Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Summer of a Little Bit Wild: Running the Bear Lake Marathon Like I've Lost My Mind

When I decided I'd like to run a marathon this summer, I stumbled upon the Bear Lake Marathon Races.  Three marathons, three days, three states (Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming).  It was highly geared towards Marathon Maniacs and 50-Staters, but was also open to people like me-- who wanted to run just one marathon on dirt roads and then go to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons "on the way" back home.

My right calf started giving me trouble in early May, which prevented me from training like I should have, but I was mainly so preoccupied with getting Rob through the Quad Rock 50 alive (why, I don't know, it was his race) that I didn't have time to stress about it.  Even 2 days before the marathon when it hurt just to walk, I was just kind of like, meh, it will probably be okay once the race starts.  Like what magically and inexplicably happened last September when I ran the Bear Chase 50.  I didn't know how or why, but I just felt like everything was going to be okay.

We drove to Montpelier, Idaho on Thursday (the race was on Friday) to pick up my packet, and then spent the night at the Montpelier Canyon Campground.  The mosquitoes were terrible, and the campground itself did not appear to be maintained very well because there were patches of grass up past my knees at our campsite.  I was glad we had the pop-up and didn't have to pitch a tent in the knee-high grass. Also, the bathroom situation was not ideal.  It was a pretty uncomfortable place to spend the night before a race, and I think I got maybe, oh, say, a half-hour of sleep the entire night.

Camping outside Montpelier, ID

The only other time I've camped before one of my races was at the Bear Chase 50, and the morning had gone terribly.  This time, I felt like I had things more dialed.  Also, it helped that the sun rose around 5am, so it was light enough to see while I was packing up and getting ready.

I ate a Berry Pomegranate Clif Bar (this may be the only kind of Clif Bar I haven't thrown up) and we headed to the start line in plenty of time.  Will was in a very chipper mood, so I felt less bad about getting the family up so early.

The start was super low key (I think I moseyed from the warm car to the start line about 2 minutes before the race), and I loved that.  The whole thing was really more of an ultra-runner's marathon, which was one of the main reasons why I picked it.

I was feeling really nervous about my calf and tibia, so I ran gingerly for the first several miles, half expecting my leg to burst into flames or fall apart at any second.  But it seemed fine.  Just like what happened at Bear Chase.  I think it was finally around mile 8 that I began to unclench my teeth and relax my shoulders a bit.

Bear Lake Marathon start
Start line. Nervous. Will my tibia survive this.

Mile 3
Mile 3, I've caught up to the 4-hour pace group.

The course was beautiful.  It was very green as we ran through farmland and grazing cattle (including a couple of cattle grates) and at one point, even a caramel-colored horse that raced back and forth along the length of its fence as though to cheer us on.

For several miles I ran with two other women, one of them was the 4-hour pace leader, and the other was a Marathon Maniac who had run something like 47 marathons but never done an ultra.  I told my new Maniac friend about how I gave up marathons for a while and switched to ultras because they were more laid back for me.  In marathons, I was always chasing down my PR of 3:37--a race I had run before hyperemesis, before having a child.  I knew I was never going to come close to that again, and there were times that felt more sad than bittersweet.  But my new friend shook her head and assured me: women in their 40's and even 50's can run stronger than when they're young.  Your children grow up and don't require so much of you anymore.  You can be your own person again.  "Your best race is yet to come," she told me.

Mile 6
Mile 6: We are the 4-hour pace group

The 4-hour pacer lingered at the aid station around Mile 6, but my Maniac friend and I kept on.  Leaving behind the 4-hour pacer so early in the race is a classic Stupid-Melissa move (so many times I have done this and ended up finishing in the range of 4:05-4:15), but I did it anyway.  I figured that the pacer was just refilling her bottle or something and would catch up soon, and besides, my Maniac friend and I were in a serious groove.

I ate a Peanut Butter Gu from mile 7 to 8 and refilled my water bottle (it was a cupless race, good for them) at the next aid station.  At mile 10, I dropped a Cherry Limeaid Caffeinated Nuun into my bottle and drank it slowly until the next aid.  I started to feel really, really good.  There were whole bananas at the aid station, and I took one, eating it bite by bite for about 2 miles.  This was fantastic.  There were more bananas at the next aid station, so I took another.  I wanted to hug the race organizers for having bananas.  At this rate, I could get through the race by alternating bananas and Nuun, and I wouldn't have to try to force down any more Gu.

Mile 11
Mile 11. Feeling good.  Left the 4-hour pace group behind. Rocking the one calf sleeve, so the other one stays clean and I can put it on after the race.

By mile 11, I noticed that my Maniac friend and I were slowing a bit, even though the 4-hour pace leader was still nowhere in sight.  We also started catching up with the runners who had done the 5am early start, and they told me I was the 5th woman on the course.  It wasn't long before I pulled away from my Maniac friend, and then promptly passed another woman.  I felt amazing.  I felt like I was on fire.  I'd been worried that my leg would hurt or that I'd cause serious damage to it by even attempting this, but it was totally fine.  What was the point in holding back?  I might as well go for this.  I might as well give it to glory.

Mile 15
Mile 15. Banana in my hand, everything is awesome.

A Jenn Shelton quote kept going through my mind, back from when she was live tweeting the 2014 Boston Marathon and Shalane Flanagan's heroic run.  
Of course, we all know how that ended for Shalane.  She didn't win the race (as I'm sure she had hoped to), but she did set a personal record (just for perspective, her time was over an hour and a half faster than what I was looking to finish in).

I felt like, you know what, I might as well.  I could end up dying for a while on the side of the road, or I could run the best race of my life.  Or both.  Come what may.  I might as well run like I've lost my mind.

Mile 15

Now a couple of hours into the race, the sun was beating down with a vengeance, and shade was minimal.  Nuun and bananas will save me, I promised myself.

My left foot began to feel like I was stepping on hot coals with each footfall, but to hell with it.  My injured leg was fine.  As long as I could still move forward, I was going to keep on running like I've lost my mind.

Mile 19

My last sub-9 minute mile came at mile 20, at least according to my GPS.  For the entire race, the mile markers along the course had been off, and they'd been becoming progressively worse.  By this point, they were about 0.75 miles off of what my GPS said.  As in, my watched buzzed for mile 20, and then three-quarters of a mile later, I arrived at the mile 20 marker. This began to concern me.  I'd assumed that eventually, everything would even out, but we were running out of time.  This might be a "heavy" course.  No matter.  I would just keep running.  I would keep running like I had lost my mind.

I thought of Rob at the Quad Rock 50 the previous weekend and how otherworldly hot it had been then.  "During every race you reach a point where you know you aren't going to be able to eat or drink anything more, and you just slug it out to the end," he'd said.  For him, that was mile 47.  For me, that was now, mile 20 of this marathon.

I saw Rob for the last time at what should have been mile 24.  He cheered for me and I thought, he has no idea how terrible I feel.  I should have saved my energy but instead I crumpled a little and said to him, "The mile markers are way off."

I rounded a corner that seemed to have a slight incline and for the first time in the race, I began walking.  Jebus Crist the bottom of my foot hurt so bad.  And for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why the 4 hour pacer hadn't caught up with me yet.  I knew I'd been a little ahead of schedule for a while, but by now I must be way, way behind.  I had no idea how I was going to get to the finish line.

In one of the most gutsy moves of my life, I began running again.  I told myself, it doesn't have to be fast (it won't be fast), but just keep running.

My Maniac friend returned and passed me now; I hadn't expected to see her again, especially considering that she was running another marathon on Sunday.

The next mile marker sign I got to said 25.  I'd never seen one for 24, and my GPS hadn't quite made it to 25 yet.  What was going on? Was my GPS right, or the course markers?  How much distance was left to cover?

Even in my disoriented state, I could do the minimal math required to arrive at the conclusion that I could still finish in 4 hours if some kind of miracle happened.  I'd just been looking at my mile splits during the race, not the overall elapsed time.  But now, I flipped screens and saw I'd been running for 3 hours and 49 minutes.  If I was really at mile 25, I still had 11 minutes to make it to the finish and THIS MIGHT HAPPEN.

I ran like I'd lost my mind.  The 4-hour pacer never caught me.  I have no idea how I did it, I didn't even know my suitcase of courage went that deep.  There was no clock at the finish line, but when I crossed it, my watch said 4:00:47. (Official results here)

Bear Lake Marathon finish
I feel every bit as terrible as I look in this picture.

It turns out, if the course is short enough, I can still run a 4 hour marathon.

The Garmin often "shorts" me on mileage (which is why I rarely use it), and this is about the difference I might expect for a marathon.  But in my heart of hearts, I do think the course was short.

Do I care?  No.

I couldn't talk or see or think after crossing the line and eventually staggered over to lie down in what was probably someone's lawn because I was desperate to get off my feet.

(Note: when the finish line is at an LDS church in Idaho, there isn't any beer).

Once I finally got my bearings, there wasn't much else to do but head back to the car just as the first waves of nausea hit.

Damn.  I had been so sure that I'd dodged the bullet on this one.  The bananas and Nuun were supposed to have saved me.  I sat on the curb in abject misery, fighting off the waves with what minimal reserves I had left.

Rob decided I'd feel better if he drove us back to the campground and set up the shower for me.  As I peeled off my shoes at the campground, I saw why my left foot had hurt so bad.  A silver-dollar sized blood blister festooned the ball of my foot, raised from the skin by about a half a centimeter, I swear.  Just seeing that sucker put me close to passing out, so I rinsed the grime and salt off me as quickly as possible and got myself sitting down again.  I could put absolutely zero weight on the foot, it was useless to me like that.  I swabbed my foot and a safety pin with alcohol, and I popped the blister.  Blood spewed out like one of the geysers we would soon be seeing in Yellowstone.

We drove back to Montpelier, where Rob and Will got lunch at a Subway, and I threw up in the bathroom.

I'd expected only to have a brief window of time before the nausea took hold of me again, but the one puke seemed to do the trick.  I was able to drink water, and in about an hour, I felt like eating something.

It was time to head on to Idaho Falls, where we'd be staying the night with friends and beginning the second leg of our trip.

What I learned from this race:
Bananas and Nuun FTW, even though I puked in the end.

Would I do this race again?
Yes.  Cattle grates and all, this was by far the most beautiful marathon course I've run.

The people who do this kind of thing are hard core.  The woman who won the entire event ran all three races between 3:22 and 3:43.  I couldn't even walk for two days after (although that was mainly because of the blister), much less run 2 more marathons.

Mile 1 - 9:10
Mile 2 - 8:54
Mile 3 - 8:50
Mile 4 - 8:48
Mile 5 - 9:11
Mile 6 - 9:14
Mile 7 - 9:07
Mile 8 - 9:39
Mile 9 - 9:00
Mile 10 - 9:25
Mile 11 - 9:05
Mile 12 - 9:00
Mile 13 - 8:52
Mile 14 - 9:07
Mile 15 - 9:02
Mile 16 - 8:50
Mile 17 - 9:07
Mile 18 - 9:02
Mile 19 - 9:17
Mile 20 - 8:59
Mile 21 - 9:23
Mile 22 - 9:55
Mile 23 - 10:20
Mile 24 - 10:49
Mile 25 - 10:36
Mile 25.8? - 7:54 (mile pace was 9:49)


Anonymous said...

YOU DID IT AGAIN!!! congrats!! πŸ‘πŸ»πŸ‘πŸ»πŸ’ƒπŸΌ!! so proud of you! Maybe running in the mountain Air and the beautiful scenery keeps you going!!! much different than running among traffic , and whizzzing bullets!!! 😳. take care, and LISTEN. to your body!!,, rest when needed!! sending a hug and lots,of luv! mama

Anonymous said...

Whew!!! What a story -- i'm on the edge of my chair so hoping that you make it across the finish line with both of your legs still working -- and it's the blister that hurt so bad!! Oh my!!! LOVED seeing the picture of the watch!!!!
Congratulations on your four hour marathon in the West!!! Awesome! Love, Auntie