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.

Marathon Route #13: Big Sur Marathon – Big Sur, CA

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According to most polls and publications, the two most beautiful marathons in the U.S. have not changed in 20 years. On any given year, in any given account, the two races vie for national dominance. Some magazines have broken them off in their own category but this only furthers the argument that they are the gold standard by which all marathons are gauged. Of course, I am talking about Big Sur International Marathon in California and Mount Desert Island Marathon (or MDI) in Maine.  I am already registered for MDI in October but I missed the opportunity to officially run Big Sur, so it became one of my banner unofficial routes to run. I had the pleasure of driving that portion of the Pacific Highway over 10 years ago and have memories of being slightly nauseous and extremely stressed due to the hills and tight turns overlooking precipitous cliffs. Other cars sped past at dangerously unbelievable speeds, annoyed that I was driving so slow. In my defense, it was my first time and my rubbernecking tourism slowed me down as I tried to take in every glimpse of magnificence along the coast.

This is the first race where I almost chickened out. As I drove the course the day before my run, all I could see was the very narrow strip of pavement on the edge of each side of the road.  Looking at the most strenuous hills and tightest curves, I consistently saw cars out of control as they rounded a bend or popped over a hill, veering over yellow and white lines with reckless ignorance.  In some areas, I would need to choose between hugging cavern walls where I could be dragged along jagged outcroppings and have minor avalanches dump a ton of rocks on my head (my test drive did include swerving around a pile of such debris, though it was gone the next day) or run the precipice where tricked out metallic imported cars might Tokyo Drift and sweep me out and over the Pacific, tumbling a thousand feet onto the rocky spikes and raging sea below. Needless to say, running the tangents would be tantamount to suicide. All of these death traps were oiled and sharpened the next morning as I was driving to Big Sur Station.  The darkness magnified my fears and highlighted the occasional cars driven by James Bond or Mario Andretti. There were some logistic annoyances that added to my discomfort of the situation.  I was lodging farther away from the race than I normally prefer so I would be up extremely early to start in the morning.  This was my first point to point unassisted running route, so after running 26.2 miles, I would then need to have the mental wherewithal to navigate the limited public transportation back to my parked car at the start line. The morning of my run, I sat in my car for 20 minutes, running all the deadly or debilitating scenarios though me head, thinking about the worst that could happen.  I quickly reviewed options of driving to another race location that day or doing a double the following week, anywhere other than the road that might spell my doom. After going through all the possibilities, the worst of the worst, I remember thinking “Well, at least it won’t be a boring story to tell at the funeral.”  I stepped out the car, strapped on my fuel belt (and my big girl panties while I was at it) and headed towards the start line.

Course Description

I would like to start with a disclaimer.  Any tale I tell about this course would be incomplete without mentioning my true nemesis on this course.  It was not the hills, it was not the incline.  It was not the curves in the road or the canter of the pavement.  It was the wind.  The day I ran, I experienced winds of over 30 knots blowing from north to south while I was running from the south to the north.  We were at odds the entire route.  Anytime I began to feel safe, anytime I would see traditionally safe havens like downhills or long flats, anytime I turned the corner and was glad not to be confronted with the front grill of an F-150, the wind would be there, a Greek demigod of a defensive linebacker, determined to hold the line.  The wind blew so hard that I was deaf for the rest of the day because the howling buffeted my ears for just over six hours.  Any triumph I felt about running the course and feeling the way I did was tempered by a chill and damp wind that stole one foot out of every five I tool forward.  I pray that if ever I run this race again, I should be fueled by a tailwind, even if it brings hot and humid weather at my back.

The beauty of the current Big Sur course is the 5 mile downhill plunge through cool, tree lined roads. just when you feel like things are leveling out, you continue to go lower and lower. This can give you a little false sense of security and ramp up your ego so you are starting a little faster out of the gate than you may want to go looking forward to so daunting hill climbs later. It was a little disappointing to not have a sea view until just after mile five, but when you first reach the sea, depending on your speed, you will be greeted by this amazing haze of color on the ocean, as the sun starts to stretch towards the watery horizon.  Every variance of blue will dance between the ocean and the sky like a complicated prism tarantella of blue.  Miles 6 and 7 are an incline so small it feels flat so this should normally be a good place to pick up the pace, the stoic Point Sur Naval Facility towering over the coast to the west and undulating emerald hills with disinterested cud chewing cows to the west.  Your legs get to work on the first real climb just before mile 8 and after a quick, uphill mile, get to to stretch out as you race towards the base camp of the road’s Mount Everest- Hurricane Point.  Every step you take down in mile nine shows you a new daunting twist and hair pin turn you will navigate as you surmount that peak.  However, as you crest, you have one of the most breathtaking views, sexy topographic curves, leading down to the architectural garter belts of the Big Sur, Bixby Bridge and Rocky Point Bridge. One more hill and you have five miles of private coves and rocky beaches on a mostly flat terrain to rebuild your body in time for the last couple hills as you enter Carmel Highlands.  Although not as high and daunting as some of your previous hills, these are steeper inclines that require more focus and determination so late in the race.  The only disappointing feature of the this course is the finish area being near a shopping plaza, The Crossroads Carmel.  Although it has the benefits of plenty of parking and easy access to services, I do wish the race would end in the more scenic Carmel River State Park across the street.

Lessons Learned

Transportation Back Up Plans

It was a hectic week and with multiple stops in the state, I didn’t get into town until Saturday.  The Montery-Salinas Transit didn’t have customer service agents available to confirm the Off-Season Big Sur route would be operational on Easter Sunday.  Getting back to my car would have cost about $100 by taxi.  Fortunately, this week, I lucked out.  Double checking on public transportation earlier in the week would have reduced some of my stress with logistics for this run.

Double Check Calendars

Not working a 9-5 job or really anything on a consistent weekly basis, I sometimes forget what day of the week it is.  I actually had a host cancel last minute for a family emergency and as I was scrambling for a new host.  I was surprised be how many “No” responses I got.  Everybody seemed to have something planned. Hosts were either away or had a house full of family.  I thought “Wow!  Is there some festival going on in Monterey this weekend?”  Throughout that process I remained unaware that everybody had something planned for Easter Weekend.  The beginning of the week is a good time for me to double check local events and calandars to see if there will be any conflicts with my own scheduled activities.

Physical Review

After five weeks at high altitude, I was excited to get back to sea level and push myself. Even though Big Sur is known as a challenging course, I felt each of my prior races had done well to train me. I had operated with less oxygen. I had climbed daunting mountains. I had run under a scalding sun. It is possible that, now that I am a quarter of my way through my 50/50/50 quest, that fatigue may become my constant companion. However, I feel that my final four miles of this marathon show the strides and strength that I gained from my almost 40 days in the desert. Those final hills were steep and I feel that I ran them with a strength and determination usually found in my earlier miles.  Although my body felt tired and sore from fighting the headwind all day, I did not feel out of breath as I often do in the last couple miles of a race.  Lastly, after the race, I still felt strong and mentally adept.  My body didn’t physically crash as it has after other races and I was easily able to navigate post race fueling and the transit system back to my vehicle. I was disappointed with my time of 6:10:32 but reading many reviews of Big Sur, I see recommendations to set your pace about a half hour slower than you have been running.  Considering my last couple of races were around 5:40, I can’t be too surprised.  Now I know this course and when I do come back to compete I will not be worrying about being under the 6 hour time limit, I will be focusing on shattering my personal record for this course. Thank you, as ever, for joining me on my journey and next week I get to take you to another beautiful place on earth – Maui, Hawaii.  I look forward to your comments and questions.







Marathon Route #12: Sand Hollow Marathon – Hurricane, UT

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In this day and age of media overload, we are conditioned by filtered lenses, sweeping panoramic shots, and epic soundtracks to consider monuments and natural wonders as otherworldly creations that will literally blow our minds should we glance upon them with our own eyes.  Sometimes those who travel, are disappointed with how the view clashes with the vision we had of our quest; people laugh at how small the Alamo is, the average time visitors spend looking at the Grand Canyon is 23 minutes, the Pyrimids of Giza are within shouting distance of major highways. In a world of HDR, 3D, IMAX imagery, it is sometimes difficult for nature and legends to live up to themselves.

Not so with southern Utah. For me, the landscapes were everything that I dreamed that they would be. Perfect weather provided clear blue skies as a backdrop to the dense browns and rusty reds and dusty oranges that cut across the sky.  I entered Utah by driving north on I-15 through the Virgin River Gorge with it’s dramatic cliffs and impending peaks twisting and curving to avoid jagged outcroppings.  When you finally break from that gorge, the landscape is spead out in front of you like a smorgasboard of your favorite western movies.  Red rock canyons, painted desert walls, and cracked and crumbling flat top monoliths are all visible in the miles that are visible as far as the eye can see.  No wonder my friends from these states feel so claustophobic in my beloved New England, five minutes down any of these roads and you can see 3 whole states much less miles. Trainings during the week went extremly well in Zion and Bryce National Parks as well as the Snow Canyon State Park. I was feeling strong and ready to get back on track and whittle away at my Personal Record, like the river cutting into the canyon, slowly and chipping away over centuries. Instead of running the route of the St. George Marathon, my Marathon Maniacs memebership got me a discount to the Sand Hallow Marathon, just up the road in Hurricane (pronounced hur-IH-kin, by the local).

Race Review

This is still a somewhat new race (in it’s fourth year) and they are very responsive to feedback.  This is my review of the 2016 race and the course has changed each year it has been run, so double check your map after reading this review if using it for next year’s race.  This is a deceptively easy course except for one steep hill. Although it is not considered High Altitude with an average of 3200 ft, you should still be prepared for it to affect performance. Starting off at the local community center, you build on a gentle incline as you run through some neighborhoods along a small cliffside. After that, things start to open up into fields with horses and cows and we catch our first glimpses of the beautiful mountains in the distance. Miles 7 to 9 have a steep downhill all while looking at breathtaking scenery along busy route 9. A gentler downhill continues until just past mile 15, with a gorgeous view of the Sand Hollow Resevoir’s sparkling blue waters giving a tranquil distraction from the gritty multicolored earthtones reflecting the hot sun. Soon into mile 15 you start the heavy duty work of climbing back up 500 ft of altitude in only about a mile and a half.  There is some more directly gorgeous scenery with some uniquely green covered cliffs as you approach a big turn at mile 21.5, an area I highly recomend setting up a photo opportunity.  Although the coloring or the hill is anachonistic of the surrounding landscape, right after the runner’s turn on S 1100 W, it gives the photographer a dramatic and up close backdrop for a great runner’s profile. After that you are heading back into the outskirts of town with a slightly different route than the start that takes you through a lovely treelined street that would have benefitted from just one more week of spring to have created a hero’s welcome of trees on bloom.  After that and we return to where we began, finishing at the Hurricane Community Center.  Certainly one of the highlights of the finish area were two, extremely professional sports massage therapists who did not skimp on their efforts or time they generously donated to each runner.

I had some minor complaints about this race, but when I read other reviews, I can tell that this is a race director that really listens to feedback and continues to grow and shape his race to the runner’s needs.  Past comments have changed the direction of the marathon, taking it from an repetitive out and back to a fuller and more scenic loop including the resevoir.  Former comments complained about the original hill going on far to long so a change in direction resulted in shortening of the uphill distance while slightly increasing the difficulty but also increasing the safety of the runners.  The largest gap to fill was with support.  Previous reviews noted the lack, so I came prepared for less support. I was still a little surprised. Firstly, there were not enough volunteers at major cross streets. Especially in the first couple miles, some cars made some dashes cutting across race lines without any direction or suppression from volunteers.  Secondly, the water stations were erratically manned.  Some of the water stations had a bevy of high school age kids either standing around doing nothing (in some cases laying out and getting a suntan) or were sadly undermanned, two tables having no volunteers, including mile 25.  This wouldn’t have been so bad, except water stations were 2 miles apart so there was no volunteer support for the final 3 miles.  This is worrisome in high desert conditions, also since the end of the course doesn’t mirror the beginning, there can be some confusion on the route. Thirdly, some of the running areas could have been a little more protected for the runners with “Race in Progress” signs or cones protecting a portion of the road, especially in miles 12 and 14.  I was also surprised by a lack of local law enforcement.  I am used to seeing officers helping to direct traffic at major intersections or difficult areas and especially with the lack of volunteers and the distance between support stations, their presence was sorely missed.

Overall, I felt this was a beautiful and moderately challenging race. The RD held regular drawings for gift certificates leading up to the race for people who entered.  Free photographs captured finish line victories at least, though I’d like to see more photos of the runners with the amazing scenery on display. Keep an eye on this race, it seems to get better every year.

Lessons Learned

Thank Volunteers and Race Support

This is something I try to do at every race, but even more important at races like this one where there are less volunteers and limited community support.  Sometimes as the race progresses, volunteers are shifted from the beginning of the course to the end, so it’s always nice to have a familiar face cheering you on when you are really digging deep.  At this race, the wives of some of the runners were leap frogging all along the course, so after two pitstops and some witty banter, they were also cheering for me.

Bring My Checklist To The Start Line

Hot day, desert sun burning down, if I ever have future problems with my eyes, I will point back to this raceday as the root cause since I forgot my sunglasses (ok, problems I have with freckles and other worrisome skin conditions come from a lifetime of poor sun protection choices, but everybody needs a scapegoat).  I have taken my own advice and use a race checklist both the night before the race and before I leave the house, but I left my sunglasses on the passenger seat as I was applying last minute sunscreen.  Bringing the checklist with me, might have prevented some discomfort as we turned towards the sun during the last half of the marathon.

Physical Review

I was feeling much more confident after last week’s stronger performance and after some wonderfully inspirational runs at the local parks, I had high expectations for this week.  The heat and the big hill took a little more out of me than I hoped and although I shaved time of last week’s marathon, I didn’t quite perform at my peak. 5:37:38 shaved 7 minutes off my time from the previous week, but I really looking to consistently get my competive times under 5:30 consistently and closer to 5:00 as the year progresses. At the end of this race, I did have some discomfort in my right hip and lower back, but great massage I received immediately after the race truly helped to set things right. Next week is one of the routes I have been looking forward to – Big Sur along the Pacific Highway in Californina.  A challenging race that I hope I will be better prepared for after running and racing at higher altitudes.  As always, if you are reading this final paragraph I am so grateful for your support and I am hungry for your comments and feed back.  Please feel free to leave them here or on our Facebook page. I cannot wait to dust the desert off my running shoes and plunge into the Pacific.  I hope you continue to join me.