On the school bus that shuttled us from the finishing line to the where we had parked our cars, a nice man asked me to sit down beside him and tell me about my race. I think his name was Steve. He had a really remarkable resemblance to a good friend of mine and I think that’s why I have trouble remembering his name. I didn’t so much sit down as have a controlled fall into my seat. Seeing this, he said “That says it all.”
I tried to gather my thoughts. It was a strangely emotional race and I’m still not sure why. I went to the University of Arizona, did a lot of growing up in Tucson during those 4 years. Oh, and I was brain dead from the race. This is the story I should have told him.
We had a couple of unusually rainy days right before the race. The weather was very obliging in clearing on race day. I think the extra humidity helped make for a more enjoyable race. Otherwise, we would have had to contend with the usually very dry desert air.
I drove down to Tucson in the rain. I got to the hotel and went to the expo. The vibe of the expo seemed a little different. Lots of runners use Tucson as their race to qualify for Boston. You can spot these people at any race or expo – the thin ones with the bright eyes. It was remarkable just how many of them there were.
On to the pasta dinner. I really wanted to get there when it opened so there would be no danger of food being gone and maybe an early night would also be an option. I was the first in line and even dined alone for a few minutes. Some other runners came in, seeing me sitting by myself, and sat down with me. Soon we had a great conversation going, sharing marathon lore, talking about triathlons and such too. It was great.
An aside: It was somewhere around this point that I figured out another part of the strange vibe of the race. People seem to have enormous expectations of the race, seem to know in their mind that these expectations cannot be met, and then revel in complaining about it all. I’ve worked in volunteer organizations, in organizations that put on events for love rather then money. The different organization types produce different results. Maybe people think that events being put on for love will be – should be – perfect, as opposed to event put on by for profit companies, which are soulless, aren’t they? All of this gives rise to Strange and Obscure Complaints.
My dinner companions had 1 Strange Complaint at the pasta dinner and I had another. They complained that the dinner had no dessert. I would have enjoyed dessert, but it still was a good dinner. My Strange Complaint related to the briefing the race so thoughtfully provided at the dinner. I wish this had been advertised. It was a nice bonus. I might easily have gone to dinner with friends and missed it.
I wanted to get to sleep around 8. I think I finally got to sleep at 1. So, waking up at 3:30, I got ready, got some coffee and something to eat, and headed out to my car. I went over my checklist to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything. It wouldn’t be any good to forget my postrace chocolate milk, now would it?
The race is a point to point course that starts in the small but growing town of Oracle. Buses shuttled us to the start. My virtual friend 4boysmom was to meet me at the parking lot for the buses. She left a little later than I did and was caught in the tremendous traffic jam of marathoners, half marathoners, and marathon relay runners all trying to get to the same place. I waited for her as long as I dared.
It was about 37 degrees at the start. The buses would not leave until after the start, so we were allowed to stay inside where it was warm instead of having to wait in the cold. It was wonderful. A few minutes before the race, I got off the bus, handed over my gear check bag, and went looking for 4boysmom. She had said she was wearing all black except for a pink running skirt. I figured I could find that and I did. We chatted until they started to count down the last 10 seconds of the race. I told 4boys that I wanted to run a 4:45. It didn’t say I’d be happy breaking 5 hours and that otherwise I “just” wanted a new PR
of under 5:09. She is much faster than me, so I moved back, lest I be trampled by the competitive set.
Another aside: My wardrobe does not facilitate being found in crowds. I originally told 4boysmom about my sweatshirt. That was now in my gear check bag and my long sleeve shirt underneath didn’t have the same green and blue stripes. It has been a problem for my wife and family to find me during races, too. Maybe I just need to get a pink running skirt?
The first mile had a small uphill and then dropped about 250 feet after that. I’m a big guy so the gravity assist make me go fast. It’s really fun, too. I ran that mile in 9:05, which was really too fast. I did my best to relax and run without effort. That was my mantra for the first few miles: no effort.
Miles 2 through 4 are rolling hills, some of them rising as much as 100 feet in a half mile. I had planned to walk aid stations and given that I was already going too fast, it seemed like an even better idea. From mile 4 to 5 there is a slight down hill, then a blip of a hill right about the 5 mile mark, and then we are on the big decline, heading towards Tucson.
I had been yo-yoing with a woman wearing a shirt that said “Old Selbornians” on it. I had no idea what a Selbornian was or indeed why they should be old, so I asked her. She said it was the name of her running club in South Africa, though it seems she lives in the States now. Her name was Beryl and she and I stayed together for quite a while. We chatted about all kinds of different marathon experiences and courses. And yes, she has done Comrades once, in an Up year. She is told that the Down years are more difficult. I’m skeptical, but what do I know.
The first 6.1 miles I finished in 1:01:04, a 10:01 pace.
From miles 5 through 10 you look out on a magnificent desert vista. In the briefing it was said that the view would deceive you because it was difficult to judge how fast you are going and how much effort you are exerting. Intellectually, I think that has to be true. I’m still not sure if it feels true.
Miles 10 to 14 are really the nasty surprise of the race. This is the “dog leg” added to this year’s course that takes you out to where Biosphere 2 is located. It was kind of nice to have some uphill after all the downhill. It was still not fun to go uphill (about 150’) for 1.75 miles.
It was fun to see 4boysmom again. She was headed “in” and I was headed “out.” She saw me and said “hi.” I’m glad she did or I would have missed her (talking to Beryl). I thought 4boys was looking good and I hoped she was ontime for BQ attempt.
As another Strange Complaint, I was unhappy I couldn’t actually see the Biosphere, but that probably would have meant another hill or hills, so I’ll file that under “be careful what you wish for.” There was some downhill on the inbound side of the dog leg but some more uphill right at the end. Then, it was back to descending.
My spilt at 13.7 miles was 2:25:14, or a 10:37 pace.
Beryl liked to say that things were “brilliant.” At one point, I’d say around mile 14, it was time to get back to running after a walk break. I said I was going to start at that next cone. She said “That cone?” and then made a noise somewhere between “oh” and “ugh.” But she kept with me. Brilliant! At around 16, we kind of hit a traffic jam. We are running on the road’s paved shoulder, which was usually wide enough to run 3 abreast. Here it narrowed so that only 2 could run shoulder to shoulder, and there were about 3 people in front of us, in a zigzag pattern. Without saying anything to her, I took off. I wound my way through the “crowd.” I looked over to my left once I got though them all and there she was. Brilliant!
I’m pretty sure I helped her somewhat. I just hoped I helped more than I hurt. I think up until about 3 hours I was OK. From 3:30 until about 3:30, it was clear that I was cooked. After 4 hours, I was toast. But I still did my best to keep up with Beryl. “If she can do it, I can do it,” I kept thinking. The walk breaks got longer but I was very content to have her pull me along.
Speaking of toast, I lost my hat when I pulled off my long sleeve shirt. I had applied sunblock all over, but my face is still pretty burnt.
My split at 19.3 was 3:27:26. Right after this point, the course features some hills. It is still net downhill, but the downhills are much more gradual. I was able to stay with Beryl until mile 21. I let her go. She was kind enough to walk with me for a minute, making sure that I was going to finish and was otherwise OK. After I assured her, she took off. I made the best of the last 5 miles. I really hate the stretch between 22 and 23 in all marathons. It seems like it is 2 miles, or maybe 4, even though I am always told it is really only 1 mile.
I kept going, playing whatever mind games I could to squeeze out more running time. I started counting cones. There were sure a lot of cones on the course. Miles of them. It was amazing now that I think back on it.
Apparently, there is a taiko drumming club in Tucson. They had an info sheet in the goody bag and they were playing along the course, where it runs behind a supermarket. It was really neat. Right after them, there is a nasty little hill, you know, the kind they stick in parking lots sometimes. Ugh.
After that, the course turned onto a road. It had no cones. Maybe they had used them all up? The road was not closed and I was unsure about running on the dirt shoulder, which seemed rather narrow to me. I almost got hit by a truck. Sunday driver. If I have any real complaints about the race, it would be the lack of coning on Golder Ranch road. This is between miles 24-25 and trying to do anything more than put one foot in front of the other is hard, much less having to constantly look behind you for traffic. If I could pick any one thing to improve, this would be it.
I knew by this point I had a PR
in the bag and that 4:45 was not going to happen. Could I break 5 hours? I would really have to dig deep to try. My heart told me that I would really hurt myself if I did. It not being in my heart to come in under 5, I walked (i.e. death marched) from 25 to 26. At 26, I ran it in. The race had very few spectators and I guess I got used to that. There were about 5 at the final turn and another five at the finishing line. Without irony, I tell you I felt like I was being cheered on like a champion entering the stadium at the Olympics by these few people. A man I had been yo-yoing with throughout the day finished slightly after me and made a point of shaking my hand. I finished in 5:04:16, a PR
by 5 minutes.
After that, I got my gear bag and we are back to where this story began.
Oh, I can walk just fine post race. Yes, I can feel the pain in my quads, but it isn’t bad.
I think the race organizers and volunteers put on a great race. Thank you for everything, especially the booming drums and the ice in the water at mile 25.5. I even really liked th good bag. The race still feels quirky to me for some reason. I think that’s partially because it is organized for love of the sport. I don’t know that I’ll do this one again, but if you haven’t, I can only say this. Try it. You might like it.