M2M / 21 October 2017
The scene takes place in West Texas. I had traveled to Big Bend and the Guadalupe Mountains years ago. This time, it was so foreign, like another state altogether. Reminded me a little like Arizona, a little like Wyoming with mountains at a distance, yet dry, flat plains nearby. We left Buda on Thursday and knew it would take us about 6 hours to get to our destination, Alpine. We had tried to get hotel reservations in Marathon, Texas but there is no Holiday Inn there. The Gage Hotel was booked way in advanced as were all the other accommodations in Marathon. The town is a little less than 500 people so when the Race comes around, their population doubles.
This was a special Race this Saturday. I had been wanting to run this one for a while yet had not actually looked into it. My son had been thinking of doing his first Marathon and we decided this would be a good one. We signed up for the race back in April. Had six months to train. He joined a running group in Houston and I ran with Twenty-Six Two in Austin. Each Saturday, he called to let me know how his running went. Each long run was a milestone and a celebration. He was getting into his high mileage runs when the Hurricane hit. Somehow he managed and did an 18 miler that Saturday.
For me, this was going to be my 60th marathon. My training had been coming along well. Came August and I was feeling great. Then got the news that I needed to get cataract surgery. What? Me? I’m too busy. Can’t be happening because I’m training for a race. Doc told me I needed to be careful with exertion, had to be careful with pressure for at least 2 to 6 weeks after surgery. The surgeries were two weeks apart. I did lots of my training on the treadmill especially on my long run Saturday mornings. Would do an hour to an hour and a half, eat breakfast then head to Austin to meet up with the running group and finish up the run. My last 22 miler, I was so tempted to do only 20. Took a break at the Gatorade stop and managed to do two more miles for total of 22. Somehow, the running group pulled me through.
We arrived in Alpine as planned in the late afternoon. Checked into the Holiday Inn and decided we needed to get dinner. Not too many places to choose from. Google showed a few places within 3 to 4 miles. We decided to get Chinese at the Orient Express. Upon arrival, it’s a very old building that looks like an old barracks. My husband did not want to get out of the car. Was hard to tell if the restaurant was open or if it really was a restaurant. Long story short, the buffet was great. Would give it four stars.
On Friday, we needed to go to packet pickup in Marathon. What to do all day before packet pickup at 4:00pm? We decided to take a drive to Ft. Davis and visit the McDonald Observatory located in the Davis Mountains. We did not want to be on our feet too much the day before the Race. Reaching the Observatory was beautiful and we could see as far as the eye can see. They told us that Mexico is about 78 miles away. We got to see two gigantic telescopes, one of which is the third largest in the world.
We headed to Marathon and decided to drive the Race route which is the highway from Marathon to Ft. Stockton. Coach had told me that it was a rolling hills route. We drove out 26.2 miles and saw the three Port-A- Potties at the start area. Oh boy, heading back, the hills rolled and rolled the entire way with slight climbs on miles 20, 22, 23, and 24. The last two miles into Marathon are flat.
We did the packet pickup at an art gallery then waited for the pasta dinner at the Gage Hotel patio. The weather was nice for having a meal on the patio. Was very different to be outdoors and not hearing any city traffic. The only sound was of cicadas. We had a very pleasant dinner then headed back to the hotel 30 miles away.
Friday night we prepared our running clothes, bib on the singlet, fuel, breakfast items, and the sort. I decided to take an extra Rotane and placed it in my running shorts pocket. There was no more room in my pink, fuel belt. We stayed up watching the Astros win the ballgame and knew morning would come very soon. Got up at 4:00am, ate, dressed, and headed to Marathon at 5:30am. My husband drove us to the bus pick up. On the way, we saw a shooting star. Was a beautiful sight in the dark, night sky. The weather was dry and 66 degrees
in Alpine. Was a little cooler in Marathon. By the time we reached middle of nowhere Start Line, the temperature was 52 and windy. For those who know me, yes, I had my throw away gloves on. I also had a throw away pull over plus a mylar space blanket. All put to good use.
While on the bus to the Start, one of the runners mentioned that he had lost all his energy gels just before boarding the bus. Poor guy. Another one of the runners gave him some animal cookies. I gave him my extra gel. Have no idea how he managed the full marathon with limited fuel.
The group for the full marathon was maybe 100 people. The start chute was the width of the highway shoulder with an orange highway cone on each side of the 2 feet wide shoulder. We had a ‘START’ flag sticking out of the grass area. Just like at home, I started recognizing people from Austin at the START. One guy had driven all night from Austin and arrived at 5:30am that morning. Wow. I found myself in front of these Austin runners who I know are fast, like 3 hour marathon runners. I moved behind them just as the bull horn yelled out ‘race has started’ or something to that affect as we started moving through the start cones. There was no fanfare, no fireworks, no singing, just go. About a quarter mile into the race, we saw a bright shooting star in the morning sky. That was special. The rest of the race was quiet, dry, windy, and got hotter and hotter. We had water stops every 2 miles with water and sports/electrolyte drink. The stops were manned by locals plus the ROTC from an El Paso high school. The ROTC did a great job. They had to be out there in the windy, hot elements.
I don’t do well in hot races so knew I had to pace well. The first 8 to 10 miles, I had to keep slowing myself as was going too fast. The whole race is an active highway. Lucky for us there was very little traffic. Got to the halfway point where the Half-Marathoner had started, did a pit stop, got fueled and on my way. One of the runners had told me few weeks ago that this race gets hot so told me to be sure to wear a hat. I did forgo my sun visor and wore a white hat along with my sunglasses. That hat saved me from overheating and the sunglasses helped with the brightness. The weather was very warm and dry. I kept reminding myself that I was running in the desert and to keep a pace to finish. I started pouring water on my shoulder at the water stops to cool down. Now at mile 18 and caught up with one of the Austin runners. She had a very nice pace. I tried to stay up with her but knew I had to save to get to the finish. She and I went back and forth on lead and sort of just helping each other get through. At mile 19, you could see at least a mile ahead as the road inclined a little. At mile 24, the Austin runner comes up and says ‘we are almost there’. It was very nice to hear her positivity. I could see her about half a mile away on the last few miles in Marathon.
At about the last 0.1 of the race, you could see the small crowd. As I approached the finish, I heard my son cheering me on. He had finished 30 minutes ago. I am so happy for him and my 4:19:05 time. My husband made sure I got something to drink and some food. What a day in the now 88 degree weather and what an accomplishment! All good stuff. Thank you for reading my story.
Pikes Peak 2017
Pikes Peak 2017 – Race Report
By Leland Mangrum
Pikes Peak 2017 was a very well-supported race that caught my attention through a family connection who had done the Ascent event a few times before. Being a veteran marathoner, I was sufficiently arrogant to immediately stake my claim to the higher distance. I flew in the day before race day on Saturday the 19th. I saw people finishing from the ascent event that takes place on Saturday as I made it to the Expo from the airport. I saw and overheard one gentleman’s tale about having to turn back at the A-frame checkpoint 3 miles from the summit and run a 20 miler in defeat. From the outset, I was nervous about the possibility of failure for this event.
The race day experience was pretty typical for me until the start. Gear check and then the approximate hour-long wait until the start time. The race start was surreal, with the race being immortalized with the theme of America the Beautiful as its anthem instead of the more standard Star Spangled Banner. Immediately after the beginning it becomes clear how your pace will be dictated to you for the duration of the ascent. It is rough trail on many sections from the get go, but with epic views that command miles of visibility. There are a couple of flat miles up the first half to the Barr camp aid station at 7.6 miles up the ascent. Miles 6 and 7 up the mountain to the Barr camp are only 350 or so feet of elevation gain each. Full refuel supplements here at Barr camp – I scarfed 4 to 5 orange slices down in rapid succession as my favorite method of recharge. I refilled the handheld water bottle when needed along the trail. The race has water and Gatorade support at least every few miles. The aid station is fully stocked with different kinds of fruit, salty snacks, and the usual supplements. The feeling coming out this aid station was that the race was just getting started. I hit mile 8 a little more than .4 miles out of the Barr camp aid station where the elevation was 10,500 feet according to my garmin activity.
Up the gut with hustle from here on out. The last mile and a half up to the A-frame checkpoint at 10 miles makes me more aware of the feeling of elevation sickness. It is very slow going up here. After 2 miles up the gravelly, rocky, switchbacks, exposed to elements, it gets worse. The last mile is little more than a mountain climb up a goat path with necessary upward and downward traffic simultaneously that makes it very slow going at the summit. The last 3 miles have left me very weakened and worried that I would not be able to continue once reaching the summit. After a handful of chips and some rehydration at the summit/turnaround aid station, I had renewed strength and set off on the way down.
It sucked until getting back down below the tree line. The altitude sickness really takes a toll all the way from miles 10 -16. I made many running buddies on the way up and down. There were seemingly lots of trail runners and people who were doing this race for the first time. Once back below the tree line I was past all the upward traffic. The downhill trail becomes more manageable below the tree line, I picked up speed as I generally felt better from the drop in elevation. It can be dangerous though as well on the downhill, as some elevation drops are accompanied by sharp switchbacks and moving fast was generally not advisable as wobbliness started to set in for me in general. I did not manage speed as well as I should have in some parts on the downhill and overheated gradually as the temperature rises on the way down. The temperature when I finished at 7:46:18 was roughly 80 degrees in downtown Manitou Springs.
I consider myself very lucky to have finished such a challenging and rewarding race. The look on my face when looking out from the summit is probably one of the best race photos I have ever had taken. You don’t get that look without going up the old-fashioned way I reckon.