"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.

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.

Critiques

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.