Saturday, October 24, 2009

St. George

Somewhere tucked away in a box of old mementos or perhaps thoughtlessly tossed away in a landfill is visual evidence of my greatest accomplishment in the marathon.  More on that photo later, but what you see above will have to do for now.

I left Phoenix in April of 1990 and returned to my old job in Kansas City.  I remember putting in a 100 mile week (only the second time in my life and first in more than 15 years) in the final week of March when the temperatures had already hit triple digits in Phoenix.  The scorching temperatures were a nice parting gift.
The problem with moving as many people far more wiser than I would constantly remind me of was that wherever you go, you are.  I needed to move but unfortunately I wasn't ready to grow up.  But I digress.
Running in Kansas City is awesome.  You have to combat the hills, the wind, and all manner of other weather conditions that toughen you up.  I ran some pretty decent races and appeared to be on track for the goal that was looming ahead in the fall, the St. George Marathon.

Spring racing was so-so.  A cold after one 10K and a half hearted effort at Kansas City's oldest road race, Hospital Hill, did little to inspire my confidence.  The first part of the summer was a malaise of self-abuse and unfocused training.  But something started to click in my head in August.  With St. George just two months off  I started piling on the miles like a desperate squirrel hiding nuts for the winter.  By September I was putting up 100 plus mile weeks.  Even in the midst of the big miles I ran a PR for 8K.

The tip that I was capable of something really fast came two weeks out from the marathon when I went for a 26 mile training run with Steve Riley.  Steve was just getting into running at the time and was on his way to becoming one of the best masters runners in Kansas history.  Steve had it in his head that he wanted to run a full marathon that day and break three hours.  Normally I won't run faster than 7:15 pace for a long run but I couldn't look like a complete wuss.  We took four water breaks and I ran 26 miles on a very warm September morning in 2:56.  Not bad for a training run.

The morning of the big race was perfect.  You start six thousand feet above the city of St. George in a small mountain range.  It's always cold and pitch black at the start.  At some future date they added portable lights but not in 1990.  The first seven miles you glide gently downhill.  Craig Davidson was there, he's never missed a St. George, ever.  He took off and left me in the dust.  I was being very careful knowing after seven miles, a mountain climb awaited then the hills.

I hit seven miles coasting along at six minute pace and started the grueling climb to mile eight.  It took about 6 minutes and 40 seconds.  I used the next five miles to recover, staying between 6:15 and 6:25 pace waiting for the dash downhill.  I hit the halfway mark in 1:21:30 ready for blast off.

The first major downhill comes at about 14 miles.  It took me 5:36.  By mile 15 I could see Craig ahead and by mile 16 I glided by him chugging along at 5:45 pace.  He glanced over not looking too surprised.  At mile 20 I caught another old friend from Phoenix and he looked over exclaiming, "Man you must be in shape!"  Mile 21 was my fastest of the race in 5:32.  Mile 21 to mile 25 are straight downhill and then you flatten out for the last mile to the finish.  I was being very careful not to push too hard because I knew I was going to break 2:40. 

By mile 25 I was starting to feel tired from the effort but I knew I had left myself some margin for error.  For a time it looked like a sub 2:37 was possible but I had slowed too much over the last three miles and a final mile in 6:10 brought me across the line in 2:39:34.  I was well satisfied but I did wonder if I had trained hard for four months instead of two what the results might have been... 2:36... 2:35.

I ordered but one picture from the race, a shot of me hitting the finish line, which I gave to Tom Dowling.  The picture disappeared with Tom and all I have left is the certificate below, the race number, a finishers medal and an age group award plaque. 

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