Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Turtle Marathon

Don't expect much and you'll be fine.

That was my attitude after Steve Boone of the 50 States Marathon Club told me the Turtle Marathon was a minimalist's race. My original plan was to do the New Mexico Marathon in Albuquerque on Labor Day Sunday but it'd cancelled. The Turtle Marathon was the only other NM state marathon that would fit into my race schedule if I wanted to finish my 50 states quest this year. Past years' results on showed usually only 20-30 marathoners and the reviews were not glowing but for only $15 (yes, $15!), why not?

I mean, who needs lots of other runners, spectators, entertainment along the course or well-stocked aid stations when you train by yourself and are used to running boring routes and carrying everything you need? Heck, it was even on the Labor Day weekend too (Monday) and though the weather would be hot, running in an arid environment would be a nice break from running in humidity. Sign me up!!

But the real question turned out to be HOW do I sign up???

All previous race-related website links seemed to lead to nowhere. Emails I sent to the point of contact (POC) went unanswered. Phone numbers were disconnected. Had the aliens abducted the race director?!? After weeks I finally came across a City of Roswell events website that mentioned the race with a new POC, Vern (Bob, the previous one, had retired). I called the number (no email) and Vern assured me the race was ON. He said there'd be no online race registration this year, however, so I gave him my address so he could mail me an application. More weeks went by and nothing. I called again, gave him my address and same thing, nothing. Does this guy want me to run his race or not? Then a month before the race Vern told me there was a new race website with an application that could be downloaded and mailed in. YESSS! Now I felt much better about getting on a plane and flying cross country for a tiny race in the middle of nowhere.

Then I got worried that if it was this hard for me to find out any info about the event, would anyone else be there? You see, in order for it to count as one of my 50 states, there had to be a minimum of 5 starters and 3 finishers. Hubby Dave suggested I bring extra cash to sign people up on the spot ($20 on race day). It'd be cheaper than flying back out to New Mexico to do another race if there weren't enough starters/finishers. But a week or so before the race I checked out the Marathon Maniacs website and saw that 5 of their members were also planning to do the race. Then fellow bloggers Misty & Brian said they were also going to be there. So by race day I knew there'd be at least 8 starters and knowing what type of runners we were, 8 finishers!

Full and half marathoners gathered in Calhoon Park at 5:30am. Man, was it dark!

Silly me, there turned out to be a LOT more than 8. While waiting for the start I scanned the surprisingly large crowd and spotted Carol, Annette's Marathon Maniac friend. We chatted for a bit and she pointed out some other guy doing his 4th (FOURTH!) marathon this Labor Day Weekend. See, and you thought I was crazy for running 8 marathons this year?!?

Me and Carol, a real Marathon Maniac though she was not wearing her MM jersey today (probably because she wore it yesterday!).

I kept looking for Misty or Brian, or Misty's friend Kate who lived in Roswell, but it was hard to recognize people you've never met in person in the dark. Oh well, I was sure I'd see them out on the course somewhere. After a few announcements and a countdown, we were off at 5:40am. I was glad I wore my headlight as it was even DARKER once we got going and sunrise was not for another hour. People liked my headlamp and for a while I running with a little entourage.

I know it looks dorky as hell but it helps keep me from rolling my ankles.

We ran on a bike path for the first couple miles and then ended up on the highway, a highway we'd be for 11 miles until the turnaround and then 11 miles back, so a total of 22 miles! Yikes, like running on an outdoor treadmill!!

But the early start kept temps fairly cool (~65 degs F at the start) and the dark also masked the nothingness that was out there. By the time it was light enough so I could put away my headlamp I was already at mile 4 or so. Where'd everyone go? The field had spread out a lot so it was pretty much just me and my compadres, myself and I.

Sorry for the blurry photo at sunrise but, trust me, you ain't missing much.

It is then that I realized I must really love running. I mean, people think running a marathon indoors on a track is boring but really the ones I've run have been a blast because there was music, runners and spectators you'd pass over and over, aid stations and portapotties every lap, and constant comfy temps the whole time. Very controlled, predictable and stimulating. This was the exact opposite: no music (at least for me because I never wear headphones when running outside), no one around me, no idea where the aid stations were or what would be at them, no portapotties (I'd heard there might be one but never saw it). Just a vast open stretch of highway for miles with an occasional vehicle passing by at 70+mph and other lonely runners way off in the distance. Oh, and an unforgiving sun that was going to cook you if you didn't get done as early as possible. What a challenge!

By around mile 5 I started to see and cheer for some half marathoners who had reached their turnaround. YAY, something new to do! There was an actual aid station table set up at mile 6.55 with one person there but you had to grab the cups yourself. Still, an aid station with cups of water and Gatorade, and our first spectator!

Coming up on mile 10, I spotted something else new ahead. Ooh, photo op!

Holy moly, a bend in the road - How exciting!

Gah, I must be nuts to be out here.

Playing with my shadow, my only companion for miles.

Boy, am I glad I decided to bring my camera. Between sips to make sure I was staying hydrated, checking my Garmin to make sure I'd moved (same highway scenery!), taking photos and eating an occasional gel, the miles actually seemed to go by faster than I thought they would. At mile 11, I grabbed a bottle of water on the ground just in case there was nothing at the turnaround but an arrow on the ground. Remember, low expectations.

These were every 2-3 miles where there was no actual aid station.

At the turnaround, however, there was another aid station table, not only with fluids but also fruit and TWO people there. Amazing!! I decided to make a full stop and chatted with them for a bit while refilling my Fuel Belt bottles. The guy told me I was right at the 2-hour mark. My Garmin said 1:58-something but I'd forgot to set it so it'd keep going when I stopped. Still, that was right about where I wanted to be.

A surprising amount of climbing on this course. For some reason, I didn't notice the altitude (usually very affected by it).

As soon as I left them I realized I'd forgotten to take a photo. Doh! But there was no going back as the woman ahead of me was the second female and I was only a couple minutes behind her. There was a chance she might come back to me (with only two 15-16 milers run in training in the last couple weeks, however, I was not going after her). The return leg was mostly downhill which was nice, but also into the sun and with the wind behind us which made the sweat pour into my eyes even in the low humidity. Temps were now well above 70 and climbing fast. The name of the game was to stay steady, stay hydrated and stay SANE.

Heading back sunglasses were a must. A lot of sweat now but my shoes were staying dry so it was drying up fast!

I haven't a clue what I thought about the next few miles but remember cheering for folks going the other way, including Carol and Misty (though she didn't recognize me). Turns out Brian was only a couple minutes in back of me which is why I didn't recognize him either (having recently run a 100-miler thought he'd either be way ahead of me or way in back). I waved to a few cars that honked as they drove past and remember wishing more big trucks and campers would roll by so I could feel the big gust of wind they created. Thankfully the hills on the course helped break up the route so I could only see pieces of highway bleakness at a time, and there was always the hope I might see the number two female again. Before I knew it I was back at half marathon turnaround aid station near mile 20!

And this time I remembered to take a photo after filling up on fluids. Thanks Ellie for being out there! (I think that was her name)

The last few miles also flew by except for the last two. The funny thing was that I couldn't wait to get off that darn highway and as soon as I did I seemed to be going in slow motion. WTH??? Did I hit the wall? Was I now running uphill a little? Was the heat getting to me? I suspect a little of all of the above but I just kept following the occasional orange cones like Hansel following bread crumbs. The area looked very different in sunlight but there were other things along the way that I remembered from before: a road that I crossed, a hole I'd avoided, a bend in the path, a hump that I went over...

The finish line from the other side after I'd gone through. The guy in red shorts was recording finishing times.

Soon there were more parked cars along the road, some familiar looking buildings and people standing around ahead. I wasn't sure exactly where the finish line was as there was no arch or clock. I ran past some colored flags lining the bike path and then heard a guy call out my race time. That must mean I'm done!

3:57:55 (9:04 pace, 3/12 Females)
Not bad, in fact, about as good as I could have hoped!

But best part about this race was still to come.

Oh my, my choice of turtles? They're all so adorable in their little cupcake holders.

Of course, I had to pick the green one as green/teal is my favorite color.

I found Vern, the RD, and thanked him for putting on a nice little event. Turns out there was a record number of marathoners this year -- 39! Plus at least as many half marathoners and many more 5K walkers & runners so a nice amount raised for the fight against MS.

Great job, RD Vern!

As for aliens, well, I didn't see any along the course but did see one near my Roswell hotel.

Thanks lil' green guy!

So let's see, what'd all I get for $15? A bright orange race t-shirt (the one Vern is wearing above), a uniquely challenging race course, much more runners and course support than I thought would be there, some wildlife sightings (2 dead skunks on the road, one bird of prey flying overhead - hey, beggars can't be choosers), no race medal but a cute handmade ceramic turtle sitting on a base shaped like the state of NM and, of course, NM checked off my 50 states list. I'd say the Turtle Marathon was a total BARGAIN!

So now I have only 3 more states left -- WOOHOO!!!