I’ve been excited to run the Flagstaff Marathon since setting up my Javelina Jundred training schedule in late May. Out of all the places I’ve visited throughout my life the Ponderosa pine forests of Arizona are at the top of the list. I can’t explain it but a combination of breathtaking views, cool dry air and the scent of Ponderosa pine seem to relax me and take me back to my youth, working in the timber, cutting wood for the fireplace, blazing and maintaining trails for my dirt bike. I spent many a waking hour in the timber growing up and really miss it.
As I backed out of the garage at 3:53 a.m. it was 81° degrees at home. This was later than I normally start running on Saturday morning but the marathon didn’t start until 8 a.m. and I hate standing around waiting for anything to happen, I wanted to leave enough time for a wrong turn here or there but get to the Nordic Center north of Flagstaff as close to 8 a.m. as possible so I could jump out of the truck and start running.
Flagstaff is 58 George Strait songs from where I merged onto I-17 and I sang them all (off key). Driving nearly two hours in total darkness the drive is very boring and tiring at that time of morning. I quickly decided its a lot easier to wake up at 1:30 a.m. and head out the door for a 33 mile run like I did last Saturday than to sleep longer then drive 3 hours before running. As I approached Flagstaff I was greeted by a black silhouette of Ponderosa pine trees back lit by the soft light of the sun approaching the horizon to the east. I was already feeling at peace and knew it was going to be a great day, regardless of how my run turned out.
With my truck thermometer reading 35° as I pulled into the parking lot at the Flagstaff Nordic Center, I got out of the truck to the feel of brisk clean air slapping me in the face. It quickly woke me up and energized me for what was soon to come. On my way to packet pick up I saw my friend Deron Ruse taking pictures and visited with him for a minutes before we headed back to our respective vehicles to pin on our race numbers and stay warm until closer to the race start.
With the race starting close to on time Deron and I jogged off into the forest with close to 300 other runners to start our trail run. There were three races all starting at one time, a 10K, 1/2 marathon and the full marathon. We didn’t know it until after we finished but of the 300 runners 45 were doing the full marathon. Not knowing how the 8,000′ plus altitude would effect us Deron and I decided to start out conservative, jogging along and talking the first 10 miles between ourselves and with other runners we were having a nice relaxing day. Deron has just gotten back to full training after dealing with a foot injury and I was using the marathon as nothing more than one of many training runs while I get ready for Javelina Jundred on November 12th. In fact after running 92 miles the previous week I kept a normal training schedule through most of this week and topped it off on Friday with a fast 5 miles trying to get some soreness in my legs for the marathon.
Deron and I separated around mile 10 and I was on my own to deal with my own thoughts and monitor everything I need to be aware of while running Javelina Jundred. Things like hydration, electrolyte balance, nutrition intake and heart rate take on way more importance when stretching past the marathon distance and preventing problems is of the utmost necessity. As I reached the opening in the forest at mile 13 all the runners around me headed to the finish line of the 1/2 marathon and I was the only runner that made the turn to continue the full. With the trail twisting and turning through the trees it was almost 5 miles before I saw another runner. At one point I actually had a horrible feeling that I had gotten off course and was no longer on the trail I was supposed to be on. About 18 miles into the race I finally caught one runner and within seconds three runners came from behind and passed me. We leapfrogged back and forth a quarter mile before reaching an aide station where the other runners stopped ahead of me. I ran through the aide station without stopping and the trial immediately started to climb. The other three runners quickly started out behind me but when I glanced back near the top of the hill they were nowhere to be seen and I was once again on my own.
Knowing there was a hill I would most likely need to walk around mile 22 I pushed on fighting the urge to take a walk break on smaller hills. Between miles 19 and 22 I exchanged pleasantries and encouragement with a handful of runners that I passed. The hill at mile 22 couldn’t come soon enough.
* WARNING: If you don’t want to read about my gross stomach issues skip to the next paragraph.
As I moved to mile 22 I started noticing my stomach had either stopped or slowed way down in processing anything. I no longer wanted to take GU gels or drinks anything even though I knew I had to. Each time I swallowed anything it came right back up into my throat. I forced down another unflavored Gu gel and tried to wash it down only to have most of it come back up with the taste from the strawberry banana gel I’d grabbed off an aide table almost an hour previously. This was a bad sign knowing that I hadn’t been processing anything for at least an hour and didn’t realize it. At the same time I started to feel slightly lightheaded and all the signs of dehydration were slapping me hard in the face. With only a few miles left I knew I was ok but had it been next Saturday’s 50 mile run or the 100 mile Javelina Jundred it would’ve been big trouble. Issues like this are much easier to prevent than to cure out on the trail.
Mostly walking, stumbling on lava rock and doing a slow jog up the hill between miles 22-24 I was able to choke down as much EFS electrolyte drink as possible for the final 2 mile decent to the finish line. At the aide station at mile 24 I asked the volunteers if there was anyone close enough in front of me I could catch. With a laugh they told me to just keep going, finish strong and “no you can’t catch them”. Feeling somewhat discouraged but mostly relieved that I didn’t have to run full out for the next two miles I set a comfortable pace and tried to just finish strong.
My final time was 4:35:57, good enough for 9th place overall. I was hoping to brake 4:20:00, in looking at my per mile split times miles 22-25 took me over 10 minutes longer the second time I ran up the hill and the first mile down versus the first time I’d done them earlier in the day. That’s 10 minutes caused by not managing my hydration correctly as my legs and body felt just as strong as early in the race.
Looking back I think it was a very successful day. My legs were strong all day and the hydration issue can be fixed. I started the race with 70 ounces of EFS knowing it wouldn’t be enough but my plan was to empty my Camelbak then start drinking from the aide stations. I never stopped at an aide station all day (I slowed one time to grab that strawberry banana Gu gel) and never drank from an aide station. When I got home I emptied my Camelbak into a measuring cup and still have 28 ounces left. 42 ounces of fluid all day for a 4:37 race is less than half what I should’ve drank. I normally drink 20 ounces an hour on my training runs which means I should’ve been closer to 100 ounces consumed. This is my #1 item to address going into this Saturday’s 50 mile Man Against Horse race in Prescott, Arizona. My #2 item is trying to figure out how to grow about 10 layers of skin in only 5 days to replace what I lost off the side of my toe from the first blister I can remember getting while running. The fine dirt from the trails filled my socks and acted like sandpaper between my toes. It looks like a patch of raw meat and now more than 30 hours after the race the pain is getting worse.