I hope I don’t forget how much burn my legs felt, as I worked on my last mile.
Note: This post is still evolving as I remember more details and add to the lists at the end.
At 4:30 am, I woke up and started to move around, conscious of the fact that I didn’t feel incredibly tired. I had slept pretty well the night before, to ensure that if the pre-marathon night’s sleep didn’t go well, I wouldn’t be running on reserves. Walking out into the front room, I saw my dad getting ready. I started to go down my marathon-morning checklist.
Dressing in the dark, I slid my tri shirt over my head as the paper bib on the front scraped over me until everything was in place. I tied my Altra Instinct running shoes, for the last time, before retirement. They had served me well for hundreds of miles (over 500) and this would be their last hurrah. It would be great if I could PR in them.
spread strawberry cream cheese put some stuff on a toasted blueberry bagel, grabbed a banana, a Propel and Dad and I headed out. This sentence has been edited for the reading pleasure of Brett Colvin.
We arrived with no real complication (I had been concerned about marathon traffic) we arrived at Worthen Park and headed for the bus. Here, we would experience the only real complication of the Saint George Marathon. The bus lines constantly shifted and moved. Busses would arrive from time to time, but hardly anyone in our line disappeared. It turned out that people were continually cutting in front of us, which was not cool. More time on the feet = more energy expended before we can even start.
About 40 minutes later, we finally piled on the bus and our driver made his way up Snow Canyon, to deposit us to the start of the race. This always makes me nervous. I step off the bus and everything becomes real. Music is blasting. The dark sky is lit up by several huge generator lights. There is an energy that is undeniable for me. This is the culmination of about one thousand miles of training for me. This year, I have told friends the same thing, over and over- “You have to respect the distance.” Eight marathons later and this year, I have respected the distance. I’m on a mission to PR and get myself closer to where I can consider training for a Boston Qualifier marathon.
This will not be that marathon. I am looking for anything between four hours and four and a half hours. But, if I’m being really honest, I don’t want to go anything past a quarter of an hour after four. I’ve spent a lot of time on the marathon course, in pain, tired, mostly untrained. Last year I trained for the Escalante Marathon and was rewarded with a long-awaited PR. I had run a 4:44:31 at my first Saint George a few years back, but from that year, things had gone badly. I was overweight by about 30 pounds, didn’t take it seriously, drank gallons of soda a day (yes I did) and wasn’t consistent with my training. In 2010, I ran SGM in 5:55:59. I’ll never forget that day.
And as long as I have a healthy body, I’ll never run a time like that again.
But I knew this day was different. I have been working on core, put in as much as 40 miles a week for several weeks, have introduced myself to speeds in my late 30’s that I used to do on my mid 20’s. I have eaten better, cut out all soda and have truly respected the distance. I knew I was ready for this race, but how fast I could run it- I didn’t know.
I ran to the Port a Potty to get rid of any last anything I had, then started to head back to find my Dad at the third campfire (where he told me he’d be). By the time I found him, they had started the race. No big deal. We are chip-timed, so we just needed to get going. We walked up the little hill from our campfire and started to walk with the crowd toward the starting line…
Mile 1 I hit the start button on my GPS Suunto watch when we crossed the first mat. It occurred to me that there were several mats and maybe I should start my time on the second or third mat. No matter. The race has started. Of course, Dad takes off like a shot. For the first time in my marathon history, I don’t give chase. I stay calm, make sure I don’t exceed a 9 minute pace and try to not use energy to dart around people in my way. If I get stuck behind someone, I wait to see if it’s going to be a problem. If it is, I’ll slowly make my way around them. I am not going to waste 5% of my energy in the first mile. It does occur to me, however, that in the future I need to line up sooner and farther up in the line. No need to be in the slower section of a pack, if I’m going to run faster.
The air is cool and before I know it, I hit the first mile marker. I’m encouraged that it only felt like a few minutes. Maybe I can get down half of this course without too much of a problem.
Mile 2 I can’t remember the sequence, but Dad and I passed each other a few times in the first 2 or 3 miles. The last time I passed Dad was, I think our third meeting. I had been waving each time he or I passed each other, but soon I stopped seeing him. I had the thought that age has caught up with my Dad, to the point, that he needs to walk from time to time. I don’t. I’m really in the prime of my running life. But I know that someday, this will happen again. I will need to walk in a marathon and I’ll see Reagan, Roxie, Lucy or Jackson pass me with a friendly wave. The cycle of a running family, passing the baton from the old to the young. Dad is really responsible for most of us who run in my family. He has set an example of consistency and non-complacency. At the age of 73 he is still looking for an edge in his run. These are all thoughts that I have in my first few miles.
Miles 3-5 I’m happy that I have fallen into a pace that allows me to almost daze off and fall asleep. I have trained well enough that anything under 10 miles is easy, really (notice the order of those last two words). I should probably not take this for granted, because it won’t always be this way. I hit the aid stations at both 3 and 5 and have decided that it’s a good idea to hit any aid stations that I can. I would rather lose time on aid stations, than on poor planning and lack of hydration or nutrients. This is something I’ve learned in my 14 years of running. Don’t screw around with hydration or nutrition. Respect the distance.
At mile five I take a quick stock of my body and notice that everything is good. Slight left hip pain, which has become the norm this year. I’ll need to to back off after the marathon to let things properly heal. It’s still cool out and I’m keeping a 9 minute pace.
I knew that I hadn’t broken the four hour personal barrier, but I was already happy with how my hard work had paid off.
Mile 6 Alarmingly I am experiencing some pain my my right IT Band. This is an old injury that goes back, oh, I don’t know, 10 years. I’ve been dealing with IT Band pain in both knees for a long time, but what’s annoying is that I haven’t had any of this pain in any of my training in the last half a year or so. I imagine it’s the downhill. I haven’t trained properly for uphills or downhills and you can’t get away with improper training, without a few consequences. I decide not to panic and just to hold on to my pace. I know, from experience, that there is a good chance that this pain will disappear. If it does and I’ve stopped to stretch, I’ll regret the wasted time. It’s not severe, so I continue on and try to relax.
Miles 7-11 I enter into the unknown. Veyo is a hill of terror for some, especially for those of us who haven’t trained hills this year. You can’t just run to prepare for a marathon. You need to know what kind of elevation you’re dealing with, what kind of conditions and weather might occur and you have to train in all of it, if you want to do your best. You can’t run a flat course in training and expect to excel in a race with hills.
This is what I did, this year.
So with some trepidation, I started up Veyo, which is a rather steep, one mile long climb, followed by a couple of miles of not-as-bad uphill. In all honestly, you really ought to train for these three miles better, Nathan. I decide not to stop on the hills. I’m gonna take a chance that I can get away with a slow and consistent pace, rather than run-walking this thing. In some ways running is easier, anyway. Momentum can be rewarding on this hill. I notice that my pace falls off as it gets steeper. I go from 10 MPM, to 11, to 11:30…and I try to hold it there. It may slip a bit, but once I crest Veyo, I am really happy. I am breathing hard, but I’m ok and ready to move on to the slightly uphill challenges that await me for the next two miles…
…which don’t end up being a problem at all. In fact I’m able to keep a pretty consistent 9 MPM pace on the next two hills. This is not a victory, due to hill-training. This is a victory for putting in the miles. Big lesson, kids. Put in the miles. On cold days, hot days, stressful days, sleepy days, and even some sick days. If you’re not putting in the miles, you’re signing your failure on a future course, somewhere.
Miles 12-13 I could either make this up, or I can be honest. I can’t remember these miles. This happens, from time to time. Either because I’ve waited too long to write this report, or just because sometimes miles blend together. Many runners will know what I’m talking about. It’s like trying to remember your childhood. Years blend and memories get placed in the wrong category in our minds. “Was it at age 5 or 10, when I discovered my favorite color was blue?” “Was it at mile 5 or 10, when I saw that incredible red bluff in the distance?” Things just blend and get confused for me, on the road, sometimes.
I guess, now that I think of it, I do remember thinking at some point, “Hey, I’m 1/2 way there!” But that’s about it. I know that there were aid stations at every odd number, from 3-17, so I must have hydrated and probably ate a small banana. But that’s it.
Why, oh why is it fair that my younger siblings can just go out and slay my marathon time? Answer: It’s not.
Miles 14-18 I’m going to tell you a secret. Nothing really incredible happens here. No crazy injuries, no amazing high-fives or seeing someone spit on a competitor. It’s all pretty basic running stuff. But there were some notable events. In years past on this course, there are bridges and places on the side of the road where I have taken ample time to stretch out an IT Band, or a calf, or some other ailing part of my body. There have been times when I’ve been sidelined by heat in this stretch and had to walk or sit down. This is due to incomplete or bad training. But this time, I ran by with my 9 MPM pace, watching as other stretched, sat, were rubbed down at aid stations with Icy Hot. I recognized some of the looks of pain. I get it. I know what it’s like to run a 13 and a half minute pace on this highway, just praying for your slow death of a run to end.
I didn’t deal with any of that. My energy level was good, my water and Gatorade intake was good. If anything, some of the Gu’s that I’d been taking felt like they might be a little much, but only a little. There was even a point in here, where I could imagine running a little farther than 26.2 miles. An ultramarathon? Maybe. No. Probably not. Maybe? So we’re looking at about five miles of couldn’t-ask-for-much-more miles. Things went very well.
Miles 19-22 This was a little more interesting, because at some point I passed 20 miles. For me, something happens, psychologically, when I hit my highest training mileage. For me that was mile number 20. I sort of feel like I’m on my own. Like the training wheels have come off, or like my mom or dad has let go of me as I ride away on my first two-wheel bike. It’s a bit uncertain. You’ve trained for this moment, but now it’s sort of up to whatever’s left in your body, the weather, and aid stations. I would say “God”, but sometimes I get the impression that His job is done in your training. Sure, He’ll keep you alive on the course, or whatever, but he’s not going to bless you with a 3:35:00 time, if you’ve trained for a 5:00:00 time. So we’re sort of on our own, here. We’re down to single-digit miles and we’re just praying for everything to go right, from here on out. Ok, so maybe I should have said “God.”
Mile 22 turns out to be significant for me. The IT Band pain came back, about twice as strong as it had earlier in this race. It really made me nervous. I may have even stopped to stretch for a second or two. Not not much longer. I decided, once again, that with my training in the bag, with all of the donkey kicks, planks, side planks, stretching and leg lifts, I’d just let it ride. I’m not going to slow down and try to figure this out. I’m going to run until I feel like I’m seconds away from doing something serious. But not until then. I’ve worked through ice and snow and pneumonia for this moment. This is not the time for a little pain to kill a year-long venture.
And it passes. Unbelievably, as I start the decent into St. George, the pain goes away. I am ok. All systems are “go”. I tuck in and turn my legs over quickly and smoothly.
Miles 23-25 I manage to keep my 9-ish minute pace, while doing this. When I say that I try to run smoothly, it’s because I notice that my entire body experiences less pain as I try to reduce the up and down motion in my body. If my the distance isn’t going up and down too much, I’m doing a good job. I concentrate on my feet landing smoothly, moving behind me and the next foot landing in transition. I have to admit, at this point, I am tired. But I’m also very excited. It’s very difficult for me to calculate miles and numbers in my head when I’m tired, but I figure out that I’m on course to PR and to do so by at least 20 minutes if I can keep my pace. I know that I’m lined up for around a 4:15:00 or better. So I stay the course and work through my exhaustion and pain.
For some reason, the city never shows up. I had expected to see crowds and metal fences at around mile 21 or 22. They don’t show up until around mile 24. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that I had told myself that this would be a boost at some point as I exhausted my resources and neared the finish line.
Around mile 24 there are kids to high-five, crowds calling out people’s names as they read them off of their bibs, and more signs of the end of this race. I know that I’m not going to beat a four-hour marathon (a secret goal I had), but I know that I’m going to PR and have a successful race.
The understated and true hero of the day is our father, who, at the age of 73, is laying down marathon finish after marathon finish. He’s not as fast as he used to be, but that isn’t the point. The point is, how fast will we be at the age of 73? I do not look forward to racing my father’s legacy as I grow older.
Mile 26 This part of the race is always confusing. I turn down a road and turn down another road, each time expecting that I’m almost done. It’s never over. It just keeps going. Finally I turn down the last street, but the finish is waaaaaay down the road and it feels like I’ll never get there. But finally the familiar crowd behind the familiar fences with the SGM logos appear and I start to really pick it up. Like, to an 8 minute pace. I feel great. I’ve PR’d. I make a point of smiling and turning for my family as they call out to me.
But this mile isn’t over. The finish line is only about 100 feet away. As I look at the clock overhead, I immediately start making plans for how I’m going to train differently for the next year. I’ll need to shave another 20 minutes off of my new personal best for the marathon-
Things I’d like to do better:
-Save more time on aid stations. I must spend at least 30-50 seconds at each.
-Get to where I can take more advantage of the downhills. I know I’m holding back.
-I’d like to shave 20 minutes off of my next marathon, wherever that is.
-I need to arrange to have an ice bath within an hour after finishing.
-I need to train on hills, at least once a week.
-Man, it was fun having four Nelsons to run this race. I love that most everyone in my family runs. I know it’s not for everyone, but it is one more thing that ties us together.
-My feeling toward this race was changed on this day. Previously, I’d looked at this race with a little contempt, due to getting injured and how hot it can get.
-As mentioned in an earlier photo caption, it’s pretty remarkable that my siblings (all of them?) can lay down such fast times. Nancy- 3:45:24, Patrick- 3:37:22, Dad 4:42:44