Monday, December 17, 2012

The Marathon That Took an Entire Week to Finish!

I'm unfortunately not a particularly fast marathoner. And while I am convinced that I should be able to crack 3 hours, my current marathon PR is actually only just 3:09 or so. Nonetheless, I was shocked when it took me an entire week to finish my latest marathon! Here's the catch... I ran it on the installment plan.

On Saturday, December 8th, I ran the Summit Rock half marathon in Saratoga. The following Saturday, December 15th, I ran the Hoover Dam half marathon, outside Las Vegas. So, two half marathons... a week apart. Combine them, and I it took my an entire week to run one (relatively slow) marathon.

Summit Rock (Trail) Half Marathon

Beautiful Sanborn Skyline County Park
The Summit Rock trail half marathon, put on by Brazen Racing, takes place at one of my favorite trails in the San Francisco Bay Area -- Sanborn Skyline County Park. This place is a real hidden gem. The park is hidden away among the Redwoods at the foot of the Santa Cruz mountains, on a little traveled road just outside downtown Saratoga.

I have a season parking pass to the park, so I try to run there as often as possible to recoup my investment. However, to be honest, unless you go on a weekend you rarely need a pass as the park is usually completely empty during the week with nobody working the entrance booth. So I was pleasantly surprised two years ago when Brazen Racing announced that they would be holding an event at the park.

Trying to intimidate the competition with my physique

I ran the inaugural 1/2 marathon at Summit Rock in 2010 and finished in second place, with a time of 1:50:05, a few minutes ahead of the third place guy, but over ten minutes back of race winner Lon Freeman. I didn't run the race in 2011 due to a scheduling conflict, but looking at the results I noticed the first and second place runners from 2011, both of whom ran faster times than me, were also on the entrants list for this year. Considering that I was just getting back into shape and not yet in peak form, I knew it was going to be difficult to try and get up on the podium this year.

Trying to muster "good form" for the camera

I decided to go out conservatively, reasoning that if I restrained myself on the first four miles (which were all uphill), I would have more energy left to run the last four downhill miles hard -- and hopefully reel in as many front runners as possible. It was a great plan... but the execution fell a bit short. I did manage to pass several other runners during the last few miles but ultimately I ran out of real estate (and energy), finishing in 4th place just off the podium. My time of 1:50:49 was 46 seconds slower than my PR from two years prior, but not too shabby for a guy who has only been running an average of 15 miles a week.

Hoover Dam (Trail/Train Tunnel/Bike Path) Half Marathon

Hoover Dam
Having never seen the Hoover Dam before, I was excited when I learned that Calico Racing was going to be running a race from Lake Mead to the Hoover Dam and back the same weekend that I was going to be traveling to Las Vegas!

Looking at the course profile, I had no idea what kind of finishing time or average pace to expect. The course seemed to be comprised of a combination of grades and surfaces including a few miles of hilly paved bike path, several miles of wide dirt road that passed through six or seven mountain tunnels (that used be part of a railway line), with a few flights of winding concrete stairs and some parking lot loops thrown in for good measure.

As the race started, I went out with the front runners for the first uphill section. However two strong-looking runners soon went off the front. I glanced down at my watch to see what kind of pace we were doing. Seeing that we were already doing 6:30 pace (for a tough uphill section) I wisely decided not to pick up the pace any further and eased off a little, letting the two front runners go.

Running in the desert

Somewhere around mile 2 I got passed by one runner, and then another. If I wanted to try and finish on the podium with a top 3 spot, I figured I better try and hang with these two guys. And I did. At least for a few miles. However as we approached the mile long uphill climb to the turn-around point at the Hoover Dam, I decided to ease off and run a bit more conservatively. I wanted to make sure I saved something for the way back.

Tunnel vision!

I ran the return section pretty hard, assuming that I was probably gaining on the front runners. So I was quite surprised when another runner caught me from behind, moving fast. I tried to jump in behind him and stay with him, but cranking off a sub 6 minute mile I decided the pace was a little too rich for me.

Just as I was starting to bonk in the last mile I heard the furious horn honks of a passing car and looked over to see my brother Erik and his son Tony cheering me on. I gave everything I had trying to catch a runner about a hundred yards in front of me, but I came up short, finishing 7th overall. However, I did manage to squeeze in just under an hour and a half with a time of 1:29:44. Not bad for a course with over 2,000 feet of vertical gain!

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