Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A great course amidst a logistical mess: Monumental Challenge Race Report

I might have a new favorite marathon. I’ve only run 7, so that’s not really saying much, but still. Maybe I should clarify that I might have a new favorite marathon course as the event itself had some fairly major glitches, which is to be expected when you change the entire thing three weeks before race day. Let me explain (skip ahead if you don’t care)…

The Black Hills Marathon started in the late seventies and was originally organized by a group of local runners and then the Rapid City Visitors Bureau. At some point and for unknown reasons (to me at least), the name was changed to the Mt. Rushmore International Marathon. The course didn’t go anywhere near Mt. Rushmore itself and I’m not quite sure what was “international” about it. Maybe a Canadian ran one year. Or maybe a North Dakotan…they’re close to Canada and it’s a foreign country as far as most South Dakotans are concerned. But, that’s not really relevant. What is relevant is that RCVB decided three years ago to sell the marathon to All Sport Central (of fame) because it was too much work for their limited staff to organize. ASC immediately made what was a largely unpopular change to the course. The original course had always started somewhere in the Black Hills and gone downhill, finishing in Rapid City. It was fast and BQ friendly, so people like it. Understandable. ASC decided that if the event was going to bear the Mt. Rushmore name, it should include Mt. Rushmore. So, they redesigned the course so that it started at Mt. Rushmore, went up and down and up and down some more to Hill City and then went up, up, up to the Crazy Horse Memorial (a mountain carving in progress). The final 8 miles were basically all uphill. It was tough, so most people didn’t like it so much. Understandable. In response to the general dislike of this new course, ASC changed it again for their second running of the event last year. They wanted to keep both memorials in the event so they decided to have not one, but two marathons (and half marathons), one starting at Mt. Rushmore and the other at Crazy Horse with both heading toward Hill City before merging after 10 miles and then sharing the final 16 miles, which included another tough, 6 mile climb as part of an out and back from Hill City and back to the finish. Got it? If you don’t, it doesn’t really matter, just go with it. The plan for this year was to use the same format as 2006 (the dual marathons) but the necessary permits from the Park Service weren’t obtained in time, which forced ASC to go with (or make up real quick) Plan B. Plan B, as it turns out, was a brilliant plan, in my opinion. This year’s course was almost totally different from the previous courses. It started just outside the old logging and mining town of Rochford and followed the Mickelson Trail from there to Hill City. The Mickelson is a Rails to Trails project that traverses the Black Hills for 110 miles. Per railroad regulations when the original tracks were laid, none of the grades are greater than 2%, so no steep hills although there are some long ones. And the crushed gravel running surface is very kind on the legs. Overall, it proved to be a much easier course than either of the old Mt. Rushmore or Crazy Horse courses. Since neither of those memorials were involved in the course this year, the name was also changed to the Monumental Challenge Marathon, which I think is lame, but I guess I don’t always get my way (or at least that’s what my wife suggests on a regular basis). So, with such drastic changes in such a short time you wouldn’t really expect everything to go off without a hitch. Well, they didn’t. I’ll get to that as I tell my tale…

I went into this marathon without much of a goal in mind. You see, I’ve been racing a lot lately. Since setting a marathon PR (3:18:53) at Fargo in May, I’ve run one marathon (Missoula), one 50K (Lean Horse), one half marathon (Spearfish Canyon, also a PR), and five shorter local races. So, my marathon training hasn’t really been all that impressive since Fargo; I’ve basically been stuck in a race/recover/train briefly/taper cycle since then. Given that, I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular at Monumental Challenge, but I knew that the nature of the course would lend itself to a decent time. The new course featured about 10 miles of downhill followed by 8 miles of uphill and then another 8 miles of downhill to the finish. If you were paying attention before, you’ll remember that the grades on the Mickelson are very gentle, so the downhills weren’t quad pounding and the uphill didn’t make me wish I had taken up stamp collecting instead of running. I set my goal fairly arbitrarily at sub-3:30, which would give me my second fastest marathon time. I thought that if everything went absolutely perfectly, I might hit 3:25, but wasn’t counting on it. My basic pacing goal was to run 7:40-7:45 miles on the downhills and around 8:00 miles on the uphill.

The day before the race was a blur of activity. It started with Black Hills State’s homecoming football game against the archrival South Dakota School of Mines, a 58-0 blowout in BHSU’s favor (Go Jackets!!!). Then, it was on to Rapid City to pick up some last minute supplies at the running store (GU and Body Glide), pick up my packet at the expo, and do some carboloading at Olive Garden (I think a marathoner invented their “Never-ending Pasta Bowl” promotion). After that, we finally made our way to Hill City and our hotel, where I was eventually able to crash about 10:00. I slept remarkably well, waking up only once before my alarm went off at 4:15.

I dressed, chowed a couple of bagels and a banana and chugged a bottle of Powerade then made my way to the 1880 Train Station, which served as the shuttle departure point and finish line. I hopped on the first bus leaving the station at 5:00 and the bus driver immediately informed us that there was no way the drop-off schedule was going to work because the organizers hadn’t allowed enough time for each bus to get to and back from the start line. Not a good sign, but being on the first bus, I wasn’t really worried. The ride itself took a good hour, during which I dozed off a little, so I guess I was relaxed. We were dumped off at what we thought was the start line at 6:00, a full hour before the race actually started. It was drizzly and fairly chilly outside; making me glad I had thrown on a sweatshirt and sweatpants and brought my drop bag. I began to suspect that the logistics were a mess when 7:00 was nearing and only two of the supposed 4 shuttle busses had arrived. I first heard that we were going to start the race in waves (it was chip timed) but then we were told that we would be delaying the start to let one more bus arrive. Then, they said it was time to walk to the start line itself, which turned out to be a good half-mile away. When we got there, I couldn’t help but notice that there was a perfectly good parking area right there. So, why then did they drop us off a half-mile away? Who knows….no, seriously, who knows? They did offer up a bus that was already there to escape the rain and warm up, which I jumped on immediately as my feet were pretty much numb by that point. Finally, about 10-15 minutes after we were supposed to already be running, we were herded off the bus to the start line and before I knew it, we were off.

I’ll say this in general about the course: it was beautiful. I typically zone out during a marathon and don’t really see anything, but I did take the time today to actually look around at the scenery. Awesome. Drizzly and cold, but awesome. And I’ll take drizzly and cold any day over hot, or even mildly warm. The temp at the finish was 39 and temps were probably in the upper 30s and maybe lower 40s for much of the race. I swear I might have seen a snowflake when we hit the high point of the course at mile 18, but I might have been hallucinating. In any case, this is actually nearly my ideal running weather. I could have done without the drizzle, but I was fairly comfortable in shorts, a t-shirt and gloves.

Okay, finally, here are some stats for ya:

Mile 1: 7:48 – feeling good, which is good because if I’m not I’m pretty much screwed with a capital S
Mile 2: 7:30 – a little too fast
Mile 3: 7:44 – right on
Mile 4: 7:21 – stop following that girl who’s running the relay!
Mile 5: 7:40 – right on
Mile 6: 7:40 – groovin, eat my first gel, which actually seems to settle my stomach, which had been a little heartburny (is that a word?)
Mile 7: 7:26 – too groovy
Mile 8: 8:11 – stopped to take a leak in the portajohn
Mile 9: 7:13 – trying to make up time and overdid it a little, pull up and chat with a guy for awhile to settle myself down
Miles 10 and 11: 15:25 – didn’t miss the marker, but did apparently miss the split button on my watch
Mile 12: 8:05 – we’re going uphill now, eat my second gel and sense that I may have to visit the portajohn again soon, but not to take a leak if you know what I mean (for #2 if you don’t)
Mile 13: 8:09 – this hill isn’t steep, like I said, but it is consistent; the urge I mentioned before has passed, thankfully
Mile 14: 8:25 – 4 more miles of this??
Mile 15: 8:31 – trying to be patient and not push it too hard
Mile 16: 8:31 – groovin again, but a different groove
Mile 17: 8:34 – I think I can, I think I can, I think I can! (okay, that was totally corny….sorry)Mile 18: 7:45 – downhill again!
Mile 19: 8:18 – uphill again! Didn’t see that in the elevation profile… eat another gel here
Mile 20: 7:33 – downhill again and feeling great
Mile 21: 8:40 – actually felt good except that #2 was imminent and no portajohns in sight so I dove into the brush
Mile 22: 7:33 – back in the groove (again)
Mile 23: 7:39 – man it’s fun not to crash and burn
Mile 24: 8:11 – my body is betraying me, I have to pull over to water a tree
Mile 25: 7:32 – back in the…oh, hell you know what I’m gonna say
Mile 26: 7:47 – starting to feel the toll but oh so close to the end
Mile 26.2: 2:45 – I really don’t think this was 0.2 miles. The course was certified, so the markers must have been a little off along the way, because this was the longest 0.2 I’ve experienced in awhile. In any case, I finished fairly strong and pulled my 3 year old son out of the crowd to run the last 20 yards or so with me.

1st Half Split: 1:41:10
2nd Half Split: 1:46:59
Final Time: 3:28:09
Overall Place: 19 out of 160
AG Place: 4 out of 10

So, there you have it. A decent time (my second-fastest, in fact) on a great course despite some shady logistics. In addition to the debacle at the marathon start, the half marathon start was apparently even more FUBAR (watch “Saving Private Ryan” if you don’t get that). Apparently the half-marathoners had to walk a full mile to their start and when I passed the halfway point, I saw many people still making the walk toward the start even though they were supposed to have started 40 minutes before I got there. I don’t know the full story on that, but it seems that there are definitely some kinks to be worked out. In my opinion, ASC should ditch the whole dual marathon plan and stick with this course. But, as I sadly mentioned before, I don’t always get my way.

My legs feel remarkably good right now, but it’s only been about 6.5 hours, so we’ll see. My legs didn’t really start feeling fatigued until mile 24 or so and were definitely talking to me by the finish, but I’ve had much worse. The Mickelson is much gentler than 26.2 miles of pavement or asphalt, so hopefully my recovery will be swift. Well, what next? No, really, what next? For the first time since Fargo, I don’t have another marathon in my immediate plans. There is a trail race this weekend I may go to depending on how my legs feel and the annual Halloween and Thanksgiving 5Ks, but I’ll be in marathon withdrawal probably until May, when I’m looking to capture that sneaky 3:10 at the Colorado Marathon in Ft. Collins. What’s a raceaholic to do? Alright, y’all, you’ve made it through another of my marathon (literally) reports. Congrats, thanks for reading and a big thanks to my fellow X-Squaders!

1 comment:

jen said...

Congrats Chris!!! Way to go! Awesome race - your strategy worked perfectly and you ran incredibly strong right up to the end. The fact that you weren't completely dead tired and feeling ok now implies that you can run a lot faster. :) Really good work out there. Thanks for sharing the details of the course/course history, this sounds like a great course.

Nice job on the 4th place AG finish too, and overall placement. Excellent work. :)