11 down, 39 to go!
Idaho is checked off the list, as I completed the Salmon Marathon, from Tendoy (the birthplace of Sacagawea) to Salmon, ID. While my performance did not meet my expectations, leaving me feeling disappointed, frustrated, angry, and defeated…anytime I can run a marathon, I really am full of gratitude, although this particular post won’t sound like it much. Get ready for a long (and kinda cranky) race report…
With such focused and purposeful training under my belt, I went into the weekend convinced that I would utterly demolish my PR of 4:25:56, and was shooting for a stretch-goal of a Boston Qualifier time of 3:14:59 or faster.
I flew into Bozeman, MT, on Friday, and met several people on the plane who were planning to run the Bozeman Marathon on Sunday. The drive from Bozeman to Salmon was scenic in some areas, rather boring in others, but smooth-sailing all the way in a comfortable rental car.
As I approached the Idaho state line, and turned south in to Gibbonsville, I dropped into the full brunt of the smoke from the Mustang Complex fire, which has been burning for many weeks. Some of the smoky air I’ve trained through in Colorado was actually a result of these fires in Idaho.
Along the curvy canyon road, visibility shrunk to less than a half-mile in sections, with a powerful smell, and eye-irritating thickness. I quickly pulled over to find the magic button on the rental car’s dash to close off the outside air, and recirculate the interior air through the air-conditioner. By the time I found it, it was too late. The inside of my vehicle was already full of smoke, that I was now just circulating around, hoping it would clear.
A few more miles down the road, I came to the incident command base, a tent-city for National Forest Service and Army National Guard firefighters. There must have been 250 tents, and about 50 trucks and Hummers stationed there. I was stopped in the road by National Forest Service, as a caravan of about a dozen National Guard Hummers came roaring by and into the base. While waiting, I lowered my window to speak with the Forest Ranger and ask his thoughts on the smoke forecast for the next morning.
I felt like I was in a Cheech and Chong movie when I lowered my window, because I could actually see the smoke from inside my car floating out my open window. I can only imagine what the Forest Ranger was thinking. After getting the forecast (not an optimistic one) for the smoke on race morning, I was underway again, and was soon glad to be leaving the smokiest area behind me as I approached Salmon.
My lodging was at the Greyhouse Inn B&B, a great place owned and operated by Sharon and Dave, who greeted me enthusiastically, as they showed me to the Carriage House, which I had all to myself. These digs were awesome!
After dumping some stuff in the cabin, I headed back into Salmon for race-packet pick-up, where I heard all kinds of predictions about the smoke for the next morning, and all kinds of conflicting comments about the difficulty of the course. It was nice that they had some pizza and antipasti there, as well as some kegs of beer (interesting choice).
I then met up with some fellow Marathon Maniacs for dinner at the Junkyard Bistro. This was a great pre-race dinner of custom pasta dishes and salads. I really enjoyed meeting Steve, Janet, Regina, David, Keith, and Carl…great people, and their company helped calm my nerves a bit. Janet was on her 2nd go-around of marathons in all 50-states. Steve and Carl were about as far along as I am in the quest for 50-states, and were camping in Salmon, then doing the double in Bozeman. David was working on getting a Boston Qualifying time in all 50 states (he nailed it in Salmon!). Keith was the newest Maniac at the table, doing his first double on the weekend (Salmon Saturday, Bozeman Sunday). He ended up taking 3rd in my age-group! Regina was “outed” by her friend Janet as having run in the 1984 Olympic Marathon for Ireland! This was the first year women were allowed to run in the Olympic Marathon, and she ran against Joan Benoit…a legend in the marathon. Regina ended up as the 2nd female finisher, and 1st in her age-group! It was great to hear all their stories and advice, and they were kind to put up with my nervous blabbering.
Race morning was quite cool, and very dark as we rode the school bus to the start. I was happy to see Janet and Regina board the bus and sit near me. Having nursed a nagging Achilles/calf strain for several weeks in July and August, I was nervous going into the race. The night before, my nerves got the best of me, resulting in frequent trips to the bathroom throughout the night and early morning.
We were dropped of at a historic 100-year-old one-room schoolhouse, still in use today, and were able to get situated inside while staying warm. The students had left us good luck notes, and asked for us to write notes back to them, so it was a nice diversion and gave some good energy and lightheartedness to the moment. I made sure to leave several notes for the students, thanking them for their welcoming and encouraging notes.
Just before the start, Barco (another Maniac, who was starting a string of 52 Marathons in 26 weeks with Salmon) gathered the Maniacs together for a starting line photo. Shortly afterwards, we were off!
The race plan was to go by feel, with miles 0-8 as a relaxed stretch of holding-back…way back. I focused on restraint, though I felt really good and wanted to go faster. I kept holding back, and was surprised that I was still running sub-9 pace, with a surprisingly low heart-rate. I just tried to float and relax, repeating the “hold back” mantra in my head. I knew that there were two significant hills on the course, at mile 8 and a longer one from miles 14-16. At the crest of each of those hills was my green-light to shift into a faster gear.
I felt like I was belted to a winch at the finish-line that was pulling me in. It was truly effortless running, with a smile on my face, and a low heart-rate on my watch. By mile 7, I was convinced the training and tapering had paid off…I could feel it. This was going to be my day. I couldn’t wait to hit the hill at mile 8, and pick-up my pace on the downhill. It was like looking at the fuel gauge of your car after the first hour of a long road-trip, and seeing that your gas tank was still on “full”. I didn’t feel like I had used anything yet, and I was averaging sub-9 miles, wanting to go faster.
Soon enough, I crested the first hill, and just let my hips go, increasing my cadence on the downhill, but careful not to increase my stride length too much. I leaned forward slightly on the downhill, and just floated down. A quick check of my watch said I was around a 7-min-mile pace, even sub-7 for some sections of the long gradual downhill. I held back again, trying to stay around 7:45 pace for this downhill, wanting to make sure I kept plenty in the tank for the next hill.
I hit the half-marathon mark at around 1:53, a new half-marathon PR for me, and I still felt like I hadn’t dipped into my tank much at all. “Right on track for a negative split, a huge PR, and maybe even a Boston Qualifying time,” I thought to myself.
Then the next hill came. A long gradual hill that started with a steeper section as we made a right-hand turn. It was about mile 15 when I landed on a larger than average piece of the gravel road, and when I pushed off with that foot, it rolled back. I quickly caught myself, but the damage was done. It felt like someone just shot me in the Achilles/calf. I had re-aggravated the old injury, and it felt like I really did a job on it. No, no, no!!
I walked for about 30-seconds, trying to compose myself. In a bit of angry denial, I started running again, and it was suddenly quite clear…this was not going to be my day after all. It felt like my Achilles and calf had exploded, and I could barely push-off without the kind of pain that made everything below my knee feel like it was in a meat-grinder. Cue the negative and defeated self-talk.
“You’re screwed. You’re toast. You’re done. You should stop now before you cause even more damage. Don’t be a hero. Be smart. There will be other marathons. Don’t be an idiot. It wasn’t meant to be. It’s not your fault. You did the best you could.” Blah, blah, blah. On and on and on. I couldn’t shut that voice up for the next 11 miles. But I decided somewhere in that talk that I was still making forward progress.
“Relentless forward progress” is one of the mantras I repeat to myself when things get hard. It took me several miles of painful running with frequent walk-breaks thrown in before I realized I was still moving forward. I started to set super-short-term goals. “Run to that fence-post”, and I’d walk for 60-seconds or longer when I got there. “Just run to that bush,” and again I’d push until I got to the bush 20-yards away, before stumbling to a walk again.
This was how the last 11 miles of the race went. Painful, slow, and mind-numbingly frustrating. And I had to listen to that negative voice the whole way…but, maybe that’s what kept me going. I knew that if I didn’t finish, I’d have a much louder negative voice to deal with on the drive back to the airport, and the flight home, and the months of healing until my next race, etc.
For a stretch of several miles in there, I didn’t see a single other person. The lead pack had pushed far ahead of me and out of view, and I was still apparently far enough ahead of the back-of-the-pack to be out of their view too. During that stretch, the voice changed into, “Dude, you made a wrong turn somewhere, you’re not even on the course anymore! Where are you? Where is everyone? I hope they’ll find me out here! I wish those damn cattle would just shut-up so maybe I could hear some footsteps in the distance!” (the herds were mooing like hundreds of vuvuzelas at a South African soccer stadium). It was maddening. I even stopped and held still a couple times, just to listen for something…anything…besides the cattle and my own footsteps. But there was nothing. It was a solitary stretch, except for the constant nagging of my own negative-Nancy inner voice.
Finally, I reached the finish, probably with an angry beaten-down expression on my face (can’t wait to see THAT picture), and promptly walked out into the field, away from the finish festivities. Just pissed-off. Downright angry. I finished in 4:38…missed my PR by 12-minutes, and a BQ time by a junk-ton. Add to that an injury that I knew was bad, and I just wanted everyone to go away.
Eventually, I made my way to the food table, not wanting anything, but knowing I should have something. I dragged myself to the free-massage tent, and asked for help…anything…whatever you can do to help with this thing that used to be my lower-leg.
It actually helped quite a bit with the physical pain, but not the emotional pain. I felt like I wanted to go back to the start and have a do-over. I just wanted it back. I knew I could do way better than a 4:38. I still had a lot left in the tank…I didn’t have to use it to average a 13:30min/mile for the last 10K. Argh. I was just mad.
Don’t get me wrong. There were many moments of pure joy and exhilaration in this marathon experience, and I always love meeting other Maniacs. As marathons go, this course was great, scenic, and had some good long downhills in it. Although there was no fan support, the volunteers were great, and the town really made us feel welcome. I’d highly recommend this marathon, especially if you like small ones with character. But even writing this a week later…I’m just still mad. The competitor in me is still boiling. I’ll get over it, and I’ll use it for my next race, and I’ll be able to focus on all the positives that were in this (like being blessed and privileged enough to even make it to the starting line), but the disappointment still stings.
So, PR, you get a stay of execution. You get to claim “PR” status for a little while longer…but you’re on borrowed time now. You’re doing down next time. You’ve been warned.