This summer I decided to try my first road marathon. My
introduction to running has been abnormal to say the least. Most
runners start with 5ks then 10ks and maybe a half marathon
(13 miles). Then possibly a marathon (26.2 miles) on a flat course
after a couple of years of training.
My approach was to skip all that normal build up and dove right
into the longer distances. In fact I even bypassed the marathon and
went right into an ultramarathon. My first race was a 50k (32 miles)
trail run that had about 10 times the elevation change of an average
road marathon. A year later I did my first 50 mile race after only
beginning running about a year and three months earlier. I’m not
pointing this out to brag, in fact most running experts and coaches
would consider this approach foolish if not dangerous. On the other hand, I’m not sure if I would have stuck with running if I followed a more traditional path. I really enjoy trail runs because I get out in nature and away from the worries of day to day life.
Although I prefer trail running I was semi-interested in attempting a road marathon. I was thinking of the San Diego Marathon but decided I didn’t want to run with thousands of people and travel so far. More than anything I just couldn’t get excited over any events I looked at. In short they sounded boring. Finally one came along that caught my eye, “Running With the Devil” it was called. Better yet it was being run at Lake Mead National Recreation Area right here in Las Vegas. As I looked into it more the race website set itself apart from other marathons that try to run under cool conditions on flat surfaces so runners can get a personal best. The “Running With the Devil” on the other hand had over 2800’ of elevation change and better yet it was scheduled for the end of June in Las Vegas. Moreover, the race begins at 10 am so most runners will be forced to endure the hottest part of the day. Not most people would look at all this as reasons not to do the race. For me, however, they started to make things sound interesting. I figured why run a boring regular old marathon, let’s spice it up a bit. So I signed up. I was already in pretty good shape from the 50 miler in May. Living in Las Vegas I had run in the heat a fair amount. I felt that it I could handle it as long as I took it slow and kept hydrated. In the couple of weeks before the race I did some training runs in the heat and felt okay. Mentally I just tried to accept the fact that I was going to have to suffer through it.
The last sentence proved to be more true than I had bargained for. Not to say I was taking the race lightly but I had just run twice the distance with almost three times the elevation and under pretty hot conditions. I started to toy with the thoughts of turning in a pretty decent time. The first 10 miles of the race went pretty much along these lines. It wasn’t that hot yet (the hottest part of the day in the desert is late afternoon around 4-5 pm) registering about 100 at the start of the race. From mile 10 to 13, the turn around point, things changed dramatically for me. First, I started to really feel the temperature. It was getting warmer but more importantly the asphalt was getting hot and radiating heat back up. This seemed to have a doubling effect on how hot it felt. Additional a huge downhill at mile 10 led to an even bigger uphill up to the turn around. At the turn around I did the mandatory weigh in (to make sure you don’t lose too much weight) and heading back. My time was around 2 hours 20 minutes which isn’t great but not bad under the conditions. If I could equal that I’d have an okay time. Little did I know what a pipe dream that turned out to be.
Besides the heat I actually felt pretty good. I could run at a pretty good pace on the few flat sections and downhills and keep an okay pace uphill; however, as it got hotter I progressively had to walk more and more because I could feel I was overheating. This is pretty much how the rest of the day went. When I got to the top of the huge hill at mile 17 they had an inflatable pool. It took about 2.4 seconds for me to decide to get in. I was so eager I was half way in before I remembered I should take off my shoes. The folks at the aid station sprayed us with ice cold water out of a garden sprayer. I really didn’t want to get up but I knew I had to get back going.
The last 9 miles were pretty brutal. It pretty much went
like this. I’d pick out a spot in the distance and decide
to run to that spot before walking again. I’d get about
half way there before I gave up and walked. It was
actually a little frustrating. I really wasn’t tired but it was
so hot, about 108 at this point, I could literally feel myself
overheating. Given my slow pace this cycle seemed to
go on forever. I was glad, however, that I recognized
my limitations in running in the heat. I saw several runners
looking really bad and even saw the ambulance going by
a few times.
Finally I reached the finish. I was pretty much glad for it
to be over. A couple of friends met me at the finish line
with a cooler of beer. It took about a half hour before my
stomach settled enough and I could help myself to a well
deserved cold one. I figured I drank about 2.5 gallon of
fluids out on the course but this was still not adequate to rehydrate. My time, 5:40, was pretty dismal for a marathon but not too bad under the conditions. The high for the day at Lake Mead was 112 and it sure felt like it. I think this race will constitute my career for road running. It was pretty boring in my opinion. The constant changing terrain and beautiful scenery of trail running is more for me.