July 29, 2009

Race Report: Running With the Devil

This is a delayed race report. The actual race was run on June 27, 2009; I just suck at getting my race reports out in a timely manner.

We finally got to McCarran Airport in Vegas around 1:30 AM, with a 30 minute drive to the hotel still ahead of us. Under normal circumstances, I would have been panicked, but I reasoned that the marathon didn’t start till 10 AM, so I was fine. However, I neglected to take into account the fact that my Mapquested directions were from the airport – not from the rental car location several miles away. I set off driving in what I thought was the right direction, figuring that since we were supposed to get on a big highway soon, I’d find it quickly, but it turns out that Vegas is full of big highways, and none of them was the one I wanted! Boyfriend whipped out his iPhone (rather triumphantly, I might add – he loves that thing) and we were on our way. The problem was that his iPhone couldn’t find the exact location of the hotel, just the approximate area, but I figured that once we hit 93 we could follow the Mapquest directions from there.

I thought wrong. We went back and forth through the town of Boulder City as the iPhone first would tell us we had passed the hotel, and then that we hadn’t gone far enough. I was on my third pass through the town when all of a sudden I heard a siren behind me and saw flashing police lights. Seriously? Yes, I had been pulled over for going 42 in a 35, on a deserted road at 2 AM. I tried to stay calm, and was exceedingly polite to the officer as I tried to garner sympathy by telling him that we had just gotten in on a very late flight and were just trying to find our hotel so we could go to bed. I prayed he wouldn’t Breathalyze me. I whispered this to Boyfriend while the officer ran my license through the system, and he told me that I was 100% fine but to shut up about it in case the officer heard. I should add that all this worry was not because I was remotely drunk or even tipsy (believe me, I would not be driving if I were), but I had no idea what would show up on a test, as I had been drinking several hours earlier – I’m just not one to take chances. Fortunately, I got lucky on both counts: there was no breathalyzer, and the officer returned my license to me without a ticket and with instructions to take a left at the second light and then the hotel was a few miles away. Sweet!

We arrived at the Hacienda Hotel and Casino to see a charming sign in the parking lot that warned, “Heat can kill pets and children” – presumably meant to discourage people from leaving their kids and pets in the car. For some reason, Boyfriend and I found that hilarious – I guess just that people would need to be reminded of that basic fact. We trooped in through the nearest door to the parking lot, and I found myself in my very first casino. This was an older one (though perfectly clean), and my first instinct was that it reminded me very much of the 80s-era bowling alley I had frequented in Albany throughout my childhood. What intrigued me more than the slots, though, were all the signs for $4.95 steaks and 99 cent shrimp cocktails. I’m a sucker for a good deal, and I love to eat (even crap like I’m sure a $4.95 steak would be) – while Boyfriend was bummed we hadn’t gotten there early enough to play the games in the casino, I was mourning missing out on the cheap food. (In retrospect, probably a good thing I didn’t get to try these delicacies: the race was hard enough without some poor quality steak and shrimp in my stomach).

We stopped at the front desk to check in. One of my Marathon Maniac friends had done packet pickup for me and also bought an insulated water bottle at the expo for me (we were required by the race organizer to carry one, and I didn’t already have one), and he had left the bag waiting for me at the desk with my key – great. Heading up to our room, I barely wanted to take the time to even organize our stuff and lay out my racing gear, but I plugged my iPod and Garmin in to charge, and then quickly set two alarms and went to sleep.

I was very glad I had set two alarms (phone alarm and hotel wakeup call), because it turned out that in my tired haze, I hadn’t turned my phone off vibrate, and it never would have woken me up on its own. Instead, I woke up to the hotel phone, and Boyfriend and I got ourselves ready to go by 9:00 AM. I didn’t feel like I was in top form, and I was definitely dehydrated from all the beer the night before, but I guzzled a lot of water and didn’t feel like it would be too bad.

After checking out, we headed back through the casino to our car, where I worried about looking ridiculous in my crazy heat racing outfit. Turns out I needn’t have worried: 95% of the people there were over the age of 60, and the other 5% were runners dressed just like me. No one to judge! Great. One guy remarked in passing that he had already been to the start (just two miles away), and that there was no one there so he was just going to hang out at the casino and play until closer to start time. That sounded like a good plan to me, so Boyfriend decided that it was time to pop my casino cherry by getting in some slot machine action (that sentence has way too many words in it for what a clean meaning it actually has). We quickly lost the $10 we played with, and headed out.

Walking to the car, my first reaction was, “oh, this heat isn’t bad at all!” Boyfriend wryly pointed out that I was still blocked from direct sun by the building, and that I should wait until I was in the sun to decide. I walked a few feet more, right into the direct sunlight, and declared it “warm, but still totally fine for running – this isn’t going to be hard at all!” Famous last words…

The start was on the special events beach of Lake Mead, and we parked in the lot to find a huge tent set up to shield the runners while they waited for the race start. I weighed in, as per race rules, and my weight was recorded to be sent to the halfway point and finish of the race for comparison. Right after weighing in, I decided to hit the bathroom one last time (especially after all the water that morning) – I realized a few hours later that I probably should have weighed in after going to the bathroom, but I figured I’d just do my own subtraction of a pound or so to make sure I was safe. I was pleased that there was a regular bathroom in a building instead of a portapotty, but my excitement was shortlived when I discovered that it was basically a room with several toilets in it – no stall doors. There was a mother and young girl in there when I went in (not associated with the race), and they both seemed rather embarrassed to have it all be so public. I shrugged it off (hey, at Disney I peed in the woods just a few yards away from thousands of people), quickly did my business, and headed back to the tent.

Around me, runners were making their final preparations. Everyone else seemed very experienced, and I tried to pretend like I knew what I was doing too, but the truth was, I had no idea how to tie an ice bandana or whether to fill my water bottle with ice, water, Heed, or some combination of the three. Fortunately, the race director, Joyce, came on the mic to announce the right way of doing things (fill your bottle with as much ice as possible, then when you can’t possibly cram any more ice in, top it off with your drink of choice. I followed this advice to a T, but when she advised that we douse ourselves in cold water, I ignored that. I didn’t care what the experts said about running in heat: I had no interest in running in soaking wet clothes. I figured if I was wrong, I could always dump water on me at one of the aid stations, which were every 3 miles. I thought every 3 miles was a little further apart than most marathons (I’m used to every mile or two, and while I prefer every mile just in case, I usually only take aid every other mile), but figured that I could always go 30 minutes between water stations, particularly if I had my water bottle in hand. Again, famous last words.

Everyone was wearing white clothing, so I had no way of knowing who was a Maniac and who was not (though let’s face it, maybe not everyone was an official Marathon Maniac, but we were all pretty maniacal to be doing what we were doing). However, I did run into my friend and fellow Maniac Andrew, whom I had met last full at the Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa. Andrew is one of the few Maniacs who’s close to my own age, and he told me that he had decided last minute to drive up from Texas in order to do this one. Nice! In Tulsa, we had run together until a little after the halfway point, so I assumed we’d do the same that day, and I looked forward to catching up.

Soon it was time to go, and I gave Boyfriend a big kiss goodbye. Because there were gels at every aid station, I had decided to forego my fuel belt (it always makes me a little hot, and I didn’t want the extra heat/weight); instead, I went the old-school route of sticking my cell phone in between my sports bra and built-in bra of my racing tank, and told Boyfriend that we’d stay in touch throughout the race. I told him I expected to finish around 3 PM (5 hours), but that he should be ready to come back to the finish as early as 2 PM (4 hours) if I was having a good day. HA. Those estimates became hilarious later in the race.

The gun went off, and we started on a short uphill that gave me my first taste of just how much this race was going to suck. I knew the hill was short and not steep, and I knew it wasn’t that hot yet (at least, not as hot as it was going to get), and yet I was already annoyed at the people around me who were trying to engage me in conversation – I just wanted to be left alone so I could focus on running. Not a good sign from the normal social butterfly runner!

By one mile into the race, I was sweating, and by two miles, I was ready to call it quits. Sounds dramatic, but I really meant it – not because it was impossible (yet), but because I already felt kind of tired and my legs were like lead – kind of like they usually are around mile 21/22, but I was still at the beginning! The heat wasn’t killing me yet, but it was bugging me enough that I couldn’t really run that fast, and I figured it would only get worse as the deay went on. I called Boyfriend for a pick-me-up, and he was super encouraging. He told me that I could do it, and that he was “there for me.” Awww! With that thought in mind, I pushed forward, reaching the 3.1 mile aid station about 30 minutes in. Okay, not my usually fast-out-of-the-gates pace, but if I could keep up a ten minute pace, I’d be done in about 4:30 and ready to hit the beach and the casinos. Works for me!

The first aid station tent offered way more than almost any aid station I had ever been to, and the girls who staffed it (all wearing Ironman t-shirts and clearly well-versed in how to run a fantastic aid station) were really sweet. Unlike the typical grab-a-cup-and-run approach I normally take with aid stations, I stopped to enjoy the shade for a bit before continuing. I opted to fill my water bottle, grab a cup of water and orange slice, and was out of there in about 5 minutes. I contemplated taking half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which looked delicious, but I figured it was too early in the race to be eating food that heavy, and when they told me that every aid station was supposed to have the same stuff, I planned to just grab one later. (As the race wore on, the idea of eating something like peanut butter that would just make me thirsty became a terrible idea, and I never did get my PB&J).

At the aid station, the stop caused me to bump into several people running at about my pace, and we encouraged each other a bit as we left the station and fanned out at slightly different paces. I met one guy for whom Running With the Devil is his first marathon of all time, and my only reaction to that was, “and people say I’m crazy?” Later in the race, I met another first timer, and… wow. Those guys are ridiculously bold. RWTD was my 20th marathon, and it seemed like most of the participants had either done a ton of marathons, or were Ironmen (in Kona, no less), or something like that. I wished the virgins luck, and expressed my admiration for taking on such an intense challenge for their first one.

After leaving the aid station, I felt a thousand times better and totally refreshed. Just standing in the shade for 5 minutes helped so much, though I wasn’t entirely sure why. The aid station was pretty much just as hot as the course, but somehow it felt great just not to have the sun beating down on me for a few minutes. I picked it up to a decent run, and gained some great speed on a nice downhill section that appeared about 1/2 mile from the aid station. My spirits started to lift: maybe I could do this! If the aid stations were every 3 miles, I could just run the first two miles, then walk the third when I started to get tired, and then I’d be at an aid station to recharge and rejuvenate and start the cycle all over. Piece of cake!

Until mile 4. Just one mile past the aid station, and I had already lost all the energy I had regained. I went through some very small rolling hills (not even hills so much as just not totally flat ground), and I tried to make it a point to run whenever it was flat or even slightly downhill (as opposed to the slight uphills, when I allowed myself to walk). Okay, that’s all right. So I would switch to a plan of running 1 mile and then walking 2. If I could do a 9 minute paced when running and a 15 min pace when walking, that would still average out to a 13 minute pace, which I considered acceptable as long as it was sustainable, which I thought it would be.

The next aid station was a little more disorganized than the first. There were only two volunteers instead of a whole team, and while they were extremely friendly, they weren’t quite as on top of what a runner might need. Still, I had planned to stop for a few minutes anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal to fill my own waterbottle and get food. This aid station did have the advantage of having a kiddie pool filled with ice water – nice touch! Again, I was too prissy to get myself wet, but I figured I could take advantage on the way back if I were really in trouble.

Pushing on, I discovered that the rejuvenation factor of this water station was less than the last one. I tried not to think about it, knowing that attitude was everything, and just hoped that it had been the low energy of the volunteers instead of the (much more plausible) fact that I had been out in the heat longer and probably wouldn’t be recovering as quickly as before. So miles 6-9 were about the same as 3-6, with the exception that I started out less refreshed and had to walk much sooner. To take my mind off it, I focused on the beautiful landscape in front of me. I could see the beautifully blue Lake Mead to my right, and all around me were big brown and orange mountains. Boyfriend’s mom has long been obsessed with the desert, and is moving out to Scottsdale this fall. Neither of us have really quite understood her desert fascination, but during this race, I got it. It’s not an oceanside beach in Florida where I lived for a summer, and it’s not the snow-covered pine trees in the Adirondack Mountains where my family has a vacation home, and I’m not clamoring to pack up and move out to the desert like Boyfriend’s mom… but the desert did have its own beauty that I enjoyed visiting. Though it was hot, I wasn’t hurting too badly (yet), and it was from miles 6-11 that I really appreciated the scenery.

After the mile 9 aid station, we had a nice long downhill on which I picked up some speed. People around me murmured words of encouragement (“wow, way to go, Speedy!”) as I passed them, but I shrugged off the praise, pointing out that they would probably be passing me as soon as we came to the next uphill. Like Hatfield McCoy, I was using the downhills to just concentrate on my running form (lean forward and look down, allowing your body weight to help you fall into a faster gait – all tips I learned from the Albany Running Exchange’s trail camp last summer) and not waste energy trying to either speed up or slow down. Within a mile, we reached the bottom of the valley and started a big ascent, at the top of which I was told was the mile 11.5 aid station. Walking up the hill, I concentrated on trying to keep a good pace even while walking. Heck, when I did Run With the Horses last August, I managed to keep a 12.5 min/mile pace up while walking with a bum knee at altitude! Unfortunately, the heat just sapped my energy, and I found it tough enough to keep a 14 minute pace. Whatever – my goal was to finish, and I was almost to the halfway point. I knew once I reached the turnaround, my mental stamina would get a lot stronger. It’s easy to quit when you haven’t gotten that far yet, but once I reached the turnaround, I wouldn’t have anymore “out” to do and would have to get “back” anyway – so it might as well be on my own two feet as a finisher than in some sort of sag wagon. Or ambulance, for that matter – I had seen a bunch of them go screaming by me on the course, and I hoped that all my fellow runners were okay.

Somewhere around mile 10, the lead runners were passing me on their way back to the finish. I cheered them on with as much strength as I could muster – usually just a short “woo” or a bit of applause. As the race went on, I continued to make it a point to encourage every person who passed, but it eventually turned into a rather feeble thumbs up in their general direction – my energy was just too far gone for anything more.

The mile 11.5 aid station was great – the guys running it were just really positive, energetic, and encouraging. This station also had apple pie flavored gels (most of the others had raspberry), which I decided to try. Having sat out in the heat for several hours, the gels were pretty hot, and I actually liked them better like that – they tasted like eating actual apple pie filling from a pie just out of the oven 🙂 I took a bit longer at this station, having less and less desire to leave the shade and keep going, but the promise of a very short distance to the turnaround/next aid station (1.5 miles) finally got me going.

Andrew passed me going the other direction just after the aid station, and for him, I choked out a quick “good job.” A few steps later, I heard someone sprinting up behind me, and I turned to encourage this brave (if not foolhardy) runner – when I saw that he was sprinting toward me, and holding not just one but two waterbottles. I had left mine behind at the aid station when I headed out! Wow, I felt so fortunate that he was such a nice guy. I would have broken down and cried a few minutes later when I wanted a drink and didn’t have my bottle. To be without a water bottle in those conditions was pure suicide, and I was so grateful to the runner for expending his own precious energy to get it to me.

As we drew closer and closer to the turnaround, the road flattened out, and I decided to make a real effort to run instead of walking and then halfheartedly running from time to time. The flat land brought a few breezes, but I should clarify that when I say breeze, it was just as likely to be hot air as cool. It was definitely odd, and I couldn’t quite figure out why it was that one minute I’d get a nice breeze that would cool me down, and the next I would get a “breeze” (for lack of a better word) that was actually hotter than the air around me, and felt like getting blasted with a blowdryer. As far as I could tell, there wasn’t anything to cause these disparate winds. Anyone a weatherman or desert expert and can tell me what this was?

I could see the turnaround from about 1/2 mile away, which was great – it gave me extra motivation to try to keep the jogging pace up instead of taking a walk break. Nearing the aid station, I prepared to stop, but the volunteers called out to “leave your bottle and we’ll fill it while you keep going to the turnaround!” The turnaround was actually a few hundred feet further – it was definitely a great system for those who wanted their aid station stops to be as short as possible. However, that did not apply to me, and I took the opportunity to lounge around in a chair under the tent for a while. From here on out, each aid station stop was longer than the last, as I found less and less reason to leave the comfortable shade and head back out into the baking sun.

Before leaving the aid station, I had to weigh in to be sure I was not too dehydrated. My weight? Even before subtracting a pound or so from peeing after weighing in, I was 5 pounds up from where I had started. Yikes! The volunteers warned me that I was overhydrating, and really ought to rely on external cooling techniques more heavily. I’ll take this opportunity to explain that “external cooling techniques” meant things like the ice bandana I had tied around my neck and was replenishing at each aid station. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t keeping me cool enough. I truly felt the need to keep taking sips of my drink, and it wasn’t even just for cooling purposes – my mouth was exceedingly dry. The volunteers suggested that I maybe start swishing my mouth with water and spitting it out instead of actually ingesting it. Good suggestion, but my thinking was that if I hadn’t needed to stop to use the bathroom, I probably wasn’t overhydrated. Either way, my overhydration wasn’t as much a concern as dehydration, so the volunteers let me go with just a warning to try to ease up.

Call me a hypochondriac, but once the suggestion was put into my head that I was drinking too much, I found that I had a slight stomachache and felt very full. With only 1.5 miles back to that last aid station, I decided to try to drink less than before (if I had the urge to take a drink, I’d hold off until I was absolutely positive I needed it). However, by the time I reached the top of the peak where the aid station was located, I decided that strategy was crap. I was super thirsty, and not drinking water was clearly not the solution. I treated myself to a nice ten minute break at the aid station to make up for it.
I had fun relaxing at the station with the other runners, all of whom were just as wiped as I was and taking just as long. Part of me felt guilty to take so long at each aid station (I’m sure I could have pushed myself to leave faster), but I was just so relieved to be out of the energy-sucking sun that I didn’t care.

Leaving that aid station, I headed out with another runner, and we decided we’d start out running, since the course was downhill at that point anyway. We got some good speed going… and then the breeze I created for myself by running downhill caused my hat to fly off backwards! Terrified to be without my sun protection, I made my way back up the hill to retrieve it, while Paul waited for me. It may have been only 10 feet or so, but it felt like forever because it was uphill and I was so drained. We continued running the rest of the way down the hill to the bottom of the valley, but our momentum was gone and we just didn’t have the speed we had originally had. And unfortunately, what went down had to then go up. We had about a full mile of uphill, and I quickly told Paul to go on ahead – not even because I was feeling generous, but because I didn’t want to have the added pressure to keep up a conversation when I was so exhausted.

The hill may have been a mild incline, but it was almost a full mile long, and in that heat, it was the worst. When I finally reached the top, there was still no aid station, and I knew I had another 1.5 miles to go. At first, the hill crest made me feel better – the worst was over, and now there was mostly flat and downhill to the next aid station. However, the hill had really killed my energy, and I needed to get some shade in order to keep goign. I tried to just keep pushing forward, and even managed to get a little jog going on the downhill (my legs weren’t sore or anything, and I didn’t think I had blisters – I was just hot and exhausted). Nearing 2.8 miles past the last aid station, I tried to convince myself that shade was up ahead… and then I saw a huge hill looming up ahead of me, with no aid station anywhere in sight.

That hill was the worst hill of the whole day, and even now when I think back on the race, it’s the part that really sticks in my mind. I was al lalone, though if I looked ahead and behind me about 2/10 mile, I could see a runner or two in either direction. I just didn’t know if I could physically make it up the hill. I started crying, wishing I had quit the race at the very beginning, but had to be careful not to actually shed tears – that was precious water in my system that I couldn’t afford to waste. A few cars drove by, and I was glad my tortured eyes were hidden behind my sunglasses so they didn’t know something was wrong. I have to admit, me continuing to push forward wasn’t so much caused by my mental strength, but more by the fact that I had no other options. There were no trees or any structures that would provide shade even if I went off the course, and while I half-considered just lying down on the side of the road to take a nap, it wasn’t a real possibility because I knew the ground would be burning hot and the sun would continue beating down on me anyway. The only options were to flag a car down or keep going.

After all the crap I gave Dane Patterson for catching a ride in his Arizona marathon, I knew that flagging someone down wasn’t an option unless I was going to quit. Though, I must admit that it occurred to me that if his Arizona Desert Classic marathon was anything like the Mojave Desert I was running through, I understood why he got that ride – despite my integrity and despite knowing I’d have to report back to all of you, it was a sadly tempting option. I tried calling Boyfriend for encouragement, but he wasn’t answering his phone (I later learned he had run out of batteries and didn’t have his charger with him), so there was nothing left to do but keep trying to put one foot in front of the other. Looking up, it seemed that one foot in front of the other would never get me to the top, but finally it did, and then, about 1/4 mile away, I could finally see the aid tent on the horizon.

I tried to calm my sniveling tears as I approached the aid station. I knew I’d feel a thousand times better as soon as I got shade, ice, and water, and I didn’t want them to think I was delirious or deranged from the heat and pull me from the race. Arriving at that station, I barely said a word, because it was too exhausting to muster the energy to speak. Instead, I put my water bottle to be filled on the table next to the ice, and settled into one of the camp chairs that was in the shade. As luck would have it, while the volunteers at every other aid station were totally awesome, the volunteers at this particular aid station kind of sucked. At the other stations, they would proactively try to gety ou whatever you needed; at this one, they barely paid any attention to me. One of the volunteers had a carful of kids with her, and she was trying to get them to stop shrieking and yelling in the car by placating them with water to cool them off. As I had already learned at the hotel, “heat kills kids”, so I didn’t understand why she had brought them with her to the race just to sit in the presumably hot car. I requested a glass of water and some ice, and it took me four tries before someone finally helped me with that. I wasn’t entirely sure how to feel about this. On the one hand, I was grateful that the volunteers had given up their day to sit in a tent and cater to the hot and smelly lunatics like me who had decided to undertake this endeavor. But, on the other hand, once committed to the task, I expected them to fulfill our need for aid, which at this particular station was even more dire than at others. As I sat and eventually started chatting with the other runners, they too talked about what a tough time they had getting to this aid station because it was further than it ought to have been.

It took me about 20 minutes, but I finally managed to get going and head to the next aid station. This one was much closer, something like 1.7 miles down the road, and it begged the question of why on earth they had put the last aid station where it was. Why not move it further out, evening out the distances between the stations? No matter. This aid station stood in sharp contrast to the last one, being so close and having wonderful volunteers. There was a woman who was a runner herself (and apparently a pretty good one at that, as she had recently qualified for Boston), and while she had kids, they were helping the runners and were eagerly running around to fill waterbottles and provide ice! Amazing. We watched an ambulance go by as we sat there, and the volunteer muttered something about “oh no, not another one.” Turned out that earlier at their station, a woman had had trouble breathing and the volunteer had actually given the woman her daughter’s inhaler in order to help – but that the woman had actually been taken away in an ambulance because eventually she stopped breathing! I couldn’t believe it, especially when the volunteer said that there had been other runners pulled from the course to get taken to the hospital as well, though not from her station so she didn’t know the circumstances. This race was serious business! I was thankful that I was still doing okay so far.

I didn’t stay at this aid station as long as at the last one, but I still stayed for a good chunk of time. I was reassured by the fact that there were only two more legs of running and one more aid station to go, and then I would finally be at the finish! I missed Boyfriend terribly, and wanted to just have him give me a big hug and make me feel better. Okay, maybe not give me a huge, given my sweaty and absolutely disgusting condition, but I wanted him to reassure me. I left the aid station and immediately pulled out my phone to call Boyfriend. He didn’t answer his phone, though, so I left him a message telling him that it was about 4 PM and I was about an hour away from the finish line.

I vowed to push myself hard in order to make that deadline, and actually managed to pick the pace up to a trot. I knew that there was only one more aid station to go, and it was easier to push myself when I knew the end was (figuratively) in sight. I thought I recognized some of the terrain as I slogged along, and I tried to remember what was ahead in order to tick off the landmarks as I ran, but honestly, the desert and the road all looked pretty much the same: just one long line of asphalt shimmering in the heat, mountains and dirt and cacti to either side, and a brilliantly blue lake beckoning me far off to the left. Fortunately, I was too exhausted to even contemplate the extra steps it might take me to leave the road and try to cool off in the lake – just too much extra effort.

I reached the final aid station and looked for the friendly female triathletes who had been there for the first time, but they were replaced by another group of volunteers – made sense that they wouldn’t necessarily want to sign on for a full 12 hour shift of sitting in a tent in the heat. My stop at this aid station was shorter than any in the last 15 miles – I just wanted to get going to the finish, and it was getting so close. Looking at my watch, I realized that I was approaching the 7 hour mark, and I made it my goal to finish before that hit – an ambitious but doable goal.

I left the aid station just behind a young woman who was doing the 50 mile ultra – incredible. I was especially impressed that she was wearing just a pair of average gym shorts and a cotton short sleeved t-shirt. No hat, no ice bandana, just hardcore. We went back and forth with each other for the next mile or two, one passing the other, until finally she pulled ahead on an uphill and I let her go.

I tried calling Boyfriend again, surprised that he hadn’t yet returned my call, but he still wasn’t answering. At this point, all the tensions of the day took over, and I just wanted to hear his voice. I started frantically calling him over and over again, not leaving messages but trying to steel myself not to scream at him when I finally did reach him. Where was he?! Boyfriend has a really bad habit of putting his phone on vibrate and then either falling asleep or getting so engrossed in whatever he’s doing that he doesn’t notice his phone… but that explanation didn’t really make sense in this case. He knew how much I was struggling, and he had been so amazing about calling me throughout the early miles. Plus, he was just as eager as I was for me to finish so we could both hit the casinos. It didn’t make sense at all, and I was getting myself more and more worked up by the moment. I wanted him to see me finish, darn it! I had been running (okay, walking) all day long, and I wanted him to watch me cross the finish line and be proud of me and my efforts. I kept calling and calling, with each call vowing to myself that it was the last one and I was done, and I would put my phone away and then pull it out to try one more time just in case by some miracle he finally noticed the buzzing phone and answered. I put my iPod onto my “Boyfriend” playlist of songs that either he likes or that make me think of him and make me happy, but I kept interrupting the music to cry out angrily, “answer your phone, please please please, where are you where are you where ARE you?!?!” I was glad the race was so spread out and that there were no runners around me. I started scanning the roads for any sign of our rental car, hoping that maybe I might see him driving to the finish line, but all the red cars I saw weren’t him.

I plodded up the final hill, this time not trying to push it but to take my time in case it would give him time to get there. But when I got to the 26 mile mark, I realized it was too late – he wouldn’t be there. He was going to miss the big finish of the toughest race of my life. I reached the crest of the hill, at which point it was just down a short hill and I’d be done, done with this hellish race and ready to just cool off and go. Spectators were very sparse, and as I ran the final few yards to the finish, people barely seemed to notice that I was finishing – there was no applause, not even a single solitary clap, and when I crossed the finish line, the only fanfare was from two guys pausing their conversation to say, “oh hang on, I’ll cut your chip and give you your medal.” Really? 26.2 miles and 7 hours through the Mojave Desert and that’s all I get? I sat in one of the two folding chairs just across the finish line, and another disinterested volunteer handed me a wet towel, which I accepted and put around my neck. I hunched over, trying to think what to do. How would I get in touch with Boyfriend and leave if he wasn’t answering his phone? Would I just have to sit there until he finally woke up and came to the park?

And then there was Boyfriend, walking toward me with a huge smile on his face and a big bottle of water in his hand. “Baby!” he cried. “You did it!!!” He came over to give me a big kiss and even tried for a hug, which I pushed away because I didn’t want to get him as disgusting as I was. I made it a point to not yell athm, but to let him explain, and it turned out there was an explanation, and a really sweet one at that. Last night, when we got to the hotel, his iPhone was dying and he had forgotten his charger. Instead of taking my iPod charger, because he knew I would want my iPod fully charged for the race, he left my iPod to charge while we slept and didn’t charge his phone until the morning – meaning it only got about 45 minutes of charge before we left. Midafternoon, his iPhone died, and he had no way to charge it, so he left what he was doing and headed to the finish line two hours early to sit there and wait for me. He didn’t want to miss me, so he spent the last hour in his car and just staring at the finish line, thinking good thoughts. That was even sweeter than if I had been able to reach him and tell him when I was going to finish! Furthermore, when I got to the car, I discovered that there was a whole gift bag of little presents he had picked up for me to make me feel special: a water gun, a big water bottle, two small bottles of champagne and a pink koozie for one that had some pithy saying about how I’m a hot girlfriend, a protein shake, a beautiful card telling me how special I am, some sparklers to light on the beach, and last but not least, a gift certificate to Niketown. How sweet is that?! I had never been more touched in my life – he thought of doing all that on his own, even when I had dragged him tantalizingly close to Vegas and then was dleaying our visit to the casinos. And he had taken time out of his day to go shopping and find all that personalized stuff!

I spent the entire car ride back to Vegas gushing about how amazing he was, and calling my friends and family to tell them as well. We did make it to the Strip and to the casinos (my first time ever at a casino), and while I won some money and then lost it, Boyfriend managed to win about $200 – nicely done. Boyfriend wasn’t thrilled that he hadn’t gotten as much time as he liked at the casino (in fact, he was pretty pissed), but he made sure to keep being sweet to me and making it clear that it was not my fault; it was just disappointing. We made it back to the airport just in the nick time for our flight and fell asleep the second our heads hit the seats; fortunately, we managed to sit together this time. I promised him that we would definitely go on another Vegas trip soon – this time with no silly death-defying race to keep us from the casinos.

Race stats:
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 7:02:51
Pace: 16:08
Overall place: 39/45
Gender place: 6/8
Age group place: 2/2


11 thoughts on “Race Report: Running With the Devil”

  1. OMG That is one crazy race and you are one tough girl! i cant imagine going through that and finishing! Reading this reminded me of when I read Dean karnasas’ book! Great job!

  2. Wow! You are a rockstar! I had read some of the race reports on the RWTD web page and knew you were in for some serious conditions – but you knocked it out! Great job!

  3. Wow! Just, wow! You’re crazy, girl! I can’t even imagine doing something like that – I HATE running in the heat!! What’s next, a marathon in below zero temperatures?? 😛

    Great job for finishing though, that is quite the accomplishment!

    I had the same problem with my bf in my first half. I was calling and calling because I needed a pick-me-up and about 4 miles from the finish there he was on the side of the road. I didn’t know whether to hit him or hug him! Haha. Super sweet that boyfriend had all those litte treats for you afterwards!!

  4. I really enjoyed this race report! That took a lot of mental toughness to get through it. I’m impressed.

    Btw, I used to work in the casino industry and sadly, we had a child die in a car on one of my properties. It was HORRIBLE. I was pregnant with my daughter and it hit me really hard. I am thankful the casinos put signs out there. It is scary how stupid people can be.

    Congratulations on finishing your race.

  5. You’re a maniac. Great pic of you. look at you with both feet off the ground!

    This race report was almost enough to make me want to try this race. Not yet though. Can’t imagine doing it as your first. I guess you never have to do one again if you’re checking one off your bucket list and this is the one, though.

  6. I’ve been eager for this race report. I’m so impressed at how you toughed it out… the conditions were rough!

    Those bathrooms without doors are awful, huh? I was a little surprised by those when I did Running From An Angel out there.

    And people all over here seem to need the reminder that it’s not smart to leave your kids and pets in hot cars. It’s sad how often people seem to forget and you hear the stories on the news.

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