58. May 4, 2013; Fremont, CA; Western Pacific Marathon. My time: 5:00:42. This is a mostly flat trail marathon (novelty for me) that I used for a training run (mainly heat exposure) for a 100K the following week (expected to be in debilitating heat). I thought I could run it relatively quickly (at least for a soon to turn 62 year old guy), but this wasn't to be. It was certainly an easier course than my previous two marathons this year (Oakland and Buzz), however two things slowed me down -- heat (high 80s by midday) and being "over-trained" (I put a lot of miles in during the week in anticipation of a 100K the following week and didn't really taper). Also, I had to hold up my running shorts during much of the race -- my drawstring fell out early in the run, forcing me to constantly tug up my shorts, lest I run the race in underwear. Despite a slow time, I was faster than 50 other finishers and won the 60+ age group. Put on by Brazen Racing, which hosted the tough 50K on Mount Diablo I ran two weeks earlier, this outfit has established itself as the premier race organization in the Bay Area, hands down. They put on a first-class event ...pre-, during-, and post-race. Notable memories: Long out-and-back along a mostly flat canal trail in Fremont and Union City that connects to the Bay, named after the Western Pacific Railroad, that use to haul gravel from the bayshore inland, plus eating 2 It's Ice Creams and 2 slushies post-race in an all-out effort to lower my body temperature.
57. March 24, 2013; Oakland; Oakland Marathon. My time: 4:36:07. This was my first big-city marathon in more than 5 years. I enjoyed it, far more than I thought I would. Perhaps this was because the race was pretty much in my back yard, letting me sleep in my own bed and get to the starting line within 20 minutes of leaving home. This was the 4th occasion of the Oakland Running Festival, a chance for me to visit some of my former haunts of Oak-town. The marathon gives everyone a splendid tour of this highly diverse East Bay city in the shadows of San Fran: historical downtown, Piedmont Avenue, tony College Avenue, Temescal Park, Montclair, Lation-themed Fruitvale (where we were greeted by Mexican mariachi bands), International Blvd, Laney College, the Embaracedro, Mandala Avenue, and for the last 2 1/2 miles, Oakland's crown jewel, Lake Merritt (which I've run many, many times when I lived near it, though never quite as tired). The weather was near perfect (60s and sun), the vibes were great, and the spirits of runners of all stripes and persuasions were uplifting. There were four times as many people running the half marathon, twice as many running the 5K, and as many running the 4-person marathon relay as running the marathon itself. I was surprised to bump into some ultra-runners who, like I, got caught up in the high-energy of hitting the winding roads of Oakland. By urban marathon standards, it's not an easy course -- mile 5 (Rockridge) to mile 10 (Montclair) is a fairly steady rise. I'm not use to aid stations every 2 miles (plus lots of bands and cheering squads) thus it was a treat running without a water bottle. I ran a bit faster than I thought I would, given that I ran a 50-miler the prior weekend. I finished in the middle of the pack and beat 65 of the 4-person relay teams. I managed to maintain 9 minute miles for the first 6 miles, at bit beyond Rockridge, which for my tired old legs, was pretty fast, giving me a sub-hour 10K. My half marathon of 2:05 was also considerably faster than my norm -- hopefully all good omens for a 100 miler in North Carolina two weeks later. At mile 16, the marathon and half-marathon courses merged, connecting me with a lot of back-of-the-pack half-marathoners who were just 3 miles into their in-city loop. Post-race, I hooked up with my family -- Sophia, Chris, and Kristen -- in Celebration Park, enjoying some soulful blues music that was most befitting of Oakland, cold beers, and basking in the sun. Notable memories: Chatting with several ultra runners before and during the race, taking in Oakland's rich diversity and many ethnic flavors, running by a hugh flame machine at around mile 17, feeling absolutely no stiffness after the race thus allowing me to run the day after, being greeted by Oakland's mayor at the finish line, having some spectators (and no doubt former students) cheer "Way to go Professor Cervero" at mile 25, and re-tasting a slice of running that I don't experience at trail ultras.
56. February 16, 2013: San Miguel, CA, San Luis Obispo County, Camp Roberts: Buzz Marathon. My time: 4:45:17. This was a special occasion -- a re-running of my very first marathon, from 10 years ago -- the Buzz Marathon at Camp Roberts in central California. (That race was in late March, thus it was actually just shy of a decade ago; to avoid the heat, the race was moved up 5 weeks, to mid-February, some years back). I was thrilled that at the crusty ole age of 61, I actually beat my time of 10 years earlier, by nearly 2 minutes. The course was altered from before to reduce the amount of hills however regardless, I'll take it -- running faster than I did 10 years ago was a thrill and admittedly a bit of an ego booster. This course still has hills (mostly toward the middle of the run) however they're not as long as before. It wasn't as hot either but it still got a bit warm by midday. Also, the course didn't seem as scenic as I recall however maybe it seemed prettier 10 years ago from the euphoria of running my first marathon. As before, I came in 3rd in my age group, this time receiving a bronze medal. Unlike before, I didn't falter toward the end -- the last half of the race, I managed to pass 10+ folks (all younger than I) and wasn't passed by anyone -- a payoff of having run so many ultras (including a tough 50K the weekend before). Also unlike before, I wasn't a bit sore after the run -- I had a hearty post-race appetite, wasn't stiff, and the day after the race managed to run 7 miles without a hint of soreness and the day after that I put in 10 tough trail miles. The Buzz Marathon has managed to keep its small race charm and moments of solitude, which for me is what running's all about. Notable memories: At mile 9, chatting with a guy who was running his first marathon (prompting me to reflect on my own marathon debut of a decade earlier), driving up the evening before in awful Friday afternon traffic as everyone was heading off for the long President's Day weekend, getting a nice bottle of local Cabernet wine post-race, reminiscing from a decade ago when Camp Roberts was abuzz with military activity following America's attack on Iraq and ousting of Sadam Hussein, and feeling a tinge of elation during the long drive home from achieving what I had hoped -- running at least as fast as a decade earlier.
55. September 22, 2012; Granite Bay-Auburn, CA; Sierra Nevada Endurance Runs - Marathon. My time: 6:15:49. Too hot for me. The point-to-point run along the American River -- from Granite Bay to Auburn and on to No Hands Bridge -- started out nice, in the 60s but by mid-morning warmed up and was bumping up to 90 degrees by midday. I tried to take in liquids but got badly de-hydrated. I pretty much walked in the last 5 miles, resulting in a painfully slow marathon -- though I did win the Men's 60+ age group (and the nice thermos prize that went with it). Last year I ran the 52 mile version of this run which meant turning around and doing it a second time. They didn't do the 50+ miler this year and I'm happy they didn't -- I couldn't fathom turning around and running the same damn course again, given how frickin hot it was. I've run this course numerous time but still managed to get lost on two occasions. The course markings were non-existent along a number of stretches, probably because a bandit removed signs and ribbons. I probably ran an extra mile or so from getting lost and having to backtrack. It's a slow gradual uphill much of the way to the Western States trail and No Hands Bridge, with Cardiac Hill, at mile 20, being the killer section of the course. I poured plenty of cold water on my head at aid stations and sevearal stream crossings but still was over-heated. This was suppose to be an easy training run for a upcoming 100 miler but proved to be pretty tough in its own right. Notable memories: The rocky single-track trail around Granite Bay, open exposure to the beating sun much of the day, and being parched to the bone upon crossing the finish line, taking some 4 or 5 cold soft drinks and a few popsicles to restore fluids in my body.
54. June 9, 2012; Bear Lake, Utah; Bear Lake Utah Marathon. My time: 5:26:39. Day two of marathon running -- this time along the southern Utah side of Bear Lake -- meant taking things a bit easier. I fortunately wasn't too sore the morning of the race however two miles into the run, my lower left calf muscle begain reeling in pain. With 24 miles to go, I wasn't sure I could make it to the end. I smartly started walking at a steady clip and by altering my stride and foot strike, I managed to run through the pain, which seemed to diminish as the day wore on. The calf muscle hurt the most when going uphill, thus I pretty much had to hike anything over a 3 percent slope. Still, running the flats and downhills allowed me to cover the course in under 12 and a half minutes per mile. I wasn't sure how I would handle running a marathon after having finished one 18 hours earlier. All and all, I was fine with my performance -- 52.4 miles in a total of 10 hours and 32 minutes -- on mostly roads and at 6000 feet altitude. To be honest, I just as soon run 50 miles in one day than spreading the distance over two days. The second day had a much larger group of runners, probably 140 in all, along with those running the half, 10K, and 5K. Fortunately, we were bused out to the start of the race which was north of the state line on the eastern side of the lake in Idaho. This meant the race ended where I parked my rental car thus unlike the day before, I didn't have to wait several hours for a bus back to my car. Because the lake's circumference is slightly over 50 miles, there was a 2+ mile overlap of the two marathons. The first few miles of this run repeated the last few miles of the previous day's race. As the day before, time recordings were loosely handled. A number of runners started early, at 4AM, and because there were long lines at the porto-potties when everyone got off the two buses, the planned 6 AM start was delayed to 6:35. However a number of runners left 10-25 minutes before the official start and based on the honor system told the organizers when they started the race so final run times could be adjusted. Again, not everyone did. What made this strange was that runners wore a timing chip. However there was no timing mat at the start. The only mat was at the finish line. It was assumed everyone left at gun time when in actuality quite a few folks left well before then. Overall, this all was a bit too unstructured and loosy-goosy for my tastes. The weather was noticeably cooler than the prior day. In fact, it sprinkled when driving from Logan to Bear Lake early Saturday morning. The weather forecast called for light morning showers. Since I didn't bring my rain resistant shell (because the forecast a few days earlier said there was a 0% chance of rain on Satuday), I ended up buying a nice black shell at a running store in Logan the prior evening. It turns out I didn't need the top since it never rained during the race, although dark clouds loomed overhead and at times it was downright chilly. Unfortunately I and most runners shed their heavy clothes at the first aid station (mile 3) because at that point it was getting hot, however only a few minutes later it started getting overcast and cool again. Turns out I made the right decision because an hour and a half later it got rather hot, thus the shell and arm warmers would have been stifling. Unlike the previous day, I didn't run with a water belt (since aid stations were every 2 miles apart), thus I couldn't tie my excess clothes to the water belt. All and all, running without water and shedding the clothes early was the right move. By the halfway point, I entered into a steady groove of jogging with some intermittent walks up hills. I continued to have bouts of pain in my left calf but took it easy and ended up finishing in the top two-thirds of runners (most who did not do back-to-back marathons). The final 10K got quite windy (over 30 mph), which was mostly at our backs but there were stretches where the stiff headwind forced everyone to walk. My leg was quite stiff after the run but within a day, most of the pain was gone. Not sure I'll do back-to-back marathons again, however despite being slow, running at altitude, and running on pavement, overall it made for a unique and enjoyable weekend. Notable memories: Chatting with some younger women who were also doing back-to-back marathons and running pretty much at my pace, seeing lots of dead calf carcasses on the eastern side of the lake (evidently taken out by coyotes), dodging fairly fast moving weekend traffic (notably aggressive hunters with gun racks in their pick-up trucks) from mile 17 to mile 24 (fortunately the last 2 miles were on a bikepath), passing quite a few younger runners the last 10K of the race (which made this old codger feel good since most had not done the double marathon), driving through the steep canyon walls when returning back to Logan (making for four trips, or 160 miles, through Logan Canyon over two days), returning to my motel in Logan to clean off and soak my aching body in the indoor pool and hot tub, and enjoying a well-deserved six dollar burger at Carl's in Logan, injecting some much-needed energy into my protein-starved body.
53. June 8, 2012; Bear Lake, Idaho; Bear Lake Idaho Marathon. My time: 5:05:29. Another first for me -- running back-to-back marathons. I was drawn to the format of this race (plus I needed to use or lose a free Southwest airline ticket): two marathons over 2 days, the first running the northern half of Bear Lake, mostly in the state of Idaho and the second running the southern half of the lake, mostly in Utah. The back-to-back format was mainly set up for those in the "50 States" marathon club, seeking to knock off two states in a single weekend. Coming off of having run a 100K in Wisconsin six days earlier, combined with the lake's altitude (6000 feet above sea level), I knew this wouldn't be easy, however I also knew that after having run so many ultras, 26.2 miles would be manageable, even if I had to do it two days straight. Both runs are point-to-point, run in a clockwise direction. The courses mostly hugging the shoulder of a two-lane highway, facing the opposite direction of on-coming traffic. The Idaho race started at 6AM on Friday in Garden City, Utah -- done so that the back-to-back races wouldn't involve a Sunday run, which is a no-no in Mormon-centric Utah (note: same as my 100 miler on Antelope Island, Utah, 2 1/2 months earlier, which also started on a Friday). Within a few miles of the run we crossed the Idaho state line. A number of folks started the race early, at 4AM. The combination of altitude, running on roads, and having to do back-to-back runs prompted me to take it easy, which I did, averaging about 11 and a half minutes per mile pace. The course is fairly flat, save for the last 5 miles on the eastern side of the lake, where racers faced some fairly gentle but tiring hills nonetheless (given the lake's 6K elevation). The second half of the course was the most enjoyable because we left the busy state highway and moved onto a narrower, lightly trafficked road used mainly by campers and hunters. An odd collection of devoted marathon runners from across the U.S. came to do the back-to-back marathons. At my middle-of-the-pack pace, there was a lot of leisurely dialogue, with folks mixing running and walking. I pretty much ran the whole thing (except walking through aid stations, spaced 3 miles apart), though at a slower pace than most. The race had a certain informality to it, wherein runners could leave before the official 6AM start time and under the honor system, tell the organizers (Mammonth Marathons based out of Utah) when they started so that adjustments could be made in the recorded marathon times. Not everyone did, however. Because there were surprisingly few lodging opportunities in Garden City, Utah, I ended up staying in Logan, Utah (home of Utah State University), 40 miles to the west. This meant leaving my hotel fairly early and driving through the rather winding Logan Canyon to reach Bear Lake. About 10 miles from the lake, a large moose jumped in front of my car in the dark, forcing me to sharply swerve. It was a near miss and given I was driving a subcompact, the car would have been totaled had I hit the moose. It was a very close call. I hadn't seen a moose in years and interestingly saw another one scampering across the road right at sunrise when I was dropping into Garden City. The weather was fairly nice in the morning, prompting most runners to wear long-sleave jackets however by late morning it started getting hot and people were shedding their running clothes in droves. The race ended in a nice park with a beach just north of the Utah-Idaho boundary. The only bummer of this run is the organizers had two buses to take runners back around the lake to the start in Garden City. The first bus returned around 5 minutes before I finished the race. This meant I had to wait around 2 hours to catch the final bus back. There were a lot of very slow runners, many who started at 4AM, leaving me with little choice but to lay on the grass near the lake and take in the sunshine and the elements. When the bus finally left, it was filled with geriatric types (not to suggest I'm not) chattering about the day's run. Friendly folks but 40 minutes of non-stop chatter was a bit grating -- reminding me why I prefer the culture of ultra running. Notable memories: A day of passing and then being passed by 30- to 40-something marathon runners-walkers, seeing lots of Marathon Maniacs and 50 State Marathon Club runners, and all and all, a nice morning enjoying the vibes of rural southeast Idaho.
52. October 30, 2011; Palo Alto, CA; Zombie Runner Halloween Run Marathon. My time: 4:49:53. Two loops of a fairly flat course along trails of the Baylands Park in Palo Alto. Most runners did the single loop half-marathon. The temperatures were generally pleasant however the tree-less landscape meant little shade. The half marathon initial loop went fine however I then slowed considerably -- 43 minutes slower for the second loop. Perhaps having run 3 ultras the previous three weeks and five long races (including a 50- and a 100-miler) in 5 weeks took its toll. I was looking for a change of pace, thus a flat course as part of a Halloween Run, with some runners decked in costumes, made for a pleasant if not rather different Saturday morning. Notable memories: Fairly monotous run fully exposed to the sun on a warm cloudless day, with glimpses of the Bay and marshland helping to break things up.
Nearing the finish line
51. May 1, 2011; Clayton, CA; Diablo Marathon. My time: 7:35:20. I ran this four years earlier, forgetting how darn tough this sucker is -- 8,000 feet of elevation gain and drop, much of it on rocky, technical single-track trails, summiting the looming Mount Diablo twice. For me, this was to be a training run for Miwok 100K the following week, however it ended up pretty much taking me out of that race. I decided to wear a light pair of tight-fitting Montrail trail shoes -- they have good grip and I like their feel, however this was a big mistake. At the end of the first long descent, I knew I was in trouble. The shoes were too short and both of my big toes suffered the consequences. After summiting the second time, I still had 8 miles to go on woefully pained feet. I should have bailed and saved myself for the following weekend, however stubborn me, I decided to give it go. I paid the price. The pain in my toes was so intense I pretty much had to walk in the last 8 miles, and even then it was excrutiating. Nor was it all downhill. By midday, the temps reached the mid-80s and I was very de-hydrated, thus I struggled making it over the last set of steep inclines, especially the North Peak. I finally shuffled in to the finish line some seven and a half hours after the start, a good hour later than four years earlier when I got lost after crossing a stream. A number of runners bailed and while I was slow coming in, 9 of the 28 fininshers were even slower. The downer of the run is that besides catching poison oak (it was all over the mountain), I have two black and infected toes to show for the effort. Constant pounding of both toes jammed the nails into the toes, causing infections. I had the same thing happen a few years ago and managed to kill the infection with antibiotics, which I'm now on. I'll no doubt lose both toenails and am resigned to the fact I won't be able to run Miwok 100K on Saturday, May 7, the day before my 60th birthday. Notable memories: The relentless rise and fall of this course, sharp pain in my toes the last half of the run knowing I'd be paying the price with lost toe nails, de-hydrating badly the last 5 miles of the run, heaving from the de-hydration, and drinking 2 large-size Razmatazzes purchased at the Jamba Juice shops in Clayton and Lafayatte en route home, capped off with a large smoothie at Oakwood, all in an effort to re-plenish and re-hydrate myself.
50. September 19, 2010: Billings, Montana; Montana Governors Cup Marathon. My time: 4:59:56. This race has been on my "want list" for quite a while because I lived in Billings for 2 years (1975-1977) immediately after graduating with masters degrees from Georgia Tech. My first full-time job was in Billings, as the transportation planning director for the city-county planning board. I hadn't return in over 33 years, thus I had been eyeing this run as a home-coming. I had a lousy race, given it's a fairly fast point-to-point course -- a fair amount of downhill, starting in the small farm town of Molt and ending on the track at Billings senior high school, next to Pioneer Park and near where I owned my first house. I wasn't in the best of conditions -- I had just flown in from Seoul, Korea (my 2nd trip to Seoul in 2 weeks) after a brief stop in San Francisco to check out the dormitory of my son, Christopher, who is just entering Cal State University East Bay. Also, I was suffering from two infected bug bites and continuing groin problems. I ambled along and finished in just under 5 hours (barely). I've always told myself once it starts taking more than 5 hours to run road marathons, it'll be time to hang up the running shoes. Thus I suspect this is one of the very last road marathons for me -- number 50. I'll keep plodding along on trails and experimenting with the ultra stuff, however I've become way too slow to continue doing road marathons...finishing toward the back of the pack gettings tiring. My guess is doing so many slow-and-steady trail ultras has totally taken away my speed, along with bumping up toward age 60. I enjoyed my brief stay in Billings. I was quickly reminded what a small town this is and frankly felt glad I sold my house and moved to Southern California in 1977 to pursue a PhD degree at UCLA. My life would have been totally different had I stayed in Billings, which I was close to doing. I was fairly content with my job and enjoyed the great outdoors, along with the proximity to some splendid downhill skiing (Red Lodge is less than an hour away). After living in California ever since, life seemed quite slow (and a bit boring) upon my return. What I was most struck by was the number of homeless men hanging around downtown plus the omnipresence of gambling casinos -- they were everywhere. This was new and perhaps a sad commentary on the state of affairs in this burg (that nonetheless is Montana's biggest city). The first part of the race was interesting -- running on gently rolling hills outside of Molt, Montana as the sun rose to the east and midway through the race catching spectacular vistas of Big Sky country with Billings best-known landmark, the Rimrocks, to the northeast. The second half of the course is fairly boring, run on the shoulders of Billings residential streets. I felt groin pain at different junctures thus I had to stop and stretch a number of times. The course is a good Boston qualifier, though for some (myself included) the amount of downhill is offset by the fairly high elevation (4000+ feet during the first half of the course). Notable memories: Reconnecting to my former hometown, being quite cold the first hour and a half while waiting for the run to start inside the community center at Molt, catching an exquisite sunrise at the start of the race, seeing quite a bit of road kill along the course, running around Pioneer Park, near my former home, at the very end of the course, and spending 4+ hours, post-race, at the Billings Emergency Room trying to get my infected bug bite drained and treated.
49. August 29, 2010: Santa Rosa, CA; Santa Rosa Marathon. My time: 4:50:21. This is a 2-loop 13.1 mile course from a park in downtown Santa Rosa to the town's outskirts mostly along a pathway that hugs a creekbed. The farther one runs to the countryside, the prettier the course gets, with sights of vineyards, horse farms, and swans, ducks, and geese covorting in ponds. Much of the course is paved, though a few sections are dirt-gravel, thus it's sort of a quasi-trail run. Most runners did the one-loop half-marathon. I signed up for this at the last moment after the nearby Marin Headlands 50K race was cancelled. Despite being a flat, fast course with ideal weather (cool and overcast in the early morning; sunnier and a bit warmer by mid-morning's second loop), for me this was a painful run. Besides a nagging groin injury that flared up at times, I badly chaffed my inner thighs and crotch area. Even though I applied gobs of vasoline when donning my running pants in the early morning and before the race, for some reason my running pants rubbed me the wrong way. By the second loop, it got very painful and by the 20 mile mark my beige running plants were blood stained. None of the aid stations had vasoline thus I had no choice but to endure. I paid the price post race -- raw, ultra-painful inner thighs. I wore a bright orange running tee-shirt from the 2009 Golden Hills marathon. When I crossed the finish line, the announcer said: "Here comes a runner who is bright orange all over -- top and bottom". By then, my beige running pants were drenched in blood. Yuk! Notable memories: The lasting memory of this one is Pain with a capital "P", getting up early for the drive from Lafayette to Santa Rosa, a scenic course (despite the monotony of having to do it twice), and making two trips to the North Bay the same day (I came home and later in the afternoon drove to Napa to catch the Asia concert at the restored Uptown theater).
Left: early in the race with beige running shorts; Right: near the end, they've changed color!
48. April 3, 2010: Marin County, CA; Golden Gate Headlands Trail Marathon. My time: 4:48:57. A training run in preparation for a 50-miler the following week, despite having said I'd never participate in another EnviroSports event again (see Marathon #45 below!). Convenience won over. This race follows a somewhat similar course as the Rodeo Beach 50K I've run 3 times thus I knew what to expect. It's a bit easier set of trails than the 50K, though it still has well over 3000 feet of elevation gain and drop. We lucked out with the weather -- it was driving rain the day before and the day after the run; by the grace of God we hit the lull between the storms. While the trail was soggy in spots, the day was quite nice, assisted by the always-gorgeous views of the ocean and bay from the Marin Headlands. Notable memories: Running on the wet sand of Rodeo Beach (two times over the two-loop course), trying to pull the mired legs out of the muck with the finish line in sight, is what most sticks out in my mind about the run; also, I was happy to have hammered out a 13 mile run on the streets of Lafayette a day after the marathon...piling on the mileage in preparation for WS100.
47. March 13, 2010: Ellerbe, NC; Ellerbe Springs Marathon. My time: 4:57:04. To get in a long run, I drove 4 1/2 hours from Virginia Beach, where I was visiting my elderly dad in a nursing home, to the Piedmont area of southern North Carolina to run this race. I arrived late Friday night, before the race, staying at a hotel in Pinehurst, NC that was filled with Correction Officers attending a convention. It was raining, thundering, and lightening the night before the race and indeed during part of the drive to Virginia Beach after the race, however the 6-7 hour window of the race itself was absolutely gorgeous. It was as if the Gods opened the skies and invited the sun in for the run and shut them soon after it was over. If anything, it was a bit on the hot, sunny side, with temps getting into the low 70s and a gentle breeze most of the morning. This is considered a hilly and somewhat challenging course, however since I run so much in hills, it was really to my liking. I was slow, toward the back of the pack, however by mile 10 I started passing a fair number of folks and from that point forward I probably passed some 25 runners and was never passed myself. Slow I was, but it was a nice steady training run for me (as I prepare for some tough up-and-coming ultras). Since I went to college at UNC Chapel Hill, just up the road, it was great spending a day with a lot of "good ole boys" (and "gals") from the Tar Heel state. The sound of southern twangs brought back a lot of memories from the distant past. Notable memories: Rolling hills, cheery aid station workers, the old lodge of Ellerbe Springs where the race began and ended, long drives to and from the race, and some tasty after-race beer and chicken dumplings, served at the award ceremony.
46. October 10, 2009: Berkeley-San Leandro, CA; Golden Hills Trail Marathon. My time: 6:18:12. The third time around was hardly a charm. I struggled on this one, despite fairly cool weather. I was nearly a half-hour slower than when I ran this challenging point-to-point run last year and more than an hour slower than 4 years ago. Perhaps I hadn't recovered from a tough trail marathon two weeks earlier. I enjoy this race regardless, especially seeing and cheering all the 50-milers between Steam Train and Sibley aid stations (and recalling my own 50 mile run of the out-and-back version of the run from 3 years earlier). Despite taking salt pills ever hour, I had lots of leg cramps and problems with my left achilles. I had to stop several times to stretch and work the cramps out. The ever-tough French Trail particularly did me in. Whether I'll be up for doing this one again, we'll see. Notable memories: Running with several other ultra-running veterans who opted for the shorter marathon course this year, getting stung in the back of the leg by a yellow jacket after Steam Train (though some runners got tagged a lot worse than I), and enjoying the always scrumptious barbeque at the finish line, despite suffering severe leg cramps, so much so that Ann Trason, the race co-director, asked me if I needed help or a massage.
45. September 26, 2009: Big Sur, CA; Big Sur Trail Marathon. My time: 5:41:10. Tough run for two reasons: lots of up-and-down (5700 feet of elevation gain and drop -- basically 8 long-steady hill climbs and drops with hardly any flat sections); and heat -- bright sunny day, in the mid to high 80s with little tree coverage. It was constant exposure to the blazing heat. The out-and-back course (with 3 turnarounds that bring runners to the Bixby Bridge twice) is along the old Big Sur highway -- an upland interior route that pre-dates the celebrated coastal highway, Route 1. I ran the Big Sur road marathon more than 5 years earlier, some 2 hours faster, however that was a much easier course in much better conditions. While the coastal highway has gentle hills and is often shrouded in fog, this interior dirt road has much steeper hills and lies above the fogline. I'm OK with my time -- everyone who ran faster was younger. For me, this was another disappointing event by EnviroSports (read my review for my last marathon in Death Valley, below). Runners were dying out there in the heat, yet the sponsors had no ice on hand -- either along the route or at the finish line. Hot water and sports drink in the sweltering heat is hardly a relief. By the time I crossed the finish line, my body temperature was peaking and I was dying for a cold soda ... yet all I could find was warm water. (I fortuntely found a fireman who gave me some ice from his personal ice chest.) The EnviroSports sponsors don't know how to put on an endurance event -- they (as in Dave, the pudgy owner) are not runners and simply can't emphatize with those who are. Ultra trail runs often provide great food and cold drinks, certainly at the end of the race. Not these guys: plus, they handed out the same cheesy finisher medal I have received in the other 4 EnviroSport races I've done (all 3 in Death Valley) without any race name or date (just like the tee-shirts, which are generic without any race date). No more EnviroSports runs for me. Notable memories: Nice vistas of the Pacific Ocean from the old Big Sur road, weird course that had us return to the Bixby Bridge on a second out-and-back leg, being approached by a heroic dude carrying 2 huge water jugs at about mile 23 in a effort to aid runners (he was as in disbelief as I by the shodding race organization), dousing myself in water at every aid station, doing a face plant at mile 6 on a steep down hill, disrobing and removing my underpants at a port-o-potty at mile 11 because they kept slipping off, and hopping in my car within 5 minutes of crossing the finish line in search of a cold drink.
44. February 7, 2009: Furnace Creek, CA; Death Valley Westside Road Marathon. My time: 4:51:40. Two-time loser! For the second time, I signed up to run what is suppose to be a stunning trail run through Death Valley's colorful Titus Canyon but instead got stuck with running the boring out-and-back course along the Westside Road on the sub-sea-level valley floor. Three years ago, Titus Canyon was closed due to snow; this time it closed the day before the race due to rock slides from heavy rains. And rain it did, the entire race. While being peppered with a steady cold rain the entire run in one of the hottest and driest places in the world was a unique experience, running a fairly flat course in mud on a washboard track and sloshing through puddles was no piece of cake. I suspect most runners added a quarter mile to the run dodging puddles and potholes along the way. It took me 33 minutes more to finish the course than 3 years ago, partly because of the elements but also because I'm considerably slower. I'm resigned to the fact that I have not fully recovered from my hamstring injury from last year. Biomechanically, I'm really off. I continue to run asymmetrically, pushing off my right calf for power and landing flat footed on my often-pained left heal and pounding my left quad. During this run and after, I had bouts of shooting pain in my right calf and my left quad and heal were sore as heck afterwards. While my left hemisphere brain tells me I should hang this long-distance stuff up, I have this glimmering hope (illusion?) of running Western States 100 in 2010. I'm guaranteed a slot -- all I have to do is run a sub-11 hour 50 miler. Thus I used this and several upcoming races as training runs for a planned 50-miler in March. We'll see. Notable memories: Being very bummed when discovering that Titus Canyon road was closed when driving by from Las Vegas en route to Furnace Creek and formerly hearing, when checked in at the lodge, that once again what was suppose to be a gorgeous point-to-point run was being substituted by one of the most boring, monotonous landscapes imaginable, the Westside Road course, with the added bonus of drenching rain and mud.
43. October 19, 2008: Humboldt State Park, CA; Humboldt Redwoods Marathon. My time: 4:38:27. I hadn't run a long road race in over a year, thus my legs felt pretty beaten up afterwards. This is the fall version of the Avenue of the Giants marathon I ran 5+ years earlier (and 19 minutes faster). Two 6.5 mile out-and-backs, the second tougher than the first. Tall trees are nice, though after 4 1/2 hours, they get a bit monotonous. This was meant to be a training run for an upcoming ultra -- a week after I ran a much tougher trail marathon. Hopefully I'll recover. Notable memories: greenery -- tall trees and verdant ferns. Enjoyed my drive to and from the race, rocking to CDs I haven't listen to in ages.
42. October 11, 2008: Berkeley-San Leandro, CA; Golden Hills Trail Marathon. My time: 5:50:26. A repeat of my first trail run ever, 3 years ago (and 38 minutes faster). A gorgeous but demanding run -- 5800+ feet of elevation gain -- on a course that I've done a fair amount of practice runs on in recent years. The two prior years, I entered the 50-mile version of this run (Dick Collins Firetrail 50), once successfully the other not (last year when I dropped at mile 31). Thus I know the course pretty well and notwithstanding ups and downs (physically and mentally), it's one of my favorites. Conditions were great -- high 60s, light wind, and not muddy as in years past. The only bummer is I snagged a bee in my hair the early part of the run which proceeded to sting my head -- which along with the stock market's steepest drop ever the previous week left a stinging discomfort throughout the race. A slow but gratifying run. Notable memories: great conditions, watching the 50-milers hammer away on tough course, and enjoying the great barbeque at the Lake Chabot finish line provided by the race sponsors (notably ultrarunning marvel Ann Trason and her partner, Carl Anderson, who, by the way, own the 50-mile course record for women and men, respectively).
41. March 15, 2008: Catalina Island, California; Catalina Marathon. My time: 4:53:11. A memorable trail run, this was. A fairly tough course (pretty much constant up and down, with 4200 feet of elevation gain) in an absolutely gorgeous setting. The race starts in the quaint village of Two Harbors, takes you up to some great overlooks with views of the Pacific Ocean on all sides, back down to the beach, and then upwards to a high point of 1900 feet with sweeping panoramas of the Pacific, followed by rolling terrain and a steep drop over the last three miles into the island's main town, Avalon. Even more memorable, however, was the boat ride to and from the race. I caught a special charter boat from Marina del Rey that left at 4:15 AM the morning of the race. The winds were blistering and for much of the hour and a half journey, the small craft was tossing and turning in the high swells. A number of runners got sea sick, barfing and moaning in the back of the boat. I usually handle rough seas pretty well but toward the end of the ride, I too was heaving and choking. Some folks were so incapacitated that they couldn't run the race. I recovered fairly quickly and enjoyed the wide hard-packed trails with great vistas in all directions. I had just come off a injury to my left quad that had me sidelined for a month or so, thus I was OK with my run given the up-and-down nature of the course. I was lucky to get off the island after the run. The scheduled return boat ride to the mainland was canceled due to the rough seas. I was able to hop on a large catamaran, the last and only boat out, an hour before the planned departure. The only seats left were on the top of the boat, and those of us sitting in the back got sprayed by cold saltwater the entire one hour ride back. Fortunately, I had a water proof wind-breaker to help keep me dry. The boat was shifting from side to side throughout return journey and honestly I and others felt it was going to capsize on several ocassions. I was prepared to grab a life vest at any moment. There's no way the scheduled smaller boat would have made it across these rough seas -- it would have literally cracked in half. Since the weather was going to get worse on Sunday, if I didn't get on the last boat out there's no telling how long I would have been stuck in Avalon. The town is nice enough, but after an hour of exploring the streets of Avalon after the run, I was ready to return to LA. The boat arrived in San Pedro, thus I joined with six other runners to share the tab for an $80 cab fare back to Marina del Rey to pick up our cars. Overall, the trip of getting to and from this marathon was more nerve-wracking and debilitating than the run itself. Notable memories: bumpy boat rides sandwiched between one of the prettiest marathon courses I've ever run.
40. December 1, 2007: Brown & Monroe Counties, Indiana; Tecumseh Trail Marathon. My time: 5:00:43. Indiana does have hills! I did this run because I was "in the area", giving speeches the prior two days (in Bloomington & Indianapolis). The race's web site said the trail has 3500 feet of elevation gain. I didn't believe Indiana had such terrain but indeed it does. It's a beautiful point-to-point run along mainly single-track trails in heavily wooded forests to the east of Bloomington -- pretty much continuous up and down, though the hills were fairly gentle and quite runable. My only gripe is it was way too crowded -- with 500 runners, there were people on my heels throughout the race...as I stared at the heels of runners in front of me. A woman on the bus going out told me it was amazing that in such a crowded field you could spend considerable time as a solitary runner. Not! It was a elephant train of runners and you couldn't go any faster than the slowest person in front of you. There were a number of gentle uphills I would have liked to have run but couldn't because it was impossible to pass 15 runners on a narrow single-track trail. The weather was nice, though on the nippy side -- high 30s/low 40s, with bouts of light rain. Still, a most enjoyable run. Notable memories: being around a totally different group of trail runners than who I'm used to, though still bumping into a Californian who recognized my Pacific Coast trail tee-shirt (which I had to wear as my only bright clothes to prevent deer hunters from mistakenly shooting me) and with whom I ended up talking about a number of west-coast runs we've both done.
39. July 29, 2007: San Francisco, CA; San Francisco Marathon. My time: 4:34:42. I ran this on a whim, signing up the day before the race. I needed to get in a long run for some upcoming ultras, thus why not run through the streets of one of the most beautiful cities in the world? I struggled quite a bit, suffering muscle cramps and reduced to a fast walk in parts, perhaps not unexpected given that I ran a 100 miler the previous week. I was resigned to a slow, easy run on this one, thus I was OK with my time, even though it was 22 minutes slower than what I ran last year at the San Fran marathon ... albeit on much fresher legs. Notable memories: cool misty weather throughout and the delight of getting back home mid-morning in time for a much-needed nap.
38. April 29, 2007; Clayton, CA; Diablo Marathon. My time: 6:35:00. Set almost in my own backyard, this one was hands-down the toughest marathon Iíve done so far. For me, it was actually closer to around 28 miles. With 0.7 miles to the finish, I took a wrong turn and ended up on an out-of-way loop that, with some directions from day-hikers, eventually got me to the finish line. The course summits
27. November 20, 2005: Philadelphia, PA; Philadelphia
Marathon. My time: 3:57:17. This
was a nice urban marathon -- a tour of historic Philadelphia,
Chinatown, the university district, several working class neighborhoods, and the
river parkway. It was chilly in the morning, however a half hour into the
run, things started warming up, so I like others started to shed layers. A
lovely day it was -- bright sunny skies with temps in the 50s. The course is
fairly flat though it's got enough gentle grades to mix things up. With
some 6 thousand runners, things got crowded in spots, like the turnaround in
Manayunk at mile 20. The logistics of this run worked out well. I stayed
at a friend's place a mile south of the start line at the Eakins Oval on
Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It made for a pleasant Sunday morning walk to
the start and back to her house for a quick shower and lunch. We dined the
night before at a great Italian restaurant in old Philly. This run was a
year in the making. I registered to run it last year but had to bail the
week before the race because of an injury. I had studied the race the year
before and was psyched to run it, thus being unable to do so made me all the
more determined to run Philly this time around. Notable
memories: Great weather and ambience, having a running duo of
batman and spiderman pass me mid-race only to pass them later at mile 23, and
plodding through century-old streets steeped in early American history.
26. October 15, 2005: Berkeley-San Leandro, CA; Golden Hills Trail Marathon. My time: 5:12:34. Finally, I've been introduced to the world of trail marathoning and I'm a convert! Definitely will do more -- though tougher and more time on the feet, running on dirt beats up your legs less. This was certainly the hardest 26.2-miler I've done to date -- some 5000 feet of elevation gain (and a bit more loss) from Tilden Park in the hills of Berkeley (a couple of miles from my office at UC) to scenic Lake Chabot in San Leandro. I've never run this part of the East Bay hills before. The trails are stunningly beautiful and wonderfully varied -- chaparral, redwoods, deeply carved creek beds, amazing vistas (San Fran on one side, Mount Diablo on the other), lakes, and lots and lots of up and down, akin to a stock market chart. It was nice to finally do a local marathon -- I slept in my own bed the night before and had the support of Sophia and my two kids much of the way. The weather generally cooperated except it rained before dawn which made for a muddy trail. The first 4 1/2 miles from Lone Oak picnic area in Tilden to the Steam Train aid station was straight up (1500+ ft. elevation gain) run in mud. Hugh chunks of clay stuck to my shoes, feeling like lead weights, until the clots got so heavy that gravity ran its course and they fell off, only in a minute to be replaced by new chunks of mud. The race started at 9 AM (to accommodate a 50 mile race that began earlier on the same course), meaning we ran a lot in midday when things heated up. The course, runners, and aid stations were absolutely fabulous -- each station had friendly, smiling volunteers and was bountifully stocked (power drinks, fruit, candy, cookies, pretzels, and some even had pizza). While I struggled with parts of the run and had to power-walk the steep uphills (trying to run was literally no faster), I was glowing most of the day, simply amazed by the beauty of the surroundings. Being new to trail marathons, I had problems navigating some of the course. I got lost at one juncture, realizing after a few minutes I was no longer seeing pink ribbons on the trial side, thus I had to retrace my path and eventually find the right route. And at a couple of junctures, there were huge swarms of ornery bees, forcing everyone to leave the trail and seek out alternative paths. The finish in Chabot Park was the icing on the cake. My family greeted me with open arms upon crossing the finish and we were all treated to the best imaginable edibles -- grilled salmon and burgers, wonderful salads, great soups, delicious carrot cakes, on and on. This was clearly a side benefit of the marathon being run parallel to the Dick Collins Firetrail 50. Though this was my slowest marathon to date, all and all I was as happy with my run as with any. I was running with incredibly fit and dedicated trail runners and while I finished around two-thirds from the top, no one who beat me was older than I -- for my age group I did quite well. And what absolutely made my day was when the race director, Ann Trason, a veritable God in the world of ultra-running, complemented me on my finish, saying "that's a really good time for your first trail marathon". I was in Nirvana. Notable memories: Beautiful but tough course, great camaraderie among runners, seeing my wife and kids at five different aid stations along the way, having my 14 year old son, Chris, yell "Dad, you're the greatest", and relishing in the best post-race party ever. Life is good.
25. September 17, 2005: Chelan, WA; Lake Chelan Shore to Shore Marathon. My time: 4:18:42. A wonderful point-to-point run around the southern shores of Chelan Lake in central Washington state, reputedly America's 2nd cleanest lake. A small marathon -- only 50 or so runners. The first 7 miles were hilly followed by a flat midsection and a return to more hilly terrain toward the end. It was cool and cloudy when the race started just after daybreak; by mid-morning temps got into the low 70s. Except for the last mile, the race was run entirely on the shoulder of a two-lane road, which was fine early Saturday morning, however the last 7 miles from Chelan to the finish at Manson, runners faced lots of head-on traffic. I struggled mightily to complete this run. At around mile 7, I felt a sharp pain in my left calf muscle. I figured I had pulled a tendon and was prepared for an abrupt end. I DNF'ed at my last marathon attempt in South Dakota in June, forced to stop mid-way upon pulling an abductor muscle in my inner thigh. This injury sidelined me from running for 2 months, thus I only had begun to get back into running shape 4 weeks before this late-summer race. The prospect of DNF'ing at two out-of-state marathons in a row was agonizing. I slowed my pace. The tightness and numbing pain remained, however it wasn't severe enough to keep me from plodding forward. I ran the final 19 miles fearing that my calf muscle would snap at anytime. To ease up on the strain, I walked through aid stations every two miles and at several junctures stopped to do leg stretches. This seemed to do the trick, allowing me to shuffle forward at roughly 10-11 minute mile pace. While my time wasn't great, I felt good about persevering and completing this run. I was surprised to have placed 2nd in my age group! After the run, my calf sported a big shiny bruise -- evidence of muscle hemorrhaging. I have my fingers crossed I can recover in time for a tough trail marathon (the hills of Berkeley) I'm signed up for in October. Notable memories: Starting off at a fast pace and then having it all come crashing down at mile 7 as my calf muscle gave in, not sure how I would make it the next 19 miles hobbling to the finish line, and the adrenaline rush of when I did, bum leg and all.
24. May 14, 2005: Fargo, ND; Fargo Marathon. My time: 4:22:20. Ugh! Another marathon I just as soon forget. This affair had things in common with my marathon experience the prior month in MD -- it was an inaugural event and the weather sucked: strong winds (20-30 mph), coupled this time with chilly temps (mostly in the 30s) and sogginess (drizzle and early morning flurries). However, unlike Maryland, the event was very well organized. This was my second slowest marathon to date. The morning of the race I wasn't sure I would be able to run. Injuries continue to nag me. I twisted my ankle several weeks before and it was still sore, even when walking. I couldn't get a good push off my left foot, forcing me to run flatfooted. And continued pain in my right groin and inner thighs restricted my stride. The combination of unhealed wounds, bad weather, once-a-month marathoning, and perhaps age (I turned 54 the weekend before) evidently did me in. Nonetheless, kudos to the organizers and good folks of Fargo for a first-class show. The inaugural event went off without a hitch. The city came out in full force, with cheering fans all along the route. The course was pleasant and flat -- sections through nicely manicured neighborhoods, along park trails and the riverfront, several miles touring Moorhead, MN, and a meandering loop through the North Dakota State campus. Aid stations handed out bottles of water, which seemed a waste since most people took 1-2 swigs and threw the rest away. Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that the run's sponsor, Scheels, is a local water bottler/distributor. It was a figure-8 course, with lots of turns. Most folks ran the half-marathon, peeling off at mile 13, and marathoners (at least myself) got passed quite a bit the second half by all of the marathon relayers with fresh legs. Notable memories: Blustery weather, great fan support, and hobbling along the course, unsure if my ankle would make it to the finish.
You've gotta be kiddin...This is May?
23. April 16, 2005: Ocean City, MD; Ocean City Marathon. My time: 4:18:24. Brutal! With 35-40 mph headwinds the last 12 miles of the course, this was among the toughest runs I've ever done. The inaugural running of the Ocean City marathon was marred by hurricane-like gales along the mid-Atlantic. The frontal assault of headwinds forced me to run-walk the last four miles of the course. Besides being physically spent from having fought non-stop winds, I found there wasn't much difference between power-walking and running along some segments. The morning of the run, with winds whipping in from the north, I was resigned to a 5-hour marathon, thus I was frankly surprised by my time. The course was configured such that the first half of the run caught more cross-winds than tailwinds. Heading over the Verrazano pedestrian bridge at mile 12, I felt as if I was going to be blown over the side. The course itself is fairly flat, save for two bridge spans, and in parts, quite scenic, complete with horse farms and wild horses on Assateague Island (though this part of the course wrapped around an unremarkable campground where the half-marathoners ended their run). Significant parts of the course are along a well-trafficked highway. The surroundings went largely unnoticed since I spent most of the morning running with my head ducked and leaning forward. Media attention went to "the world's strongest man", who was trying to enter into the Guiness Book by running the half-marathon with a 40-pound backpack in full Army fatigues (boots included). The guy, Joe, bolted out quickly; he was having serious leg cramps by mile 7 when I passed him. Notable memories: Punishing winds, nippy weather, the beautiful drive up the DelMarVa peninsula, and witnessing waves splash over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge that connects the Eastern Shore and Virginia Beach.
22. March 19, 2005: Virginia Beach, VA; Shamrock Sportfest Marathon. My time: 3:56:57. This was a homecoming. My mom & dad (who just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary) got to cheer me on along the route as well as my sister Louise, my daughter Kristen, and Amber, Louise's puppy. We all enjoyed the event. It was a bright crisp sunny day -- in the 40s and later on in the high 50s. It was also a fairly flat course. I was hoping for a faster time, however a nagging groin injury pretty much dictated my speed. The course follows Virginia Beach's waterfront, which brought back a lot of memories -- especially of surfing in the late 60s. Around 10 miles were run in Fort Story, not all of which was particularly scenic despite being next to the Chesapeake Bay. The last mile and a half along the boardwalk was pleasant, despite the concrete running surface (no boards on this boardwalk). Lots of enthusiastic fans once we got back to the main strip. Notable memories: Rendezvousing with my sister and Kristen (to pick up some Gu at miles 8 and 19 -- I've never had a support team before!) and catching several glances of my dear parents, cheering their hearts content, along the route.
21. February 5, 2005: Tybee Island, Georgia; Tybee Marathon. My time: 4:07:10. Flat as a pancake, this course is. I recall thinking when registering for this run that I should be able to PR given the fact I'd run mostly hilly courses to date ... Not! I really struggled with this run. Some of it had to do with the flat, repetitiveness of the course -- constantly hitting the same pressure points on my legs, with no variation induced by terrain, took its toll. Also, I ended up "reverse tapering" -- because I injured my calf muscle shortly after my previous run (less than 3 weeks earlier), I did virtually no training for this run. Four days before the run, I wasn't sure I could do the race, but pushed forward (partly because I had a non-refundable airfare to Savannah!). I did two 9 mile runs followed by a 14-mile run several days before the marathon. While this restored my endurance, it left my legs spent. Stiff headwinds didn't help (funny how one can't feel the tailwinds when reversing course). While this run earns high marks for good organization, small-town enthusiasm, and being a real deal ($35 for a well-staffed course, a nice long-sleeve t-shirt, and a great medal with a sand-dollar from local beaches), in truth, I did not enjoy this run. Besides the monotonous terrain, it was a double-loop with all kinds of twists and turns. Five out of six runners were doing the half marathon, meaning marathoners had to cope with seeing most folks celebrating the end of a run when slogging forward for another 13.1 mile loop. Also, Tybee Island is not that big. To fit 13.1 lineal miles onto this island, the course had to be designed with a fair amount of back-tracking -- head south, then north, then south, then north, etc., etc.; marathoners had to go through this twice. I was also surprised that despite being an island off the Atlantic, there were zero vistas of the ocean anywhere along the route. For me, the highlight of the day was enjoying the elegant streetscapes of downtown Savannah after the race, sore legs and all. Refined Southern charm, Savannah is -- Spanish moss dripping off century-old oaks, Olgothorpe's shady public squares, stately southern mansions...it's truly an American treasure. Notable memories: Turns, turns, turns ... and the gentleman who sang the national anthem encouraging runners to dig in as they crested over a "hill" at mile 18, a mound that must have had all of 3 feet of elevation gain! Still, the rise was a nice change of pace and the guy's positive vibes at that juncture were much appreciated.
20. January 16, 2005: Apache Junction, Arizona; Lost Dutchman Marathon. My time: 4:00:02. This run earns kudos for its stunning start. Runners huddle around small bonfires ringed by carpeted mats, sipping hot cocoa and munching on bagels, as the crimson sun rises over the Superstition Mountains in the high Sonoran desert. The first 6 miles are along the Peralta Trail, mostly downhill and surrounded by saguaro cacti, palo verde, and fallen mesquite. By midcourse, the run gets pretty hilly and the cool early morning gives way to much warmer temps. At mile 23, just after receiving water from some ladies decked out in ornate purple felt dresses, runners are greeted with a steep incline called the Dutchman's Revenge and at the top pass through a large poster wall whereupon a photographer takes snapshots of their tortured expressions. From there, it's more hills till the finish, giving this course its well-deserved reputation as a challenging run (...the winning time in a field of nearly 300 was just over 3 hours). I just missed breaking the 4 hour mark, leaving me pondering, upon crossing the finish line, where I could have shaved off a few seconds. What made this run special was having my wife, Sophia, and our kids, Chris and Kristen, enter the 2-mile family run around Prospect Park while the marathon was underway. It's a very well-organized, family-friendly event, with lots of goodies and activities at the end. Kristen and I got our photos taken with a bona fide prospector and his burro near the finish line -- evidently this ole codger is looking for the Lost Dutchman's treasure chest of gold, reputedly hidden somewhere in the surrounding hills. Notable memories: Getting stuck by a cactus while excusing myself behind the campground prior to the start of the race, running alongside Pam Reed the first few miles (she's won two Badwater Ultras!), getting passed by an older gent hauling an American flag at around mile 9, aching quads from the day's cascade of up- and down-hills, and catching bright purple sunsets in the evening while taking in hot chili in Tortilla Flats with Sophia and the kids.
Post-race: Kristen & tired dad with
Lost Dutchman Prospector & his Burro
19. December 12, 2004: Honolulu, Hawaii; Honolulu Marathon. My time: 4:04:44. The 5 AM start near Ala Moana Park, complete with fireworks, was meant to keep the time spent in the Oahu sun to a minimum, however good conditions (weather in the low 70s and little wind) prevailed, resulting in both a men's and women's course record for the 32nd running of this mega-marathon. There were 23,000-plus finishers, around two-thirds of whom were from Japan. Save for the balmy temps and tropical scenery, at times I felt I was running in Tokyo. JAL sponsored the event, most fans along the route were Japanese tourists, and the Expo from the prior day was principally a Japanese affair. Only halfway into the race, when the sun came up, could one really appreciate the surroundings. Still, the event was a bit too crowded for my taste. I had a hard time getting out of the gate, tripping over runners and stumbling several times the first few miles. Lots of elbowing and dodging throughout. I wasn't in the best of condition: because of a lower-back ligament strain, I didn't run for 3 weeks in November and only had started running again two weeks before the race. Perhaps I shouldn't have run, though it was hard to resist: I had a business meeting with Active Living Research (scheduled to coincide with the marathon), thus all my expenses were covered, even part of the registration fee! The steep registration fee is another matter -- it's a pricey affair without the amenities I'm used to (e.g., no food along the way or after the run), though the cold sponges and iced water were nice touches. While I wasn't thrilled with my time, given I was at about 90% of capacity, the 4-plus hour finish was expected. I was surprised I finished in the top 11% of all runners and 18% of my age group and men. This was more a reflection of the competition than anything: most folks walked part of the way, and quite a few took 8+ hours, with the last-place finisher coming in more than 15 hours after the start. The sponsors earn points for patience -- it's the most walker friendly marathon around. Notable memories: A very early rise (2:30 AM to catch the bus to Ala Moana park from the Honolulu zoo), crushing crowds at the start, silhouettes of Diamond Head in the early dawn, vistas of the blue Pacific at the top of the hill at mile 25, and assorted running Santa Clauses and scantily-clad Hawaiian warriors along the way.
18. October 16, 2004: Grand Isle, Vermont; GMAA Green Mountain Marathon. My time: 3:57:53. There are few more delightful ways to spend a Saturday morning in mid-October than running through the gently rolling hills of Grand Isle in northwest Vermont. It was idyllic -- running alongside Lake Champlain with the New York countryside in the far-off background, being treated to a mosaic of fall foliage at its crimson-orange brightest, catching eyefuls of farmsteads, llama herds, stately homesteads, wineries, and open pastures throughout the out-and-back course, and enjoying the company of 150 dedicated runners and a handful of really appreciative fans. The temperature was near-perfect -- overcast and in the low-50s, with a constant threat of rain that never materialized. What prevented fast running times were the brutal headwinds the second half of the course. After running from the town of South Hero along the west coast of Grand Isle some 13 miles to the northern tip of the island, runners were treated to what felt like hurricane gales the last half of the race. While the tailwinds helped some going out, the winds picked up considerably as the day wore on, thus the ornery headwinds and crosswinds coming back took away any advantage that had been gained earlier. From mile 13 to 25, for every step forward, it seemed, one got knocked back a half-step. The winds, however, couldn't detract from the utter beauty that surrounded us. Financially, there's not a better deal in marathoning than this runner-organized event. For a mere $20 (nearly unheard of in this day of 3-digit registration fees for big-name races), one gets not only a great course with good aid-station support, but also a long-sleeve tee-shirt (without tacky corporate logos on the back), a finisher's medallion that is nicer than many from more pricey events, and wonderful after-race treats like sparkling apple cider from right down the road and even apple donuts. Notable memories: Stunning landscapes and seascapes at their Autumn peak, catching glimpses of llamas staring in bewilderment as throngs of runners passed by, the blustery yet refreshing winds coming off of Lake Champlain, and being awed by a guy who ran the entire course (nearly half of which is on graveled roads) bare-footed (reputedly the second year in a row he's done this...ouch!).
17. September 19, 2004: St. Charles, Missouri; Lewis and Clark Marathon. My time: 3.48.14. A run through the historical town of St. Charles, alongside the Missouri River and Katy Trail, in the year of the 200th commemoration of Lewis and Clark's exposition out west. It was a nice double narrow-loop course -- northbound along paved (and for a short section, bricked) roads in the heart of St. Charles and southbound along the gentle-on-the-legs, crushed-limestone Katy Trail, a rail-to-trail conversion that stretches across Missouri. The course was pretty flat except for a hill at the southern turn-around -- miles 11 and 24. The only downside was the weather -- in the low 80s without a cloud in the sky. There were plenty of water stations and the trail provided welcomed shade, though for many sections the sun beat down unmercifully. Running topless and downing lots of fluids, I managed to stay hydrated and avoid cramping, however it was a pretty sweaty morning run nonetheless. My main concern was psychological: how would I react to a double-loop course upon hitting the 13.1 mile mark, asking myself: "wait a minute, I just looped this thing; I've got to do it one damn more time?". Also, there were four times as many half-marathoners as full-marathoners and the two groups both departed at 7 AM; thus at the 13.1 mile mark, there were all these folks ending the half-marathon run and celebrating while I and others, sweating profusely, had to crank it up for one last round. Fortunately, it didn't bother me as much as I feared -- I was able to keep on rolling and indeed enjoyed the second loop because it was far less crowed. Notable memories: Nice vistas of the Missouri River along the Katy Trail, bright sunny skies, and a guy who I ran alongside part of the way who carried a Missouri flag mounted to a pole; I ended up beating him to the finish by some 10 minutes, though if I hauled a draping banner tied to a wooden stick for 26.2 miles, my time would have greatly suffered. A true patriot!
16. August 22, 2004: Washoe Valley, Nevada; Silver State Marathon. My time: 4.06.24. Nice mile-high run around Washoe Lake midway between Reno and Carson City, Nevada. A friend who ran this years ago advised me to forget about times on this one -- just go out and enjoy it as a long, challenging Sunday morning run. A challenging run it was. Besides the 5000+ foot elevation, a good 3 to 4 miles of the off-road trails are mainly sand. While granular sand provided welcomed cushioning after miles of pounding pavement, sand-running can be taxing and slow. Fortunately, skies were overcast and the forecasted 80-plus temps never materialized, though the second half of the run was quite gusty -- headwinds from miles 17 to 22 followed by much-appreciated tailwinds the last few miles to the finish. The course has lots of diversity: sandy trails, gently rolling hills, residential tracts, horse farms, open stretches of ponderosa pines, busy highways, campgrounds, and open, pristine expanses. The run starts before sunrise at Bowers Mansion Regional Park, does a huge loop around the lake, and returns to the park. The post-run picnic was fun, especially with my family around. It's a well-organized event. I highly recommend it to anyone, though don't expect a PR. Notable memories: Blind-folded horses galloping around their fenced-in enclosures, as if challenging the runners going by. Running on sand some 300 miles from the nearest ocean. Nearly being blown over by strong crosswinds a half-mile from the finish. And enjoying a juicy hamburger, baked beans, and chips with Sophia, Chris, and Kristen at the post-race picnic.
Along a farmstead Nearing the finish Kristen & a tired dad
15. July 24, 2004: Salt Lake City, Utah; Deseret Morning News Marathon. My time: 3.58.09. With a starting elevation of 7500' and the finish line at 4500', I found that downhills can be both your friend and enemy. Gravity certainly adds speed -- I ran my fastest half-marathon ever (1:40); however, toward the end my legs were so beat up and I was so much in oxygen debt that the second half was one of my slowest -- 2:18. The 80-degree July heat also took its toll when reaching the Salt Lake valley toward the end. The temperature contrasts were startling. We caught a bus at 3:15 AM and reached the summit of Big Mountain at 3:50. We then waited for an hour and a half in shivering cold temps for the 5:30 start. My trash bag did little to protect me from the elements; runners mainly depended upon collective body heat by bunching together under a large open tent. The first five miles of the course are beautiful -- alpine forests with a crimson glow from the rising sun on the horizon. Some 15 miles into the run, we dropped into the city. The toughest part was heading uphill along the road to the zoo, blasted by strong headwinds. It was virtually impossible to run, thus (for the first time for me) I power-walked. Running and walking speeds were fairly equivalent. By mile 22, my legs were spent. I had nothing left, thus I shuffled, walked, trotted to the finish line. I set a goal to run one marathon a month for a year, and with this run I achieved that goal. Whether I continue at this pace, time will tell, though I know for sure I won't tackle a predominantly downhill marathon anytime soon. Notable memories: Shivering high in the Wasatch Mountains in late-July to only later be greeted by the blast furnace of downtown Salt Lake City. Running along the Pioneer Day parade route at mile 25, cheered on by throngs of parade-goers and feeling totally spent. And very sore quadrilaterals after the run.
14. June 19, 2004: Anchorage, Alaska; Mayor's Midnight Sun Marathon. My time: 3.59.37. This was probably my toughest marathon to date -- I had done relatively little training (due to a calf injury), the course was a fairly challenging, and it was hot (mid-70s and bright sunshine, nearly breaking Anchorage's temperature record for the date). While I barely broke 4 hours, I was satisfied with my time -- the day before my leg was swollen thus I wasn't sure I'd be able to run and throughout the race I was expecting my calf to give out at any time. To my surprise, my legs were in pretty good shape when crossing the finish line. It's a point-to-point course of gently rolling hills from a high school in northeast Anchorage to a high school in the southwest part of the city. The course gets high marks for variety: the first half is mainly uphill, following a bike path, a country road, a wide and then narrow (and rocky) trail alongside the Chugah mountains; the course peaks at mile 14 and then a gradual downhill along another country road, a bike path aside a busy thoroughfare, through the U. of Alaska campus, and then along a scenic river creek trail to a blue lagoon, with a final 95 foot steep ascent to the finish line. I was impressed by the amount of "grade separation" -- despite going through busy parts of the city, one rarely encountered traffic because of the many bike/pedway overpasses and underpasses. The marathon was dominated by a sea of purple jerseys (Team in Training -- a worthy cause indeed), many of whom were walking (and thus I only saw at the start since most lined up behind the runners). My only complaints were the selling of refreshments at the start line and a puny finisher's medal (what's the $50 registration fee for anyway?). On the upside: good organization and fan support. Notable memories: Balmy weather (hotter than the Bay Area and Beijing, where I had been the week before), occasional glimpses of snowcap peaks (though mainly views of trees along narrow trails and bikepaths), a pebble in my shoe picked up along the trail that nagged me throughout, the refreshing bags of ice handed out at mile 18, and the mad scramble at the end: I finished around noon, grabbed some refreshments and stretched, drove to my hotel to shower and check out, dropped by for a free Subway sandwich (to all finishers), returned the rental car, and got through the airport logistics in time for my 3 PM flight.
13. May 16, 2004: Olympia, WA; Capital City Marathon. My time: 3.46.01 (PR). Can't complain about conditions on this one. They were ideal. Overcast skies, temps in the 50s, and a fairly flat course interspersed with a few gently rolling hills. While I PR'd (by all of 28 seconds!), I wasn't that happy with my time given it was just a hair under what I ran on the much tougher Big Sur course 3 weeks earlier. It was my kind of marathon -- moderate in size (just over 400 ran the full marathon), dedicated runners, well organized, and good fan support. The course mainly traverses residential neighborhoods with a few rural stretches here and there. The beginning is nice, running around the lake west of the state capitol building, and the end is even nicer -- a mile of straight downhill. Notable memories: Ease of parking (within a block of the start line in downtown Olympia), a deep massage after crossing the finish line without even having to wait in line (a first for me), and seeing Joan Samuelson (there to run the 20th anniversary of the first women's Olympic marathon trial that was run in Olympia; she's aged nicely -- ran a 1:27 half marathon!).
12. April 25, 2004: Big Sur-Carmel, CA; Big Sur International Marathon. My time: 3.46.29. Called by some the world's most scenic marathon, this lived up to its billings -- gorgeous vistas, big and brilliant skies, micro-climates at different points along the route, and a continually changing scenery (redwoods, rolling pasture land, rocky cliffs with waves breaking below, and multi-million dollar homesteads in the Carmel Highlands). This was also billed as a difficult marathon, however I guess I was hill trained: I finished in the top 14% of my age group, top 15% overall, and ran a PR. Running the steeply sloped Lafayette Ridge and at high altitude in BogotŠ, Colombia (elevation > 8000') the weeks before Big Sur evidently paid off. The conditions were good -- bright skies and little wind (unusual for Big Sur), though it was fairly hot by 9 AM and the heat took its toll on some runners (though after running Thailand the month before, I was also heat conditioned.) It's a point-to-point run along rolling terrain -- fairly long slopes that weren't too steep and lots of downhills, enough to spread the muscle pain. The 2-mile, 500' steady uphill at Hurricane Point (miles 10-12) is fine; it's the hills in the Carmel Highlands (plus the crowned road) that takes its toll the last 4 to 5 miles. A superly organized, well-stocked marathon. The downsides: too many 10- and 20-mile walkers who crowded the road the last half of the marathon, requiring a fair amount of weaving, and too many marathon relays with buses hauling folks back and forth along the course. While I applaud all for their efforts, the fact that some 3/4 of the folks out there were non-marathoners detracted from the "long haul" experience. The one thing everyone griped about was having to catch a bus at 3:45 AM, followed by a 2-hour wait in chilly weather for the race to begin; this logistical "cushion" seemed excessive. Notable memories: The huge Pacific Ocean, classical musicians and orchestras along the route, the baby grand and tuxedoed pianist at the north end of the majestic Bixby Bridge, belly dancers and flame throwers at mile 24, and the skeletal remains of "de-composer" at mile 25 (a "dehydrated, decomposing" skeleton prop to remind everyone of the need to hydrate).
11. March 21, 2004: Samuthsongkram, Thailand; Thailand Temple Run. My time: 4.03.51. For a first marathon abroad, this was quite an exotic affair -- Buddhist monks sprinkle holy water on the runners at the outset, the course meanders along narrow winding roads through ornate gold-leaf temples, rice fields, colorful chanting orchestras banging on drums, hanging palm trees, wild dogs laying in the road and occasionally giving chase, and some fifty-odd canal bridges/oversized culverts. While the course is fairly flat, running conditions are harsh to say the least -- it was around 97-degrees and 97% humidity despite an early morning start. Fortunately the event was superbly organized. Aid stations were frequent and well-stocked with ice-chilled water and cold sponges; still, I found running in sauna-like conditions quite taxing. While I failed to bust 4 hours, I was fairly happy with my performance, especially given I did absolutely no heat (or humidity) training. Most non-Thais were running a good hour or more over their usual times and a few guys who regularly run sub-3:30 marathons were clocking in upwards of 5 hours. I came in 7th among 45 in my gender-age group and 2nd among 18 American runners. Still, I have no desire to do a marathon in the tropics anytime soon. Notable memories: Catching a bus in Bangkok at 2:45 AM to reach the venue by 4:30, starting in pitch dark at 5 AM and being led along the way by flaming tourches and the silhouette of arched Thai temples, nearly running over dogs lying in the street, and the numbing thought when hitting the 23 kilometer turn-around soaking wet with a boiling radiator and realizing I had another 19-plus kilometers to slog through.
Monk initiates the race and a very tired me nearly hitting the wall at around the 36 km mark (photo courtesy of Clement Marin)
10. February 1, 2004: Miami, FL; Miami Tropical Marathon.
My time: 3.58.33. Not the best of weather -- rained pretty much the entire time.
Despite the mugginess, downpours, and headwinds, it was a wonderful course -- two long
expanses across Biscayne Bay, Miami Beach at sunrise, glistening Brickell Avenue, and the
oddly upscale yet Bohemian community of Coconut Grove. The organizers also let you
see Miami's "other" side -- for a good mile or so, you pass through skid row
where folks were huddled under the freeway, seeking shelter from the rain. It's a
mostly flat course except for a couple of bridges, however because of soggy shoes,
humidity, and headwinds, running times generally suffered. A great medal, bands and
cheerleaders at several junctures, and wonderful folks in Coconut Grove who provided cups
of microbrew, bananas, gummy bears, oranges, and other treats that were much-appreciated
upon having slogged some 19 miles in the rain. Notable memories:
Catching the sunrise in Miami Beach, seeing a group of guys who looked like the Village
People returning home in the wee hours from a night of clubbing, and crossing the finish
line in downtown Miami during a downpour and within 30 seconds getting served a ice-cold
brewski that really hit the spot (despite not being terribly accustomed to drinking beer
at 10 AM on a Sunday morning).
Wet, Wet Miami
9. January 10, 2004: Charlotte, NC; Charlotte Observer Run
for Peace Marathon. My
Brrrrrr. It was cold -- in the high 20s throughout the
morning and with 10-15 mph gusts, the windchill was in the low 20s/high teens.
Despite 3 layers of clothes, a shell, and a double set of gloves, it was still chilly,
especially the last half when the temperature dropped and we hit head winds. I
couldn't feel the tips of my fingers for a good hour after the race. Despite the
cold and occasional snow flurries, it was an enjoyable run. The course is fairly
challenging -- rolling hills throughout. The toughest hills are the last half, not
made any easier by the frontal assault of winds. It's a nice loop course that goes through
some of Charlotte's toniest neighborhoods -- most notably, the mansionesque Myer's
Park. There were plentiful aid stations and although not many fans along the way,
those who did endure the cold to cheer folks on are to be applauded -- I much rather have
been running than standing in the sub-freezing temps. It was a dedicated group of
runners willing to brave the elements. Besides bone-chilling temps, the only
downside was that at least as many folks were doing the marathon relay as the full 26.2
miles. It wasn't particularly fun having all of these fresh legs starting the second
half of the relay pass you up around mile 15. While I have no desire to do an
artic-like marathon anytime soon, it was an interesting experience. Looking forward
to my next several runs, slated for much balmier temps. Notable memories:
Freezing my !*@!#*! off. Being passed (and later passing) a buffed-up guy who was
running in shorts and a thin singlet top. And the wonderful vegetarian chili served
at the finish -- it really hit the spot that cold, cold morning.
Crossing the finish line in cold, cold Charlotte, NC
8. December 6, 2003: Death Valley, CA; Death Valley Borax Marathon. My time: 3.51.54. Death Valley was sparkling this crisp Saturday morning in early-December -- fresh air, boundless vistas, and quite often, solitude. My first (and most likely only) marathon entirely below sea level! Can't complain about altitude and thin air on this one. It's a nice out-and-back course between Furnace Creek Ranch and Salt Creek Road with a gently undulating profile. Some folks complained it wasn't a flat course and while the hill at mile 24 doesn't come at the best of times, I (and my calves) liked the variable terrain. The weather was near-perfect -- high 50s/low 60s and overcast. This race gets high marks for convenience -- it was great to be able to roll out of bed at the Furnance Creek Ranch and get to the start line within 5 minutes. I did fine -- 35th overall (in a pool of 190 registrants and 154 finishers) and 3rd in my age group. Particularly nice were the contrasts (flat salt lake beds with a backdrop of towering mountains), earthy visuals (white salts, marroon soils, scrawny sagebrush, gray mountains), and the seemingly endless vistas. One is quite exposed -- hardly a tree in sight along the way and running alongside passing RVs and motorhomes. My only complaint was the scarcity of aid stations and limited help at each -- too much time was wasted fumbling for drinks, trying to find Gatorade (they mostly had water), and unpeeling bananas. Notable memories: Being able to see the course (and lead runners) several miles ahead and when hitting the mile-20 mark literally being able to see the oasis of trees at Furnace Creek some 6 miles in front of me -- never have I been able to see my target that early in the race. Also enjoyed having Sophia and the kids follow (via car) and root me on the last quarter of the race and having Kristen join me at mile-26 for the final 1056 foot sprint to the finish line.
Around mile 19 Just before mile 26 Kristen joins a tired dad near the finish
7. November 2, 2003: New York City, NY; IGN New York City
My time: 3.59.21. By far, the biggest marathon I've ever done -- light-years from the small
marathon venues of rural California I'm more use to. The Big Apple put on a splendid
show. It was warm and muggy (15 degrees above normal for the time of year and 81%
humidity), thus running times suffered. Over the first few miles on the
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and into Brooklyn, you're slogging through a crowd, thus it's
hard to get a good cadence. Still, I broke the 4 hour mark, though barely. At
least I beat P. Diddy (who "ran for the city") by 15 minutes, including his
entourage of handlers who tended to his every need along the way. The bridges,
especially the Queensboro at mile 15, add some slope to the race, however it was the muggy
weather more than anything that sapped my strength. The NYC crowds are great,
especially through the heart of Brooklyn and when dropping into 1st Street in
Manhattan. Musically, I enjoyed the pulsating salsa beat in the Bronx, which had the
thinnest crowds but they made up for numbers with enthusiasm. One really gets a feel
for the cultural richness of NYC through the changing musical landscape along the course
-- gospel singers in Harlem, hard rock in the Queens, four-part harmonies on 5th Avenue on
the upper east side, and gangsta rap and Disco in Brooklyn. Despite its almost
suffocating size, NYC is a very well-run event, from the coffee-bagels-yogurt and upbeat
music at the Fort Wadsworth staging area at 7 in the morning to the aluminum-foil blankets
and goodie bags they hand out after the finish line while making the tiring trek from
Terrace on the Green in Central Park to the UPS van a mile-plus away that has your stored
change-of-clothes bag. Notable memories: Many foreigners --
thousands of French, Italian, and Scandinavian runners, with a good showing of Mexicans
and Brazilians as well. The roaring blue-collar crowds of Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn
and Lafayette Street and Bedford Avenue in the Queens, much different than the largely
tourist-dominated white collar cheering sections along 1st Avenue in Manhattan. And
of course, the thichet of runners: a swarm of humanity hoofing it up the gentle hills of
5th Avenue as far as the eye could see. At that juncture, there were some 7,000
folks ahead of me, but also a good 28,000 at my rear.
6. October 4, 2003: St. George, Utah; St. George Marathon. My time: 3.48.47. A wonderful downhill run from the Alpine hills of Southwest Utah to the red rock desert oasis of St. George. While there's a net altitude loss of nearly a half mile, this run is no picnic -- the first half has a good 1000 foot altitude gain along rolling terrain and most of the drop is the final 6 miles when your legs least need it. Still, a fast run, fast enough for me to finally break the 4 hour barrier, with room to spare! This is a supremely organized marathon. It starts at the mile-high point in the town of Central. It was a chilly 42-degrees Fahrenheit when we arrived at 5 a.m. via a packed school bus, however they have dozens of bonfires to keep your body warm and grooving music to warm your spirit. You're running in pitch dark for the first 20 minutes or so, but once the sun hits runners are treated to sparkling vistas of rocky cliffs and shining desert skies. Great fan support throughout (lots of kids high-fiving along the route). The run up the slope next to Veyo volcano at mile 7 was invigorating, matched by another good uphill trot at mile 11 to 12. At mile 17, you drop into glistening Snow Canyon, treated to a wonderful vista of brilliant red rocks, backed by bright blue skies. By mile 23, you're into St. George; streets are lined with appreciative fans, egging you on to the finish line. Kudos to the organizers; lots of nice little effects throughout -- the showers along the route, frequent well-stocked aid stations, ability to toss extra clothes (needed at the cold beginning but a burden once the temperature heats up), and great replenishment at the end (ice cream, yogurt, bananas, and more). What I most appreciated, however, was the iced wet towels they gave runners turning into the last stretch at mile 25. What a refreshing feeling once hitting what felt like a blast furnace in St. George (high-80s). Notable memories: Bonfires at the start, cold wet towel at the end, and smiling, appreciative supporters in between; also the drive through the great barrenness of Nevada getting to and from St. George, especially the Extraterrestrial Highway (skirting Area 51) where there's nothing as far as the eye can see, a car comes by every 20 minutes, and sitting in the middle of nowhere lies the otherwordly UFO town of Rachel.
5. September 14, 2003: Burney, CA; Burney Classic Marathon. My time: 4.05.17. A nice run through the rolling hills of northern California near the wonderful Burney-MacAuthur waterfalls. The start was fairly chilly (in the low 50s Fahrenheit) but things quickly heated up -- two hours in the race it got up to the high 80's without a cloud in the sky. It's a nice point to point race -- from the McAuthur High School track to the Burney High School track along a lightly-traveled two-lane road, except for a 5-mile hard-packed gravel road section between miles 20 and 25. It's a moderately difficult course -- rated a 7 on a 1 to 10 "difficulty" scale by the USTAF (and 84th out of 250 in the nation by The Ultimate Guide to Marathons). Nice vistas throughout -- particularly of snow-capped Mount Shasta at the crest of several high hills. The race is not organized by runners but rather the local Lion's Club -- this shows in many respects (meager refreshments and support along the way). I did fairly well -- came in 4th out of the 27 folks who ran the full marathon; to my surprise, I even won the over-40 age division (one of the advantages of running small, home-spun marathons, though still a proud moment for a well-over-50 dude). Notable memories: Being walloped with sparkling vistas of towering Mount Shasta upon struggling up several hills, watching all these Lion's Club guys relaxing on lounge chairs, shooting the breeze and toking away on cigarettes while sweating and panting through aid stations, and greeting my kids while lapping the track field at Burney High School to close out the race, cheered on by a small but appreciative hometown crowd.
Coming down the home Getting a medal for finishing first in my age group -- not hard to do in a small
stretch of the Burney marathon, but a gratifying moment just the same.
marathon with my
cheering me on!
4. August 23, 2003: Choteau, Montana; Grizzly Marathon. My time: 4:08.31. My first out-of-state marathon, this was the inaugural running of the big, bad Grizzly Marathon -- a tough one befitting its name. The good folks of Choteau Montana are to be applauded for putting on a good show, though this was a challenging run -- heck, the winning time was over three hours out of 220+ runners and quite a few folks didn't finish. While the run was billed as offering a good chance of seeing bear, elk, and mountain lion, in truth I spent most of my time staring at my feet, trying to avoid twisting an ankle while running on the good-size rocks embedded in a hard-pack dirt surface over the last 20 miles. While some complained of the elevation gains (4100 to 4900 feet) from miles 8 to 12 and at miles 18 & 19, for me the rocky running surface is what made this tough (and painful). On the positive side, the weather cooperated nicely -- overcast skies and on the comfortable side; the day before, you couldn't see the mountains from the thick smoke from the nearby forest fires. Fortunately, it rained the night before the race, which along with strong winds helped clear out the gunk. Running in that stuff would have been equivalent to smoking a couple of cartons of cigarettes. I was one of 65 runners who received a "Hillus Horribilus" pin for getting up the steep hill at mile 19 without walking and within three hours, evidently in honor of the grizzly (aka horribilus) and his/her ability to scamper up steep slopes. Notable memories: Aching feet, no wildlife to be seen (though a wonderful back-drop of northern Rocky Mountains when I managed to look up from the rocks), and a pre-race national anthem sung by someone who sounded like Tiny Tim.
3. June 1, 2003: San Diego, CA; Suzuki Rock-n-Roll Marathon. My time: 4:07.25. My first "urban" marathon -- quite a different experience from my prior long trots through the backwoods of California. All and all, very enjoyable. Between the 26 bands and 48 cheer-leading squads spread along the route (mixed in with running Elvi, fire-eaters, serenading troubadors, and garage bands working off power generators), it wasn't hard to get pumped for this one. The positive vibes were infectuous, seemingly drawing my aging legs forward. Good running weather -- overcast and low 60s. While the course doesn't show San Diego's better side, it's relatively flat and fast. Visually, the most scenic legs were the 163 freeway stretch through Balboa Park (despite the slanted alignment) and parkway long the canal; the ugliest stretch, unfortunately, was toward the very end (to be expected given airports are generally surrounded by warehouses and industries). It's a very well-run venue, despite the messy logistics of having to park near the airport, catch a bus to the start line in Balboa Park, and at the end, bus from the finish line (at the Marine Depot) back to the parking lot. Notable memories: Most of the running Elvi ran at my pace, thus their presence remains etched in my memory of this one. Heard Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild" played by three different bands along the way. Saw several folks collapse over the last six miles, being resuscitated with oxygen. For me, what was most fun were the wonderfully bubbly and enthusiastic cheerleaders from the area's middle schools -- they were great.
2. May 4, 2003: Humboldt State Park, CA; Avenue of the Giants Marathon. My time: 4:19.14. A fairly flat course, I shaved nearly a half an hour off my previous performance -- progress! Not the best of weather -- lots of rain and some wind, however the canopy of tall redwoods helped moderate both effects. Much larger venue than before, with some 500 marathoners and twice as many half-marathoners and 10-Kers. Said to be one of America's most scenic marathons. The tall trees were nice, though the canyon effects can get monotonous. Still, amazing scenery throughout. To me, the biggest annoyance: a lot of early-birders who got an hour jump on the race, meaning the trail was busy in the middle and toward the end when things normally thin out. Notable memories: The carefree excitement when a thundercloud unleashed loads of rain on us sticks out, though what I'll remember most was Highway 101 southbound was closed because of a mudslide, meaning we (and hundreds of others) had to navigate some 40 miles of narrow, winding one-lane dirt-paths in the inland hills of Mendocino County to get around the landslide, creating more thrills during the ride home than the race itself (plus making for an 8 hour journey home -- ugh!).
Pleasure Pain? The Ave
1. March 22, 2003: San Miguel, CA, San Luis Obispo County, Camp Roberts: Buzz Marathon. My time: 4:47:00. My first marathon was exhilirating. As soon as I crossed the finish line that early (and fairly hot) Spring day, I knew I was hooked. It's 13.1 miles in and 13.1 miles back in the beautiful gently rolling hills of inland San Luis Obispo County. A small, homespun marathon with only around 50 runners -- perfect for a first-timer. Veterans told me this was a tough course, with some fairly steep hills, thus I was pretty happy with my finish. Hell, I came in 3rd in my age group (50-55), a benefit of running a small marathon -- pretty much everyone places. It's a well-run venue -- refreshments/nourishments every 2 miles. The tee-shirt they gave finishers was a joke, currently part of my rag collection. Also, there was no finisher's medal -- only winners received momentos. Still a highly recommended race. Notable memories: Running through a large flock of sheep crossing the road at around mile 16 and being passed by Bradley Army tanks driven by National Guardsmen along the route (Bush and Company had just began the attack on Iraq two days earlier).
Camp Roberts, CA: Just finished my first 26.2 miler