Final comment on the Haulin' Aspen
After the race Karyn convinced me to go ahead and walk into a creek that was within a few yards of the finish and to soak my legs to assist in the recovery. Great idea, but it was the coldest water I have ever felt including Lake Superior. I could only stay in the water for about 30 seconds or so, I tried twice and had to get out both times because it hurt worse then my legs did. Karyn said other runners had done it so she tried it, she agreed with me that the water was so cold it hurt. Who would've thought that water in Oregon would be so cold.
Grizzly Marathon - Choteau, Montana - August 16th, 2008
I had originally thought the Grizzly marathon would be boring compared to the HA but as we drove over from Glacier I noticed that the scenery wasn't as dull as I feared it might be. I had envisioned wide open terrain with nothing to look at. There were some fairly big hills to look at along with many bluffs and buttes as Choteau is located on the backside of the Rocky's or is it the frontside? As a matter of fact it looked real interesting so maybe I would enjoy it more. I had tired of the 14 mile uphill at HA and this course had more ups and downs and none were of the length of that final incline. Actually, my legs had seem to recover fairly quickly, Karyn and I went for a run a couple of days after HA in Spokane on the Centennial bike trail (a 37+ mile trail along side of the Spokane river, a nice path except for the fact that it is all asphalt) and everything seemed good, so who knows maybe I would have a better day after all I had had 6 days to recover.
As we drove into Choteau we proceeded to packet pick-up at the Trading Post. Karyn had signed up for the half-marathon so we would both have a Montana experience. We headed over to the hotel to meet Karyn's brother (Chuck) who had also signed up for the half. He is training for his first marathon in October (Columbus) and has all of the newbie enthusiasm, he is completely following his plan even while on vacation. I used to be that way, maybe I should be a bit more that way, when I think about it. Commit to a plan, follow it, believe in it and make it happen.
After we met up with him we all proceeded to the Baptist church for the spaghetti dinner. A very good dinner considering the small size of the event - around 100 marathoners and 130 half marathoners. It was interesting, as most of the runners we met up with were 50 state'rs or locals which kind of makes sense. After we got back to the hotel, I checked the weather and the course description - maybe that wasn't a good idea, the forecast was for upper 50's at the 6:30 am start working it's way to 93 by mid afternoon. I checked for the 12:00 temp and it said 88, not good as I knew the course had no trees and the forecast also said no clouds, hopefully there would be a breeze, but hey at least I looked for where there would be aid stations this time. At least on lesson learned corrected.
With the 6:30 start we had been told to head out to the start line at 5:15 as it would be crowded getting to the starting area (about 20 miles west of Choteau). As we got out of the car at the start the temp was mild and there wasn't a need for a coat, not good. So the plan for the day was to run an even paced race and shoot for a 12 minute/mile pace with the same HR goal as at the HA - around a 130-135 average. If the heat or hills got to me then I would back off and just focus on finishing as after the race we were driving down to Yellowstone so I needed to be smart.
The first seven miles are on pavement and the remaining miles are run in gravel but what kind of gravel? The course is basically a square loop course with one section that overlaps itself from miles 17-20 with an elevation between 4000 and 4900 and a series of uphills and a few downhill stretches, so not too bad in contrast to HA. The race started and I felt amazingly good, plus great news, the course was marked so I could track my pace, it's amazing how much you take for granted for some courses and what you really appreciate after you don't have it. Through the first 7 miles I was running 11 minute pace, maybe a bit fast but the temp was ok and I felt strong. I again used the 15/1 strategy but knowing the heat was coming, I decided on a S-cap every 45 minutes and I planned to go to one every half hour if needed it and this time I followed the strategy from the start. After seven miles we made a turn onto the gravel and my pace slowed by about 30 seconds or so, oh did I mention that the first 7 miles were downhill, anyway over the next 6 miles we had a series of uphills, some short, some longer most fairly runnable, we even got a bit of shade and a light breeze that felt nice but with the hills I throttled back to the 12 minute pace. As we made the turn at mile 13, I immediately noted that the breeze disappeared, it was at my back and I instantly started overheating. Oh, oh this was not good it was around 9 in the morning and getting hot. I continued to try and hold pace and went through the 15 mile mark at 3 hours, not too bad but I was really starting to struggle with the heat more and more. I said to myself relax, keep picking off runners, slow down as needed, increase the S-caps, don't let the heat get to me mentally. In past hot weather races, I have had some pretty big disasters, one year at TCM, I was severely dehydrated, cramping and stumbled my way to the finish where I started throwing up, I should have gone to the med tent that year but didn't know to ask for help and refused it when it was suggested or offered, I get surly when I am throwing up or feeling like I am going to because I get attention at a time when I have no control and I just don't deal with that well. In all other hot weather events, same result, sick, cramping, throwing up. Not good and definitely something I live in fear over re-experiencing this but since I switched to my Clif shot electrolyte drink and S-caps I hadn't had a major disaster (meaning no throwing up or stomach cramps) and I have completed at least 3 or 4 hot weather events but I haven't really pushed it in any of them. What if I do push it?
So now I viewed that the Grizzly had become a battle of mind versus body. I continued through 17, 18 and struggled through mile 19 which happens to be at the end of the steepest uphill, and marks the end of the out and back stretch. It was during the out and back where I could see the effect of the heat on the other runners. It was getting to them and to me (some of them looked really bad, probably good I couldn't see myself)
I made it to the turn around and I got handed a Grizzly pin by one of the cheerleaders that cheered us up the hill and I thought that maybe If I could get it back together that I would be able to hang onto a decent time considering. After the turn, I felt it, yes it was a breeze, it felt great, my legs started working again on the downhill, good, now get through the next 7 miles. I thought I was going to continue to pick it up all the way to the finish and then I started to tighten up and I was having calf and hip pain. I heard footsteps, no way, I was still moving past everyone (ok so it was just 2 or 3 people). Sure enough I turned at the aid station and a 50 state guy was moving quickly so we stopped together at the aid station, we actually had a small amount of beer (bud light) and then ran together for short period. He said that this would be his 47th state. He continued to push the pace and since the breeze had disappeared and I was heating up again way too fast, I let him go and said ok keep it going it's only 5 1/2 miles or so. About then, my calf started cramping, not a "fall to the ground" cramp but a "if you maintain this pace for 2 more steps you will be falling" down kind of pain. So I made the decision to walk it off, take in more fluid, relax and no I don't think it was the beer.
I tried to run and it tightened, I was thinking I was getting dehydrated but although it was hot there was almost no humidity and I wasn't sweating that much, was that good or bad? Do I take another S-cap, sure it couldn't hurt, I tried to eat something, nope not a good idea, ok walk a bit more. I tried to run, nope not working, too hot, I needed a breeze. I continued to walk my way in thinking that if I pushed it I could still get a time of a 5:40 or so but at what cost so I pretty much made the call that I had done enough and that to try and hobble through it was probably not a great idea. For a PR or to make a cutoff, yes but to save 10 minutes on my time, nope, during this timeframe my HR stayed around 135, earlier in the race my HR had fallen to around 115 during any 1 minute walking break so my body was working to walk, let alone to run.
At mile 25 they had a woman dressed in a Grizzly bear outfit giving you a high 5, mile 25 is the end of a a long gradual uphill climb from mile 20 to 25. Can you imagine standing in the sun for 4 to 5 hours in a Grizzly bear suit to greet runners, man she had to be hot.
I finally picked it up to a hobble run during the last 1/2 to 3/4 mile, mainly because my body was hurting walking, my feet were burning and I wanted to end it. I knew that I had enough fluids to make it. I made it in a time of 5:50:16, not great but I had also completed my second marathon 6 days apart and I really think if the temp would have been 20+ degrees cooler I would have maintained the 5 hour pace so I walked away happy. My HR average was 138 with a peak of 158, not sure what this means exactly for me but I think given time I will make sense of it and it will become useful.
My wife, daughters, Chuck and his family were waiting for me at the finish. As it turned out they had had their own adventures. Chuck and many of the half-marathoners got to see a Grizzly on the course. He said he thought it was a car until it moved and then they all realized what it was. I am not sure what I would have thought if that had been me. Karyn took a fall about a 1/2 mile into the half and scraped up her leg and hand fairly significantly. She said she got a lot of attention going through the aid stations because of the blood but she continued and finished out the race. Great job by both Chuck and Karyn. Afterward, after they cleaned up her scrapes in the ambulance she said she didn't want to run on gravel ever again and I think she may just mean it.
Final thoughts on the Grizzly, it was a great small town race with great support and a fabulous view. It would be nice if the course had trees and single track but they make the best of it and I wouldn't want to see the course change. They had plenty of aid stations which were staffed by the local ranchers, plenty of food and drinks on the course. If you are ever in Montana stop by Choteau for the Grizzly and I guarantee you will be treated with kindness and experience a first class small town event.
Am I ready for Superior, I don't think so but I am still mulling it over. I have done dumber things. I feel fine after the marathons and actually my knees and legs feel good and I think I did what I wanted with the two marathons. I managed the elevation ok, finished them and came away uninjured. Did I gain confidence, not really. I wanted them to go easier and yes, I wanted faster times. So the question may become if I don't do Superior, what am I going to do? I think I will just table any decisions until the weekend and then I will try and figure out what to do next.................