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On a cool and beautiful Saturday morning in February, 87 hearty souls raced through the desert to complete the 2017 Death Valley Marathon. The course runs through spectacular Death Valley National Park along the same road traveled by the infamous Badwater 135 ultra marathon.

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View of the starting line on Highway 190.

Instead of the national anthem, the race director led us all in a more appropriate and moving rendition of America the Beautiful.

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Marathoners and their friends gathered for the 8 a.m. start. You can play “Where’s Angela” and find me in the purple top toward the front of the group.

Before the race, I worried that the out-and-back course might be a bit dull, with the same view for miles. I needn’t have worried, as the park is gorgeous and the course winds through the valley with ever-changing views of mountains to the east and west. Also, while the course boasts less than 325 feet of elevation gain, that number is deceptive. It felt to me like we were usually on a slight uphill or downhill grade on rolling hills and rarely running on just flat pavement.

The course roadway is open to park visitors, but I found the vast majority of drivers to be extremely respectful of the runners. We ran on the west shoulder at all times, and while that meant a little jockeying for position at the beginning of the race, the runners soon spread out and by the second half, I often found myself running alone through the desert. Spectators are not allowed on the course, and aid stations are only every three miles. The stations were well-stocked but I thought the Gatorade was a little too watered down (that is foreshadowing, in case you didn’t catch that).

I really enjoyed the first half of the course. The problem for me came around mile 16 when my calves started cramping. I can only speculate that I undertrained for the race or underfueled during the race, or some combination of the two. I had brought my own homemade sports drink that worked fine for me in training but obviously did not do the trick in the race, and the Gatorade on the course didn’t make up for it in the final miles. My splits went from a super-consistent 8:52.6 and 8:52.4 in miles 8-9 and 8:58.8 and 8:58.9 in miles 14-15 to 13:56 for mile 21 and 15:03 for mile 24! At one point I considered whether I wanted to drop out of the race (that might have been the time I heard the raven caw above me and wondered if that was a vulture coming for my carcass when I dropped to the ground. I might have gotten a tad bit dramatic in my suffering). I asked myself if I was going to injure myself by continuing. When the answer was no, I asked myself if I would feel better if I stopped, or better if I finished. I knew for certain that I would feel better if I finished, so I set my mind to it. I decided that I needed to take the focus off my cramping, painful calves, and concentrate on something that didn’t hurt. Somewhere after I really hit the wall in mile 20, I started counting my arm swings. My arms didn’t hurt, and I felt more powerful and in control as I counted each time my right fist punched forward. Long story short, by the time I finished the race, I had counted over 4,200 swings of my right arm. I got into a zen zone by the final miles, and brought my pace back down from 15:03 to 12:38 for mile 25 and 11:37 for mile 26! Mike brought the girls to the finish line, and they gave me a burst of energy as I ran the final 0.33 in a pace of 9:46.

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The most special moment of the race, as the girls ran with me to the finish.

I finished in 4:28:01, a full 51 minutes off my PR of 3:36:58 (recap of the Phoenix Marathon here). I had hoped to come in under 4 hours, but only two women out of 26 female finishers managed that feat. My final stats:

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The first place male and female finishers came in at a blazing 2:49:40 and 3:21:08 respectively. Including all of the 87 finishers, the average finish time was 4:39:40 (a perfectly respectable time, and now that I look into it, I see that the average finishing time for the New York City Marathon is 4:34:45, so the average here is only 5 minutes slower. I guess I just thought this race would trend on the fast side due to the sea level altitude, the good weather, and the experience level of the type of runner who would choose a race that does not allow spectators). If I had to do it over, I would train harder (though I thought I had trained well, with 3 20-milers under my belt), and carry Gatorade instead of my homemade sports drink. Or perhaps, knowing what I know now, I would have opted to do the half marathon and had more time to view the rest of the national park, which truly wowed me with how beautiful it is in the winter.

I was very happy to find that the finish line fare included trail mix with nuts, raisins and M&Ms (heaven!) and a pretzel mix too. I picked up my cotton race t-shirt, which I will wear with pride. While I didn’t finish anywhere near the time I hoped, I am unusually proud of myself for finishing this race. The marathon always has something to teach me, even in my 8th one. This time I learned that the mind really can control the body. My mind carried me through 10 miles after my legs started cramping. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a pretty impressive display of sheer determination.

It’s been three weeks since the race and I’m back up to running 10 miles for my long run this weekend. I am still thinking through what I’d like to take on next. Do I choose another marathon after three particularly hard experiences (REVEL Canyon City, Boston and this one)? Or turn to a different challenge? All I know is I like having a big goal, so I’d better start planning.

What was your hardest race and why? Have you been to Death Valley? (If not, you should go — in the winter!)

 

 

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I ran the REVEL Canyon City Marathon this morning and while I didn’t PR in the full, I clocked a PR in the half if you count my chip time at the 13.1 mark (which I don’t, but for the record it was 1:37:19 compared to my actual half marathon PR at the REVEL Canyon City Half Marathon last year — 1:41:58). I took a gamble on letting my legs fly on the 4,000 feet of elevation loss in the first half, and it didn’t pay off. On my 20-mile training run on the course I didn’t get sore muscles when I ran at a 9:00 pace, but when I ran the first half of the race at a 7:25 I could feel it in my calves. My quads were fine, but my calves started feeling sore by the half marathon point and got more and more sore as the race progressed. I also developed a quarter-sized blister on the ball of my left foot. That’s never happened to me before in these shoes and socks, so I was surprised, but in retrospect I think the downhill running contributed to that and I wish I’d used some Glide on the bottom of my feet.

By the next checkpoint at mile 23.1 my time was 3:09:00, still on track to beat my PR of 3:36:58 from the Phoenix Marathon if I kept up the 9:10 pace I had run for those previous 10 miles. But my pace dropped to 9:43 for the last 5K of the race and I finished in 3:39:08. The good news? That is a Boston Qualifying time for me for Boston 2017 by 15 minutes and 52 seconds! While I am 44 years old today, I will be 45 for Boston 2017 and that puts my qualifying time standard at 3:55. So I’m thrilled overall!

By the numbers:

Chip time: 3:39:08
Pace: 8:21
Overall place: 293rd of 1199 finishers (top 25%)
Overall female: 85th of 536 finishers (16%)
Females 40-44 age group: 12th of 109 (11%)

I’ll be back later with a more comprehensive race recap. Right now I’m busy icing my calves and contemplating pizza for dinner!

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My husband says I’m still on a marathon high but I think of it more as giddy with “marathon relief”! I just am so thankful and pleased that everything came together on race day — the training, the course, the weather (more on that later), the pacing and the fuel — they all combined for me to run the Phoenix Marathon in 3:36:58, a PR of 7 minutes 28 seconds and a BQ with 8 minutes 2 seconds to spare!

I’m still processing the whole experience. Whoever said that the marathon never gets easier, you just run faster, was right. No matter how much you pour into the training, you still have to give it your all mentally and physically on race day if you want to achieve a personal best time. I learned that at Santa Rosa, and I re-lived it this past weekend at Phoenix.

I feel great now — I’ve even resumed walking down the stairs normally — and I’ll have a full race recap up soon.

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The day started with a 3:45 a.m. wakeup call after about four hours of sleep. I wasn’t nervous about the race but I think I had a little too much salt at dinner and it kept me awake longer than I would have liked. Or maybe my body just wanted to test the theory that it’s not the sleep the night before the race that matters, but two nights before the race. Spoiler alert: the theory is true in my case! I had a great experience at the inaugural Revel Canyon City Marathon & Half Marathon.

About three hours before the race start, I had my usual banana, oatmeal and coffee with a splash of milk, plus 20 ounces of Gatorade. The 35-minute drive to Citrus College in Azusa was uneventful. There was a bit of a line to get into the parking lot, and I had to park in the far lot and walk back to the buses. No big deal but I was desperate to find a bathroom at that point. The race information said the gym bathrooms would be open, but by the time I made it to the buses at 5:30 and asked where the gym was, the gym was too far to get to in time to get on the last half marathon bus at 5:45. Fortunately, some of the buses were tour buses with a bathroom, so I finagled my way out of the school bus line and onto the tour bus. In a second stroke of good luck, the woman in front of me in line gave me a tissue from her pack when she discovered the bathroom didn’t have any toilet paper.

On the bus drive up the canyon, I sat next to a lovely woman who had just run the NYC Marathon two weeks before. We chatted on the half hour drive up Highway 39. I enjoyed getting to preview the course that way, seeing where there were uphills and downhills along the course and enjoying the scenery. When we arrived at the start about 10 miles up into the canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains (recently designated a national monument by President Obama), I put on the warm gloves we’d been given at the expo and made a beeline through the brisk mountain air for the porta potties. There were enough for the number of runners (888 finishers in the half marathon). By that time it was about 6:30 and we had half an hour until the start.

Perfect temperature in the low 50s at the half marathon start.

Perfect temperature in the low 50s at the half marathon start.

Before I knew it, it was time to trade my sweats for the mylar blanket we’d also been given at the expo, and load my gear bag into the truck. After another fifteen minutes, we got treated to a beautiful, live version of the national anthem, and it was time to line up on the course, self-seeding ourselves by the pacers of our choice. I got up close to the front, behind the 1:40 pacer, as I planned to go for a 1:45.

That turned out to be the right spot for me and I quickly settled into a 7:45-8:00 minute pace without any runners to dodge in front of me. There are some rolling hills in the first few miles, nothing too challenging and still plenty of downhill to get your pace up. In fact I’d planned to go out a little slower at the start, an 8:15, but my first mile ended up at 7:45. I just felt great and I went the pace my legs wanted to go on the downhills as I repeated my downhill mantra “light, quick, light, quick” in time with each step (as opposed to my mantra on the flatter sections, which turned out to be “put the hammer down, stay strong.” I have no idea where that came from but it worked!)

I enjoyed the spectacular views down the canyon along the partially closed course. We stayed in the left lane while the right was open to traffic guided by police escorts. Only once, though, did I see one set of cars pass by on the first 10 miles of the course. No spectators were allowed there either, which didn’t bother me at all. It was just peaceful and beautiful, with a sprinkling of runners along the course and helpful aid station volunteers about every two miles.

When I hit the halfway point, I did a quick self-check. At that point I was ahead of my target pace and I was still feeling great. I decided to maintain my current pace and reassess at mile 10. Incredibly, I still felt really good at mile 10 too. It wasn’t easy, but it was easier than the tempo runs I’d been performing in full marathon training (ah the miracle of taper and the wonder of what a little rest can do for the legs). I passed the first timing mat on the course at mile 10 in 1:18:19.2 for an average pace of 7:50. From that point on I looked at the race as a 5K to the finish, “only” 3.1 more miles to go. I tried my hardest to keep the pace around 7:45 without burning out before the finish. Much to my surprise, I got a surge of energy when I could hear the finish line announcer, and then could see the finish line arch. I ended up averaging a 7:38 pace for the last 3.1 miles, for a 5K split of 23:38.8, which happens to be a PR in the 5K! I guess I’d better get out there for a stand-alone 5K soon to see what I could do at that distance!

My final chip time was 1:41:58 for an average pace of 7:47 (which happens to be my 10K PR pace for my very hilly local La Habra 10K). I stopped by the timing tent and got a printout of my official results, only to find out that I had placed 3rd in my 40-44 age group out of 104 women! 27th female of 576 and 76th of all 888 finishers.

Huge finisher's medal on the left, "bronze" medal for 3rd place F40-44 on the right. My chip time ended up being one second faster than shown here.

Huge finisher’s medal on the left, “bronze” medal for 3rd place F40-44 on the right. My chip time ended up being one second faster than shown here.

I celebrated with a heavenly massage at the Massage Envy tent, then made my way to pick up my gear bag. The truck had been delayed on the course so instead I started the long walk back to my car in the parking lot. That took 15-20 minutes and while it made an effective recovery walk, I would have liked to be back in my dry clothes for that (and really, I would have liked a shuttle bus). I drove back to the gear pick-up just in time to see my bag being sorted by bib number.

On my way back out of the parking lot, I spotted Andrea, a friend I hadn’t realized would be at the race as a spectator to cheer on Pavement Runner (and she hadn’t known until the last minute that I was running the race also — and when she heard she made a sign for me too!!) During the race I had heard people call out my name at mile 12 (a HUGE boost at that point because I was putting everything into staying at my pace by then) but I just marveled at the fact that these ladies could read my name on my bib. It never occurred to me that it was someone I knew!! I was so in the zone I just gave a double thumbs-up and kept my eyes on the road. So I was especially glad we connected after the race. It was particularly nice of her to be out at the race this morning when she is headed off to run Disney Avengers early tomorrow morning then hop on a plane to go run the Strip at Night in Vegas that evening!

I never imagined the day would turn out so well and that I would be celebrating a full 6-minute PR on my Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon time. Long-time readers can guess that the first thing I did when I got home was to plug 1:41:58 into the McMillan pace calculator to see that it predicts I could train to run the full marathon in 3:34:36. That would be a 10-minute PR for me for my fifth marathon, so I’m skeptical, but gosh darn it how much would I love to run that at the Phoenix Marathon in February?!

Overall I am very impressed by the Revel Canyon City Half Marathon and I would definitely recommend it to friends. (Note that the full marathon has a net loss of 5,134 feet compared to 933 for the half — I’m curious to see what people think of the full marathon and that serious downhill run).

What’s your next goal race and what is your goal for that race?

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Me reaching for a sports bottle from my 5-year-old at the 13-mile mark.

Me reaching for a sports bottle from my 5-year-old at the 13-mile mark.

Just a quick note to say that I really enjoyed the Long Beach Marathon and the race went well for me. I’m still waiting on an official time but according to my Garmin (which in all the excitement I forgot to stop right away at the finish line) I came in around 3:53, a personal record for me. I am super sore but super happy, and will write up a full race report when I’m done celebrating!

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I ran the Mountains2Beach Marathon this morning and met my “B” goal of a sub-4 hour time with a 3:57:29 for a PR of 5:10!

Mountains2Beach tee and medall

It was a tough race and I obviously have some work to do on adjusting my fueling. It took a long time for me to stop shaking after the finish and I even made a stop by the medical tent to make sure my vital signs were okay.

All is well now though and I’m celebrating with Mike’s homemade strawberry rhubarb crumble and takeout pizza!

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