Back in 2009 I first heard about The ET Midnight Marathon, this wacky marathon being held in the Nevada Desert at midnight along the notorious Extraterrestrial Highway -- the spot in the US that has the most reported UFO sightings. It was held at midnight each year, during a full moon cycle. It was strange, geeky and challenging all at once. How could I say no. Well it took me three years to find room for it on my running calendar and it lived up to all the expectations.
I convinced my work colleague and fellow marathon fanatic, John Rymer, into joining me. We flew into Las Vegas Saturday morning and were immediately hit by the summer heat that was pushing past 100 degrees. This would normally be a warning sign that a marathon on this day was a very bad idea. But for anyone who has lived in the desert you know that temperatures can swing wildly from day to night. And Rachel, Nevada, which is in the high desert, above 4000 feet, the temperature there can be up to 15 degrees cooler. That meant 100 mid-day in Vegas and sub-70 degrees come race time.
After getting lunch at Sammy Hagar's Cabo Wabo Cantina and watching the thrilling Men's 10,000 meter Olympic final from London, we headed over to the expo which was filled with similarly crazy people - about 600 or so -- who also wanted to run in alien territory. The majority of participants were there for the 10K or half marathon but about 150 hearty souls signed up for the full marathon and about ten more for the 51K. You can't have just a 50K when running alongside Area 51, after all.
We went back to our room to get a short nap, dress our chairs, eat a little dinner and relax before the 2.5 hour bus ride from Las Vegas to Rachel. Since the race is at midnight and no lighting is provided, everyone is required to wear reflective material, a headlamp and glow sticks. That's the minimum. Plenty of people went over the top, of course.
When we got to the bus stop at the Hard Rock Cafe, John and I both had alien heads bobbing above us and sticky little aliens dangling from our belts. I joking told people they were there to ward off any possible abductions. But we were no match for some of the other costumes we saw. Marvin the Martian from Looney Toons fame was there in full regalia - including the full helmet and mask. As was a Power Ranger, and several Hollywood-style aliens. As for illumination, I was thoroughly impressed with the women who wore a blinking bridal veil, the man who's whole back blinked and the walkers who were so covered in glow sticks that they lit the road wherever they stood.
The buses dropped us at the "black mailbox" which signifies the start of the ET Highway. Way off to the right from here is the US Air Force base best known as Area 51 and suspected by many to be where the military is housing downed UFO spaceships. The "black mailbox." ironically is painted white and painted on its side, (in black paint) is "We believe."
This fun, wacky setting was a perfect setup for what would be a rather tough marathon. Starting at 4500 feet, the course went up roughly 1000 feet over the first 13 miles, then dropped the next 7, arriving at the town of Rachel and The Little A "lee" Inn. That's the finish line but since we're doing 26.2, not 20 miles we bypass the finish and continue along the ET highway 3.1 more miles and turn around.
Sounds simple enough but this turned out to be a very tough course and a harsh conviction of my lax training over the last few months. Work has been very stressful and all-consuming over the last couple of months, so getting sick and not getting enough sleep over this time period really did me in.
I started out strong at 7:26 for the first mile as I broke free from the crowd of 150 or so marathoners. By mile two I pulled the pace back to 8:20 without really noticing it, as we started the climb. By mile 5 you could really feel the climb but I was holding 8:30s.
As the marathoners started to spread out you could really take in the beauty of this desert. As far as you could see to the left and right were fields of dirt and cacti that disappeared into purple mountains in the distance. Ahead of you was a flat road rising and disappearing at the horizon. It was a full moon with just scattered clouds so you could see thousands of stars overhead. This made the evening very special as I saw ten shooting stars throughout the race. And yes, I made a wish on every one. Mostly health, happiness and long life for those I love.
mile 8 I was getting mild stomach cramps. I had a PowerGel at 5 miles
and was planning another at 10. So I decided to back off to every six miles and that
seemed to help.
I was also steadily passing other marathoners every half-mile or so. By mile eight, we started catching up to the back of the pack half marathoners so you never really felt alone on the course.
By mile 11 the climb got more significant and pushed my pace back to 9:30, then above 10 for mile 12.
At 13 it leveled off, then started descending but I had burnt a lot of energy climbing and so couldn't pick up the pace as much as I would have liked. I was around 8:30-8:45 each mile through 21. Then I hit the wall. Miles 22 and 23 were rough. 10 min miles. I was tired. The last 6 miles are out and back, turning at 23.1. When I turned the volunteer told me I was 21st overall, and there were two people ahead if me that I felt I could catch, so I picked up the pace and got a second wind. Their blinking lights and reflectors made them beacons in front of me that drove me forward. I wanted a top 20 finish!
But pacing was still not great, I could only muster 9:15-8:40 but by mile 25 I had caught and passed them both. Now I wanted to keep that lead so I kept the pace strong through the finish and ended 19th.
Time wasn't great - 3:56 but I'll take it given how I felt.
I definitely don't think I'm fully recovered from being sick the last few weeks and obviously a midnight start put me at a sleep deficit. It's now Monday and I'm definitely feeling a bit off. John and I crashed on the bus ride back to Vegas and in our hotel room after we got back but I'm definitely still feeling it today.
I know I could have run this stronger under the right conditions. Oh well. Now I have 12 weeks to get sleep, prepare properly, get in more consistent speed work and shoot for the magic 3:00 mark I am seeking at the Santa Barbara Marathon in November. Wish me luck!
Friday, June 22, 2012
Sunday, March 11, 2012
They say that doctor’s make the worst patients and I think the same must go for coaches. In Team in Training we have been preaching for years that runners need to pace themselves in the marathon, going out slower than you might feel up to, so you have energy left over for the final miles which are always the toughest. You’d think after 36 marathons that this learning would have sunk in and become second nature to me. Oh well.
After several years of coaching our TNT participants through the Napa Valley Marathon it was finally my turn to run it. I certainly knew the course well enough – it is one of the most scenic marathons you can do in the Bay Area. TNT had rotated NVM out of its event list for the winter/spring season to introduce other events and so that weekend I was finally free to try it out myself.
|Kelty, Scout & I in Napa|
We started the weekend by piling our two dogs into the car, driving up to Napa, getting my running bib and finding a place to take the dogs for a run. Reesa had found a fantastic park in Napa, Alston Park. It's just off Redwood Road and turned out to be the highlight of the weekend. This park was dog friendly so our kids could play freely off leash and run around in over 30 acres overlooking the hills along The Silverado Trail, where the marathon takes place. It was an absolutely gorgeous weekend with temperatures in the 70s and crystal clear skies. It rains on Napa Marathon weekend pretty much every other year and I was running it in the right side of this binary sequence, it seemed.
Living just a couple hours away from Napa we rarely stay overnight there and so it was a pleasure to do so, especially knowing what time I would have to get up the next morning for the race – 4:30am. Before going to bed, Reesa and I went to FuméBistro, a fantastic organic restaurant in Napa for a romantic dinner. We had excellent food in this small gourmet place and a touch of wine (I think it’s a crime not to have wine with dinner up here – or it should be).
The following morning, Reesa graciously got up with me and drove us to Vintage High School where I caught the first bus to Calistoga and the starting line. Sitting a few rows back was fellow TNT staffer Davina who had driven up from Menlo Park that morning. And I thought 4:30 was an ungodly hour! We chatted on the 25 mile ride and were fortunate to be able to stay on the bus from the time we arrived until just minutes before the start. It was in the low 40s in Calistoga at this hour and so we cherished the warmth. I had hurt myback working out Saturday morning and it was aching badly sitting in the school bus bench seats, so I exited a few minutes early to run around and test it out. On finding that running hurt like crazy, I decided to lay down in the middle of the street and stretch it out. Very bad timing to hurt my back but thankfully the stretching did the trick.
As you may know from my last post, my goal this year is to run a marathon in less than 3 hours, which is shaving 17 minutes off my currentpersonal best. Napa was the first test marathon of the year and so far the speed training had been working well. The weekend prior I had completed a 10 mile tempo run at my target marathon pace of 6:50 per mile and felt like I could have held this pace for at least 5 more miles. That gave me confidence that the 7:25 per mile pace I needed for Napa (which would lower my PR to 3:15) was definitely doable.
Here’s where my heart got in the way of my brain. I know that to hold the 7:25 I really should start out at this pace and store energy so I could still be running this pace the final miles. But I took off feeling great and decided to listen to my body for the first couple miles. It felt great at a 7 min/mile pace. It felt so good in fact that the emotional part of me started bargaining with the logical side. The argument was, “this feels great and is 10 seconds per mile slower than the tempo run last weekend. I held that for 10 and could have for 15, so this slower pace should be achievable for, what, 20 miles? That would give me a 3:08 and propel me much faster toward my goal. Wouldn’t that be fantastic!?” Of course it would, but as it turned out, it was also foolish.
As miles 6 and then 7 went by I was holding the 7 min/mile pace with easy confidence. I had slowly passed a few folks who looked around my fitness level who had clearly pulled their pace back as I should have. One in particular was a 30-something brunette whom I would see later.
I was still holding this pace at the halfway mark, turning in a 1:31 for 13.1. At this point a collection of runners around me, started to pick up the pace. Clearly they were stronger runners than I and had held back so they could register a negative split. I don’t think I’ve ever done one of those and certainly was smart enough to know not to follow them. I was still feeling good so I stuck to my plan and the 7min/mile pace.
By mile 15, however, I began to fade. I still felt good and so at first the slowdown escaped my notice. I checked my Garmin at the mile marker and saw 7:25. So I picked it back up and hit 16 miles at my prior pace. That was a mistake as by mile 17 I was clearly getting fatigued. I passed that marker at 8:25 per mile and could not maintain anything faster the rest of the way. By mile 24 I was dragging big time and had lost another minute per mile. And the 30-something brunette who had pulled it back early on, sailed right by me looking clearly stronger. I passed Reesa and our kids looking very beaten and crossed over the line at 3:19:42. This was still my second fastest marathon but clearly not one of my best efforts. As I grabbed a water and stumbled through the finisher’s area I passed the brunette who was smiling and looking relaxed. Her time: 3:15. Ugh.
Well as I’ve said before, I tend to learn all life’s lessons the hard way and this was clearly no exception. I have 5 months before my next marathon and clearly this experience will prepare me for that race: The ETMidnight Marathon in Rachel, NV. Join me by following the link to the left.
Monday, February 6, 2012
After my Rock n Roll season in 2010, then 2011's Down, Up and Around, I decided to pull back on the number of marathons for 2012. On deck for this year I decided on the Napa Valley Marathon in March, the ET Midnight Marathon in August and the Santa Barbara Marathon in November. But on a training run in January my friend Kent mentioned he was planning to run the marathon in my home town in February. How could I possibly refuse the opportunity to show him the town I grew up in. That's how I found myself shivering and huddling in a school bus with about 300 other folks in sub 30-degree weather 5,840 feet up the Franklin Mountain pass facing down a 20+ mile an hour headwind.
With just five minutes before the gun, we piled out of the buses and became a huddled mass in the middle of the road. We were tightly grouped, seeking each other's body heat as we listened to the national anthem then waited for them to find the starting gun and fire it off. Then we were off. As we started to spread out so we could run, the winds ripped right through us. I ran the first mile breathing into my gloves to keep my hands and face warm.