|This 3:48 finish was hard earned, with calf cramps, heat and a lot of walking.|
"I have a rule, which is if you think you're at 70 percent, then start pulling back, because it's probably at 105." -- Robert Downey Jr. on fellow Avengers: Endgame actor Chris Hemsworth in Variety magazineSUMMERLIN, Nevada -- I'm running, more like freefall, at a 7:23/mile pace down a 5.7 percent grade when I glance up at a sign.
"Holy shit, I'm running at 7,000 feet," I thought to myself as my Nike Vaporfly 4% Flyknit shoes carried me effortlessly down the mountain road.
Such was my initiation to a race that I always wanted to run, the Revel Race Series Mt. Charleston Marathon. After a hugely positive race last September in Berlin, I prepared myself for my ninth marathon in ways that I'd never done previously.
First I trained under an online coach, the one offered by the race series, and particularly because this race -- basically a 23-mile descent -- would be unlike any of the flatter races I've done in the past. The 24-week training program was my longest ever for a marathon, including grueling mile repeats up and down grade (I found a decent 4.8 percent grade near my house) and specific bodyweight workouts to prepare your quads for an epic downhill beating.
I also had a personal trainer once a week and twice a month subjected my leg muscles to dry needling via a physical therapist.
And yet? I still ran too fast for my ability on what came to be a very hot day in the desert -- 80 degrees halfway through the race.
The race starts and ends in the Las Vegas suburb of Summerlin, several miles from the famous Strip. I stayed at a hotel nearby, wanting to make sure that I would be there in time for the hour long bus trip up to the top of the mountain for the 5:30 a.m. race start. After reading an account on last year's race, I decided to catch the bus at 3 a.m. so I wouldn't have to rush to the start.
It turned out the bus got up the mountain pretty quickly and around 3:45 a.m. I had a bunch of time to kill. Despite the long wait, I'm glad I did this since both last year and this year I'd heard accounts of people's buses getting lost or breaking down on the ride up the mountain. I had plenty of time to use the portapotties, hydrate, eat a small snack and apply sunscreen. I wore a technical hoodie under a fleece pullover -- it was pretty cold!
The race start was just on the road above the staging area. They had banners for the different time groups with the slower times to the left. But the race start was to the left of the slowest banner shown. I didn't pay any mind to this as I heard they would bring the faster groups along the cul-de-sac to the right to the start.
So right before the race start I waited with a few people by one of the banners. People were flowing to our left. Someone then came up and asked us why we were waiting. It turned out the banners were placed the wrong way and the race had started! I made my way to the left, paused to get my headphones working and was off!
The race preview warned of the hilly first half mile and I took heed. Only the altitude was 7,600 feet and I was sucking serious wind and then the course finally started downhill. My first mile was 7:51.
I tried to take it easy but the next few miles were serious freefall and I went 7:26, 7:29, 7:24. There was a little rise at Mile 4 and also at Mile 5, which took us through the parking lot of the mountain visitor center. It was a decent rise and I had just consumed a gel thinking the aid station would be at Mile 5 as printed in the guide. But it was after the parking lot so I had that gel in my mouth the whole time!
At Mile 7 and 8 I was cruising along -- but maybe too fast, with splits of 7:05 and 7:09. After Mile 8 I felt like I was having some GI issues so at Mile 9 I stopped at a portapotty at an aid station. I remember feeling my calf muscles not cramping but almost swimming in circles while I was standing still. I took this as a not great sign but I still made my way down the road.
At Mile 12 my headphones cut off, just as they did in the March 2018 Snickers Marathon. It probably is a good idea for me to not wear headphones as at this point I could hear my breathing, which could have alerted me that I was running at a harder effort than I should have been.
By the half-marathon mark (I ran it in 1:39:54, just 40 seconds off of my PR and it probably would have been a PR for the day if I hadn't had that Mile 9 stop) I could feel it starting to get warm so I backed off my pace. By Mile 16 it was genuinely hot and I started to develop calf cramps. This time around I carried Hyland's Leg Cramps tablets, some of which were the same ones that I never used in last September's Berlin Marathon and some of which were included in our prerace packet.
The tablets worked wonderfully. I could still feel the calves cramp but there was no pain at all. By this time because of the heat and the cramps I knew my race was done so I basically just stopped worrying about my finishing time at this point. So I would come to a complete stop at all aid stations and using the portapotty at most of them.
From here until Mile 20 I kept going back and forth with a guy who would walk until I caught up with him and then run and then walk again. I just made my way down the best I could and in this case it turned out that just running at a slow, constant rate beat out walking and running.
At Mile 23 they thankfully gave out wet towels and I held onto mine until the finish. In the next mile I had previewed the large 3/4-mile hill and I'd never been so thankful to see an uphill grade in my life as I was able to run up it completely. But there was still more race to go!
At this point I was running and walking when the cramps would start. They were impacting my ability to run and even in the last two-tenths of a mile I had to walk even though I could clearly see the finish. Once I made the final U-turn to the finish line I was able to jog a little as in the photo above.
My 3:48:58 finish is my second-fastest marathon time and it's amazing to think I was able to do that given the amount of stopping and walking that I did. I've learned some things for October's Chicago Marathon and I'm looking forward to executing a better race the next time around.
Time: 5:30 a.m.
Temp: 64 to 80+ degrees
Gear: Mizuno sleeveless singlet, shorts, cep compression socks, Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% Flyknit/B.