On the heels of a nice 50k effort in Bridle Trails State Park last month, I looked forward to trying a faster event. My emphasis in 2012 had been on trails, and usually this meant fun, beautiful, but slower. Running a net downhill course in the Arizona desert might be just what the doctor ordered.
The Lost Dutchman Marathon is a smaller event that starts in the Superstition Mountains, east of Phoenix. The name comes from a legend about a gold mine allegedly found by a a German immigrant in the 1880s or 1890s. The legend comes from the fate of those who have tried to locate the mine – death and intrigue abound. The thing that would bring me to Phoenix would not be gold, I’d simply heard that the marathon was nice event.
The trip would be a quick one. I would fly in the day before the race, and return the next evening. i usually like to have time to explore a bit. This time I wanted to keep the time away from home to a minimum. With luck, I would be able to shower before getting on the return flight.
So this is how I found myself in the sunny, 76 degree weather in Phoenix in mid-February. Coming from the grey Pacific Northwest, it was definitely different.
After landing, I headed to the race expo. After picking up my race packet, I drove into the mountains a bit , and then visited the Lost Dutchman State Park. There, I did a short hike, up towards Flatiron. Leery of overdoing things, I opted not to hike the incline there, instead wandering a bit amongst the plentiful cacti, before heading for some dinner. I was in my room by 7:30. While at the expo, I had learned that I would have to get up at 4am, in order to catch the shuttle to the start of the race. So it was a quiet evening for me – in bed at 9:30.
Four came early the next morning. I’d slept fitfully, not unusual the night before a race. I dressed, and grabbed my stuff, figuring I could eat a sack breakfast while waiting at the start. When getting the shuttle to the start, I began to see just how well-organized the event was. Three minutes after getting out of my car, our shuttle was underway.
The race starts near the Peralta Trailhead, about six miles from the road. While winding up the dirt road in a school bus, I passed the time talking to several other runners – some local, and others who had made the trip from other places such as LA and Tuscon. Everyone seemed to be juggling the same things – family, jobs, running. And all of us felt lucky to be riding this bus up this trail before dawn too.
gathering at the start, warming ourselves by the fires
The Lost Dutchman Marathon gets big points for atmosphere. The scene when we got off the bus was pretty nice. There were warming fires all over the place, with bits of carpet laid out for us to sit on while we enjoyed them. Off to the east, the sun was coming up, shedding light on this warm gathering of marathoners in the desert mountains.
shortly before heading out
Shortly before seven AM, we ambled over to the start, lining up and then heading out. For those first few miles, it was hard to keep a modest pace. We were running mostly downhill, and the dirt was packed hard, so I kept clicking off splits that were about a minute per mile faster than I usually would. More worrisome was the fatigue I felt in my legs, as if I hadn’t rested the, well enough in the days before.
running through the start
I fell into a steady pace of 8:00-8:15 per mile, running next to a woman who had confidence in her pace. We ran like this for perhaps nine miles, not saying a word to each other. I thought that if I spoke, it would reveal just how labored my breathing was.
early downhill miles into the sunrise
A couple of miles after we started running on the road, we struck up a conversation about how we’d each ended up there. Therace had been the sole member of her running cadre who’d not been injured, and who had not opted to do the half. She’d done LDM the year before, and had really enjoyed it. She and her husband lived just to the south, and had three kids. We talked about how challenging it was to balance family, other demands (in addition to being a mom to her three kids, she teaches survival swim classes).
along peralta trail
We spent miles 10 through 19 talking before we ventured off to different paces. By then, I knew what the final miles would be like. I’d gone out too fast, and would be lucky to hang on at any reasonable pace. The trouble was, I was on pace to break 3:40. I’d not had a day like this in over three years. With 3:40 within reach, I couldn’t ease up – I’d really wanted to beat this time, if only to claim a personal best that I could count on .
The backstory on my PR : back in October of 2009, I had a good day running a race directed by a guy infamous for incorrect course length. I’d crossed the finish in 3:30 (a ten minute PR, which I didn’t really believe). “Are you confident in the course length?”, I had asked the woman at the finish. “Nah – it’s about half a mile short” she replied. I went back out and ran another half mile, which was still a PR. But I was never really sure about the time distance I ran that day. I was determined to exceed the prior PR (3:40), and claim a more reliable one. So breaking 3:40 felt important.
digging deeper to hit a goal
By mile 22, my splits had slowed to the 9:00 range. I was struggling to do 9 minute miles. That last 5k was wicked. We were on a long stretch of road with some up-and-down, and my quads screamed on the ups. I focused on my form – slight forward lean, midfoot strike, pushing back with my strides. All of this had seemed so easy and natural earlier.
going through “the wall” just before mile 24
Mile 22 through 25 seemed to go on forever. Still, my rough math told me that 3:40 was still on the vanishing edge of possible, so I needed to keep running. I could see mile marker 26 ahead, following a long straight stretch, and dug a bit deeper.
running for the chute
But I am pretty sure I didn’t leave much effort untapped. When I made the final turn at mile 26, I couldn’t see the race clock until I was perhaps 20 seconds from the finish. I’d surprised myself.
I crossed in 3:39:24, a minute faster than my previous “official” PR. I definitely felt the miles. But I’ll take it.
crossing the finish
charts and graphs for running geeks
The early fast splits come on the downhill trail. And the slower splits come when we hit the uphill stretches. To be clear, none of the uphill is significant – but there is a tangible difference after running 20+ miles when you start climbing (even a little). Have to wonder how this would have looked had I actually done some structured speed workouts in the months ahead of the race.