mile 10 you start running on some of Albuquerque’s excellent city bike trails as you run along Paseo del Norte towards the towering Sandias. This is where you encounter some rolling hills which I normally would have dismissed as short but sweet, if not for already being 5000 ft high. Then you turn around and do it all over again in reverse. I can’t believe I’m saying this but, the one thing that would make this course better is – more city. Especially since the course is an out and back, a detour at the beginning over to scenic Old Town would have showcased another major element of the city’s history. Runners could view Kit Carson Park and the Huning Castle neighborhood on the return leg. Tough to get lost on this course, so of course I did. I think at one point I took a wrong turn and ran much closer to the river than intended. Also, the map wasn’t exactly clear on the specifics of the turning points, so I ended the race by running around the Civic Plaza a couple times until I hit 26.2 miles.
I know this is already the most used word in this post but it was a dominating feature for me. I was at the same altitude for 5 days before the run, I ran 12 miles at high altitude, I increased my hydration and fueling models, and I increase my walking to a 1:1 ratio with my running and still fell into an early exhaustion. I started to feel a little tired after the first hour. The second hour a little tougher. The third was taking most of my effort to maintain my “training” pace (13:40-14 minute miles). After Mile 16, I thought “The hills are done, the rest of the course is so flat, it will be a cake walk.” This was an error. Mile 17 a monkey climbed on my back and never got off. After that, I was lucky to be running one minute out of three and I’m not going to guarantee that my running was faster than my walking. Two things I will try to do in the future. Firstly, I will extend my training runs so I can feel where exhaustion begins. Secondly, I will gauge my race by effort. My watch does have a heart rate monitor and instead of just relying on pace, I can incorporate heart rating into my calculations. It may not make me that much faster, but hopefully I wont feel so drained next race.
Don’t Know An Answer – Ask
This may seem like a simple thing, but I didn’t do it, so this is my reminded. The map gave a general idea where the turn around point was but a quick email or call to the race director could have given me a better clue or landmark to map out my run. I actually thought I ran past the halfway mark, but my return distance shows differently. A simple question that could have been answered by someone in the know.
It was very difficult for me to deal with the exhaustion. During the run, I didn’t feel exhausted until mile 18, but when I look at my pace per mile, it was clear that exhaustion had been settling in for 2 to 3 miles before that, if not more. Exhaustion is just an extended version of hitting the wall. Everything hurt. All of the injuries I had sustained over the previous weeks came back and started crying out, my ankles, my knees, my calf. Mentally, negativity starts to set in. I’m so stupid, I should have trained longer, I’m not in good enough shape to make these kinds of drastic increases in challenge. However, I will say that I was quite proud of myself afterwards for continuing to move forward. One foot in front of the other, still running when I would hear a beep on my watch, even if it was for 10-20 seconds. My feet were very swollen at the end of this race and I was very glad that my hosts Marilyn and Dick McCord had a bath tub that could actually fit my 6’3″ 270 lbs frame. I soaked my feet and calves in ice cold water for about a half hour and then took a warm bath that unknotted the rest of my wracked body. After my usual stretching and rolling, I almost felt like a human again – so I napped for 3 hours. Then I really felt better. My time was 6:37:17. Not my worst time, but a far cry from my goal of six hours. Recently, I heard a quote, that in any competition you either win or you learn. Clearly, this week was all about learning, as is my entire journey this year. When put into the perspective of my entire year, I would never have been able to do this if it was my first marathon on 2016. It was my previous marathons that gave me the strength and fortitude to continue when my body said it had enough. Going up 5000 feet to high altitude and increasing my general pace from 13:40 to 15:08 seems to be pretty much par for the course. If I remember to put things in perspective, I could almost reach out and grab that hot air balloon. Next week I run in one of my favorite parts of the country – Flagstaff, Arizona.