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 #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 #8: El Paso Marathon – El Paso, Texas

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Why El Paso? This was a question I have been asked many times by runners and non-runners alike. With all of the great races that take place in the state of Texas, what caused me to choose the El Paso Marathon as my marathon to represent the state? My non-running friends felt that there were cities that were more representative or more attractive than El Paso. My running friends felt that there were bigger races, more challenging races, races that were better designed or a better party or better support. To be honest, it was a combination of timing and not following up on the race. Initially, I had planned to start my journey two weeks later than I did, which would have lined up with The Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth. When my plans changed, I had budgeted for a Texas Marathon and the only one on that date was in El Paso. When I did research on the race, I really liked the fact the marathon started at the top of a mountain and we had 7 miles of downhill momentum to set us up for a possible record time. Unfortunately, the race directors announced in September that due to construction issues, there would be a new race route. If they sent out an email about it, I didn’t get it and I didn’t go back to their website until the week of the marathon. That is how I got to El Paso.

I was very fortunate that my host for the city was Edward Broadnax, a fellow pacer with Beast Pacing. Edward was one of the first people to offer to host me when I asked my pacing family for some help. It was truly inspirational staying with him. At the time that I was staying with him, Edward has run over 150 official marathons in the past 3 years, despite having a pacemaker implanted in October of 2015. Edward is also incredibly high energy and brings that energy and support to any running club or event in which he participates. It was great to stay with somebody who intrinsically understood my drive to just keep running. He made sure to introduce me to all the Marathon Maniacs who were at the race (which I appreciated since I am a new member) and invited me to a pre-race meal with the local chapter of Team RWB, an amazing organization which I will talk more about in a separate post.

Race Review

El Paso is a much prettier town than I was led to believe. Sandwiched between the Franklin Mountain range to the west and the Juarez mountain range south of the border, there is always a picturesque scene hovering on the horizon. Like many desert towns the profile of the buildings is kept low, however running on the course you couldn’t always see that gorgeous view. Please remember that the route that I’m reviewing this year is an alternative course. Typically this course starts with 7 miles of downhill running with a beautiful overview of the city. That scenic overlook was sadly missing from this year’s course. On the plus side the route is mostly flat for the first 15 miles, then there is a gradual decline of 300 ft over the next 9 miles with one little hill to conquer around 23.5, but then a fast downhill entering the downtown core. I found this course very boring. For most of the course, we were running through nondescript neighborhoods with no architectural variety and a numbingly neutral color palette or the kind of urban sprawl that makes me shy away from modern cities – strip mall after shopping plaza after outdoor food court ad nauseum. If the course was to stay the same in future years, I would not make the trip back to El Paso for this marathon. Two other disappointments included not enough Pacers and race shirts. They only had 5 Pacers up to a 4:45 time. This was a little frustrating, because I have come to rely upon the Pacers when they are provided. Secondly, as a bigger runner, I was greatly disappointed with the lack of 2 XL shirts this year. My understanding is they had them in the past and now it’s sad to have a shirt that really doesn’t fit me.

There were three highlights in this marathon. The first was the water stations. Of all the races this year, I felt that the groups who manned the water stations truly made an effort to individualize their part of the race. Everybody had a different theme and they truly committed to their theme and to helping motivate the runners. Stand out stations were the water station manned by the Army’s medical unit, the superheroes of Team RWB, the vinyl disc crew, the M&M fanatics, and the Chinese New Year group. There were not many spectators on the course, so these folks at the water stations we’re working doubly hard to support the runners. The second highlight, was the finish line in Southwest University Park. I remember the first time I heard my name called out at a race as I was crossing the finish line. It really has nothing compared to the sound of your name and your town being broadcast all over a professional ballpark with fans cheering in the stands for you. Thirdly, I was very happy for the free race photo downloads! This week’s photos didn’t compare to last week’s but I feel that has to do more with me and my performance than the photographers. However, I am disappointed that there weren’t any photos of the mountains as a backdrop or a pull away shot of me crossing the finish line on the baseball diamond.

Lessons Learned

Keep A Closer Eye On Race Websites

Finding out about the course change last minute is the least of my worries. It’s possible the El Paso Marathon emails were going to my spam folder, but I could have missed some really important information. I need to make sure that I am checking the website at least a month in advance.j

Food As Fuel

Weight loss is not a priority for me this year. However, I need to be particularly observant during the weeks when I am spending time with close friends. When I am visiting, obviously they want to take me to their favorite restaurants and drinking establishments. The week before this race, I may have indulged just a bit much. I definitely gained weight this week and that may have led to a less than stellar performance in the race.

Physical Review

I felt strong and confident going into this marathon. I had indulged in an amazing spa day with my best friend, Kiana Cornell in Dallas where a variety of water and sauna treatments helped align my body and spirit. Strangely enough, I performed less than desirably. This was the first week where I felt tired after the second hour of the race. The week before I had a strong wind pushing at my back for the first two hours, so I can understand why I felt a little sluggish during the beginning of this race. I did reach the half marathon point right around 2:30. From there it became a bit of a struggle and I had very little energy left in the last 3 miles. It essentially took me 3 hours and 15 minutes to finish the second half. The sun was definitely a factor in the last hour. The morning started off nice and cool and we had a great deal of cloud cover until noon. When the sun finally came out, it raised the temperature about 20 degrees. That and my three burgers and a bunch of burritos earlier in the week may have contributed to my second half slowing down. My chip time had me at 5:44:48 – about a half hour from where I wanted to end this race. Next week I start my high altitude training in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The next 4 runs are all at higher altitude and I look forward to the new challenge.

Marathons Are For Wussies?

Doing some research on people who run multiple marathons over various time frames, I came across a subset of articles and commentary which called the ability to do marathons into question.  The arguments were very well laid out and the statistics were overwhelming.  My own experience makes me feel that the argument has some validity. I’ve been roughly 100 lbs overweight for years with questionable willpower and still I’ve been able to complete 3 marathons this year so far.  I tell people all the time that they could run a marathon – I really believe that if I could do it, anybody could do it.  Most of these articles work along the theme that anybody can run a marathon, but it takes real commitment and athleticism to win marathons.

Out of 729 marathons held in 2014, there were 590,399 finishers. Over half a million people completed marathons last year. Median times for the most popular marathons fall under 4 hours.  Unfortunately for those who enjoy the feeling of running a marathon, there is a tapering of elation like with any addiction.  Just finishing the marathon becomes passe.  One needs to improve upon the initial experience – striving for a better PR (Personal Record), reaching towards a BQ (Boston Qualifying time), doubling up events or pyramiding events like Disney’s Dopey Challenge (5k,10k, Half Marathon, Full Marathon, over 4 days), running a marathon in each state, running ultra-marathons.  These new and different experiences can help us overpower the brains natural tendency to try and shut us down as we push our bodies to do more. When you hear about these runners upping the ante, it can make it seem like the marathon is a paltry distance.

With so many people entering the ranks of first time marathoner each year it becomes easy to dismiss the marathon as a dated benchmark.  However dated it may be, it is still THE benchmark. This is not a race that someone who is physically fit can easily say “I think I’ll go run a marathon today.”  There is a commitment and forging that must occur both mentally and physically.  “The Wall” is real and although it starts in the brain, it can wreck the body without proper preparation.

Many of the aforementioned articles make it sound like first time marathoners don’t deserve much respect because, in this day and age, everybody s doing it. While a half a million is impressive, it is still a far cry as a percentage of total population.  No matter what time they are crossing the finish line, they are still lapping those sitting on the couch.  When someone says they are raising funds for a cause by running a marathon, you can still be impressed and donate to the cause.  At the end of the day, a marathon is still 26.2 miles – a distance to be reckoned with.

Best Intentions

Here I go…again. I don’t know how you found me but here is the beginning of another reverse Horatio Alger story in weight. Heavy boy downloaded with a ton of extra baggage works hard, loses the pounds, and does good. Lives happily ever after. Unfortunately I have lost weight before and gained it back and lost it and here we are as Vizzini said “back at the beginning”. You are probably reading this months or years after I started this and hopefully you have just read a post where I am successfully running my umpteenth marathon and feel great. You just had to go to the archives to see that at the very beginning I was wallowing in depression and self pity wondering why am I right back at the bottom of the hill. Stop being a Sisyphus and get to the good part. Where’s the motivation? Where’s the life altering event that says “Something needs to change and it needs to change now!”. Right here, right now, that event is New Year’s Day.

How trite – setting goals on New Year’s Day.  75% of Americans who set goals today are finished by week 3.  Week 3!!!  I can do better than that.  I have set goals before and accomplished them.  I have run consistently. I have raced consistently.  I have finished a Marathon, despite physical maladies.  Mostly I have set little goals, accomplished them then went back to sleep for a couple months, like a hibernating bear or an annoying strain of STD.  The new goals are big.  I’ve decided to dream big and make the results immediate. OK my goals are not going to cure cancer or bring about world peace, but there will be a massive tectonic shift in my world.  I love running and what running does for me mentally and physically .  I am going to make running my life.

Goals for 2015

Run 4 days a week, rain or shine, day or night, in sickness and in health, til death do us…wait a second.  4 days a week unless something is broken or doctor’s orders. I will run my running plan and believe in a system that has already given me so much.

Cross train 2 days a week.  Swimming, biking (uggh), and weight lifting.  Maybe kayaking and snow shoeing. Sword fighting and cliff diving.  Ok, maybe not the last two.

Stretch every day.  I have learned a number of exercises for running ailments – shin splints in 2010, ITB strain in 2013, plantar fasciitis in 2014.  I need to be doing them everyday to support the amount of running I will be doing.  Potentially incorporating yoga into my regular routine.

Run a marathon distance by June.  Finish another one a month later. Complete 6 more by the end of the year on a diminishing timeline.  This is leading to a longer term goal.

Lose 1.5 lbs a week.  This will be accomplished not only by increasing my activity consistently but also drastically changing my eating habits.  As God is my witness, I will not eat ice cream until the first day of summer.  I am starting at 285 lbs today. By the end of December 2015,  I will be 210 lbs or less.

I will write about my successes and my challenges every week.  I will go into detail about my larger dream and I will envision and execute a plan that will allow me to take the joy I feel when I am running into other aspects of my life, primarily my work and personal relationships.

I have already been starting a few of these changes, so although today is a Thursday, my week is already set for success.  I will be updating this blog each week with occasional special entries.  Thank you for joining me on this journey.