Well, that was a brutal and beautiful experience.
I didn’t sleep a wink the night before the race. But this is nothing new for me, I have not slept the night before half of my races. I got to the race at 5 a.m., they wanted people to start going to the corrals at 6, then wait for the opening ceremonies at 6:30, then start the race at 7:05. Fuck that shit. It was a cool morning. I stayed in my car until 6:25, and then snuck into my corral right before they closed it. The opening ceremony was great. They honored the Bataan survivors and even though I’m not particularly patriotic, I was pretty moved.
The start was kind of a disaster. The race is broken into 2 main races, the “honorary” race (14.5 miles) and the marathon. Then the marathon, it is broken down into civilian and military divisions AND light and heavy (35-pound pack) divisions AND individual and team divisions. Generally the military divisions go first. While I understand the race is to honor those who have and are serving, the fact remains that the military folks have to run in full fatigues and combat boots, which means the civilian folks behind them spent a large amount of time weaving through them. Also, the race was 6,200 strong this year and all the racers had to fit on a 2-lane road for the first couple of miles. So, by the time I hit the starting line, the race was already 30 minutes old.
Before I started, I ended shooting over to the scales to weigh my pack. 36 pounds on the dot. For some reason, I worried that the scale at the end would be different, so I added a pound (a big can of beans), just in case. I made my way forward in the crowd and by the time I actually started the race, I was probably in first third.
I shook hands with the survivors at the startline. One of them told me he liked my earrings. I told him he should get his ears pierce. He chuckled and said he was too old and people would think he was “weird”. I told him that he had earned the right to do whatever the hell he wanted. He chuckled again and said, “I think you’re right.” I contemplated taking out my earrings and giving them to him, but thought better of it and moved on.
I felt good and had a nice pace during the initial road section. I did A LOT of weaving in and out of people. We reached the jeep trail and I was surprised that the trail was more like wash than I had anticipated. It was loose sand and gravel with one packed area that everyone was clamoring to run/walk on. I spent a decent amount of time running in loose gravel. Lots of rolling hills. At this point I was averaging about 10-minute miles. I was eating a gel every 45 minutes.
We turned onto a road at about mile 8, after an initial downhill, the nasty uphill that everybody complains about started. I originally kinda scoffed at this. It only averages about a 3% grade, but it last for about 5 1/2 miles. Add a 35-pound pack to equation and it was brutal. During the end of the uphill section I started to worry. I was on pace to finish the first half in under 2:30 (my goal time was 5:30). Problems is, It was starting to get warm and I hadn’t done anything more than 16 miles since my Grand Canyon run. I knew I would be in danger of blowing up, like crawling to the finish blowing up. So, I decided to slow down and reserve some energy.
We made our way around the mountain and my half split was 2:37. I was feeling decent, but I could feel that I was developing a huge bruise/welt on my right shoulder for the pressure of the pack. Once we rounded the mountain, I expected a really nice downhill. Instead, it was more rolling hills, some of which were not actually rolling, but steep as fuck. I struggled and I got passed by a dude in my division. This was really the first time I actually thought about what place I might be in. I passed a lot of dudes in my division, but figured there were probably a few guys who started ahead of me who I wouldn’t catch. Judging by my time, I figured I was in the top 10.
Finally, we met back up with road that we had earlier run up. I downed two full oranges in addition to the regularly schedule gel. The 2 miles of downhill were nice, but right shoulder was fucked and at one point my right arm started to become numb. I spent a lot the downhill fiddling with my pack straps to relieve the pain. Finally, I said “fuck it” and just embraced the pain.
At mile 21 , we hit “the sandpit”. I ran for the first 5 minutes, but at some point I realized I could power hike it faster. My right arm was almost completely numb now, which kinda freaked me out. I ended up strapping my handheld to my pack and, after shaking some feeling back into my arm, pulled on the pack which took the pressure off my shoulders. The sandpit ended up being almost a mile and a half long and took me close to 20 minutes to get through. My 5:30 was now in jeopardy.
From here to the finish was pretty flat. I did the math and figured out that I needed to average 12 minute miles for the last 4 miles to finish under 5:30. It was gonna be tough, my shoulder was painful as fuck and I was running out of gas. I downed a gel and grit my teeth.
We hit the 25 mile marker and I need to do the final 1.2 in 12 minutes to hit 5:30. With half a mile left, I started my finishing kick. I also started grunting loudly. I picked up my pace even more in the last 200 yards and finished in 5:29.
I immediately took off my pack off and the pain in my shoulder started to subside almost immediately. My pack weighed 41 pounds at the end. I added 4 pounds in sweat during the run.
I didn’t really know what my placement was until I got home (after a 7-hour drive). 6th place overall; 2nd in my age group.
Great race. I’ll be back next year and looking to break 5 hours.