I have continued to be quite busy with my job as a manager for a local gym. My two friends (the owners) and I have been working hard for well over a year, doing what needs to be done to make this new, small business flourish and grow into (hopefully) a bigger, more prosperous business. It's a lot of hours, and sometimes fun but also stressful and draining. So what do I continue to return to for my stress-relief and sanity? Running, of course. And for me, it's the distance running that does it for me the most.
So while it has gotten a bit more tricky to balance my kids' and husband's schedules with working full-time hours at the gym, doing a bit of personal training and teaching Spinning classes, I must make time for running and training. This has meant getting up at 5am (sometimes 4am) 6 days a week in order to fit in my runs.
I have been able to consistently do this for months and so around the beginning of July I decided I wanted to find a new race to do where I could materialize my personal gains. I had heard about the Mesa Falls Marathon from some friends. It's a small race that starts up in the mountains of eastern Idaho and works it's way down, covering multiple types of terrain down into the small town of Ashton, Idaho.
We went up to the area, about a 2 hour drive, to explore the race course and surrounding campgrounds about a month before the late August race. The week of the race, we took the family and our camp trailer and headed up on Thursday morning. We found a campsite right at mile 2 of the race course. We set up camp and then spent the rest of the day and most of Friday just exploring the forest, relaxing by a campfire and watching the kids run around and play. This was how I made it through my taper without going crazy. :)
With a rash of wild fires across the western states, the air quality was poor and thick with smoke. I didn't worry too much about it. Saturday morning I woke up at 5 and ate and got dressed and ready. The full marathon started at 6:30, so Chris drove me up to the starting line area at 6:15. It was about 38* and felt pretty dang cold. It really was a small race - less than 200 people running the full marathon. It was an informal start - after the race director said a few words, we got going. I didn't know anyone there, so I had taken my headphones and iPod shuffle with me, but didn't use them from the start. The first 9 miles was on a packed gravel road through the forest. I utilized the Galloway method with a run to walk ratio of 5 minutes running, 1 minute walking. I stuck with this from beginning to end of this race. We started in the dark, but as the sun came up there was a beautiful sunrise, the color of the sun made more intense by the smoke and haze in the air.
I felt really good for the first 9 miles on the gravel, at which point we headed out to the main highway and ran on the pavement for approximately 4 miles. At mile 11, there was a jaunt off the side of the highway that took the runners down near the overlook for the lower Mesa Falls, then a short trail back out to the main road. The half-way point began a trail portion of the race. It's an old railroad grade, so the trail, while somewhat narrow, was smooth and mostly downhill. After passing through the aid station at mile 13 and then starting on the trail, I was still feeling really decent - not too fatigued and still in a good place mentally. Around mile 15 though, something hit me and suddenly my legs were aching and heavy in a way I hadn't experienced on any recent long runs. I was also feeling a sore throat and headache, most likely due to the smoky air. I told myself that the heaviness in my legs was due to having run those first 9 miles on gravel, something I wasn't used to doing. From this point on I knew it was going to be a mental game for me. The trail ended as it exited through a campground and then back out onto the main highway. Chris and the kids were there to cheer me on. At mile 17 began the next challenge: 3 miles of continuous uphill.
Chris joined me for a few minutes to help talk me out of my funk. It actually did help take my mind off the pain I was feeling in my legs and back. It was sheer force of will that kept me going; I maintained a steady pace and stuck with my 5:1 run/walk method. I took out my earbuds and turned on my music to help keep me focused. I passed quite a few people who had resorted to walking the stretch of uphill and with each person I passed, the illusion of my strength was slowly increased.
Eventually the hill topped out and we were left with a stretch of just over 6 miles of rolling hills and farmland. The last challenge of this race for me was to push through that part without slowing so much that it would bring my overall average pace down a lot. With 4 miles to go and one last "push" from Chris and the kids, I made my way into Ashton and to the finish line.
I heard the announcer say my name and I crossed the finish, with no idea what my time was. When I finally looked at the clock I saw my time, 4:45. I had hoped to reach a possible PR on this run, but my best time on the marathon was 2 years ago with a time of 4:34, so I didn't quite make it. But with an average pace of 10:50 min/mile for this one, I felt content.
After heading over to the food tables for a chocolate milk and some ice water, I made my way to the computer stations they had set up where we could review our placing. Now I have never run a race where I had any hopes of placing, but being that I turned 40 earlier this year and was now in a new age-group, and that this was a smaller race, well I thought I might just have a chance...
How about that?? I was so stoked to have done well enough to receive a placing and a plaque, that the pain and fatigue in my body was dulled...sort of. :)
We camped one more night before heading home the next day. Back at our campground that evening, while Chris cooked up some awesome steaks on the grill for our dinner, I soaked my aching feet and legs in the frigid water of the deceivingly named Warm River. By and far the Mesa Falls Marathon was one of the highlights of my distance running career. I would definitely like to return in another year to run it again when there hopefully isn't any smoke in the air. I have heard you can usually see the Tetons from the race course...that would have been something.
My next challenge is coming up this week. I will be running another marathon on Saturday September 5th. The Pocatello Marathon has become a tradition for me - this will be my 6th time "Running the Gap". But this year I have devoted several of my training runs to running with my friend Johanna. Johanna will be running the Pocatello Marathon as well, but this will be her first full marathon and I am invested in seeing her through to the end. So for this one, while I pace my friend, the challenge for me will be seeing how my body handles running two marathons so close together. And I am equally excited about being privileged to be able to experience the satisfaction and thrill that comes with completing a first marathon - I can't wait to see Johanna accomplish her goal!