Monday, June 9, 2008

Flying Down the Hills of the Nisene Marks Marathon

I looked forward to this marathon since last year, and I most certainly was not let down. After a week preceding the run with soreness in my calves and thighs until the day before the race, I wasn't sure if I was ready to run it. But run it I did.

Forest of Nisene Marks Marathon - 4:07:57 (9:28 pace; 24/69)

I knew coming into this one that it could be difficult. The first 13.1 miles were uphill, and then you are rewarded with the last 13.1 downhill. But I wasn't sure if my legs would hold up for the downhill after running for so long uphill. After all, I am not a very good uphill runner, and this was a half marathon uphill!

So race morning dawned and nothing different than usual. Peanut butter and bread, two bananas and a Gatorade all together with an hour drive. Leaving two hours in advance left me with plenty of time to digest the food and be ready for the race.

It was cold. Aptos is over by the Pacific Coast and in the wee hours of the morning in a park covered with trees race morning was no exception. The race started right on time and I took it slow at first. The first half mile was slow going, and I soon realized that the hills would be easier than expected. Why, you might ask? Because I was comparing the first half marathon with other trail half marathons I've ran before that had less elevation gain and yet were tough. The difference was that a half marathon of, say, 1,600 ft. elevation gain is not spread out over the whole half marathon, but is instead spread out over 6.5 miles. So the ups and downs were a lot steeper. With the gain spread out over 13.1 miles it was a lot more even and gradual.

After realizing this I picked up my speed and came in averaging about 8:20 for the first 5-6 miles. A good pace, but this was where the first steep incline came and things slowed drastically. After this there was one other steep incline that had me walking a bit more. Suddenly the 13.1 uphill was now becoming difficult. To this point I've eaten and drank adequately, so no problems there. That would come later.

Eventually I reached the turnaround in 2:09 and was shocked. My Garmin was on the fritz because we were in the hills and under cover of trees and lost reception, so I was amazed and joyed to be to the top so fast. The downhill was gonna be fun.

So I realized that I still had a chance of coming in under 4 hours. I took off. My miles were averaging about 8 minutes and was coming into each aid station faster than expected. It took me 24 minutes to run the 3 miles from the 17 mile aid to the 20 mile aid. At that pace I would definitely break 4 hours. Problem, though, was that I was focusing so much on speed that I stopped eating. My legs started slowing. I wasn't winded, it was just my legs didn't want to work as well anymore. By the time I realized that I hadn't eaten enough 4 hours had already slipped out of my grasp. To make matters worse I have never ran that far downhill all at once, and my legs were screaming at me. Actually, it was only my left quad. When I stopped to walk a little at mile 24 a huge knot formed in the left quad and I almost had to stop running. Low electrolytes, low food, whatever it was I didn't have enough.

Luckily I was able to finish fairly strong at that point and came in at 4:07:57. My first negative split. 2:09 for the first, 1:58 for the second. Additionally, this was my second fastest marathon, which amazes me because of the elevation gain. After all, you lose more speed going uphill than you can make going downhill. So very surprising, especially seeing as how close this one was to my PR for a road marathon of 3:53.

If you are ever here during this race make sure and run it. It is one of the most beautiful races I have ever ran. Lush canopy of trees, tall redwoods. Amazing weather. Great marathon, one I would love to do again.

But this was only the first half of my weekend, as I had the Muddy Buddy race the next day. This would be my first ever double event weekend with a marathon and is a test of my endurance on how I do.

Part 2 to come later.

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