run, rest, eat, bitch, buy things, cross-train, blog, repeat.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Race Report: The Madison Marathon, America's Highest Road Marathon

So, I guess I have some 'splaining to do, huh?

The Backstory: Wayyyy back... even before the St. Louis Marathon took place, Vandy-Montana and I had planned on running the Grizzly Marathon in Choteau, MT on August 1. It was the perfect situation. I could knock out Montana and Vandy-Montana could run a marathon in his home state. But, sometime back in early April, Vandy-Montana emailed me a link to a Montana race calendar... "are you thinking what I'm thinking?" He asked.

Turns out... what he was thinking, was to run the Grizzly Marathon on Saturday and then drive 200 miles and run The Madison Marathon in Ennis, MT on Sunday. Back to back marathons in the same weekend. Crazy, right? Heh. I immediately jumped on board with the idea. We talked about how to train for it and decided that running back to back long runs and bumping up our weekly mileage totals was the best way.

I kept it quiet. I actually only told April and my two Thursday running partners (I felt like I needed to explain why I was running so slow and running so much) and Vandy-Montana told a few people, but all-in-all... we tried to keep things hush-hush. I didn't want to announce to the world that I was running back to back marathons, because if something happened at the first one and I wasn't able to complete the second... everyone would be like... "ohhhhh you couldn't run 2, could you?" It wouldn't be about running one marathon, it'd be about NOT running 2. And then there's the subject of my mom... who would have freaked the freak out, if she had known in advance.

So, it wasn't like we just up and decided the day of... we specifically trained to run back to back marathons. (And... strangely enough... I enjoyed that high mileage training a LOT). I never really thought that we couldn't do it. Until the week of... when at a running shop in Missoula, we casually mentioned that we were running both and the people in there gave us the ole eyebrow raise, looked us up and down once over and said... wow, really? When the people at the local running store think you're crazy. You start to think... hmmm... am I crazy?

So, after the Grizzly Marathon, Vandy-Montana and I went back to his house, showered, ate our cheeseburger and milkshake and hit the road, heading back to Bozeman for the night. Along the way... we stopped at 4 bars and had a beer at each one and dinner at one. (Hey... we were carb-loading).

That night, I didn't sleep well, at all. The plan was to get up around 5:15am and head out the door 5:30am. I probably woke up a zillion times that night. Even though I was exhausted from the week, and exhausted from the marathon, my body just wouldn't settle into a deep sleep. I woke up anxious.

This wasn't just another marathon. This marathon bills itself as the highest road marathon in the U.S. And, I have to admit, the elevation freaked me out. I'm a sea level girl... I wasn't sure how I was going to react to running at 8500+ feet. Particularly the day after a marathon.

Here was the scenario for the morning... first... we had to drive an hour from Bozeman to Ennis. In Ennis, we caught a shuttle that took us on the hour drive on an insanely bumpy, gravel road to the finish line. In route, I tried to nap on the shuttle bus and almost experienced what could have been a race-ending blow: I opened my eyes and saw Vandy-Montana's 64 oz water bottle dangling over the side of the overhead cargo bin. Directly positioned over my outstretched shin. One more bump and that water bottle would have landed firmly on my shin. Close call, my friends. I considered this a good omen.

The finish line was where the registration, etc happened. After hanging out there for about 40 minutes or so, we hopped on the shuttle again for another bumpy 35 minutes or so to the start line. Good times.
The race registration area, before the race

This was a SMALL race. There were only 7 marathoners and about 30 half marathoners and 4 teams of marathon relay-ers. Vandy-Montana and I were basically the celebrities of the race. The race director knew that we were running back to back races and had pitched an article to the local paper about the race... and about half the article was about how crazy Vandy-Montana and I were. So everyone we met said... "ohhhh.. you're the ones." Yes, yes we're the ones.

The original plan was for Vandy-Montana and I to run the race together. We were going to enjoy it, take pictures, walk the uphills and run the downhills and straightaways. We didn't care about our times, we just wanted to finish.
At the start line. No actual line, no fanfare, just a stick in the ground with a
colored plastic strip on it to mark the start line.

The race officially started around 10:15. And immediately, we were greeted by a steep uphill. Surprisingly, my legs felt pretty good. Full credit goes to the gravel course the day before. Gravels are a beyotch to run in, but they are so much easier on your legs than asphalt.

Now, let me just say... that Vandy-Montana is a much stronger and faster runner than me. Hills are his forte. He should get a bumper sticker for his truck that says... I eat hills for breakfast or some shit. Seriously. He knocks those bitches out. Me??? Ehhh... not so much. My bumper sticker would say... hills eat me for breakfast. And this course was constantly up and down hills. I was struggling to keep up with his pace. I had to walk a lot of the hills. I knew this was not making him a happy camper. Particularly when he'd ask me if I could go a little further before the walk breaks.

Around mile 2 was the first time I told him... "if you want to go ahead... go ahead..." to which he replied... "I just don't want to be out here for 6 hours." And as soon as he said that, I knew it was just a matter of time before we'd part ways on the course. Because, obviously I didn't WANT to be out there for 6 hours... but, I also could care less if I was. I just wanted to finish the damn thing. No matter how long it took. I couldn't blame him for wanting to finish sooner, when he knew could.

At some point early on... I made the comment that even though we were running at a VERY easy pace for him... it wasn't an easy pace for me. It was very similiar to the pace I had ran the day before at 3000 ft during a much flatter race. He said to me... "I just think you're walking more than you really have to." I laughed. I knew he didn't mean it in a jerk-y way. Maybe he was right. Maybe I was walking more than I had to, but I felt like I needed those walk breaks. And for about a mile, that comment lit a fire under my ass. I wanted to see if he was right. Was I just pansying out when I saw so many other people walking? I pushed up the hills for as long as I possibly could before I stopped. I'd stop for just a couple of minutes and then start back up again. I tried to keep up and not appear to be the pansy that I really am. But, I finally realized... there is no way I can keep this up for 26.2 miles.

So, around the 10 mile marker... after about 6 miles of little to no conversation between the two of us... I said... "I think at the half, you should go ahead and run your own race." He didn't believe me. "You're not going to be mad?" he asked. "No! I think we'll both enjoy it better running our own paces." He still didn't believe me. "Are you sure? Chicks say things all the time, that they don't mean... I dont want you to be mad that I went ahead" While he had a valid point... we DO say things all the time that we don't mean... I meant this. I wanted him to go ahead, I felt like shit both from trying to keep up with a reasonable pace for him, and also for knowing that I was holding him back. Finally, I convinced him, and we decided to go ahead and part ways then, instead of waiting till the half. We fist bumped and he took off. And though his company would have been nice... I was so freaking relieved to slow down and settle into a comfortable pace and I know he felt the same way.
The lone picture taken during the run. I made Vandy-Montana stop and
take a pic of me at the highest point in the race.

Once I settled into my pace. I was like a whole new person. Since I slowed down a bit, I had a little more energy to tackle the hills. And when I got to the half-way point, I decided I'd better use the porta potty, since it was the only one on the course.

It just so happened that the porta potty was right next to the finish line and lots of Half-ers were finishing. So as I ran up everyone tried to corral me into the finish line. And I had to announce to EVERYONE loudly... that I wasn't a half racer... that I actually just had to use the porta potty. Pretty embarrassing.

The next 5 miles were good. Just as I was contemplating taking my shirt off and running in just my sports bra (I mean, hell... there were only 6 other runners, what did I care about showing my flabby belly?) the sun went behind some clouds and the wind picked up. For about 5 minutes there was a slanted rain, where every raindrop landed directly in my ear.

The last half of the race was an out and back and when I saw Vandy-Montana coming back before I made the turn around... I told him that there were two dudes ahead of him... which he already knew and then I asked him what was in store for me. To which he replied... "Don't worry about it." (He doesn't have any recollection of that comment...). So, I immediately... worried about it. Up ahead of me, I could see a massive hill (they were all massive, honestly), but I could also see a truck and a water station at the top of the hill. Yay! I thought! The turnaround! I ran/walked up the hill and when I got to the truck there were two older gentleman there. They handed me a cup of water and then one of them said... "So, you just have to go down the hill and to the cattle grate for the turnaround."

WTF? THIS isn't the turn around? You mean, I have to run down this hill... and then run up it AGAIN. DAMMIT. So, I soldiered on... down the hill... only to turn around and have to run up it again.

It was at this point... that I finally realized... you know what? I'm actually going to do this thing and NOT die. It got pretty lonely for those last few miles. I gotta admit though... I like the solitude. I spend a lot of time training alone, and so I don't mind long stretches of race where I don't encounter anyone.

Around mile 22 I started to notice some dark clouds rolling in. The wind also picked up. The clouds did not look good. And within a few minutes... I saw my first strike of lightning and immediately I burst into tears. I just KNEW that I was going to see a vehicle coming down the road, and that the race director was going to be in it to pick me up. I cried because I was so close to finishing... to accomplishing this huge goal that I had set for myself. I finally got myself together and decided that even if he did come out to pick me up... that I'd signed a waiver and that I'd tell him I'd sign another one if he wanted... but I had to finish this race.

I tried to pick up my pace... to hurry up and finish before it really started storming, but the hills were still massive and it was impossible to run up them all. I started praying. I prayed to God to please just let the lightning stop. For the next 4 miles, with every step... this was my Mantra... "please God, let the lightning stop." I was tempted to make sacrifices, to offer up things, but I just kept plugging away at my Mantra... slowly, I passed the rest of the mile markers. Occasionally, I saw lightning strikes, but I tried not to let it phase me, I stuck with the mantra. Saying it out loud, even.

By the time I saw the 25 mile marker, I was ecstatic. When I got to the finish line, they held a tape for me to break and I finished in 5:22:26. (Incidentally... only 6 minutes longer than my worst marathon time. Not too shabby, eh?).
The first tape I've ever gotten to break!

Apparently, the race director wasn't really paying much attention to the weather, so my fears of the race being called were unfounded. But, in the process of those last 4 miles... I realized that this was the greatest accomplishment of my life so far. I realize that tons of people of ran back-to-back marathons and tons of people have done far harder things with their lives. But for me... this was it. And at that moment, I knew it was only the beginning. Instead of hating running after that race... I loved it even more.

There were only two female finishers, so I wound up being Runner-up! I ate half a hamburger, took some pictures and grabbed a bunch of beers for the shuttle ride back to the car. On the shuttle... Vandy Montana and I talked about the race with one of the other marathon finishers. Honestly... I felt like I do after any marathon. Tired, but thrilled. But there was something else... being out there in nature alone for a good part of the race... tackling tough hills... outrunning the weather... proving to myself that I am capable of bigger things. In a cheesy sort of way... it was kind of life-changing. All marathons are life-changing. You always learn something about yourself in the course of 26.2 miles. Always. But this time... I learned that I can do more than I ever thought I could. I learned that if I train properly... I can do anything!
Alright, Let Vandy-Montana get a good gulp of beer down before the pic...
Marathon Maniacs!!!!

Vandy-Montana and I stopped at a bar on the way home and had a couple of celebratory beers. I got to wear the shirt he had made for us, because we had successful marked off everything on the checklist:
Long-sleeve tech tee. Kick ass.

I gotta say thanks to Vandy-Montana for coming up with this idea. I can assure you that I would have NEVER thought to do this on my own. And I also appreciate him offering to stay with me for the entire race. In the end, I definitely think it was the right decision to do it on our own.

I'm kind of sad that this experience is over. But, that just means that it's time to pick something else to train for... this is definitely just the beginning for me.

Randomness: So, the Madison Marathon has one of the coolest logos. I was super excited to get a tshirt with the logo on it. I was a little disappointed in the overall design of the t-shirt, but still... it had the cool logo, so I couldn't be too disappointed, right?
But after about 5 seconds of looking at it, I noticed this...
How do you mis-spell Marathon? Jeez.

My splits:

Mile 1: 12:01
Mile 2: 9:15
Mile 3: 12:10
Mile 4: 13:12
Mile 5: 14:28
Mile 6: 10:00
Mile 7: 12:16
Mile 8: 11:17
Mile 9: 9:22
Mile 10: 10:43
Mile 11: 12:53
Mile 12: 10:26
Mile 13: 10:45
Half-way: 2:28:52
Mile 14: 16:05 (porta potty break)
Mile 15: 13:22
Mile 16: 12:34
Mile 17: 12:55
Mile 18: 15:43
Mile 19: 13:28
Mile 20: 15:09
Mile 21: 12:09
Mile 22: 13:24
Mile 23: 12:43
Mile 24: 13:54
Mile 25: 11:21
Mile 26: 8:36
Mile 26.2: 2:10


April said...

Wow, Amy. That's just freakin awesome!!! And a really good race report. Makes me wanna do back to backs...but I'm totally not as hardcore as you. Love the pic at the top!! Looks beautiful! Congrats AGAIN for a job well done!!

Megan said...

Sweet! That is really cool. Not many people can do what you just did last weekend!

LPT said...


JohnPDC said...

Awesome! Congratulations!

I'm doing a "training" marathon at 6000ft next month. I'm a sea-level guy as well. Your back-to-back marathons (at elevation, none the less!) definitely gives me inspiration. Thanks!

Melanie said...

Girl, you are a ROCK STAR and I am so excited for you! This is totally awesome. I would love to do something crazy someday like this (and maybe talk someone into joining me). Can't wait to hear more about it next time I see ya.

StangLuvr said...

I want to be like you when I grow up. Hell, I want to stay injury free and run 1 marathon. Your Hardcore ass ran 2 in 2 days. I was wondering why the hell you were running all those miles. When I get up to running the 11.2 in PWP again, I would like to have an experienced 11.2'er to run with....know anyone?

Paul said...

I think I could train up to do back-to-back marathons on one weekend. But there is NO WAY I could ever survive the week you had BEFORE those two races. You and Vandy kick ass. "I am not worthy ...."

Happy Feet 26.2 said...

Dang girl that is awesome! I seem to like the smaller marathons too. Well I like both, but the small ones are definitely unique and character building.

Got so caught up in your report, now I am late for my workout. Need to go lift weights and run my easy 8 today.

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