July 20, 2009

Race Report: Missoula Marathon

This is a delayed race report. The actual race was run on July 12, 2009; I just suck at getting my race reports out in a timely manner. Stay tuned all this week for me to hopefully catch up!

I was jolted awake this morning to the phone ringing (our wakeup call). That was followed in quick succession by the alarm clock, my cell phone alarm, my laptop alarm, and Donna’s cell phone alarm. We had really covered all our bases! Unfortunately, what I hadn’t covered was the fact that I got really involved in reading Stephenie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn and had only gotten 6 hours of sleep. That on its own wasn’t so bad, but after getting even less than that on Friday night after my birthday debauchery, I just wanted to go back to sleep. Like a little kid convincing her mom that she should skip school, I told Donna that I was going to stay in bed for “just five more minutes,” and that I didn’t expect to fall asleep but to please wake me if I did. However, the dream was done and while I desperately wanted to go back to sleep, my mind was already moving forward with plans for the day, so up I went.

I got ready fairly quickly, not forgetting to take my Immodium. However, I found myself unable to really use the bathroom fully (that’s as far as I’ll go in explanation) – I hoped it wouldn’t mean that I would need to use the bathroom on the course! I contemplated having two mini Larabars instead of my usual one, but decided even if I had screwed up food the day before, it was too late now to make up for it. Stepping outside, Donna declared that it was fairly warm out, but I threw my sweatshirt in my drop bag anyway, just in case. We headed out to the shuttles that would take us to the start, and I was suddenly very glad of my sweatshirt – it was actually fairly cold! On the bus, I was still really tired, so instead of my usual making friends with everyone around me, I closed my eyes and tried to maybe get a little rest (if not sleep).

We piled off the bus at the start and I immediately saw Maniacs everywhere, including my friend Cowboy Jeff. I chatted with him for a while, and he pointed out my old friends McGyver, Jane, and Little Leslie, whom I hadn’t seen since the Portland Marathon last fall. It was great to get to catch up with everyone, and I loved feeling like part of the in-crowd with all the Maniacs around. I had a little water and hit the Portapotties, but again, nothing big happened there. Darn it! Just then, the announcer came on the loudspeaker to tell the pacers to begin gathering.

I headed over to the pacer group to claim my stick-with-balloons that would identify me as the 4:45 pacer. In case you missed that, they also wrote 4:45 in huge black Sharpie across the back of my calves – I got to feel a little like a triathlete with that one šŸ™‚ Finally, all the pacers were given lime green t-shirts to wear to stand out… the only problem there was that they had accidentally been ordered in cotton instead of tech fabric. Oops! The head of the pacers, Dean, apologized for the mistake and told us that we didn’t have to wear the shirts if we didn’t want to. I figured even wearing a cotton t-shirt wouldn’t be 1/10th as bad as I had it two weeks ago when I did Running With the Devil in Vegas (report to come soon! I actually finished it this weekened but just wanted to put this one out first), so I decided to put it on. I also thought that if it really got bad, I could always ditch it at an aid station. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that at all.

So remember how I was talking about having a really good shot at negative splits because I was pacing the first half? Unfortunately, that changed on Friday – the original second half pacer dropped out, and Dean had to scramble to find someone else. The guy he got to fill the slot, Jeff, told Dean that he had to work later that day and therefore could only pace if he did the first half, so that meant I either needed to run the first half fast and then hang out and wait at the halfway point, or just run the entire thing at a 4:45 pace. I opted for the latter, but was definitely disappointed when I met Jeff and he told me that he had gotten his work schedule mixed up and actually could have paced the second half! Oh well – I tried not to be resentful and just go with the flow.

When the gun went off at the start, we took it out slowly. Jeff seemed to be an experienced pacer, though he admitted that he usually did shorter races rather than full marathons. In any case, he was experienced with the 10:53 average pace that we were supposed to hit, whereas that was a bit slow for me so I had to be careful not to go too fast. We agreed that we’d try to bank two minutes for the hill at mile 13, but that other than that, we were going to run even splits. Though we had a bunch of people running around us, it didn’t seem like a cohesive group the way my Vermont City Marathon experience had been – more just people who were happy to run with us and chat, but would take their own pace on a whim instead of sticking with us no matter what.

I was pleased to start jogging, because I had been freezing ever since I gave up my drop bag with my sweatshirt in it. When I started running, it felt quite easy and I wasn’t at all hot. I hoped it would stay like that for the duration of the race. The route was a winding paved road that spent the first nine miles taking us through farmland, a few industrial plants, and generally the middle of nowhere. I had noticed on the plane that Missoula seemed to be a very flat town that was surrounded by mountains, and that proved true on the course as well. The course was almost pancake-flat, but we were treated to beautiful views of mountains all around us. One of the guys running with us was a geology professor, so he told us stories about the land and how it had been formed, pointing out glacial striations up on the mountains and everything. Educational and entertaining!

The aid stations were well put together, with volunteers ready and eager to hand you your choice of either water or Powerade; my only complaint was that the Powerade came after the water. I prefer to have my sports drink first so that I can then rinse my mouth with the water. This logistical isue is something that not a lot of race directors consider, but that I think is one of those little things that shows a lot of care and attention. Still, it’s not like it was that hard to get a cup of water and hold it until after I had already gotten my Powerade! Overall, the race was extremely well-run, and for me to complain about that is me really fishing for some kind of improvements to be made.

Every aid station had a Portapotty, which was a nice touch. I hate when marathons only put Portapotties at a few random aid stations! I wanted to use the bathroom before Jeff left me at the halfway point, so at mile 10 I made my move, passing my balloon stick off to him, sprinting ahead to the Portapotty, and letting him know that I’d catch up shortly. There was a line of two, as there had been at every Portapotty thus far, but I hoped it would move quickly. I considered asking the woman in front of me she would mind letting me go ahead – I would be less than 30 seconds and since I was pacing, I wanted to get back to my group as soon as possible. However, I decided against that option because I didn’t want to come off as a “do you know who I am” person about pacing, and I figured she had just as much of a right not to get slowed down as I did. I hoped she’d be quick. Unfortunately, she took several minutes in there, making me regret my decision to not say anything to her and try to slip ahead. When I finally left the Portapotty, I could just barely make out Jeff and the rest of the group in the distance (told you it was flat!), but I was really concerned that I might never catch them, so I started knocking out 8:00 miles in order to catch up. Amazingly, the speedy 8:00 pace actually felt great to me! It gave me hope that maybe with some training, I can improve on my PR and maybe, just maybe, qualify for Boston someday.

At mile 13, it was the end of Jeff’s pacing duties, and he turned off to catch a ride to the finish line. Wimp! Just kidding šŸ™‚ The rest of us continued on, approaching the one big hill in the course. It turned out to be a bit sustained (maybe 1/3 mile?) but not ridiculously steep. I jogged up the first part and then walked when I was about halfway up – no point in wasting my energy. Some people in my pace group wanted to run the whole thing, others wanted to walk, and one guy wanted to go off into the woods and go to the bathroom, so I just told everyone that I’d make sure that I was right on pace at the next mile marker and to catch me up at the top. I lost a few people with this strategy, but you can’t please everyone! I took my time at the water station at the top of the hill, hoping to pick up some stragglers, but none really showed up, so I kept going.

I was expecting a big downhill after the uphill, but clearly I hadn’t paid enough attention to the course map, because we actually stayed up there for a while before coming down. It was pretty – woodsy and remote, but with a nice paved road to run on instead of a dirt road that could have gotten muddy, like in Hatfield McCoy. The shade from the trees was nice too, though it wasn’t really a hot enough day that I needed to worry about that.

At mile 15.5, we headed down a short but fairly steep hill – we definitely went down much faster than we came up (meaning shorter distance/steeper slope, though of course we ran faster as well). Just before heading down the hill, we passed a gel station, which I thought was very well planned because it gave you a chance to grab and eat the gel before reaching the rest of the aid station with water and Powerade at the bottom of the hill. However, the two flavors of PowerBar gel offered were vanilla and strawberry – I opted for vanilla because I had already had a strawberry gel of my own earlier. Now, I’ve had PowerBar vanilla before and never had a problem with it, but the one I had tasted absolutely awful – it tasted like vanilla yogurt that had gone sour. I sped downhill to the aid station just to get PowerAde to wash the taste out of my mouth – yuck! Has that ever happened to anyone else?

In the next mile, we crossed a bridge over a really pretty brook and were suddenly out of the woods and into the suburbs – neat how there was basically no transition there! The suburban areas reminded me a lot of the Akron Marathon. I have a tendency to compare marathons I’m running to past marathons I’ve run, as well as set expectations for what each race will be like. For example, I thought this race would be very similar to Running With the Horses in Wyoming, but in retrospect, I’d say it was more like a mashup of Hatfield McCoy and Akron.

For the next several miles, I ran with a Marathon Maniac who was planning to stick with me for 4:45, and an older guy who wanted to just stay with me as long as he could. The second guy was breathing a bit heavy, so I was a bit worried about him, but he had been doing that since the very first mile and was still with me at mile 20, so I had long since stopped worrying.

Around mile 23, I took stock of myself and the people around me. I felt really strong – like I could keep going for miles and miles – and realized that the 4:45 pace is a good one for me. I checked in with the people around me, telling them excitedly that we only had about a 5K left to run. One of my favorite parts of being a pacer is those last few miles, when I get to reassure everyone how close they are and that they are TOTALLY going to make it! I started with some mild encouragement from miles 23-24, but at mile 24, I stepped it up by announcing that anyone who was still with me at mile 25 was NOT going to finish behind me, even if it meant I had to push them along in front of me as I ran. The runners around me seemed to like that, and one girl about my age even told me that I was an inspiration – thank you!

Going into mile 25, I still had about 40 seconds banked. I thought that was just about perfect – it meant that I could take my time in the last mile and make sure I got everyone around me in, while not having to worry about a late finish like in Vermont (though I realize you all don’t know about that since I suck at race reporting – someday soon!). As I would come upon people walking, I reminded them that one mile to go was just four quick laps around the track, and that it was not the time for walking but the time for giving it everything you’ve got! (Though I was careful to make sure the people weren’t doing the Galloway Method before I said that). I got a few people to pick up the pace, and those who did actually ended up going in way ahead of me – fabulous.

At mile 26, I did my customary kiss-my-hand-and-then-tap-the-mile-marker-for-luck, and the volunteers cheered for me as a pacer when I passed through. I didn’t really have a group around me anymore – everyone was up ahead – so I focused on running an even pace while turning around and running backwards to encourage those just behind me. The final stretch included a very mild incline to go up and over a bridge, and then a very mild descent into the finish line. At about 26.1, I passed one woman who was walking, but with some encouragement, I got her to start running and pull ahead of me – yay! Now I could only see one other person behind me – a 40ish woman who was also walking, even though we could now see the finish line ahead of us. “Come on!” I yelled. “You can do it! Less than a minute to go! Finish strong!” But no matter what I said, she just shook her head and continued plodding along. It’s always a difficult line between encouraging someone and pushing them past their limits, and I had decided that to be fair in my pacing, I wouldn’t stop in the last bit nor would I go backwards to get someone, so eventually I gave up on her and turned around to jog the last bit in.

As I approached the finish line, I heard the announcer talking about another guy who was walking just ahead of me – it was the mayor, who does the half marathon every year. I passed him easily, and was pleased to hear my name and hometown being announced – woo! The announcer further made me happy by pointing out that as the 4:45 pacer, I was right on time. Sure enough, the official time clock had just crossed 4:45:00, and I was only a few seconds away from the finish. I don’t kick it when I’m pacing, so I continued to jog it in, triumphantly holding my balloons and with a big grin on my face. Just as I was about to cross the finish line, I heard footsteps behind me, and the woman who had been walking now sprintedup so that we crossed the finish line at exactly the same moment. Wonderful! I congratulated her after we crossed, and she thanked me for the final encouragement. In the finish chute, another woman sought me out to thank me, as did the Marathon Maniac I was running with earlier, as did the organizer of all the pacers. Yay! I looked at my watch (set to when I actually crossed the finish, not gun time) and found that I finished in exactly 4:44:50. I was so proud!

The race went so well and I was so happy with the organization… until the finish. Sadly, the food left a bit to be desired. There was macaroni salad, popsicles, bagels, and snack mix, which I suppose wasn’t an awful assortment, but after a marathon I either want something super healthy (fresh fruit) or super delicious and decadent (pizza, baked goods, beer, etc). I had a few bites of macaroni salad, eschewed the rest, and quickly picked up my bag and headed back to my hotel to get ready to go to the airport. I figured I’d save my calories for a nice local brew there… but sadly, no beer at the airport! What a bummer. With the first leg of my flight a bit delayed, I had almost no layover in Chicago in which to grab food either, so my only post-marathon refreshment until 11 PM was two apples and a low-fat string cheese. Healthy, but probably not as nourshing/repairing as it should be. Fortunately, when I got back, Boyfriend took me out for some pints and chicken wings. Now that’s what I’m talking about!

Overall, I thought this was a lovely race and I was really glad I got to do it on my birthday weekend. I had a blast pacing, and while I probably won’t go back to do it again, it makes a great summer race that’s nice and easy without being hot or hilly, all in a town that really shows its support for the runners and the race.

Race stats:
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 4:44:50
Pace: 10:52
Overall place: 402/582
Gender place: 156/252
Age group place: 19/26


15 thoughts on “Race Report: Missoula Marathon”

  1. Awesome report. In the first marathon I ever ran, I was probably like that lady who you yelled encouragement to. Thing is, I couldnt run at all and couldnt catch up. So exciting to be a pacer.

  2. What a great report. Congrats on being a fantastic pacer. Did you ever do a Lincoln race report. Come on, we had STRAWS! :o)

    (Oh and yes, I had the vanilla GU one time, and it tasted like bad bad bad frosting. Never again!)

  3. Great job pacing! I noticed that you don’t have Arizona crossed off on your list yet. I’m hoping to run a 4:45 PR at the PF Chang Rock and Roll Arizona marathon in January. Any chance of seeing you there as a pacer?

  4. You are an excellent pacer! Too bad you’ve already done California – I want you with me when I do my first marathon in December! You sure you don’t want to do CIM???

  5. Great report and so inspiring! I really admire you for being a pacer!!!

    Kudos to boyfriend for hooking you up when you got home! You can never go wrong with beer and wings… makes me want to go listen to some Ludacris now! LOL!

  6. Awesome report! I think we have all been or felt like that one woman at some point in our running careers! Always great to have so much support from our fellow runners!

    Great job!

    Just started following your blog! Thanks!

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