Ramblings From The Road

The ramblings of a rambling runner rambling about running and rambling.

Browsing Posts published by Keath

Disclaimer: I had a good time at this race.  If you’re looking for another bitter, Competitor-bashing, rage against Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas, you won’t find it here.  Yes, things went wrong, and I have my critiques, as I do of any event, but overall it was very well run and I had a great time.  Sorry.

And Warning: This rambling is extra rambly for some reason.  You may want to grab a snack if you’re going to read it all in one sitting.

The Strip At Night

I’ve known for quite a while that I’m a Country Mouse.  Despite growing up in New Jersey and seeing trips to New York City as a typical weekend activity as a teenager, I chose to attend a fairly small college in Pennsylvania over any of the big city options I looked at1.  When the company I worked for closed down its New Hampshire office and offered most of us a relocation package for Philadelphia, I opted to take the severance2.  And by the time I’d done four marathons3 (and a couple of dozen shorter races), I was quite certain that I preferred the small (but well run) race with a field of a few hundred over a huge urban mobscene with several thousand of my closest friends.

All that aside, I’ve never been one to categorically rule out a race because of its size.  I like races that let you run somewhere you might not otherwise be allowed4 or have some other sort of hook, but I’m willing to give just about anything a try.  Yet I’ve been eschewing Competitor events for the past few years.  I’d always thought the Vegas Marathon might be fun, but they became the Rock ‘n’ Roll brand right after I started running, and I was turned off by that.

Nevada state law actually requires me to take this photo and include it on this post

At the time, my opposition was based solely upon having done other events with music as a matter of fact, but Competitor/Elite was positioning Rock ‘n’ Roll as some sort of unique and different experience that was somehow better than all the others.  The idea that they were homogenizing marathons hadn’t even crossed my mind.

Call it McMarathon or Wal*Race; whatever the catchphrase, it’s a big brand, a big race, a big price tag, and definitely a big weekend.  But this summer when they announced that they were moving it to a night time race, I figured it’s high time to give them the benefit of the doubt and try a Rock ‘n’ Roll event.

And that’s how this little Country Mouse5 ended up registered for the third largest race in the country.  It’s not like I haven’t been to Vegas before.  It’s not even like I haven’t run the strip before.  I just haven’t run down the middle of the road6 with an estimated 43,999 other people and countless drunks cheering me on.

The drunks in Vegas are usually looking at me with confusion and a measured degree of concern as to whether they should dive for cover or just stand perfectly still until I’m past.

Marathon, Inc

In other words, I was expecting a very crowded, very corporate race.

And I got a fairly well run, very very crowded, fairly corporate race.

Honestly; with all the complaints I’ve seen thrown about, I am a little surprised.  I’d chalk it up to people who unfortunately registered for a race of this size as their first event, but I’ve seen complaints from runners far more experienced than me along the same lines.  There was one big problem: 44,000 people is really pushing the limits of what the five lanes of road on one side of the strip can handle.  There were a few lesser problems, but nothing that I think is honestly any worse than any other large race, and nothing that would probably have been an issue if folks were not already up in arms about the crowds.  Not to diminish the crowd issue, of course.  But we’ll get back to that.

First, let’s talk Expo.


Although initial plans were to require everyone to attend the Expo on Friday or Saturday, despite a 4:00 PM start time, they did add a race-day packet pickup7  We’re only 90 minutes away in Mesquite right now, but we had already booked rooms8 and planned on making a weekend of it, including at least some of the parties that are thrown in for the Vegas edition of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s higher entry fee.

Competitor was pretty blunt in the race info that the Expo would be insanely crowded, encouraging people to come Friday if they could, and if not to be as early as possible on Saturday for packet pickup.  We opted for the first thing Saturday plan, fully expecting to be in a huge crowd if we stuck around too long.  We whipped through packet pickup pretty easily – the layout was crowded but lines moved quickly with everything pre-stuffed and sequenced by bib number and a separate area for fixing any problems with your registration info, including swapping starting corrals if necessary.

This is the first race I’ve done where I’ve actually crossed paths with Brooks’ Cavalcade of Curiosities, which was kind of fun, and I took a few minutes to try out a couple of the new(ish) Pure Project line, but otherwise it was a whole lot of the same ol’ same ol’.  We got out of there in about 45 minutes and there were already lines out the door to get to the packet pickup.  The expo could certainly have been laid out better for ease of traffic flow, but they did a pretty decent job with the size of the expo hall they had.  After all, they were sharing the convention center – and all of Las Vegas – with the National Rodeo Championships.  Which made for an interesting cross section of people roaming the strip.

Fast forward about 27 hours as we made our way down to the start line on Sunday.

The calm before the storm


My wife had a little pain in her hip flexor, so rather than risk a pre-race injury, we shelled out $10 for the Monorail.  Fully expecting a Japanese subway type situation, we were pleasantly surprised to be joining about six other runners, three or four folks on their way to work, a handful of Rodeo fans, and a highly amused woman who had just arrived for a tech conference this week and discovered a town full of aforementioned the runners and Rodeo fans9.  We got to the start line as recommended with plenty of time to spare, so we squandered this time on using the fancy flushing toilets in the casino before I shuffled off to the start corral.

Supposedly, there’s a big ol’ pre-race concert, but Vegas got Cheap Trick and some runner up from American Idol, so we skipped that show.  Turns out Miami gets local superstar Pitbull next weekend, which is a clever way to make the event location-specifc.  Vegas could have hosted The Killers, Crystal Method, Slaughter, or even Toni Basil.  The night race start does make for a nice way for people who want to enjoy the concert to do so, but I fear many people may have hit the beer tent a few times too many before endeavoring to run 13.1 or 26.2 miles.

The start corrals were supposed to be “enforced” somehow, but nobody was checking bibs.  Fortunately, this didn’t seem to be a big issue with the 4000 or so of us running the marathon – I actually had much more elbow room waiting for the start than I have in much smaller races.  However, rumor has it that things didn’t go as smoothly with the 40,000 people lining up for the half.  Both, however, were far more intelligent and successful than Nike’s misguided attempts at starting 22,000 people in San Francisco’s Union Square.  At least Competitor distinguished “participants” from “spectators” from “poor guy trying to take his dog for a walk.”

So, after interrupting the Macy’s parade style start line commentary for the two hits of Cheap Trick10 and a decent rendition of the national anthem, we had a New Year’s Eve style countdown to a 4:05 start.

The Course

The first half of the course was through industrial and residential areas west of the south strip.  Everything was well marked, excessively well lit as the sun went down, and exceedingly boring.  The course was clearly published.  I knew it would be boring, and it was.  For some reason I thought we’d pass the Rio and Palms, but that was clearly a “Keath can’t remember the map” issue, not a communication issue.

The awesome part about snaking back and forth through the side streets was the number of times the course doubled back on itself to give us glimpses of the leaders cruising down these roads upwards of double our pace.  The gap between the leaders and the pack – wherever you are in the pack – keeps growing, and it gives a new appreciation for their speed and skill to see it that close.

Also awesome were all the bands.  For the most part, they were cover bands, but they were also diverse and all better than Cheap Trick.  The bands seemed to get a little more sparse in the second half, but that was probably just due to the cacophony of cheering on the lower strip proper where the crowds drowned out bands on the far side of the strip.

Just past the half way point we return to the strip and join up with the half marathoners who had started an hour and a half after us.  This is where that aforementioned field size became an issue.  A majority of the lower strip portion of Las Vegas Boulevard has four to six lanes in each direction.  All 44,000 of us headed north on the southbound side, then off to the west where Main Street splits off and around some zigs and zags near Fremont Street, before heading back south on the northbound side.

Miniature traffic cones (the one foot tall kind they sell in the toy aisle) were placed between the leftmost lane and the other three to five lanes indicating that the marathoners should stay to the left and the half marathoners should stay to the right.  Which would be great if people A, noticed the distinction, B, respected the distinction, and C, had room to be where they “ought” to be.

When we first joined up alongside the halfers, it was great.  We were all cheering each other on, waving like we were meeting up with old friends, and so on.  I asked a few folks what pace group they were with to see if I might catch up with or be caught up by my wife11.  Turns out we hit the middle of the 2:00 group.  Friendly folks, those 2:00 half marathoners.

But yes, there were half marathoners in the “full lane.”  And while some of them might have been oblivious at first, all but the jerks with their headphones on full blast heard our requests for a singletrack for marathoners.  We tried to be as nice as we could shouting up ahead to ask people to stay to the right, but a lot of times when we looked over, there really wasn’t anywhere for them to go.  For the most part it was navigable in our area, but as different areas of the pack are going to have different levels of congestion, I don’t doubt any of the horror stories I’ve heard about people elbowing each other, slipping on discarded water cups, or just tripping on their neighbors.  Both my wife and I were fortunate to be in relatively safe packs of runners and witnessed no atrocities worse than some rear ending of people who come to a complete stop12 to grab their water.  In short, it was crowded, as expected, and perhaps a bit more than expected, but was completely manageable for the majority of people who were decent to their fellow runners.

44,000 people.  That’s slightly larger than the 2010 population of Concord, NH.  I can tell you from personal experience that not everybody in Concord is a nice person.  I don’t know if there have been any anthropological studies to get an exact number, but in any population there is going to be a certain percentage of douchebags.  It’s true in any city or town.  It’s true in any workplace, school, or club.  And it’s true when 44,000 people are running up and down 0.129 square miles13 of road with reflective lane markers, potholes, walls of spectators, and drought tolerant landscaping.  Some people are going to go with the “me first” attitude and ignore anyone with a different goal than theirs.

In any population, there are also people who are going to find something to be miserable about every experience.  They don’t want to have a good time and will find something wrong with their vacation, their spouse, their job, their kids, the way the bagger at the grocery store looked at them, the price of tea in China and how it affects their ability to enjoy whiskey in South Carolina, their interactions with douchebag population, and so on.  I feel sorry for these people, because it makes it that much harder for them to enjoy anything.  And it seems a crowded race course brings out this behavior in more people than normal.

That said . . .

To compound the congestion and challenge for the half marathoners to fit in the space allocated to them, the water stations were distributed across both sides of the road.  Which is good, as, well, no half marathoner wants the marathoners cutting through them to get water any more than the marathoner would want to attempt that.  But that also meant that half the resources were in the “marathon lane.”  So of course the half marathoners on the left side of their area are going to cut left for water.  They’d be idiots not to.  They just didn’t always move back over – or have room to – after the water station.

When we reached Main Street, things got a little better.  The lower volume of spectators now that we were away from the casinos meant that we could use the sidewalks to spread out a bit more.  We wiggled around the side streets before skirting Fremont Street and heading south.  Once again, I thought we’d be running through Fremont Street Experience, but once again, apparently “Keath can’t remember the map.”  I don’t really understand this decision, as nothing says “Strip at Night” quite as much as the covered street of lights, but maybe organizers knew that the kiosks in the middle of the street wouldn’t hold up well to 44,000 people?

On the way back down the strip the Rodeo events had apparently let out, as we saw a lot more cowboy hats and got some quality “yee-haws” in response to asking where our rodeo fans were at.  With all the people that Vegas normally has milling the streets trapped by those who came specifically to spectate, pretty much everyone in Vegas on Sunday was either forced to hide inside or stand and cheer.  From the Wynn onwards the crowds were pretty solid – kind of like the world’s longest finish chute.

Unfortunately, I believe this is where people further back in the pack were finding water stations completely out of water.  Yes, there are less than five miles left to go, but the slower you go the longer that takes and the more important it is to get your hydration on.  Since Rock ‘n’ Roll is for whatever reason very popular with first timers, very few people were running with their own hydration, something I would advise as essential for anyone concerned about hydration and signed up for a big city race.  Even if the running out of water claims were exaggerated, we definitely came across a number of abandoned water stations – plenty of cups stacked up five or six high, but nobody there to pass them out (minor issue) or fill more (more significant issue).  Turns out that volunteers abandoned their posts because they were cold and their hands were wet.  If you can’t prepare your volunteers sufficiently and treat them well enough to respect their assignment, you need to scale back your event to the number of volunteers you can handle.  That simple.

The volunteers that didn’t bail, in general, were great.  I’m the annoying guy that tries to thank all the volunteers (including the cops helping to secure the course from traffic!) he can to let them know that we appreciate their time and efforts.  Some of the responses I got made me think that the 43,999 other people out there grunted at the volunteers and slapped their babies.  Just thanking someone for their time should require a response of absolute love and adoration.  But that’s what I got – from multiple people at multiple water stations.  Seriously.  Thank you all so much, and on behalf of anyone who was rude or inconsiderate to you, I am deeply sorry.  That’s totally uncalled for.

My timing worked out perfectly with the Bellagio fountain this time by; just as I was wondering where the “Singing In The Rain” opening bars were coming from the fountain exploded up in the air however many ridiculous stories it does, which was pretty spectacular to see at mile 24; I dare say moreso than when simply touring Vegas bars and swinging by to watch them.  My wife’s timing worked out similarly with the Mirage “volcano” explosion.  It’s the little things like this that made the race unique to Vegas and different than just running around a city.

Then, before you know it, bam, there’s the Statue of Liberty, you’re crossing Tropicana Ave, and the vague concept of a finish line is in sight.  You know it’s there, because that’s where you started, right?  And if you cross Russell Ave, there’ll be cars, so there ought to be a finish line somewhere.  Ah, right!  Avert your eyes from the giant Carrot Top ad!  Look beyond the Luxor light pollution beam of doom!  There!  On the Mandalay Bay video ad screen . . . thing!  It’s people crossing the finish line!  It’s got to be reasonably close by!  There’s no mile 26 marker, but damn it, I see a right turn in to the parking lot up ahead!  Oh, crap!  Cheap Trick is on the video screen now!  They want me to want them!  Noooooooo!  A left turn, a huge “Welcome to Finisher Village” billboard, and, yes, dare I say it?  I think that’s the finish line!

I still can’t get “I Want You To Want Me” out of my head.  Somebody may have to put me down like a lame horse.


Wow.  We had strolled through the finisher village earlier in the day en route to/from Marathon Maniac / Half Fanatic photo meetup at the”Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign.  It was very well laid out, included a multitude of porta-potties, easy access to the part of the Convention Center that served as bag check, and yes, they leased the billboard that sits in the middle of the lot as a “welcome” sign.  Pretty large scale.

In hindsight, it would have been good to make the post-finish line corral a bit wider.  Neither my wife nor I had any problem getting through, but with volume coming through the half side of things, there were backups at the finisher photo booths despite a bypass lane.  Which I understand, as a race like this, which is very inclusive of  walkers and slower runners14, likely brings in a lot of people who are doing their first, and possibly only, race, and many folks of that nature want to make sure they get their finisher photo (or don’t know they can skip it).  Despite huge, blinding, floodlights all over the strip, there were no photographers save for the start/finish line, so if you’re a must-get-a-photo person, the posed finish coral photo is your best bet.

Beyond the photos (or bypass) was a wide array of treats.  No chocolate milk (or even Muscle Milk, which the CytoSport folks at the expo made sure to let people know), which I’ve grown to enjoy, but not expect, but plenty or recovery goodness.  Sponsors Snickers and CytoSport had their prominence, of course, with the new version of Marathon Bars and Cytomax, respectively, but there were also huge piles of bagels, pretzels, GoGurt15, and bananas.  Lots of bananas.  Even the Harry Chapin song that got stuck in my head at that point couldn’t kill the Cheap Trick.


At the end of the snacks was an automated recording informing us that we were “leaving the secure area,” directing everyone to wherever they may need to go (in short, right for family meet-ups, straight for beer or info, and left for bag check), and reminding spectators to let people through.  I’m pretty sure that there’s a solid half mile or more between the finish line and the end of the “secure area,” but it’s worth it.  They spread the food out fairly well – I don’t know if there were tables on the far side from where I was, but I hope so.  If not, that’s a simple improvement that could be made.  But overall, they could have done with a little less open space outside the secure area and a little more bandwidth for the crowd to get through.  Maybe double up on the tables down a center lane so there’s more “threads” of people and less attempts at converging on a single point?

Either way, considering the massive number of people, I think things went very smoothly.  It took my wife and I a while to find each other, despite me being able to watch her finish, as I was outside the secure zone and lost sight of her in the shuffle.  The sheer number of people in one area trying to use their cell phones must have overloaded the towers, as I couldn’t get any texts to send and recieved hers after a long delay.  It took a dozen tries to get a phone call to go through!  But get together we did, and just in time to use the restrooms and catch one of the last few shuttles.  It was so cold out we skipped the cold beer and set our minds instead on finding a bar with a hot toddy!

My Constructive Criticism, Itemized

So I’ve rambled a bit, but I still contend that for the most part, things went well.  You can’t get 44,000 people together in to such a small space and expect perfection, but frankly, they did very well.  There were mistakes made, and I’d like to think they will address them.  But the biggest thing is the size of the field.  They need to lower the cap for the half from 40,000 to 30 or 35,000.  And definitely not raise it.  They may want to be the biggest race in the country, but while the city can handle it, the route can’t handle it.  Things could be improved by separating the full and half to separate days – or ditching the full completely – in all honesty, the strip as most people picture it is three miles long, which can make for a fun 10k, and if you actually include Fremont Street Experience then it’s worth the half marathon distance up to the north strip, but making a full is just adding boring miles.  If you can’t design an interesting course, leave it as a half and let someone else come up with a full.  But even as a half only, there either needs to be greater control and separation between corrals – a proper wave start – or a lower headcount.  Not a higher headcount.

According to the results, only 36,889 people finished – 3766 in the full and 33123 in the half.  I don’t know if the 44,000 number that I’ve been thrown about is hearsay, a press release number, or if there were really over 7000 people who DNFed or DNSed.  If they DNSed, then 36k is already too big.  If they DNFed, then, wow, that seems like a lot, but probably proportionally no different than any other event.

Other, comparatively minor issues;

  1. Respect the bands!  I don’t understand how an event that bills itself as being all about the “Rock ‘n’ Roll” can completely ignore the bands.  I love live music, and I’ve come to enjoy the random cross section of music on a race course.  And I really enjoyed most of the bands16 on this course – even though most were playing covers.  But it’s like they’re an afterthought.  Four of them got mention in the magazine, but with no reference to which band was at which stage, and the others remain anonymous.  I’ve got mad respect for a few of them – it was great to hear a Social D cover where Main and LV Boulevard came back together and whatever band was playing the slasher metal should be hired for mile 20 of every marathon – but I’ve got no idea who they are!  Austin17 not only itemized who was at each stop, but distributed CDs with most of the bands represented, plus a few other locals to fill out the collection.  Eugene had a full list of who was playing where on their web site and sent out an e-mail after the race to let us know about last minute changes so we could learn more about the bands we liked.  Rock ‘n’ Roll might as well just hire a house band and take them to every city if they’re not going to let us know who’s playing where.
  2. Don’t run out of shirts.  I don’t know how this could happen, but if it’s true, it’s ridiculous.  Competitor runs a strict ship; no refunds, no bib transfers, and you get the shirt size you registered for.  They had a finish line exchange booth, but at the expo volunteers were following the company line and distributing what was registered for.  Which should work – especially in an event that has been sold out for weeks.  There’s no need to guess what you might need.  They should have known.  It’s the lower-key events where volunteers are trying to be helpful and giving people different sizes than they asked for where things get sloppy.  But to completely run out?  That’s ridiculous.  IF it’s true.
  3. Don’t run out of medals.  Same deal.  If the race is sold out, how do you not have enough medals for everyone who’s registered?  I don’t get it.  I’m pretty sure the cutoff for swapping race distances was weeks ago.  I’d like to assume they’ll ship people the right medal, but I don’t know what’s happening there.  They apparently knew they were short when they received the order from the manufacturer, so I don’t know why with all the other great communications they sent out they couldn’t alert runners (or at least finish line volunteers) to this fact and create some sort of voucher system to ensure people got their medals after the fact.
  4. Enforce the corrals.  Don’t bother assigning corrals if you’re going to let people start where ever they want.  It’s bad enough that people misjudge or outright lie about their estimated finish time.  Don’t compound it by allowing last minute OMG-I-must-run-with-you shenanigans.
  5. Run the shuttles later.  With a 4.5 hour cutoff for the half, and it taking the midpackers half an hour to hit the start line, that’s bringing the back of the pack in at 10:30 PM at the earliest.  Plus the time it will take them to clear the finish chute, get their check bag, and get to the right shuttle.  Stopping the shuttles at 10:30 kind of just a slap in the face to those folks you’re trying to include.  Yes, there’s plenty of other ways to get back to your hotel, but there’s also a few thousand other people heading in the same direction.

That’s about it.  Mostly, DON’T GROW THE EVENT.

Lucky Number 13

As luck would have it, Vegas worked out to be the 13th marathon I’ve run since I started running in 2007.  And it would be my second fastest ever.  In fact, my second fastest in the last fourteen days.  Neat.

Bar Four, Round Seven! Is the room spinning?

Even though we’d skipped the pre-race party on Saturday night, we did hit quite a few bars between lunch and dinner, taking advantage of the 2-for-1 coupons we got in our registration pile-o-fliers.  This gave me a fairly dehydrated start to Sunday, which I don’t think I was fully able to compensate for before race time.  I carried a water bottle with me to be on the safe side and headed off for infamy.

This is the first race I’ve run in quite a while that has had pace groups, so I figured I’d join up.  I was a bit worried about the solo pace group leader – I’ve always felt that pairs are a better bet – but fortunately, my pace group leader was Terry, who was personable and pretty dead on pace.  Rather than attempt a repeat of my “push too hard for 13 miles, then hope not to slow down too much” strategy from Mesquite, I was able to stick with the 3:20 group to keep from going out too fast.

And for half the race, I was able to stick with Terry and maintain an even-paced version of the pace that was previously my PR.  When we hit the strip, Terry did his best to maintain the pace he was tasked with, but a bunch of us got stuck a short ways back and had to pace at a distance.  We were able to keep an eye on the pace sign about 20 yards ahead of us despite not being able to catch up with him.  I did pretty well keeping up for most of that second half, but in the last 5k I had to fall back from our secondary group as my legs reminded me that I ran two marathons two weeks earlier and didn’t get a real recovery period.  The booze induced dehydration probably didn’t help either.

The boost from the aforementioned Bellagio fountains helped a bit, but not quite enough.  I felt like I was pushing as hard as I could, but I was going the pace of the 2:00 half marathoners around me by the end.  Still, the fact that they were moving forward kept me moving forward, and I did all I could to keep from taking a walk break that close to the end.  The crowd only got louder and more excited the further south we got, and the woman with the sign “Don’t stop!  There are people watching!” certainly helped keep me going, but I was more winded at this finish line than I’ve been in a while.

After stopping my GPS, getting my medal, and wrapping up in a space blanket, I plopped down on the side of the chute next to another guy in the same approximate state to catch my breath.  Eventually, thirst got the better of me, so I pried myself up, bypassed the photo line, and filled my Buff with tasty goodness to inhale while watching for my wife.

One of these blurs may be my wife. Or someone in her wake.

Official finish time:


Not bad!  Despite very inappropriate rest and preparation, only 6:15 slower than my PR.  I might just be able to PR again next year with the right preparation and course.  All in all, a great time was had!  I gave them the benefit of the doubt, and though there were some surprises I’m glad I did.  I’m not sure it was enjoyable enough to sign up for tons of their events, but I’m contemplating the Arizona edition in January for the Desert Double Down.

We had fully intended to go out to the after-parties once we’d gotten a quick shower, but by the time my wife and I found each other and made it to the shuttle it was clear that we’d miss out on the open bar.  We still figured the free entry and drink tickets would be fun, but after an ice bath and shower we both collapsed.  Damn, we’re old.  Okay, we sat there on our computers for a bit, checking results online.  Which, frankly, impressed me; while my wife was there, I was not.  I knew my chip had worked, because I signed up for the runner tracking and my parents on the east coast got text messages whenever I crossed a timing mat.  This was a pretty cool feature, even if it did cost a few bucks extra, as for the first time ever my parents were able to actually follow my progress and congratulate me immediately, rather than ask about it the next day when I’m exhausted.  Anyway, the point: I was missing from the results, filled out their online “issue with results” form, and went to bed.  The next day, about 12 hours after I filed the report, I had an e-mail with my results and everything looked juicy online.  Snazzy.

Vegas is definitely a pricy race: the half is even more expensive than the Rose Bowl Half which I was flabbergasted by the price of, yet somehow we convinced ourselves to give it a go.  Other R’n’R events are more in reasonable and in line with other events of the size.  I’m certainly still a Country Mouse and prefer me the small races (and small fields where I can place in my age group!), but I’m resolved to blow a bunch of money running NYC18 next November, so I’m thinking at least one more crowded race would be good prep.  Maybe a Rock ‘n’ Roll event.  Maybe not.

But it’s fun.  The inclusive atmosphere breeds a party atmosphere.  I don’t understand why they’re so popular, but having that many people, mostly people there to have a good time, creates a good time.  Yes, this can happen in any race of a good size, but they somehow foster the idea of a running party, and it works.  I can’t understand it, but I appreciate it.

I don’t understand the obsession with them, but they’re not terrible.  I’ll view them like pop punk.  Sure, it’s not “real” punk, but if it gets people to try something they otherwise wouldn’t, then it’s acceptable.  Green Day leads to Gang Green.  Hopefully a Rock ‘n’  Roll event will lead a new runner to Valley of Fire or one of the many other excellently run small races in this country.

After all, as much as I hate it, sometimes I do shop at Wal*Mart.  Maybe I’ll periodically run a Wal*Race.

Did I mention the medals glow in the dark?

"Turn off the lights and I glow..."

Show 18 footnotes

  1. My mother can attest; of the two or three I spent overnight visits at, I chose the one where the air smelled like fertilizer in the morning, as opposed to beer or car exhaust.  And it wasn’t exactly a rural school.
  2. As did most of my coworkers, which is how I ended up with the ridiculously lucky offer to continue working remotely!
  3. Austin, Philly, Eugene, and then Bristol, New Hampshire!
  4. Churchill Downs, New Hampshire International Speedway, and Notre Dame Stadium, for example…
  5. And, of course, his even more rural Mountain Mouse wife…
  6. And, well, technically I still haven’t run down the middle, but we’ll get to that…
  7. For a $40 fee; steep, but cheaper than a Saturday night hotel room.
  8. Two nights in Vegas is still cheaper than two race entries…
  9. And if the scuttlebutt can be believed, at least a few people in both categories.
  10. I don’t mean to assume that there weren’t any Cheap Trick fans out there.  But does anyone actually like Cheap Trick?  I mean, they’re tolerable, and their songs are fun to make fun of, but nobody seeks out their concerts, do they?
  11. It was not to be.  It took her corral about 30 minutes to cross the start line, so when I hit my half split she was still shimmying up to the start.  Bummer.
  12. Which, yeah, sometimes you might need to do, but glance over your shoulder first!
  13. Show your work!  13.1 miles of LV Blvd * approximately 52 feet wide = 3,596,736 square feet = 0.129015152 square miles.
  14. We’re talking about the half here.  4 hours for a marathon is not inclusive, but 4.5 hours for a half is very inclusive.
  15. This is seriously brilliant.  Quick, easy protein and sugar, no plasticwear, easy to get a flavor you like, and easy to sweep up the mess that invariably doesn’t make it to the trash bins.  Yeah, individually packaged food isn’t as good as fruit with biodegradable discards or fully ingestible baked goods, but it’s better than any other finish line protein source I’ve seen.  Plus, how often do you get to chase kids’ snacks with beer?
  16. A crappy morning DJ playing the same 80s tunes that all the bands are covering, however, is a waste of a stage.
  17. I don’t mean to put Austin on a pedestal, but it was my first marathon experience and they did a great job.  The down side of a city known for having tons of bands is that many of them suck.  But they all get recognition and promotion to give people a chance to judge for themselves.
  18. As far as I know, the most expensive marathon in the US, yet nobody bitches and moans about them being too expensive and not caring about runners… And to the best of my knowledge, New York City entry fee does not include three open bars, and entry to ultralounges.

Day two of the foolhardy plan to run two marathons in one weekend brought me down to the Valley of Fire Marathon, appropriately enough in Valley of Fire State Park, in Overton NV, about an hour southwest of Mesquite.  As with Saturday’s Mesquite Tri-State, Valley of Fire is also run by Planet Ultra – and run very well at that.

Valley of Fire is normally a self-service entry fee park, but to speed things along on race day they positioned a ranger at the entrance and asked everyone to bring exact change.  They parked us in a hidden nook of the desert opposite the visitor center, where the parking lot was closed off to use for a start and finish line area.  Bathrooms were much more plentiful this day, both in the ratio of runners at this smaller race, and thanks to the park’s normal restrooms providing more options.

The views were already awesome before the race even got underway, and the DJ had selected an assortment of vaguely “fire” related songs to get in the spirit of the day.  Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire, Johnny Cash’s cover of Ring of Fire, Sean Kingston’s Fire Burning . . . you get the idea.  The marathon started first, exactly at 7:00 PST this time; no 15 second delay.  And off we went.

The course was absolutely beautiful.  As anyone who has ever been to Valley of Fire would presume.  I was, frankly, surprised by the small field.  This is a race worth the drive/flight/weekend from wherever you live.  I’d also advise people, no matter what their pace, to sign up at least for the half marathon.  There is a 5k and 10k as well, but the out and back course doesn’t even crest the first magnificent view.  With a six and a half hour cutoff for the half, anyone who can walk a half hour mile is good to go.  Enjoy the hike!  The views are worth it1.

The first half is the half marathon course; it heads up the scenic drive, out to Silica Dome and back, then all the way out to White Domes and back2.  The 5k turnaround is at the intersection for the Silica Dome leg, essentially just going up a hill and back down it; most of your views are sheltered picnic areas.  The 10k skips the Silica Dome leg and goes out another couple of miles, getting a few nice views, but missing the really nice ones at the Duck Rock end of things.  The hills on this first half are nothing to be taken lightly, but constantly rolling; just when you can’t climb uphill any more you get to cruise down the other side.  They’re steep, but short.  By comparison.

The second half of the course was out mostly on the Valley of Fire Highway, heading west from the visitor’s center, with a few miles tacked on via the scenic loop past Atlatl Rock and Arch Rock.  Returning to the highway, we continued past the entry booth on that side of the park, and up the “Hill from Hell” for a total gain of just over 1000 feet of elevation3 in 10k before heading back down for the 10k to the finish.  More amazing views the whole way, of course.

Awards are presented right at the finish line, without pomp, as the park needs to reopen the parking lot as soon as the last runner is in.  They did a short presentation for the women’s top winners, but for some reason they top three guys just got handed their awards on the sly4.  With cowbells given as awards to the top finisher in each age group for each distance, lots of people had the ability to make lots of noise disproportionate to the crowd size to cheer in each person in the trickle of finishers.  It really helped to overcome the last little 30 foot climb up from the road to the finish line on the second half of the marathon.

Plenty of treats at the finish line, even for the marathoners, who, as you might expect, did not, as a whole, run very many negative splits.

My Race

Many ran 52.4 miles this weekend, but only one of us (in each race, I suppose), got bib 52!

This was a scary race.  I had no idea what to expect on day two of a double marathon weekend.  It’s the first time I’ve attempted it and I’m pretty sure conventional wisdom is to go easy on the first day to save steam for the second.  I, on the other hand, pushed my hardest on the first day, scored the PR I was pushing for, and when I signed up for the double I was looking at day two as nothing but a distance to cover.

Just when I needed it, Dan of RunJunkee posted a great reminder about Expectations.  I realized on Friday that I was going in to this weekend with no goals beyond “push hard Saturday and survive Sunday.”  Which is fine for what Dan called the “I can live with that” goal, but no good for a comprehensive weekend goal.  I formed in my mind two sets of Awesome/Good/Liveable goals.  The first set, for Mesquite, of a PR (sub 3:29), a sub 3:40, and sub 4, respectively.  I never really came up with an awesome goal for Valley of Fire, but I suppose it would have been to not feel like I’d run another marathon the day before.  The ‘good’ and ‘I can live with that’ for Valley of Fire, was to finish within an hour of my Mesquite time or not be my slowest marathon ever, whichever would be faster, and just to finish within the seven hour course limit.  With my Mesquite time coming in at 3:20:23, that put my hour discrepancy mark at 4:20:23, so my “good” goal was 4:08:54, the finishing time from my first marathon in February 2008.

It’s a difficult course.  But it’s a beautiful course.  And I could certainly could have taken it easy and just stuck with that seven hour plan.  But aside from a little soreness in my quads I was feeling pretty good, so I went with the same strategy as Saturday and just went with what felt “comfortably hard.”  As I climbed the first hill right after the start line – did I mention there’s a fairly significant hill right after the start line? – another runner who recognized me from Mesquite caught up and asked how I was doing.  We got chatting, and before I realized it the two of us were in the second/third place position by the two mile mark.

I stuck with the aforementioned runner, Scott, who paced his wife in Mesquite rather than push for a personal best, and regularly runs much faster and further5 than I do, for about 10 miles, chatting about running and life in general, feeling surprisingly good, before I had to fall back and let him go on ahead.  He easily hung on to second place and was in high spirits when I saw him miles later coming down the Hill from Hell, giving me some much needed encouragement as I was trudging up it.

I actually maintained a decent pace for the beginning of the second half, maintaining the third place position until somewhere around mile 16 where the prior day’s miles and what I thought was the Hill from Hell caught up with me and forced some walk breaks.  I spoke briefly with the next runner to catch me, Ron, who took some convincing to accept that he would be third place, but gave me mad respect for doing the double.  Thank you Ron! One more runner, Joe, would catch and pass me before we exited the park and I hit what was really the Hill from Hell.  And you can see it coming.  Which makes it that much worse…

In all honesty, I probably walked about 90% of the hill.  Yes, the Hill from Hell.

I signed up for this having seen the course profile.  So I was having no mental issues with what was ahead.  It was the sheer fact that my legs would have to traverse those miles whether I ran them, walked them, or shuffled along like a drunk zombie.  Towards the top of the hill one more runner, Doug, caught me, who had also just started running a few years ago as I had.  We stuck together through the crest and the turnaround, before he went on ahead for the downhill.  Somehow, three more runners – including Marathon Maniac6 and USMC Infantry Officer Kirby Mills, who carries a full size American flag for the whole race – caught me on the downhill before my legs realized that this was a down hill now and I could probably pick up the pace.

For those of you keeping score at home, that left me in ninth place in a field of 66.  For those of you bored to death by the play by play, I offer you this as a thank you for sticking with me this far:

Anyway, I managed to catch up with Julie, who also ran Mesquite the day prior, taking third place overall for the women, and chatted with her for a while before pulling ahead to finish maybe a minute before she scored the top women’s position.  A double podium weekend for her – and all part of her training for an ultra in January if I remember correctly.  I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it felt kind of good to overtake someone before the finish – she was the first person I’d passed since the first mile when Scott and I found ourselves behind nobody but the leader, Marcus.  Who, by the way, was blazing along this course like it was flat.  I was overtaking some of the slower 5k and 10k walkers on the return leg of the first half, but once I hit the second half it was just the slow and steady rite of falling back one runner at a time.

As it happened, none of the guys who passed me were in the same age group – yeah, I ain’t too proud to ask – so after a personally satisfying race on Saturday but no podium recognition I managed to score the cowbell for first in my age group.  Eight overall.  God I love small fields on challenging courses.  Nowhere else would a 4:02:19 be an age group winner for the under-40 crowd.


Yup.  Within an hour discrepancy of my Mesquite finish by eighteen minutes.  And not my worst marathon by over six minutes.  In fact, it’s a minute and a half better than my finish last year at Grandma’s Marathon and seconds faster than my time at the 2009 New Hampshire Marathon7.  So, then, while I definitely felt like I’d run a marathon the day before, I was very happy with the 4:02, and elated at the cowbell prize.  Plus, Planet Ultra is sending some as-yet-unspecified surprise out to everyone who participated in races on both days, so that’s a little extra awesomeness to look forward to.

In the meantime, it’s time to get some sleep before I fly to my parents’ for Thanksgiving, then come back to Nevada for the Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon – significantly bigger than Layton, Mesquite, and Valley of Fire8, my first Competitor group event, my last 26.2 for the year, and lucky number 13 for me overall.

Maniacs and milers

Brief side note: I joined the Marathon Maniacs last year after my foolish pursuit of a PR and/or BQ before I turned 35 had me register for three races in fairly close proximity to one another.  Each got progressively slower, which is what led me to my hiatus from the distance for over a year, but in the process I managed to qualify for Marathon Maniacs by running the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon and Sunburst Races Marathon within 16 days of one another.  I didn’t initially see the point of joining, but after some encouragement from my wife and some new friends made at Grandma’s, I shelled out the modest membership fee and bought the singlet.

Financially, I justified it as needing to get a high-visibility sleeveless shirt anyway and the fact that the dues are pretty much paid for by running just one race that gives Maniacs a discount each year.  But I never saw the value.  I saw Maniacs here and there at races, said “hi,” but never felt like there was any sense of community.  Granted, I never wore my damn Maniac singlet to a race.

This weekend, since I was doing the double – which improves my standing from one star to four – I figured I’d wear the singlet.  Surprise surprise; when people know you’re “one of them” they’re suddenly much more social.  I had a dozen instant friends at each event – people to talk to prior to the event, cheer for and wave at when we passed each other en route, and to catch up with and congratulate afterwards.  Yeah, okay, it got a little corny at Valley of Fire with all the out and backs creating a few too many “hey Maniac!” shouts, but each one taken individually is very much appreciated.

Since my wife and I travel around so much, our contact with the “local running community” is mostly virtual.  We stick around some places long enough to run multiple local races and make a few friends, but the contact is pretty short lived.  Most of our outside contact is virtual. Though I think I’m fairly asocial by nature, I kind of like this “instant friend” attitude.

I also caught up briefly with Teri, one friend from dailymile who was also running Mesquite, but she was the only person from dailymile9 that admitted to attending either of these events.  In fact, the Mesquite event page is how I “met” her.

On the flip side, over 300 people have indicated that they’re attending Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas, but only a handful seem interested in a get together.  Maybe this is because the site doesn’t provide a really good way to let people know that there’s a meetup organized for an event (let alone prevent people from creating duplicate event records for the same race).  Or maybe people just don’t like to commit in advance.  The attraction of a dailymile singlet is beginning to dawn on me…

Show 9 footnotes

  1. Yeah, you can drive the course any day, but you can only stop at designated pull-offs, whereas on race day you can take your time and enjoy the views, or take as little time as your little feet will let you.
  2. Where are all these things?  Take a look at the second page of the park map to get the idea.  Better yet, go visit!
  3. Up from about 1910 feet at the visitor’s center to 3015 feet at the peak.
  4. I, of course, learned this from my wife, who finished the half before the first full finisher.  I was still huffing my way along the second half at the time.
  5. I think I said he has a sub 3 hour PR?  And has done multiple ultras as well as a half dozen double marathon weekends.
  6. #2842
  7. Which, of course, I feel always needs the footnote to indicate that it was pouring icy rain, three days after my vasectomy, and three days after I was out cold with swine flu.
  8. Probably bigger than all three put together…
  9. Other than my wife and I, of course…

"They shot their own sign. What are they gonna do to us?" *

Now that was one impressively run race.  The Mesquite “Tri-States” Marathon may have had some issues in the past, but the race I ran this morning was awesome from start to finish.  I’m not sure exactly what the hubbub was all about, but somewhere along the lines Mammoth Marathons, who used to run this event, either partnered with or passed the mantle off to Planet Ultra, which I believe is a small husband-and-wife1 operation, and did a flawless job.  Friends of ours who ran Mammoth’s Little Grand Canyon Marathon had a great time and nothing but good things to say about Mammoth, but Mesquite is gone from Mammoth’s site, which is where a good number of my fellow runners registered.

Go figure.  As best I can figure, Mammoth was nudged out in an effort to take competing races (Mesquite and Valley of Fire) and put them on separate days as part of a three part series with the Mesquite Resolution Run2.  But this is pure speculation.  Who knows?  The point is, Planet Ultra, and their sister timing company Race Day Timing3, did a good job.  A  very good job.

And all of their volunteers, who are rewarded with free race entry for the following year or any other Planet Ultra event, absolutely rock.

Packet Pickup

Packet pickup was at the Event Center at the Casa Blanca Casino.  Plenty of parking, easy to find, and when we walked in . . . signs reminding us of bus times for the morning, the course, where the water stops are, and so on.

Turn right, and look at that; tons of volunteers staffing a row of tables where everyone had a bag with their name and bib number on it, pre-filled with the appropriate size shirt, their bib, and four shiny safety pins, all linked together to ensure that everyone gets four.  This is you?  Yes, check that your chip shows the right data in the computer?  Good?  See you in the morning.

Five minutes in and out, including dilly dallying.  Rawk.

Race Morning

Since this is a one-way course, they bused us up from the Casa Blanca to the middle of the desert about six miles over the Utah border.  Buses were ready, waiting, and warm, had enough room for all registrants, and left on time.  And then . . . get this . . . they knew where to drop us off!  Whoa!  In Utah, no less4?

In said middle of the desert, we had snacks, water, bag drop, porta potties5, and a DJ.  Yes, dance tunes in the middle of nowhere thanks to a very small and quiet generator.  Snazzy.

They weren’t able to get a permit for a chip start – presumably because they’d need to stop traffic much longer to erect the sensors than they did to line us up at a chalk line and say “3-2-1-go!”  And with that, we were off.  Promptly at 76.  Well, actually, they started 15 seconds late, which greatly distressed the race organizer.  I love these guys.

The Race

In a word, the course was beautiful.  The first thirteen miles were a gentle downhill route, cruising through the desert alongside vast fields of Joshua Trees with sunlit mesas in the distance.  Every little twist of the road brought all new views as we swooped around the rock formations along the road.

Technically, the road was open to traffic, but I’m pretty sure I could have counted the cars that weren’t Mojave County Sheriffs, race officials, and cheering friends and family on one hand.

Shortly after passing the half way point7 we swung up a hill and followed the rolling hills parallel to I-15 all the way to the Nevada border.  Definitely tougher than the first half, but not unmanageable.  Since this stretch of the scenic byway was a bit more heavily traveled, both runner and vehicular, the Mojave Sheriffs were actually stopping cars and individually asking them to go slow and careful so as not to run anyone over on this narrower section of road.  This is all in addition to the “Workers Ahead” signs all over the place with “Runners” magnets slapped over the word “Workers.”  Love me some County Sheriffs.

The crest of the second to last hill was the state line.  State three; mile 23.  Then straight on ’till morning.  I didn’t catch the course before it was changed, but they switched something up so that when we get in to Mesquite we cut through the old Convention Center parking lot and cruise along Old Mill Road to it’s end, crossing Mesquite Boulevard, and hooking a byline directly to the Casa Blanca Event Center.

Inside the Event Center, to be specific.  Shoot through the loading dock doors, cross the finish line, let your eyes adjust, and look: free beer!

Well played, my friends, well played.

Post Race

This is brilliant – probably the best finish line logistics ever.  One side of the finish line was lined with bleachers for spectators and earlier finishers to cheer people on and a well stocked fuel table featuring bagels (and cream cheese!), doughnuts, bananas, muffins, energy bars, beer, water, chocolate milk, and probably a half dozen things I didn’t even notice because my hands were full.  The other was the wide open Event Center filled with big round tables with seats.  Yes – you read that right – a finish line corral where you can sit down at a table and enjoy your bagel and beer.

At one end of the hall they had a big inflatable bounce house and giant slide for kids.  The other was filled with a stage for award presentations, backed by a huge projection screen with everyone’s finisher times in bib order number.  Brilliant!  No printing out results in sets of twenty and trying to tape them to a surface already crowded with stinky sweaty people trying to find themselves.

And on the opposite side from the finish line and bleachers?  Packet pickup for Sunday’s Valley of Fire Marathon, and start line bag check bags laid out in sequence by bib number.  Shazam!

My Race

Despite the scuttlebutt of back-to-back marathons stating that you should hold back on the first one, I lay it all on the line for this race.  One way or another, I sabotaged my PR attempts in Layton, so I figured the 13 miles of downhill goodness would be as good a chance at a PR as I was going to get this year.  That 3:29 had been sitting unbroken since January 2010 and it was a magnificently beautiful day, so off I went.  At 7:00:15 PST, precisely.

With my Garmin in the shop, the only feedback I had on my pace was mile split announcements from My Tracks every .99 miles or so.  I just ran by feel; using that “comfortably hard” pace I hear so much about.  I focused on turnover rate and form as best I could, grabbed water only8 at every aid station, and just let paced myself with little internal pep talks when I felt myself pushing too hard too early or slowing it up to take in the views too much.

Because of the decline and long stretches of straightaway, I was actually able to keep an eye on leaders, albeit a distant eye, for about seven miles.  That was certainly a first.

This approach resulted in several sub-7 splits in the first half.  And a 13.1 split within a minute or two of my half marathon PR.  Whoa.  Potentially bad approach.  But I swung up the first hill without slowing too much, and actually picked off a few other marathoners before catching up with the rear end of the half marathon pack.

I slowed closer to 8 minute mile range for these latter miles, but felt strong much longer than in Layton.  I believe Layton fell apart before mile 16, while in Mesquite I was still going strong up almost up to the Nevada border.  With about 10k to go I briefly noted that a 48 minute 10k would be a BQ, then put a more realistic spin on it and realized that as long as I didn’t trip on a curb and crack my skull I was in good shape to PR.  Around five miles out9 from the finish a headwind started up, but I hung in there for a while before I felt my form suffering around the state border.  A few folks passed me, but mostly people I hadn’t seen since the start who clearly paced themselves better, especially as I took short walk breaks on the last couple of aid stations.

The last couple of blocks before the Casino were rough, despite the encouragement from the Mesquite police volunteers coordinating traffic: “Turn right and you’re done at the end of the block!”  I had no idea where the finish line actually was, but I followed the one guy ahead of me in to the Event Center and stumbled across the finish line half blind, only realizing I was done when a half dozen shadowy pre-teens came in to focus and offered finisher medals up in my face.

When the dust settled and I found my wife, the huge jumbotron said that I came in at 3:20:23.


That’s a PR by nine minutes.  Breaking a PR that held for 22 months and five marathons.  Maybe not the amazingness I thought I had in me at mile 10, but certainly a time that made Keath very happy.  Being a small-ish race – 187 finishers in the full – that time was good for 14th place overall.  But five of those finishers were guys in my age group, including the top two overall finishers.  WOW, this older age group is competitive!  So, technically, fourth in my age group, I did not come close to the awesome awards for the top finisher in each age group; cowbells.  But a PR by 9 minutes on a beautiful course with an amazing race company is a very happy day indeed.


This is so amazingly nitpicky I almost don’t want to mention them.  But Planet Ultra strikes me as the type of company that will listen to feedback, so in the hopes of making their next race even more awesome, here are the three tiny little things that could have been better:

  1. There were four porta-potties at the start line for each distance.  Yes, it’s a small race, but especially with needing to bus everyone out where we don’t have control over how much time we have before the start, a few more are needed.  A lot of people bailed and just hoped to get to the porta-potties at mile three without a large line.  Others hung out and started late.  I managed to get through with just enough time to drop my bag and start my GPS before the start, but I think I was one of the last to manage to use the porta-potties and start with the “go.”
  2. They used bib chips for timing, so there’s no mat on the ground at the finish line.  Which means those of us going from bright sunlight in to a darker building, blinking blindly, are most likely looking down.  If it weren’t for the kids pushing medals at me, I honestly would have no idea I was done.  And I wasn’t the only one – several people were still picking up the pace when they realized they passed someone trying to give them a medal.  All we need is  piece of tape or something across the finish line.  Please?
  3. I’m told by those further back in the pack that the aid stations ran out of Gummi Bears.  This is unconscionable.  How could you tease people with Gummi Bears and not stock enough to follow through?  Noooooooooooo!

Show 9 footnotes

  1. Brian and Deb, to be specific.
  2. which does not seem to have a web presence yet…
  3. Race Day Timing also did the Provo Halloween Half timing, and were really the ones who put in all the hard work to fix the delayed and faulty registration data that caused the packet pickup debacle.
  4. What’s he talking about?  See my race reports from Layton and Provo
  5. Though really not enough.
  6. PST, despite the time zone crossing.
  7. I got there just as the DJ was packing up the half marathon start line dance party.
  8. No Heed or other products my stomach has never tried while running before.
  9. Depending, of course, on your individual pace.

Hangin’ on the corner of 52nd and Broadway
cars passin’ by but none of them seem to go my way…
New York City; well I wish I was on a highway
back to Olympia…

This past weekend was the forty first running of the New York City Marathon.  Geoffrey Mutai, Emmanuel Mutai, and Tsegaye Kebede all ran faster than the ten year old course record.  Firehiwot Dado won her first major marathon title.  And Mark Messier finished slower than most of my marathons.  My wife and I slept until about noon and learned of all this from comments on our friends’ Facebook wall when we graced the internet with our presence some time in the mid-afternoon.

It’s all tied to my lack of understanding of spectators of running events.  Which is an extension of my lack of understanding of spectator sports in general.  I just have zero interest.  When running, I’m grateful for enthusiastic spectators, but don’t feel anything lacking in races with few spectators.  I understand being out there to cheer for your friends and family, and I understand cheering on other runners while waiting for your favorite runner to come around the corner.  I even get the “well, they’ve closed off my street for five hours, so I might as well bring some lawn chairs and a case of beer down the curb and shout at people” method of cheering.  I just don’t get the desire of many runners – or less so non-runners – to watch all the majors at home on T.V.  I’m an Olympics nerd, for reasons unknown, and I kind of keep track of what’s going on every four years, Olympic marathon included, but that’s about it.  If the info is there, I’ll read it.  I find some of it interesting.  Some of it is just information.  Good to know it’s out there.

But that is neither here nor there.

The point is that another year has passed and it’s time for me to start thinking about whether I want to run the New York City Marathon next time around.  In 2009, after running a couple of marathons, I entered the lottery for New York.  I had no plan to get to New York, and no great desire to race New York; it just seemed like the kind of thing I should want to do.  So I did it.

2010, mostly because of the fact that I’d done it the year before, I entered again.  That “Qualifying by being denied entry three consecutive times” policy is kind of like crack in that way.

And so, of course, year three, 2011, I entered again.  Which means now, if I want to run New York City in 2012, I can.  And if I don’t, I probably won’t ever, unless I can take 45 minutes off my PR and run a 2:45 qualifying race.  Because they are phasing out the aforementioned denied three consecutive times rule.

So there it is.  One thing I’ve learned over the last few years, aside from how difficult it is to improve your PR after finding the pace you can maintain for 26.2 miles, is that I like small town marathons better than big city marathons.  While there’s certainly an attraction to meeting up with 20,000 of my closest friends on the Ben Franklin Parkway, I just tend to find five school buses dumping 250 of us off in the middle of nowhere to be more fun.

New York is twice as large and costs about four times as much as a smaller race, not to mention the additional costs of a hotel room in New York and a flight.  Fortunately, I grew up in New Jersey1, which provides the opportunity to combine a marathon-specific trip2 in to an extended family Thanksgiving visit, and I’ve had several friends in New York offer up their couch, which would be really handy if that offer still stands.  But I wouldn’t want to count on such things, so I should probably stash some money aside for next November.

Because I think I’ve decided to enter.  It may be the only U.S. major I ever run, but why not?  It’s certainly not a scenic race, but hey, it hits all five boroughs, crosses some bridges, and checks a certain Empire State off the fifty state list3.  I’ve put in the three years and $30, so bring on that application process.

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Never thought I’d use those seven words in that order!
  2. Something I’m fundamentally opposed to.
  3. I’m not a hard core 50 stater, but, well, I like checklists…

This probably isn’t going to be the greatest reflection on my 2011 goals, but let’s just get down to it.

  1. Mileage – Holy breaking the consistency, Batman!  After nine solid months consistently above my targeted minimum 104.131456 targeted average for the 2011 kilometer challenge, the taper and recovery of my first marathon in over a year sabotaged the awesomeness.  117, 104, 117, 115, 116,145, 145, 187, 162, and now . . . 95.  Man.  All in the name of proper training I suppose.
    On the other hand, as of the end of October my total mileage for the year was 1303 miles, which is 20971 kilometers.  Which means that while in Houston on business this Wednesday, my eight mile morning run made me an official finisher of the aforementioned challenge.  Go me!
  2. Race Weight – Wow.  October was not a great month for this.  I apparently didn’t note my weight down at all until this morning.  I know I weighed myself at least one or two Fridays this past month, but I didn’t write it down anywhere.  The short result: things crept up a bit.  This was certainly augmented by Halloween candy and that aforementioned business trip to Houston and the mad quantities of cheese I ingested for reasons unknown2, but I was on an upward trend since my marathon anyway.  Hopefully some of it will drop back off as I detox these next couple of weeks and I won’t become part of the statistic I saw posted on a gym in Layton: “The average American gains gains 10 pounds between Halloween and New Year’s.”  I’ve got no idea how accurate this is, but I can believe it.  Let’s end this year on a strong note and buck that trend.
  3. Cross Training – Fail.  I lightened up the week leading up to Layton and told myself I’d get right back in to it during recovery, but I don’t think I’ve touched a weight all throughout October.  (There were costumes to sew, damn it!  I had a few good bike rides, but nothing strength related.  Definitely need to get back on this horse if I’m going to finish the year on a strong note.
  4. Water – Easy.  Peasy.  Lemon squeezy.  Actually, a little bit of a challenge on cold mornings where all I want is tea, but I’m getting better.
  5. Workouts, not just runs – Now that I’m back to running “for real” after Layton, I’m trying to force some speedwork days, and the hills of Mesquite are making hillwork a part of almost every run, but without a plan it’s hard to keep the workouts regular.
  6. 19:00 5k – No plans to attempt this again before the new year.  I’ve got three more marathons to focus on.
  7. 1:32 half marathon –  (Tacoma City Marathon, May 1, 1:29:56)
  8. Another sub-3:30 Marathon – I didn’t make it sub-3:30 at Layton.  I’ll try again at the very downhill Mesquite Tri-State Marathon and Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll.  The Valley of Fire Marathon is also a possibility, but as it’s the day after Mesquite and I’ve never done back-to-back 26.2 milers before, I’m not worrying about pace for that one; just focusing on finishing.
  9. Sub-40:00 10k – No plans to attempt this again before the new year.  I’ve got three more marathons to focus on3.
  10. Blog about something other than my training – Well, there’s my post about Breaking the Cycle, and my wife did a guest post with a recipe for her Yummy Running Fuel Morsels, but that’s about it.  I’ve got a post about the great New York City quandary building up steam in my head, so hopefully that’ll get written soon.

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Actually, it’s 2096.97523 kilometers.
  2. Actually, the reasons are probably tied to the booze that goes along with certain business trips…
  3. Sounds familiar…

Yeah, we left Utah three weeks ago and settled in to Mesquite, NV for the winter.  But then the organizers of the Provo Halloween Half Marathon started a big push of Facebook ads1, which, coupled with a rude awakening of the cost of a weekend of Vegas parties for Halloween weekend, looked like an awesome idea for a weekend away for Halloween.

We love us some Halloween.  And have been trying for the last couple of years to find good Halloween races where we could put together some fun costumes to run in.  We registered for Run Like Hell in Bend last year, but ended up having to pull out 2.  So with the Provo Half hanging out there teasing us, we couldn’t resist cashing in a few Marriott points and making it our Halloween event.  Very glad we did.  This may become a habit3.

Since it’s only 13 days after Ceridwen ran the Nike Women’s Marathon and 21 since I ran Layton, we decided early on to pick out a matched costume idea and make it a fun run together rather than each doing our own thing.  We settled on Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia Organa costumes, although we played fast and loose with the space time continuum4.  I stuffed a Deuter hydration sac in my Yoda backpack to complete the look and keep water for two available at all times5.  Overall, for our first attempt at run-friendly costumes, I think we did pretty well.  We were certainly easily recognizable to spectators and fellow runners, though Leia more immediately than Luke.  When we passed people, there was usually a three pace lag before we heard “look, Yoda!” behind us6.

So anyway, that’s how we ended up driving almost 300 miles for a half marathon.  Definitely the furthest I’ve traveled for a race, and way in excess of the drive time vs run time ratio I like to maintain.  But hey, it’s my rule and I can break it.  For the most part, I’m very pleased with the race.

The Good Stuff

This race is only three years old.  It’s gaining in popularity every year and for good reason.  It’s all downhill.  It promotes the Halloween costume factor to the point that gets a majority of people to wear costumes or at least dress up in some manner7.  And it starts on the side of Mount Timpanogos, cruises down State Route 92, a.k.a. the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway, which, as you might imagine is a fairly scenic run, then hooks on to the Provo and Jordon River Parkway for nearly nine miles of riverside trail through Provo Canyon in to a finish at Ron Last Park in the outskirts of Provo.    Pretty frickin’ awesome scenery.  Even the quarter mile in the shoulder of US-189 was up against the river and cliffs of Provo Canyon.

The weather for the race was absolutely awesome.  Although it was about 28° when we were dropped off at the start line, there was a large heated tent that fit most of the runners and things warmed up a bit when the sun came up.  By the time the rather late start time (9:00) rolled around it was about 35°, finishing up in the mid 40°s at the finish in town.  Granted, a little chilly for those of us who chose a costume with no sleeves, but at least I was warmer than the people who went with body paint as a costume.

Since the start line is only accessible via the road we run down and there’s not really any room to park up there, running this sucker requires a bright and early morning to catch a bus from the Provo mall up to the mountain.  We got there right when they started running the buses (technically a few minutes before the scheduled 5:30 start, since there were already so many people waiting out in the cold) and hopped on the second one to leave.  Which was also, unfortunately, the second one to pass the start line due to bad instructions and lack of signs or volunteers, so we got a pre-dawn tour of a few more miles of Scenic Byway until there was a spot wide enough to turn a few buses around.  There was a little bit of frustration amongst our fellow passengers, but most of us were happy as pie to enjoy the extra time in the heated bus before waiting around for 9:00.

To balance out the fact that the sun’s not up and we’re on top of a mountain in northern Utah in late October, they set up a huge heated tent for people to congregate in.  Though vast, it’s not really large enough for the 4000 person turnout, but this was well publicized beforehand and those with a need for warmth were advised to take the first batch of buses to ensure “inside” time.

Crappy photo. Great costume.

Inside the tent was also the costume contest, which wasn’t very well organized, but fun nonetheless.  A chaotic attempt at putting people on a stage and gauging applause was used to award prizes three deep in the solo and duo/group categories.  We seemed to get a good response for the only husband and wife dressed as twin brother and sister, but weren’t called up for the filtered-down round of “voting.”  Things were running late and the m.c. was trying to hurry things along.

Also denied was the best running-themed costume idea ever: a Garmin Forerunner 305!  At least he made it in to the final round for the solo costumes.  Things were a little less insane before groups of 20 people piled on the stage to do their rehearsed performances.

Due to the increased size of the race from past years, the State Police required a break so that they could let traffic through on I-189.  Solution; split the start up in to two waves, broken off after the 2:10 pacer.  Once the pacer crossed the road, stragglers were held up for traffic until the second start at 9:20.  We started in this second wave, based on Ceridwen’s P.R. of 2:32, figuring even if her coming off of marathon training puts her in an amazing cruising speed, we’re not going to get to the highway before they stop traffic again.

Once things thinned out with the first wave getting in to the corral, we headed out in to the sunshine to enjoy the views from the port-a-potty lines.  (Personally, lining three dozen toilets along the top edge of a steep hill seems like a bad idea, but, well, as far as we know there were no poopalanches, so who am I to criticize?)  Any race that can be described as having beautiful views from the port-a-potty lines is bound to go well.  Right?

And then, exactly 20 minutes after the first wave8, we were off.  Although it’s a mountain road, UT-92 is a pretty wide road, and once we cleared the start line people thinned out pretty quickly.  There was the usual shifting back and forth until everyone sort of fell in line with others going the same pace, but nobody fell off a cliff or got trampled, which is very important when considering your start line.

Since the scenic drive is the only way up and over the mountain, traffic couldn’t be fully stopped, so after a half mile or so they tried to remind us to stay in the left lane so traffic could pass.  There were only a few cars on the road anyway, and with the exception of one woman cluelessly running in the middle of the right lane with a pickup truck patiently tailgating her9, this didn’t seem to cause any problems.  I’ve done several races where the roads aren’t completely closed and was a bit concerned about the lack of constant traffic cones, but it was a non-issue.

The views were magnificent the whole way down and we were both enjoying a comfortable pace on the downhill.  With the exception of a couple of quick stops to adjust shoelaces or intergalactic pleather shin protectors, we stayed ahead of the 2:30 pacer without a whole lot of intent, which was great news for Ceridwen’s P.R.

No, when I ran to catch up with her after adjusting my pleather I was not able to resist shouting “Wait, Leia!

Crossing the highway, we ran alongside the motorists that were patiently waiting to be allowed through again. Some were cheering, some were pointing at the different costumes, some where showing off their awesome stereo system. The key is that nobody seemed to mind at all that the race was holding up their ability to get where they were going. A refreshing change from some events.

The remainder of the race was on the Provo/Jordan River Parkway trail, which I believe continues all the way up through SLC to North Salt Lake where we stayed for the weekand leading up to Layton. As one might surmise from it’s name, it follows the Provo, and later the Jordan, River. We enjoyed fantastic views of the mountains, the river, the waterfalls, and the fantastic fall foliage as the spectator density slowly increased for the remainder of the miles before hooking a right turn to the finish line where we had a solid tunnel of screaming people with blonde children cheering. Blonde children really like them some Princess Leia.

Finish line; water, fruit, Hawaiian brand potato chips and onion rings, an awesome finisher’s medal, and frivolity. Works for me. We plonked ourselves down on the lawn for a while and cheered on those finishing after us.  Since we really only saw the costumes of those near us in the pre-race tent or running around our pace, it was nice to be able to check out some others, both finishing up after us and recovering nearby.

The race actually has a “mascot” hearse which they put out for photo ops. The Hearse’s trailer doubles as the race director’s podium, putting both him and the speakers up high for a better view of the finishers and better projection, respectively. It also provided a nice surface to post preliminary results on, but for whatever reason we couldn’t find ourselves10.  When we confirmed with the official results posted on Monday, it turns out that Ceridwen did indeed PR by more than five minutes.  Because she’s that damn awesome.  Or maybe it was the Jedi in her.  Somehow, she’s always known.

We stuck around for the overall awards – winners got a glass vase/bowl full of candy and their photo on the blood stained podium with fake limbs hanging out – then gathered up out things and caught the shuttle bus back to our car11. Overall, an absolutely awesome and enjoyable day.

The Problems

But all was not perfect. Frankly, for lack of a better term, some people are raging douchebags and got all bent out of shape due to some minor mishaps. However, I can understand the frustration of a series of mishaps all adding up. But lack of planning on a participant’s part is not the race director’s fault. Other things are.

In the spirit of constructive criticism…

  1. The big issue that got things off on the wrong foot was packet pickup. From my understanding, there was a mixup with the transfer of data from the registration software to the timing company, so many packets were simply not there for people. Those that were there were not exactly in order. Between these two issues, people waited in line for upwards of two hours to get their packet. The director posted an explanation/apology on their Facebook page, promising not to use that software again, but if he reads this I’d advise against that. There was a reason they changed software this year. Don’t doubt that decision. They now know the issues with it and can plan accordingly. If they use something else new next year, the pitfalls are unknown. From conversations with others, last year’s chips were picked up the morning of the race; it was a good change to switch to on-bib timing and try for packet pickup the day before. If they change software again, they need to vet the process better. That’s all. All things considered, they adapted to the problem fairly well. But…
  2. Communication. Leading up to race day they had a really good variety of communication via the race web site, e-mail, and Facebook. But when they started running in to packet pickup issues, there was nothing. Understandably, they were focusing efforts on fixing the problem and moving people through packet pickup quickly, but the open communication forum of Facebook was flooded with people bitching and moaning and spreading misinformation. The mechanism is there; they need to take a moment and step back from things and let those not yet at packet pickup know what’s going on.
  3. Packet pickup part 2; they used an unoccupied storefront in the mall for pickup, which was probably a low cost option, but not practical. Only about 20 feet wide, we entered the storefront lengthwise, with volunteers spread across the side wall by last name. This meant that the long line spreading across the mall entered perpendicular to the 20ish short lines for each volunteer, creating a bottleneck and mass confusion as to what line people were in when we branched out. With that many separate lines, there needs to be better coordination and logistics feeding in to those lines. (E.g. a different configuration to avoid the perpendicular approach and/or a “wait here” point with a volunteer feeding the shorter lines.)
  4. Packet pickup, part 312; 3600 some-odd registrants in a six hour window is going to be rough, even if all the packets are present and in order and the layout flows smoothly. The event is growing; time to grow the packet pickup. (Might I recommend soliciting a high school for the use of their auditorium?)
  5. Race day morning, the first half dozen buses overshot the start line due to a lack of clear instructions or volunteers/signs telling them where to stop. The same thing happened in Layton. Maybe it’s a Utah thing? We weren’t really complaining about the extra half hour on the heated bus, but the people waiting for our bus to get back for a second run weren’t too happy. Should be an easy thing to fix; just needs to be on someone’s race day checklist.
  6. Tent space? There was fair warning about the limited space in the heated tent, but if registration numbers grow again next year they should really try to get a second one. Or cap registration to what they can reasonably handle for bus, tent, and road capacities.
  7. Water! This wasn’t an issue for us, because I had a Jedi master full of two liters of crisp Utah aquatic goodness on my back, but slower runners and walkers who were depending on the water stops ran in to problems with volunteers running out of water. One team noticed they were near a water fountain and took the initiative to refill their jugs as quickly as they could, but others had no resources nearby and had to shut down before the midpack of the second start wave came through.
  8. Terminology.  This is really the only item that I am strongly disappointed in.  Everything else I’m willing to chalk up to growing pains, lessons learned for the organizers, and mistakes they couldn’t have foreseen (but certainly could have handled better).  But the release of this year’s logo drives me mad.  This is the Provo Halloween Half Marathon.  That’s the name on their web site, their Facebook, the race results, all the advertising, etc.  And it makes sense, because, well, it’s in Provo, near Halloween, and a Half Marathon.  Why then, my friends, did you suddenly rebrand it as the “Halloween Marathon Provo 13.1″ when creating a logo?  Did your graphic designer screw up and nobody caught it?  Did you think that dropping the word “Half” would make it somehow cooler?  Is someone religiously opposed to alliteration?  What the hell?  I’m all for the efforts of finding and popularizing a better name for half marathon13 to break the perception that it’s a lesser event in some way, but no matter what you want to call it, 13.1 miles is not a marathon.  If you drop the word “half,” you’ve got to drop the word “marathon.”  Now, there’s nothing wrong with branding an event as a marathon but also having a 13.1 distance 14, but this event has one distance – 13.1 miles (assuming you don’t fall and hurt yourself) – and calling it a marathon is just lying.  Plus it loses the alliteration of “Halloween Half.”  Dudes.  There was no reason to screw up the logo like that.

Still, all things considered, far more went right than went wrong.  Participants and spectators all appeared to be having a good time – we certainly did.  Sometimes it’s easy to get all stressed out when something goes wrong, but if you’re bound and determined to have a miserable time only you can control that.  We went in to it to enjoy the event and enjoyed it through and through, save maybe for realizing that someone forgot to take a hit of her inhaler before we started.

Run! Yes. A Jedi's strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger...fear...aggression. The dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan's apprentice.

Show 14 footnotes

  1. Either that, or Facebook’s craptastic targeted advertising algorithm picked up on the fact that we were in the Provo area, or an hour north of it, a few days after we left.
  2. …and I think they actually ended up canceling it.  They certainly only did a Portland version this year.
  3. Well, not necessarily this specific race, but Halloween races in general.
  4. For those of you who somehow don’t see the issue, Ceridwen’s Leia costume is from A New Hope, sans hood and sleeves which proved too unwieldy to run 13.1 miles in, and mine is from Empire Strikes Back, set two years after the Battle of Yavin that closes ANH.  We’d totally get kicked out of any CosPlay group.
  5. I’m normally not a hydration-carrier, but Ceridwen’s Nathan pack would ruin the look, so we went with the camo approach
  6. Plus one “Look, he’s got an Ewok on his back!” . . . Don’t worry lady, we don’t judge.
  7. You know, those lazy teenager “this is my costume” t-shirts, cartoon character shirts with matching hats, and fun orange and black outfits that you might wear to the office in late October.
  8. Which I believe started just a few minutes late.
  9. The race details not only told us to stay in the left lane of 92, but asked runners who use headphones to keep the music off until they reach the Parkway trail.  Maybe she couldn’t read?
  10. One page was missing names and bib numbers, so maybe we were there.
  11. This was apparently an issue they corrected from last year, when there were huge lines for too few buses.  Quadrupling the number of shuttles coupled probably with some people who assumed it would be a cock-up again and arranged a two-car car pool solution resulting in a zero-wait-time boarding process.  Score.
  12. Yes, really.
  13. Halfathon, 21k, Pikermi, a ten miler plus a 5k, or just a good ol’ 13.1 mile race.
  14. Recent case in point, the Nike Women’s Marathon.

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

— Robert Burns, 17851

 The Layton Marathon

This race was excellent from start to finish.  Slightly less awesome pre-start, but nothing really worth complaining about.  (As I mentioned yesterday, they were very good at communicating with runners, so it’s sort of one of those you-can’t-complain-if-you-don’t-love things…)

We actually saw the buses caravaning over a highway overpass exactly as we passed under it, and they followed us right up to Ellison Park where they were scheduled to whisk us away to the start line over on Antelope Island no later than 5:00 prompt.  So no standing around waiting in the cold for me!  Right on that bus.

Now, there’s not many roads on the island.  The marathon runs along the main road, which follows the eastern shoreline.  Yet somehow, our bus driver, of the lead bus, made a wrong turn and ended up somewhere on the interior of the island, possibly where the ranger housing is.  And he ignored or didn’t hear us saying there was a loop to double back to the main road, so we made a k-turn on a narrow road in the dark in the rain.  And four more buses followed us.  And . . . then we overshot the start line, in part because we got there before any staff or volunteers, but the driver turned around and dropped us where we ought to have been a few minutes later after some staff arrived, turned on the flood lights, and fired up the job site heater they had rented.

We looked at it as some bonus time on the bus before stepping out to wait in the 40 degree drizzley dark.  No complaints there, except that our bus didn’t have a functional heater.

Yeah, we all fit through that arch...

Also on my bus were five guys from Fort Collins, CO, out to break the world record for the fastest linked marathon time. Their target was sub-3, which I think would have scored three of the five of them the top male awards.  According to my wife, they finished in about 3:06, still breaking the record by 20 minutes, but not quite top of the field here in Layton.

The start line, once staff and volunteers got it all set up, featured a pop-up tend to shield us from the light drizzle and trap some of the heater’s warmth, plenty of water, some fruit, and these elecrolyte gels that apparently require 13 ounces of water to digest2  The porta-potties were plentiful, but being a start line, everyone needs them at once.  And to his credit, the race director held the start gun ten minutes to give everyone who was waiting in line a chance to get through the bathrooms.  That was a first.  I suppose it could potentially screw up someone who was timing their visit with the expected start gun, but that seems unlikely.

And so, somewhere around 6:40 this morning, just after the drizzle called it quits, we were off.  Through a very narrow start arch.  Ten miles of Antelope Island, seven miles of causeway, and 9.2 miles of rural and suburban Utah.  We started in the dark for about six miles before the pre-dawn broke and allowed us to see the kind volunteers who were offering up water and Powerade.  The field was fairly thin and the views in every direction were spectacular.  We shadowed the coastline up to causeway, then it was straight on ’til morning for another seven miles.

Just shy of Mile 10

Initial landfall was in a relatively rural community, where off in the distance I spotted a few guys in what I thought were camoflage fatigues.  I figured the local National Guard or similar group was either sponsoring a water stop or helping the police out with an intersection.  Then I noticed the guns.  And the game cart.  It’s not often that guys setting off for a day of hunting cross paths with a marathon, is it?

Once we got in to the suburbs, the crowds picked up a bit.  While I’m certainly not a must-have-cheering-people-to-enjoy-my-race kind of person, it’s always nice to see people who are having fun watching the race and cheering on people they don’t know.  Two such people turned out to be holding signs advertising their yard sale, but were screaming and waving them at runners as if they expected people to take a break to go check out their awesome collection of galoshes3.  In their defense, the road was half open to traffic as well, but it caught me as amusing nonetheless.

The big finish was back in the aforementioned Ellison Park, with a big, festive inflatable finish line, water, more PowerAde, fruit, big slices of whole grain bread4, and a finish corral that ran right in to a stage area for awards complete with tiered platforms covered in gold, silver, and bronze material.  Fancy!

Overall, great views, great volunteers, great support, a great race director, and a great time from start to finish.  From a race organization perspective, it was absolutely awesome.

My Layton Marathon

My performance, however, a somewhat different story.

I started off feeling awesome, actually having to remember which beep meant slow down and which beep meant speed up on my watch5.  Those first few miles I was actually looking forward to mile 5 when my target pace speeds up6 and it would stop beeping at me to slow down.  The whole time on the island I felt like I could hold 7:20 miles forever, even up and over the one hill.

After the initial starting line shuffle, I settled in more or less with a group of five or six guys going about my pace, then after mile five, picked it up a bit and caught up with another couple of guys that comprised the next “pack.”  I was feeling strong for this whole time and tried to just hold a steady pace, which resulted in actually passing a few more guys before the causeway.

I think I slowed a bit when I hit the causeway, maybe just because of the change of surface or the slight difference in how the wind was hitting me, but was able to maintain my target.  Between miles ten and twelve I caught up with and passed a few guys targeting even 7:30 splits, which seemed to be right on target for my 3:15 finish.  It seemed like the first thirteen miles had just flown by when we passed the remnants of what was the half marathon start corral.

Somewhere in the next few miles I started catching up with the tail end of the half marathon, and that’s where I completely lost momentum.  At first I thought it was all in my head; maybe I was just psyching myself out because even my “slow” pace was still faster than the rear pack half marathoners, so while I was passing them the lack of other marathoners near my pace for context threw me off?  This was my accepted theory when one guy caught up with me and greeted me with a fist bump – I fell in line behind him and was able to maintain a faster pace for a few miles before I left him behind at a water stop and never saw him again.  Without the “running buddy” I started slowing again, and even when a second guy caught up and passed me after we hit the mainland, I couldn’t find the strength to repeat the effort.

I wasn’t winded.  I wasn’t sore.  I just suddenly felt like I had no power in my legs.  It was surreal and very very frustrating.  I don’t think I went out too fast in the beginning – I’ve done that before and think I know what that feels like – and this wasn’t it. I felt like I was maintaining the same level of effort, yet I was going slower; looking down at my watch to see I was in the pace zone derisively labeled “TROT.”

Post race, in discussing it with my wife, I narrowed it down to two possibilities.  Or, more likely, a combination of the two.  First, all through my training, I’ve never really maintained my target pace for the long runs.  I might just not physically be ready to pull of a 3:15 marathon yet.  Second, and I’m putting a little more stock in this, even though it is a bit of the find-something-to-blame-other-than-yourself mentality, is that I broke rule number one of race day: don’t eat or drink anything new.

Duh.  I set aside the unknown-to-me electrolyte gels they were offering, but I didn’t use the same disciplines with the PowerAde at the aid stations.  There was water and PowerAde every two miles, starting at mile 3.  And I took PowerAde at almost every one of them out of some unsubstantiated fear that I would dehydrate and not realize it if I didn’t.  Because of the cool weather, I suppose?  Dumb.  Dumb.  Dumb.  I never drink PowerAde.  I’ve been doing my long runs with water and maybe a Gu or one of my wife’s fuel morsels.  Even when I get back from a long training run, I replenish with Propel Zero, or maybe some V8.  So then on race day I decide to drink full-sugar PowerAde every two miles?  Sooooo stuuuuupid.

Whatever the cause, it was what it was.  Fortunately, even when I started slowing down, I had already banked enough seconds on each mile to be close to a 3:10 overall pace, but as each mile passed I saw that time bank dwindle.  When I came around the bend to the finish and tried to give it an extra push, I saw that a PR was not to be.  I had eaten all my time up in the last ten miles.

But I’m not beating myself up.  I had a great time, my wife was at the finish line with balloons and a poster7 to celebrate the completion of my tenth marathon, and there was a delicious carrot cake at home to supplement the celebration.  And my final time was only a couple of minutes off my PR, so I know a new PR is within reach this fall.

After all, I’m registered for three more of these things before New Year’s.

Show 7 footnotes

  1. To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough.  Did you ever notice that anything you think you know as a modern reference turns out to be a Robert Burns poem from a couple hundred years earlier?
  2. So, yeah, I left those behind.
  3. Seriously.  I could see at least twenty pair lined up on the sidewalk.  Who collects that many galoshes in their lifetime?
  4. BRILLIANT!  Such a better idea than pizza.  But I certainly needed more than a six ounce cup of water if I was going to try to eat the whole thing.
  5. And when I say “my” watch, I mean my wife’s watch which I was wearing today because mine’s in the shop.
  6. I set myself a 5/15/10 plan for a few different finish times, with a 3:15 finish as my ideal target.
  7. Okay, she actually left them in the car so they didn’t get wet in the rain while she waited for me, but they were there nonetheless, and a great surprise to brighten my spirits!

Honestly; I had no clue until I found out about this race last year.  I was hoping to run the inaugural race, but wasn’t in the area1, but this year when my wife and I decided that we definitely wanted to be out of Washington before September, I shifted my fall marathon search east and south a bit and rediscovered Layton2.

It worked out after my marathon hiatus that whatever I ran next would be my tenth marathon.  Ten seems like an important number, so I sought out a potential PR course (passing up a few really interesting looking trail marathons and this-course-will-kill-you-but-it’s-worth-it  options) far enough in the distance to focus sufficient time to some serious training.

The Scenic Route

And so back in May I signed up for the Layton Marathon and started an 18 week training plan on June 6.  Our route was plotted from Concrete, Washington, across the Idaho panhandle, in to Montana, back down in to (what would you call it – “mainland”?) Idaho, and on to the Great Salt Lake.  We’re staying in North Salt Lake, a suburb north of SLC but just a bit south of Layton.  In short, close enough not to need that hotel room I booked back in May, but not quite walking distance to the start line.  Or rather the buses to the start line.

Layton is a one-way course, starting out on Antelope Island, out in the middle of the Salt Lake, running along the shoreline for ten miles, before crossing Farmington Bay along seven miles of causeway.  When we make landfall, there’s a little bit of zig-zagging through what I think might technically be Syracuse, UT before finishing up in Layton.  Thanks to the big right hand turn to cross the lake and a little bit of a southward hook at the end, the course doubles back on itself enough to have gotten certified as World Record3 eligible as well as Boston and Olympic Qualifying4, something they are quite proud of as the only marathon in Utah to qualify for all three standards.  Personally, I’ve got little to no5 chance of hitting these goals, but is shows a certain level of professionalism and pride in their event that is so often lost on most for-profit marathons.  Especially those that focus so much on a scenic course – I’d imagine it’s relatively easy to plot a course that meets international qualifying standards if you don’t care what your runners are looking at or how it disrupts traffic in your town, but Layton seems to have accomplished a very scenic course with an honestly “flat and fast” profile while scoring an elite field and international qualifying standards.  Mad props to the race director and his/her posse.

I’m not going to lie.  The scenic course was certainly a factor in choosing this race.  It’s a place where professional photographers go for PhotoWalks6 and one of the most overlooked scenic areas in the country.  I was worried that my desire to carry a camera on the course would sabotage all the training I’ve done and my hopes of striving for a PR.  The overcast forecast has helped greatly to ease my need to leave the camera at home (or with my wife) and focus on running my best race.

The race organizers have been really good at keeping lines of communication open.  They’re very interactive on their Facebook page, asking for runners’ opinions on different medal and t-shirt designs, and other decisions of that type that are normally made in a vacuum.  This is a great new trend I’ve seen lately on small to medium sized races, and I’m really liking it.  It makes the whole thing more democratic and while they still can’t please everyone all the time, hopefully the transparency will allow people to see how the decisions are reached and not let something stupid like a dislike for the t-shirt color reduce their enjoyment of the race.  There have also been a great number of e-mails (informative and helpful, not trying to sell me random add-on!) with updated info, reminders, and last minute essentials.  Such as the fact that the unexpected rains all week, while not creating a soggy race, have created a soggy, soggy parking field, so we might be redirected to nearby school parking lots.  Duly noted.

So long story short7, I’m really looking forward to this race.  They’re still pretty small, so the Expo was one meeting room at a Courtyard Marriott.  With the exception of the very lost couple in front of me who couldn’t seem to follow the order of operations that was set out very clearly for everyone to follow, things went smoothly.  Confirm your bib number, get some flyers, get a bib, get a shirt, rock on.  Sponsors and vendor tables were minimal and non-intrusive.  Verizon Wireless was giving out what they claimed were bandanas but turned out to be Buff ripoffs (or maybe real Buffs8) which was pretty snazzy – Expo swag I’ll actually use!  There was a triathlon training team looking for members, a t-shirt shop, and some sort of photo booth thing that I didn’t explore.  Someone must have been running late, because the “info table” was abandoned, and the “guy who knows things” was manning the shirt table solo, which caused a backup due to people who needed info.  Otherwise, pretty smooth.

The one thing that drives me crazy, though, is when races just post your bib number and don’t have a volunteer confirm it before giving you your bib/chip.  A 5k I did in Jacksonville9 a couple of years ago did that and it was absolute chaos.  My wife and I accidentally mixed up our unmarked chips, so I inadvertently stole the third place women overall prize from it’s deserving recipient10  On top of this, someone unknown to us claimed my father-in-law’s bib11 (he wasn’t able to join us) and set him a PR and age group course record.  And that’s just the incidents that directly affected people I know.  Anyway, I hope nothing like that happens here12, but it’s a frickin’ recipe for disaster that race directors really need to find a way around.  There’s no reason why the people with the bibs and chips can’t have copies of the participant lists as well.

Alright.  That’s enough ranting.  Minor stuff.  Hopefully.  Overall, a good experience so far.  Still looking forward to 4 AM and a nice brisk jog over Salt Lake.

Guess I registered "early" . . .


Show 12 footnotes

  1. Truth: I live in an RV and travel nearly constantly, but don’t like the idea of “traveling” to a race.  I’ve even got a rambling rotting in the drafts folder.  Psychiatric intervention may be more helpful, though.
  2. Technically, I think my wife “found” it this time around.
  3. If your browser doesn’t jump to it, the relevant bits are on Adobe page 222 (actually 234).  (Also, you should get a better browser.)  Section X, rule 260, most specifically Part 28 regarding road races.  Aside from a broad enough international elite field, the hardest point for most race organizers seems to item b, keeping their start line and finish line within 13.1 miles of one another as the bird flies without creating too steep a course.
  4. Wicked fast ladies, this is your link.
  5. I say little only because of the hypothetically feasible chance of hitting 3:15 for Boston in my first race as the youngest category of “old man.”
  6. See the work of Bryan Jones and Michael Calanan.
  7. Too late.
  8. I know Buff does custom printing like that, but I’d assume they’d keep their logo on it – or at least the packaging.  If it’s real, they use a lighter/cheaper material and if it’s not real, they should probably sue for directly copying not only the product but the “how to use this” diagrams…
  9.   The Festival of Lights 5k, to be specific.  Yeah, I name names.
  10. Fortunately, her boyfriend figured out what happened and tracked me down on Facebook, and, to their credit, the race director quickly corrected the error, but the deserving woman had already missed out on the “glory” of the awards ceremony, which really sucks.
  11. Hey, and today’s his birthday.  Happy birthday!
  12. At least the chips are on-bib stickers and have numbers printed on them!

Dig in to any subculture enough, and you’ll find the fanatics.  They come in different flavors – the statistics fanatics, the novelty fanatics, the linguistic fanatics, whatever.  You find them in academic circles, sci-fi and fantasy fan groups that border on cults, actual real life cults, music fans of every genre, professional sports fans, and so on and so forth.

Running is no exception.  Start with a light jog around the block, make some friends, maybe enter a local 5k, and before you know it you’re age grading your time on every workout, looking for ultras that scale the highest summit in every state, and learning how to ask where the porta-potties are in seventeen languages in order to avoid unpleasantness on what your colleagues have come to call your Epic Eurasian Marathon Idiot Vacation.

Or, you know, somewhere in between.

At some level, though, we all start noticing patterns in our lives and what we love.  This creates groups like the Half Fanatics, Marathon Maniacs, and the 50 States Club.  It creates those of us who get on “running streaks” of at least x miles every day.  It creates the guys that fly all over the world to run a marathon (distance) on every continent in seven daysOr seven ultras.

All of this can be very encouraging if you need something to keep you going.  It can help get you out of bed on those I-don’t-wanna days.  It can inspire others.  It can even raise money for charity.  For a lot of people, chasing patterns can certainly make running more fun.  Alternately, chasing patterns can drive you insane, cost you tons of money, and change your direction.  You skip recovery, you lose form, you sign up for things that you have no real interest in participating in, whatever.  Some will swear up and down that pattern chasing is the greatest thing ever – whatever form that may be for them.  Others look down on such people with disgust, making claims that they either don’t get it, don’t respect the sport, or aren’t challenging themselves1.  As with most things in life where large groups of people disagree, the key is balance.

Everyone has their own reasons for running.  And everyone participating in any given event has their own reason for participating in that event.  And each individual’s reasons may change over time.  Just like elites realize that the thousands of people behind them enable the race to exist and have prize money and the walkers at the end realize that without the draw of the elites there wouldn’t be enough sponsorship and participation for organizers to be able to keep the course closed long enough for them to finish, whatever your reason for racing, we all need to remember that not everybody signs up for that same reason.

This going somewhere?

Actually, I think that was the point.  Love your fellow runner, damn it.  What led me here was my own pattern chasing.

I started running in 2007.  In 2008 I ran a marathon, liked it, and ran another.  In 2009, I ran three.  In 2010, I ran four.  So now, here we are in 2011, and since meeting my half marathon goal in May I’ve managed to register myself for four marathons in the last three months of the year.

While I’ve been training for Layton, and I hope to post a decent time in Mesquite, I have no fantasies about doing anything close to my PR the following day in Valley of Fire.  Layton is about a PR attempt.  Mesquite and Valley of Fire are about the challenge of back to back marathons.  Vegas is about running the Strip at Night, some year-end unwinding in Vegas, and giving Competitor Group a chance to see if they’re worth the money.  Different reasons for each.

But of course that 2 – 3 – 4 – 4 pattern of the last few years has got me really wanting to find a fifth 2011 marathon before the year end.  There are certainly possibilities, but nothing really convenient to our RV Park in Mesquite.  Toss in a little travel to family for Thanksgiving and fitting in a fifth marathon quickly became an all consuming obsession.

Until I said stop.  Just stop.  I’ve got a reason to run Layton.  I’ve got a reason to run Mesquite, Valley of Fire, and Vegas.  The only reason I had to run a fifth marathon was to say I’ve run 2, 3, 4, and 5 marathons, respectively, the last four years.  Which would only reinforce the desire to run six marathons in 20122.  So I’m stating it publicly here: I will not run a fifth marathon in 2011.  And I’m not going to pay a lot for this muffler.

Some races I run to try and set a PR.  Or try and score an age group award – or maybe even an overall award.  Back to back marathons are their own challenge and not something I think I’m going to make a habit of, but a personal achievement I’m looking forward to tackling.  Some races I don’t even try to run my best but do it to run with my wife, walk with my mother, or just dress up in a costume and have fun3.  But a notch on the shoe rack is no reason to run a race.

At least not for me.  At least not right now.

Show 3 footnotes

  1. A good example is Lancelot A. Smith’s fairly controversial critique of “50 Staters” from a few years ago.
  2. Which I may or may not do.  The point is that it’s not about the number.
  3. And/or get muddy, scratched, and bruised.

… and June, July, and August, too.

So I slacked a bit on keeping track of goals through the summer.  The first weekend of October seemed like as good a time as any to get back on the goal-seeking pony, so let’s see what’s up with my 2011 goals, eh?

  1. Mileage – The first five months of the year were pretty steady, at 117, 104, 117, 115, and 116 miles respectively.  In June, however, my marathon training plan picked up the miles a bit, so I stuck with that and left my “consistency” goal behind for the time being.  With 145 miles in June, 145 in July, 187 in August, and 162 in September, but goal will be to try and keep stead around that 115 mark for the last three months of the year.  Still plenty of miles above the 104.131456 targeted average for the 2011 kilometer challenge.
  2. Race Weight – A little bit of a yo-yo summer, mostly in August with visits to family and friends and the cookies and beer that go along with that.  Once my wife and I returned to normal life and cleared the last of our social encounters in Montana, we decided to go dry until we’re both done with our marathons.  Poof!  Just like that, five pounds off each of us.  Good thing to remember when struggling a few pounds from your goal weight.
    Big challenge for me will be this week, waning the food intake back along with the mileage taper.  Overall, though, I’m feeling much more like I’m at my “race weight” and post-marathon will try and building some amount of muscle.
  3. Cross Training – I’ve been spotty at best with this.  Spending July at a RV park in BC with a pool got me excited about swimming, but I lost momentum in New Hampshire when I realized I couldn’t even make it a quarter mile in open water.  Yoga has come and gone – lately I’ve been doing better getting in one or two routines a week, but nothing regular.  I think I burnt out trying to maintain a daily practice; now I need to find the balance of giving myself “permission” to not do yoga every day, but to still find the discipline to do it “often.”  Weight training was abysmal for most of the summer, but I decided in early September that as the marathon plan started the taper I would try and use that as initiative to start up a serious weight routine.  I’m focusing on upper body and core work and so far have maintained three workouts a week for the past two weeks.  This week might be light so as not to burn out for Saturday, but during recovery there’s no reason I can’t keep on the weight plan.
  4. Water – It turned out that my fancy new bottle did, in fact, drip, but I’m maintaining the habit and taking in 100 oz a day without thinking about it.
  5. Workouts, not just runs – Well, signing up for a marathon and starting the training plan back in June certainly made this easier to maintain.  I still don’t like having so many “easy” runs, but it ensured at least one long run and one speedwork or tempo run each week.  Since I got a little cocksure (see below) and added a few more marathons to my fall calendar, I’ll be focusing on speed work and hills in the time in between races.
  6. 19:00 5k – No, I didn’t break my 19:00 PR from The Great Kilted Run at the New Hampshire State Police D.A.R.E. Classic.  And that was my only 5k attempt all summer.  Breaking that 19 minute mark might get pushed to a 2012 goal.
  7. 1:32 half marathon –  (Tacoma City Marathon, May 1, 1:29:56)
  8. Another sub-3:30 Marathon – That training plan I started on June 6 culminates at the Layton Marathon this Saturday.  According to said plan, I’m supposedly capable of a 2:54:50.  But as I don’t smoke that much crack while training, I’ll target something in the 3:20-3:30 range and pick it up at the end if I feel amazing.  If things go amazingly, I’ve somehow managed to add two more races in between Layton and Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll on December 4.  Back to back, on November 19 and 20, I’ll be burning out at the Mesquite Tri-State Marathon (St. George, UT to Mesquite, NV via Arizona) and the Valley of Fire Marathon.  I don’t expect to pull off a PR on Sunday, but should be able to push the time on Saturday on Mesquite’s mostly downhill course.
  9. Sub-40:00 10k – I’ve only had the one attempt at this over the summer; the Canada Day Rock 10k in White Rock, BC, but I only managed a 40:35 (or 41:06 on the official record).  It was a tough course with a few pretty significant hills, though, so I’m fairly confident that I can break that 40 minute mark on a somewhat more forgiving course.  That, too, though, may be a 2012 task.  Since someone went and registered for four marathons in eight weeks.
  10. Blog about something other than my training – Not much progress on this point, since I haven’t spent much of the summer writing anything at all.  But I’ve got a few drafts and ideas to work on, so hopefully there will be some progress here before New Year’s.