A run for the gold…. and a BQ!
|Seems simple enough…|
How to start… well, let’s fly back in time to September of 2012, a time when Mindy was coming up with her plan to qualify for the Boston Marathon. We were at the Disneyland Half Marathon over Labor Day, and while cruising the expo I found Jeff Galloway working the runDisney booth talking with runners about their various races. Jeff had a selection of his books for sale and one of them caught my eye, Boston Marathon- How To Qualify! I started thumbing through the book and it seemed really well put together, had plans for each qualifying time, specific drills to incorporate, etc. So I figured Mindy might want to take a look, possibly using it for her training. Needless to say she ended up buying the book and following it to a tee! As a slightly competitive person it was only a matter of time before I decided having my wife try to qualify for Boston while I sat idly by wasn’t going to happen. So, on the off chance she wasn’t pouring over the book, I would steal it and read just what this little adventure was going to entail. The answer? Lots of running, though not as much as some plans, and the ability to stick with a plan for roughly five months. And just like that, a week after the Disneyland race, I began my training to try and qualify for the Boston Marathon.
When mapping out my training plan way back in September, I had to decide which race I would try and qualify at. Mindy was planning on making her attempt at the Phoenix Marathon on March 2nd. I considered that race initially, but decided that would be my back up plan. And since there are no local marathons a few weeks after March 2nd, I decided to look a few weeks earlier. February 17th has two marathons in the Phoenix area, the IMS Arizona Marathon and the Lost Dutchman Marathon. I’m pretty sure there isn’t too much in common with the two races other than how they start- downhill. IMS is held west of Phoenix and is a mostly flat course that ends at Westgate, a shopping/dining complex near the Arizona Cardinals stadium and Jobing.com arena. Lost Dutchman starts off road, is rolling hills and ends in Apache Junction’s Prospector Park. My brain was telling me to pick the flatter course since I was trying to qualify and speed was the important factor here, but as the title of the blog indicates, I registered for Lost Dutchman. I actually registered only four weeks out, I kept going back and forth between the two races. Lost Dutchman is non-profit and on our side of town, with a real old west flair to it, and in the end I’m glad with the choice I made.
|Teton Ken was there, I never saw Dang-it…|
A few quick words about the race expo- It’s small. But, it was easy to get my goodie bag, bib and shirt, and they had a short video previewing the course (and all the hills) as well as a few vendors on site. Most importantly they had free cookies, something the bigger events should certainly be copying.
|Pretty much the whole expo!|
|Easy packet pick-up!|
|Marathon in (12) minutes, good course preview|
|Cookies at the race expo? Don’t mind if I do…|
Once signed up, I began to pour over the Lost Dutchman website and figure out pre-race logistics. The full marathon starts at the Peralta Trailhead near Gold Canyon, Arizona. Runners can’t park, or be dropped off at the start given this location. The race shuttles runners to the start on school busses, approximately 5 miles on hard packed trail. The race organizers have dozens of small campfires set up near the start for runners to relax by (with carpets to lay down/stretch on) and it’s a unique sight when you pull up on race day. In addition to the fires, there are tons of port-o-potties, two busses with heaters in case you’re chilly, and a snack area with all sorts of treats- water, coffee, tea, cookies, etc.
|I want one of those!|
There are two locations from which you can catch the shuttle- the Rodeo Grounds (a mile from the finish) or Peralta Elementary School, approximately 5 miles from the start. Since Mindy didn’t need to be at the start until later (some of her running club kids were doing the two mile run), I opted to have her drop me off at the school. A little extra sleep and a little less time on a school bus sounded good to me! There are also shuttles that run from the finish area of the race back to the Rodeo Grounds, which is where Mindy parked after dropping me off.
The night before the race was low key, had a bigger lunch at Texas Roadhouse (not ribs) of a huge bbq chicken sandwich, sweet potato and lots of those hot rolls with the cinnamon butter. I figured I snack around dinner time in an effort to keep the stomach light on race day. I didn’t want to risk giving away precious time with a pit stop on course. So dinner consisted of a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and some dark chocolate. An early bedtime, and just like that it was race morning.
|About to board the bus to the start|
|Yes, this is the bus|
Got up around 4:10, and we were out of the house at 4:50- five minutes behind schedule, aka right on time. Made quick time to the school where I’d be on my own, and after a good bye and good luck from Mindy I hopped on the bus to the start. The Peralta Trail is in a beautiful area, but not a very populated one. This meant the ride up the trail was in total darkness, just the millions of starts above. After arriving at the staging area I had about an hour until the race started. I took my pre-race nutrition, in this case Hammer Nutrition’s Endurance Amino, Anti-Fatigue Caps, Race Caps Supreme and Endurolytes. (I usually take those an hour before a race to pre-load. Then I’ll follow my nutrition/supplement plan during the race to keep chugging along.) I strolled around to take in the ambiance of the campfires, but since it was still dark and chilly, I hopped on the warming bus and stretched a bit and reminded myself to run fast unless I wanted to try and qualify again in a few weeks. The prospect of running another marathon with the pressure of qualifying didn’t excite me. A few moments of dozing off and before I knew it, it was 6:40. By this time there was a little light starting to creep across the sky, sunrise is shortly after 7, so I figured I better go loosen up. I turned in my gear bag, jogged around the fires a few times to wake up my legs, popped an apple-cinnamon Hammer Gel, and made what I hoped would be my only pit stop until the finish.
|Not your typical pre-race scenario|
They walked us over to the start line, just a short walk below the campfires, and we lined up for the start. No corrals per se, though they did have signs up for 6 minute/mile pace, 8 minute, etc. It seemed nobody wanted to start up front, so I headed up there. My plan was to start out at 6:40ish minutes/mile. The first 7 miles are mostly downhill so I planned to run them just a bit faster than my overall pace needed to qualify, but still slower than my 1/2 marathon pace. My plan seemed to work out pretty well as I was cruising along, easing up on the uphill portions of those first 7 miles, but easily eating up the downhill miles. I was shockingly 4th place as we cruised down the hill- there were two runners who were way out front and a guy I ran the first three miles with but his pace was just a touch too fast so I let him go.
|Beautiful scenery for the starting line|
|Winner. Saw him at the start, but never again!|
Miles 7-13 were somewhat rolling, but mostly uphill, including a steep little section right before the 13 mile mark. From 13 it was downhill back to the US60 and the start of my issues. With the exception of mile 12 (with the steep uphill) I hadn’t gone over a 7 minute mile until mile 16. This was a relatively flat portion of the course on the highway, and the beginning of my cramps. I had a little pain on my right hip and my right low back was cramping up. I stopped for just a few seconds to stretch my back and started up again finishing that mile in 7:32. It was also on this portion of the road that I went from 4th place to 7th. A lone runner passed me first (I think he ended up 3rd) and a short time later two guys running together passed me. That was a little discouraging, but I quickly reminded myself this race was about the clock and only qualifying.
I knew my 1/2 marathon split was around a 1:27, so I quickly began doing some math to figure out the pace I needed to maintain to come in under 3:10. I kept grinding away and reached a point where my body was really not happy with me. And it seemed like the hills just kept coming at me… and they were! Rolling hills that were gaining elevation- it makes it look so much worse that just a straight uphill to me. This was near miles 17-18, and I starting thinking I would be seeing Mindy soon. She estimated seeing me just over the 2 hour mark, ideally around mile 18 or so. Well 18, 19 and 20 passed and still no sign of her. Right around mile 20 is an uphill section where we merged with the 1/2 marathon folks. We have to go about a half mile past their turnaround point, then we turn around and head back downhill with a 10k to the finish. I needed to average just over 8 minute miles to hit 3:10 exactly, a plan my hamstrings were clearly against at this point.
It wasn’t until mile 22 that I saw Mindy, or rather heard her. I could hear her cheering for me in the distance as she rode up on her bike. The thought crossed my mind to push her off the bike and hop on, but I decided against it. (Relax, she had a helmet on and would have been fine.) She asked how I was doing and I just sort of grunted at her and told her it was going to be close. Every so often my hamstring would severely tighten up then release. It was making me very nervous- one pop of the hamstring and my day would be done. There would be no hobbling to the finish under 3:10 for me. As I plodded along Mindy kept cheering for me and motivating me to keep going (I’m fairly certain she was more nervous than I was about the pace I was keeping.) I passed one of the three runners who passed me earlier, he appeared to be cramping up as well. Mile 22 was a few seconds over 8 minutes, but mile 23 and 24 were both over 8:30. Mindy did the math and figured I would need a 25 minute 5k to finish the race and hit my time. Normally a piece of cake, I was not in a good spot. My low back was pissed, my hamstring was really screwing with me (especially on the downhills, so I couldn’t even steal time back by opening up my stride) and I was starting to get warm. The early morning temps were 41 degrees, but the high for the day was close to 80. For those two miles I walked through the aid stations and poured several cups of ice water over my head, soaking my shirt and shorts. The ice water and encouragement worked.
At this point Mindy turned off the road to stow her bike and rendezvous at the finish line leaving me and my thoughts alone. As I passed the 25 mile marker I thought of our pal Ali Vincent. Ali has a catch phrase “I can do anything for a minute.” Mile 26 was uphill, and as I stared up the road with roughly 8:30 left to make my goal I started to think (hope) I can do anything for a mile. I knew another bad mile would bury my hopes of qualifying and I would have run all that way just to miss out by a few seconds. From the start of mile 26 you can see a huge white balloon floating above the finish area. I knew how close I was and started to lean into my strides, wary of my hamstrings. I started to get a little angry thinking how many miles I had just run, and I wasn’t going to miss the cut now. I would have rather quit halfway through and saved my legs!
|Rocking the pink band- thanks Ali!|
|Seconds away from a BQ!|
|Putting on the brakes!|
Right before the 26 mile mark you have a short climb before a downhill to the finish. That last downhill was the scariest part of the course. Even as close as I was I couldn’t afford to have my hamstring give out- I was cutting it so tight I didn’t even want to check my Garmin. As I turned of the main road and into Prospector Park I was sprinting- it was a 7:00/mile pace that last 1/3 of a mile, but it felt so much faster. As I made the turn I could hear Mindy yelling for me to run! I was finally able to see the official clocks at the finish line 100 yards away and they were showing 3:09:15 and counting! I knew I was safe and was going to make it. I was so relieved. I coasted in those last few yards knowing I had qualified for the Boston Marathon.
|Ready to get off my feet!|
The brief shot of adrenaline from the finishing chute covered up the fact my body was beat. I sort of stumbled around- it’s never good when volunteers are asking if you’re ok over and over- eventually laying down on a cot in the medical tent. It felt so good to lay down! Fatigued is the best way to describe it (sounds obvious, I know), different than a 1/2 marathon or even and Ironman. I wanted to just lay down in the grass and not do anything. Lucky for me Mindy was willing to oblige my request! I actually did hobble over to the post race food before laying down and grabbed some oranges, yogurt, and a breakfast burrito. They also had potato chips, bananas and a few other things I can’t quite remember. Then I found a sunny spot and laid down. While I enjoyed some food, Mindy headed over to check the results.
|While you’re up, how about some more orange slices?|
|Wore this out to dinner of course…|
When she returned, Mindy had good news! I had kept my position in 6th place overall and was 2nd in my age group. My official time was 3:09:29. 31 seconds was all I had to spare. Had I averaged just over one second slower per mile I would have missed the cut. The good news about 2nd in age group meant I’d be leaving with an award, the bad news was I would have to get up and walk over to the awards presentation. We made our way over and I claimed my hardware, capping off a race day full of highs and lows. After that it was short walk to the shuttle where we hitched a ride back to our truck. The day concluded with way too much Mexican food and delicious red velvet cake for dinner/dessert.
|Hardware x2 is always a good day!|
A shout out to the folks at Hammer Nutrition (who probably wouldn’t have approved of me devouring the red velvet cake) for their great products. I used several Hammer Gels at regular intervals during the race as well as a combination of Anti-Fatigue Caps, Endurance Amino, and Endurolytes. I probably should have upped the Endurolytes during the race given the warm temps, but that’ll have to be a lesson learned. The first day after the race I felt great, very little muscle soreness/tightness a trend for me since starting to use Hammer. And I did wear my Hammer branded Race Ready shorts– despite the short inseam I love the shorts and the pockets. Plenty of room to stow my gels and supplements during the race without having them bounce. Thanks Hammer!
Finally, thanks to everybody on Facebook, Twitter and my Team#runDisney friends for their encouragement during my training, and especially for the well wishes during and after the race. Thanks to Ali for the motivational mantra that popped into my head when I needed it most! Also a thanks to the #run3rd folks- I put the hashtag on my bib as a little reminder that while I was running for myself and my goal time, it was also partially to show folks that if they put their mind to achieving a goal, they can do it. It might take a while, but you need to first have the courage to start. Finally, the biggest thanks goes out to Mindy for riding along with me those few miles and cheering me along the way. Especially for not showing how nervous she was was the clock was winding down! If it wasn’t for her even mentioning the idea of qualifying I wouldn’t have really considered it. It honestly wasn’t a goal of mine six months ago, but I’m glad I put it on the list. I should mention that just hitting a qualifying time doesn’t mean I’ll get to race Boston. They have a roll down procedure for registration, and the larger the margin of qualification the better odds you have of getting into the race. So, while my chances aren’t that good of actually getting to go to Boston, I’m still happy to be able to say I qualified. That said, Mindy makes her attempt in a few weeks and hopefully we’ll be celebrating her BQ and planning a trip to Boston for 2014.
|…and I got my BQ today!|