Sunday, October 20, 2013

St. George Marathon Race Report (A guest post by Dennis Young)

Permanently Set at 4:55
An exceptional day for racing in southwest Utah as the temperature probably didn't get out of the 60s even at the finish line. It's not always that nice.

It started out quite a bit cooler as we boarded the 5th of  56 buses at 4 AM. The start line was, it seemed, in a different climate zone when they let us out 26.2 miles to the north along State Highway 18 -- wind chill was in the lower 20s, and straight from the north. The pre-dawn scene is surreal. Bright lights casting long shadows on runners as they grab an aluminum Mylar cape from the volunteers and a pair of recycled cotton gloves from the huge stacks on a table. The first couple hundred of us, just off the first buses, ran to the far end of the 50 wood stacks. The silver capes flapping madly in the wind reflecting the red glow of the first cedar fires.  The flames stretch horizontal with the wind and it is, to us, the 'classic' pre-race scene at St George Marathon scene. You won't see this in Boston or New York!  It stays in memory almost as much as the finishing chute and crowds. Almost.

It was an hour and a half before the gun. We huddled around the horizontal fires (avoiding the south end!) and everyone started to talk about races past; the cold, heat, and driving rain. Our tale of the mosquitoes at Little Grand Canyon marathon brought some real, 'Oh my Gods!'  Hot embers were everywhere and both of us soon had holes burned through our poly warm up pants. 

Let's do this.
Then there is the rush of 6,000 to undress from storm gear. We bag it, toss it in the truck then shivering hard we went up the embankment to the road.  Somewhere the national anthem is playing? We guess the gun fires or horn blows? Who knows? The crowd starts surging, then walking, then trotting, then hitting pace. We punch the Garmin and we are off with a, suddenly friendly, wind helping at our backs. A year of training and racing comes to this moment! Let's do it.

We felt great hitting a sub 10:00 pace for 5 of the first 7 miles. Surprised to pass the first 10K pad 2 minutes faster than our goal splits. Mary faster than her 10K PR set 2 years earlier, in a 10K only race, when she was a youngster of 68! We tossed our warm up shirts, purchased at Goodwill the day prior, at the aid station somewhere along here. The sun came in and felt wonderful. The spreading of light over the red rock and desert is beyond description.

We did the 'hill' over the shoulder of Veyo volcano with little trouble. It slowed us as we had predicted and built in, and by the time we ran over the half marathon timing pad we were only 2 minutes behind goal and holding a 10:36 average pace. All good.

We handled the AS stops (they were every odd mile after 3 miles) pretty good just flying through grabbing a glass of Gatorade or water and perhaps an orange slice. Getting a little fast walking in here. We did pretty good on the gels at every 45 minutes or hour as long as we were close to a water break. Maybe not as regular on the gels as the day wore on.
The 13.1-mile mark is a good point. It's half over and you start to feel things tighten up. Any elevation gain is pretty much over except for a few rolling hills but the trend is definitely down. And getting steeper. At 18.6mi (30K) we passed over the last timing chip pad and recorded a 3:20 elapsed time holding a 10:46 pace. We wanted a 10:39 ave pace here but we had some padding in there now because we knew what was coming. The 'marathon' was about to begin for us. Pain? Cramps? Who knows? We still felt pretty good. About 3 minutes off our splits. We kept talking. We are now in the final push. It happens every time.

At about this time I stopped for an 'icy-hot' rub down on my calves. Nice. It took a few seconds. I had no problems like last year at all. Just prevention. Everything was feeling really tight. In the last six miles there are some steep curving descents; it's hear that Mary had some bad cramping start. We rubbed real hard and smoothed them each time. We had swallowed some Advil in prevention a couple of miles back. It seemed to help also. We rubbed out the hamstring cramps several times and after the hills, and the edge of town, we got passed the worst of them. For the most part. Our planned splits in this last section should account for the slow down fine.
Then it was just a block and a mile at a time. We had one, relatively slow, sub-14 mile, but for the most part we were sub-12 pace as planned. Mary's legs were getting 'noodily'. You can work through pain but when parts just give out and legs wobble on their own accord, the brain can try, but commands to legs sometimes just don't make it down there. We grabbed on to each other, sometimes by hand and whole arm but she ran and ran through what was a very courageous last mile. We just had to make sure she didn't fall. She was bound and determined that wouldn't happen! 

The last quarter mile passed extremely slow.  But our pace shows we were still under 12:00! I watched the Garmin on my free arm and knew we had the 5:00 beat!! It was closer to the 4:55 (her Boston Qualifier) goal if we just kept moving. The long finish line chute was amazing with the crowd, three and four deep, waving and yelling at us. Many reached for high fives. It felt like we were walking but we both hit our highest heart rate of the entire race as we passed the chip pad.

There is nothing like that relief.  The finish line crew gathered around. We are OK. We are OK. They put the finishers medal on us and we kept walking knowing the dizzies can flatten you if you don't. Been there before.

Water, ice cream, walking, Portrait photo we can hardly remember. Then over to the grass and very slowly sat down. I checked the charts. Official time. Together. 4:55:16. We got our first sub 5:00 marathon!! By almost 5 minutes. Mary missed her Boston qualifying time by 16 seconds but it was that goal, and breaking 5:00, that got us to 4:55 and the finish line. Thank you Boston Qualifier! We even beat the gun time 5:00 with a 4:58:57. I love it.

In a field of 2,653 women Mary got first place in the 70-74 age group over two other women of that age. It meant a top step in the podium platform with the top male 70-74, Bill Peck a 20-time runner of this marathon. It's Mary's second time at St George and her fifth marathon in 12 months! In the hour since the finish, recovery came fast and she climbed the step handily while the announcer noted that Mary Young, with a 4:55:16, has obviously sent her daughter up to receive her award! Quite a compliment for that champion athlete of 70. My eyes were so wet I could hardly see my camera view finder. She received a nice clock trophy and $150. The hands of that clock will be forever set at 4:55:16.

Trail Option Team-runner Mary Young - #1 Spot on the St. George Podium
I ended with the same time and placed 24 of 39 in my age group, fifteen of which qualified for Boston doing better than a 4:25. Bill Peck, who Mary shared the podium with, finished with a 3:36. Amazing. (Coincidentally we became quick friends with Bill and his wife the evening before the race when we met them at the finish line where they were also getting a final quick, and quiet, look at what we would both be striving for in a few hours.)
The Sub-Fivers

The day before the race at the packet pickup expo at the convention center, Dick Beardsley, gave a memorable keynote speech. Beardsley isn't as well known, outside racing circles, as the man he almost beat in the 1982 Boston Marathon. He and Alberto Salazar fought the famous "Dual in the Sun". It's a good story to hear before a race; even if you are racing against the clock, as we were, instead of another runner. This is in the days before they even had aid stations and fences to keep people out of the road. Strangers had to hand you water. Maybe. Salazar didn't drink any water on a very hot day. Beardsley missed beating him by 2 seconds and Salazar needed 6 IV bottles afterward.

We talked with Beardsley later and he signed our bibs, inscribing his time on them from that day in Boston over 30 years ago.  It is inspiring what he did in those last few seconds. But actually secondary to the trials in the rest of his life. He has told the story hundreds of times since but describing those last few hundred yards seems to takes almost 15 minutes.

Almost as long as it takes you to read about OUR last hundred yards but it helps for us to write about it!

We both have it now as part of our 50@70 year. At a quiet time, far into the future, we both might turn to each other and say, "Remember when we turned that final corner in the '13 St. G......?"  "Oh yes! But also... there was that finish line through the trees at Grand Mesa....and...."

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