Sunday, September 11, 2016

Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon

After all the training miles have been logged, ready or not, race day arrives. Fortunately for me I got here healthy although there was the matter of a slight achilles niggles that a few extra rest days got rid of.

At the expo
The trip into Salt Lake City on Thursday was easy enough and on Friday we got packet pick-up out of the way early so we could check out the course. I also wanted to put out a couple bottles with UCAN and SOS Rehydrate for in race refueling.

Starting area in daylight

The ride up the canyon was amazing and made for a good preview of the course. It was also helpful that the mile markers were out already. When we got to the top, where the starting line was we stopped for a bit to admire the gorgeous views. One thing we noticed was that it was much cooler at the 9700 foot elevation but didn't give it the thought I should have.

The plan was for an early dinner and bed by 7 so I would be well rested for the 3 am alarm.

Dinner went as planned but when the sun was still out well after 7 I started watching a movie. This was not really much of a big deal since when I finally did power down at 9 I couldn't sleep anyways.

As I tossed and turned for the next few hours I tried to clear my mind, or at least visualize the the race but one thought kept coming up; that was of the bus to the start careening down the side of the canyon after driving off the narrow mountain road.

Ready to go
It's amazing what goes through your head before a race.

At some point I was able to fall asleep but 3 am came way too fast. Since I had everything laid out and ready, it didn't take long to get my poop in a group and be headed to the bus. Along the way I met a fellow runner from AZ and we walked over together and shared a school bus seat for the trip.

I'm happy to say that the ride was uneventful and we got to the drop off safely. Since I was on an early bus the were no lines for the "Honey Buckets" which was nice. With business done it was now time to find some warmth. As I mentioned, it was cool enough during the day at 9700 feet but before the sun was up at 5 am it was downright cold, maybe in the 30s.

While I was dressed for a bit of a chill with an Under Armour Cold Gear shirt I wasn't prepared for there being no fires or heaters. No bueno. I figured they would have planned for this, or at least let us know in the pre-race communications but nothing except for foil blankets.

For the next hour plus there was nothing to do but fuel up and shiver as daylight slowly appeared from the distant mountains. Now this didn't do anything to warm things up but trying to stay wrapped up and warm actually provided enough of the a distraction.

Before I knew it, the announcement that the race was beginning in 15 minutes and I had to scramble to get gear on and hoping for short lines at the Honey Buckets. With everything taken care of, I managed to get to my pace group with about 30 seconds to spare. So much for warming up.

I don't much remember if there was a horn or a gun, just that the mass in front of me was moving and that I was along for the ride.

Right off the bat we had a steep decline and with the quick pace and bouncing, one of my water bottles came loose. Luckily it bounced for and as I slowed to scoop it it, all I could think of was getting trampled by the 1000+ runners behind me.

For the next quarter mile or so I carried both bottles as I worked out this potential issue. It soon dawned on me that I could simply cover them with my shirt. Problem solved.

Soon I began to settle into a rhythm and let the decline determine might pace. With the steep grade I didn't want to be too fast but conversely I didn't want to expend too much energy holding back.

The first challenge began just passed the 3 mile mark with decent incline for about 100 yards followed by a light uphill before we looped back. At this point my legs felt a little stressed but it wasn't long before I relaxed and got back into the groove. By now it was light out but the sun had yet to make it's way into the canyon. I was doing alright but even with gloves my fingers were still cold.

Just beautiful
As the early miles clicked along I was feeling good but was slower than the 7:20 pace I wanted to be by a good 15 seconds. This was somewhat of a concern but I had faith in my strategy and training that I would be able to finish strong.

Soon the 9 mile point was approaching and this was where I would take my first refueling break. The original plan was to walk as I drank but since I was behind schedule I decided to run at an easy pace in the 9s. This provided for a nice break and at the next available opportunity soon made a quick rest stop. As I exited the Honey Bucket I saw my pace group approaching and settled in with them. Not that this was necessarily a bad thing but I wasn't planning on having them catch me until much later. Still this was something I could work with.

Things were still going pretty good but there were some signs that all was not well. For one, I was beginning to notice some pain developing in my calves as well as my quads. Going into the race I tried to do a fair amount of hill training but I really underestimated how this extreme course was going to effect me. I just needed to continue to grynd and at the 13.1 mark I was on pace at 1:40 but needed to make a quick stop.

The real issues began around mile 16 when it became more of a struggle as my calves were hurting much more on the steep declines at this point. Even after some motivation and inspiration from The Black Crowes' Ballad In Urgency, I came to the realization that today was not my day and began to focus on finishing under 3:45 which was still doable.

What I was really happy for was my next refuel before mile 18. At some point I went off script and stopped taking my ENERGYbits and honey along with water. I seem to recall feeling something minor in my stomach after something and allowed it to spook me going forward.

It was also around this time where the sun was starting to make it's way into the canyon and it felt great. Finally I was able to take off the long sleeve shirt I had been wearing and be comfortable with my singlet. It was pleasant enough that it didn't bother me after all the training in the desert.

When I got to the bottle I wasn't all that thirsty and wound up tossing it after drinking about 2/3 of it. I have no explanation why but by now my head was as scrambled as my legs. What's worse is this came at one of the more difficult sections on the course. It was on a slight, but long, incline at around the 18.5 mile mark that I gave in and began to walk.

It was now all about just finishing.

The last time I was here was around mile 14 of Last Chance BQ.2 - Chicagoland Marathon a year ago. This was more of a disapointment as I had what I considered a very good training cycle which I was for the most part injury free. I did everything I needed to do except for a few long runs that didn't happen due to the Arizona summer.

For the next 6 miles there was more walking than running and while I never considered dropping out, BBW was in my head. I was broken as he had me questioning whether I'd ever run 26.2 again.

What was interesting was that I was not alone. There seemed to be about a half a dozen other runners who were in the same boat as me; they would run past me and then as I started running they would walk and I would go past. This kept repeating itself and while we all probably noticed the same thing, we were also oblivious to one another's struggles and focused on our own tale of woe.

Really the story should have ended here but what makes for compelling theater is when things are at their bleakest, the hero of the story rises up against all odds and slays the dragon. Now before you get any ideas of a miraculous recovery where I was able to sprint the last few miles to BQ, put that out of your head. Besides, the truth is always more interesting.

In this movie what really happened was by the 24 mile mark, I was done with the shock of any bit of downhill running resonated in my calves. So while we were out of the canyon and into the city, there was a fairly steep and long downhill section that I couldn't take; even walking down it hurt. A lot

It was here, at my lowest, that I resigned myself to the fact that I would never get into Boston as a qualifier. I was even composing a blog post in my head explaining why I was giving up the quest for a BQ and why I was going back to being the Halffast Runner. All I wanted was for this to be over with.

Thanks Alesha
As this was going on I began to hear someone shouting at me to get going. We were almost at the finish and no one walks downhill. As I turn to see what is going on, I see 2 women, one of which had the 3:55 pace sign, passing me and telling me to get running. Suddenly I snapped out of if and realized that they represented a PR and I better get my ass moving.

Let me tell you those first few strps were an experience in pain but as I saw these ladies urge other runners to keep going, the pain started to subside somewhat. Soon I was actually able to gain some ground and it wasn't long before I was going by them. Yeah it still hurt but no more than when I was the walking dead. It was also time to put some music back on and Montrose's Space Station #5 was just what I needed as I crossed the 25 mile marker.

3:53:02
With the finish in sight, my legs were trying to keep up with the tempo as I pushed as hard as I could. By now I was back on a flat section and had wiped any pain out of my mind as the track switched to my finshing song, Kickstart My Heart. It was go time as the music was pumping, the crowd was cheering and the end was near. I was intent in using whatever I had left in the tank as I passed the 26 mile flag and chugged for the finish. As I crossed the line I raised my arms and was just glad it was over. When I stopped my watch shortly after, I saw I was slightly over 3:53 so I knew it was a PR. Later I would find out my official time was 3:53:02 which bettered my previous record by 3:38.

Before I left the finish area I wanted to hang around and thank the pacer that made the PR possible. After a couple minutes she came in and I told her how much I appreciated her encouragement and how grateful I was for it. This is what the running community is all about, helping and cheering and picking up one another. Sure, it's an individual sport but you cannot go it alone.

Now I've been asked by a few people if I would do this race again and while it was a wonderful experience, probably not. The course was just too extreme for this desert dweller and 36 hours later my legs are still toast. These Revel races may offer a great chance to BQ but unless you have the ability to train for steep hills, you will pay a price.

All I know is I'm looking forward to a few days to a couple weeks off before I start training for Phoenix in late February.

3 comments:

  1. First off way to finish strong!

    Second know that you are not alone as many people have the same experience at many of the Revel races. I ran the Revel Rockies the first year they had it in 2014. Many people traveled in from out of town to run this race with the same expectation of running a fast race. There were lots of people walking from mile 19 on due to the toll running downhill took on their legs. I live in Colorado so I was able to get some long downhill training runs but my legs were still sore for a week. One of the things they don't tell runners is that roads don't go straight downhill but turn a lot and that along with the road being sloped really takes a toll on the quads, calves and feet.

    Still a great job finishing strong, congrats!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Chris

      That's pretty much what happened. The once place I have to train is only 3 miles with a farly consistent 4-5% grade. I was totally unprepared for the the really steep sections. It's aslo hard to say that the elevation didn't play a factor either. I didn't feel winded during the race but later on my lungs felt like they do after a 5K.

      It was a great race and if I was running just for fun it would have been fine but hard to train for.

      I'll likely stick to local races for a BQ attempt going forward. Much easier to train for.

      Thanks for the support.

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