As my old sports director Frank Boal used to say, sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you. That pretty much describes my St. George experience. Just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
About the only thing that went right was the trip into Las Vegas and the drive to St. George. Even that was something of a mind blowing experience seeing the growth in blips on the map like Mesquite and the huge growth in St. George itself. Heck, they even went and built a convention center which now hosts the runner's expo.
I last went to St. George to run the 1997 edition because my friend Craig Davidson was running his 100th marathon. I ran just a hair over 3:07 that year very short on training but took advantage of the downhills that start after mid-race.
The Czarina and I made a mid-afternoon drive Friday over the course at her insistence. It gave her a good feeling to see the terrain, especially the beautiful Snow Canyon section of the course which the runners traverse after 14 miles.
The first bit of bad news came from the forecast. The temperature at the start was forecast to be about 60 degrees. That's a good 15 degrees warmer than the norm which would mean some warm conditions for the race. We got up at 3:30 a.m., enjoyed a little breakfast, before walking to the buses that would carry us up to the start at 56-hundred feet. We arrived at the starting line at 5:15 a.m. giving us a nice 90 minute wait for the start. The Czarina and I huddled together sitting on the edge of the roadway waiting for the 6:45 a.m. start. I never did see Craig at the start, he made a late arrival showing up just 30 minutes before the start.
I positioned myself in between the 3:30 and 3:40 groups. The Czarina headed further back to the 4:15 group. When the horn sounded we walked along, finally getting into a slow motion gate about 100 yards in front of the actual starting line. It took only a couple of minutes to get there.
I took my time, running well within myself over the next seven miles, which feature gentle rolling hills, but moving steadily downhill all the while. I felt great at seven miles which I hit at just a hair over 58 minutes, but then came the biggest climb of the course, more than half a mile of seven percent grade to mile 8. I didn't push but suffered nevertheless. By the time I made it to the top I was gassed. That was expected and I hoped to be able to relax and recover over the next hilly three miles of the course.
As I moved forward I started to realize that I was in trouble. Even before 13 miles my quads were starting to bother me. I stopped at 13 to relieve myself and to take a stone out of my right shoe. I hit the halfway mark at 1:55:10. I was way behind scheduled but I told myself to push the downhills and get some time back. The course begins to drop at this point and I got rolling again, but by 16 miles my quads were trashed. I knew I was in serious trouble. I knew that if I kept trying to push I wouldn't finish. The heat was beginning to take hold as well so I went into preservation mode.
I began walking through the water stops that came every two miles, making sure I had plenty of fluid. I shuffled along between 9:30 and 10:00 pace. It was amazing to see the carnage. I've never run a race this far back in the pack. It was a challenge just to make it through the debris. Runners were stopped everywhere stretching, one writhing in agony by the side of the road while another runner knelt down and a motorcycle cop called for an ambulance. I trudged onward hoping against hope that I might see Craig and hoping against hope that the Czarina didn't catch me.
At 22 miles I saw a woman being held up by two men struggling down the road. She had messed her running shorts, excrement running down the back of her leg. I looked away and moved over as far as I could because I knew the sight would make me sick. I knew the only goal that remained was to make it to the finish under four hours. I did, with several ticks to spare, my chip time recorded my effort at 3:56:47, my slowest marathon ever by more than 40 minutes.
Craig finished more than 3 minutes in front of me. We hugged each other when I came out of the runners paddock. It was great to see him and his wife Irene. I decided to trudge up the hill back to the hotel for a quick shower rather than wait for the Czarina. She had threatened to run five hours and I had no desire to wait another 45 minutes to see her come stumbling across the finish line. The Weather Channel showed the temperature at 88 degrees when I got back to the room.
Little did I know that she was having a good day, following along closely with the 4:15 group. She took advantage of the downhills and finished in 4:14:34, a time good enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Her training in the sweltering conditions of Southwest Florida paid off for her in the hot, yet dry desert climate of Southwest Utah. As she pointed out to me she beat me by more than six minutes based on age grading the marathon. I don't think I'll ever hear the end of it from this BQ. She says it stands for Boston Qualifier. I told her it means B***h Queen!
The heat was a factor but I think I failed in two areas when it came to preparing for this race. I really needed to put in at least three 21 milers leading up to the run. A bunch of 16 mile runs simply won't cut it at my age. I also needed to do some hill specific training.
Two of my running compatriots who I trust gave me, I told you so lectures after the race. Chris told me he never thought I could come close to running 3:30 based on my training. He figured I would be lucky to break 4 hours. Coach Mike was a little more generous saying he expected something in the 3:45 range. He was surprised I even bothered to finish given the heat and the problems I experienced with my quads.
This marked my 20th marathon. It was number 200 for my buddy Craig. I've only DNF'd one marathon in my life. That was my second one in 1976 at the Kansas Relays. I had made it to the halfway point in 1:31 and was about to turn around and face a fierce headwind back to Memorial Stadium. I decided my time would be better spent riding back to the stadium in my mom's car to watch Frank Shorter run the 5000. That's probably the best running decision I've ever made. That having been said, I have no regrets about St. George. I was in shape to run under 3:45, of that I have no doubt. But as I've heard said more than a few times, shit happens.