Marathon Route # 10: SP Crater Marathon – Flagstaff, AZ

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It’s not enough of a challenge anymore to run 50 marathon routes in 50 states in 50 weeks. After 9 marathons, I am still feeling strong, I am getting stronger, I need something new to inspire me. I have already been making a conscious effort to regularly go through my marathon schedule and look for marathons that fit more into my ideal of a beautiful, inspirational challenge. This is how I came upon the SP Crater Marathon. Firstly, it fit into my schedule. Secondly, it was an amazing price $35. $35! Thirdly, it was around a volcanic crater. Awesomeness!!! I signed up immediately. Then panic set in. Maybe it’s too much, maybe I’m pushing myself too far, maybe it’s not real! Seriously, there are people out there acting as race directors and ripping people off.  It’s possible.

Although clearly I am I running addict, I still have moments of clarity. They usually come too late, but they still part the mists of endorphins clouding my eyes. After signing up, I realized this was partially a trail run. I have only done a couple Trail runs officially and most of my trail runs are done at a pace that is equivalent to a small child’s crawl if the child’s legs are tied together and the child is forced to wear a 50-pound backpack. The race had a 6 hour time limit. This didn’t worry me quite so much because I’ve met plenty of race directors who merely post a limit to scare off those who show up unprepared and to calm down neighbors complaining of access issues. Lastly, I realized the altitude was close to 6000 ft above sea level. I had learned a healthy respect for altitude at last week’s marathon run in Albuquerque, however I felt that with my training time and having completed a marathon at the beginning of high altitude that I would be better prepared for what was to come. Truly, my hubris knows no bounds.

Race Review

This is a small, challenging, and AMAZING race. I will not let my own ineptitude pull away from a race that I would encourage others to make travel plans and to attempt. To cut costs down to a minimum, bib pick up is the morning of the race. This always worries me. I like getting there the day before, not only to get my swag to show off my racing flat, but also to ask last minute questions about logistics, getting to the race, parking, course details. However, there was really nothing to worry about. Directions to the crater from downtown Flagstaff are simple and detailed on their website. Once you get to the Crater, there is a short and bumping dirt road that takes you to the start line where there is plenty of parking and porta potties. To give you an idea of how small this race is there were three of us standing in line for the porta potties for about 5 minutes before I realized that all of them were empty and nobody was going to come out. Old habits die hard. I should also mention that the race made it very clear that there would be limited support on the course.  Throughout the course there would only be 4 or 5 water stations.  These were well manned by positive supportive volunteers.

The view is spare and breathtaking with gorgeous mountains rising to the west, dominated by Humphrey’s Peak. Starting at around 5600 you climb about 700-800 feet over the first 7 miles and then slowly run down hill for about 10 miles with some rolling hills and ramps to dampen the impact of downhill running. I do not not mean to make light of this initial hill.  There are many steep areas alleviated by some winding switchbacks but even seemly flat areas in the first couple miles make you feel like you are running at 80%.  Vegetation is sparse and there are sharp spiky shrubs if you wander off the road.  I have said that I consider some of this trail.  There can be a great deal of gravel and rocky deposits and at least two areas of the course had been cut deep by rushing water – dry for the course, but still tiny chasms to navigate.  Also, I came to despise miles 18 and 19.  Ostensibly dirt road wheel ruts, these ruts were filled with sand or volcanic silt that was shifty and deep.  The sand was spiky and filled shoes that sank deep enough.  At one point, I slipped into a filled hole created by some high prairie animal and was knee deep in the silt.  This may have not been so bad, but during one of the steeper downhill segments near mile 11.5 I took a digger that was more of a slip, twist, and fall. Not only did it knock the wind out of me but twisted my ankle and hip.  I reached the half mark a minute over the cut off but started to lose time each mile thereafter. The sand and uneven footing just ground in the discomfort.

The last 5k of the course is a loop set into the bottom corner of the marathon.  You must pass the finish line to start these last three miles.  To their credit, nobody at the few support stations said anything about my time.  Their attitude when I mentioned my sub par timing for the course was “Not my monkeys, not my circus”.  However, as I reached the beginning of the final loop I was greeted with “Mr. Zardus? I regret to inform you we will be closing the course…”. I completely understood. I was, at that point, an hour over the stated maximum for that mile. “Have you picked up the signs from the course yet?” I mumbled. The race director said he was sending somebody out right now. I said,  “Well, as they’re picking up the signs I’m just going to run along and see what I can finish. I’ve got to at least try to run 26.2 miles today.” So I just kept running. Very slowly. Painfully slow. Eventually, trucks drove by me, going out to pick up signs. I just kept moving. One foot in front of the other. After I completed the loop, the race director and two other volunteers were waiting for me at the bare bones finish line, applauding my efforts. “Don’t worry -we’ve got your official time.” Best. Race. Directors. Ever. Also, unexpectantly, I got a wonderfully simple leather medal for completing the course.  Did I mention this race was only $35?!?!?

Lessons Learned

The Importance Of My Kedge
The writers of Younger Next Year redeveloped the term kedge. For them a kedge is their term for “Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things”. A kedge is actually a nautical term – it’s a type of anchor. Kedging is a method of moving a sailing vessel, typically against the wind or out from a dead calm, by hauling on a line attached to the kedge. My Kedge is my 50/50/50. At mile 19, I was dead in the water. If someone had told me I needed to leave the course at mile 20, I would have. I wanted them to put me off the course! I figured I’d take a break and finish the last 10k, or come back the next day and do the last 5k. But all I kept thinking was what a disappointment that was. 49.75/50/50 just doesn’t have the same ring. If I had enough energy to drive home, I had enough energy to finish the course. 20% – was that all I had to give?!? Slowly, but surely I hauled my lousy attitude out of the dead calm until I had a minimum of momentum. My kedge was what kept me going and I just needed to acknowledge that.

Don’t Ask If You Are Going Fast Enough – Go Faster.
My understanding is that at the races where they pull runners from the course, you don’t need to ask if they want you off – They make it very clear in no uncertain terms “Get in the Van/Ambulance and we’ll take you to the finish line.  I realize each time I asked about being overtime, I was just asking to be pulled from the course.  Trying to shirk the responsibility for quitting. It wasn’t my call.  They MADE me stop.  I will never do this again.  If I am going to quit, it’s going to be for a damn good reason and I will wear that reason as a hypothermic foil blanket of honor.

Physical Review

This may seem redundant, but I am tired.  It has been practically two weeks and although I can try continuing to blame the effects of high altitude, there comes a point where I need to acknowledge that I have been running a marathon a week since the beginning of the year with between 9-15 support mile through each week and it may be taking a toll on me.  I’m really not sure how I fell.  Yes, I was on a particularly steep part of a slope and yes, footing was loose and slippery, but my legs went out and up, my face was heading towards the the ground, and I was fortunate enough to ball up and roll, somehow scraping my shin, hands and shoulder and twisting my ankle and my hip.  I was a wreck.  I may have been screaming at the sky during mile 19 in uncontrolled bursts of anger. So I will not pile on new challenges quite so heavily next time.  If I am going up over 1500 feet in altitude, maybe not combine that with unknown trails or 7 miles of an uphill climb.  I am still gaining insights and building muscles to take on the most straight forward marathons without adding to many addition obstacles to my growth.  After this race I went home, showered and stretched and fell asleep for 14 hours.  Obviously my body was craving rest and recuperation. My final time for this race was 6:58:51 – my worst time yet.  I am somewhat nervous about next week’s Lovell Canyon Marathon outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. Fortunately, there is a little less altitude, but there are some scary hill outlined on the course and I may need to deal with real desert heat.  Tune in next week and thank you, as always for your feedback and support.


2 thoughts on “Marathon Route # 10: SP Crater Marathon – Flagstaff, AZ

  1. You’re doing awesome, Derek! I’m sorry that you had a less than stellar time at this race, but what you are accomplishing is incredible!! We all love you!! ❤️

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