ST. GEORGE 2002
The speed picked up once we were past the chute but not by much. The crowd was shuffling, tripping and jostling along. There was no worry about a too-fast start. Openings appeared here and there and I moved towards them generally to the left going a little faster than the crowd but there were still a few people passing me by. There was some guy wearing a Petrobras bicycle-racing shirt but he would not engage as I voiced “Petrobras” behind him in a proper Brazilian accent. At the first mile it looked like about a ten minute pace.
I started hitting my stride after mile 2 and then ran off the rode quickly for my first and last bathroom break by a convenient tree. There were a lot pulling off here and there including some women with bare buns showing with their giggling evidencing some remnant of shame. Mile 3 was the first station for aid with water in Burger King cups and Gatorade appropriately in Gatorade cups. I planned on water for at least the first part of the race at my Cousin’s suggestion not to dribble sticky stuff all over too early. More practice drinking on the run might be good. It was fun to try to toss the cup in the garbage boxes and I had no compunction if it landed on the asphalt with the others by the hundreds.
The dawn was brighter and the first spectators were out bundled up in their lawn chairs clapping and waving the runners on. One ranch house had loud speakers blasting “Rocky” theme music. I began watching for highway mile marker 23 where I had parked in April down a hill and on a curve and there it was. We were heading down into Veyo with more people on the sidelines cheering. Then we could look across to the hill and see the runners ahead going up. I was cruising well down through Veyo and across the bridge where I had found the compass. It felt good. I started on up the slope passing people with no problem. I caught my 9:09 pace at mile 5. On up the slope I was slightly ahead of pace so I slowed and walked 20 seconds.
The sun hit as I crested the top of Veyo Hill. The runners near me all felt the dawn at the top of the conquered climb as the brightest of good omens. Dammeron Valley was cold again as I headed into the dip. At the Dammeron Store was the first shower spray to cool down. The people were hollering and beckoning to come through the water mist. I hollered back, “Too cold!” I could still see my breath up there in the bright sunlight.
With the sun up there was an annoying drone of a couple of lawnmower engines coming from two little aircraft. They looked like hang gliders but with a seat and a puttering motors and props to move them along. They circled just above the highway buzzing the runners. Fortunately, there were no strafing bullets.
The crowd had thinned at this point and was a long line of runners stretching in front and beyond. We started to run along with people we would see throughout the race at about our same pace. One of these was a woman with blond ponytail bobbing on top of her head. She had a headset apparently listening to music but it could have been motivational tapes. She was calling out to everyone who went by or that she passed, “Way to go runner!” Then it was, “Mile 12, Yahoo!” I noted then that I was feeling good and ahead of pace. And I couldn’t resist commenting to a runner along side me, “Who is that? The Good Cheer Girl?” I’ll bet she did carry pompoms in high school.
At Mile 13 there were oranges at the aid station. I bit off the orange pulp tasting the sweet juice and dropped the quarter peel on the road with the rest of the pile that looked like the floor of the monkey cage at the zoo. I was glad to be greased up with Body Glide so I didn’t have to grab any of the Vaseline on a stick offered up by the volunteers. And then a half way marker. Still feeling good and just up on pace. The counter time was flipping by on the electronic clock and I heard a man call out “2043” into a microphone. The race officials knew I was still in it. I wondered if they were announcing these at the finish line but realized that my supporters probably wouldn’t be there yet with still a couple of hours to go.
At the next station, it must have been Mile 15, I was still grabbing the water cup from the enthusiastic crews. This one didn’t go down so easily as I dumped it into my face. I commented to a heavier set man running next to me, “Water up the nose helps you breathe easier in the dry weather.” He didn’t comment struggling with his own breathing and I left him behind.
The spectators, only here and there in the high country, were a great encouragement. All the volunteers at the aid stations were great. There were also signs stuck in the ground along the route and even a few spray-painted onto the road surface encouraging along various runners. Some were generic but they all seemed to apply to me equally. I became “Emma, Kyle, Scott, Mom, Dad” taking all the encouragement I could.
As we crested the far side of Dammeron Valley I commented to those around me, “It’s all downhill from here!” We dropped into Diamond Valley and some long curves around the black volcanic cones. It felt good. I was still going strong. I had my third vanilla power gel at about mile 15. One every five miles.
The course then dropped more steeply towards Snow Canyon. It was the stark red hills of the poster and Dad’s watercolor. A cyclist passed us going up the road. I thought that a little odd. Then I saw another off on the side just watching us. Then I realized they were actually watching out for us as part of the race support crew. It was some comfort to know that if I collapsed on the road there would be help.
Then I saw some poor guy lying aside the road on the left shoulder. I thought about going to his aid then saw a suburban rushing up the road apparently with medical personnel who would be much better help then I could be. And I wasn’t sure I could stop at that point. My focus was set. My body was in ritualized movement. I hadn’t even thought about a bathroom break for miles. I just had to keep going. There were more vehicles now up and down the left shoulder with rescue support. The former runners now passengers looked out rather sheepishly at those of us still in the race. I commented to no one in particular, “So there is a way out.” But not for me. I kept going.
Down a steep hill I was going along with a young woman and her male partner/coach. I had seen them near the start talking about doing a four-hour marathon. I gave them a thumbs up knowing I was still with the right group. The partner/coach was instructing her how to run downhill. “Don’t fight gravity. Just lean back a little and let your feet move quickly without big strides below your body and go down hill.” It worked for me. I took off down the hill and left them behind.
I then noticed a series of photographers at various points off the side of the road. They were aiming for us. I thought they might be the newspaper or the official race photographers so I started aiming for them. I wasn’t exactly posing, just running directly towards the cameras at each opportunity trying to look good – at least like a runner. Another booster group went by made up of a few young men yelling out encouragement to each other and the runners at large. A rather elderly lady was along with them full of smiles. It seemed to be working for her.
I was heading towards the LDS church house at highway mile 9 where I had turned on my April practice run. There were crowds out from that community and the encouragement on top of my physical and mental deterioration at that point brought tears to my eyes. It was then, passing a pair of green-shell portable restrooms, that the door of one burst open and Doug came running back into the race right at me. “Doug! I can’t believe I found you again!” I ecstatically shouted out at Doug launched from the plastic box. He had been having trouble with his hip and stopped now and then to stretch and take care of other business along the side. It was great to finally have a running partner. We went a long side by side with a cyclist watching us from along the side path now following the highway. It was like vultures circling. Doug and I, panting, compared our stories so far and I told him to go ahead if he wanted. He said, “no” but stopped and stretched a couple of times then burst to catch up with me. We jostled into each other a couple of times being so tired. I moved at one point to run behind him as I cut for the inside of a curve explaining that I had to take every advantage I could.
The day was bright and clear. The temperature was warmer now but still not oppressive. We saw a woman lying on the right shoulder of the road with portable oxygen. Several other women were standing around her in a protective and worried circle. It looked like the race was spoiled for the whole club. Another motivator-guy came running up yelling encouragement to push people along. Part of St. George and Santa Clara came into view. I pointed out to Doug where my Grandma lived up on the bluff.
I lost Doug once as he stopped to stretch again. He caught up with me then I lost him for good at his next stretch. I wasn’t keeping track too well but I didn’t think we weren’t together for more than two miles. Doug says it was more like four.
At mile 20 my stomach was sloshing a little and I decided not to take another Power Gel. I figured I had started doing Gatorade at the every odd-mile stations so I was getting a little bit of energy boost and I didn’t want to risk my stomach. And afterwards I figured that was a part of the mental cloud then overtaking me. I was still on pace but then started to fade. I should have had the extra energy boost or two. And I just kept going.
There were National Guardsmen in battle fatigues serving at one of the aid stations. I gave them special thanks, glad they were on race duty instead of Afghanistan.
My feet had been without feeling for some time. They just kept going. Then I noticed that my arms from the elbows on were tingling then numb. I worried about that a little and all my clouded brain could do was to wave them around hoping to get some feeling back. I raised them up and swung them around and they weren’t any number than the rest of my body. I was zoned in and still going.
The hills were steep dropping into St. George. I hallucinated at one point that the crowd was running up the hill back towards me. The sign “Welcome to St. George” and flashing yellow lights for the first intersection at the bottom brought me back to reality.
The racecourse moved to the left of the highway and the crowds were larger. There was somebody with a bucket of ice I guessed we were supposed to scoop up to cool ourselves. I scooped up a bunch in my white “Toss No Mas” hat and put it on my head for one more shock into reality. Soon, worried about brain freeze, I dumped the ice out later hoping no runner slipped on it before it melted.
Then were now spectators all the way in still cheering even though the winners were almost two hours ahead of us. I couldn’t stop with all the support and especially with all those people watching. Surprisingly there were a few runners who were now walkers. Apparently they had burned it all out and had nothing left. Maybe that’s what happens if you start too fast.
I passed a couple of high school band groups playing music along side the route. One conductor said, “Who can stay?” making it look like the main part of the excitement was over now that us slow guys were coming in. I passed Grandma’ church, then the Midas sign at the turn up the bluff to her place. I had about three miles to go and my watch time said 3:32. I could do three miles in 28 minutes, or could I? I pushed it but there wasn’t much left there to push. Energy was gone. If I had only gotten through the mental block to take a Power Gel.
It seemed there were fewer runners then. Yet more were passing me than I was passing, except for the walkers. Then we had to be close because some energetic finishers were running back up the route looking for their friends. That was oddly encouraging and discouraging all at once. I started to watch the street signs counting down to the turn. 600 North, 300 North, St. George Avenue, 100, then 200 South, the turn ahead. I was wheezing. Another aid station with ice. I didn’t take any. Then one with people handing out wet, white terry washcloths. I took one and not knowing what to do, I put it on top of my hat. It cooled me a bit. Then I saw dozens of the cloths that had been tossed along side the road. I wiped my face with it. That was refreshing then I tossed it to the side.
I turned the corner to head toward the finish. There were three giggling girls I passed making the turn. They commented that I was still anxious to finish. I panted. “Have – to – beat – four – hours.” They giggled some more and said, “We gave that up a ways back!”
There it was. The finish, a half-mile or more up the road. And I could see it. On that last stretch the neighbors along the route had their garden hoses out spraying the runners. I ran towards each on whatever side of the wide St. George street to cool off. And I kept going.
There was a sign at mile 26. I looked down at my watch just as it flipped over to 4:00:00. So close. But it didn’t matter now. I could just walk it in. I looked up and the crowd was thicker than ever. I couldn’t disappoint. My wife and the others were out there somewhere. I wanted to see them but I couldn’t look. I didn’t want distraction so I prayed they wouldn’t call out as so many were doing to their runners. I kept it on through the blur and the haze of my clouded mind. The feet just kept moving.
I heard a voice calling out names with times. Then I crossed two pads that must have been the timer chip registers. I went into a cattle stall where I stopped, put my right foot up on a bar and someone clipped off my timer chip. A heartfelt, “Thank you!” came out of me. Then it was through a cool mist shower and another cattle pen where someone put a finishers medal around my neck. And there was Doug! Somehow after that last stretch he got ahead finishing only seconds before. Neither of saw each other or knew how that happened in the dense, mutual brain fog.
I didn’t know how to behave when it was all over. Looking forward I had imagined some kind of emotional catharsis at the end as I collapsed into the arms of my loving wife blubbering yet elated. There were a few who collapsed from cramps or exhaustion and were lying about the cool green lawn. Doug told me not to get down on the grass because I wouldn’t get back up but I had to for just a minute to stretch my quads and hams. I was more dazed than emotional, dizzy and disoriented. “Got – to – get – some – thing – to – eat.” I inadvertently cut a line to get a piece of thick wheat bread with honey butter. The though flitted through my foggy head that I might want to do this again. I felt nauseated.
I wandered through the crowds after finding Doug, then my sister-in-law, and then, finally, my wife, daughter and aunt. They were behind the ropes separating the non-runners from the racers who were enjoying the drinks, fruits, bread, and even ice cream handed out at several booths. My aunt thought I needed oxygen because her brother had when he finished and I was still breathing hard. She also told me not to think about doing it again for a few days. Too late. Having survived the initial wave of nausea, I knew I had to do it again to beat the four hours. It was so close.
We slowly headed out through the crowds, gathered my discarded warm-ups laid out on the tennis court, then slowly and only a little painfully walked to my aunt’s car. I rested at Grandma’s that afternoon soaking in the jacuzzi then watching conference with her. That night we ate a wonderful salmon dinner at my aunt's. The night was almost as sleepless as the one before, not anymore with anticipation but the actualization of leg cramps. I stretched at every gas and rest stop on the way home the next day.
At sunset at the end of that long drive we were coming down Tramway along the running path that had been my principal training ground. Up by Bear Canyon Arroyo I saw one solitary runner against the twilight and the mountain. My eyes filled with water and I choked back a gulp. I couldn’t wait to get back there on that trail. I am a Marathoner.