Apache Junction, Arizona, USA
Where's that confounded Dutchman?
First of all, this was an amazing event. The course was beautiful and varied and the support amazing. All the aid stations had both water and GU brew, and there were also GU gel, bananas, and Krispey Kremes broken into bite-size chunks. (I missed the Girl Scout cookies that were reportedly at one station.) The organizers had to scramble at the last minute when a storm blew through on the weekend that's normally clear and sunny. Portaloos were plentiful, and thanks to the full marathon being capped at 600, there were no lines at any of the loos enroute. In addition to the marathon there was a half, 10K, 8K trail run that was moved to the road last minute when the trails turned to mud overnight, and a 2 mile fun run for the kids.
On Saturday I drove out to AJ to pick up my packet at the expo . It was raining off and on with a little wind. The expo was indoors at the AJ multigenerational center and, in keeping with the size of the race, small. I considered picking up a "26.2" sticker but decided I should wait on that till after I'd actually earned it. Since it was a smaller race & expo there was more of an atmosphere for people to stand around an chat than at the PFChang's, and I talked to several locals and some people who'd flown in from out of state. Afterwards I cantinued on to the Gold Canyon Golf Resort, where I'd reserved a "casita". I was a pretty nice place, with a waist-high room divider between the bed & TV area that was perfect for laying out my race clothing and condiments, in order of application, for the morning. The all-you-can-eat pasta buffet was only a few hundred yards walk. I chatted with a few more people there, including one guy doing his hundredth marathon, and a couple from Canada working on the 50 States (because the 8 Provinces is apparently not that impressive), then back to my room for an early night.
Unfortunately I got got bugger-all sleep for a variety of reasons. The pillows were those hard overstuffed kind (I ditched them eventually), the heating system was loud and kept going on and off all night because of the weather, and oh yeah, I had nerves. About every two hours I woke up from a dream where I'd slept through my alarm. So around 4:00 I got up, which gave me plenty of time to dress and have a leisurely Weatbix breakfast before trotting down to the bus at the lobby.
And it was a little yellow school bus, with the kids' names still taped above the seats. Soon a busload of excited, chatty racers chugged off into the misty morning, down 7 miles of rolling forest road to Don's Camp at the foot of the Superstitions. Little duralog fires provided warmth against the chill and a place to swap stories. The moon appeared briefly from behind the clouds. "Remember, if anyone finds the lost gold, we all split it!" one guy said. The sun was starting to rise as we herded ourselves to the start line.
This was a gun start with chip timing, the chips being the new kind attached to your bib. The course starts from Peralta trailhead in the Supersition Wilderness Area, and ends at Prospector Park in Apache Junction (for those of you following along on Google Earth). The first 7 miles were along the rolling dirt road we came in on, through stands of saguaro and cholla cactus, and dodging the occasional puddle in the washes. The Supes wore a misty cloud hat all day. The temps were nice for running, cool and balmy. I was wearing my fair weather outfit with the addition of calf warmers and a windbreaker. I started out a little fast, holding a 10:00 pace, but figured that was OK as this section was net downhill and I could slow down when we levelled out if needed.
Short 1-mile interlude on Highway 60, which had one lane coned off. The highway stretches were pretty desolate, in part because when you're not whizzing by in a car you can see how beat up the road is - one guy running on the shoulder tripped over the buckled asphalt - he was fine, got up and dusted himeself off and I talked to him later.
Right after mile 8 we leave the highway and head into the Gold Canyon area. Lots of nice houses here, more views of the Supes and "Dinosaur Mountain", and southwestern architecture like the Methodist church styled like a Spanish mission. This is where we started seeing the local community groups manning the aid stations - the red hat ladies cheered my rainbow sox! This section of the course was a loop that gradually climbed and went downhill again, and here is where I started having problems with my knee, around mile 12. I've narrowed it down to my right LCL. It's not so much painful, though it does hurt, but what happens is my foot hits the ground and my knee gives out a little and I have to catch myself, and my foot feels like it's flopping around for a second. Walking didn't make it hurt any less, so I kept running, even though it was a slow and limping run, down the hill and back out to Hwy 60 at the 15 mile mark.
I should mention that the weather had been variable all morning. Gloves on and off, windbreaker flapping open and zipped, and the sky increasingly threatening rain. There was a little over a mile of straightaway here and it was the longest distance of my life. Despite a recently-eaten Krispey Kreme, and people in their cars yelling "Go rainbow sox!" and "You can do it!" I was thoroughly angry and frustrated. I wasn't tired, I certainly wasn't breathing hard, but I was basically dragging my gimpy right leg behind me and being passed by the first of the walkers. At that point I was crying and whining to the air "I'm going to finish this @#*$&^ marathon!"
This is where it gets weird. Shortly after 16 miles we leave the highway for the last time and turn into a residential area, where I get two Advil and use a somewhat precarious partaloo. I try to run on the dirt shoulder as much as possible. Sometime over the next couple miles my knee recovers and give me barely a few twinges for the rest of the race. By the time I reach the infamous Hill at Mile 19 - actually a gentle uphill slope - I'm feeling quite chipper and cracking jokes with the volunteers. Another racer and I exchange encouraging words as I pass; he says "Way to pick it up at the end" - and it's true - I'm passing people now, and keep it up till the finish!
AJ has a history of eccentrics, and it's refelcted in the yards & houses I pass. This is where I find the rooftop Canada goose statue that the race video told me to look for!
There are two more straightaways to go. The wind has been blowy for a while, and now it's starting to rain off and on. We few, we tired, we back of the packers trudge on. A glance at my watch tells me I still have a good chance of crossing the finish between 12 and 1, the window I forecast - not that I expect anyone I know to be there, the way the weather's shaping up. The final straightaway is 2 miles, piece of cake, but what's this? A hill up to the overpass to get to the park? I object, and walk that bit. I pick it up on the final approach though, passing an exhausted-looking couple with "Come on! You can shave 2 seconds off your time!" I is raining in earnest now.
I cross the finish line at 5:29:50, and why is that nice volunteer with the umbrella smiling at me? OMG one of my friends did show up!
It's a good thing he was there, because my brain was shot. He helped me pick up my bag and find the food, including the best breakfast burrito I have ever eaten in my whole life. The park was deserted except for the volunteers and finishers crammed under two ramadas. The volunteers from the aid stations were also starting to roll in. I was a little disappointed that I missed some of the photo ops - "The Wall" at mile 24 had blown over by the time I got there, and the prospector and his burro showed they had better sense than me when it comes to getting out of the rain - and my time could have been better if my knee hadn't had "issues". Overall though, I was pleased that I was able to tough it out and finish, and loved the course and the volunteers.
This was my 50th brithday present to myself, and I think I chose well. I got a ride back to the hotel, spent the afternoon stretched out on the couch with an ice pack between my knees, and had a big dinner. I still couldn't sleep for cr@p.
Next year I'm bringing my own pillow.
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Note: This was originally posted in the 1/2 Marathon Trainers Race Results thread.