My First St. George Marathon

I’m no longer a marathon newb. I took care of that back in April in Salt Lake City. So as I approached the St. George Marathon, I thought I kind of knew what to expect.


I prepared for this race a lot differently than I did for the one in Salt Lake. First of all, I had a (relatively) low-mileage August, followed by a 200-mile September. So I was putting in the time. I also ran a PR (personal record) in the Cedar City Half Marathon on September 9, finishing in just under 90 minutes (a 6:51 pace). I did the Hurricane Half the next week as a training run, taking it easy and tacking an extra seven miles onto the end to make it a 20. Aside from a little ankle pain, I was injury-free and feeling great.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a running buddy. My friend Doran one of the main reasons I race. I watched him do it for too many years before jumping in and trying it myself. He lives up in the SLC area, and came down to St. George to support me. He also provided a place for me to sleep the night before the race. I truly don’t deserve him.

The day before the marathon, I was feeling great. I had mapped out a taper plan and followed it to the mile. I’d increased my water intake for the week. I had been really careful about what I was eating. (Lesson learned!) Leaving work an hour early, I drove west to Beryl Junction and then south through Enterprise to Central, so I could drive the race route again. The starting line was already set up, so I stopped and took a few photos there.

I met Doran and we went to the race expo. It was a good one, though the “goodie bag” was remarkably light on the goodies. We hit the all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner, then headed back to Doran’s parents’ condo. The plan was to run an easy couple of miles together, and then Doran was going to get a longer run in while I prepped for the morning. But his levels were all messed up (he’s a T1D) so I did my two miles by myself. I came back and we chatted for a while, then I set out all my gear and went to bed.

That 4:00 a.m. alarm always comes too early. But I was alert and feeling great. I took a quick shower—yeah, I know that’s weird—and was out the door by 4:15. I found a parking space close to the finish line, then headed for the buses.

My first “failure” happened when I pulled out my race bib. The night before, I’d clipped my safety pins to the bib so I wouldn’t have to worry about them. But on race morning, they were gone. I searched my drop bag and looked around for a race organizer to see if anyone had extras. Striking out, I got on the bus, and was joined in the seat by a super nice guy from Phoenix. I was still digging through my bag, and he asked if I had lost something. I told him I couldn’t find my safety pins. He smiled and said, “Oh, that’s good, because they gave me an extra set.”

So … whew. That was great.

We arrived at the starting line to find a carnival atmosphere. It was cold, but people were milling around and being super friendly. There was a big group of young women in these unicorn-footie-pajamas getups. Most people had brought jackets or sweats, and the race people were handing out foil blankets. The bonfires at the far end of the waiting area had already been lit, but it was maybe 45 minutes before they get the rest of the fires going. Everybody huddled together for warmth and talked and joked. Runners are great, that way.

As I stood with the others, this old guy asked if he could squeeze in. He was one of those guys you wish you were related to, with a ready smile and a twinkle in his eye. I moved aside and he wedged himself between me and the next person over. Then he asked us all about our running and what our goals were. Then he informed us that this would be his 40th St. George Marathon! He was turning 80 soon, and still going strong. What an amazing guy, and what an amazing story.

Right about that time, my watch beeped. I had bought myself a relatively inexpensive Garmin GPS watch a few weeks before, and had come to rely on it for my distance and pacing data. Instead of a text or IM, the message was “Phone Disconnected,” which didn’t make any sense. The only time it did that was when my phone was out of range, and my phone was right there in my—

No, it wasn’t. My belt pouch was empty. I had finally warmed up, but got a sudden cold chill. I ducked away from the circle and went to look for Lost and Found.

Luckily, someone had found my phone and turned it in. I retrieved it, only to find that the battery was already down to 64%. Was that from somebody trying to get into it, or did I have a rogue “battery burning” app draining my juice? I couldn’t do anything about it, because people were already starting to line up for the start. Pushing away my concerns, I took off my jacket and dropped my stuff back and found a spot on the pavement.

They did the national anthem. It was getting close to 6:45, the scheduled start time. Then an announcement came over the loudspeaker that we were still waiting for one bus, so they would delay the gun. I went ahead and pressed Start on my Garmin, and it acquired the GPS satellites. We all stood there, talking some, shivering from the cold, anxious to get going. I checked my phone again—61%. Not great. I’d brought a portable charger, but of course it was in my drop bag. Nothing to do about it now.

My goal for this race was to run it at 3:30:00, which would bring me within five minutes of hitting my 3:25:00 Boston qualifying (BQ) time. I figured if I could run at that speed, I could amp up my training and hit my BQ in my next race. I’d never run an event with even half as many people as this one … 7,000 runners is a lot. I finally managed to find the 3:25 pacer, and I positioned myself close enough to see him. The next one back was 3:35. If I could stay between the two of them, I figured, I’d be doing great.

The gun finally went off and we began to inch forward. The first few minutes it was nothing but walking. Even as we crossed the starting pad, we were barely shuffling along. Then the pack started to break open a bit as runners began to spread out. The sun wasn’t up yet, and I was wearing my sunglasses, so I was having trouble seeing. But I knew I’d want them later.

As I started picking up speed, I saw a few people stumble on jackets and sweatshirts and other articles of clothing that runners had simply dropped on the road, rather than tossing them to the shoulder. I really couldn’t see the road very well, at at about the quarter mile mark I stepped on a baseball-sized rock that was sitting in the road, turning my ankle. I was able to run it off, and by the first mile I was starting to warm up.

That’s when I noticed that my Garmin was measuring my pace in steps, not in minutes and seconds. That didn’t help at all, since I had very specific pace goals that I wanted to hit along the way. I tried fiddling with the settings, but couldn’t figure out how to change that. So as I started racking up miles, I really had no idea how I was doing, other than the simple math I did at each mile marker. I knew I was going faster than I’d planned, but now I was second-guessing everything. Finally, at mile four, I made the decision to stop my watch and restart it. Whatever I did, it worked, because after that I was getting better pace information. I just wasn’t really sure how I was doing “in the long run,” so to speak.

After that, I just tried to relax into the run. A helicopter kept swooping down the highway, and I made sure to wave each time. I kept up my hydration and followed my fuel plan. I was feeling pretty good when we ran the downhill stretch into Veyo and started chugging up the Veyo hill, which winds around the base of a giant volcanic cone. I’d been ready for it, and I think I did really well. I often pass people on the uphills because I do a lot of hill training. I kept up my cadence but shortened my stride. The main climb is about a mile, and it soon passed. Then we descended into Dammeron Valley and began the gradual climb up to where the road heads down to the Snow Canyon turnoff.

We passed the 13-mile mark, and a few people let out whoops of joy. We were halfway there! The woman beside me said, “The race starts here,” and I think I knew what she meant. I checked my time/pace sheet and realized I was over 10 minutes ahead of my goal for the 13-mile mark.

“Well, crap,” I said, looking at my watch. I was running next to a woman named Bonnie, trying to keep my pace under control. She asked me what was wrong, and I told her I was running too fast.

“That’s a good thing, right?” she asked, smiling.

I told her I was worried that I would burn myself out too early, and finish weak.

“How are you feeling?” she said.

“I’m feeling great.”

She looked at my bib, which had my name printed on it. “You got this, David. Go for it!”

Bonnie urged me forward, saying she needed to slow down her own pace. So I gave in to it. From that point, it was game on.

I read somewhere that, from mile 18 on, each mile is twice as hard as the last. I’m not sure if that’s exactly what I experienced, but as the highway ran down into Bluff Street, I was definitely feeling used up. Luckily, that’s also where the crowds started to appear. The sidewalks were lined with cheering people. I got slapped on the butt by a line of women. I ran past people offering popsicles and lemonade. I high-fived a bunch of kids. I passed by a couple of running friends from Cedar, Randy and Tara, and was cheered on by strangers I’ll never meet.

The last mile and a half was pure willpower. I was pretty much done. Then I looked at my watch and saw how where the time was, and that kept me going. If I kept it up, I wasn’t just going to approach my BQ time … I was going to smash it. You’ve got this, David. Go for it!

For the first time in a while, I didn’t have to force myself to smile as I ran the final 50 yards to the finish line. I saw Doran, and I saw my wife and daughter, who’d come down to see me finish. Good thing the race was delayed, or they might’ve missed me.

I ended up with a chip time of 3:16:57, with an average pace of 7:31. I beat my BQ time of 3:25:00 by over eight minutes, which will give me plenty of cushion for the 2019 selection. Overall, I placed 431 out of 4,720 finishers, which put me in the top 9%. I finished in the top 13% of my age group, number 40 our of 297.

After receiving my medal, I walked through the finishers area, looking for my “fans.” I was experiencing a weird cocktail of elation and relief—feeling like I wanted to jump for joy while at the same time bawling like a baby. I finally found a place on the grass to sit down. It felt heavenly, though I was seriously concerned that I wouldn’t be able to get back up again.

Later, as I hobbled back to my car, I chatted with a much-tattooed, much-younger guy wearing a matching medal. He asked me how I felt, and I told him the truth: “I qualified for Boston … and then some.”

He swore. “Damn, dude,” he said. The guy looked as tired as I felt. “I’ve been trying for, like, five years and still haven’t made it yet.”

A week later, I still can’t believe it. I qualified for Boston. In my second marathon. Holy shit.

I still want to jump for joy.

Posted in Personal, Running Tagged with: , , ,

TTOF: A Mini-Manifesto on Letter-Only Words

My latest post on “Thinking Through Our Fingers,” a blog on writing:

Because words are tools. As a writer, I refuse to give up any tool for the sake of political correctness. As a writer, I reserve the right to use the R-word. I also reserve the right to use the N-word, the F-word, the G-word, the Q-word, and every other tool at my disposal. In real life, people are hateful, mean, racist, stupid, behind the times, every possible kind of -phobic, and sometimes just thoughtless. They reveal their best and worst character in their speech, in their thoughts, and in their authentic voice.

Read it here.

Posted in Political Correctness, Writing

TTOF: Deathwatch, David Lee Roth and the Roundness of Hamburgers

My latest post on “Thinking Through Our Fingers,” a blog on writing:

One of the most shocking moments of my teenage years came in 1985 (yes, I’m really that old), when I brought home a copy of David Lee Roth’s just-released solo album, “Crazy from the Heat.” I unwrapped the brand-new cassette and popped it into my boom box. My grandmother sat and harrumphed through his cover of the Beach Boys’ “California Girls.” (She didn’t approve.) When we flipped the tape over, though, I can’t describe my shock when Grandmother Olive got up and danced around the room, actually singing along with “Just a Gigolo.”

Read it here.

Posted in Personal, Writing

26 Takeaways from My First Marathon

Last Saturday, I crossed an item off my bucket list, finishing the Salt Lake City Marathon with a time of 3:52:18. I came in 138th out of 633 runners overall, the 102nd male runner out of 369 and the 9th in my category (male, 45-49) to finish.

SLC Marathon Results #1 SLC Marathon Results #2

Since this blog is all about shameful self-indulgence, I thought I would take a little time to point out 26 things I took away from my very first 26.2.

1. Mileage Can Be Key: I was thrilled that I was able to accomplish exactly what I set out to do, this first time out. My goal was to finish in under four hours, and I did that with plenty of room to spare. I think the key was the mileage I rain the months before April. Even though I had a minor knee injury in February (after completing the Double Dog Dare), I was able to clock 166 miles in January, 137 miles in February and 175 miles in March. Note that some of these were walking miles—I almost always walk on my no-run days because the dog still gots to pee.

2. Pass on the Lamb Shank: Carb loading is a big part of most runners’ pre-race-day dinners. On Friday night I went with friends to a Greek restaurant and stupidly picked the special of the day, Greek spaghetti with roasted lamb shank. I’m not absolutely sure, of course, but I think this choice may have cost me a few minutes on my finish time. (See below.)

3. Making Friends Is Fun: Race organizers arranged to give runners access to the light rail system to get to the starting line. This made sense because I my best buddy Doran was going to be meeting me at the finish line. With an hour on the train, I had a chance to “talk shop” with several other runners, including a very pleasant (and experienced) runner named Jenn, who was an important contributor to my success in this race. (See below.)

Ready for the marathon to start4. It’s Okay to Litter: I knew the start would be cold, so I brought along a disposable heat sheet that I’d saved from the St. George Half Marathon in January. I kept myself pretty well wrapped up until it was time to start. The problem was, the race organizers didn’t provide any garbage cans anywhere near the starting corrals to toss our blankets and garbage bags. I ended up doing the only thing I could—dropping it on the ground. Oh well.

5. Test Equipment Better: I always carry water in races, because I want to be able to hydrate when I need to. About three weeks before this event, I found a new type of belt, with the water bottles mounted on the back. I loved the design because my sleeves tend to catch on the spouts of the front-mounted bottles from my current hydration belt. I tested the belt in several pre-race runs and walks. On race day, I started off with three six-ounce bottles on my back. About a mile and a half in, the stitching between two of the bottle holders failed, dumping two of my bottles onto the road. I had to burn precious seconds as I ran back to collect the bottles off the road, dodging hundreds of other runners. At mile 4, the second set of stitching failed, dropping my third bottle onto the blacktop. Naturally, I wasted more time running back to get it. I estimate that I lost 30-45 seconds because I didn’t test this equipment long enough. Lesson learned.

6. SLC Folks Are Weird: Throughout this race, there were lots of DIY refreshment stations, from kids running their own water tables to a woman standing on a corner handing out red vines to any runner who wanted some. The weirdest came around mile four. A man and woman had a table set up with a sign that read “Temptation Station.” The table held several bottles of booze, and disposable plastic shot glasses. I didn’t see anyone take them up on their offer, but everyone got a nice chuckle.

7. Distraction as a Strategy: Around the first mile, I fell in beside Jenn, the woman I chatted with on the train. She was running the half marathon instead of the full, and she was doing it as a training run instead of chasing a PR. Her pace was right about where I wanted to be, so we ended up running side by side, chatting all the way until the courses separated around mile nine. Jenn later apologized for “holding me back,” but what she really did was help me pace myself. I started off a lot faster than I should’ve, and she helped me rein that in. Plus, our conversation was an amazing distraction from the actual running. I almost didn’t even notice those first nine miles, so I hit mile 10 feeling really fresh. I believe this helped me run a much better race, achieving a negative split (running the second half faster than I ran the first half).

8. Unoccupied Potty = Pure Gold: Probably thanks to the lamb shank (see above), I got into “potty trouble” around mile 10 or 11. I told myself I would stop if and only if I saw a port-a-potty with no wait. It took four miles, but eventually I spotted one—running inside and achieving a PR for a number two. No flushing required, just some hand sanitizer and back to the race. I estimate I lost almost two minutes making this unfortunate (but necessary) pit stop.

9. KT Tape Is Awesome: My left knee had been bothering me off and on since I ran the Dogtown Half/Double Dog Dare in February. I tried running with a brace, but it didn’t seem to matter. My friend and physical therapist Adam turned me on the “KT Tape,” also known as kinesiology therapy tape. He showed me the right way to tape my knee to help support it in longer runs. Thanks to the tape (and also the “taper,” meaning I didn’t run for a week before the race), I finished the race with zero knee pain. Truly a blessing.

10. Uphill Training Matters: Since Cedar City is so hilly, almost all of my training runs have significant uphills. I would’ve expected SLC runners to have similar experiences, but I found I was passing a lot of people on the course’s uphill stretches (and there were lots of them). Another good example of effective training paying off.

11. Altitude’s a Bitch: Cedar City’s official altitude is 5,846, but the altitude at my front door is closer to 5,892. The altitude in Salt Lake City is 4,226 feet, so I had an advantage there. At one point I ran for a while with a young woman from Austin, Texas, where the elevation is under 500 feet. She was really feeling the altitude in her lungs. I’m really glad I’m able to train above a mile high.

12. Funner Is Better: In most races I’ve run, the water stations were no-frills affairs with volunteers handing out water, Gatorade, and (sometimes) energy gels. Lots of the water stations in this race featured themes. At several of them, the volunteers were in hula skirts and coconut bras, with Hawaiian music playing. It didn’t make me run any faster, but it did make the race more fun for all of us.

13. Spectators Are Creative: This was only my second “in-town” race, where the whole course wound through city streets. Since there were lots more spectators, there were lots more creative signs to make me smile along the way. The one I saw the most was, “Hurry Up and Finish So We Can Drink.” (Maybe these people missed the “Temptation Station” at mile four.) There were old stand-bys, like “Worst Parade EVER” and “This Seems Like a Lot of Work for a Free Banana.” I saw my favorite being held by a kid at the 25-mile water station: “Run Like United Airlines Is Trying to Take Away Your Seat.”

I don't usually take photos during a race, but I made an exception.14. Sometimes, Friendship Is Blind: The very best thing I saw on this race, though, came right in the last mile. I passed two runners chugging along, one of them with his hand on the back of the other. It took me a moment to realize that one of the runners (the guy in the orange shirt) was blind, and the other guy was leading him to the finish line. It was so inspiring, I had to dig out my phone and take a photo or two.

15. I Could’ve Gone Faster: To my surprise, I never “hit the wall” or “bonked” in this race. To me, that suggests that I could’ve picked up the pace and still finished strong. I’m not disappointed at all, though. It was great to finish and not feel like I was ready to collapse. And of course, I now have room for improvement on my next big race.

16. Friends Are Awesome: My family couldn’t come with me to SLC because of other commitments, but I did have somebody waiting for me at 26.2, my best friend and partner in crime, Doran. He’s the guy who inspired me to start racing, and it was great to have him supporting me at the finish line. He came to watch me finish the Dogtown Half/Double Dog Dare last February, but actually missed my finish because he was expecting me to be wearing a different-colored shirt. This time I wore my traditional Kahuku Red Raiders jersey, and I even sent him a text to let him know I was passing the 25-mile mark. He got some great photos of my finish.

Almost there ... to 26.2 Believe it or not, I still had gas in the tank. Are those water bottles in my pocket? No, I'm just happy to be finishing.

Just a few more yards. A flying SLC Marathon finish This is where everything starts to hurt.

17. Other Friends Are Awesome: Speaking of Kahuku Red Raiders, I was fortunate to eat my post-race lunch with four good friends from my high school in Hawaii. I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like, now that we live in southern Utah. It was great to catch up.

18. Stop and Walk: I was actually kind of nervous about the drive home. Though I tried to get to sleep early, my brain wouldn’t let me sleep until probably 11:00 p.m. … and then I got up at 4:30 to get ready for the race. Even more than drowziness, though, I was worried about my body cramping up during the three-and-a-half hour drive back to Cedar City. I stopped several times on the way home and walked around a little, and I think this helped prevent my legs from freezing up during the long drive.

19. Missing Roxy: It was great to get home to see my family, and also great to be welcomed by a very waggy Roxy, our shelter dog. If Doran’s to blame for getting me into racing, Roxy’s to blame for getting me running again. Almost the minute I arrived home, I took her out for a nice hobble in the hills.

20. ROLLING Spells Relief: Stretching is important, but it’s impossible to understate the importance of rolling out the long muscles in the legs. It wasn’t pleasant, but working my thighs, calves and IT band on the hard foam roller made a huge difference in helping my legs recover from the trauma of the marathon.

Saturday's step count for the day21. A Marathon Makes for a Long Day: For the second time in less than two month, I topped 50,000 steps on my fitness tracker. Yeah, that’s a lot.

22. Recovery Can Be Hard: To my surprise, I was in almost no pain the next day. I was sore, of course, but it wasn’t the painful, “can’t hardly walk” pain I’ve had after some of my early half marathons. I think the diligent after-care was crucial in making this happen.

23. Not Running is Even Harder: According to the recovery plan I’m trying to follow, I can have one run (2-4 miles, very easy) over the next several days. That’s it. I’ve taken Roxy on several long walks over the past several days, but I haven’t run again, yet. That’s been difficult, but I know I need to give my body time to heal.

24. It’s Not About the Time: Going into this race, I told everyone who asked that I was “running to finish.” My secondary goal was to finish in under four hours, and I managed to do that, too. I’m pretty sure I could’ve pushed myself faster and got a better time. If I hadn’t had lamb shank spaghetti and disintegrating hydration belts, I could’ve done better still. But I’m extremely happy with my results in my first marathon.

25. But It Is About the Time: I’m already registered for my next marathon, the St. George Marathon in October. I’m hoping to beat 3:45:00 on my second time out. That’s what I’ll be training for, anyway.

26. Running Buddies Make Running Better: Running is a solitary sport, and aside from Roxy I don’t usually get to run with anyone. But many of my races to date have involved my good friend Doran. He didn’t run this one, but we’ve already made a list of the other races we’ll be running together this year. They include the Mt. Green Half, the Parowan City Half, and the Snow Canyon Half, to name a few. We never run side by side in these races, but it’s great to know that one of your favorite humans is doing the same thing you’re doing, at the same time you’re doing it. (Oh, and happy birthday, Doran!)

Doran and me after I ran my first half marathon, last July

Here’s hoping this was just the first of many marathons!

Posted in Personal, Running Tagged with: , , ,

TTOF: The Gamification of Writing

My latest post on “Thinking Through Our Fingers,” a blog on writing:

It might sound a little weird, but I figure if there’s anything I can do to streamline the process of pounding out that first draft, I’m willing to to try it. And that includes a little over-the-top gamification.

Read it here.

Posted in Running, Writing