Yesterday I plunged right into my training regimen for the Dopey Challenge in 2020. You’d think that would have started with my training for this marathon, but for me I was training for the marathon – the completion of the marathon feels like the start of something else.
I chose the Revel Mt. Lemmon Marathon because I thought it would be a good way to start my process of conquering the marathon – to not be afraid of the marathon. It is almost all down-hill and an absolutely gorgeous course. Running 26.2 miles is a psychological challenge for me, so I figured running down hills would make that part easier.
Going into the race, I wasn’t sure that I’d done the training I needed to go. I chose a training plan with long runs based mainly on time, not distance. As a result, my longest training run was just over 15 miles. Also, I chose training routes for safety – and sometimes had to do my long runs on a treadmill due to the scorching desert summer heat. So, I did not train much on hills; I certainly did not train on very many downhills.
But I signed up for the race and followed the plan I chose (mostly). So, I woke up at 3:30am and drove to La Mariposa Resort to grab the shuttle up to the top of Mount Lemmon (Summerhaven). I sat next to a lovely woman from Denver who had a lot of experience in downhill running. She was training with a goal to qualify for Boston in 2020. It was a great way to start off the morning.
Summerhaven was chilly, but we were able to gather inside their visitor center while waiting for the rest of the runners to shuttle up the mountain. There were plenty of clean port-a-potties and even a food truck with coffee, tea, and hot chocolate (if you remembered to bring money with you to buy it). The race organizers also provided water and Powerade before the start. The swag bag included everything you might need, including a Mylar blanket, gloves (useful, but cheap enough to throw away on the course), tabs for leg cramps. I had last minute pep-talks from my husband and running coach friend. Everything a person needs, except I forgot the breakfast I planned for myself on the counter at home. I had to come up with a new strategy because I did not bring any other food with me and didn’t have any money to buy anything at the food truck. I decided to drink more Powerade at the beginning of the race than I originally planned and to use more of the gels distributed at the water stations along the route, getting one everywhere I could and eating them as I needed to along the route.
The race started about 15 minutes late because it took them longer to bring everyone up than they thought. The start of the race was about a 5-minute walk up the hill from the visitor’s center. The course was all on one side of the road, with Sheriff’s deputies ferrying people up and down the mountain on the other side. I was nervous, but thought to myself that I was at the top already – there was a beautiful sunrise – and I might as well run (or walk) down.
The first mile was a smooth, not too steep, climb. It then evened out for another mile of flat running, catching up to an approximately 2-mile steeper climb. I ran the first hill, but chose to walk the 2-mile climb. I was in no hurry and didn’t want to wear myself out so early. My goals for this race were to (1) enjoy myself; (2) finish; (3) take pictures; (4) not want to give up running by the end; and, (5) beat my 5:34 time at Disney World in 2015.
Once I got to the top of the climb, I was ready to run. And I ran so much faster than I thought I could or would. I felt great. I didn’t feel like I was sprinting, but I was running 8:30 to 9:45 miles! I would stop and take pictures. I had to stop twice over the first half to use the bathroom (I guess I successfully hydrated myself on Friday!). But I was still making great time and running sub-10-minute miles. So, the first half felt good.
Somewhere around the half marathon mark, my legs started wondering why I was running a marathon. I had the breath, I had the energy, by my quads and hips started yelling at me. They did not want to respond as quickly as I wanted them to. They wanted to walk (or just stop completely). This was also probably around the time the sun was fully up and the temperature increased. I was grateful for those pep talks in the morning: I could do it; I was strong; never doubt. I was also grateful for perspective on pain. This pain was temporary – I know so many other people who dealt with pain like this on a daily basis with no end in sight. My pain would end and I could continue.
Even still, I started walking more and running less. My mile splits went from sub-10- to 11-, 12-, 13-minute miles. I never considered stopping, but I wondered if I could meet all my goals. I focused first on enjoying myself. This was meant to be fun – I was meant to want to do this again. The scenery helped – the people helped. It was not a crowded course, but just enough people willing to chat about how pretty it was – or how hard a downhill course is (I think one quote was “If anyone tells me again how easy a downhill marathon is, I’m going to punch them in the face.”). One of the Sheriff’s deputies leading cars up the mountain broadcast-ed “You’re amazing, young lady” over his loud speaker as he passed me. (No, I didn’t mind it; Yes, I enjoyed the “young lady”).
I was emotional. I teared up when I got pep talks in the morning before the race. I teared up when the deputy gave me a pep talk. I teared up just running down the mountain in several spots for no apparent reason. I am tearing up now writing this. But I did not tear up as I finished. For the last mile I repeated to myself “You’ve got this.” Out loud, sometimes. I even said it out loud to other women near me, just to prove it true to myself. I ran more than I had in the previous 5 miles and pushed myself to run more as we approached the finish line. I could hear it and that made it real. There were no spectators on the course – the only people we had cheering us on were the people attending to the water stations. But the last quarter of a mile we started to see our people again and they were cheering us on. I think they were. I don’t really remember that now. All I knew is that suddenly I had the energy to pick up the pace and really RUN across the finish line. I finished strong and that made up for all the walking I did in the last half. My legs decided they could do more for me in the last quarter mile, even if they didn’t feel like cooperating in the previous quarter of the race.
And, I accomplished all of my goals: I had fun, I finished, I took a lot of pictures, I want to do it again, and I shaved 36 minutes off my previous marathon time with a final finishing time of 4:58:10.74.
Today, I am sore when I stand or walk. I am hobbling. It takes me a minute to get up to speed. But I feel great. This too will pass and I will run again. Unlike my experience with every other long race, I’m excited to get back to the training. I know what I can do to prepare better: more miles, more squats, real cross training. I’m not sure whether missing the breakfast I’d planned had any impact on my late-race challenges, but I will eat breakfast before my next marathon just to improve my preparedness anyway. Unlike my first marathon, I know I can do this again.
I don’t want my races leading up to the Dopey Challenge to be about time – those need to be about building confidence, building strength and endurance, and continuing to have fun. But for the first time, I can see myself doing more marathons after the Dopey and running those with the goal of improving my time.