Avenue of the Giants Marathon May 3 1998;
(or Sally-Ann & Ronjon's excellent adventure; or how to run a marathon on 20 miles a week.)
"You're gonna hurt like a [beep]" was the sage advice handed down by Andrew, whom we had not seen since we ran together during a 1995 Envirosports run, and whom we miraculously recognized at the start of the Avenue of the Giants Marathon (May 3, 1998). "You see there's 2 races" he continued. "The first 20 miles is the first half, and the last 6 are the second half". This turned out to be very accurate. But, the story starts on Saturday. We head off towards Eureka (the race is in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, about 40 miles south of Eureka where we are staying the night). On the way, we stopped at a lakeside picnic spot in Rohnert Park, a little south of Santa Rosa. While we were there, minding our own business, a man and a boy pulled up in a small truck. The boy was holding a duckling, about 4-6 weeks old, downy and yellow but about 2/3 full size. They brought it to the edge of the lake and released it into the water, thinking that it would swim away. Of course, it is totally imprinted on humans, and as soon as the boy lets it go, it climbs out of the water and follows him back towards the truck. They attempt to turn it around a couple of times as they back towards the truck; but the duckling keeps following them, making a peeping noise the whole time. The peeping noise attracted 3 large geese, who are at first curious, then aggressive, trying to drive the duckling away. The man and boy get back in the truck and drive off. Just then, a group of 3 kids come by looking for a fishing spot, and the duckling runs straight towards them. The kids pick up the duckling, but they obviously don't know what to do with it. After a few minutes of watching them, Dr. Doolittle can stand it no more, so I go over and tell them they should take the duckling to the Animal Rescue people. They look at me blankly: they don't have a car, they don't know where to go and they want to go fishing. Can I take it? I don't want to; I've definitely got other things to be doing. Still, I take the little duckling and march it over to a Wine Country tourist information center about 1/4 mile away. Duck adoption thoughts are of course in my mind: but we're going away for 2 days, and how would I keep a duckling which can't fly and which thinks its a human away from Tommy our 14-lb tomcat? I march into the tourist information center, and sounding as British as I can, I demand that they summon the Animal Rescue folks immediately. The accent obviously works (that and the sight of the cute little struggling duckling), and they hop to it like the President just asked for a bimbo. About 10 minutes later, the duckling is in a wine box and a cop is on his way over to escort it to the proper authorities. Turns out, he's a white duck, and was probably snatched from the wild when very little as an Easter gift. Very stupid and very cruel. He had no hope of surviving in the wild. Duck episode over, we continue our journey through beautiful Mendocino County to the little forest town of Weott. Weott is a freeway exit ramp and little more. The only communal building is the Veterans' Hall which is in the middle of the "town" next to the closed Post Office and Johnson's Store (also closed), the site of the Weott Pasta Feed. This event is not specifically for marathoners, but its advertised on the marathon literature. We got there about 5.30pm, and the hall was about 2/3 marathoners and 1/3 locals, seated on long tables which ran the length of the room. Everyone was very friendly, and the pasta was quite good. Feed over, we headed off to Eureka, the home of Humboldt State University and worth a quick visit if you are ever passing. There are many artists' shops here and some decent restaurants. We cruised the old town for a while, since many of the galleries were open late for a special "Arts night", visited a supermarket for some cookies and a toothbrush, gassed up the car, watched some tv and went to bed. Very exciting. The next morning, we got up about 6.30am and hurriedly ate as much as we could bear to. We left the hotel about 7.30am and headed towards the marathon start. We arrived a few minutes after 8am, parked the car, changed our t-shirts (it had looked bright and sunny earlier, but was now a little overcast) and while we were locating the portapotties, we (literally) ran into Andrew. We exchanged pleasantries, and Andrew gave us the sage advice with which I began this account. About 10 minutes before the start, we lined up, having had a brief argument about where the start line actually was. Suddenly, we were off, and we jogged out slowly along the first part of the course. We quickly found ourselves almost at the back of the pack (of about 700 runners I would estimate). We ran with 2 runners from SF's Decathlon Club. It was their first marathon, so they had planned to go slowly for the whole route with the intention of finishing. The rest of the folks from the Decathlon Club were allegedly running with the motto "Go out fast and die like a pig" so they were already long gone. Terry and Cindy were, like us, running the "anti-race". Unlike a regular race, where you try and go as fast as you can, we were concentrating on going as slow as we could, to preserve our strength for later. We were trying to maintain a 10+ minutes per mile pace. We began under a freeway overpass. The first 14 miles is an out-and-back section which starts on a winding, paved road through dense redwood forest, opening into picture-postcard vistas of streams and wooded hills with bright fingers of early-morning mist creeping over the treetops. We stayed with Terry and Cindy, chatting away easily, until about Mile 7, which is very slightly uphill. At the turnaround, we began to draw away from them and lay in some sub-10 minute miles, which took us all the way to the 14-mile point. We were feeling pretty good at this point, running smoothly at our earth-scorching 9:30 pace. We were near the back of the pack, although we had overtaken a few runners. I saw Dame (friend from work who had started with the Early Birds at 8am) along this stretch, and I saw Andrew. Even this early into the race, he was about 1 mile ahead of us. At the 14-mile point there were 3 young ladies who were screaming and cheering for each runner that passed. This picked us up greatly. At the next aid stop, the helpers were amusing themselves by doing a Budweiser-frog type routine "ERG - wa-ter", "ERG - wa-ter". I'm not sure if this was intentional, but I thought it was funny! We were feeling good. [Glossary: ERG = an energy drink, like Gatorade but nicer] At mile 14, we went over the 101 freeway via a bridge with a fairly steep ramp. Since this was near the start line, there were many people there who gave us a rousing cheer as we plodded across. We were still feeling fairly strong, although definitely starting to feel the miles. Although I had run 15 miles before, Ronjon had never been further than 13. We both knew this was the point at which we were entering uncharted territory. Ronjon took off his t-shirt on the bridge and threw it down. He had his number attached to his running singlet which was underneath. At this point, we started to overtake a few early-bird walkers and a few marathoners who were already walking. We had slowed down, and had gone back to sub-10 minute miles. There were people all over the road at this point, since the early-bird marathoners were already on the return loop, and people were running back and forth across the road to stay in the shade, since it was starting to heat up. We plodded on until mile 16, when Ronjon opted to walk for a while. We walked for about 2 minutes, then jogged for about 2. However, Ronjon was starting to "hit the wall", and I left him walking at mile 17. He finished the race about 12 minutes behind me, but I can't tell you his story because I wasn't there! Anyway, now on my own, I continued to plod out 10 to 11 minute miles, each one causing more and more pain. At mile 18, I was feeling guilty about leaving Ronjon and thought about going back for him. But, there were plenty of people around and aid stations every 2 miles, so I rationalized that nothing bad would happen to him. I kept asking myself, what was more important - Ronjon or this race. I'm sorry to say that the race won. When you're out on the trail for over 4 hours, your mind figures out ways to amuse itself (or mine does). After the internal dialogue about Ronjon, I got this stupid song in my head which I could not shake. About mile 18, I started to take an inventory of what was hurting. Feet - yes; ankles - yes; shins - no; knees - no; quads - yes; hamstrings - no etc. I felt like every injury I'd ever had was making its presence felt. After a while, I got bored with this and concentrated on maintaining good running posture, then I looked at the trees and the other runners. I passed Dame coming the other way about mile 16 or 17. She was running with a friend, and looked very fresh and happy and bouncy. She asked where Ronjon was and I told her that he was behind me somewhere. About mile 18, I passed Andrew also coming the other way, who was looking contorted and in great pain. But, he was still running quite fast and I calculated he would finish around 3:15. About mile 19, I started to feel really tired. My right quad was giving signs that it wanted to cramp, and my feet were really hurting. I resolved to get to mile 20, where there was a turnaround and a large aid station, and then I would walk for a long time. About this point, I started to get confused about what mile I was on. I looked at my watch every 2 minutes or so, partly to remember what the mile was, and partly to figure out how far to the next mile marker. I knew I was maintaining 11 - 12 minute miles, so I could roughly calculate how far into the mile I was. This kept me going. I was not playing mental games any more. I was totally focussed on reaching the next mile marker. At mile 20, I stopped at the aid station and sucked up the gel I'd been carrying for energy. My hands were too sweaty to rip the top off, so I had to tear it with my teeth. I had 2 cups of water and walked for 2 minutes by my watch. Starting to jog after the 2 minutes was up felt very jarring; but after a few seconds, I felt a lot stronger. I was passing a fair number of walkers now, and a few runners. I ran with an older man for about half a mile, and we exchanged pleasantries. Most of the people I passed were very nice, sending an encouraging 'way to go' or 'nice job' after me as I plodded on. Miles 21 through 25 I endured in the same way - 2 minutes of walking at the mile marker and then I would run the rest of the mile. I was running about 12 minute miles at this point, which was only slightly faster than walking. Still, it was running, and that was what I had come to do! I cannot describe the extreme fatigue which set in after mile 21. My quads felt like every step was tearing muscle from bone. My feet felt so tender that every step was walking on hot coals. My ankles were aching, even my lower back was aching. I was chafing under my arms and my sports bra suddenly felt extremely tight. I passed a man who's shirt was bloody from a chafed nipple. People were running with their bodies contorted. About mile 22 there was an exposed stretch of road. I was dreading this, because it was quite hot, and I didn't have sunglasses or hat with me. However, it was actually a nice break to run in the sun, and I started to feel a little stronger. At mile 25, there were a few spectators, so I resolved to run in to the finish (couldn't bear to be seen walking!). By this time, I could hear the noise of the freeway, so I knew the finish line was nearby. I've never been so happy to hear cars! Cindy had passed me about mile 20, but for the first time since then, I could see her green shirt in the distance going up the freeway ramp. When I reached the 26 mile marker, I knew I would finish. People were cheering for me, even though I was coming in when practically everyone else had finished and gone home! As I came to the crest of the freeway overpass, I felt a surge of strength or emotion or something, and this stupid grin crept across my face. I was going to finish a marathon! I raised my arms like I was first in the Olympics, and actually managed a weary sprint towards the finish line. People patted me on the back as I ran past! "Good job!" "You're still smiling!". I stopped my watch and looked at the time - 4:45:43. I was hoping for 4:30, but I'd take it! I staggered/ walked along the finish chute and someone took the tag off my number, and gave me a "finisher's medal". I put it on because, dammit, I was a finisher! After the race ended, I got some juice and a banana, and set out to find our car and bring it nearer the finish line for Ronjon, who I knew was behind me but I didn't know how far. When I got to the car, the first thing I did was take my shoes off and put my sandals on. This made my feet feel a lot better. I brought the car up to a spot nearer the finish line and went to find Ronjon. I didn't know it at the time, but Ronjon had already finished. While I was looking for him, I found Cindy, who looked very fresh having just finished her first marathon. She had stuck to her 10-minute mile plan religiously, and it had obviously paid off. I think Ronjon and I made an error in slipping in some faster miles earlier in the race. So now its Monday, and I'm still feeling pretty damned pleased with myself that I finished my first marathon, running most of the way. Already, the memory of the discomfort is fading. My legs are feeling a little stiff, but much better than yesterday. My knees are feeling a little bashed. But, I'll be fine. I feel like I've passed a benchmark of runner-ness, my own personal Eco-Challenge. And all on 20 miles a week. When's the next one? Here are my splits in case you are interested: 10.15; 10.39; 10.10; 10.34; 10.05; 9.57; 9.53; 9.56; 9.46; 9.23; 10.12; 11.05; 9.56; 10.02; 10.52; 11.31; 12.14; 10.50; 11.41; 11.40; 13.22; 11.58; 11.32; 12.11; 12.03; 11.25; 2.18. Total time: 4:45:43.