Monday, July 14, 2008

Missoula Marathon - A BQ Runs Through It!!!

Okay, so by now the proverbial cat is out of the proverbial bag and most of you know the results of today's Missoula Marathon. First off, I'll apologize right now for leading y'all on....I've been claiming for weeks that this was just a "training run" while, really, I've been thinking of going for the BQ ever since my failed first attempt at Colorado in May. I made a big deal out of trying to qualify in Ft. Collins, and as you well know things didn't go as planned. So, this time I decided to keep things on the down low, and didn't tell anyone what my real plans were (I wasn't totally sure what they were myself). I knew that if the weather forecast looked decent for Missoula, I wanted to take a shot there. If not, I'd run it as a training run and push for a BQ effort in Bismarck in September. Well, as race day drew closer it became more and more apparent that conditions would be pretty darn good. Even though the highs in Missoula were hovering near 90, the overnight temps were dropping into the 40s. Given that the race started at 6:00 and a BQ effort would put me at the finish just past 9:00, it was obvious that weather wouldn't be a factor. But still, I kept my dirty little secret and honestly wasn't totally sure what the heck I was gonna do until I started running. I sensed that longboat'n was on to me, but I tried as hard as I could to keep a poker face and insisted whenever anyone asked that it was just a training run. So, on to the race report. As you might expect, there's a lot of extraneous information here...feel free to skip forward to the meat of the story if you wish.

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but Missoula is my favorite place in the world. I will live there someday, even if it takes until retirement to do so. What makes Missoula so darn special? Well, of course there’s the scenery, with the city nestled in the mountains at the confluence of five valleys, including those that carry the Bitterroot and Clark Fork Rivers. Missoula is also much different culturally from your average, conservative Montana town (i.e. Missoula is a dot of blue in an otherwise bright red state). This is due largely in part to the presence of The University of Montana (my alma mater). In a nutshell, it’s a logging town turned free-thinking college town where lumberjacks and hunters live next door to tree huggers and animal rights activists. It’s an interesting juxtaposition for sure. In my own college days I, an avid carnivore, shared a house with three vegetarians. Needless to say, we didn’t have to worry about eating each others’ food (okay, I did try some soy corn dogs one night after a significant amount of drinking and they still tasted horrible).

So, what does that have to do with running? Well, not a damn thing really. Except maybe that Missoula is also a very outdoorsy kind of town with a good running population and some of those runners formed a club at some point and last year that club decided to put on a marathon and it went well so they decided to do it every year, which is what brought me back to Missoula this year (as if I needed an excuse).

I ran the inaugural Missoula Marathon last year with the general goal of just running a strong race. I had just PRed at the Fargo marathon about a month and a half earlier and really didn’t have much interest in pushing it hard again but thought that if things went well I would finish close to my PR time. Well, things went fine for the first half but then the only hill on the course (which is a good two miles long) and the rising heat took their toll, cramps set in, and I hobbled in with a 3:32. That inaugural race was held smack dab in the middle of the hottest July in Missoula’s recorded history. It was a month that included the highest temperature ever recorded in Missoula (107), the highest overnight low ever recorded, the most days of 100+ temperatures and the longest ever streak of 100+ degree days. The average high temperature last July was 96 degrees and Missoula hit triple digits an unheard of 11 days that month. Race day started out in the low 60s and climbed to the triple digits by that afternoon. A popular saying in Montana is “well, at least it’s dry heat”. Bullpucky. Heat is heat and if it’s much above 50 degrees, I ain’t happy. By the time I finished last year’s race at just past 10:00 AM, it was already in the low 80s and the mercury would eventually hit 102 that afternoon. Mother Nature and I aren't exactly bosom buddies (you try training through a South Dakota winter), but I was hoping beyond hope that she would be kind to me this time. My marathoning year hasn’t exactly gone as planned.

The original grand master plan had been to qualify for Boston at the Colorado Marathon on May 4th, run the Deadwood-Mickelson Trail Marathon and Missoula Marathon as training runs, and then run my first 50 miler, the Lean Horse Half Hundred, in August. Well, as many of you know, that plan went awry in Fort Collins, forcing me to readjust, drop the ultra plans, and pinpoint a different marathon for a second BQ attempt. My primary plan (kept secret from everyone, as I previously mentioned) was to give it a shot at Missoula, weather permitting. The secondary plan was to run Missoula as a training run and focus on a BQ attempt at the Roughrider Marathon in Bismarck, ND, in September. I'm happy to report that the secondary plan is no longer necessary.... Bismarck isn't exactly on the top of my list of places to go (no offense to any Bismarckians out there).

I’ve been Pfitzing it for 8 marathons now (my first one in Seattle being the only exception) with generally good results (PR went from 3:46:14 to 3:18:06 in that time). After Colorado, I started toying with the idea of shaking things up, more as a change of pace than anything else. I’d heard a lot about Daniels’ training on the forum and seen the results of some of that training, so took the plunge, bought the book and spent hours meticulously crafting a 15 week schedule, starting the day after Deadwood-Mickelson, culminating with Roughrider and wedging Missoula in as a Q1 workout (assuming the worst). I arbitrarily chose 90 mpw as my peak. Don’t ask why. If I had to answer I’d say because it’s less than 100 and more than 80, which means nothing, so just go with it. So, I ran Deadwood-Mickelson on June 8th, 5 weeks after Colorado, and got in a good training run, finishing in 3:36:55. That left me with another 5 week turnaround between Deadwood and Missoula. After one rest day following Deadwood I jumped back into training, and into the Daniels plan, and was able to get back into some quality running fairly quickly, so mission accomplished on not killing myself at Deadwood. Minus that one rest day, I ran every day between Deadwood and Missoula and, for the fun of it, threw in a tune-up race on July 4th in the form of the Roundup 10K, where I didn’t PR on a tough course, but did smash my CR by 3:40 and ran my second fastest 10K. The biggest result of that race was that I entered my last week before Missoula confident that I actually had the potential to run a strong race. I finally felt like I had my legs fully back under me for the first time since Colorado. My top secret plan was starting to take shape.

As was the case last year, my wife and kids stayed in South Dakota while I made my marathon pilgrimage to Missoula. But, I didn’t go it alone because my sister in law, who had been living with us for the past 9 months or so, was moving back to the Missoula area the weekend of the race and also running the half marathon, so we made the 9.5 hour drive west together. This would require me to fly back to South Dakota, but was a much more attractive option than driving my not so dependable (see last year’s report for details on that), gas guzzling truck out there and back. We took off early Friday morning and made the drive in pretty decent time. I will say, though, that I don’t think you can fully appreciate just how big Montana is until you drive nearly all the way across it from east to west. Out of the 9.5 hours we were on the road, we were in South Dakota for about 15 minutes, Wyoming for about 20 and then it was all Montana. What’s the relevance of that? There is none (if you’ve read my reports before, you should be used to that by now). I’m just saying it’s a big damn state, that’s all.

My base of operations during my stay in Missoula was my cousin Sam’s house. Sam was actually out of town for the weekend, but graciously offered his place up to me. Also in town for the race were my mom, who made the 80 mile drive from her new house in Lincoln (briefly famous a while back as the hideout of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski…Lincoln, that is, not their new house), my cousin John (Sam's twin brother who ran a nice PR in the half-marathon), and my in-laws (including the sister in law I rode out with, who also ran a PR in the half-marathon). Saturday was expo day and also included the obligatory trips to the Big Sky Brewing Company to pick up some post-race beer and Worden’s Market for the best sandwich in the world (trust me). Saturday was also the day for the biggest FE I’ve yet experienced (which isn't saying much) as I was able to meet up with longboat’n (Neil), Rabat (Mike), Mrs. Rabat, the Rabat daughters (two of em), n3103f (David), Mrs. n3103f, and one of Neil's high school runners (who was running the relay at Missoula) for dinner at Carino’s. I’ve had good luck with Carino’s, having eaten there before three previous marathons where I didn’t suffer any GI distress during the race. I was very much hoping that trend would continue after my not-so-pleasant porta-john experiences at both Colorado and Deadwood. We had a good dinner and good conversation before parting ways fairly early to prepare for the even earlier morning to come. I was in bed by 9 that night in preparation for the 3 AM alarm.

In an effort to reduce the impact of the heat, the organizers pushed the start up half an hour this year, from 6:30 to 6:00. That was perfectly fine by me; I’d rather get up and get it done with. Heck, they can start the thing at 4:00 if it means I’ll be done before the mercury climbs out of the 60s. The course is point to point, starting west of Missoula in Frenchtown and following the backroads east back toward Missoula, eventually finishing downtown. The last several miles of the course were changed for this year. Last year, after reaching Missoula, the course took us across the Southgate Mall parking lot (hot, not very scenic) and then onto a bike path along the railroad tracks (also hot, even less scenic) before finishing on the Orange St. Bridge. This year, the course was rerouted to avoid the mall and railroad tracks and to take advantage of the more shaded residential areas just to the west of The University of Montana campus (brilliant move, as it turns out). The finish line was consequently moved to the Higgins Ave. Bridge, which was totally closed to traffic for the race, quite a feat considering Higgins is one of the main arteries through downtown. They also managed to convince the city to close off about 3 blocks of downtown to serve as the finish/recovery area, so kudos to the organizers for that. So, I was up at 3:00 (which is, I think, officially the buttcrack of dawn) to give myself time to eat some oatmeal and a bagel (another common factor in my non-GI issue marathons), get dressed and make the ½ mile walk from Sam’s to the bus loading area to catch a ride to Frenchtown.

I met up with David and Mike at the start line and we chatted until it was time to go. It was pleasantly cold in Frenchtown, with temps in the mid 40s. I was actually shivering after I shed my long sleeve shirt and track pants, which was a welcome change from last year. With a blast from the ROTC cannon (which probably woke half the residents of Frenchtown bright and early on a Sunday morning), we were off.I'll warn you now that some of these splits are kind of crazy. I forgot to turn the auto lap off on my Garmin, so it was alternately recording miles itself or I was recording them manually, depending on if the mile marker was short or long. Also, some of the mile markers were obviously short and long, as my Garmin had them 0.1 mile off.

Miles 1-5

The first 5 miles follow Mullan Rd. east from Frenchtown. This area of the valley is pretty wide open, not much in the way of shade (which doesn’t really matter so early in the morning). It’s basically just a long, straight stretch of road and a good opportunity to get a feel for the pace. I was able to get into my pace right off the bat and it felt GREAT. My plan was to run around 7:10 miles for the first half, knowing that I would lose some time on the hill at mile 14 and probably fade a little in the final miles. I was able to stick to that plan fairly well early on, which greatly increased my confidence.
1 – 7:08
2 – 7:07
3 – 7:07
4 – 7:06
5 – 6:22 (yeah...the Garmin showed 0.9 mile on that one)

Miles 6-10

Most of this stretch is Mullan Rd. too until finally turning off onto Kona Ranch road just before the 10 mile mark. I had been drafting off of a high school relay runner, but after about mile six I noticed that he was pulling me along a little too fast (closer to 7:00 than 7:10), so I backed off and tried to keep the pace reasonable.
6 – 7:11
7 – 7:01
8 – 7:05
9 – 6:51 (another short one)
10 – 7:14

Miles 11-15

I knew from my experience last year that this stretch could very well be the make or break point if I was going for a BQ. Just after mile 11, the course turns onto Big Flat Rd. which might possibly be the most inappropriately named road in all of Montana. “Long Hill Rd.” would be much more appropriate. The only signficant uphill on the course starts around the halfway point and finally tops out about a mile and a half later. It was on this hill that my race started to go to hell in a handbasket last year. Honestly, it didn't seem nearly as bad this year and when we first started going uphill it actually felt great as some different leg muscles got involved. I was very happy with my pacing through this section and hit halfway with about a 1.5 minute cushion on 3:10:59.

11 – 7:09
12 – 7:14
13 – 7:19
13.1 – 0:57
14 – 7:09
15 – 7:03

Miles 16-20

Down the hill, across the Bitterroot River and we’re in the residential sprawl on the western edge of Missoula. We also merged with the half-marathon course at this point, so some walkers and slower runners are available to chase down. At around mile 18, I started feeling the effects of the pace and it stopped coming as easily. I was pushing harder to maintain and found that, even pushing harder, my pace was drifting a bit. This was somewhat of a cause for concern, as I wasn't sure how long I would be able to hold on and protect that cushion I had built.

16 – 6:58 (downhill)
17 – 7:18
18 – 7:15
19 – 7:25
20 – 7:21

Miles 21-26.2

After running under Reserve St., we start to get into the central residential area of town. This is the portion of the course that has been altered from last year to take better advantage of the tree-lined, better-shaded streets in the neighborhoods to the west of campus. The course starts to turn more frequently here as we tack on the necessary mileage. Eventually, we make a turn onto Hilda Ave. and head north, running near two houses I lived in during my college days (ah, memories…). A few more turns and we’re deposited, finally, onto Higgins Ave. just across the Clark Fork River from downtown and the finish line.Miles 21 and 22 were probably my worst psychologically. I was starting to hurt, it was hard to maintain anything faster than 7:30 pace and I felt like I was bleeding time like an arterial wound. During those miles, I was convinced that I was not going to BQ and instead would finish with a heartbreaking 3:11:xx. I will say that now, looking back at my splits, I obviously wasn't bleeding time as fast as I thought at the moment, but it's hard to think very coherently at mile 22 of a marathon. I managed to press on and realized with 3 miles to go that my cushion was still pretty well intact and that if I could just maintain the pace I was going to make it. By that point, my calves were starting to tighten up something fierce, making me wonder if I was going to cramp up or finish first. I was pretty sure the BQ was in the bag when I hit mile 25, but I pushed the pace back up to 7:17 just to be sure. When we hit the Higgins Ave. bridge I knew I had it and as I approaced the finish line I took in the cheers of the crowd, pumped my right fist in the air and was finally, blissfully, done.

21 – 7:19
22 – 7:20
23 – 7:34
24 – 7:22
25 – 7:30
26 – 7:14
26.2 – 0:48 (it should be noted that my Garmin marked the course at 26.06, but it was certified as 26.2)

Final Time – 3:09:41
Overall Place – 15/388
AG Place – 1/23
First Half Split - 1:34:00
Second Half Split - 1:35:41

After seeing the official splits, I see that I had a bigger cushion at halfway than I thought, since I ran a 1:41 positive split and still finished with 1:18 to spare.

After crossing the finish line, I was somewhat in shock of what had just occurred. I started looking around for my family and quickly located my in-laws and borrowed a phone to tell my wife (who broke the news here soon afterwards). Then, I set about locating my mom, which took quite some time in the mass of runners and spectators. As I walked around looking for her, I alternated between beign stoic and being on the verge of tears as what had happened began to dawn on me. I finally located Ma and soon after found David and Neil. David was surprised, Neil maybe not so much so, but both were very happy for me. I went to check the marathon results but none were posted yet, so I headed back to Sam's house to shower and change before meeting everyone at the Iron Horse Pub for lunch, where I was finally able to down a much- desired Moose Drool. As we were eating, Mike arrived and said "You won your age group, right?" I said, "Huh?" He said, "Yeah, I was at the awards ceremony and they announced your name as 1st." I was shocked, everyone else was elated. After lunch, I walked back down to the finish area to see if anyone was still around and found them in the process of tearing everything down. I located the registration coordinator and asked him about it and he said that I would have to arrange to have my award mailed. A later check of the online results revealed that I was indeed 1st in the 30-34 AG, a full 15 minutes ahead of the 2nd place guy.

So, as of now, I am sitting at my mom's house in beautiful Lincoln, MT (about 80 miles east of Missoula) and, honestly, I'm three sheets to the wind (hey, you only qualify for Boston the first time once, right?). Plus, the Moose Drool and Summer Honey has been going down VERY smooth this afternoon. In my inebriated state, I'll surely forget to mention something that I meant to, but what the hell. This report is long enough as it is. I do have to be sure to give thanks to all of you on this forum who have been there through the good times and bad. I also have to thank my X-Squad teammates for their unfailing support. Also, a big thanks to my father in law Ken, who "sponsored" me (i.e., paid for my plane ticket home and my registration fee) and, as rumor has it, predicted the morning of the race that I would BQ, even though I hadn't told a soul that I planned on trying. And, of course, I must thank my beautiful wife for putting up with my bitching and moaning and obsessing over Boston, and for letting you all know about my ultimate success. Thanks for reading, everyone! Now, I'm off to down a few more beers...


jen said...



I have a huge smile on my face and the finish part of your report gave me chills. You did it! You worked so hard, you put in the miles and you never gave up. You deserve it.

By the way, what sweeter sweetness could there be to WIN your age group in addition to qualifying for Boston?? You are the man!!

I'm so glad you ran your dream marathon in Missoula. What a special place to experience and celebrate your achievement. Congratulations. Hope to meet you next April. :)

Chris said...

Thanks, Jen! It was definitely very sweet to get the monkey off my back in Missoula. When I heard I had also won my AG, I was just floored....I would have been very happy with 3rd after never having won a marathon AG award (and finishing 4th three times). This was a scenario that I played out in my head during many a training run the last few months. For it to actually have come true is totally mindboggling!

Dane said...