Saturday morning we got up and headed over to the Expo. I had signed up for the Writer's Workshop that the race director had arranged in conjunction with the marathon. The race director, Elaine Doll-Dunn, is an author with several books about women's running to her credit. She wants to encourage more women to write about their running. The workshop was a wonderful experience that I will be covering in a future post. While I attended the workshop my fellow leading ladies enjoyed shopping at the expo.
The expo for this race was a very good one considering the size of the marathon. There were several vendors there, including The Runner's Shop out of Rapid City, that had a variety of running related gear and accessories. I mention The Runner's Shop because they had some wonderful running jewelry, including some with some Black Hills gold, which Leslie and Linda both purchased. Janet had some time also to meet and talk to the speaker for the Expo, Yolanda Holder, aka "The Walking Diva."
With the workshop completed and expo and packet pick-up checked off our list, we headed out to drive the course. As we turned the corner and began to head up into Spearfish Canyon we were all in awe of the beauty of the course we would be running. As we drove along taking pictures and taking in the sights, I knew that this was going to be an excellent course for me. It was so much like the canyon at Forest Falls that I used to live at the top of in California and reminded me also of the Top of Utah marathon which I had done previously.
About halfway up the course, we turned off onto a dirt road heading to Roughlock Falls that was an out and back part of the course for about a mile and a half. It was a packed dirt road and had the second of the two hills on the course. I could tell Janet was not thrilled about the dirt road portion, but I did not mind too much. I did grumble a bit about the hill, but it actually was not as big a deal as I thought it would be during the race.
The top of the race course (what would be the first four and a half miles of the race) headed up a smaller road that was not part of the main highway. It had some beautiful houses, including the "Thomas Kincaide house" that looked just like something out of one of his paintings. As we went closer to the start, we were again on a dirt road. After completing the drive, I was confident that I was going to have a great race.
To get an idea of the beauty of the canyon, take a look at this:
We found a restaurant in town to do our pre-race carbo load. After a long dinner (the restaurant had obviously not planned for the prerace crowd), with the requisite mashed potatoes for Leslie and me, we headed back to the campground to turn in early. Buses to the start were scheduled to leave the finish line park at 4:15 am sharp, which meant a 3 am wakeup call.
Alarms went off at 3 am, and the four of us jumped into action. We were one of the first people at the start and waited as the buses arrived and began boarding. It was a little chilly, probably around 45 degrees, so I was thankful for the arm warmers and trash bag that I had brought for the start. Even as I was shivering in the morning cold, I was thankful for the cooler weather for the start of the race.
|Waiting for the buses|
We said good-bye to Linda, who was doing the half, and got on the bus for the marathoners. The buses shuttled us up to the race start. There were about 150 of us there at the marathon start. We ventured off the buses only to huddle in the porta-potty lines. Thankfully the buses stayed there so that runners could be inside and warm while we waited for the start. Finally the time for the start arrived. I connected with a group of Marathon Maniacs at the start for a picture, my first in a Maniac group shot.
The race started, and I was ready to go. I started near the front of the pack because I was feeling pretty confident that I could be at the upper end of my age group and also place well in the master's. The course started with a little over a mile of fairly gradual uphill on the dirt, so I settled in at a nice comfortable pace and got the kinks out in preparation for the long downhill. Daylight was just breaking, the weather was cool, and it was really beautiful out there.
By the time we crested the uphill and started the long downhill that would be the rest of the race, I was feeling good. I checked my watch and made sure that I did not let the fairly steep downhill boost my pace too much. My goal pace for the race was 8:30, and I had already decided not to allow my pace to be more than 10-15 seconds over that, no matter how good I felt on the early downhill. It was hard to hold back, but I managed to keep it steady, mostly by concentrating on the beautiful scenery.
Spectators were sparse on the course, but I had the good fortune of running in the same general proximity of a young woman whose parents had a vacation home by the country club where we had started. She seemed to have an entourage of spectators following her along the course who were also willing to cheer for the old lady in the trash bag running behind her. All in all, the early miles passed quickly, and before I knew it we were past mile 5 and on the main part of the canyon.
On the upper part of the canyon, I began to get a little uncomfortable, not from the pace, but from the little bladder tickle I had developed since the start. I knew there were porta-potties on the course, but I had never used one in a race before. As I was approaching an aid station I noted the porta-potty. I checked my watch and noticed I had a few seconds to spare. Just at that moment someone came out, so I knew it was empty. I removed my garbage bag jacket to hand to the aid station workers and looked down to check my pace. As I toggled between screens to see my current pace per mile, disaster struck: the pin popped out of my Garmin and left the watch hanging by the remaining pin.
Trying not to panic, I pulled the watch off my wrist and stuck it in my top (not wanting to take the chance that it might fall into the porta-pot, which would have been my luck). I did as quick a stop as I could and got back out on the road. I pulled the watch out for a few minutes to get my pace per mile back where I wanted it, and then decided that the watch was definitely going to have to ride in my top for the remainder of the race. I tucked it in carefully to keep the velcro from rubbing and tried to forget about it and not be stressed.
The stop at the porta-potty did wonders for my attitude. I hadn't realized how much energy was being drained by worrying about the full bladder. I flew through the next section, made the left turn, and started out toward the falls. I started to count the women coming toward me but got disillusioned by how fresh and perky they seemed to be. I concentrated on going up the hill and keeping my effort even. It wasn't until I got to the turnaround that I realized why they looked so fresh. The hill was much steeper than I had realized going up. Soon I was one of those smiling women bounding down the hill looking fresh as a daisy to the ones that were still going up.
After turning back onto the main canyon road, I passed the half marathon start. I pulled out my watch and saw that I was holding an 8:32 average pace, which I thought was good considering the dirt and the hills in the first half. I was feeling pretty confident at that point that I would be able to negative split the race. Except for a little grumbling from my tensor fasciae latae, which Dr. Tom said was being overworked because of my lazy glutes, I was still feeling great.
Now that we were in the main part of the canyon and it was later in the day it was starting to warm up a little. I found a group of cheering spectators on the side of the road and gave one lucky winner my homemade arm warmers as a souvenir. Through this part of the race and to the end, I had settled into a spot where there was only one woman in sight ahead of me and nobody passed me. That was okay with me because I really do enjoy running alone. I was very in tune to the spirit of the canyon and even spent some time thinking about an old friend and colleague, Ben Thomerson, who had passed away in a motorcycle accident in a similar canyon many years ago. Ben would have loved Spearfish Canyon, and memories of his enthusiasm for life helped carried me through this part of the race. Thanks, Ben!
About this time I started paying more attention to the aid stations. They were two miles apart, which was fine for me. I began taking the gel that I had brought with me in my new Soft Flask, which I will be reviewing in a future blog post. I also threw in an electrolyte tab, just for good measure. It was not that hot, but I knew it wouldn't hurt. I was still feeling good and cruising along occasionally checking my watch to make sure I was on pace. I was still hanging solid at about 8:29s at that point.
Around mile 22, I started to have a problem. I felt those little electric tickles in my calves that always precede full blown calf cramps. First it was my right leg, but soon my left leg was playing the game too. The only answer at that point was too ease back on my push off. Any attempt to push off harder could push me over the edge into actual cramping that would keep me from running. The rest of the race was a struggle with the calves. Otherwise I felt fine, or at least as fine as one can feel after nearly 26 miles of downhill running, but I was constantly on guard with the calves. At the aid stations I took an extra few seconds to stretch them out.
Finally, I turned off the main road and headed down the little paved trail through the campground and over the wooden bridge to the finish. I heard Linda yelling my name, but all I could think about was getting across the finish line. I crossed in 3:44:42, just under my goal of 3:45 for the race. The volunteers removed my chip and handed me a beautiful long stemmed red rose, a cool towel for my face, and my medal. As Linda came to meet me the expected (but still always surprising in its intensity) wave of post marathon pain hit. And man was this one a doozy!
Linda was excited and happy because her brother and sister-in-law had surprised her by coming to see her race. I wanted to share her excitement but at that particular moment the sound waves of her voice in my ear were causing a level of sensory overload that I could not handle on top of the other pain. I went to go stand by the car but was in so much pain I could not decide whether I needed to stand, sit, lie in the grass, or explode. I opted for bending over with hands on my knees trying to get some type of handle on the pain. Apparently I cannot run down canyons with reckless abandon and not face the consequences any more. At that particular moment, I didn't care though. I had met my goal, with the BQ (Boston Qualifier) time and that was all I really cared about.
|Linda and family!|
After a few minutes the pain went down to a level where I felt I could walk around a bit. Linda's brother, who is a firefighter, kept eyeing me suspiciously. I think he thought I was about to collapse or something, which I probably was. I headed over to the awards table to see if I could get a look at the results. When I finally got a look, I could not believe that I had finished 17th. About that time, they started to read the awards, and I was absolutely shocked to find I had been the first Grand Master. The shock continued as they handed out the award -- a beautiful sterling silver ring with a runner running down the canyon engraved on it!! It is the most awesome award I have ever received at a race!
|Award, from The Runner's Shop in Rapid City, SD|
After I got over the shock and spent a few minutes showing off my award to Linda and her family, we headed over to wait for Leslie and Janet to finish. It was really inspiring to watch all the women coming over the bridge to the finish. Soon Leslie came striding along in her "I mean business" stride. Although she had bemoaned her lack of fitness and training, she came across the line with a new marathon PR.
My legs were tightening up, so I decided to walk out to run Janet in (or as close to a run as I could muster). I walked out to the aid station and spent a while talking to an ultrarunner who was manning the aid station there. He about talked me into coming out for one of the excellent ultras they have in the area. You know how weak I am when someone suggests a new race -- no willpower whatsoever, even when I am still in pain from the last one. Soon Janet came around the corner, and we headed toward the finish. She had enjoyed the race but had struggled a bit in her mind about the experience, but she was happy to be finishing.
With the race behind us, there was nothing to do except think about the post-race party. The original plan was to go back and shower and then head to Wyoming (about 10 miles away) for a buffalo burger. Unfortunately on the way back to the campground, I ran over a bolt in the road and it punctured a tire. I took the ladies back to the campground and headed off to Walmart to get the tire fixed. I did take about a minute to change out of my race gear, but a shower was going to have to wait. It was Sunday afternoon, and I needed to get it done so we could leave in the morning.
Getting the tire fixed was quick and non-eventful. I headed back to the Spearfish KOA . When I got there the girls had decided that we would eat at the restaurant at the KOA. That proved to be a wonderful experience. The restaurant is about four tables on the back deck of the main building. It has incredibly comfortable chairs, and the food is fantastic, not at all what you would expect from a KOA. There was everything from buffalo burgers, to salmon wraps, to pulled pork, and spinach salad on the menu. Our dinners even came with a choice of desserts that included tiramisu and cheesecake. It was a great post marathon meal. The campground staff is incredibly friendly and helpful (Hi, Marcia!). I will definitely stay there on future trips to the area.
The bad luck that started with the punctured tire stayed with us. We left bright and early the next morning excited to take a scenic trip through the Badlands on the way home. Unfortunately that was not to be. Poor Katie, my little Nissan Cube, who had been acting funny for the last few days, finally decided to quit working. After spending the entire day cooling our heels in Rapid City at the Nissan dealer, we found out that she needed a new transmission.
|Out of Katie; Into the rental car|
We ended up with a rental car for the rest of the trip home. We pulled out of Rapid City about 9 pm, tired and discouraged. By the time we finally arrived home on Tuesday evening about 10 pm, we were all ready for our adventure to be over.
Leading Ladies Road Trip Part 1: Of Jolly Green Giants and Dead Presidents
Road vs. Trail Marathon: It's a Mental Thing
Leading Ladies Road Trip Part 1: Of Jolly Green Giants and Dead Presidents
Road vs. Trail Marathon: It's a Mental Thing