At the beginning of 2012, I went through my normal goal-setting exercise to help me plan out my running year. I like to set at least one goal that I know will be challenging, but difficult. This year the challenge goal was to attempt to run one marathon each calendar month.
As I worked towards achieving this goal, I discovered that I truly love to run in these events. I also have learned not to fear the distance. Although it’s always tough to complete 26.2 miles of running, I’ve always managed to do it (sometimes with more difficulty than others). During my planning for the second half of the year, I searched for a race in early September, and found the Bozeman Marathon. As I reviewed various sites about Bozeman, I realized that another marathon would be held the day before – the Salmon Marathon – and that these two races were fairly close. Bozeman is in Montana, and Salmon is in Idaho. This intrigued me. Could I “do a double”? I wasn’t scared of running one marathon, but running back-to-back marathons was unknown territory for me. I knew that plenty of others had done it, but would my legs hold out? These two marathons are both small events and relatively low-cost, and I could run them both on a single airfare, so I decided to sign up and go for it. I figured that if I got to race weekend and felt totally unprepared, I could simply opt out of one of them without too much loss.
Training for my double was a little different than normal. I scheduled some weekends to have two longer runs, and after my July marathon (San Francisco) and my August marathon (Anchorage), I didn’t take it quite so easy the week after the race. Generally speaking, I felt about as ready as I could be with the limited mileage that normally fills my log. What I did not count on, though, was the fact that by early August, most of Montana and Idaho seemed to be burning down! And they kept burning, right through race weekend. A couple of days before the race, the Salmon race director sent an e-mail offering participants the right to defer registration to next year. The hotel called and asked if I wanted to cancel (turns out the firefighters needed rooms and the government was offering to pay a higher rate). Thus it was that as my plane dropped down to the Bozeman airport on September 6th, my eyes began to sting and I could smell smoke. This was bad – so bad, in fact, that the weather forecasts for both areas called for “Areas smoke”:
Many of my friends advised me not to run, saying the risk to health was not worth it. I decided to go anyway, since I had paid for a flight, and to make the decision on-site.
There were several other people in the Marathon Maniacs group who were racing either one or both events, and we had been chatting online in the days leading up to the events. The Maniacs is a super group of folks, and some of us decided it would be sensible to share some costs and help each other out a bit. I picked up my race packet on Friday, and also picked up David H.’s packet, then drove back to the airport to meet up with him. We split a rental car and drove together over to Salmon, ID. It was beautiful country to drive through – tons of wide open spaces and plenty of heavily forested land. Unfortunately as we crossed the border the smoke was getting much thicker. By the time we were on the State highway leading into Salmon, the smoke was almost too much and we passed National Guard personnel who were protecting evacuated ranches, and the largest camp of firefighters I’ve ever seen (I later read that there were over 1,000 stationed at that base). It grew dark like twilight even though it was mid-day. It was depressing to think that this area and all of the wildlife that must live there were under such an extreme threat. This photo shows the smoke, but I think it was much worse than the photo reveals.
We made it to Salmon in time to pick up our race packets, and checked in to the rustic hotel on the bank of the Salmon River. Dinner was an awesome meal with a bunch of Marathon Maniacs. It was really a great way to get to know new friends, hear amazing stories, and learn some tips from more experienced runners. David, for example, has already run a marathon in all 50 states and several countries, and is now going back to run a Boston Qualifier (“BQ”) in every state.
I also got a chance to visit with Regina Joyce, who ran for Team Ireland in the 1972 Women’s Olympic Marathon. This was quite special, as 1972 was the first year that women were allowed to run the marathon distance at the Olympics. Regina may not have achieved the fame of some other women, like Joan Benoit-Samuelson, but she actually placed fairly high at the Olympics and also was among the fastest women in the world at the distance in the couple of years prior. Regina is now running with the rest of us, and is working on completing marathons in all 50 states with her friend Janet. She was kind enough to let me record a very nice interview for the SunRunner Podcast project that evening.
Saturday morning got off to a nice start. The weather was nice and cool, and a beautiful conjunction of the moon and Jupiter graced the early sky. The hotel provided a nice breakfast, and then we all climbed aboard school busses for the trip to the start line. The starting area for the marathon is next to a one-room schoolhouse on a dirt road that seems to be in the middle of nowhere, and the school was open for runners to keep warm. The school kids had drawn pictures and written precious notes of encouragement (and some warnings) to the runners, which was probably the most awesome pre-race motivation I’ve ever seen!
The course was point-to-point, and starts at close to 5,000 feet elevation. The vast majority of the course was rocky dirt road. In a fortunate twist of fate, the winds had blown most of the smoke in an opposite direction from us so it wasn’t too bad, although I could still taste and smell some slight smoke. When the gun went off, about 100 marathoners took off; apparently, about 50 or so had accepted the deferral option to next year. Within a few minutes I was basically on my own, and it stayed that way for almost the entire race. The course was net downhill, with about a 1,000 foot net drop, but rolling hills kept things interesting. It also became obvious early on that the rocks in the road required careful foot placement, and occasionally a rock would fly up or my heel would scrape the opposite ankle. I wasn’t wearing trail shoes, and my normal Mizuno’s have a tendency to lock a rock into the gap on the bottom beneath the heel, which happened several times. But the scenery was so amazingly beautiful, with farms interspersed with wilderness and streams, that I felt quite happy on the run.
I never hit the wall, but did slow in the final mile when the dirt switched to asphalt and the course entered the small town of Salmon. I had been alone for so long that I committed a classic racing mistake and assumed nobody was near me. Much to my surprise, another racer caught me as I approached the finish line, and while I did have some energy available I decided not to go all out with a kick because I knew I had another race to run the next day. So he passed me just before the line, beat me fair and square by 1 second. I congratulated him and within a short time we were friends, and discovered that we were both from Arizona and run some of the same races! It was worth getting beat. I still managed to get 10th place overall, crossing the line in 3:19:49. The age groups were 10-year, and surprisingly the top 2 racers were in that group, plus the guy who outkicked me also was, so I got 4th in my age group. But they took the overall winners out of age groups (I love it when race directors don’t allow double-dipping!) so I earned a 2nd place trophy. The awards were very nice metal sculpture trophies of a jumping salmon!
My friend David was only a few minutes behind, and we enjoyed watching more of our maniac friends finishing. After the awards ceremony, it was time for a quick clean-up followed by the 4 hour drive back up to Bozeman. Normally I don’t recommend taking a 4 hour drive immediately after a marathon, but we had to get back in time to rest up for the next day’s event. We loaded up on pizza in Bozeman for dinner, and I tried my best to keep my legs as loose as possible.
The air in Bozeman was a little cleaner on Sunday morning but looking at surrounding mountaintops made it obvious that there was still some smoke. The runners gathered in front of the Bozeman Running Company shop to wait for the shuttle bus, and several of us who had run Salmon the day before compared stories. It’s funny how common challenges can so quickly bond people together – marathoners who I had never heard of just 24 hours earlier now were my lifelong friends.
The bus was loaded and we made the long drive out of town to the race start. It was chilly, but none of us were prepared for the strong winds that met us when we exited the bus. Fortunately, the race was small enough that there was no mad rush to drop off gear check bags, so most of us waited until the last possible minute before stripping off our warmup clothes and throwing the bag into the trailer. During the wait, I met a few more Marathon Maniacs, including one 67 year old who holds the world record for most official marathons run in a single year (113), Larry Macon. Although both Bozeman and Salmon were small events, I made more friends than I ever have at the big races! Here’s a photo of the start area, which was quite scenic:
When the gun went off, my legs felt a bit stiff and we were running uphill, but the wind was at our backs, which helped. I had to make a porta-pottie stop at mile 2, but in general I felt better than I expected. I was purposely holding back on the pace – this was totally new for me and I just did not know if I’d be able to keep running the whole way or not. The Bozeman course was different from the day before in several ways. This one was on paved roads, which were not closed to traffic, so it was necessary to run on the side. The scenery was spectacular, but there weren’t many spectators. The course started at about a mile high, and climbed to about 5,600 feet for the entire first half. It then gradually dropped to finish a bit below 5,000 feet. This photo was taken near the start:
I tried a new tactic in both races (I know, you should never try anything new in a marathon, but this whole double marathon concept was new anyway so it seemed trivial). David suggested that it’s really not necessary to consume my normal 3-4 gels along the run, and that drinking the sports drink at aid stations would provide adequate calories. So on both runs, I only ate a single gel. I never bonked and I was able to continue running all the way with no walking on both races, so I may continue to use this technique in the future as I find it difficult to do much eating while running.
Although I didn’t bonk, I did eventually run low on energy in Bozeman. I also had trouble with the continual running on the side of the road. Running on a slant eventually becomes very rough on the legs, and I felt it. Bozeman had a larger field of over 400 runners, so I was never totally alone but most of the time I wasn’t part of a group either. By mile 24 or so I was eager to get this one wrapped up, and as we came in to the city and passed the university, it seemed like the auto traffic increased and the road camber got much worse. I finally turned on to the main street and ran the final stretch to cross the finish line in 3:41:19.
I was 25th overall, and was excited to learn that I placed 2nd in my age group. David also got 2nd in his age group, so we hung around for the awards ceremony. We were disappointed to learn that they only gave awards for 1st place! But that did not dampen my excitement level from knowing that I had just completed two marathons in two days, something I would not have even considered possible for me at the beginning of the year. The weekend’s races also qualified me under two different criteria for a Iridium ranking in the Marathon Maniacs, and were the 10th and 11th states that I’ve run a marathon in, which qualified me for entry into the 50 States Marathon Club, as well as the 50 Sub 4 Club. Being in these clubs isn’t a pride thing, it’s about joining up with other marathon enthusiasts, making new friends around the world, and helping each other out. I came home with a couple of new race medals and a nice trophy, but I also came home with some wonderful new friends that I know I’ll be seeing again soon!