Tuesday, October 8, 2013

2.5 weeks later

Last year, several runners from the Hendersonville Running Club ran the Top of Utah Marathon and had a really positive experience.  I've always wanted to go to Utah and over the last year, have started running some marathons as steady, long sessions rather than flat-out races.  If I take it easy for a few days before and after the race, and treat it like a "real" marathon, fueling wise, I feel it's a really good training stimulus and doesn't require much more recovery than my normal faster long runs, which I run on an empty stomach, with no fuel during the run.

My goal for the race was for Jake Krong and I to take the first two spots and run 2:25 on the faster end but obviously, slower would better. The course lost a little over 1,000 ft. in elevation and went from around 5500 ft. to 4500 ft. with most of that coming in the first 14 miles, which winds down a canyon.  I was a little nervous that all of that downhill running and eccentric contractions would wreak havoc on my quads, but was hoping the reduced effort wouldn't make post-race soreness too much of an issue.  I was also a little bit nervous about the altitude.  I didn't expect to notice it running while downhill but the issue would still be there and would deifnitely kick in ater the downhills were over.

A week before the race, Jake and I saw we were the top seeds.  However, Seth Pilkington was in the field.  Seth was a major stud a few years ago before getting diabetes.  He seems like he's getting back to the grind and even ran a mid 30 10k this summer, so I knew he would be tough.  I felt like we would definitely be able to beat him, but his marathon race pace was going to be harder than I probably would have liked.  I saw that he also has a diabetic dog, which can detect when he has low blood sugar.  There's a fourth grade kid at my school who is diabetic and I thought I'd impressed him with my diabetic dog knowledge but he only said, "yeah, I knew that a couple months ago."

Other than Seth, there were two mystery Kenyans entered.  I say mystery Kenyans because I had no idea what their names were.  I checked the final entry list and didn't see any Kenyan names on it, but the pre-race article said two Kenyans would compete for the win, so I was baffled.  When people hear "Kenyans", they automatically think "fast runners." There are fast Kenyans and slow Kenyans.  What these two were, I had no idea.  I figured they were coming to win the cash and probably would follow Jake's and my strategy of running for place.  I didn't want to run too fast and would let them go if need be.  But if the pace hovered around 2:25 until 10k to go, I didn't mind throwing down a little bit, if needed.

Thursday morning, I was up at 3:00am so I could get a quick workout in before leaving and then just before 6:30am, I was boarded and ready to head to Chicago.  After a three hour delay in Chicago, I finally landed in Salt Lake City.  I picked up my little Ford Fiesta hatchback and after turning down upgrading to a Corvette and a ton of other stuff, I was finally on my way. I was staying at the hotel on the Utah State University campus and after checking in, I went out for a run.  Surprisingly, I didn't notice the altitude at all and despite being soaked in sweat after my morning run in Tennessee, I barely sweat at all in the dry, mountain air.  I also noticed the people look a lot different in Utah.  While in the good ol' South, runners stick out pretty easily (if they aren't behind someone else), out here, it seemed like everyone was pretty fit. The altitude didn't seem to bother me at all, but then again, I was just jogging.  I did notice that it dried me out a good bit and I was a lot more thirsty than usual.

Friday morning, I headed out to Bear Lake for a run, which was about 45 minutes away.  I was a little nervous going from 4500 ft. elevation to 6000 ft. but I was bored, so went anyway. The page online said the route gave great views of the lake but the only thing I saw of note was some kid garbed up in dirt biking clothes, get mad at his brothers and start stomping on a plastic bucket, breaking it.  Kids these days. After the run, I was planning on driving to Wyoming, to rack up a new state but decided to head back since I plan on going to Grand Teton and Yellowstone one day.

Friday afternoon I met up with the Hendersonville crew (Skip and Charlene Alcorn, Jim Smith and Shari Payne) to pick-up our race packets and drive the canyon part of the course.  I was starting to feel pretty bad and was really hoping it was just an allergy issue, instead of an incoming virus.  While the drive down the canyon was really pretty, it had a ton of twists.  That meant running the tangents would be really important so I didn't add too much distance.  And I was happy to see that the canyon was a very slight downhill, rather than a bunch of big drops...much easier on the legs.  After driving the course, we went to some pizza place for dinner.  I had no appetite at all and was having my own mental pity party because I thought for sure I was getting sick. After dinner, I headed straight to bed.  But unfortunately, there was some dance party or something on campus that sounded like it was right outside my window.  I eventually got used to it because at least there was some rhythm to it, but I didn't get used to the screaming little kids running down the hallway.  I went out there a few times to try and mean-mug someone, but never saw anyone.  A few minutes later, the three Benadryl kicked in and I was out.

I woke up several times during the night, with a killer headache and a lot of nausea.  Anytime I tried to drink any water, I felt like I would throw up.  So I guess it was either dehydration or puking pizza. I chose the dehydration. I was out of bed for good around 4:15am and still had the killer headache and nausea.  I took some Excedrin Migraine, which made me nervous because I've never had that on the day of a race but as long as it helped the headache, I didn't care. I took a few sips of water and tried to make some coffee in my room, but the coffee maker was broken. I then went upstairs to the breakfast room to try and get some and when I poured it into my cup, it looked more like dirty creek water than the dark, heavily caffeinated coffee I was hoping for.  There went that idea but I guess Utah isn't exactly the best place to find a good cup of joe.  After downing a Powerbar and a pack of Pop-Tarts, I headed downstairs to catch the bus, which took us to another bus.  I sat behind some guy named Scott who was from Atlanta.  He had his buddy with him, but I'm terrible with names and can't remember it.  Luckily the Atlanta guy shared the same name as me. After about 10 minutes, we made our ways to another bus, for the 45 minute ride to the top of the canyon.

It turned out that Jake was on my bus, so I hung out with him until the race started.  I was insanely thirsty and luckily he had about 20 ounces of Gatorade, which I instantly chugged.  We waited in the overly long Porta-John line and it turns out my old Nashville buddy, Mark Spencer, was a few spots ahead of us.  Small world.  He just started working for Zappos in Las Vegas, who pays for his road racing fees and even offer a nap room at work.  That's my kind of job!  Twenty minutes later, we were finally done, as well as a couple pounds lighter.

About 20 minutes before the race, I did a short 1/2 mile warm-up or so, then stripped down to my shorts and singlet and did a few strides and more jogging. The temperature was right above 40 at the bottom of the canyon and after 1,000 ft. of elevation gain, I have to believe the temperature was in the mid 30s.

On the starting line, I saw Sasha Pachev, who usually runs the Rocket City Marathon.  He and his son both race in the old school Crocs, which they seem to really like.  I don't think I could ever pull that off, but everyone has their own taste.

When the race started, Seth shot to the front, along with some other guy with no Kenyan spottings pre-race. The pace felt really relaxed and I hung back about 10 meters or so.  I checked over my shoulder for Jake and he was about 10m behind me.  I kept the 10m distance for a couple miles while watching the two run.  Seth seemed super smooth and efficient, so I paid more attention to him because he seemed like the bigger threat.

After the other guy dropped, I decided to pull up beside Seth so he wouldn't think I was a pace mooch.  The pace still felt really easy and we were doing our best to run the tangents, while staying in a steady rhythm.  At one of the water spots, he grabbed his own water bottle which bummed me out because I didn't even think to ask if we were allowed to turn any in.  Luckily, I was packing some gel in my waistband and downed one, sans water and Jake's girlfriend, Andra was going to hand us some stuff at 14 and 20 miles.  We hung together and luckily the scenery was pretty because it was getting kind of boring and slightly awkward running right beside some dude for several miles and not saying anything.  A couple times, I would check back to see where Jake was and he seemed like he was about 200m behind.  I felt bad for leaving him so early but the pace felt super relaxed and I didn't want Seth to get too far ahead or too much confidence, so I stuck with him.

At the first Gu spot.  I heard someone yell "Berry" and it was an attempted grab and miss, so I grabbed the next one I saw. Crap, it was peanut butter flavored.  Seth must have heard me complaining because he asked if I got a peanut butter Gu.  I tried a tiny drop out of it before wanting to puke and I got mad and threw it into the woods like an angry ninja slinging a ninja star.  There went 100 calories I was supposed to get-in.  I then remembered they had Gatorade at most of the water spots, so I decided getting a couple ounces out of a cup or two would be better than nothing.  I would go for more than a couple ounces, but I could never drink out of cups without spilling and splashing it everywhere.  And I like most flavors of Gatorade, so I didn't think it would be an issue.  I finally made it to the next water stop and ran over to the first person I heard yell "Gatorade!"  I grabbed the cup and was mad again because it was grape, which is my least favorite flavor in Gatorade, Freeze-Pops, Snow Cones and most things.  And it wasn't just grape, but deep-down dark and overly concentrated grape.  I didn't even attempt it to drink it and slung the cup into the woods again.  If I was racing at a true marathon effort, I would have been really mad but since I was keeping this at around 95% of MP effort, getting in a few less calories shouldn't be a big issue.
Never Again

Seth and I still hung together until I heard him start to cough a good bit after taking in one of his fuel bottles.  He then fell back and it sounded like he was going to puke or something.  I slowed the pace a bit because I was running a little faster than I wanted and I'd rather him catch back up so we could run together later on.  After two consecutive 5:30s, he was still falling back, so I decided to pick it up some to try and break him mentally a bit, which would help Jake reel him in.

When I hit Andrea at 14 miles, I was going to let her know that Seth was dropping and for Jake to move a little bit.  When I checked over my shoulder around a turn, I saw that Jake was already in second place and about a minute behind or so. Perfect.  Right before getting my fuel bottle from Andrea, I saw an insanely huge hill.  I knew for sure that I would die on that thing but the course veered right and it was more slightly downhill running.  What a relief.

I didn't know what to do here.  I knew Jake was running really well and if I backed off too much, he'd catch me and then I'd either get second and slow down even more or if I wanted to win, I would potentially have to hammer pretty hard the last 10k or so.  If I kept on with the pace, I could potentially increase the gap even more and then hope Jake backed off, so I could back off as well.  I was feeling good, so I picked it up a little bit and was clicking off 5:15 miles, feeling really controlled.  At one point, a little yappy dog came out and started snapping at the boots of the cop on the lead motorcycle.  I expected him to bust a cap in him, but the dog backed off.  I waited for the dog to come up to me so I could field goal kick him over a fence but he just ran away.

While the dog never came for me, pretty soon, the altitude did.  At 18 miles, I went from feeling fresh as a daisy to wondering what the heck was happening.  I could breathe but it didn't feel satisfying at all.  I could tell that I was slowing down, despite more effort.  And after looking at the elevation map, post-race, 18 miles is exactly where the downhills stop and you have mostly flat running with a few little rollers. I instantly lost 15 seconds and tried not to fight it.  At this point in the race, the course has a lot of turns, so I hoped my lead was big enough to "hide" and not be spotted before another turn came.

At 20 miles, I got my last fuel bottle, which was perfect timing because it gave me something to distract me from the discomfort of the altitude.  I was really looking forward to just being done and was already mentally over this race.  At 22 miles, I relaxed a little bit more and it still appeared that I had a nice sized lead.  At 24 miles, I slowed down again and the last mile, I was just running to finish.  I wasn't trashed or anything, but I knew if I didn't slow down, fatigue would probably force me to.

Finally, the finish line was here and I crossed in 2:22:30.  Well, the official results say 2:22:34, but my Garmin said the former time and someone else I talked to said their official time was four seconds slow.  After crossing, I waited around to see Jake cross the line about a minute later, looking fresh as a daisy.  While I won the race, I felt like I ran harder than he did and realized that he's really fit right now.  I then walked right to the massage table.  I felt my legs buckle a bit when I walked down a small hill and knew my quads were going to be killing me the next day.  And my GPS only read 26.45 miles.  Not bad for all of the turns.

The 1-2 finish we planned.  Jake looks much sweatier than me.  Guess he needs to do some "poor man's altitude" training in Nashville

Seth ended up having some blood sugar issues and the guy who originally led with him, Jesse Dunn, finished in third, about 10 minutes behind me.  If Seth wasn't in the equation, Jake and I could have run about 10 minutes slower, which would mean much faster recovery, post-race. Oh well.

At the awards,  I ended up getting a really cool moose trophy.  I normally keep most of my trophies, unless they are cool looking or unique.  This was probably my favorite one I ever got, so I am definitely keeping it.
Top 2 men and women

On my way back to my car, I got a twitter message from my friend Ben Jackson.  We used to run together in the off-seasons during my college breaks and he just moved to Salt Lake City.  I planned to meet up with him, as I was staying with Jake in SLC overnight, so I could have a short drive to the airport in the morning.  I decided to head back to SLC a little earlier than planned, so I could have time to see Ben, but not before a stop to In-N-Out Burger.  It's no Jumbo & Delicious, but it's much better than my $1 Grilled Onion Cheddar Burger that I usually get at McDonalds.

I went out to eat with Jake, Andrea  and later on, Ben at some Neapolitan pizza place.  I think Neapolitan is Italian for "overly priced pizza with fancy sounding toppings". Just give me tons of cheese, pepperonis and grease.  It was good to catch back up with Ben and reminisce about old times while talking about our current and future lives.
That's the ticket

While I was looking forward to getting home to Mary, Kate and Ellis, I was also going to miss Utah, especially Salt Lake City.  You have tons of national parks within driving distance, tons of awesome ski resorts right near you and the weather is much better than the swampy South.  Our plan is to head to Greenville, SC if we end up moving sometime but I think I'm going to push Salt Lake City to the top of the list.

And yes, the soreness came for me. Big time.  I can't imagine how much pain I would have been in if I ran this one all out.  Coming in, I thought this would be an insanely fast course, but after running it, I don't think that it really is.  Sasha and I talked about it and we both feel that for the non-altitude athlete, it's a little slower than your typical flat and fast course.  Yeah, the elevation drop helps big time but you can't take advantage of it too much, or you'll trash your quads and be dead when it's time for the real racing.  Now, if you trained extensively for downhill running and lived at altitude, I feel like you could fly on it.  Move this course to a place with cool weather, low humidity and have it drop from 1,000 ft. to sea level and any 2:10 marathoner would break 2:00 on it.  But don't let that scare you off.  The weather is usually very favorable, which is a big factor in marathon racing.  And the race is very well organized, with Porta-Johns and clothing drop-off boxes literally every mile and plenty of people out there chasing their Boston qualifiers.  Maybe I'll come back next year and if I do, I'll be a little more ready for the downhills.

Balanced Splits: 5:23, 5:33, 5:17, 5:12, 5:20, 5:20, 5:22, 5:14, 5:19, 5:23, 5:30, 5:29, 5:28, 5:19, 5:14, 5:13, 5:18, 5:17, 5:32, 5:33, 5:24, 5:38, 5:40, 5:31, 5:55, 6:03, 63.


  1. I was starting to think 2:22 was so "ho-hum" for you these days that you weren't even going to bother putting up a report!

    I agree with you on 1) your pizza preferences 2) SLC is an awesome place to live and 3) moose trophies are the best

  2. Scott:

    My sea-level loop course PR is 2:30:32 set on the St. Jude course in Memphis. My TOU course PR is 2:27:46. When I set it I had lived and trained at the 4500 feet altitude for 10 years. I was also very well trained for downhill - 8 K in 21:58 down 7% grade left only a very minor soreness that was completely gone the next day, finishing TOU left only minor soreness in the calves, and I raced another marathon in St. George two weeks later in 2:24:47 again with only a very minor soreness afterwards.

    I had a whole lot more chances at a fast time in TOU having run it 15 times while my sea-level racing has been very sporadic and when it happened came at the end of the season. St. Jude in 2007 was my 6th marathon of the year. I did not feel that on the day that I ran St. Jude I would have run my TOU PR had the race been on the TOU course.

    So I would say that even for an altitude and downhill trained runner TOU course is not quite the best course to set records and the times are still comparable to sea-level potential. St. George on the other hand is in a category of its own. A downhill specialist with altitude training can run the times on it that he would not be able to touch in Berlin or Dubai. My St. George PR is 2:23:57 and I consider it to be lower quality than my TOU PR.

    St. George, perhaps, comes as close as it gets to your imaginary sea-level transported TOU. You start at 5200 feet, finish at 2600, the temperatures are usually cool and the air is desert dry. The elevation is not quite sea-level in the first half, there is some uphill, but you get more elevation drop. So maybe a minute slower than sea-level transported TOU, if that.

    Fast times have been seen in St. George, but I seriously doubt that even if you offered a billion dollars you would see sub-2:00 on it from a 2:03 guy. The reason is that while a 2:30 guy can run it 6 minutes or so faster, this will not necessarily translate into a similar improvement for the faster bracket. A 2:30 guy usually lacks the power - so if gravity gives him more power, he is happy and even though the higher speed gives him the extra beating he can take it - he is limited by power not impact tolerance. A 2:03 guy on the other hand has plenty of power, but it is harder for him to take the beating. He is already taking a lot just from what his natural power gives him. So giving him more power does not give as much improvement.

    Next time you come to TOU I'll show you the special "elite" bathroom at the start where you do not wait in line.

  3. Scott, jake pointed me to your blog. Good read. Glad to see a fellow Southerner rip up the roads out in Utah (I lived in Logan for 8 years before moving to Greenville SC). Nice race. I bet the temps felt great.

    Let me know if you ever move to Gvl, we're always looking for more people to run with.

  4. Jake, that 2:22 was tougher than my last one! But it was a cool marathon and definitely needed a recap. Plus, Utah has been my favorite state I've been to.

    I'd be interested to see if one of these 2:05 type marathoners could break 2:00 on a steeply downhill course. The marathon is a lot more wear and tear on your body but I think it could be done. Last year at the Hood to Coast relay, one of the legs drops over 2,000 feet in five miles. Our guy, who had a 14:50 5k PR, ran those 5 miles under 4:25 pace. I think that if you doubled the first half-marathon of TOU, you'd have a sub 2:00 because those are nice and gradual hills.

    Jon, glad to hear from another SC'er. I lived in Columbia until I left for college. Greenville has always been my favorite city there and it seems like it's only gotten better over the years. I'd make a good bit more money as well.

  5. Look at the St George elevation profile. Sub 2 could happen there with the right financial incentives. Yeah, legs would be trashed, but if you took a 2:05 guy and turned them loose on the downhills, they could probably do it.