St. George Marathon Race Experience

I ran my first marathon in April, 2010, about two and a half years ago. I figured I’d do one every other year at least, but here we are. This year it happened primarily because I had a busy schedule and the St. George Marathon was the only event I could fit around everything else going on. I won’t bore you with too many details leading up to the event, other than to say that my training was a bit short due to only finding out I had won the lottery to get into the event three months prior to it, and me not being in peak shape at that point three months wasn’t quite enough. And then I got strep one week before the event. But at the same time I was feeling well-prepared because I had been doing a lot of trail running up and down mountains and knowing that St. George has a bit of downhill I figured I was ready for it. Looking at the elevation map I knew there might be a problem with so much downhill giving my knees and quads a hard time, but I was also enthusiastic about being able to possibly shave 30-40 minutes off the time of my first marathon.  After all, I would be able to just cruise downhill. But I was wrong.

My wife and kids and I stayed with my wife’s cousin in St. George. He and his wife were also running in the marathon along with several of their friends. That worked out conveniently since I was able to get a ride to the bus zone with them and my wife was able to sleep in with the kids and didn’t have to wake up to drive me over there.

It was a bit chilly, around 60 degrees perhaps, as we boarded the bus at about 5:00 am. The race organizers had it all down to a science and we were quickly on our way. The bus drove up the race route through the canyon, dropping us off just in front of the starting line. There they had water, gatorade, coffee, and hot chocolate and plenty of porta-potties. We had driven the route the day before and had noticed they had wood set up for bonfires farther back from the starting line, so I walked back that direction until I saw the fires. There I was able to stand with others and get plenty warm, if a bit smoky. And the porta-potties back there had virtually no lines, whereas the porta-potties closer to the starting line, a mere hundred yards or so away, had lines of 50-60 people waiting. Tip: If you want to stay warm and not wait for porta-potties, get away from the starting line.

I got some hot chocolate, which in retrospect I’m not sure was a good idea because I already had enough liquids in me from a quart of green smoothie that morning. The time passed quickly and soon everyone was stripping off jackets and sweatpants and throwing them into their bags to be taken to the race end where you could claim your stuff. I did the same, getting down to my tank top and short running shorts. But I was plenty warmed up and didn’t feel cold. Other people kept sweaters and socks on their arms and such to stay warm and then ditched them along the route (apparently they pick everything up and then you can try to find them in a lost and found later).

The race started and a tight mass of us started jogging along. There was a slight downhill at first, and I tried to run at a comfortable, sustainable pace. As I kept checking my Garmin it said my pace was between 7:30 and 8:00 miles for the first 6-7 miles, so I was feeling pretty darn good about my chances of having a really good time for the race. I had visions of glory, coming in around 3:30 and feeling completely rested and relaxed.

Around mile 3 people starting peeling off to pee on the side of the road. Men and women peeing within feet of each other in more or less plain view of the thousands of runners running by them. Yeah, there were plenty of bushes, but I still thought it was kind of gutsy. There’s no shame in endurance racing. At around mile 6 I decided I better relieve myself and did so and felt quite a bit better.

Just after mile 7 there is a big hill. It’s not terribly steep, but it’s long and it doesn’t take much of an incline to slow you down a lot. I decided I didn’t want to completely wear myself out running up this hill, so I walked-ran up it. At the peak I started running again.

Around mile 9-10 my left calf muscle started feeling a bit sore. Then my quads started feeling it. I thought “Wait a second, I ran 20 miles in the mountains just a few weeks ago and I didn’t get sore muscles like this.” Whether it was the constant downhill without much variation in stride or step, or the asphalt being harder than a dirt trail, I’m not sure, but my muscles were getting sore, and I was still in the early stages of the race. I already had an inkling of what was to come.

The weather had started out cool, but even as the sun rose it was pleasant. I wasn’t cold, I was sweating, but I wasn’t getting overheated. I was quite comfortable. In fact, I’d say the weather was about as close to perfect as it could be. And we had a brisk wind at our backs, which one can’t complain about. It really was ideal.

From mile 8 or so as I was going up that hill all the way through the end of the race I was getting stitches in my side, or side-aches.  Not too bad, but bad enough to make me walk here and there. I blame the hot chocolate. I should have stayed away from that stuff.

But what was really slowing me down were my sore calves and quads. I didn’t feel tired. My heart rate didn’t feel like it was getting too high. I was breathing just fine. But the farther I went the more soreness I got in my legs, until around mile 20 or so I started feeling like my quads were being stretched into wires that were on the verge of snapping. That’s when I started walking even on the downhill portions where I should have been cruising along. I just felt like I had to give my muscles frequent breaks or I was going to end up with a pulled muscle.

I realized at about mile 20 that I probably wasn’t going to come in under 4:00, which had been my unofficial goal. Even though all I needed to do was run 9:00-10:00 miles, but I just wasn’t feeling up to running the whole way. My heart and lungs were up for it, but my equipment, my legs, weren’t. I didn’t feel like it was a matter of will any more than will can fix a flat tire for a biker. I simply hadn’t trained in the right way for my muscles to be able to put up with all that downhill running on asphalt.

As I turned the corner for the final stretch I figured I better keep running the whole way so that my family wouldn’t have to hang their heads in shame, and that turned out to be quite difficult as my legs burned and strained to stay running and not walk. Right around this time it started to really warm up as well, so I was glad I was at the end of things and not out there for another hour. I finished with swollen knees, sore calves and quads, and ready to eat a few popsicles which were generously provided by Blue Bunny.

After my first marathon I had trouble walking right for about three days. Immediately after this marathon I already knew it might be even worse this time around. I was hobbling around the athlete food area, afraid to stop or sit down for fear of not being able to get up again.

After the race I took an ice bath, the first time I’ve ever tried that. Either it didn’t do much for me, or I would have been much, much worse without it, because I still ended up as sore as ever. Here I am two days later and I’m having trouble walking around the house. Going down stairs is the worst. Going up is slightly easier. Walking down hill is tough. Getting up from a sitting position requires a bit of rocking back and forth.

I also got a case of the sore nipples after forgetting to do anything to protect them. Not too bad, but they’re a bit tender. What did come through awesome were the shoes Altra gave me which I’ve been training in. No blisters, no pain, just completely comfortable the whole way through…except that I tied the left one a little tight at the beginning and had to loosen it halfway through. But otherwise I’m quite happy with those.

So, am I now tempted to train the right way for St. George and do it again? No, not so much. I’m not into that so much as I am into experiencing different venues and seeing new sites. And I’m not really into running on asphalt anymore. The trail running has gotten to me, as well as the idea of doing longer distances, so I think the Buffalo Run in March 2013 may be my next event.