Friday, January 13, 2012

Marathon Part 9: Final Prep

Now we're finally heading into the 2002 St. George Marathon. For the beginning of this series, click here.


Time is reckoned differently for me now. There is before the Marathon and after the Marathon. The weekend was full of “times” yet such a blur: two eleven-hour car rides; hours of excited anticipation in a night of two hours of sleep; just over a four-hour Marathon; a half-hour turn on the Jacuzzi dial; two two-hour sessions of conference. But I didn’t puke, I didn’t need oxygen, didn’t hit a wall and thankfully didn’t injure anything but my pride. In casting away vanity, I delved a deeper well of satisfaction and confidence that will change me forever. I ran a Marathon. Athens still lives.

The training went well. My program was simple yet effective. Every month I added two miles to my Saturday long runs. So it was 14 in May, 16 in June, and so on. My longest run was about 21 miles, which I did twice, once on the C&O towpath up the Potomac from Washington, D.C. out to Maryland and beyond the Beltway and back in the cool summer rain. The other was a 21-mile run in town where I changed plans mid-route to run all the way from freeway to freeway, I-40 to I-25 along Tramway, down from the Mountain and back, then down to I-40 and back home where my wife drove me to pick up the other car at the Tramway stop sign. August was the month for these and two other early Saturday runs of 20 miles each.

The last and most enjoyable was a 20-mile run down old Route 66. My wife was willing to get up early one Saturday to check out the Farmers’ Market so she drove me out of town on old Route 66 paralleling I-40 while I watched the odometer. Right at twenty miles, we hit the Santa Fe County line and that was almost too perfect. I got out and she drove off. I visited nature for a minute behind a tree then took off. I was holding a Gatorade bottle with the twist-open sip-top with another on my hip belt along with three packs of vanilla Power Gel. I ran ahead of the growing light up the slight incline to Sedillo Hill then down the other steep side towards Tijeras. This was a great preparation for the downhill Marathon route. I still got confused on the time thinking I was five minutes behind after the first hour when I was about five minutes ahead. Heading out of town I noted the first mile marker on old 66 at mile one. Adding the mileage we had come from home I figured I could check my miles by the markers on the way back in. While the odometer was right at 20, my simple addition at mile 1 didn’t account for the mile from mile 0 to mile 1. It took me a while on the run back in to figure this out.

And it was a great run. The road was fairly empty but full of cyclists as I approached closer to the city. I ran through the town of Tijeras at about the halfway point and found a community center with a trash can outside where I could leave my first empty Gatorade bottle. I ran on down the Mother Road thinking of the Joads and how my life was so much more comfortable and even ecstatically enjoyable as the endorphins kicked in. At times, there were reminders of the ancient highway with abandoned service stations and old buildings formerly the string of cracker-box motel rooms. At Carnuel, the Valley of the Rio Grande came into view through the canyon slot. I crossed the highway to the right side to avoid the traffic jumble at Four Hills, Tramway and the beginning of Central Avenue. I cut through an odd little park with an even odder modern sculpture of metal circles and swirls at the base of I-40 and found myself under the overpass with a drop down a brick embankment to get to the running trail on Tramway. Scuffling down the slope I noted the soreness of my ankles but kept on up the trail to familiar territory- Encantado, Copper, and on to Lomas, Indian School, Rover, and Menaul to the pedestrian overpass towards home.

September was then my taper month. I planned to work down from a 16-mile Saturday to a 14, then 12, then 10. That may have been over ambitious and didn’t work out because of other conflicting activities. It was probably for the best. The 16-mile run went well enough. The next Saturday was part of a weekend I had to work on the Silvery Minnow case. So I was bummed out and only got in a 6-mile run in my disgust. The next Saturday I went with the 12-miler and pushed it to try to keep pace. I had played with the calculators on my Cool Running and Runners World web sites and figured I needed to run a 9:09 pace to make a four-hour Marathon. My early morning weekday runs were getting me used to the pace. And it went well enough on my 12-mile run to be very close to pace starting out slower but finishing much faster with an overall pace of 9:11.

It was at that point I decided to shoot for the four-hour Marathon. I figured St. George was downhill, the crowd and race excitement would spur me on, and I was at my peak. The former Army JAG, athletic-type guy at work advised that I should have three goals: the top goal would be what I would really like to accomplish; the mid-range would be what I could reasonably expect to accomplish; and the bottom would be what I could go home with without crying. So, not knowing entirely what to expect on actual race day, I decided my tiered goals would be 4:00:00, 4:15:00, and 4:30:00.

As that first Saturday in October approached, I was looking forward to a good, long run. But I did hold off to rest and eat as suggested by another guy in my office. He ran the Los Angeles Marathon twice and actually finished the first one. On the second effort, he said he went into some sort of mental cloud at about mile 22 and decided he’d done it once and didn’t need to do it again so he stopped at a 7-11 along the way and had a Coke and a bag of potato chips as he watched the runners go by. His training advice was to eat and sleep a lot before the race. So I tried on the last week forcing myself into bed early, eating well, and taking it easy on the exercise.

My wife and I had a great drive out to St. George across the red, black, and gray landscape of the Navajo Reservation. We only missed one turn at Kaibeto because we were not going to Tuba City. Anyway, we made it along the Vermilion Cliffs and through the winding canyons towards St. George in good time. Approaching Hurricane, I saw the mountains above St. George hiding the Marathon route. The sun was setting through partially cloudy skies. The temperature was cool. A good sign.

We drove straight to the Dixie Center to check in at registration so I wouldn’t have to worry about doing that at 4:00 a.m. the next morning. We followed the traffic into the big parking lot with swarms of runners of every age carrying out their K-Mart bags full of race goodies. We parked and walked in past an older man being photographed by his wife in front of an Outback Steakhouse Humvee for some reason. Inside, the girls at the first table directed us in through the exhibition hall to find my packet. I didn’t catch all of their instructions but there was no need as the system was very well organized. We walked past the vendors of shoes, sports clothes, sunglasses, and miracle diet aids to the back where I found the table towards the end of the alphabet. Upon seeing my driver’s license, the lady flipped through the manila packets until she pulled out mine. Then she handed me my tee shirt and directed me to the back where a young girl handed me a rolled up poster in a rubber band and another pair of youngsters handed me a bag full of promotional goodies.

I stopped back there with my wife to check out the packet. There were instructions on a smaller manila envelope that I thought I could figure out later. My bib number was 2043. At first I was concerned this was such a high number and also not a readily lucky or propitious set of digits. Only later in my restless night half-dreams did I figure that if you add the 2 to the 43, they came out to 45 – my age, so it was a good number after all. I checked out the goodie bag with breakfast bar, trail mix sample, new minty Skittles, with other odds and ends as we wandered back through the hall. We looked at some clothes. I wanted a long-sleeve perspiration wicking shirt but didn’t find one that suited. Later, upon opening my Marathon t-shirt, it was of a moisture wicking material. I looked at jackets as well, but the one discount I found like my good-looking Asics windbreaker I had recently purchased was more than the sale price I had paid. Amid all the carnival, we came on a booth for Zion National Park manned by a Ranger. I didn’t say anything to him to identify myself as an Interior Department attorney, but I felt he was a friend among all these strange runner types with whom I was now associated.

Looking for another friendly connection, we stopped in the foyer to call Doug and his wife’s cell phone so we could meet up with them to pick up our daughter who came down with them from BYU. They were an hour away so we decided to get something to eat and stop by Grandma’s before we went to the hotel to pick up our daughter. We found a San Francisco pizza/pasta place that seemed perfect the night before a Marathon. They were not too crowded, but apparently busier than usual with all the out-of-town runners carbo-loading. We had trouble finding a table to sit at with the help too busy trying to deliver the pizza orders to clean off the tables. Eventually, they brought out a pizza just as we had ordered and we started in. After a while when my pasta still hadn’t arrived, I went back to the counter to check. They were very confused but got me a plate of good fettucini Alfredo that I was enjoying back at our table when they brought out another peperoni and olive pizza calling out our order number. We had no idea whether we ate somebody else’s pizza or they just made two on our order, but we only kept the first one, which was more than enough.

We waited a while at the hotel. We saw a few other runners checking in to the bustling place and visited with a young mother struggling with her babies but apparently ready for the race in the morning. After an apprehensive wait and eventual connection, Doug a little down because of recent injuries and the long drive—me hardly able to contain my excitement, we took our daughter up to Grandma’s where she was going to stay. I unrolled the race poster to show Grandma. She glanced up knowingly at my dad’s watercolor on the wall. It was the same rock formation at the mouth of Snow Canyon. Another comfortable connection.

My wife and I finally made it over to my aunt’s southwest ranch house in Santa Clara. It was late. In the spare bedroom, I laid out my running clothes pinning my bib onto the front of my white Russel dry weave shirt that my wife bought me for my last birthday when we hit the sports coat sale at Folley’s. The computer chip attached to the bottom of my laces on my right shoe. I got out the PowerAde, banana, and Vanilla Crunch Power Bar I needed for power breakfast in the early morning. I showered. We went to bed. My wife slept. I think I did get two hours sleep because I don’t remember seeing the digital numbers on the alarm clock from 12:00 to 2:00. I saw the rest until about 3:50 when I got up, shaved and dressed in my shorts, t-shirt, warm-ups, and the Asics windbreaker on the top. I put on short white socks and laced up my new Asics fairly tight. I started on my PowerAde and banana saving my Power Bar until just before the race start. I headed out the side door from our bedroom and missed the step off the porch slamming down onto the sidewalk, fortunately without injury. I came back in which my split numbers for a 4-nour marathon pace and wrote them up and down both arms with an ink pen. My wife was up and helped but told me it would rub off like Mulan’s crib notes in the Disney movie.

My wife drove me down the dark streets of Santa Clara to Bluff Street in St. George, part of the route. They were putting out barricades to block the traffic and we saw a school bus go up the route full on runners. We turned east just a block south of the route and I commented, “These are going to be a long few blocks.” We pulled in right behind the bleachers at the finish line and were wedged in behind some busses. My wife assured me that she would find a way out in spite of my apprehension. Giving her a kiss I hopped out and mad my way towards a bus filling up with runners. The crowd was moving toward the next bus but someone said there was still room for a couple more so I went up the steps. The seats were nearly full but I spotted one in the back so I made my way past the runners with the comment, “I love the back of the bus.” That is my preferred seat.

I plopped down in the very rear seat with two young women on my right and net to a younger man with a mustache on my left. The chatter was friendly and even homelike when I heard reference to someone attending BYU from the seat in front. I took stock of all my clothing and supplies and noted aloud, “Oh. I forgot my sunglasses. But they are not critical for survival.” The young man said I’d just have to pull my cap brim down. The bus started up and rolled past the hospital convenient to the finish line assuming we got that far. My seat companion was not real talkative but in response to my questions he told me that he was from Los Alamos and this was not his first Marathon but was his first time at St. George. He had heard it was downhill. I commented that it was beautiful too, ‘Almost as pretty as New Mexico.” I told him of my earlier training practicing on Veyo Hill and how it wasn’t that tough. Laying further claim to the route, I pointed out where my Grandma’s house was up on the hill just above Bluff Street. The bus shifted to climb the hills out of town where we would be coming down. It was hard to make out the scenery of the route in the dark. We went by a few lit houses including the small community with the LDS church house where I turned around on my practice run that spring. Then I was watching for mile marker 17 in cold Dammeron Valley where I turned around after my practice up Veyo Hill. I never saw it even with the lights of the next shuttle bus behind us. I did soon comment, “This is the hill,” as we went up and over the drop into Veyo.

Then it was a few miles more to the bright glare of floodlights where the bus stopped for a long time on the highway. It seemed like a Border Patrol checkpoint, or worse, one of those stops on the Mexican side with the Federales toting their assault rifles. But there were no guns, just a lot of activity and traffic on the two-lane highway at the starting gate. The bus finally opened its doors and we were ushered up through the chute for the start of the race. We walked past a couple of trucks to haul gear back down the hill and a table full of water and Gatorade. To the right was a long row of potties. Ahead of us were a series of bonfires laid out in pairs on the shoulder of the road. A few of the closest ones were lit and the runners were gathering around.

I walked up the road on the right edge of the fires and the growing crowds and right to my brother-in-law. “Doug! I can’t believe I found you!” He was standing by the fire talking to an LDS Stake President from San Diego and introduced me as a former bishop. For some reason I commented that a Stake President must have even more enemies than a bishop. But he was friendly enough. Doug also introduced me to a young kid who had just graduated from Layton High, Doug’s Alma Mater. The poor kid had no warm-ups in the bitter wind and cold. Such is the strength, and intelligence, of the Youth of Zion.

[Doug reminded me that I also brought up the issue of the numbers on my bib at the campfire and Doug scoffed at my apparent flirtation with numerology.]

I was swigging PowerAde and keeping Doug between the fire andme to avoid any sparks on my new Asics jacket. Doug was colder anyway. He was also a little skeptical of my high-end goal to finish in four hours. In self-justification I argued that it was downhill, I had trained well, and I had recently run 12 miles at close to a four-hour pace. “But this is a lot longer than 12 miles!” he said. Concerned about his own recent injuries, he prophesied that he would be running back with me. At ten years younger, and more running experience, his high goal, at least until his injury was faster than mine. Comparing our utility belts and race supplies, Doug told me that he had ten energy gel packs with him. “Ten! I only have six!” I didn’t tell him my plan was just to take four with me. The extra two were if I was still hungry for more breakfast before the start. I hastily stuffed the extra two gels into my hip hugger and ate my Vanilla Crunch Power Bar to finish off my breakfast. That was enough.

Then we started making bathroom plans. We figured we ought to go before the crowds so I held Doug’s water bottle and belt while he went across the road to the line of little green plastic shells. Then I went and took my time to take care of business. As I stepped out, there were lines forming to get in the facilities so I think we planned it just right. The crowds around the fires, all lit now, were immense. With the lines forming at the portable restrooms, mostly men but some women were heading off into the trees behind the shadows of the floodlights for their restroom visits.

Doug and I wandered a little through the crowds. I ran out into the trees once myself nearly tripping over the people emptying their bladders in the woods. Music was blaring out of loudspeakers and we could sort of make out the announcements well enough to figure we needed to leave our warm-ups in the truck. At least our clothes were guaranteed to see the finish line. Doug, still cold, wanted to wait a while longer but I started taking off my warm-ups, felt fine, and bagged them up in the K-Mart plastic. Doug decided to do the same and followed me towards the truck where we tossed our bags up to the young kid volunteers pelted with packets faster than they could stack them. That was the last I saw of Doug in the thick, massing crowd.

The announcement said something about finding your start place according to the signs set out for your expected race finish time. My planned time was slow enough it didn’t really matter being relegated to the back. Nobody was really getting organized in all the confusion and I ran out into the woods for one last visit with nature. Back to the start signs I figured I’d just wander around with the rest of the throng. There were Polynesians doing some kind of chant around a fire. There were oddly dressed characters in suits, formal wear, and weird Mexican sombreros. There were runners young and old, but mostly fit and slim, anxious to start the longest run.

If a gun went off, I never heard it. But like sand through an egg timer, the crowd funneled into the gate. Someone said, “It’s starting!” It was a happy mob to which I surrendered my will as I shuffled off towards that slot. It was all walking too until we hit that start and crossed two mats that set off our timer chips. There were people all around and above with cameras yelling out encouragement and good luck. I noted at the start time that I was already about five minutes behind the official start. It was unlikely though that they had miscounted the miles on the way up. I barely remembered to click my own watch to start timing as I headed out the gate.

[Run the marathon with me here . . .]

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