Sunday, October 5, 2014

Monument Marathon Recap

Race day dawned with a bit of a chill - we tried to enjoy while we could.

The Monument Marathon started at the Wildcat Hills Nature Center, a Nebraska state park, and finished at the Five Rocks Amphitheater in Gering. We stayed in Scottsbluff, and it was an easy 15 minute drive to Five Rocks, from where we would get a shuttle. We got there around 6:30 and were able to park in the second row. We were gone by the time the halfers started arriving, but they appeared to have plenty of spots and a solid number of volunteers directing traffic.

We boarded the first bus and departed at 6:45, when the bus was full. Everyone was very upbeat and friendly on the bus, and it was a lot of fun listening to the chatter around us. The ride lasted about 20 minutes, and the Nature Center was open for us when we arrived. The receptionist/clerk seemed very excited for us to race and not at all annoyed she had to get there extra early (I assume) to open the building for us.

There was an attached patio with picnic tables, so Michael and I relaxed out there and visited with some other Maniacs and 50 Staters. It was a wonderful, low-key way to kick off the day. I didn't have any time to get nervous, because I was too busy getting recommendations for future races!

We also got to see some wild turkeys pilfering the bird feeders. I was surprised how few people could actually identify them as turkeys (lots of people thought they might be vultures). Wild turkeys are super common in Michigan, and we even have a flock that regularly terrorizes people at work. Maybe they're a cooler bird than I thought.
I'm a sparrow, I swear.
Bathrooms were open in the Nature Center, plus a few port-a-potties, so I had no issue going twice right before the race. They had a huge truck for bag drop, so it was really fast and easy to put our bag in the truck ourselves (Apparently it's a lot less easy to remember to get said bag at the end of the race. Ahem.) A marathon participant sang the National Anthem, which I thought was a nice touch, and we were off right on time!

The first five miles of the race are all downhill, and I knew from reading past reports that it would be very easy to trash my quads at this point, especially because there are no hills in Michigan for me to practice on, either up or down! I held back as much as I could, though I still went a bit too fast. Although this section was along a main road - we had a whole lane coned off for us - it was still early enough that there was little traffic, and it was quite peaceful.

I really liked this section of the course a lot, and not just because it was fast. It made me feel like a pioneer, running towards the bluffs in the distance. (Okay, I think we might have been going the wrong way for that metaphor to really work, but work with me here.)

I settled into a surprisingly comfortable rhythm once I hit the flats. It didn't feel like a total walk in the park, but my breathing was easy and light, so I stuck to the plan. Between mile five and the halfway point, we ran away from the bluffs and made a "u" through some farmland. I liked this section too - it was the Nebraska experience most people thought I would be having (corn, corn, and more corn), and the corn was tall and vibrant, much better than the dead fields in Indiana this past spring!

This section was also home to one of the best aid stations. It was put on by a trucking company, and their volunteers were incredibly enthusiastic. They also had tons of "trucking lingo" signs up before and after their station.

Asking for a friend - what's the opposite of this?
After we came out of the cornfields, we ran through Gering and entered Scottsbluff National Monument. Right before this, we passed the turn-off for the race finish. It was still quite a distance from the finish, so you couldn't see it, but I was incredibly jealous of all the halfers heading in for the home stretch. I was impressed with how well marked this area was. Even without all the volunteers telling you where to go, it would've been almost impossible to get mixed up.

The volunteer in particular who told me where to go said I was going to run the "pretty part now." The first half was wonderful, but I have to agree with his assessment.

This also brought the first major climb of the race, up through Mitchell Pass. I had already mentally prepared myself to take the hills in this section easy, and I was happy that I had the energy to power-walk up them, rather than just meander along. Plus, I had plenty to look at one the way up!

I have to give all the volunteers in the second half of the race a ton of credit. They had been out in the full sun for just as long as us, and they were still brimming with energy. One biker in particular planted himself at the top of the pass and cheered each of us on as if we were about to win the Olympics.

I took this after I went by, I'm not that much of a creeper.
So far the altitude hadn't been bothersome, but I really felt it after Mitchell Pass and the next few hills. The awesome volunteers at the mile 16 aid station refilled my bottles with ice water, and I took a separate cup of ice as well. As I slowed to walk through the station, I suddenly felt dizzy and just sort of bad, so I decided to take some time to regroup.

I think I walked about half a mile and got the whole cup of ice down before I ran again, and it made a big difference. Normally altitude just gives me a mild headache, but I think the heavy exertion at that elevation was making me more susceptible to its effects. I never felt truly awful or like it was dangerous to continue, I just had a nagging icky feeling that told me something was wrong.

I distracted myself again with the scenery. At this point we had started to loop back around the bluffs to head back to Gering. This part was also what I had been looking forward to - it was a part of the historic Oregon Trail! It's now paved, but it was cool to travel where the pioneers had once been.

Shortly after this, I saw Michael for the first time since the start. The course has no out-and-back sections, so I had had no idea how he was doing. I was concerned that I had caught up to him, as he can run quite a bit faster than me when we're well-trained. He was really struggling with the heat, but he encouraged me to go on, so off I went. I felt good for about another mile or two, and then my wheels came off too.

We moved to a dirt road through the other side of the monument. The tire tracks were free of rocks, so it was much easier to run in them, but it meant I wasn't running any of the tangents. The sun was also getting truly merciless, and I felt like I might be starting to burn, though somehow I escaped with only my part and a small patch of forehead getting crispy.

If that river had been full of water, I probably would've swum this section.
The aid stations were about two miles apart, but there were cyclists out patrolling this section, so I never felt unsafe. If I had somehow gotten to the point where I had needed water so badly I couldn't continue without it, I probably could've just sat down and waited a few minutes before someone would've found me and given me some. I'm not sure if the cyclists were only out because of the unseasonable heat, but it was great planning on the race's part. (And the cyclists were awesome, they even biked a few people in who were really struggling!)

We finally left this road of death, and the next section was on a paved multi-use path. Thankfully this was concrete, so the heat radiating up wasn't as bad. I have to say, although this was my hottest race yet, I felt much hotter at the end of Hatfield McCoy, just because the black asphalt had absorbed so much heat before I got there.

This modern art is "acceptable" on the Eager Feet Dad scale, since you can at least tell what it is!
Once off the path, we wound through some neighborhoods (which sounds boring, but the bluffs were basically right next to the houses) and finally got back to the turn-off point. I think I was more excited for the shade than for being so close to the end! I almost got hit by some clueless old guy driving through, despite the volunteers' best efforts, but it was what it was.

Glorious, glorious shade.
I was surprised how quickly (relatively) the last 1.2 miles went by. I was hot and tired and wanted to be done, but I never felt defeated or like I had come close to hitting The Wall. I definitely modified the Hansons plan a lot towards the end and hadn't run further than 13.1 miles in training, but the cumulative fatigue worked perfectly, and I felt like I was perfectly prepared to run the distance. I had just - once again - started out too fast. I wasn't very sore after the race, so I think the heat and altitude got to me more than I realized.

I was able to pass a few people in this section, and I think I was only passed when I stopped to stretch, so I at least did a good job pacing myself relative to other racers running similar times. In the unforgiving marathon, I'll count that as a win. 

Mile 25 also had one of the biggest highlights of the race - some native drummers. I could hear the drums almost from the mile marker, and there were a few of us in the same general area, so they started singing again when we got closer. It was the perfect pick me up and very beautiful. I give them tons of credit being out there - I can't imagine drumming and singing for hours in that weather!

Before I knew it, we were at the finish line. I liked being able to see it a bit ahead of time, as I feel like our last few races keep it hidden until the last .1 or .2, which is a huge mental battle. The finish is uphill on gravel, so I wasn't able to really kick. (That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.)

Okay, that's Michael, not me. Pretend with me.
 Finish Time: 5:29:33

When I finished, they first announced I was from Mississippi, not Michigan. Luckily, they made an announcement to correct this right as I sat down in the food tent and someone wanted to ask me about how much I liked my "home" state.

The finisher's tent had tons of food options, but my stomach didn't feel interested in anything, and the funny feeling from the altitude intensified, so I just tried to force down some chips and water. After sitting for a few minutes, I felt a very strong desire to puke, which I had been expecting, so I did my best to breathe through it and managed to keep everything down. I hadn't used the bathroom the whole race and still didn't feel a need to, so I was really focused on not dehydrating myself any further.

They also announced updated age group results at this point, and I found out I had won mine! I had stalked the participant list and knew one girl in my age group was super speedy and the other was an unknown, so I assumed I would just default into third. Winning was an awesome surprise, especially when someone else finished in my age group, so I hadn't just won by default! (No disrespect to her at all, it's just more fun to be 1/2, instead of 1/1.)

I got a little nervous at this point that Michael hadn't finished yet, so I asked some recent finishers if they had seen him, and they confirmed they passed him on the bike path, so I felt better knowing he was pretty close and not in distress. We hauled some chairs outside of the tent into the small patch of shade to watch for missing party members, and Michael eventually appeared!

Michael grabbed some food and we picked up our age group awards - really cool prints from a local artist!


I felt okay, but now I realize how out of it I was. It wasn't until we were at the car that I realized we hadn't gotten a finishers picture together. Luckily, a passing volunteer was more than happy to take one for us.

Overall, this was an amazing race! Other than having it start earlier to avoid as much time in the sun, there's very little criticism I can offer. The organization was superb, the volunteers were amazing, and the course was stunning. I'm still not sure about the whole state, but this race was definitely The Good Life.

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