Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Back in March, an ad hit my facebook page advertising "Mt Lemmon Marathon: the toughest road marathon in the world"...mmmh...never heard of it. And for good reason; after looking at marathonguide.com, I realized that it was an inaugural event, and then checked their web site. Let's see: Arizona, potentially hot (even in October), almost all uphill from 3000 to 9000 ft, and running in altitude. That sounded fun. I talked to my wife, who immediately recommended not signing for it because it sounded really stupid. Naturally, my first reaction was to go for it, but I decide to wait a little. So after a few more weeks of reflection and a saturday evening with a little bit too much wine, I signed up for it and here we go...
A couple of months before the date of the race they decided to change the course. Instead of having the last 3 miles uphill and finishing at 9,100 ft, they modified the last 3 miles to have some rolly polly sections and finish at 8,278. I was sort of bummed with the course change as it seemed that they eliminated one of the hardest part of the course - running the last 3 miles uphill at />8,500 ft but at that point I was not going to change my mind because of this course change, and figured the race would be hard enough...
Previous Elevation Profile:
The real one:
After my June marathon in Newport when I failed to BQ by two minutes and change (3:23 vs 3:20:59..) I decided to take a break in my chase for a BQ time. This marathon provided me with the perfect opportunity to do so. No way I would even try to BQ on that course, but the way I saw it, it would provide me with a great opportunity to get a much stronger base than I have had before. My training for most of my previous marathons had been on low mileage (average 30mpw, peak at 40 or 43), including 3 cycles on FIRST. So I decided to increase the mileage to get better prepared for this tough course. I considered using the 18/55 Pfitzinger/Douglas, however the plan did not account for, nor prepare specifically for the uphill nature of the course. So I went back to McMillan and ordered a 16-week custom training plan. I hit the mileage/times recommended and performed all the workouts, which brought me 8 weeks above 48mpw, and a peak week at 60.1 mpw. Not that high for the high mileage people out here, but a significant increase in average (+50%) for me. My body reacted well to that increase, with some minor aches and pains but nothing major. During the heaviest weeks, my easy paces really slowed down (from 8:15-8:30 to 8:50-9:30), but I interpreted it as the fact that training was working. The highlights of this training cycle were:
1- a kick azz 8-mile training run in Hawaii in 1:29 on the slopes of the Mauna Kea volcano (observatory accesss road). The run started at 6,500 ft and ended up at 9,200 ft, and I had to walk some parts of the last 3 miles due to the steep slopes and the altitude, coming from sea level.
2- the Pier-to-Peak half marathon in Santa Barbara, from sea level to la Cuembre summit, 4,000 ft elevation gain that I finished in 2:02:57 - short of my sub-2 goal but happy enough that I managed my race well, did not bonk, passed many runners in the last 4 miles and finished strong.
3- a very hilly 23-miler long run 3 weeks from the marathon with 3,500 ft up and 3,500 down run at 9:14 pace.
I finished the training cycle at 126 lb, down 6 from 132 at the beginning...and DW complaining about it - she likes me more...well rounded !
Friday: carbo (b)loading and travel day:
I decided to fly on the Friday preceding the race. However this caused some complications on the timing of the Aussie carbo load protocol...so I ran my 3 miles with 3 minutes all out at 5:00am, guzzled two bottles of carboforce (100 g of carb each, 400 cal) right after, and reached LAX around 8am - had time to swallow a third bottle of carboforce in the security line...burp !
Travel went fine and I used my connection in Phonix to eat two tupperware of whole wheat pastas. Only problem was the the Budget Car Rental desk that was understaffed and had to wait over an hour...but I used the line to drink the fourth carboforce bottle of the day (that's 1600 liquid calories and 400g of carbs, not couting the pasta for those who are counting). Then when I took the road...it was like the beginning of the apocalypse: dark skies, black clouds, followed by thunder, ligthning and rain (who knew it could rain in AZ ?), and a fly over of 3 A-10 fighter/bomber planes... On my way to the hotel I stopped at a Trader Joes supermarket to stock up on breakfast items, bananas , and a bottle or red wine. I checked in fine (stayed at the "official" hotel of the race, the Lodge at Ventana Canyon. The room was very spacious, like a minisuite with a small kitchen, and huge bathroom with walk-in shower (space for 3..) and tub. I had dinner at the hotel - a BLT salmon sandwich with cole slaw; not particularly carb rich but enough given what I'd had during the day. In bed at 9:30
Saturday- Route recon, expo, and jacuzzi:
I woke up at 6am without alarm and after breakfast in my room, I decided to drive up the road to Mt Lemmon to get a better idea of what the course looked like. I had checked some photos of the course before and had bought the pacing/elevation info from Greg Maclin, but it is hard to get a real sense of the elevation without seeing it. I was in for an eye opener. Instead of the steady incline suggested by the elevation profile, the route consists in a succession of relatively hard uphill portions and some flatter ones, even a few small downhill segments. I stopped at many points to take pictures, but it's pretty much after driving the course that my time goal went out the window. I was initially thinking that it would be nice to get 4:15 or faster in that course (B goal), the A-goal being sub-4, but after driving it and feeling the effect of the altitude, I made a decision to run the race entirely by feel and to try to be superconservative in the first half..and just to enjoy myself without any time goal.
After driving down, I stopped at a native arts store to buy a Navajo necklace for my wife, and was on my way to the expo. The expo was tiny -- maybe a dozen tents on the Parking lot of the REI store at Tucson mall. I learned that there were about 500 registered for the full marathon, and 400 for the half. However I also saw a few people registering for the race at the expo. I picked up my stuff and decided to leave right away but then I saw a guy wearing a red "Runner's World" shirt who looked familiar. It was Bart Yasso, and I got the pleasure to meet him and chat for a few minutes. His wife was running the full marathon and he would be at the start and at the finish lines. It was really cool !
I also saw the course director, Laszlo Otvos whom I had met at the Pier-to-Peak half marathon back in August in Santa Barbara. After telling him that I drove the course and got freaked out, he mentioned that it took him 7 hours to run the course - while he is a 3hr-marathoner...I decided that it was better not to think too much about it anymore, had lunch at the Cheesecake factory, stored up on Gatorade and went back to my hotel. I soaked in the Jacuzzi where I met Rick, another runner. He mentioned he had only been training a couple of weeks and was running the full...! Well I guess I should not doubt my training anymore since there were obviously some lesser prepared ones. Instead of dining at the hotel restaurant I drove down to the closest Panda Express and had a 2 items with rice followed by a banana. Bed at 8:30
I did not sleep well - too much eating, anxiety...woke up at 2am and tossed and turned until 3am, when I decide to officially wake up. Had breakfast (buttered bread and honey, showered, and boarded the shuttle at 4:15. We were dropped about 0.5-1 mile away from the start line (hard to tell in the dark) and had plenty of time to check the bad and use the port-a's. I decided not to use my hat because it keeps my head warm and it was already sort of warmish for my taste (low 60s)
Near the start, about 5:15am:
Start of the race:
Miles 1-5 : 3138 -> 4334 ft
We got started a 6 am around dawn and I tried to get into a comfortable pace. Around mile 1, many people started to pass me, including a hot blonde girl. I ended up catching a lot of them in the later miles.
From miles 2-5 I ran near a guy who kept spitting and coughing every 30seconds..fortunately I dropped him at about mile 5. I ran these first miles with a Gatorade bottle and sipped it throughout. Overall the pace felt good and not too challenging. The uphill was regular but manageable. I paid attention to running the tangents really well, and it was amazing to see how many runners failed to this. This is a major issue on a curvy race like this.
Mile__El.gain__ El.loss_ Pace
1 _____213 _____30 (?) 9:46
2 _____249_____ 0___ 9:39
3_____ 307_____0 ___10:06
4 _____295_____ 0___ 10:07
5_____ 237 _____0___ 10:04
(notes: the elevation data from the Garmin don't agree with the data from RunningAhead but I will post them anyway).
Miles 6-9: 4334-> 5466 ft
I decided to take a GU at mile 5 before the 2nd water station, but unfortunately I missed the water at that station and I only realized it about 20 yards too late. So I decided not to go back and let the GU sit dry in my GI system until the next aid station (8.x). During these miles, I ran with "scream guy" who was very talkative and kept screaming every time we passed a mile marker. I told him he should keep his energy for later and he made fun of me because I was running the tangents...guess who had the last laugh later ? The uphills on these miles were less hard (at least they felt), including mile 9 with a small downhill but part of this segment was on a deep dark gorge where it was pretty cold (high 40s-low 50s ?). I had a small segment where I did not feel comfortable -- I thought maybe this was a combination of the increased altitude and the cold, and the GU starting to solidify in my GI system...I nevertheless took a second GU at mile 8 at the water station, where I finally got my liquids. I got passed by a few people in this segment, including a small asian woman who was really cruising, but I kept to my strategy of keeping a comfortable pace in which I feel I was working, but not too hard, knowing that there would be hard miles to come.
Around mile 8, before being passed by cruising asian woman:
Mile__El.gain__ El.loss_ Pace
6 _____305____ 0____ 10:12
7_____ 295____ 0____ 10:07
8 ____ 256____ 0_____ 9:44
9_____ 187___ 43_____ 9:57
Miles 10-15: 5466 - /> 7000 ft
I knew after driving the course that there would some hard miles in that segment, so I focused on running loose, small steps but regular and get into a groove. The splits show that the pace was relatively regular and effort based depending on elevation gain/loss. That's where I started to drop more people running with me, including "scream guy" and catching up others, including the small asian woman who passed me earlier on, and many triathletes (based on their outfit and shaved legs....). I took another GU at mile 12 before a water station and drowned it with a few cups. Overall the elevation gain was hard on some places, but it was nice to reach the halfway in really good shape -- I reached it in 2:11.
The halfway is also where half-marathoners start, at Windy Point. What was cool was that you could see other runners, way way below. The most scenic point of the course.
Mile__El.gain__ El.loss_ Pace
10 ___ 339______ 0 ___10:22
11 ____188______ 0___9:48
12 ____385______ 0__ 10:26
13 ____ 251______ 8__ 10:29
14 ____ 189_____ 30__ 9:48
15 ____ 231_____ 30__ 10:11
In action, halfway at Windy Point (photo courtesy Bill Vaughn):
Miles 16-20: 7000 ft -> 8200 ft
I focused on running strong and relaxed while things were getting slightly more difficult because of the altitude. However I was glad because I knew that after mile 20, there would be easier downhill segments. At mile 16 I got interviewed by a video cameraman who ran about 100 yards with me and asked me questions "Is this the toughest marathon you've ran ?" - my answer was that the hardest part in a marathon was the second half so I would give him the answer at the finish. I caught up with a few other runners, including the hot blonde girl at mile 17, and several who were walking, obviously starting to bonk. I patted them in the back telling them to "keep moving" but not much more I could do - it's nice to see that you can keep moving while others are bonking, but I also felt bad for them since the finish was a long way out. Gu and water at mile 18. At mile 18 I had a runner's high , half laughing/half crying and got a very emotional moment thinking about my grandmother. There was not reason for this, but these things sometimes pop up during my runs, and I was really emotional thinking about her - she passed away several years ago but she took care of me when I was a kid because my mother was often away.
Overall the paces slipped a little bit, but I thought I was in good shape because I kept feeling relatively strong and knew that I could use the downhills past mile 20.
Mile__El.gain__ El.loss_ Pace
17 ___ 356_____ 51___ 10:18
18___ 277______0___ 10:35
19___ 239_____ 0 ___ 10:07
20 ___152_____ 57___ 9:14
Miles 21-26.2: rolly pollies in the 7700-8200 ft zone...
The last half of mile 20, mile 21 and the begining of 22 were downhill, so I tried to use it to relax, use different muscles, and increase the pace to get a chance at getting 4:15 and negative splits. Gu and water at mile 21. I could not hammer this downhill as much as I wanted - only averaged 8:13 pace, but the altitude and the brutal change of running position made things more difficult than I thought.
Cruising on the downhill, mile 20:
I knew at this point that there would be 2 major uphill miles: 22-23 and 24-25. So I focused on getting relaxed on the downhill while gaining times, while also conserving energy for the uphill. I also had another "high" on one of the downhills, as it felt so good.
The uphill at miles 22-23 went reasonably well. However the one at mile 24-25 felt really hard. It was a loop segment very close to the finish line, and you could see other marathoners coming down fast, while the slope was brutal. Many people were walking there, including half-marathoners that I caught up with. I ran all the way up, but that sucked up most of the energy I had left and I started to feel my calf twinge, on the verge of cramping. That uphill felt endless, since you could not see the turnaround. I still managed to "hammer" the downhill finish at 7:46 and finished ecstatic in 4:15:3x, my legs almost buckling when I crossed the finish line. Similar feeling as the one I had after finishing my first marathon and at my last at Newport where I ran strong and got a 7 minutes PR.
Crossing the finish line:
Got my medal -not particularly pretty, but I will take it..:
Mile___El.gain___ El.loss___ Pace
21 _____ 0______ 255____ 8:13
22 _____115_____140____ 9:10
23 _____124_____ 46_____9:15
24 _____278____ 133_____ 8:51
25 _____ 291____122 ____10:33
26______ 0_____ 433____ 7:46
0.1 _____ 55______ 0 ____ 6:51
time ___distance___ El.gain____ El.loss___ Avg. pace
4:15:47 __ 26.11____ 6,077_____ 1,378___ 09:47 min/mi
So I reached my B-goal, and felt really strong except maybe on the last uphill segment, so I am glad that neither bonking nor cramps hampered my performance. I finished 37th but was far from placing (10th of my AG, I guess the 40-44 males were well represented). The winner finished in 3:13. "Asian woman" finished in 3:31, "Scream guy" finished in 4:45, "spit and cough guy" in 5:00 -- and saw many people that I started running with in the first few miles in the 4:30-5:00 range. Overall I am happy with my race - ran a 7 minutes negative split, which is aided by the course but also because I did not run too hard and did not exhaust myself on the uphills early on. Maybe I could have run harder on the first 20 miles, to gain a few minutes, but I am not sure the last 6 would have been as fast. For runners interested in running it, I cannot emphasize enough running the tangents. My Garmin was 0.1 mile short, while many others were "long" because they just ran without focusing on the tangents. This is essential for this course. Retrospectively it's interesting because someome said that for this course, "add 2 min/mi" to your "normal" MP. Well I ran 9:47 pace and my last PR was ran at 7:45 pace !
The NY Times published an article about the inaugural race: