Marathon Route #22: Monument Marathon – Scottsbluff, NE

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For most of us runners, there comes a time when you are out there, on the road, all by your lonesome. Some of us choose that lonely marathon. Sometimes you are running a course that can’t be reached by casual spectators. Sometimes your running partner calls out sick (or her child is sick). Sometimes you just hit a spot where your own pace has singled you out between curves or hills or checkpoints and it is you and the road. The road stretches out in front of you languidly and says, I want you to run all over me.  If you really love to run, you shift into overdrive and burn rubber.  Enjoy the ride!

This was the case in Scottsbluff, Nebraska for the Platte Valley Companies Monument Marathon.  I thoroughly enjoyed this course for a variety of reasons, the foremost being consistent scenic beauty throughout the course. I really felt that at any moment, if someone was taking my photo, I could end up on the “Rave Run Spread” in Runner’s World magazine.  Next, the small town feel of Scottsbluff and Gering are wonderfully warm and hospitable. Also, I lucked out with the weather but I am sure that in September, the temperature is ideal.  This was a state I tried to minimize.  My ex wife is from Eastern Nebraska and I felt I had already spent more time here than necessary in this lifetime.  I was not expecting such a picturesque wonderland. Having seen the two most popular courses in Omaha and Lincoln, I would unreservedly recommend this race as my top pick for Nebraska’s most scenic marathon.

Course Review

The course starts atop a bluff overlooking the course in Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area.  I was incredibly fortunate that the hotel I was staying at offered to drive me to the start of the race, because I was being quoted $40 by the local cab company.  This is a great park to explore outside of the race for it’s great trails, architecturally rustic stone and timber picnic areas and panoramic views of the area. Starting upon another bluff gives you not only more scenic opportunities, but also a nice kick start to your race.  You drop 500 ft in the first 3 miles and another 300 ft over the following 6 miles.  Just enough of a downhill to allow gravity to help, without having it hinder your body with full force impact at every step.  The first three miles are particularly attractive, running through a little canyon with imposing and craggy facades to either side.  These  hearty hills fade as you start to level out around mile 4 and 5 and head into the verdant fields from mile 6 to 9. Although the downhill is still slight here, I recommend taking the little advantage it offers.  Right as you flatten out, you hit the most boring portion of the race, a run through the more industrial section of town.  This may ease things for traffic on race day, but I really wish miles 10 and 11 ran through the more scenic downtown of Gering, rather than it’s plainer southern streets.  This mundanity is short lived because by mile 12 you are back in view of the Scotts Bluff National Monument and really don’t leave it’s orbit until the very end of the race.  At around Mile 12, you start feeling the incline of the only significant hill on the course, but by the time you feel it’s full force you are headed between the two major bluffs, like settlers out of pioneering days (they do have mock ups of covered wagons all along the entrance to the national monument so you can feel like you are out racing the horse drawn carriages up the hill.  Just as you might be getting tired you have a great down hill on the other side all the way to the rail road tracks for 3 miles.  A little bit of country roads takes you to a back track of the National Monument.  For a little over two miles, you wend your way with barely noticeable rolling hills along a water way for over flow with comfortable dirt trails and more picture perfect vignettes. Eventually, you break on through to the other side, run by the golf course and adjoining neighborhoods but ends up on the local Pathways Bike and Hike trail that runs adjacent the National Monument for about a mile.  Mile 24 takes us back along the edge of town but mile 25 starts with a gorgeous tree lined road (a boon no matter what time of year you are running this course) through a cemetery, to a hilly country road for the final furlongs of this race.

Lessons Learned

Hotel Amenities:

After exhausting all opportunities, I did end up getting a hotel room at the Monument Inn & Suites for this marathon and they were very accommodating on many levels.  Something I will remember when I stay at hotels in the future is that the hotel seemed more than willing to accommodate simple requests that were a little out of the norm.  Firstly, the hotel room was very spacious and comfortable. When I saw that they had a shuttle to the airport, I asked if the shuttle could be used to take me to the start of the marathon and they practically jumped at the opportunity to help.  Later, I asked if I could have a very late check out so that could shower and rest a little after the run and again they eagerly agreed.  This was one of the best stays I’ve had this year at a hotel and it made the expense more than worth it.

Tourists Take Photos:

I have a couple great shots of me running because some tourists were already taking photographs and I asked if they would snap one of me.  In this day of selfies that promote antisocial behavior, most tourists are already in amateur hour photography mode anyway. I need to look for them for future opportunities.

Physical Review

This wasn’t my fastest personal marathon, but it wasn’t my slowest.  A modest amount of altitude, a modest amount of heat, but after the previous week’s trials and tribulations, this felt like a victory lap. I felt comfortable running throughout, no major pains or discomforts.  I took my time, kept a consistent pace, and finished in 5:55:11.  I have said that bad decisions make great stories and this may not be my most dramatic run report, but this is one of my favorite marathon routes this year and it really surprised the heck out of me.  I hope the race directors do a decent job during the actual race because this is a phenomenal course and I’m going to start recommending it to all my friends.  If you have run this race officially, I would love to hear your feedback because I look forward to coming back and running this race officially someday.  After this, I’m off to Casper, Wyoming.  Thank you for running alongside me in all these marathons and I look forward as always to your comments and questions.

 

Marathon Route #21: Fargo Marathon- Fargo, ND

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Target Races – for most runners I know, this is how they train and race.  They choose a race based on destination or a gathering of friends or notoriety and popularity and they base their training around performing well at that race.  In a year of running 50 marathon routes, you would think I would just be grateful to finish and find my body still in working order. Instead ego slowly creeps in, willing myself stronger or faster, reaching for the endorphin rush of improvement and PR glory (cue crowds cheering, doing the wave, and creating a continuous row of high fives for the final marathon mile). So it was with the Fargo Marathon.  A notoriously flat and fast course with traditionally temperate running climes and low altitude with terrific hometown support and pacers deep in the time field. I felt this was a confluence of ideal conditions that would lead to my first sub 5 hour marathon.  All of my physical and mental planning had been geared towards planting my flag at this race. As I have learned many times, plans do not survive the enemy.

Race Review

This is one of the best run marathons I have attended.  City support for all the races are at an all time high.  You may know that I try to volunteer at local races in each town I visit. There were so many races in this event I figured they would need the help. Nope. When I went to volunteer, they said they were all set!!!  I have NEVER been told that.  These Race Directors do an amazing job getting local businesses and organizations to rally volunteers and represent during the races and the expo.  I did end up volunteering at the Fargo 5K Hero Run and learned a lot about getting 10,000 runner’s across a finish line, but the pure numbers and passion are hard to compete against. The Expo was also incredibly well done.  There were many vendors providing a great deal of information, product and running opportunities.  Two sponsors dominated and enhanced the Expo experience – Blue Cross and Blue Shield ND and the partnership of Scheels and Under Armour. Both had immense areas filled with well wishing volunteers, creative opportunities to interact, and wonderful ways to mark the occasion with photos, creative designs and swag, and social networking contests. However is was the depth of vendors, whether they were promoting other races, products, or services that really made the expo a must.

On race day, the races now start and finish in the Fargodome.  Especially if you are a marathoner, this is a great start because you get the “Professional Sports” treatment with all the half marathoners cheering you on in the stands and runners streaming by the start line on the JumboTron screens.  I will say, there were really long lines for the interior bathrooms that made us wish there were some portapotties outside.  They also didn’t open the floor of the arena as early as stated in the event schedule which had some runners in a slight tizzy on the few stairways that gave access to the start line.  It was a thrill to start inside and run up the docking bays, feeling almost like a home team running out of the locker rooms and onto the field.   Most of the beginning of the course is fairly boring, running through suburban neighborhoods, but volunteers are aplenty and many neighbors line the streets to cheer you on.  Another fun addition to the course is live bands all around the city.  Everything from and Elvis Impersonator to a big 12 piece brass band and everything in between kept a constant soundtrack around the course.

For me, the scenic highlights of the course started around mile 7 as the race starts to wend it’s way along the Red River starting around Trefoil Park, passing Mickleson Field and heading across the bridge into Minnesota. The trails along the river are beautiful, nicely paved and well shaded which was a boon this year with unseasonable warm temperatures. Another favorite portion of the race for me started around 11.5 as we raced up and back to the Minnesota State University Moorhead. There’s a wonderful mile where you get to see many of the runners who are ahead of you as you head out to circle around the wonderfully shaded campus and then you get to see the runners who are behind you.  I love the support and camaraderie of all the runners cheering each other on, waving and cheering friends and teammates as they were nearing the the half way point. On this strip I was able to connect with friends from former races I didn’t even know were in town. Then it was back to trails along the river for a few miles after the half.

It is at this point that my memories of the rest of the route gets a little sketchy.  I started the race confidently on pace for my PR.  I don’t think I was going too fast, but I did feel fatigued within the first hour.  I chalked it up to the heat and doubled my fluid intake at the support stations.  I pushed through the second hour and I was still on my pace mark and feeling strong, except for my lower right back.  That area was sore and aggravated to the touch. I started stretching a little bit each mile.  Still feeling strong I headed into the third hour, at which point I REALLY had to use a port a pottie.  No big surprise, I had doubled up fluids.  So I stop, wait and line, enter the stall only to have no flow.  Only then did I realize I WAS PASSING A KIDNEY STONE.  The pain from my back had migrated to my hip area and I really hadn’t thought about it.  So I went back on the course. I switched to one minute walking, one minute running. I kept waiting for the mule kick to the groin that usually accompanies these things.  Whether it was the size of the stone or the fact that body has learned to shut down certain pain receptors when I’m running, I never got that sharper twist to the gut I was expecting. Just ACHING. Eventually I switched to one minute walking, 30 seconds running.

I got to talk to a lovely young lady around mile 22 who was struggling a little bit and she was running her first marathon.  She had twisted her ankle and it had been getting worse and worse but she was still moving forward. I could only commiserate and congratulate her. She asked me what do you focus on when the plan goes sideways.  I said you focus on the goal.  The goal is to finish the marathon, so you break down whatever is left of your tattered plan into little baby sized bites and swallow it a step at a time.  I also told her that for most people, lifetime running is the over all goal so you need to step out if you feel you will do irreversible damage.  Otherwise, running is right, left; right left.  I said I also focused on other people I knew, people who were missing a leg or half a lung or were recovering from the ravages of cancer.  If they can finish, surely I can? Little did I know that a young man I ran with earlier in the race had lost his father five weeks before the race.  He was there, running, learning all he could, testing himself with this huge burden. You would never have known it to watch him run. Sometimes you need to continue to spite those very reasons.

I do remember running through downtown and getting ice, a popsicle, and a full bottle of icy cold water but otherwise most of the end of the race is a blur.  I crossed the finish line back in the stadium, thanked the runners who had helped me focus during the tough miles and got some painkillers out of my car before my natural high wore off.  As much as I like the Fargodome, climbing up the stairs to get out was not fun with my ailment or after running the marathon.

Lessons Learned:

First Aid Accessability

I have moved my personal first aid kit to an easily accessible spot in my car so if I need to send somebody for medication, it is easy to find and access.  The best pain killers they had at the medical stations and even at the finish were ibuprofen and aspirin.As much as I hate my painkillers, they do lessen the pain.

Hot Weather Gear

It was hot, much hotter than in previous years and the clothes I was wearing really absorbed my sweat and weighed on me during the marathon.  I need to reassess my wardrobe for these hotter months to make sure I have clothes of light, wicking material.

Physical Review:

It was tough running under the duress, but I was able to finish under six hours at 5:44:58.  This was the second stone in about ten months, but they continue to be small and pass easily, within 7 hours in this case.  I was able to rest over the next couple days and head out and explore North Dakota, because friends had made fun that Fargo was more like an extension of Minnesota.  This was a highlight state for me because it was the last state I needed to visit for lifetime travels of the US.  I can now say I have been to all 50 states and that I saved the best for last and have the T-Shirt to prove it.  Later this week I will run in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Black Hills before getting to Nebraska and run in Scottsbluff.  Thank you for joining me on my journey. I look forward to reading your comments and questions and hopefully seeing you soon.

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Marathon Route 20: Brookings Marathon – Brookings, SD

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A Tale of An Unintentional Personal Record

For those of you who are unaware, I built up a great deal of consistency with my running by pacing some races last year with a company called Beast Pacing. What does a pacer do? Essentially I put aside any time goals I have for a race and run a consistent pace so that other runners can gauge their running with mine and so hopefully beat a time goal they may have. As a pacer, you usually run at least 15 minutes slower than your usual pace for a half marathon, a half hour slower than your marathon time. This should give you the ability to breath and the ability to talk while you are running to support those around you. I personally find that running that consistent pace leads me to a meditative run, where my breathing is steady and I can elongate my flow (the feeling of running in good form with an elevated feeling).  I feel like I really got it down to a science for the half marathons last year. I have yet to do this with a full marathon.  I have yet to be able to run a consistent pace for a full marathon.  My times per mile can vary by minutes instead of seconds, my first half is almost always faster than my second, and no matter how much I have slowed down, there has been a bleeding of time, a point where my best effort only generates minuscule returns. So, of course, my goal for this race became consistency.

This should have been a fairly easy task. I had a good week of recovery runs, running hills and consistent paces over 3-5 miles.  Brookings Marathon is a flat course.  It is at low elevation. There are no scenic monuments that require a five minute photo opportunity.  I had been warned of the wind.  When it comes into town, it blows strong, and there is no telling what direction it will take, so that was a random factor.  This was their 47th year holding this race, so I was expecting the race support to be a well oiled machine.  Essentially I felt this was a smaller version on next week’s Fargo Marathon.  I was hoping to run a slow, evenly paced race and utilize this experience to build up my foundation for the following week and a new personal record.  Despite the tough-go I had at the trail run in Montana, I felt that marathon and the subsequent support runs built up my strength and endurance and I was ready to harness that power.

Race Review

This is a flat course.  After doing all those many hills on the trails of Montana last week, any hill except the climb at mile 9 seems unimportant.  There are some dips and rises, but overall, if you do any hill training at all, this will be a breeze.  We also lucked out, the wind was either at our back or hitting us at an angle so that I never felt we had significant drag holding us back. The well oiled machine was in full swing and I felt safe and protected at all street crossings.  In fact, the second half of the course was filled with volunteers from the National Guard.  No offense to the many teenagers giving their all in volunteer positions, cars are more apt to pay attention to a military person in full fatigues in the middle of the street than a 70 lbs gal (soaking wet) with a tiny orange flag. Another thing that made this race stand out energy wise was the the intense enthusiasm of the relay racers and their support teams. Every time I ran through a relay transition area, I was greeted with a wall of sound and a roar of support.  So many high fives and low fives that at the first transition point just past the stadium of South Dakota State University, I put out my arms like an airplane crashing into a tropical jungle and the love continued for 80-100 yards. Again at mile 9, at the only real hill on the course, relayers and support were chanting in a rhythm that for my pace made it very easy to power up and over the hill.  Since I’m slower, the pure volume of support diminished since teams were further ahead and moving to support their faster runners, but it was an amazing wave of support.  Water stations were also well manned, organized, and helpful in every way possible. Right around the half marathon mark, you do run on a gravel road but it can’t be much more than a mile.  However, I did get some stones in my shoe, so you may want to consider wearing guards on your running shoes.The neighborhoods and bike trails you are running on for the a good 8 miles from miles 14 to almost 22 are flat and well paved.  You start to see the dips just before mile 22, running down into an underpass and back up the second largest hill right on the other side of that.  The next three dips are all through some very cool rifle barrel strafed viaducts that cut under roads in miles 23 and 24 but there can’t be more than 4 of them. The final stretch brings you back to where you started, Pioneer Park, where members of the National Guard were hanging our finishing medals around our neck.  The Finish Line Party was great with ample food and beverage supplies even for us slower runners and the icing on the cake was a bag of freshly made to order burgers from local mainstay, Nick’s Hamburger Shop.  All in all, a fantastic day running.

Lessons Learned

Even A Small, Smooth Pebble Can Rip You Apart

Remember how I mentioned that gravel road?  I got some small stones in my shoe, but after a few moment of running they had settled and were quite comfortable.  After ten minutes, it was like they weren’t even there. Unfortunately, after another two hours, I not only knew they were there, but I also realized the impact they had on my foot.  There was now a huge bubble on the bottom of my right foot and I could feel it bounce with every footfall. In the last mile when I was desperately trying to make each step count, I felt that bubble pop and the stones had a field day like the chain from a chainsaw tearing up my foot.  Next time, i know it will be better to take the extra minute and clear the pebble one I get back to a paved area.

Be Firm With Your Goals, Flexible How You Get There

The goal this year is always finish a marathon each week in each state. Today I set my mind on running smoothly and evenly at a comfortable pace. For the first 4 miles that averaged around 10:30 pace.  I was a little concerned at that point that I was running too fast, but then I ran the next mile under 10! I thought I need to get it together and slow down and even out.  The next 4 miles I averaged 10:40!  Miles 10, 11, and 12 I tried to slow down my breathing and run smooth.  I finally moved into the 11:30 average for those miles.  Unfortunately around that time, the 4:45 pacer caught up with me. From this point I played leap frog with her group for about a half mile, but I could longer keep up.  I did spend a little too much time just after the half bemoaning my lack of consistency.  Instead, I should have been focused on regaining that nice easy lope that took me through miles 1-9! There are so many things that can get in the way of your best time, hills, stress, heat, altitude that when the day comes when you are loving the run and running well, that you take the bull by the horns and hold on to the ride.  It was mile 19 that i realized that i may have failed at consistency, but I still had a shot at a new PR and you can see my mileage perk up. If only I could have made that choice 4 miles earlier, I may have broken 5 hours that day. I’ve learned to be flexible when the conditions are poor, now I need to learn to be mentally flexible when the conditions are ideal and my body is ready to fly!

Physical Review

You can see in the picture up above that after my blister popped, the pebbles in my shoe basically flayed my foot, leaving nerves raw and open and screaming at every mild pressure.  I had many questions on what I did to heal so quickly. Firstly, soak the foot in an ice cold foot bath.  Secondly, carefully dry the foot and slather with triple antibiotic ointment and let air dry.  Cover and pad it if you need to walk on it, but keep that to a minimum.  Next day, lukewarm foot bath with Epson salt, followed by an ice cold foot bath.  More triple antibiotic.  By the third day I had a layer of new skin.  By day four I could walk on it without discomfort. On the sixth day, I ran another marathon.  I did have a little bit of an issue with my right hip again but stretching through the week helped straighten it out. So mentally I was torn between screwing up my consistency goal and counterbalancing that by the thrill of a new PR. 5:12:38!  If you are running consistently and you are interested in pacing with Beast Pacing, running for free, helping others meet their goals, and running with the most amazing pacers around, please let me know and I will gladly put you in touch with the amazing Vanessa Kline who took a chance on me and initiated me into my Pacer Family.  Until next week, I am ever so grateful for your support.  Let me know what you think in the comments.  if there’s something about these races, some element i am missing that you would like to hear me comment on, please let me know.  After this race, we will see if I am able to hit my new goal of a marathon under 5 hours in Fargo, North Dakota!

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Halfway There!

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25 marathon distances completed in 25 weeks! During training I quailed at 3. After the first one in Florida, I questioned whether or not I could do another.  Yet week after week, I have continued to exceed that initial expectation. There were many who doubted or expected me to fail in this quest, deservedly so, because I was not always sure that this was an achievable goal. Yet here I am, almost 6 months down the line, having conquered the west and parts of the south.  There is still a long path ahead of me.  An extremely hot summer is starting to rear its ugly head. Many of my big, “destination” races are behind me.  But I think now is a great time to summarize my accomplishments and my challenges in order to approach the second half of my quest with fresh eyes if not fresh legs.

Miles Run

I have run more miles this year in six months than I have run in any two years previously. 838 miles this year.  655 miles in marathons routes. 183 miles in support miles.  It is tough to be disappointed in those numbers. Of course, I am.  My goal is 12-15 support miles through the week and had I hit that goal, my total miles for the year should be over 1000.  I have some good reasons for this.  I need to judge the wear and tear on my body as a day to day operation.  Although physical stresses have been at a minimum comparatively speaking, there have been days when running on damaged feet, legs, knees,hips may have been detrimental to the prime directive – a marathon a week in a different state.

Side Quests

I have been able to complete a number of side quests this year falling into three categories: 1. Running in State and National Parks 2. Volunteering at local races 3. Joining group and social runs. Some states I hit the trifecta and completed all three side quests.  Other states I failed to complete even one.  Partially, the same physical conditions that limited my miles in a week also limited my participation in local runs.  The other major factor was traveling logistics.  In some cases, I would get into town the day after a social run or on race weekend, my marathon fell on the day when other organizations planned their runs, if there were even any local races. There were also weeks that after running a marathon on Saturday, I did not have the energy to volunteer at a race on Sunday.  You can be sure this makes me very hesitant to sign up for a weekend Marathon double header.

Sponsors

Although I haven’t had a company offer to pick up any race entries or traveling expenses, I have become an ambassador for two great companies: Salming and Spandits.  Salming is a fantastic international sporting company with a focus on shoes, equipment and apparel and Spandits is a wonderful company from my home state of Maine focussing on quality spandex apparel. As an ambassador, I am not a paid employee, more an enthusiastic fan dedicated to spreading the word about their phenomenal companies.  In return I receive product and discounts based upon referrals I make.  The more referrals I make, the more product and discounts I earn.  If you are considering trying either of these great companies, I have discounts to offer that benefit both you and me.  Please visit my Ambassador page to request current codes and current discounts.

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20% Discount. Submit Request on Ambassador Page

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10% Discount. Submit Request on Ambassador Page.

I would also like to take the time to thank a number of people who have contributed to my emergency fund. I do have a page set up through Crowdrise. that was designed to alleviate any unforeseen costs or situations that should arise.  Although, I have dipped into that account on a couple of occasions, that has not exceeded funds I had already earmarked and set aside.  So instead I have be using those funds to purchase additional race entries for the rest of the year. Starting with this week’s race in Iowa, you will start seeing shout outs to people who contributed to that site and made these extra races possible.  You can still contribute on my Sponsors page or
Click here for a direct link ——> GloboRun’s Crowdrise Funding Site

Interviews

The first interview was recorded before I started my trip but released in late February. Super Joe Pardo has made it a mission to help others make their dreams a reality and he has a great interview style. From what many of my friends have said, my interview begins at 25:01.

Super Joe Pardo’s Dreamers Webcast with Derek Zardus

The second interview was recorded just before my 8th marathon with an old friend, Chris Day.  Chris has been a passionate follower of inspirational stories that remind us that people are doing amazing things in our world, everyday. I was flattered and maybe a little embarresssed to be included in such illustrious company. I believe it was not only made available online but also on the radio in a couple markets. Released the beginning of March.

Writing
At times I have been overwhelmed with the logistics of traveling and aligning my many directives with my schedule. Due to Internet and data access issues, writing has been one of the first things to drop. I’ve kept somewhat consistent with the marathon route reviews (by which I mean I am only 5 marathons behind). Expect at least 2 posts a week moving forward, both catching up with the marathons and writing about my experiences on my side quests. I should also soon have a mini book on preparing for a personal marathon.

Thank you so much for following along on my journey. Constant words of support and care are delivered online, on the phone, and in person everyday. You can follow me on Facebook by name, though I also post many of the unfiltered and unfocused photos at GloboRun’s Facebook page. Also I am on Instagram as @derekzardus and Twitter as @globorun. If you haven’t already, sign up to get my updates via mail on the side of this page. Thanks again and we’ll see you later this week.

Marathon Route 19: Two Bears Marathon – Whitefish, Montana

 

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There is a classic running meme that shows a ferocious bear running down a road towards the camera and the caption reads “Not A Runner? Now You Are”. Imagine TWO bears. To toot my own horn, I haven’t lacked in the motivation department. I have stated on more than one occasion that I hate trail running.  This is categorically false. I actually love running on trails and the natural beauty contained therein but because I am not quite strong enough or tempered enough or experienced enough, this feeling of euphoria is usually short lived.  It is then replaced with feelings of pain, weakness, nausea, and impotence – thus why I think and say I hate trails. What I do on the trail quite often can’t be compared to running or hiking or even walking with a near fatal wound. A disheartened crawl best describes my movements on the trail, but I am determined to change that. I’ve got motivation to spare. So it was with gusto and idealistic intent that I chose to run the route of the Two Bear Marathon in Whitefish, Montana.

Reading and researching this marathon, I knew it would be tough. Firstly, there was a time limit on the official marathon of 5 hours and 30 minutes. Since I was running this as one of my unsupported training marathons, I didn’t need to worry about being taken off the course or spending money on a race that wouldn’t be counted or lists me as a DNF (Did Not Finish). The previous week I had finished a slightly hilly road race in that maximum time; I knew that the terrain and the steeper inclines on these mountains would add significant time to my run. The first half of the run would be wild and crazy, but essentially the second half (the second bear) would be steep at times, but it would be paved, so I would have firmer footing when I was most tired. Secondly, there were vastly more hills, with much greater inclines than I had previously encountered. On the website, the race directors joke that the net elevation is a loss of 229 ft, but the total elevation gain when totaling all the hills is 4,600 ft. Thirdly, I am a klutz and I have problems on roads or open fields keeping my feet under me.  The variety of surfaces and course material, gravels, pebbles, mud, dirt, and pavement, were going to hurt.  The pavement would eventually give my feet a little rest, but I had 15 miles of rocks to get through first.  This is a course that the race directors can’t get officially certified because the trail portion is too rugged. I wanted a challenge, I’m getting a challenge.  Please do not ask me why I do the crazy things that I do.

Course Review

It is at this point that I feel the need to confess – I did not finish this course.  I ran a marathon distance, but I did not finish the course as laid out by the race directors. I have had small discrepancies before on maps, areas I could not get permission to enter, wrong turns that linked up to the main trail, or questions determining exactly where the start or finish line is laid out, but considering this is a whole half marathon, I do not feel that this is something I can sweep under the carpet to clean up while guests are in the house.  The fact of the matter is that once again, on trails which were not clearly marked, I did not try to contact the RDs to determine whether or not the trail was accessible during non-qualifying times.  The race starts on the Lion Mountain Trailhead of the Whitefish Trail System, but to get to Delrey Rd. and East Lakeshore Dr.,  there a connecting jeep road that connects the trails system to the paved road – and I could not find it to save my life. The race leaves the trail and runs along one of the Beaver Lease dirt roads for approximately 1.7 miles where you should see that jeep trail, yet after running back and forth for about 2 extra miles, I eventually had a decision to make.  What I wanted to do wasn’t even an option; I could not continue the route.  So it was either follow the dirt roads to a paved road and hitch a ride back to my car or retrace the path that bought me here, effectively running the most difficult portion of the race a second time.  Knowing my ambition and my stupidity know no bounds, of course I chose that latter course.

Having run the first bear twice, in some cases an inch at a time, I do feel I got to know that portion of the trails system intimately. The race route starts off on wider trails designed for family and education purposes but then literally narrows to its purpose. There are a variety of little loops built into these first miles, most which lead to promontaries with stunning views of the surrounding mountains. After some rolling hills to get the juices flowing, you get a very fast downhill alongside gorgeous rock face that is featured prominently on the race’s marketing material. After that the trail winds through state and private property with lushly decorated, tightly cut switchbacks and inclines for another couple miles. There is a small mile and half break as you do a loop on one of the dirt and pebble country roads, before it’s back into the woods for more of the old up and down. It was gorgeous running these trails in the spring with a panoply of greens around and above you, I can only imagine the majesty of running the course in the fall with a variety of colors to catch the eyes. Also, running is the spring, part of the trail runs through a small crick that probably doesn’t flow in the fall. I reached the half mark in good spirits because as tough as the course was and even knowing that the toughest hill climb is at mile 14.5 I just kept thinking “Just make it to the road. Smooth running once you hit the road.” Except I couldn’t get to the road. It’s why my first instinct was to double back on the road. It had become my beacon. Tired and disheartened, I still had enough moxie to turn around and “run” the trail back to the start. You can see where I took some short cuts to make up for my extra search and rescue miles. I was exhausted and in pain and angry and disappointed in myself. Three and a half hours for the first half, over four and a half to get back to the start. The longest time I have ever kept moving.

Lessons Learned
Contact The Race Director
Can I really say I learned it this time? I have written this lesson so many times, I feel like Bart Simpson at the chalkboard during The Simpson’s show opening. I will contact the race directors. I will contact the race directors. I will…

Plan For The Worst
I was unprepared for a number of scenarios and that became a little scary. I did not have enough water for over 8 hours of activity. I had no plan if I got lost (flares, head lamp, non electronic compass). No bear spray (though I had been told by locals that it probably wouldn’t help). When doing trail races, I will need to come up with some alternative items to add to my prep list.

Physical Review

After about 8.5 hours on the trail, I was hurting pretty bad mentally and physically. Many of my running friends wax on and on about how running on trails keeps their legs feeling fresh and bouncy.  Not so much for me.  The first thing that hurts is my feet.  Running and striking the different rocks and roots and pebbles and stone daggers and hatchets makes my feet feel like I have been tortured for state secrets by a pro. Around mile 18 my left knee was sore every time I climbed a hill and by mile 20, my right hip would protest if I swung it to far or placed too much weight on it. After the run, I went to one of the local parks and plunged right into the icy waters of Whitefish lake.  I am so glad for my volcanic blood, because the plunge did so much good for my body.  It is so much easier to walk or jump into a freezing lake, stream, or ocean than watch a bath tub fill up, add a 5lb bag of ice and then slowly ease my sore body into the too small tub.  The knee continued to bother me through the night and I did ice it the next day.  Later, I did a light two mile test run and everything snapped into place.  Although I ran a marathon distance and have the pleasure of having persevered through the mess and not dropping my streak, this still feels a little too much like failure. Good to know what that feels like so I can move on and attempt another run. My next run is in Brookings, South Dakota and I will be shooting for an easy consistent marathon that will help realign my body and timing and bring back some sense of control.  Thank you as always for your support.  I look forward to your comments and question and hope you will join me next week as I, the Humpty Dumpty of running, get back up and run along the next wall.
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Marathon Route 18: Tacoma Marathon – Tacoma, Washington

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I love when people get creative with their race signs. Power up buttons, political references, offers of high fives, anti Christopher Walken signs (even though you have a 1 in 3 chance of seeing me “Walken”, please keep in mind, the man is a national treasure), sexually explicit signs, funny punny signs, signs that support mothers and sons and sisters and loved ones who are not me – I love them all. More importantly I love the people who carry them. Even if you don’t have a sign, standing on the side of a course and offering your support to runners is an amazing act of compassion. I was blessed to not only receive these random acts of kindness from random strangers like sticking my ego in a cardboard glory hole, but I was also supported at the Tacoma City Marathon by local friends of 15 years and by a special friend who flew all the way across the country bearing race signs designed by loved ones from back home. Add to that a number of runners I had met at other races and online, cheering and motivating me along the course. Truly, I floated through some of this city, buoyed by the support of loved ones, even if some of the spectators were loved for a moment, a glance, or a high five.

I did need all that support. The Tacoma City Marathon is filled with rolling hills – not super steep hills, not hills that endlessly climb towards the heavens, but consistent, up and down, 15 knot winds in a row boat, getting slightly seasick, hills. I feel an special need to point this out because the friend who recommended it to me described it as flat. I am here to tell you this course is not flat. Maybe they were recommending one of the 4 other marathons that take place in the area or they were being facetious and I missed the sarcastic font they used. In any case, I want to be clear and explicit – make sure you don’t skip hill training in the weeks before this race. You will regret it.

Course Review
Nestled between two beautiful National Parks, Tacoma has some beautiful water views and rising mountains to the east and west, great spring time foliage and an ornate downtown. Fortunately a small part of the end of the race takes place on a flat strip leading to a quick, steep, curve before finishing behind the art museum, because the hills in the downtown core are daunting! The race starts at the Tacoma Narrows Airport across the water in Wallochet and gives you a light two mile warm up running back and forth in front of the small commercial landing strip before taking you down to the first major landmark of the race – the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. A good half mile downhill makes it a little easier to run and lineup your photo with Mount Ranier in the background, but just as you get over the perfect cellphone photo opportunity, you’re confronted with the longest and steepest climb of the route. Hold the memory of the bridge crossing firmly in your mind, because 5 through 14 are run through mind-numbingly boring neighborhoods. Certainly, well manicured lawns and pretty tree-lined boulevards are comfortable scenery to run in for most people, but the course bypasses a number of city parks and barely skirts the campus of the University of Puget Sound and runs along the side of the Puget Creek Natural Area. This is also where the bulk of undulating hills are as you travel from one neighborhood to the next. Finally, after a somewhat long climb with the sun bearing down on the back of your neck, the course turns into the shady lushness of Point Defiance Park. Although the hills continue through the park, the benefit of the tree cover can’t be overstated; it was a hot day and running in the park felt 10 to 15 degrees cooler. The second most dramatic climb takes place right after a beautiful view of Puget Sound from the tip of the park and a number of runners were taking an over extended photo opportunity there before climbing that hill. After one more dipity-do in the forest, you have a nice, long, half mile downhill plunge before bursting out in the sunlight. One more neighborhood loop up a slight incline (with a water stations and Portapotties at the top) before you make your way to scenic Ruston Way. Running from miles 20-25 along this gorgeous elongated waterview of Commencement Bay is definitely enough to clear your sinuses of stifling suburbia like taking a seawater Neti Pot to the nose. It was hot, but there was a light breeze blowing in from the bay, almost making it tolerable. Even on this mostly flat expanse the are two hills in the forms of bridges at miles 22 and 25. After that final bridge you run along the city’s beautiful downtown front street past a number of classically inspired museums before entering the final speed chute to the finish line.

Lessons Learned
Running Heros Are Accessible
I finally got to meet the Mayor of Runnerville, Burt Yasso at this marathon. If you have done a certain 800 meter speed training that bears his name, you shouldn’t hate this guy because of it. He is one of the most down to earth people on the planet, taking my awkward interruption at 6 am for a photo op in stride. After running his own half marathon, he went out and was cheering at mile 23 on the course – who does that? Then, not only does he cheer me at the finish line, he spends 5 minutes helping me search for the top of my water bottle (“You know those caps are $10 to replace?”). Politely but definitely, introduce yourself and your story to Burt Yasso. He is a stand up guy.
Popsicles In The Final Miles
If someone offers to support me on the course this summer, I’m not asking for Gatorade, I’m not asking for Smartwater or gels. I’m asking for popscicles. Big, frozen hard, popscicles. A random stranger was handing them out at mile 22. I love her. I really love her. Seriously, if you’ve got a number I may have already bought the ring. It has proven that it is going to be a very hot summer and I think the only way I can make it through is popsicles on the marathon course.

Physical Review
I was feeling pretty strong and on target throughout the beginning of this race. There were pacers for a wide variety of paces, and my goal was to stay ahead of the five-hour pacer. This may have been a bit aggressive considering the heat in the hills, however I was able to stay ahead of the five-hour Pacer all the way through mile 18. Unfortunately, my system started to overheat with that final tiny hill, and I staggered to the finish from there. I was encouraged by my speed and consistency through and past the first half. I did start having some issues with my right knee after mile 21, a feeling that something had popped out of joint. Fortunately, that evening I had the pleasure of have a massage from someone who was very familiar with my body’s quirks and pitfalls and I felt better enough the next day to do a little hiking up at Mt. Ranier. My finishing time was decent at 5:24:53 but a far cry from the under 5:00 finish I was shooting for. A very special thanks to Kelli Palmer for carrying signs from friends (especially Brenda MacDonald) all the way across the country, and cheering me on along the course. As well as Reyes Carranza and Joe Rixman for the big hugs and encouragement before and after the race. Tacoma will always be a special race because of you all. Thank you for reading my review and I hope you’ll join me on my next installment as I run a trail race in scenic Montana – the Two Bear Marathon in Whitefish, Montana. As always I look forward to your comments, questions, and discussions.

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Marathon Route 17: Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon – Anchorage, AK

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There are still places on this planet that inspire the adventurer in us, that call to the intrepid desire to discover and explore, that push us to test our limits and test the mettle from which we are forged.  Alaska is one such place, where ice fields are surrounded by imposing mountains, where dangers still lurk for the unprepared: avalanches and polar bears and ice caves and melting glaciers and icebergs and a sun that never sets and messes with your internal clock so you don’t know if you are in a dream when you fall and hope that you wake when you hit the ground.  The great thing about being in Anchorage is you are only 20-30 minutes away from Alaska.  I heard five or six different variations on that joke before I got to Anchorage; the idea being that in the “big city” you don’t get the same flavor of isolation nor the far flung outpost feel of the smaller towns and villages.  This is a city that has one of the remaining Blockbuster Video stores and they still carry VHS. To me this is equivalent to time travel and technological backwardness almost equivalent to 8 track tape players.   Yet I did feel Alaska looming around me as the snow peaked mountains of Chugach State Park surrounded us, Mount McKinley floating in the distance on the clearest of days.  Where I’m from in Maine, you need to set about a purposeful trek to find moose, whereas here in Anchorage I came across three, two in my car, one on a running trail as I was running the route of The Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon.  There is an air in Alaska that calls for boldness and strength and tempering and I was eager to put myself to the test.

Course  Review

Although this is a city marathon, you do not see much if any of the city, certainly none of the downtown core except at the very end and then only a smidge over the buildings that surround Delaney Park. Starting at Bartlett High School you get a little bit of strip mall ambiance before you head out on the highway pointed directly at the mountains and the rising sun (even if the day is overcast, I suggest wearing sunglasses if there is still snow on the mountain because it seems to amplify the brightness).  The first five miles are mostly flat except crossing over the highway.  After you cross over, you start seeing warning signs about being on the base.  If you are the type that likes to run parts of the route before the race, you will want to stop by the base and pick up a recreational pass.  It is very easy to obtain, you do not need a military sponsor as you do for other parts of the base, and they should inform you if any tests are being conducted at the missile or gun ranges that the course cuts through.  You enter the back trails of the base just before mile 7 and run though their back roads and training courses until mile 14. Most of these roads are hard pack gravel roads so watch your footing. Keep you eyes open for some of the most interesting scenery along this route.  Aside from your closest opportunities for mountain photos mile eight is where I came nose to nose with a moose.  Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, the moose burst onto the road from the forest about 50 yards ahead of me and stood glaring at me in the middle of the road.  I froze thinking for a moment that the moose intended to play chicken with me to defend its territory.  Fortunately, it shook it’s head dismissively and trotted off to the other side of the road at which point I got some blurry, sasquatchesque, grainy photos that make you question if I saw any beast at all. Miles 10 through 13 you run through some different training courses, so it was a little odd at first to see a mosque and some desert huts through the pine trees as well as some heavily defensive guard posts with bridges and turrets.

As you enter the last mile of the base and the beginning of the Far North Bicentennial Park you encounter the hilliest section of the course. It is not so much the altitude or the length of the hills, but the steepness that should give you some pause.  Although these hills are no more than 100 to 200 yards in length,  the angle of ascent was abrupt and hurt my knees as I tried to climb them quickly. Also, as you are on the trails in the park, be careful if there was rain recently, as the trails were quite slick, especially as you descend the mountain back towards the roads. Miles 18 -20 take you along some industrial/city areas, but from mile 20 to mile 25 you start running through an emerald necklace of city parks that take you to the coast. Most of the trails run along Chester Creek so you have a lovely calm burbling brook tempo matching your tired footfalls, but the woods surrounding you should keep you cool as the sun warms up the end of your marathon.  Keep a little bit of gas in your tank for one final hill as you run through neighborhoods from the sea to Delaney Park and you have just finished this fun and scenic course.

Lessons Learned:

Local Support:

I try to reach out to locals in each city and drum up support for my run.  Some folks want to be part of it some don’t.  I was very fortunate that my host family was very excited to be a part of my journey.  Not only did they drive me to the start line at an ungodly hour for a Sunday morning, but they also roused the household so that the whole family was on the street cheering for me at mile 18 and they erected a finish line for me at Delaney Park and met me with bananas and electrolytes and cheers and hugs. I really can’t thank Red and Pyro enough for their care and friendship. I need to learn how to generate that kind of excitement in each of my host families and see if I can continue that into the communities. I also was able to get a ton of tips from a young lady who works at Skinny Raven, the amazing running stores in Downtown Anchorage.

Sunglasses Even On Overcast Days:

Even though most of the day was overcast, it seemed incredibly bright to me and I was squinting through most of the course.  By the end of the run I had a wicked headache that only subsided when I got into the car and eventually into the cool darkness back at the house. I need to remember that clouds don’t block UV rays and that’s what damages eyes. Bring sunglasses to each marathon.

Physical Review:

This was a tough race for me and I have no excuses.  It was mostly flat.  It wasn’t high altitude. It was a nice cool day. I started off in fine form, but over the miles, every little ache came to a fore – my feet, ankles, knees, hips, and lower back all took turns pestering me.  I had raced hard my last two marathons with a racing PR and a solo PR and my body wasn’t having any kind of speed workout that day. My finish time was 5:55:39 – not a stellar time, not a bad time, just certainly not a time to which I have grown accustomed.  I need to admit that putting up these miles on a consistent basis might be making me stronger but I also need to continue to rest and allow my body to recuperate throughout the week. I’m hoping that the reserved energy is being saved up for the big race in Tacoma, Washington next week where I have a lot of support, a 5 hour pacer, and beautiful weather.  Thanks as always for your attention and your support and I look forward to your comments and questions.

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Marathon Route 16: Eugene Marathon, Eugene OR

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“You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.” – Steve Prefontaine

There are still people who are confused as to why I run the routes of marathons without actually running the race. When I initially planned this trip I was only running about 10 official marathons; I have since changed that to 23 out of 50. One of my larger goals is running tourism, beautiful runs in beautiful places, putting my feet on the ground in iconic locations that great runners have tread. There may be no more iconic location than Tracktown, USA – Eugene, OR. The combination of idyllic running conditions and historical importance make this stomping ground of utmost importance to a running tour such as my own. The home of legendary coach Bill Bowerman (Author of the best selling book “Jogging” and co founder of Nike), running legend Steve “Pre” Prefontaine, and the birthplace of the Nike corporation has been lauded for its temperate climate, extensive trails, and active culture.  I love running and knew that I would love running the Eugene Marathon.  Selfish pragmatism.I was also jazzed after PRing the previous week in Idaho.  Could I apply the same determination when it was just me and the elements.  Could I run for fun and truly compete with me, myself, and I?  This was going to be the day to try.

Course Review

The morning couldn’t have been more clear or perfect.  Driving from my host home to the stadium felt like driving through The Emerald City in Oz – everything ultra green like the world seen through a Tanquery 10 bottle.  Spring had fully whirled her dress and the fragrances of lilacs and daffodils (and gin obviously)filled the air.  The course starts right outside Hayward Field and getting there a little early, I was able to sneak in, walk the track, and get a picture or two.  As someone who has watched both of the movies about Steve Prefontaine a dozen or more times, it felt like Hollywood was there filming the day’s event.

You start off running through some neighborhood to get your legs limbered up.  At mile 2 you get to enjoy the outskirts of the first of several parks Amazon Park and run Parallel to the Rexius Trail for about three miles.Right as you get to the tip of Amazon Drive, you encounter the most difficult hill of the course, a quick light incline that sets up a smooth and speedy return to Amazon Park.  Along this part of the course, I chose to run on the springy trail versus the road, when I had the chance, and danced among bluebells and buttercups (my photos don’t do them justice). After the park, you hit the second hill of the course as you head back to University territory from the 8th to the 9th mile.  After that you run downhill a little to the white collar district that borders the the Willamette River and the Knickerbocker Foot Bridge that takes you across to Pre’s Trail and into Springfireld.  Running across that bridge was the only headwind I fought that day and turning north on the other bank and heading west gave such an amazing view of the river that it was soon forgot.

Miles 12 through 16 are the most boring of the course, flat streets with cute cottage-like homes.  I’m sure on race day, these streets are filled with neighbors.  I just kept counting down the miles to I got back to Alton Baker Park. As you reenter the park, you pass by Autzen Stadium.  I always find stadiums inspiring to run by on a course.  It reminds me that even a hacker like me can run and compete with the elite of my sport.  Most of my friends will never play golf with Jordan Spieth or basketball with Stephen Curry, but I have run a race against Meb Keflezighi (ok, me and 10,000 other people).  Running past stadiums reminds me of that. Of course, right after that I got a little lost in the Rose Garden area of the park and may have added around a quarter mile on my run. After that, you’ve got nothing but beautiful scenery as you run up one side of the Willamette River and down the other. Well shaded and cool with amazing water views, it’s hard not to be inspired on this portion of the run.  I ran this course on a Saturday and the locals were out in full force on bikes, pushing running strollers, with their running buddies.  Always a smile, always a wave, always an encouragement to enjoy this moment.  I really didnt get tired because I just found a good groove and kept moving.  After crossing over the Owosso Bridge I did get a little tired head back downstream.  Fortunately, there were park water fountains every half mile or so once I entered Skinner Butte Park, because it started to warm up quite a bit right before noon.  Just as I started to flag, my hosts for the town, Dianne Cunningham and Bill Sherman came along in Maurie Jacobs Park to pace me the final 2 1/2 miles, keeping me focussed, pointing out cool things like the Scaled Model Solar System and leading me back to the Hayward Field finish. There is a slight uphill run the last quarter mile from the river to the university, but breaching the gates and entering the field immediately wipes away the memory of that effort.

Lessons Learned

Making Friends in the Community

Not only did I benefit from my host families support and encouragement, but another friend I made that week lived right on the course and offered cold water and a refill on my hydration pack. Not as necessary as other races, but certainly welcome and enervating. I really need to make sure I am reaching out in every way possible for each course.

Proper Shoe Rotation

I added a new pair of shoes into the rotation of the past week and it really made a difference on my feet this week.  I sometime just grab the first pair available, but when I really rotate, my shoes get a break and seem springier. I truly felt like I was walking on clouds.

Physical Review

Feeling great after today’s run. Although not an overall PR, at 5:33:20, this was the fastest time I have ever run an unofficial marathon.  Everything was firing on all cylinders today, if there were minor annoyances, they were quickly dismissed after a little extra walking and breathing.  I was just discussing with a friend that the worst races make the best stories.  No disasters, no heart clenching, jaw dropping, you-did-what?? moments just a beautiful run in a beautiful place.  I look forward to coming back and really racing my heart out.  Thanks for coming along for the journey.  Next week we are going to be strapping on our ice cleats as arctic explorers in Anchorage, Alaska.  As always, I appreciate your comments, questions, and discussions.

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Marathon Route #15: Lake Lowell Marathon, Nampa, ID

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After two weeks of marathon routes set in the most transendant places, my next marathon brings me to a somewhat desolate place. Southwest Idaho. Barren fields and boring views. Cheap airline flights dictated my races in this area and the last minute deal I got to Hawaii opened up an extra week in my schedule. Although it was a long haul from San Francisco to Boise where some long time friends lived, I got to break up the trip by stopping by beautiful Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe has been on my travel wishlist for some time. So please realize that after three incredibly beautiful locations to run (Big Sur, Maui Coast, and Lake Tahoe), Nampa can only seem plain and lonely. This was my first impression as I arrived for the Lowell Lake Marathon.

Race Review

I will start off by saying, I should be a little biased about this race because this was the first time in two months that I beat my personal record. I shaved 7 minutes and finished with a 5:17:21. I was a little disappointed in myself because I was gunning for under 5:15, but a 7 minute improvement is nothing to sneeze about. However, despite this win for me, I was discouraged in how the race was run.
Firstly, I was a little downcast at the race packet pick up. The volunteers were friendly enough. Guest speakers, scheduled demonstrations, great vendors with new or interesting gear are things that I look for in a decent expo. However, when you only have 7 vendors and 3 of them don’t show up, this doesn’t come across as a vote of confidence from the sponsors. I mention this because it eventually has an impact on my race day finish.

The race was abnormally warm for the beginning of April (this is becoming repetative, I know. I’m like the anti-Jack Frost, bringing melting and unseasonably hot weather where ever I go). Clear skies and crisp air started off our morning. The race starts with a quick run down the steepest incline of the course (something you regret as you climb back up to get to the finish line on this out and back course). You only get the briefest glimpse of the lake before you plunge down that hill and surround yourself with plowed empty fields. Most of the course is run along this farmland, plowed empty furrows not even showing the promise of crops to come. The lake itself sits just out of view, hidden behind homesteads, farms, and forrests. Running out the beginning of the course, you barely notice the rolling hills that pyramid up to a point around the fifth mile then taper to the gentlest of downhills to take you to the big turn near mile 6. Here you start to get a good gander at the best feature of the course, Lowell Lake and the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge. At mile 7, the road runs along a dam on the western edge of the lake, a flat, hard concrete road with gravel to the side, a little less forgiving than the rest of the road. The next five to ten miles are a good place to pick up some time. The road here is fairly flat compared to the the first 6 miles of the course. There are also wide meandering curves for the runners who like to cut time by “running the tangents”. Five miles of flat curves to the turn around (which was not really well marked. I had to ask the ladies at the 13.1 table and they said it was the end of the table.) Then five miles back to the dam.

This was where this race got a little dicey for me. Just after mile 18 you turn back onto Riverside Road. Even though today was a banner day for speed for me, I’m still slow compared to most runners so this is around 10:30 and the traffic was pretty heavy at this point. Initially, when we were running on the dam, you can run on a gravel path to the side of the road, but after 18 miles, I’m a little leery of this. I’m at my weakest at this point and unstable footing is not something I want to deal with. However the speed of the cars and the fact that the course design put us on the side of the road with the traffic (usually as runners, we position ourselves for safety against the traffic) forced me of onto the gravel. The problem was compounded when we turned onto Orchard Avenue for miles 20 through 24. There were many places where there was no shoulder and we needed to run on the road. Although I saw volunteers putting up signs for the race, they were not runner’s ahead/race in progress signs, they were construction signs. Quite frankly, if I’m a driver and I see construction signs and no construction or people wearing construction worker garb, I keep going the speed I’m going. This was an area I felt very unsafe and unprotected on the road.

I should also note that as you are running back to the Start/Finish Line, those slight rolling hills are much more daunting in the last 10k than in the first. There is a slightly different angle coming back than when heading out, especially in miles 20 and 22. From 22.5 to 25.9 it is either flat or downhill, with that final push uphill to get to the finish line.

One final note of disappointment was the finish line services. This day was a triumph for me and I was looking forward to a little bit of a finish line party. However, it seemed that most of the sponsors/vendors had packed up and headed home after the last of the half marathoners crossed the finish line. This was just annoying. There were supposed to be physical therapists/massage therapists, members of the armed forces were to be serving lunch and other things. Later, a friend who finished the half marathon posted pictures and all of those amenities were in full Highland fling for the half marathoners and fast marathoners. Those of us at the back of the pack got luke warm beer, dried out hot dog rolls and burnt cold hot dogs, brown bananas and over concentrated Crystal Lite. I’ve been told jokingly before that if I want the good stuff at the finish line, I need to run faster. This was definitely the case at this race.

I just feel that if you pay $80 for an event that isn’t going to a charity or worthy cause, that the first priority should be road safety which I did not feel was acheived. This was the second race I’ve been to out here in the west, where there was no police presence to moderate speed or traffic. Support at some of the water stations was lackluster, with one lady not even getting out of her truck or even waving at us, just filled up liquid cups and set out dried-out-from-sitting-in-the-hot-sun oranges. Lastly, you should make sure that the finish line party is as good the first hour as it is for the last. I was grateful for the cute medal and free photos, but between the safety issue and the overall boring views on the course, I would want to find another race to check Idaho off your list.

Lessons Learned

Convenience Has A Cost
I had chosen this race because I wanted more actual races and it fit my revised timeline. I got to stay nearby with great and supportive friends. I earned a new Personal Record. Did I really stay true to my mission statement – beautiful runs in beautiful places? There is an old sales model that says you can only get 2 out of 3 of the following things: Quality, Price, Convenience. If you want good quality and it’s convenient for you, you’re going to have to pay a higher price. If you want to pay a low price in a way that’s convenient for you quality will go down. Sometimes, you only get one out of three. I could have run a much more beautiful course just an hour away, on my own, for free and felt a lot safer. Choose wisely.

Do Not Wave Off Faster Runners
This is another subtle form of negative thinking. I will be running along and start talking to a faster runner. As we are conversing I will notice that my pace will pick up and that we are running faster. At some point, I will wave off that faster runner and let them know I can’t keep up. It is not my responsibility to worry about their pace, I should just worry about mine. When I get tired, I should slow to a healthier pace and let them decided when they are going to leave me. I certainly shouldn’t skip my walk breaks (certainly no more than one). Now to find a balance between the high of talking to another runner and the discipline of running my own race. I now know it begins with this step.

Physical Review
As you could imagine, after this race I was feeling pretty tired. At mile 20, as I was doing the math, I didn’t think I could PR. Fortunately, a pair of Marathon Maniacs passed me at that time and motivated me to hunker down and give it my best shot. I owe my pace in mile 21, 23, 24, and 25 to them. I was feeling wonderfully strong and accomplished after this race with a very first half and last inning save towards the end. No problems the next day with ankles, knees, hips or feet and two days later I was doing some pretty aggressive hill training. We were even a little bit above sea level (2000 ft) to add a little more spice to the mix. I am looking forward to running next week in one of the legendary running arenas – Eugene, Oregon to run the route of the Eugene Marathon. I look forward to you joining me. As always, I welcome your comments or views about this article and your own experiences with this race.

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Marathon Route #14: Maui Oceanfront Marathon – Maui, HI

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Beautiful, Beautiful Hawai’i. Once I was on the island, it seemed ridiculous to me that I ever considered only running the contiguous states. I am glad that I expanded my vision and the universe provided affordable tickets to the lush, tropical island of Maui. After a stressful week of reconfiguring my trip in California and running Big Sur unofficially and unprotected, this was just the rest and relaxation the doctor ordered. Like many of the places I have visited this year, it was unseasonably warm, but that was perfect for days spent at the beach, swimming in the ocean, and trying to correct my growing farmer’s tan from my racing shirts.

I was pretty concerned about the heat in Hawaii. For the most part, I have been running in perfect marathon temperatures – 45 to 60 degrees. Most of the week I was here, we were between 75 to 90 degrees. This is also usually a time when the trade winds help cool things down on the islands but they were nowhere to be found. I figured this race would be a good gauge for my summer marathon routes where I will be running during times most states won’t have a single Marathon going on because it’s so hot. With this in mind I decided to start my run at 4:30 in the morning.

Course Review
Starting the course so early means you are running in darkness. Make sure you bring a reflective vest or lighted gear so you are more visible until the sun comes up. However, when the sun comes up, you’ll be treated to a heavenly sunrise with a fruit salad of early morning colors from papaya pink to golden pineapple. You more than likely won’t need a headlamp because the road and the sidewalks in the first 7 miles were in great condition. As I started the run, I was a little disappointed in the shops and gated communities that block the view, but you start glimpsing the merengue wave peaks of the ocean around mile 1.5 and you have the tranquil sounds of the water lapping the beach for another 2 miles. From mile 3 to 6, you get the roadside attractions of any beach town intermittently blocking your water access, but on the plus side, this is mainly a very flat first half. Reaching mile six, you start to get less touristy beaches and also pass by some nature preserves while starting to have Puu Kukui loom above you with its lush green hill and long line of giant wind mills turning in the breeze. Mile 10 you start the beginning of the hilly second half with a decent 150 foot climb but the you have an equal down hill to give you some momentum heading towards the half mark just past Maalaea. There is really only one marginally higher hill but lots of bumps and bulges to test your tiring legs. Although you start rolling up and down on the hills and tight curves, you really have a majestic view of the ocean around every bend. I wasn’t able to catch it, but there were some mighty big splashes as I was running along and I swear I saw a whale’s tale just breaking the surface. All the way to Lahaina, you are treated to classic Hawaiian beach views where you expect locals to break out in a traditional Luau at any moment. The finish is in old port Lahaina near the park with the ancient banyan trees and the old courthouse. I grabbed a Hawaiian Shaved Ice (don’t call them snow cones!!) to celebrate another beautiful run along a beautiful course.

Lessons Learned
Mirror Your Training To The Race
This is a fairly well-known adage. If you know that you’re going to be running hills, you should be training on hills. If you are going to be running in a warmer clime, you should wear extra layers or run in a space where you can keep the heat an appropriate level. What I didn’t take into account for my training this week was the time I would be starting my race. The earliest I have run any race since the beginning of the year is 6:30 a.m., so my body was not properly prepared to start running at 4:30 a.m. For the first 2 hours it felt like I was running under water, I would look at my watch and see paces that are more common in the later part of my second half of the marathon. Even when I thought I was speeding up, I wasn’t anywhere near my fastest time. Certainly traveling across an additional three time zones may have had something to do with throwing off my body rhythm but I see a summer filled with early morning runs to condition my body for early morning marathons.

Bring a Spare Bandana
Anybody who runs with me knows that I sweat gallons and gallons during a race. As it gets warmer, that sweat dries out sooner and I am covered in a thick layer of salty silt. I brought a spare bandana and poured some water on it to sponge my face and keep my eyes from burning when my sweat would carry large chunks of salt into my eyes. I feel that a bandana is an essential tool for any runner and this was just another reason to carry it.

Physical Review
This was another disappointing week for gauging my running strength. I really feel stronger and that my form is improving, but that is not showing in my pace or timing. Although I started off at a much slower pace then I normally run my first half, I don’t feel that it reduced the stresses on my body or allowed me to reduce my overall time by being more consistent in the second half. I may have done a negative split with my second half taking less time than my first, despite hills and headwind, but it certainly didn’t make it any easier. I felt out of joint in my right hip and right knee, so favoring that side led to my left foot being a little painful after the race. Aside from the early morning lethargy, I did have some discomfort on the plane when changing altitudes in my ankles and my knees. Running along the beach and back to the house on Tuesday felt good though, so I feel my body is still trying to heal me through the stress of each of these successive marathons. It will be tough to leave behind the lush beauty of Maui, but I am stopping by one of my dream locations to run Lake Tahoe, as I make my way to Boise, Idaho for next week’s marathon. Thank you for joining me on this journey, and as always, I look forward to your comments and feedback.
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